looking back on last chapter wow...seems a bit too gloomy to be in this chapter....oh well. this one isn't as happy, but there are bits, and some clues to the reason of the Quest and alyria's Past. yups yups. i hope you'll like it...


Chapter 12

Sirius wasn't comfortable with travelling so close to a 'cursed one'. Not comfortable at all. He made it quite clear, to both of them.

"No."

"Sirius, you'll freeze to death! Just do it!"

"No."

"What are you afraid of? She's not going to kill you."

"Don't be so sure…"

"Snowmane, that doesn't help."

"No."

"Sirius –"

"Drop it, Witch. If he wants to freeze, so be it. I prefer it to sharing with a biased jerk."

"I'm not biased. I just don't want to die a horribly gruesome death."

Sirius sat quite resolutely in the pouring rain as the two women huddled under the waterproof blanket – the only waterproof blanket. Alyria had to sit next to the left side so she could keep up the repellent spell, which meant Sirius would have to sit next to Snowmane. Neither were happy – Sirius didn't want to be cursed, and Snowmane was plain antisocial (with her past though, she had an excuse.)

The thief sneezed.

"SIRIUS, GET OVER HERE, NOW!"

With a reluctant sigh he crawled over and seated himself between the two.

"Sirius, please remove your butt from my lap. I'm not a chair."

"Sorry."

Staring out at the rain with fiercer looks than a black dragon's, the trio sat in uncomfortable silence, the loud silence. The silence where things aren't said, but felt.

No one said: Don't even look at me.

No one replied: At your pitiful excuse for a face? I don't think so.

Not one voice chided: Children, get along, or you'll have me to deal with.

No one muttered ashamedly: Yes, Alyria…

No one mumbled: Yes, Witch.

Not one purposeful sigh cut the stillness. I told you, my name is Alyria.

A voice didn't say: And he's Dunce.

An exclamation failed to be exclaimed. Hey!!

Two voices did cry 'ouch' as a certain Witch's hands slapped them round the heads.

The day passed on with a normal hush, until something very unexpected happened.

The silence returned, this time hard and predatory, choking the words in the travellers' throats before they could escape. No one dared to even move, for fear of disturbing the deafening quiet, of awaking the lurking presence hidden beneath. The darkness was blinding in its emptiness, the void it created chilling their souls and burning their bodies alive. Sirius was deathly pale – each breath felt like swallowing shattered glass. Beside him, Snowmane was clutching at her head, whimpering soundlessly as she stared ahead with wide eyes. In front of her, over and over again, she saw them dying, screaming. Their voices echoed in her mind, brought forth by the unnatural silence. The Witch was coping better, thanks to her experience and training, but her hands trembled and the spell faltered. Water splashed on her face, yet she did not register it. So, this was fear. It had been so long since she had felt such power, such strength.

You seek to destroy me,the silence seemed to mock. You three, is that it? A thief, a cursed one, and you, who has not even lived a fraction of my existence. Is that the best you could do, child? Is that it?

I'll beat you. I'll win. I promised Kalin I would.

Kalin…? Ah, yes, Kalin Laryos. He never stopped trying to find me. Even in his last breath, even on his death bed, all he could think of was finding me. Is it you that carries on his legacy now? I wonder why. You hated that he only thought of me. Jealous of a mere object.

Shut up.

Let's have a look in your mind and unravel the threads, shall we? …Oh, what's this? No wonder you hate me. Shall I tell him? Shall I tell your precious thief your little secret?

Why are you doing this? Mind games aren't your style.

Youngling, you are mistaken. Mind games are my only style. The only game I can play is with your minds. I could make you forget everything right now, and you wouldn't be able to do a thing.

Then why hesitate?

I'm not hesitating. I'm just toying with you whilst your life, your future hangs in the balance. Life…life is a game too, is it not. Just a game, another one I can play. The mind is the king. The soul is the queen. The body is a mere pawn in your chess games. I have your mind in check. I will win.

Then you leave your king open. It's not checkmate yet.

We shall see.

I won't lose to a 'mere object', as you so fittingly called yourself.

Well then I'm waiting, Witch. Just remember; there are plenty more willing to play the game.

The silence seemed to retreat, and the darkness lost its void. The world let out its breath as the comforting sounds of rain bouncing off a magical barrier reached the frightened ears of the travellers.

In a hushed whisper, Sirius asked; "What…the hells…Was that?!"

"Something you'll get a chance to meet sooner than I thought."

"Witch? What do you mean? Is this…?"

"Shut up!"

"Alyria?" He could see she was shaken.

"Drop it, Sirius! Please."

So, it knew she was searching; both of them probably. Most underestimated him. They died fast too. Alyria knew better – Kalin had seen to that. Always be prepared. You can't underestimate that thing, and you can't afford to forget its hosts. I don't want to see my beautiful angel get killed by a rookie mistake. She had promised him she'd find a way. She hoped she had found the key. Not one of all the groups sent out had what she did. They didn't know its location. They didn't have a hand-picked team. They didn't have –

"OW!!!!! Alyria, Snowmane slapped me!!"

"Well then keep your hands to yourself!"

Alyria tuned back into the present and shook her head at Sirius. "Really, Sirius, learn some manners. I thought you didn't like her, anyway."

He shrugged. "I still don't. But I might as well make the best of a situation."

She sighed and forced a smile. Always smile, and don't you dare let them see fear. You have no emotions to them, least of all fear. "Just keep your natural flirting instincts under control and we might be able to get to Vandara alive."

"Vandara? Why there? It's so…weird. I heard the people there hold Shrashka as their main god."

"The wolf god?" despite her dislike, Snowmane's interest had been caught.

"Yup."

Alyria sighed. Yep, everything would be fine, as long as they didn't kill each other. She smiled at her companions. They were brilliant – terrified one second and cheerfully rambling on about a completely different subject the next. Just proved the brilliance of people. Of mortals. The Witch had a little more trouble shaking off the fear. The longer a person lives, the more the dark heart grows. True darkness; the darkness of death. Some have different accumulation rates, but the rule is the same – when the heart is full, the body dies. All Alyria had done was slow it down to an almost complete stop. Her darkness still grew, but at an almost imperceptible rate, which is why she looked 25 – the Stop had been cast when she was younger, most likely a few days before she had been washed up.

Alyria couldn't shake off the fear because her Dark Heart consisted not only of her Darkness, but of those that had given her power. The others' Darkness didn't fill her heart, but slipped into the gaps. The void created by the silence would not leave her.

Strangely, it was the moonless night that eventually chased it from her as she gazed up at the night sky. The fire was a mere ember, glowing gently, weakly. Sirius slept on her right, and Snowmane was leaning against a rock, eyes watching a scene only her troubled green eyes could see. After shaking her head, the white-haired archer set out her bedroll and fell asleep. Alyria sighed and searched her pack for a small red pouch. Fishing out a dark red crystal, she threw it on the fire. The embers flared slightly, and something stirred, pushing twigs and ashes out of its way. A small, pointed snout sniffed the air warily, tongue flicking out to taste this strange world it had been born into.

The Witch made a soft cooing sound, alerting the brilliant red salamander of her presence. It scurried over, climbing onto her waiting hand and up to her shoulder, making a soft clicking noise as she rubbed its snout.

"I think I'll call you Zesh. What do you think?"

It curled itself around her neck, closing its amethyst eyes.

She put out the fire. Unlike most salamanders, Cryslin didn't die with its birth flame. They bond with whoever they see first and live off of the body heat. However, should its bond partner sustain damage that breaks the skin, the Cryslin gives its life to heal the wound.

Alyria yawned and kissed the lizard's scaly head. "Night, Zesh."

-------

Grimwar, you should concentrate on the defences.

"Yes, Golden One. You! Patrol! Tell others!"

Good. We can't let them take me away. Not now.

"Too valuable. Bring food, save tribe. Protect Golden One with life."

Excellent. Be prepared at all times.

"Wild Tusks strong. Wild Tusks fight Witch. Wild Tusks win!"

Of that I have no doubt.

Just another pawn in the game. Pathetic.

"You say something, Golden One?"

No, nothing.

One more sacrifice towards my goal.