4th Fall
Dead Gardens

"Stop," Tessa's mutters rang in the taller woman's ears, but ignored it without any resistance.

"Stop; I'm getting colder by the minute."

Grey eyes widened. She swore she had heard something wrong from the petite woman; it was a sure sign that Tessa was shifting between consciousness, and eternal unconsciousness. Raquel's chapped lips remained shut while her eyes remained straight, not even glancing at the woman she was carrying. Cold arms from the orange haired woman clenched onto her overcoat tighter, in desperation to keep herself warm, since the one who was carrying her had ignored Tessa entirely. Grey-maroon eyes gazed at the distance where Raquel was heading. It was still an endless view of snow, and more snow. She began to hate it; the weather's coldness, the death rate that brought along it, and the lives that were taken in order for them to survive.

The last phrase Tessa had thought of made her pause, literally. She had not realized it until now. Out of the fifty, forty-seven, no, forty-eight risked their lives, in exchange for the two of them to live on. By then, she could feel the immense burden that was shouldered onto them. Her heart wrenched soon after the thought. She pulled her overcoat closer to her body before turning her head, glancing at Raquel. Now she knew why the silver haired lass was determined to get Tessa medical treatment immediately. Her breaths were heavier than usual. It was getting harder for the petite woman to breathe. That change of breathing pattern caught Raquel's attention. However, it was only a mere glance from those blank grey eyes before it turned away, back to staring at the horizon, just hoping to see any form of outline of a sturdy structure.

Heavy gusts of wind began to kick in, though snowfall was at its minimum. Even so, the blustery weather was enough to make Raquel's body sway helplessly wherever direction it was blowing. Grey eyes narrowed, not because of the wind, she was at her peak in terms of stamina. Her vision would just turn bright white once in a while before she could see the path she had heading to. Her legs, this time, dragged against the virgin snow instead of her usual march-like pace on the fragile surface. For a split second, the silver haired woman swayed backwards, at the point enough to panic Tessa. Fortunately, her right leg had shifted quick enough to counter it, though barely.

"Raquel," the brunette said, only to be responded by a rather dry voice.

"This is nothing. This is-," the tall lady paused for a moment; her throat was getting sore. "There are people who get it worse than us."

"But, you're at the brink of passing out,"

"I don't care about my life anymore. I'm giving it to you this time round."

Grey-maroon eyes widened in shock when Tessa heard it, "Why?"

Only gusts of wind responded to the question, which only made the petite lass raise her voice, again, "Why? Why are you saying that all of a sudden?"

Another pause ensued as the silent Raquel trudged on, only to stop at a sentence from the brunette when she heard it.

"Why are you trying to leave me alone; being the only potential survivor?"

"I'm just a mere mercenary; you're a warrior despite that small structure of yours. You have a name to uphold, I'm just a wanderer who seeks jobs like these to support myself, and constantly treat my old wound should it open up again," Raquel countered it without hesitation.

"Positions do not matter at this situation-," Tessa was just about to raise her voice, but Raquel's variant overcame the brunette's.

"It does! Call me naïve; call me stupid if you want to. If I survive, will I get any form of plague of my existence; will I get a hefty reward in the end and get a name? I'll give you my answer; no! Unlike you, Tessa, you have a name in the west region. You're always showered with praises by the villagers and nobles alike. You get the proper medical treatment, not me! That's why you must survive; people will believe you what had happened. If I were to do so, people would just shrug me off like a bug and move on with their lives. That's why I'm just a mere mercenary from a small, neglected town. Do you get it?"

The petite woman soon found herself wordless. She was not shocked by the fact that Raquel had done so; it was Raquel's response itself. It was obvious that she was digging her own grave; she was wasting her own life all the while. But that was not the fact that managed to anger Tessa; it was how she was being portrayed at by Raquel's view. But before she could even do so, a sudden thrust from behind sent Raquel crashing to the ground while Tessa found herself rolling on the snow for a few moments before hitting the trunk of a coniferous tree, hard. Grey eyes cracked open after the impact, only to be grounded when 'it' placed one of its two 'feet' over her torso. Pressure began to increase, to the point she could no longer take it.

A wail of despair left her mouth, even though her throat was obviously dry. The coarse scream went on for another few seconds before her arms desperately grasped the hilt of the katzbalger, literally swinging it behind her hopelessly, in attempt to at least leave a mere wound or two, just enough for 'it' to move its said limb. Nothing. Though she did manage to leave a gaping cut on its leg, it did not budge in any way; just a constant increase in pressure. Tessa, shaken by the fall, witnessed the helpless situation her ally was in. Her legs were beyond able to walk, but she had to find a way to stop that beast from killing Raquel. Several pine cones were spotted around her. Her frail hands grasped on a few of them before hurling it towards the monster; catching its attention was enough for Tessa's part. One of the pine cones managed to at least lodge itself into one of the beast's eyes, sending it retreating for a moment, allowing Raquel to at least drag herself away. Though it did manage to lure 'it' away from the silver haired lass, Tessa found herself in a tight situation; she was targeted this time round.

The beast lunged itself towards the petite woman, who was in a sitting position, leaning against the trunk of the tree. Grey-maroon eyes widened, knowing that there was nothing she could do next, except for one thing.

"Raquel!"

The silver haired woman tilted her head upwards while her arms pushed her up to her feet, though barely. Her view was blocked slightly by her fringe, hence she had to brush it aside- shock kicked in for her. The beast had literally pounced over the petite woman, now just breathing down on her-.

"No," muttered Raquel, after she had seen a clearer view. "Please, no."

"Raquel! Chop its head off, now!" hollered Tessa with a pale face.

The brunette had managed to grasp a knife from under her overcoat, just enough to restrain the beast in someway, at the cost of being stabbed through the torso. She could feel every single drop of her life draining away, but still, this was a chance to get rid of the final beast, at least easing their worries. Raquel was very much confused in the situation, but hearing what the brunette had yelled, her instincts kicked in. With her right hand now grasping onto the hilt of her blade, she dashed clumsily towards the beast. Her stamina was waning to the point of total depletion, but this was the only chance to kill that blasted monster. As if lifelessly, she swung the Katzbalger overhead, before adding force during the downward direction. A hard clang ensued; its neck had some form of metallic collar-like protection. A roar left 'its' mouth. Rancid air somehow made them shaken up, considering its strong, revolting smell.

Raquel had a second go at it, this time with pure haste. Another overhead strike was made, this time aiming for the top part of the nape instead of hitting it around the middle area of it. With both hands this time round, the silver haired woman let out a faint yelp of frustration as the blade touched the targeted spot. A spurt was heard before a splatter. Hot crimson dribbled down before it turned into a gash. Silence overwhelmed them- the beast's head slid downwards lifelessly, hitting the snow with a thud. Its body swayed by the wind, collapsing by its side soon after. They had successfully fulfilled the mission; though, they had to at least warn Scarla for any assault should there be anymore of these beasts running around in the region. A sigh of relief left her mouth. She flicked the Katzbalger, removing the blood that came from the beast.

"We did it," said Raquel in a relieved tone, though completely exhausted.

She had expected a response, but there was none. She turned around. Her grip on her blade loosened as it impaled itself into the thick snow.

"No," muttered the silver haired lady. "Tessa."

There, simply leaning against the said trunk of the coniferous tree was the petite woman, her body motionless while the deep stab wound on her midriff made by the now dead beast remained there, as if there was no form or way it could be removed; cracks on the bark behind Tessa was spotted. Raquel scrambled towards her, not accepting the fact. Warm hands from her run upwards, touching the cold surface of her ally's face. Grey-maroon eyes were open, but were entirely blank. She placed her left index finger near Tessa's nose, just hoping to feel any form of breathing; nothing. Raquel paused, not uttering a word. Her face remained expressionless. Her head hung low as her right fist raised, before hitting the snow, then again, and again.

Her mouth went into a slight downward arc before moisture in a form of tears welled up her eyes. No, she thought. She began to wipe them off with the sleeves of her overcoat. But every time she wiped the tears off, fresh new ones formed. She could not understand why she was feeling as such. As a mercenary, she should have moved on by now, forgetting everything about these. Unfortunately, this was not the case. Her heart wrenched, her body trembled with fear. Raquel shut her eyes, not wanting to accept the fact that her ally, Tessa, had passed on.

"Impossible," she thought. "There must be a way to wake her up from slumber. Yes, she must have been sleeping; tired from all that running from 'it'."

Her eyes cracked open, taking a glance at Tessa again. Fear kicked in again, this time making her turn away as a wail left her mouth. Hot tears rolled down her cheeks; she still could not change that fact.

"I can't change the fact! The truth is already in front of me. She's gone!" Raquel's mind kicked in again. "I can't change the fact."

She could not bear looking at the dead body; it would only rip her soul apart.

"Damn it!" she yelled, as she simply rose to her feet, punching the same tree where Tessa was leaning against.

Tears still blocked her vision while her hearing was literally blocked by her sobbing. A crack from above was heard, but for Raquel, she heard nothing; she was too occupied with her denial- a hard thrust ensued. The sudden force sent Raquel to the snow. Grey eyes widened. She did not know what had happened, but she felt warm all of a sudden. It enveloped her like a blanket; as if beckoning her to just relax, and fall into slumber. She gazed at Tessa, still with those blank, determined eyes open. Raquel stretched out her right arm towards the petite lass while her mouth moved, but not a sound coming out from it. A croak finally came through, but barely.

"Tessa."

Silence overwhelmed the situation. Gusts of wind ceased, even the snowfall. Raquel's body lay slump to the ground with a tree branch impaled through the back while her right arm remained outstretched towards the petite woman. Though grey eyes were gazing at the petite woman, there was another thing she had taken notice.

Scarla was just two kilometres away from where they were. It was more than an outline of the town; the main gate was already spotted.

… … …

Ending Theme Song
Dead Gardens – Nightwish

The story behind the painting I drew is already told
No more tearstains on the pages of my diary
Tired but unable to give up since I'm
Responsible for the lives I saved

The play is done
The curtain's down

All the tales are told
All the orchids gone
Lost in my own world
Now I care for dead gardens

My song is little worth anymore
Time to lay this weary pen aside

The play is done
The curtain's down

"Where are the wolves, the underwater moon
The elvenpath, the haven of youth
Lagoons of the starlit sea

Have I felt enough for one man's deed?
Or is it time to challenge the Ancient of Days
And let the virgin conceive"

All the tales...

… … …

"I've failed, Tessa, Raquel. I could not prevent that beast from chasing you," said a familiar woman, who lay limp on the soft snow in another location, most noticeably missing a limb; her left arm. "I'm a failure of a warrior."

The End