Ok… so I lied. This is all… she did this. that means this. blah blah blah!

Chapter 1. 'Secrets' Continued

Tandra stood a foot away from the door preparing her-self. She was still half asleep, unconsciously tugging at a knot in her (now matted but usually well groomed) hair.

'Never again! I will surely never agree to any involvement in the next one of Kieras little dramas, especially if it means being dragged out of my warm bed at this insane hour!'

She yawned and then mentally slapped herself for doing so.

'Must- appear- anxious…!' She warned herself sleepily.

Era would undoubtedly be in a most foul mood, and Tandra would not dare do anything that might further irritate the fierce woman. She had to somehow convince her that she had no idea where Kiera was, and that she had been 'as surprised as anyone' about her little disappearing act. Now, how exactly did one go about deceiving such a woman? The *only* woman in your childhood that, with one, painfully piercing look, had you confessing all your naughtiness!

The sound of a choked sob brought Tandra out of her thoughts and she turned to the tiny hunched figure on her right, the source of the noise. For a moment she just stood there watching, mesmerized by the silent tears that were rushing down the young girls cheeks. Due to loyalty to Kiera, she was, as a rule, obliged to consider this child 'The Enemy'. Why, then, did she feel her stomach twist and churn with guilt at the sight of those tears?

Her heart reached out to the little girl and for one, uncontrolled, moment all she wanted to do was wrap her in a tight embrace and tell her that all was well, that she needn't fear a thing. Alas, she knew she could not.

Anyway, Kiera would most probably heed the warning words of her friends as soon as night fell on The Bend. She would be home in no time at all.

Suddenly, it seemed so much darker than it had been just a moment earlier and the wind had taken on a new speed. The surrounding trees and shrubs were losing the battle to remain upright and bowed down to the wind's mighty force, trembling at its touch. Tandra gasped as it whipped at her face. It ran its icy fingers up her back, taking pleasure in the recoiling of her skin, until it found her neck. Once there, it clamped its strong fist around her throat, catching her breath, and she almost thought she could hear a soft, mocking laughter whistling about her ears. So, still in fear of the fire-breathing dragon of a woman that lay beyond the door, but eager to escape the unfriendly atmosphere, she knocked.

The door flew open almost at once, flooding the girls in a welcomed wash of light. Tandra squinted a while, waiting for her vision to focus and preparing herself for the horrific sight that would inevitably be Era's stern face. Her eyes finally adjusted but it took them a second longer to accept the strange sight that befell them.

Disbelief filled her grey eyes, as she took in Era's expression.

The (usually ferocious) woman stared back at her through the eyes of one that has just been woken from a terrible dream, the type that takes the dreamer a while to shake off. Her dishevelled appearance certainly gave that impression and, by the look in her eyes, it was quite clear that this 'dreamer' had not managed to shake off the offensive aftertaste of the dream just yet.

'Is she… *scared*?' Tandra wondered, a little taken aback but at the same time very much relieved. She visibly relaxed, 'Perhaps this will not be such a task after all.'

The older woman broke their staring game as her eyes warily searched the darkness beyond the two girls. Seemingly satisfied that there was no danger, she quickly ushered them in.

The young girl at Tandra's side, Thelsi, was obviously eager to avoid her mother's wrath. She immediately rushed to the little wooden table in the centre of the room and had soon occupied herself in clearing away the remnants of a meal. A meal, which, Tandra noted, had barely been touched. 

Savouring the limited time she had before the likely ranting would begin, Tandra took a moment to appreciate being back indoors.

A fire was crackling at the back of this, the main room, emanating a soft orange glow but no actual heat. Tandra watched the dancing flames and, for one blissful second, was soothed by their rhythmic movements. Until she suddenly felt the weight of Era's hand on her left shoulder, that is.

"Well?"

This single, barely audible, word was so full of desperation that Tandra winced as another pang of guilt shot through her. She had been prepared for an onslaught of insults and accusations but this tone to Era's voice was new and, if possible, even more disturbing. Her sympathetic heart threatened to betray her for the second time in one night. She was seriously considering breaking her promise to Kiera! However, she gritted her teeth and did her very best to stop those feelings from reaching her face, where they would certainly give her away.

After what seemed like an age under Era's intense stare, and just as she felt her pretence failing, the older woman tightened her grip on her shoulder and spoke again.

"Tandra, you must listen to me, no matter how much you try to convince me otherwise, I know that you know where Kiera is, and probably what she's planning to do,"

"I…"

"And I realize the depth of your loyalty," She continued, as if Tandra had not spoken. "But this matter is beyond your friendship…" Era looked down, loosening her grip on Tandra once more. She shook her head wearily. "… It is a far graver matter than you imagine."

Another pause.

"Therefore, you must tell me all that you know." She finished, with sheer desperation and once more searched Tandra's eyes with her own steel, blue ones.

Tandra swallowed visibly, struggling to push down the betraying words that were fighting to surge from her mouth once more.

What was going on here? What in the world was Era talking about? Why was she so afraid and why the hell wasn't she shouting yet?

The two women stared at each other once more, both refusing to back down. The younger tried to look defiant and somehow resisted the urge to be the first to look away. Staring into the growing sadness in Era's eyes, she made a realisation that dealt her a third blow of guilt.

'How could I have ever believed there was no emotion in those eyes? This will, indeed, be harder than I had thought.'

But Tandra was far stronger than the careless dreamer people perceived her to be. When the other villagers looked upon her, they saw nothing more than an attractive face and a casual manner. They automatically made the assumption that she was shallow, caring only for herself, and this infuriated her to no end. It was true that she was capable of irritating even her closest friends with her careless ways, but she was far from selfish. In fact, it was her very fierce and selfless sense of loyalty that she prided herself on.

So, she stood firm, raised her chin in defiance, let her eyes glaze over until they were impossible to read and forcefully freed her shoulder from Era's grasp.

"Very well." The older woman said with an equally unreadable expression. "I knew this was a possibility, you are a stubborn girl Tandra."

And with that Era disappeared into one of the bedrooms, leaving Tandra more perplexed than ever.

Seconds later she re-emerged, tugging a winter cloak over her shoulders. Pulling the hood over her head, she threw one last aggravated look in Tandra's direction and stalked out of the house, leaving the door wide open. For one, confusion filled, second Thelsi and Tandra exchanged baffled glances and then Thelsi too was at the door, calling out into the darkness:

"Mamma, where are you going?" She cried with obvious anxiety.

"To see Salienore."  Came Era's distant response.

'Oh no!'

Tandra pounded the ball of a fist into her forehead. 'That's all I need! A Protector on my case! This had better be worth all the trouble it's causing me Kiera!'  She thought, mentally chiding her best friend.

In the next moment she had grabbed Thelsi by a skinny wrist and the two girls had followed Era into the bitter cold of the night.

*  *  *  *  *

Kiera was lost.

She was alone, floating in an endless darkness, somewhere between slumber and awareness.

Yet, in a way, she also felt confined, trapped into a tiny corner where there was no light, no air.

She needed to get up, to get out, but… where was she?

There was nothing, no sound or sight that could give her any sort of answer to that question. Perhaps she had fallen into something, the well maybe? Yes, she had probably leant too far in when… no, that was a ridiculous idea.

'And yet…'

Way up above her, so high that she could barely make it out, there was a pinprick of light. Within seconds it was no longer a mere pinprick, it was growing, tearing and eating the blackness hungrily.

She tried to call out and made the horrifying realisation that she couldn't. She could not, for the life of her, remember how such a thing was possible. For speech would required the use of a mouth, and having a mouth would mean she was a solid being, but she felt anything but solid.

She had to get up, to stretch towards the light, but it was useless, the more she tried the heavier her vanished limbs became.

The light was so bright now. It glared furiously down at her, burning her eyes until she was forced to clamp them shut.

Then the light dimmed slightly and was once again gentle on her skin. She soaked it up, deliciously soothing as it was, and slowly, the world came swimming back to her.

Someone was calling her name.

*  *  *  *  *

"I think she's coming around… Kiera?"

A low, rumbling, growl was all she could muster in the shape of a response.

The feeling slowly returned to her body, making her solid again. She was still unable to open her eyes, still unsure of her exact whereabouts, but blissfully in the knowledge that it wasn't the bottom of a well but a wonderfully soft bed. Someone was stroking her cheek. So, she was not so alone after all. And there *was* air, wonderful air, carrying the rich smells of a much needed meal.

Was she at home then?

No.

'No, I had been at The River Bend and… and…' As she strained to remember a rush of white-hot pain seared through the side of her head. Perhaps she would just ask questions for now and leave the thinking for later.

"Where… am…" The few words she could manage scraped out of her dry throat with an unrecognisable shrillness.

"Shhh, don't speak."

It was quite obviously a boy that had spoken. His voice struck a distant memory inside her, it sounded both friendly and firm, old and curiously young, foreign and yet somehow… familiar?

"Now's not the time for questions, you must rest a while, Kiera."

'Yes, I should rest… so… tired.'

The boy stroked her hair, smoothing away any lingering questions, and that is how she fell asleep, soothed by his touch. Once again the dim light gave way to the darkness and, this time, the relief of a dreamless slumber.

Kiera had no time to wander how it was that this boy, a perfect stranger, had come to know her name.

I know! I said it would get more interesting and, well, this isn't interesting!

It even bored me while I wrote it! But it really is needed! REALLY! For the sake of introductions if nothing else.

Please, tell me what I've done wrong.

Is it easy to follow, d'you get who's speaking/thinking when?

Are you bored?

Be ruthless!

Well, not TOO ruthless, okay?

Be- err- *mercifully* ruthless, yeh? Lol

I think my writing style changes a lot with each section and it reeeeaally bugs me!

Does it bother anyone else?

PLEASE REVIEWE, not begging or anything.

Meh!

P.S. I don't know how to fix the ………'s.