Landralii left the letter addressed to her parents on the kitchen counter. Ever since the previous evening, she had been living on very limited borrowed time. She had been walking out in the woods by her house, relaxing after a stressful, normal day at school. She had passed where she had dozens of times before, by the giant oak surrounded by smaller pines. It was here that something was different, and that something would change her irreversibly. There was a pale blue glow about the tree that day, one that spoke of mystic workings. Landralii should have run away then, but curiosity and a sudden sense of recklessness pushed her onwards. She stepped into the circular clearing, not noting the ground clear of all pine needles and leafs, even though it was the middle of autumn. She walked toward the tree, to astound by the eerie glow to take notice of the wind, which had picked up. That changed as soon as she touched a branch of the tree. The world seemed to turn upside down, and twirl on its head. Landralii clutched to the branch in a panic. When the world righted itself, Landralii looked around. The sky was a vivid purple, and the air was crisp and clear, and seemed to sparkle in the weak sunlight. Her eyes adjusted to the new surroundings and lighting, to see the cloaked figure near the edge of the clearing, which had stayed the same. It moved forward, though she could not see any movement that would mean it had legs.
"Welcome," It said, its voice wispy, but she heard it clearly, as if just just being in this place sharpened her ears. "To one of the Connecting Clearings, Ice Blade. You're Prince is awaiting you, as well as his other brides."
Landralii looked around the clearing for this Ice Blade. Surely the stranger could not mean her. The figure moved closer.
"Ah, now here is a problem, Ice Blade. You still have a pulse. The Prince of Death cannot have a Queen, whose heart still beats."
Landralii looked back at the figure.
"Who are you talking too? I'm not Ice Blade."
The figure chuckled; a sound like that of scales through dead leafs.
"Oh, but you are. Now for this problem with your heart, I shall have to fix it."
And with that, before Landralii could say or do anything, the figure struck, much like a snake, and plunged what felt like an eleven-inch blade into her breast. Pain like she had never felt overwhelmed her mind. The figure pulled the dagger free of her flesh with a slick sound that pried a groan from Landralii's lips. Blood spilled out with each final beat of her heart, the thick liquid draining into her bronze honey colored hair, as she collapsed on the ground. Little did she know that since she was in such a magic place, that the color of her blood would forever stain those bits of her hair; mainly the right underside of it. She coughed, and gasped, clinging to the last bits of human life within her. The figure disappeared, sliding silently away while she died. Landralii stared; her heart had stopped beating quite some time ago. Why wasn't her vision dissolved in blackness? She should be going onto Heaven, or someplace like that, right? Why was she still looking up at the violet sky? She heard a crunch of leafs under footsteps, and a curse, as someone stood just out of her vision.
"By the Gems of Hemlock! Those damn fairies left another Bride out. When will they learn to stick around?"
Landralii blinked. She was suddenly being pulled to her feet. She looked, blankly at the man doing the pulling. He was scraggly looking, unshaven and old, but wise and traveled despite all this. Landralii gasped and touched where the dagger wound still resided on her breast. The man swore again.
"Gems be damned! Didn't he even bother to patch you up afterward? Gads those fairies are getting lazy. The Prince should light a flame under their tails."
"Excuse me? Is that what that thing that killed me was?"
The man looked her over, and then laughed.
"Do you feel dead girl? Naw, he didn't kill you, just stole out you heart's beat. That's all."
Landralii was very confused.
"What is all this about the Prince? Prince of what? Where am I, for that matter?"
The Man looked shocked.
"He didn't tell you? Well, this is no place to stand around chatting while you're bleeding all over yourself. Come with me, and I'll tell you."
Landralii hesitated. The last time she stopped to talk with someone from this place, she got stabbed. She was playing it a bit more cautiously now, for all the good it would do her.
He held out his hand. "Ain't nothing to be afraid of about me, mam. I'm Trader. What name were you given?"
Landralii looked baffled, then it connected, "Oh! You mean what did the Fairy, if that is what that thing was, called me? It was Ice Blade."
The Trader choked, on what Landralii couldn't tell because he hadn't been eating anything.
"Are you fooling me, girl? Ice Blade? That is your given name?"
Landralii nodded. Trader sighed.
"Well, that does make things interesting. Well, Ice Blade, or can I call you Icey?"
Landralii shrugged. Trader continued, "Well, Icey, You are in Contransia, the world of the Prince of Death. And it is he who rules all the continents. Now the Princess, she has the seas. The King of the Doomed seemed this to be fitting, as women are so often as moody as the sea, no offence to present company."
Landralii took all this in, as she and Trader walked out of the Connecting Clearing. Trader had explained it all. How the Prince needed new Brides, as the old ones had been worn out. Landralii had failed to ask just how they had been worn out. Trader had explained about the three continents, and how the Connecting Clearings where the center tree would transport you to your destination connected them all. When they entered the Trader's house, he called out.
"Mother! Come down and meet our guest. She's one of Death's Brides and needs a touch of patching up!"
From his speech, Landralii half expected an elderly woman to come down the stairs that wound up to the upper level of the house. Instead, a rather young looking woman, whom Landralii assumed was the Trader's wife, came bolting down the wooden stairs, exclaiming.
"Land Sakes! Those lazy sack of scales have done it again!" She straightened in front of Landralii.
"They did do a number on you, didn't they? Well, come on then, and we'll get you cleaned up."
Landralii went up with Mother Trader, as she had thought to call her. It seemed to fit. Mother Trader had her washed and was examining the deep wound on her breast in surprisingly little time. Though the dark red color had remained stained into her hair, all other signs of the trauma had disappeared except for the wound itself.
Mother Trader made a disapproving sound with her teeth. "Tsk, tsk, tsk. This will scar. I'm afraid all I can do is bandage it, dear. If the fairies had bothered to patch you up a little after stealing your pulse, it wouldn't be this bad."
Landralii was getting a very strong impression that the fairies were not very well liked.
She finally voiced a question that had been bothering her for a while.
"Um, you call the creatures fairies. Do you mean the human like beings with wings and special powers?"
Mother trader looked at her as if she had lost her mind.
"Land Sakes, no! Fairies are the snake-like messengers of the Prince of Death. They steal the pulses of His brides so that they may join him in his Cold Palace."
If there had been any lifely color left in Landralii's cheeks, it would have drained at her words.
"Is there any way that I can avoid this fate?"
Mother Trader considered.
"Well, I guess you could barter with the Prince, but before you do that, you have to live for a year in this land, before you completely reject the idea of being his bride."
Landralii considered, "If I did this, would I be able to go home first? To say goodbye and all that?"
Mother Trader didn't know, she gave Landralii her shirt and they went down to talk to Trader.
"A day? I think I could give you a day." Trader said, pondering, messing with numbers on a sheet of paper.
"Oh, no, not a whole day, only…" he did some more calculations, "seven hours."
"I'll take it." Landralii said. She wanted to go home and see her parents one last time. If she had at least a year before she would ever see them again.
So the Trader set aside some things that she would need to start off and took her back to the Connecting Clearing. Before he let her enter, he gave her instructions.
"Think solely on the place you want to go, and you'll be there. From that point on, you only have seven hours until your body will truly realize that it is dead, and you really will die. So you have to be sure to make it back here before the seven hours is up. Ok?"
Landralii nodded her understanding, and went to the tree. Once again the dizzying feeling of the world turning on its head occurred, and dissipated just as quickly as it first had. Landralii found herself staring at the last Earthen Sunset she would see for the next year at the minimum. A tear slid down her cheek. She wiped it viciously away. Now was not the time for tears. Now was time to set her things in order. First, she wanted to spend dinner with her parents. She would leave a letter explaining it all. They would surely think her insane if she tried to explain it otherwise. If they put her in a mental hospital, she definitely would not make it back to the tree in time, and would die. This did not sound like a very good idea. So Landralii spent her last day with her parents enjoying even their harsh moods. Five hours later, Landralii spent considerable time writing the letter. It took the best part of an hour to write, and then she had to pack away some of her things. She took a small picture of her parents, Her favorite, most durable necklace, and a put in a plain pare of sleeper earrings. She was sure that ear piercing was primitive at best there, and didn't want to risk it. Now it was definitely time to leave for the tree. She had half an hour left. Picking up her shoulder bag with her stuff, she left the letter on the kitchen table and headed back to the tree. She made it through with little more than ten minutes remaining. Once she recovered from the dizzy sensation of traveling my Connecting Clearing, she went straight to Trader's house. She knocked, and immediately Mother Trader opened the door.
"Land's Sakes, child, but you took your own sweet time, didn't you!?"
Landralii, or as she had now come to call herself, Ice Blade, shrugged.
"I had to get things in order."
Trader came up.
"Nearly sent Mother into a panic, you did." He told her, his voice paternally stern. Ice Blade nodded, and went to her things. She turned, asking, "How shall I pay you for this?"
Mother Trader laughed. "Think nothing of it, dear. Instead, think of it as early wedding presents. Most Death Brides, even the ones who try to escape, end up with Him. There isn't much that you can do, and that only if you are very willing to accept the consequences."
Ice Blade was very confused by her words, but nodded anyway, hugged both of them goodbye, promising to visit soon, and then headed out into the surprisingly warm night. Ice Blade tried feeling for her non-existent pulse once more. She simply could not get used to the fact that she had no pulse. Shaking her head, she followed the trail towards, she assumed, would be a town. First things first; know thy country, know thy enemy. Knowledge is power, no matter where one found oneself. And Ice Bade had no intention of being powerless for long.