This is the sequel to Eternal Fire. While it is not necessary, I recommend reading Eternal Fire sometime because some things make a little bit more sense in this story if you do. It's your choice. Enjoy and please comment!
The sand twirled around Raven's face as she walked across the desolate dunes. Her black garments were totally inappropriate for this harsh terrain. She wore tight black leather boots and pants. Her upper body was covered only by shredded black fabric that was held together by narrow leather straps. She had no sleeves to shield her bare upper back and exposed arms, only a long, thin, black cloak. Her sleek black hair was blowing in all directions and her hood had blown off many times. Everything about her appearance was black and white. Even her eyes were dark. The only bit of color against her pale flesh was a silver chain around her neck and the blue, crystal Tear that glittered on that chain. Raven had shed that tear once and now it rested against her collar bone. She never took it off.
Raven had not spent much time in the Fire Sea, but she already knew that she hated the place. The heat was immense and she had seen nothing except sand for miles, but she could not be far now. The miners at one of the drilling sites just north of her location had pointed the way for her when she asked them about the home of the Yensa Tribe. "Turn back now child," one of the workers had urged her. "The Yensa are very hostile towards outsiders." Raven had shaken off his warning and had walked solemnly on into the vast desert.
Raven was getting excruciatingly thirsty. She looked out to the horizon and saw sheer cliffs just ahead of her. Smiling slightly, she ran forward to take shelter beneath the shadows of the dry rock. When she was out of the wind, Raven cupped her hands into the shape of a bowl and concentrated hard. Slowly, cool water pooled into her hand. This young woman was highly gifted in the arts of Black Magic. In just a short amount of time, she had learned how to manipulate fire, wind, water, and thunder. Raven had been 17 when her mentor, Lazaar, had taken her under his wing. That had been a year ago. Raven carefully raised the sweet water to her lips and sucked it into her mouth. She had only just finished wiping away the stray water that had dripped down her chin when a piercing screech rang out from behind her. She whipped around as creatures appeared from behind the rocks. Raven had heard stories about the Yensa and she had hoped that the stories had been greatly exaggerated, but to her dismay, they had not. The Yensa were rather tall creatures with curved spines. They had sharp claws, black beaks, scaly skin that was the color of rust, large yellow eyes, and they wore brown rags for clothing. However, Raven showed no sign of fear as the Yensa formed a circle around her and aimed their sharp, steely spears at her. She simply reached for the silver chain around her neck and showed them the sparkling blue Tear that hung from the end. The mark of magic was something that the Yensa had always respected. As if caught in a moment of shock, the spears were lowered and the Yensa were whispering to each other in their own tongue as if they did not know what to make of this gesture. Finally, one of them hissed raggedly, "Come!" Raven did so obediently and followed them. They lead her through the canyon until they reach one side of the cliff. The Yensa that had spoken to her stepped forward and placed a gnarled hand on the cliff face muttering under his breath as he did so. Some sort of ancient seal glowed bright on the rock and the stone wall slowly pulled apart to reveal a dark passageway.
The Yensa glided down the passageway. As they moved through the corridor, glowing lights appeared above their heads. Soon, the passage gave way to a large cavern. The cavern was not a pretty place. On the contrary, it had a very somber appearance. Other Yensa were there, moving in and out of tunnels that all seemed to lead to this hall of stone. Raven was lead down sharp steps into the hall. Sitting in the center of the hall was an old man. He wore long beige robes and had snow white hair that hung in strings down to his shoulders. She had heard a rumor among the miners that an old man lived with the Yensa tribe and had been taught in the ancient rites of the Yensa people. His name was Dalan. Not forgetting respect, Raven sank to one knee and bowed her head extending her cape as she did so. She heard the old man whisper to the Yensa in their strange language.
She looked up when she heard him say, "It has been a long time since an Arcane has passed through these halls." Raven stood up and removed her hood letting her hair fall to her shoulders.
"Dalan," she said with all the respect that she could muster. "I have heard about you and . . . I'm honored to meet you at last."
"The famous Raven Darkwater," he said smiling. "What brings you to the Fire Sea?" This was the question that Raven had feared the most, but it was the question that needed to be answered the most. Her hands shook slightly as she unclasped her cloak. She let the black fabric fall to the ground and turned around to expose her back. She heard gasps of shock echo through the hall. Sharp whispers passed among the observing Yensa.
The Yensa who had spoken to her earlier gave a piercing cry, "Demon!" She turned back around and saw that Dalan's smile had vanished.
"What have you done to yourself, child?" He sounded alarmed.
"I did not do this." Raven's voice was shaking. On her back were thick, black lines that curved sharply and looked similar to the bone structure of wings. The black marks twisted from her lower back all the way across her shoulder blades and up to the base of her neck.
"Then who did this to you?" Dalan asked in a hushed voice. Raven had thought long and hard about this already.
"I . . . I don't know," she whispered. Then, she quickly added, "I was hoping that-"
"That I could tell you how to get rid of it," Dalan interrupted. He finally understood the reason that she had come. Raven nodded silently. Dalan shook his head and sighed.
"I'm afraid that I can't help you. Do you have any idea what that is on your skin?"
"I was hoping that you could tell me."
"I have heard a great deal about you Raven," Dalan said changing the subject rather suddenly.
"What do you know?" she asked coldly.
"I know that Raven is not your real name and that you were once called Stelmaria Acurrion. You come from a wealthy family, but you ran away after your mother was murdered, changed your name, and became a member of the Arcane. Your talents in Black Magic were unmatched by any other Arcane, but your mentor was murdered shortly afterwards by your own brother.
"However, you also managed to temporarily halt the genocide imposed upon the Arcane people by negotiating with President Sevarius himself. Now, you carry the expectations of all the people of Acadia, you have a father who has recently disowned you, a brother who doesn't know whether to love or hate you, and you have abandoned your friends because you are too ashamed to face them with that mark imprinted upon your flesh. Am I accurate so far?"
"How do you know all of this?" Raven snarled viciously losing all respect in her voice. All of her secrets had just spilled out of the Dalan's mouth. Raven had wanted nothing more than to suppress those old memories. They did nothing, but distract her and yet they always surfaced somehow. Dalan stared back at her calmly. Her anger seemed to have little or no effect on him.
"I have been in the desert for many years and the Yensa have taught me how to look at a person. How to look directly into their soul and I can tell you that when I looked into your soul, all I saw was hate for an unidentified killer, fear of what is attached to you, and uncertainty about the part you will play in the future of Acadia. All you feel is hate and anger. There is no peace inside your soul." Surprisingly, Raven felt no anger at this statement. Guilt swept through her as she knew all this to be true. Suddenly, Dalan looked at her with a piercing gaze. "Tell me," he asked unexpectedly. "Have you ever heard of Rune Mastery?" A bizarre question, Raven thought as she shook her head. She did not know what a Rune was and she certainly had never heard of Rune Mastery. "Let me ask you this then," Dalan said with an even stronger piercing look in his eyes. "Have there ever been periods of time since the appearance of that mark where you cannot remember anything?" Raven thought hard.
"Let me see . . . I was attacked somewhere I think, but then I woke up in the middle of nowhere and I had that mark on my back. Why?" Dalan looked sadly into her eyes.
"Then, I think that I know what that sign on your back is."
"What?" Raven asked anxiously, but Dalan just shook his head.
"Understand this . . . Raven Darkwater. Your mentor has lied to you."
"What are you talking about?" Raven demanded stepping forward angrily. Dalan stood calmly in front of her.
"There are other forms of magic than just the ones that you have been taught about. The usage of such forms is strictly forbidden by the Arcane for these forms are too evil and too terrifying to even imagine." Dalan's words chilled Raven's heart.
"My mentor never lied to me," she murmured to herself. Lazaar had taught her everything and she greatly respected him. More than she respected her own father. He couldn't have lied to her.
Raven looked up sharply and demanded again, "How do you know all this?" Dalan shrugged.
"The Yensa do not believe in letting stories die. That is their way. So, when the Arcane try to erase the past, the Yensa cling to the remains." Dalan's eyes suddenly clouded. "That mark on your back may be a sign that evil magic has merged with your soul."
"What are you talking about?" Raven demanded frantically. "I've already merged with Black Magic. You cannot merge with two magical brands." Raven knew that that wasn't true. It was possible, but completely forbidden by the Arcane and highly dangerous. Fear was gripping her tightly as she felt herself accepting this as the truth.
"Tell me what I must do, Dalan," Raven begged.
Dalan gave her a look of sympathy as he spoke, "Magic is irreversible, but perhaps if you make peace with yourself, then this dark magic may remain dormant inside of you. Dark magic feeds off your hate. Do you still have nightmares?" Raven gritted her teeth. She was beginning to get annoyed by the way Dalan seemed to know everything about her and she had only just met him. "You must learn to forgive yourself for the failures you think that you have committed," Dalan stated.
"How?" Raven whispered looking down at the stone beneath her boots. Her nightmares had gotten worse ever since that mark had appeared on her back. She dreamed of her mother's ghost and her haunted spirit followed Raven whenever she slept.
"Start by returning to your friends," Dalan said simply. He made it sound so easy. How could she return? She could be a possible threat to them and she needed more time alone. Raven shook her head.
"Too dangerous," she said bluntly.
"I do not believe that fate meant for you to walk your path alone."
"There is no other way," Raven said in a solemn voice. Dalan sighed as if he realized that he was not going to try to persuade her any further.
"You may spend the night here, but from then on you must continue on your journey."
"Thank you," Raven said gratefully. "But won't you tell me the meaning of this symbol on my skin?" Dalan shook his head again.
"That is a Rune and I am sure you will learn for yourself what it means. All in good time." Raven had no idea what to make of this remark. She thought Dalan was a strange old man, but he had given her the first advice she had received in such a long time. It seemed so hard to change everything, but she had changed before. From Stelmaria to Raven. Raven scooped up her cloak in her arms. Some of the Yensa women hurried forward and led her down one of the tunnels to a tiny room with only a brown woven mat on the floor. They left for a few moments only to return with a cup of sweet nectar. Raven had heard that the Yensa survived on a peculiar and rather selective diet. She had been told that they drink the nectar of crimson Scorchflowers and eat the meat of Sand Wolf. Raven took the cup in her hand and tasted the clear juice. It had a sweet tangy taste and Raven gulped it down desperately. Afterwards, Raven took a deep breath and sat down on the mat. She felt exhausted as if she had carried a heavy load for many miles, but she carried nothing but a curse. Raven closed her eyes and began a long meditation.