"In less than an hour, Rikarah, Mordecai will be here, and you will die. Whether through him killing you by making you his Tidalius before I kill him, or in the midst of the battle that will doubtless occur, I do not know. But I do know you will die. There is no avoiding it. And it will likely be an extremely painful experience the longer and harder you fight. Your friends here will certainly die as well," Rawyr said, looking meaningfully from the pale, shaken Eve to the still unconscious Roy.
"If you refuse to become Mordecai's Tidalius, you will die a human. If you do agree, you will become immortal, a demon like myself. But because I will immediately kill Mordecai after, to insure my master's place at the throne, I will then have to kill you as well. No one will threaten my or my master's positions."Rawyr paused, letting his words sink in, and Rikarah swallowed, her stomach sinking. She forced herself to hold still, to look him in the eye.
"If, instead of allowing Mordecai to kill you in battle, or allowing him to make you his Tidalius, ensuring your death by my hand, you choose my way, I will make sure of your survival," Rawyr concluded.
"Then what do you propose I do? What other choice is there?" Rikarah asked, but her tone sounded weak even to her.
Rawyr was silent for a moment, staring at her hard. Rikarah met his eyes steadily, her heart beating faster still, and she did not let herself blink.
"I will kill him for you, before he can do anything to you," Rawyr said softly. "If you will give yourself over to me first."
Rikarah's body stiffened, her eyes narrowing into slits. From the corner of her eye she saw Eve shaking her head, her eyes focused on Rikarah with intense urgency. Rikarah shuddered involuntarily.
"What is that supposed to mean?"
"I am asking you to become my Tidalius. If you willingly give yourself up to me, I will pour magic into you that will make you immortal…I will kill Mordecai, and you will become third in line to the throne of the underworld. Even in that position you will have more strength and power than you have ever dreamed of."
Rawyr watched Rikarah wryly, drinking in her reaction. "You will invoke the terror and respect of all creatures…once more you will kill, knowing at all times you have the upper hand."
His voice softened, became darker, seductive. "Don't you remember what it felt to hold a knife to someone's throat as they pleaded for you to spare them? The power, the adrenaline that coursed through your veins…you can have that multiplied as my Tidalius, Rikarah. You are meant to be this person…you are meant to give no mercy."
Rikarah's head spun as she took in his words, the proposal he was offering…to be immortal, to never die or feel pain, guilt, or shame, none of the emotion that overwhelmed her as of late…to have power, power and the exhilaration that went with it…
She remembered what it had been like to kill her family, the savage victory that had filled her with a rush of energy and joy…the others, grown men who regarded her with terror, knowing she would soon take their lives…it had felt so thrilling in those moments.
IN THOSE MOMENTS, another part of her whispered darkly. And after you went back to the bitter emptiness of your life.
Without meaning to she found herself looking at Eve, who stared at her with eyes that begged her not to even think of taking Rawyr's offer. Although she said nothing, Rikarah could read her thoughts clearly, and knew she was afraid.
Unwillingly her mind circled back, recalling how Eve had spoken to her, coaxing her out of the bushes as she lay nearly paralyzed with fear…she remembered her riding with a poisoned arm even as the pain grew unbearable, saying not a word of complaint. She remembered Eve coming to her room and stroking her hair as she fell to pieces, hating herself for her own weakness.
So many images came to her mind, so many memories…she saw Eve teaching her how to hold a bow, then hugging her as Rikarah nearly hit bullseye. Eve found by fire, Eve struggling to walk with Roy and Rikarah helping, Eve swimming, saving her from the creature that leapt at her…but the one image that occurred most vividly was Eve in the cave, Eve healing her, giving up her own strength to restore Rikarah to hers.
Every image Rikarah recalled involved Eve pushing on, doing her best to protect herself, and Rikarah. Every memory Rikarah saw showed an example of the way Eve cared for her.
Rikarah tried to remember how Eve had betrayed her, lied to her… but more and more that was difficult to recall, or even care about. And as she remembered, she knew what her decision must be…and what she must do.
"Yet again, Rawyr," she said, her voice firm and strong, "you have left out a third choice. I do not have to be your Tidalius, nor Mordecai's, nor do I have to die. I can be no one's but my own…and I can live."
And with that declaration, she closed her eyes, making herself exposed, vulnerable to any threat…but somehow Rikarah knew there was none. She pictured all the people in her life who had hurt her, wronged her…her parents, her sister, her victims…she saw them all, felt once more the pain each had brought her, the scars she could never erase. She remembered…and she forgave.
When she opened her eyes, they were remarkably clear and serene. She looked up slowly.
"I forgave them," she spoke quietly. "I forgave them all." Turning to Eve, she reached out, taking her hands into hers.
"I forgive you, Eve. I know you would not wish to hurt me."
Squeezing her hands to emphasize her point, she released them, then turned, looking Rawyr in the eye.
"I forgive you as well, Rawyr. Once you were a young man in a similar position to me. I understand that. And I understand why you would make the choice you did. But that doesn't mean I have to make it too."
A slow realization crossed Rawyr's face as he heard her words. His features twisted, and he flinched as what was happening began to dawn on him.
"You can't do this, Rikarah," he snapped, angry, but there was panic in his tone as well. "You have already been marked as Tidalius- your fate is sealed!"
"Unless I become unworthy of becoming a Tidalius," Rikarah said calmly, her hand lacing with Eve's once more as Eve looked at her, stunned, slowly smiling. "I think you will find he does not want me anymore, nor do you. I don't think I fit the requirements."
She saw Rawyr's face twist further into disbelieving fury…but suddenly the room was fading, Eve, Roy, and Rikarah along with it, and she was falling into nowhere with no idea of what had just occurred.
Rikarah gradually became aware of noises first. The chirp of a bird overhead, the rustling leaves in trees…and predominantly, the harsh, panting breathing of a man near.
She blinked, looking around in confusion. She was not in the same shadowy dimension of another world…in fact, she was back in her own, in a place she knew all too well.
She was standing in the forest, a knife in her hand…and once more, she had Stu up against a tree, his face vivid with shock and fear.
For a moment Rikarah stared at him blankly, expression frozen. How had this happened…what had happened? Why was she now here- why was she still alive at all?
She looked up into the distance, past Stu…and then her eyes locked on another pair that had become very familiar to her. Eve stood several yards away, blonde hair smooth and silken around her shoulders. She stood alone, seeming strong, uninjured.
As her silvery eyes met Rikarah's, Rikarah inhaled sharply. The two women locked eyes in silence, and then slowly, Eve shook her head.
Rikarah dropped her gaze down to the sniveling man before her. As she looked down at him, she felt no anger, no savage enjoyment of his terror, only a faint sadness and disgust.
She stood slowly, backing away, pointing her knife down as she spoke. "I am not going to kill you, Stu, though you deserve no less. Instead, I will turn you into the police. I believe jail time will show you the error of your ways- and if not, I will just have to convince you of them in person once more."
She watched as Stu sagged at her feet, babbling his thanks. Without another word she began to walk away. Eve watched her retreat, feeling herself fill with pride and quiet happiness at what she had witnessed. After Rikarah had gone several steps, she turned, glancing back at Eve.
As their eyes met, Eve's face relaxed into a smile, one shining with warmth and happiness…and relief. Rikarah smiled back, feeling happier and freer than she had since she could remember. Turning away, she walked out of the forest, her smile still spread across her face.