Author's Note: Sorry for the long wait! I was relaxing during the holidays X). Hope you like this one!

Withered Paradise

Terri was walking among the flowers of the Garden, enchanted and amazed by the splendor of the ever-weaving and waving of the delicate, hued petals. She felt as though she floating in a never-ending dream.

She ran toward and came across a field of sweet peas. She sat down and enjoyed the strong, rich smell of them.

In the back of her mind she knew there was something she was supposed to do, but she dismissed the sudden thought. She picked a sweet pea and ate it.

Immediately her tongue filled with an indescribable luscious sweetness that made Terri just the tiniest bit drowsy and made her mind whirl. She got up, deciding to explore the Garden more.

Terri got up and walked through the endless fields of iridescent flowers. The Garden was enormous, but after a while, the colours and scents seemed to blend into one.

Why do I feel like this? she wondered. It's amazingly beautiful but…it's somehow…boring.

It was insistent, and she hurt her head trying to remember what it was. After a moment, she assumed it was just simply an odd feeling. But she felt as though she missing something. Something important. Like that indescribable feeling was…incomplete somehow. Perhaps she was sent here to examine the flowers. After all, she was a Pupil of Earth.

A Pupil of…of…of Earth! That was it! Wasn't it? It was the key…it had to be.

So, a key. A key to what? A key to the Garden? No, that wasn't it; she was already inside the Garden. She hadn't used the key yet, so…what could it be?

Think, Terri, think, she thought fiercely to herself. Something moved slightly inside her. She didn't know what it was. Surprise? Annoyance? Apprehension? Fear? Guilt? Come on,what is it?

Suddenly it hit her. When Pupils graduated, they had to pass a test. For the Earth Pupils, it was to go to the Garden of Flowers and… No! I've lost my train of thought! …Yes! They were supposed to find the Oracle! If they could find her and gain her approval, they were able to proceed to become Roses!

Terri reveled in her 'discovery'. Then her joy turned to puzzlement and she turned a full 360 degrees. Where was the Oracle? Suddenly she heard a crack above her. She looked up swiftly to see a jagged line rip through the azure sky. Then the ground shook abruptly and cracks appeared in the ground. The ground rumbled frighteningly as the ground split. Pieces of earth and rock flew everywhere, scraping Terri's face, arms and legs. She tried to stop the rock sandstorm but they kept whizzing by as if nothing had happened.

She panicked. "What do I – what am I supposed to – I don't – how do I – aargh!" she screamed.

Dozens of beautiful flowers and damp clumps of dirt fell into the unknown. Unconscious tears began to creep their way down her now pale cheek.

"The flowers…! No…no! The roses, the daffodils..they're all dying!" Indeed, as the blooms were uprooted, they withered almost instantaneously and looked as though they had been dead for thousands of years, dust scattering to the four winds.

The earth below her suddenly gave way. She shrieked as she fell into the abyss.

Terri woke up to horrific scenery.

The first thing she saw was a dull cloudy sky. Nothing small and fast chirrupy entered the grey dome. Nothing towered high above her, extending colourful branches for all to see. Diminutive, dry black sticks protruded from the dusty, lifeless land.

"Wh-what's going on?" she wondered aloud. Distress was clear in her hazel eyes. "Where am I?"

She got up and gazed around, despairing at the barren land.

The temperature plummeted. Terri shivered in the cold. Hail fell from the sky and formed huge stalagmites. A slow, evil chuckle filled the air, making chills run down her spine. Darkness descended, and Terri glanced around frantically.

A man walked out of the shadows.

He was compellingly handsome. His straight black hair fell to his waist and his big eyes were a very deep blue that were almost black. His skin looked as soft as a newborn baby's and his hands were smooth and delicate. His thick eyebrows were drawn into a frown, making him look very daunting. He was so tall Terri had to crane her neck to see his face.

Suddenly his brows lifted and his full lips quirked into a welcoming smile. He said in a loud, booming voice, "Welcome, Terrissa of Earth's Refuge. Welcome."

Terri was confused."How do you know my name? And why are telling me 'welcome' when this place is…is…devoid of life and desecrated?!" A note of suspicion crept into her voice.

"Ah, yes," he replied, "I was – and still am – joyful at your arrival. For you see," and here he swept a hand around him, "this place used to be beautiful, a natural paradise. That is, until he came."

"He? Who is this 'he' you are referring to?"

He looked around furtively before bending down to Terri and whispering, "The wizard. His name…is Xavanni."

"Xavanni," she breathed.

"Don't! Don't say his name loudly. He can hear you, sense you, even see you when you say it. And then it's all over. Names are power."

"Um…shouldn't we not be saying his name then? You should have said that before…"

"It's all right if we're whispering it. But we should make a code name for him so we don't have to speak so softly. What about..Xavier?"

"Perfect." She smiled. "But tell me, what exactly did 'Xavier' do here?"

His eyes darkened. "Xavier…his title is the Shadow Wizard of Ethrell. This place was once beautiful beyond measure. But then he came." He frowned fiercely and his eyebrows furrowed deeply, transforming his handsome face completely. Terri drew back in fright. "He unleashed dark magic upon the Garden, stripped it of its blossoms and plants, trees and bushes, even chased away the tiny animals that inhabited it. The Oracle was unable to stop him. He imprisoned her. Where, nobody knows. Except, of course, Xavier himself." He smiled wryly.

"But what was that place I was walking in only a few minutes ago? And who is the Oracle?"

The Oracle is the Seeress of Brithfa. That place you were walking in, that's a physical manifestation of her power. She was forced into it by Xavier to deter all intruders."

"So what is Ethrell and Brithfa? And what does a Seeress of Brithfa do?"

"Ethrell is the other name for the Underworld." Seeing Terri's puzzled look, he continued, "Really, what do they teach you these days? Ethrell is the place where monsters dwell and come from. It is also the place where truly bad souls go to be punished for all eternity. It was named after the ruler of Chaos, Phraetl.

"The Lady Irynia is the Goddess of Life. She reigns supreme from Brithfa, the Realm of Light. Legend tells that when the world is thrown into darkness, she will descend and save us all."

He smiled bitterly. "But no one believes that anymore. So many times has Light failed, and Darkness reigned, and She has not come down from above, that we have lost hope. It is said that She will come every time. She has not."

The name rang a faint bell in Terri's mind. Lady Irynia?! Isn't that…no it couldn't be. Though…it sounds so similar! Lady Erinnya…I wonder if she was named after her? She thought.

"The stories…I've only heard them once in my life, and that was when I was very young," she mused.

"The story is told to every newborn baby, but there's no point anymore," he scorned, "She won't come."

Terri was suddenly quite eager to change the subject. "So what brought you here?"

His eyes softened and closed and he lowered his head. "I was called here by the Oracle." He said no more and Terri was not inclined to talk.

She stood there with the man for a few awkward minutes. At last, she ventured to ask one more question.

"What is your name?"

He opened his eyes wide and said something inaudibly.

"Pardon?" Terri leaned forward. They were now so close together she could smell his peppermint and cherry breath.

"Xavanni."

Author's Note: Yikes! What's going to happen? Stay tuned to find out!

Sorry about the really long wait…next week's exams! It might be awhile before I update again. As soon as exams finish, hopefully I'll go on a writing spree!

See you all next time!