A/N: I believe this is the longest chapter I have ever written, but it would have been terrible even for me if I split it into two chapters. I really hope you enjoy, and please DO let me know your thoughts and if there is anything you would like to suggest for future writing.
And so, I present Chapter 24 with much love and appreciation!
Chapter 24 – Goddess of Shadows and Dreams
Fear seized her heart as she urged her legs and feet to move faster. In the moment that they had seen the demons, she and the wind mage had immediately forgotten their fight and were running. They all knew that they probably stood no chance against five demons.
It had not been so long since she'd seen a wild demon. The last had been more than a week ago when those demon wolves had destroyed Mistal.
When those demon wolves had killed her parents.
She heard her breath stop in her throat. She felt something else grip her heart then, something incredibly cold, and suddenly, she didn't understand why she was running away.
There were demons here. If she was to become a Demon Knight, then wouldn't she have to learn how to kill them? She and the others would have to run forever through this gray forest trying to escape them. But from the way the demons moved, there was no chance of outrunning them.
She pulled her arm free from Loraine's grasp and stopped, spinning around. Loraine stopped, too, her mouth agape.
"What are you doing?" she cried, trying to snatch Ellya's arm again. "There are too many of them to fight!"
It was too late to run, anyway. The five demons were already upon them. Two of the shadowy forms stopped just a few feet away from Ellya and Loraine. The other three bound after the three competitors, leaping over their heads and landing in front of them, blocking their escape. The demons had trapped them.
Ellya gripped her spear with both hands, taking a low stance. Luthien hadn't yet taught her the proper way of destroying a demon, but she'd already assumed she'd find things out her own way.
Loraine gripped her wrist, her fingers tightening in fear and sending slight pain up Ellya's arm. "Ellya, we can't fight them." Her voice was shaky and raspy, her breathing rapid.
Ellya gritted her teeth, but didn't move her arm away. "We can't die either."
In the corner of her eye, she saw three black orbs hovering nearby. They, no doubt, had followed the three teams here to watch their ultimate, bloody demise beneath the demons' sharp teeth. Was that water mage still unconscious? Had the demons passed over him?
Ellya slowly removed Loraine's hand from her wrist in order to hold her spear with two grips. They could not run anymore.
But even as she stared up into the white eyes of the demons, she could not ignore the growing fear inside her. Her second thoughts came unbidden. She did not have powers of a Demon Knight yet. She did not have a demon-slaying sword. The only time she had ever fought demons had been in a dream. And it had been just a dream.
There were real flesh and blood demons standing in front of her, dagger-long teeth prepared to open and close tightly around weaker prey. They could kill her and Loraine that very moment, in one swift movement. Their jaws would close over their heads, their teeth piercing through muscle and bone. Their deaths would come immediately.
She heard and felt her heartbeat pounding in her head. She stared up at the tall human-like creatures, her body immobile under their white gazes, and she knew that they could hear it, too: her fear. Her strong desire to run.
Suddenly, she didn't feel so brave anymore.
An image of another demon flashed in her mind. The Greigh. She saw it's bald, gray head and black eyes, its teeth as it hovered near her throat.
No, she had fought demons before. She had fought demons before everything she loved had been destroyed and she forced on a dangerous journey. She had fought that Greigh and that possessed man, and she had killed them in her sudden rage. She was not just a human, but a demon.
She wanted to survive, just as she had wanted to survive before. She would force herself to fight, to protect herself and Loraine.
And it would be demon to demon again.
She opened her mouth and heard a roar, louder than the one before, reverberate from her mouth. It pierced the terrifying quiet of the forest, interrupted the sounds of petrified breathing. The demons suddenly turned their heads to her, each responding with a low rumbling growl.
She shoved her body forward and felt her dark energy send her feet flying across the ground. It surged into her arms as she pushed her spear upward into a demon's head. The blade went straight through its throat and out the back, but what discovered next shocked her.
There was no blood. In fact, she hadn't even felt the force of her spear passing through its flesh. It had entered as cleanly and easily as if just passing through air. She moved her spear to the side a few inches, and was alarmed to see it glide through the demon as if there were no flesh stopping it. As if there were no demon standing before her.
The demon wasn't real, but some sort of vision.
When she quickly drew back her spear, its body suddenly reared into movement. She stumbled backwards, confusion thudding in her head. Each of the five demons opened its jaws and let loose a bloodcurdling cry, rising on its hind legs and reaching a looming height. Instinctively, she crouched low, eyes carefully watching the demon image in front of her as it extended its claws wide as if to swipe at her head.
Then all of a sudden, it vanished in front of her as if the fog had opened up momentarily and swallowed it into nothingness. She blinked and spun. The other demons had disappeared as well. But Loraine and the other competitors . . .
They were gone.
"Diamond!" she called.
There was no response. Her fast breathing was the only thing she could hear.
What had just happened?
She heard a sound in the distance and tensed. She set her spear in front of her body and turned in multiple revolutions, her eyes wide. It was the first time she noticed that the fog had lifted almost entirely. But it was still just as difficult to see when she realized that the forest had grown darker.
Her eyes searched her surroundings. There were no floating black orbs, no demons, no humans. There was nothing but trees and shadows. Where was she?
The sound returned, and it was louder, closer. It was a chuckle.
"Who's there?" she shouted.
Soon, laughter rushed through the forest and filled her ears. Womanly laughter. But it was not the familiar womanly voice. It sounded younger.
Something beside her shifted, and she leaped away, alarmed. A woman walked out of the shadows, her black hair flowing behind her as if there was a breeze blowing through the trees. Ellya felt no such wind.
The woman came to stand at a short distance away. Ellya knew she had heard laughter, but the woman was not smiling. Instead, she stood watching Ellya carefully, her eyes shining dark blue. It was the only color in the forest.
Ellya found herself shuddering. She had seen eyes like those before. She had seen the woman's pale skin and black hair before. She had seen this woman before. In a dream the night before her fifteenth birthday.
She gasped. This woman was her.
"Who are you?" she whispered. She half expected to hear something like, "You," but the woman said nothing. She continued to watch Ellya until she turned her body, the same movement she had performed in Ellya's dream.
"Come," was all she said, and instantly, Ellya was reliving her dream in the waking world. Was she even awake? Or was this woman a manifestation of this forest as those demons were? Was this woman a demon, too, playing tricks on her mind?
Ellya didn't follow her until she almost lost sight of her in the dark. She hurried after her, following at a careful distance with her spear pointing at the woman's – her – back. There was something different about her. She was not carrying the sword as she had in the dream.
They walked in silence, the woman never looking back to make sure Ellya was following. They walked until Ellya's feet started hurting, until her eyes started closing on their own, whether from tiredness or something else, she didn't know. As they passed tree after tree, bush after bush, Ellya's half-lidded eyes watched the woman's graceful gait. If this woman was a demon, then Ellya had no chance of running away. She had no idea where she was or why she had suddenly trusted this stranger. There was something off about the woman, but there was also something familiar. Ellya wanted to find out what it was.
After a long trek, they reached a denser part of the forest where gray forest shrubs grew. They nicked Ellya's clothes and her cloak as she walked by. Ahead, she saw fog again. The shrubs and ground floor gave way to a swamp. Ellya stopped at the edge of the water, but the shadowy woman continued forward, her feet and ankles moving underneath water, hardly disturbing its surface.
With a hesitant breath, Ellya ventured into the swamp and sighed with relief when she found the water only reached mid-calf. She was fortunate to be wearing boots. She caught up with the woman, but not before she noticed a pair of eyes a short distance away. They were glowing white in the gray fog. She thought she saw a head behind those eyes. It watched them until it turned to face another direction and disappeared.
It was long before the woman finally stopped. They had left the swamp a while ago and now stood in another dense part of the forest and faced a tall wall of tightly woven vines. Dark thorns grew along the vines. Ellya saw a hole in the vine-wall in front of the woman, but she could not see what was inside it. Her reflection suddenly turned, and Ellya unconsciously braced herself for attack.
However, the woman did not rush forward or transform into a hideous creature. She only stepped aside and lifted an arm to gesture at the hole, which Ellya now saw was an alcove. Something sparkled from within the alcove, and a dark sensation took a hold of her body. She blinked in wonder when she realized what it was.
Hunger. For power.
Her reflection was smiling. Not frighteningly, but warmly. Ellya's feet moved of their own accord, and before she knew it, she was standing in front of the alcove and reaching her left hand into its blackness. When she saw her hand disappear into the shadows, she almost pulled back, horrified that she was reaching into the mouth of an unseen demon. But she did not feel teeth close around her flesh. Instead, she felt her palm close around something hard and warm. A rock. It was the size of her fist.
She carefully drew her arm back, and when the object in her hands entered the forest light, it gave off a number of dim shimmers. It was a large black stone.
Her eyes widened and she took a step back in stark realization.
The Black Diamond.
It was the object of her destination, the object of her quest for the Demon Goddess. It was here, here in her hands, resting on her palm like a sleeping creature. She felt a strange throbbing coming from it like a slow, soft heartbeat. It had many jagged edges, but they were not sharp enough to cut.
She found herself grinning widely. She couldn't believe she'd found it.
The woman, her reflection, had led her to it. Ellya turned to smile at the woman in thanks, but saw that she was no longer standing beside her. The ghostly woman had disappeared, but the chilling prickles at Ellya's neck told her that she was not alone.
She spun round and came to face a new woman, one much taller than her. Almost as tall as Hyatrece. But it was not the Demon Goddess.
The woman drew back her head, exposing a long, elegant neck, and laughed. It was that laugh from before. Ellya froze. It had been this new woman's voice that she had heard.
The woman did not look like she belonged in the forest. She was far too tall and did not obey the forest's gray saturation. Her skin was pale, but Ellya noted a slight rosy tinge in it. Her eyes were a bright, piercing gold, and her long hair fell in lively curls around her shoulders and down her back. Its black color emphasized the extremely narrow curve of her waist and the extravagant flare of her hips. She wore a very thin, blood red dress, and it hardly covered her ample chest. The gaping hole in the center of her dress revealed a long, toned stomach and the skin just underneath her breasts.
Ellya clenched her jaw and did not loosen her hold on the Black Diamond or her spear. Although she knew full well that this woman was not something of the forest, she warily inched away as if she found she was safer at a farther distance.
The woman gave off far too much power. Ellya could feel her raw energy as if it thickened the air and soaked her skin. Ellya's head felt dangerously light.
She was certain that she now faced a goddess.
"Who are you?" Ellya heard herself whisper.
The goddess had stopped laughing and was now looking at her with a curious smile. "You really do not remember me?" she asked. Her voice was as rich and deep as Hyatrece's, but hers held a noticeable lilt of an older girl, a young woman looking for pleasurable entertainment. "Well, of course you wouldn't. You were only a babe when I saw you leave the Black Kingdom."
Ellya's eyes widened behind her mask. This goddess knew who she was?
"Take off your blindfold," the goddess demanded softly. "I want to see your face."
Ellya waited for it to overwhelm her, that otherworldly power that always came through Hyatrece's voice and pushed her into servitude. She had assumed that gods had that power to control others with just their voice. But as she stood there waiting to feel it from this goddess, it never came.
Puzzled, she removed her mask, knowing that she still had control over her will.
The black rim that the mask had given her vision was gone, and now she stared back at the goddess. She had forgotten to bow as she had to Hyatrece when she had first met her.
She was about to bow, when a look of amusement crossed the goddess's face. "If I didn't know better," the goddess said, "I would have assumed you were your mother."
Ellya started forward. "You know my mother?"
"Of course I do, silly girl. Everyone knows who your mother is. Everyone just doesn't know that she's your mother, even if you do look exactly like her. Besides," she said with a graceful wave of her hand. "Weren't you just with her a moment ago?"
Ellya blinked in confusion, but then she remembered the woman with the blue eyes, her blue eyes. A cold shiver ran all the way from the top of her head down to her toes.
Her mother. No, it couldn't be! It had been some reflection of herself that the forest had given her!
"You're surprised." The goddess laughed again. "Your face says it all." Her gold, shimmering eyes landed on the black stone in Ellya's hand, and she raised an eyebrow. "So, I see she's given you a Black Diamond as your birthday present."
"You don't know it is the anniversary of your birth, either? What a terribly unfortunate child you are."
Her birthday? Ellya's mind reeled with sudden memories.
She remembered Aristene's woven dolls. Aristene had always asked her to give the dolls to the village girls every time they aged a year, and every time Ellya had been reluctant. Ellya had refused to have Aristene make her one for her fifteenth and sixteenth birthdays. And now she wouldn't have to refuse one for her seventeenth. Aristene would no longer be able to make one.
The painful sting in her eyes threatened tears, and Ellya had to look toward the dark canopy to keep them from falling.
She turned seventeen today. She hadn't realized it. This day didn't feel any different from the day before. The only difference she felt from all the other days was that Aristene and Muran were not here to celebrate it with her. With everything that was happening around her, she hadn't paid any attention to how old she was. And why should she when she was immortal?
"Who are you?" Ellya asked again, fighting back a surge of grief.
The goddess's lips curved, and for one fleeting second, Ellya thought she saw her eyes turn black. "I am Deytra."
The name was vaguely familiar. Only did she concentrate on the old stories from her parents did she finally recognize it. "Goddess of Shadows and Dreams," Ellya breathed.
The goddess waved a hand in the air again, this time with a bit more carelessness behind the movement. "Dreams, nightmares, illusions, crazed imaginings. Yes, I am all of these."
Ellya dug further into her memories. "Daughter of Coridece, the Night God." Coridece was also Hyatrece's brother, so that made the Demon Goddess her-
"Are you not going to be like every other mortal and ask me why I'm here?" Deytra smiled then, and to Ellya's shock, her teeth turned black. "Oh, but of course. You are not a mortal."
Ellya watched the goddess carefully. "Why are you here then?"
Deytra clapped her hands together under her chin, her shoulders lifting slightly to indicate eagerness. "As a close friend of your mother's and as my own birthday gift to you, I shall aid you in this exciting little battle."
Ellya blinked once, then stared. The battle! She took another glance around her surroundings before returning her wide eyes to the goddess. She had completely forgotten about the battle!
"That was quite impressive facing my five demons when even life appeared hopeless," Deytra went on, her eyes fluttering thoughtfully.
Ellya remembered the tall demons right before the realm had shifted her somewhere else. "Your demons?"
"Just illusions, darling. They couldn't have harmed you, not physically anyway."
Illusions? Ellya narrowed her eyes. That explained why she had seen no blood, why her spear had so easily passed through flesh.
"Why do you wish to help me?" Ellya asked quietly.
"Like I said, I am a close friend of your mother's," Deytra answered, smiling. Her teeth were white again.
Ellya opened her mouth to ask where Loraine and the other competitors were, but found she could not speak when she saw Deytra's eyes turn glossy black. The goddess arched her hands in the air, and before Ellya could even blink, four bright cloths fell from the dark canopy overhead and into Detyra's waiting hands. With a giggle, she tossed them in the air towards Ellya. But with both hands holding her spear, her mask and the Black Diamond, she was not free to catch them. However, she knew she didn't need to when the cloths immediately slowed as they approached her and fluttered around her head, like doves.
Ellya stared in amazement. They were four silver flags.
"Place them in there," Deytra said, "and you shall receive your prize."
With an elegant extension of her arm, she pointed to the alcove behind Ellya. Ellya looked over her shoulder at the black hole in the vine-wall. She tucked the Black Diamond in the nook of her elbow, and finally with a free hand snatched all four flags from the air. They fell into her hand obediently. Without looking at Deytra, she did as the goddess said and set the flags inside the hole.
A moment after her hand withdrew, long, black rocks closed around the hole. They briefly reminded Ellya of teeth. The alcove opened again, and instead of seeing the dim silver of the flags glowing in the darkness, she noticed something else sitting inside. She was going to reach in and grab it, when something slowly extended from the hole carrying the object on top of it.
Ellya leapt back, then stared in horror. It was a tongue, quite similar to a human's but a thousand times the size and much longer. It reached five feet and was pale and coated in some shiny liquid. Sitting on its narrow tip was a small, black chest.
Ellya could not move. The tongue was patient, though, hovering in the air and waiting for her to complete the trade. Deytra's amused laughter finally roused her from her stunned trance. She cautiously reached out, and seeing that the tongue did not make any move to attack her, grabbed the chest and took several steps backward.
The tongue, having relinquished its weight, slithered back into the hole, back into the mouth of some giant beast. Only moments ago had Ellya reached into its mouth and found the Black Diamond. A shiver ran down her spine.
"Open it," the goddess demanded.
There was no lock on the chest. Wordlessly, Ellya set the chest on the ground and lifted the flat lid. Inside was a black piece of cloth. Ellya drew it out into the open, and her eyebrows rose when she realized what it was. A black flag.
"Goodbye, Ellya," Deytra said. Her tone betrayed sudden boredom. "With this battle concluded, I suppose I must leave you."
"Thank you, for helping me," Ellya said, standing and bending into a bow. "But I do not understand. Have I not broken some rule by letting you help me?"
"And who could stop me, hmm?" When Ellya did not reply, the goddess threw back her head and laughed. It was a strange kind of cackle that did not make one shrink in terror. "Foolish human rules do not bind me. I can't help but terrify all of you competitors."
Ellya instantly remembered what the goddess had said about why she was helping her. Ellya had heard stories of lesser divinities who often caused mischief. Watching the goddess grimly, Ellya determined that it was not friendship that had compelled the goddess to help, but an unsurprising whim for amusement. Deytra's pleased expression said it all. She enjoyed interfering with the mortal games.
Even if the humans did not like her interfering, they would not be able to stop her. And besides, wouldn't it be considered an honor to be favored by one of the divinities?
"Thank you again," Ellya said. Although she knew she had merely been a part for this goddess's entertainment, she was grateful for being able to retrieve the flag without further trouble.
Deytra was beginning to fade. Either she had become transparent, or her entire body was turning black to blend in with the forest. "A pleasure to have finally met you, Ellya," she said. "And I think you should put on your mask again before you go back."
Ellya's eyebrows rose, having forgotten she had removed her mask to show the goddess her face. She set her spear, Black Diamond and flag down momentarily and donned her mask quickly.
By the time she tied her mask around her head again, Deytra's eyes, now gold, were the only bright thing Ellya could see. "I would be careful if I were you," Deytra said. "Your mother has forced you into a very dangerous world."
A question Ellya had long forgotten to ask suddenly tumbled from her mouth. "Who is my mother?"
There was a snort. "Not even Hyatrece has told you?"
Deytra's eyes were already gone. She had not given an answer. Ellya started toward the spot where she had been standing. "Wait!" she cried.
But it was too late. The goddess's presence was already gone, like a heavy fog that had lifted and left the air open and much easier to breathe. Ellya felt like falling to her knees, knowing she had been so close to finding out who her mother was, but something kept her standing. Something made her legs, her body stiff with attention. Not attention, but maybe acceptance. Accepting that perhaps knowing who her mother was didn't matter.
Ellya had met her mother, and even if her mother hadn't spoken a word, Ellya remembered her blue eyes and warm smile. That was all she needed for now.
"Oh, you're still here?"
The air grew thick again. Startled, Ellya spun around, in search of the young woman's voice.
"Off with you now. Don't expect someone to come and escort you back, even if you are the daughter of the Demon Queen."
There was an eruption of laughter and a snap of fingers. Dumbfounded, Ellya was swallowed in black.
Ellya blinked, then blinked again when her eyes refused to adjust to the light on the arena field. People were screaming, cheering, clapping, but they sounded muted in her ears, far away voices that she did not care for. In fact, at that moment she cared for nothing. Everything seemed so insignificant, so extraneous now except for the words that ruthlessly resonated inside the chambers of her mind.
You are the daughter of the Demon Queen.
It couldn't be. It couldn't be! It took her a long while before she realized she had been shaking her head. Her mind raged and her heart pounded against the bones of her chest. She felt fear, awe, and relief. But just as suddenly, she felt absolute confusion, and then nothing.
She'd been longing for the day when she found out who her mother was. She had wanted to know who she herself was. But now that she knew, how did she feel? With all these emotions storming inside her, which was the one that correctly explained how she felt now? Or were they all correct?
The daughter of the Demon Queen.
Ellya closed her eyes tightly. Surely the goddess had been jesting. Surely it was all a part of the goddess's amusement. Ellya could not believe that she was that much of a demon.
"-did it! We've won the battle of mages, Sapphire! How did you . . . Sapphire? Are you all right?"
Ellya opened her eyes slowly, then squinted from the sunlight that reflected off the sandy field. It seemed like hours passed before Loraine's face came into focus.
"Sapphire?" she asked again.
Ellya nodded, letting her eyes fall.
"What's that you've got in your arm there?"
Frowning, Ellya stared at the black, glimmering stone resting in the crook of her arm. The Black Diamond had been a gift from her mother. Her mother, the Demon Queen.
"Sapphire." Loraine's tone demanded Ellya's attention. The ice mage's brows had come together, and she was watching Ellya with an unreadable expression. "You and the demons disappeared in the forest. What happened?"
But there was no time to explain. Soon, a hand wound around Ellya's wrist, underneath the fist that held the winning flag in an unrelenting grip. The hand belonged to an arena master. He jerked her arm up towards the sky to show the entire arena who had attained the black flag and which guild had won the event. Ellya was still too shocked from Deytra's words to object the rough gesture.
Loraine joined the deafening cheers, pounding her fists into the air. But the sounds gradually faded from Ellya's ears. Across the field, she thought she saw a dark figure standing against the wall. Blue eyes blazed from her head. Ellya blinked, and the vision was gone.
"So . . . are you ever going to tell me what happened?"
Ellya and Loraine had left the resting room minutes ago. They could still hear the proud and ecstatic bellows coming down the hall. They had suffered through a long half hour of congratulations, and now they were returning to Dark Vision's sleeping chamber for a good, long rest. However, rest was far from Ellya's mind. She had much to think about. And she needed to talk to Luthien.
"I disappeared, you said?"
"Yes, and the demons, too." Loraine looked at Ellya as they walked. "We just stood there, unsure of what to do. But then we started fighting again, as if the demons had never been there, as if you hadn't just vanished into thin air. How did you ever manage to get four silver flags so quickly? What happened?"
"I had some help from the Goddess of Shadows."
Loraine stopped walking. Ellya did, too, and turned to face her. The ice mage's mouth formed an O. "A goddess?"
"The demons were her illusions, meant to frighten us," Ellya said.
Loraine gave a wry grin and crossed her arms. "Well, it most certainly worked. But the Goddess of Shadows? That makes sense . . ."
Ellya frowned, prompting Loraine to continue. "I've heard that the Forest of Trepidation is her realm, or at least one of her realms. But why did she want to help you?"
Ellya found an easy lie. "Gods and their whims for mischief. She said human rules don't bind her."
"So she just decided to help you? Just because she could?"
Ellya nodded, and Loraine half-snorted, half-chuckled. "What great fortune we have gained this morning then! You must have impressed her when you tried to attack one of her illusions. Great job. I'm just glad she didn't decide to go a different route to create mischief."
"What do you mean?"
"She could have let the demons chase us all around the forest until we died of exploded lungs and broken feet."
At that, Ellya managed to laugh.
"By the way," Loraine said, her voice much more serious and quieter. She leaned in closer. "What are you doing with a Black Diamond?"
Ellya had wrapped it in her cloak, but she could still feel the warmth that it gave out. She should have known that Loraine, an educated mage, would know about it.
"A gift from the goddess," Ellya said. She did not want to tell her the truth. She trusted Loraine, but not entirely enough to tell her the Black Diamond's role in her life.
Loraine nodded her head slowly "A Black Diamond is extremely rare and very powerful. Full of dark energy. You should be careful with that, Ellya."
Ellya nodded and smiled reassuringly. "Dark energy, huh? Perfect for me, don't you think?"
Loraine returned with her own smile, although it was hesitantly given.
"There you are."
They both abruptly turned when the demanding tone crashed upon them. It was filled with hatred, and seeing the owner of the voice, Ellya understood why.
It was the wind majayis of Rising Sun. Ellya glanced behind him at the crowd that was following him. She frowned and took a nervous step back when she saw Vanden at the front.
"You cannot engage in any fight outside the field, Tresar," Vanden was saying. "You could forfeit your position in the competition."
The wind majayis stopped four strides away from Ellya and Loraine. His smile was twisted into a snarl. He had ignored Vanden. "So how did you do it?" he asked Ellya. "How did you get passed five demons on your own and manage to steal four silver flags and the black flag?"
Ellya didn't reply, but Loraine was more than willing to for her. "I'll have you know, we obtained Deytra's help. My partner proved her worth to the goddess and therefore received the winning flag."
Tresar snorted. "Oh? Are you sure you didn't just enlist the help of those demons and have them pretend to be your enemy?"
Loraine gasped. "To ask for the services of a demon is to sell one's soul. It is forbidden in the competition."
"Yes, I know. That is why I am turning you in."
"You have no proof!"
"And you have no proof that Deytra helped you."
Loraine turned her face to Ellya. She believed that Ellya held the proof right in her hands, wrapped up in her cloak, but Ellya could not reveal it. If she used it as proof, there was a high chance she would have to turn it in to the arena masters and probably never see it again. And it hadn't been a gift from the Goddess of Shadows anyway.
"Deytra assisted us in the battle, whether you believe it or not," Ellya finally said in a level voice. Tresar's eyes turned on her. "If the wise arena masters suspected us of any evil doing, then they would have accosted us already. Instead, as you saw earlier, they acknowledged us as the winners of the battle. Now it is time that you acknowledge it as well."
With that, Ellya made a determined turn to walk away before anything else happened that could cause her to lose the Black Diamond. She had not come this far to lose it now.
Too late did she feel the accumulation of energy.
It was so thin and small, it was barely detectable. It had been energy meant to impale her head quickly, like the blade of a dagger. She managed to move her head aside and evade it, but she heard it cut through the part of her mask covering her temple. She felt the wake of it: a tiny breeze brushing across her cheek.
She spun to face the wind majayis again, her flare of anger briefly rushing energy into her veins.
"No, Sapphire! Don't attack!" Loraine said. "You will forfeit your place in the competition if you fight!"
Ellya gritted her teeth. What was she supposed to do then?
Tresar drew his sword and lunged forward. Ellya veered aside.
"Tresar, enough!" Vanden commanded.
For a second, the wind majayis appeared as if to comply. His eyes flitted to Vanden and the crowd behind him, then back to Ellya. But at that moment, his eyes told her that he had reconsidered his decision to obey.
He swung again, and as she avoided his sword, Ellya noticed Vanden take a few steps forward to grab him from behind. However, Vanden stopped before he could get any closer. She looked at him again and saw that he was staring at her, his mouth slowly opening in shock. The people behind him were mirroring his expression.
"What's going on over there?"
Nestael's voice. Down the hall, members of Dark Vision were approaching the crowd.
With a short grunt, Tresar pushed his sword at Ellya's abdomen, but she swept it aside with her spear. He rushed forward then, and as she evaded his blade, caught his ankle with her foot. He fell forward flat onto his stomach, his sword clattering a few feet away.
She felt the grin of satisfaction on her face, but just as quickly as it had come, it disappeared.
Eat dirt much?
The words came as a surprise, just as the memory of it did. Carithy had said those words.
Ellya was tempted to step on the majayis's back and keep him from rising. She was tempted, oh so tempted to repeat the words, only to him. He looked so pathetic on the floor, it was irresistible.
But it was because he looked so pathetic that she didn't.
The deep, familiar voice that spoke her name surprised her. It was Vanden who had spoken. She looked up quickly at him, who had been staring at her in confusion. His eyes widened slightly.
That was when she realized her vision was no longer ringed with black.
She took a sharp breath. The wind majayis's magic had cut her mask loose, and the cloth had slid from her face a while ago. It now lay still just a short distance away from Tresar. Even he was looking up at her, though his expression was rather more of fury then surprise.
Her mind reeled. She could not believe what was happening.
She was exposed.
By that time, Nestael had already reached them. He quickly assessed the man on the ground, then Ellya and her face. He held her eyes steadily.
"Sapphire." It was a warning, but it was already too late. The Rising Sun members present had all seen her identity.
Ellya tore her gaze from Vanden's. Wordlessly, she urged her mask up off the ground, and when it floated easily into her hand, she allowed Loraine to turn her away.
She didn't have to show her ability with magic. But she wanted Vanden to see that she was different, that she had changed. She was no longer that girl he had met two years ago. She was stronger now, with powers, a girl so foreign compared to whom she had been back then. She was a girl who didn't need anyone else to keep her going.
But as she now walked away beside Loraine and the rest of Dark Vision, she could not help but wonder if it was him or herself she wanted to convince.