Whew, I finally finished writing this chapter! Gosh, I need to stop procrastinating so much :/ That will be the death of me.

Like usual, if you have any questions, don't hesitate to leave a review or PM me! So please R&R!

From here on in, things are going to start getting intense, despite the ending of this chapter! Look forward to it!

Chapter 7

The Fire Within

All of our love has yet to wake…

"Well, what are you waiting for?"

I flinched at the harshness of Muirik's tone. The afternoon wind breezed through the White Jillas of Zural Field, which was apparently the best hunting spot for weak monsters. Hard to believe that Angelique was in a place like this, collecting herbs like it was no one's business.

Honestly, I… I didn't know what I expected. Maybe if I just got stronger, the monsters would just leave me alone? Well, whatever it was, it wasn't killing. Just the thought of slicing through something, making blood shed everywhere and ending its life, filled me with immense dread.

But Muirik hadn't been training me for nothing. He expected me to become a murderer of sorts. I didn't know if I had it in me. Could I really end something's life forever, regardless of whether or not it was evil? Granted, I had been learning self defense for most of my life, but I never even pictured having to kill something with it.

I shook my head fiercely, a grimace creating frown lines all over my face. "I can't do it. I can't… just kill something."

Muirik heaved a positively gigantic sigh and shoved off the willow-like tree (called a umehi, apparently) he was leaning against, then began striding towards me. "Listen," he began with an impatient tone. "These monsters kill for life. In the end, if you kill them, you're helping ever single villager in the long run."

I twitched nervously. "But won't it upset the balance of nature or something?"

He shrugged. "Maybe. But that's not your problem. Your problem is learning how to survive here. Let me tell you, children much younger than yourself have already killed countless monsters. There's even a rite of passage that states you must to become a man."
Horror contorted my features. "That's insane!" I nearly ripped Phoenix, safely inside its sheath, off of my belt and threw it to the ground. "You're staining a child's hands with buckets of blood! Have you no shame?"

He gave me that cold smirk again. "That's just how things work here."

Shaking my head fiercely again, I began backing away. I just knew I couldn't become a killer, no matter what. I didn't have it in me. Of course, when playing video games, I didn't even think twice about stuff like this; because it wasn't real. But now I was faced with real monster slaying, and it was like I couldn't stress it enough.

Muirik ears seemed to catch something I couldn't, and he discreetly placed his large hands on my shoulders and pulled me into the shadows of an umehi. "Look what we have here," he growled with a menacing smirk. I twisted my head to try and see what he saw, and ended up staring straight at a boar-like creature, with large, sharp tusks and strange black patterns running up its green back. "Your first target."

I grimaced and shuddered. I couldn't even look at it knowing Muirik wanted me to end its life. Regardless of that, the bastard pushed me out of the safety of the umehi, right into its line of vision. I threw a vicious glare back at him.

"For the love of- Valerie, just cut the damn thing down," he hissed, rolling his black eyes exaggeratedly.

"I can't," I wheezed, staring at the boar, flicking flies away with its tail as it grazed. "Look at it, it's not even doing anything!"

"I was hoping I wouldn't have to do this," he muttered, staring off at the sun in its zenith. "Draw your sword!"

I clutched the hilt reflexively. "Why?"

"Just do it!"
With narrowed eyes, I drew Phoenix from its sheath with a xing! I held it in front of me as its life pulsed through me, and I gave my heartbeat to it. Flames began to flicker on the blade, pulsing as if they were made from my heartbeat.

I heard Muirik grunt, and saw something flash through the air. Suddenly the boar was squealing at the top of its lungs and kicking back and forth like trying to shake something off. I squinted at it to see that Muirik had thrown a dagger into its back.

It suddenly turned its normally sorrel gaze to me, and then its eyes began to blaze crimson. It kicked the dirt a few times, then began to charge at me, tusks first as if to pierce straight through me.

"What the- hey!" I yelled to Muirik. "What the hell do you think you're doing?!"

"Better kill it if you don't want to become lunch," he sang, cruelly icy as always.

I turned back to the boar. It was approaching rapidly, squealing and huffing. I automatically began to jog backwards, hoping to avoid it. But it suddenly increased its speed and grazed my side, since I leapt out of the way just in time.

Being bitten by the Kilta and feeling its venom seep through my veins had to be the most painful thing I'd ever experienced. But being sliced by some monster boar's tusk was no picnic. It stung as if I had been sliced with a perfectly sharpened knife, and blood began streaming from my waist and down my leg, leaving a stream of warmth and a coppery scent. I winced, both from the pain and the horrid smell.

But I didn't have time to focus on that. It was changing directions fast, and coming right back at me. Like my body had no control, I swung myself around to face it head on. My hand tightened on Phoenix's hilt, and my eyes widened in horror. Just as the boar was coming straight at me, nostrils flaring and eyes burning, my hand switched directions so it was holding Phoenix in a straight line.

The boar ran straight through it and cut itself in half, splattering its life blood all over my legs and staining Phoenix's blade red.

For one painstakingly still moment, everything was silent. Not even the breeze stirred the umehi leaves or White Jilla petals. It was just me, staring down at my legs and blade in shell-shocked silence.

Then the boar's body exploded into ashes and sparks, and my legs suddenly couldn't support me anymore. I fell to the ground, speechless and mortified.

I just took something's life away. It would never take another breath, eat anymore grass, or go back to its boar family, if it had one. All of the air rushed from my lungs, and I continuously gasped for breath as sweat beaded my forehead.

Tears pricked the corners of my eyes as my expression transformed into a grimace. Oh God, I felt like I was going to puke. There was no trace of its body, sure, but the feeling of its flesh giving way to my blade as I sliced through it would be preserved in my memory forever.

Muirik stepped out of the umehi's shade and crouched down beside me. "Don't be so hard on yourself," he grunted, and if I didn't know better, I would think he was trying to comfort me. "Don't think about this like you're taking its life away; think of it like you're finally giving it freedom."

Very slowly, I lifted my head to meet his blank expression, regarding me solemnly. "What… do you mean?"

He sat back in the jade green grass, and then a breeze rustled the blades around his legs. He inhaled, then looked up at the blue-diamond sky, staring at the cotton puffs that were clouds. "There's an old legend in Wonderland," he began in his I'm-about-to-tell-you-something-important voice.

"It states that everything was born from the Flames of Creation, that the fire of our spirits never truly goes out. But once we die, our bodies will be burned into ash by our spirits being set free. We return to the fire from once we came, finally able to be at peace with it once again. The same goes with monsters. So when you destroy one, don't think of it like you're erasing it from existence. You're returning it to its home, to where it truly belongs, so it will never have to suffer again."

I mulled over that for a moment, letting the concept bat back and forth in my brain for a bit. "But… won't their spirits just be born again?"

He was shaking his head before I even finished. "Monsters and mages differ the most in that way," he grunted. "We can be reborn countless times because of our almost humane spirits. But monsters cannot. It just goes against their natural and magical genes."

"What, exactly, are the Flames of Creation?"

"The title is fairly explanatory," he snorted, making me feel like a dumb child again. "This world was moulded by fire, the fire of the Great Spirit, which is basically our almighty God. A legend says that he was in a war with the god of Darkness, which we refer to as the Dark One, and they used flames of white and black to battle it out. Their powers and spirits stemmed from fire, just like ours.

"They say that the stars here are made from violet flames," he continued, gesturing at the sky. "That each is a mage's spirit until it can be reborn. The sun is the spirit of the Great Spirit, and the moon is the spirit of the Dark One. Their battle continues to this day, day and night, until one can be plunged into the other for the rest of eternity. So the aftermath of their fiery battle was the shaping of this world, our landforms, our people, and our souls. That is what the Flames of Creation are."

This topic seemed to be some sort of jagged, rocky tundra, and no matter how hard I tried to smooth it out in my mind, I could never do it. It just seemed too complicated for me to grasp. Plus that explanation didn't really make sense to me. I was about to say so when Muirik took deep breath and recited what seemed to be a poem.

"From flames we came to flames we shall return,

As their battle wages on,

To the Dark of the night to the Light of day,

They will not rest until one is gone,

As long as the stars burn, lighting up the night,

And the Great One casts shadows unto the world,

One can never truly win,

Until the catalyst is unfurled."

Well, that sounded awfully cryptic. And the whole concept of it gave me the shivers. Why couldn't I just have one world to worry about? Now I have to think about the Flames of Creation and stuff, too?

"Understand?" Muirik asked. Before I could answer, he cut me off. "Good. Now, let's keep training."

I looked to the drying blood on my legs and sniffed.

He stood, then held out a hand to help me follow. I normally would get up on my own, but my legs were still shaking, so I grasped his calloused fingers and let him heft me up. He smiled dryly at me.

"Remember that you're finally sending them home," he restated, making me roll my eyes. He could say that as often as he liked, but that didn't change the fact that he was working hard to make me into a killer.

I hated how it was my life or their's. I wasn't made to be a killer, and yet here I was, having to go against my mould. When I got home, I would get there with blood staining my hands. And no amount of soap or anything could ever wash it off.

(+)

That night, Muirik decided that it would be safe enough to show me the stars.

It made me sick to even think it, but I did… kill my fair share of monsters today. It was almost like I was made to do it, it seemed that easy. With each drop of blood I spilled, I could feel my chest weighing heavier and heavier with the weight of death I was putting on myself. But even so, the boars seemed almost too easy for me now.

Today I learned something about myself that utterly disgusted me to the very core of my being. Granted, I had discovered it long ago, since I was probably the biggest tomboy out there. But it seemed like I almost had a… thirst for destruction. An insatiable craving for a challenge, one that would make a feral and inhuman grin spread across my face.

It was sickening.

Was shedding all this blood really worth it? Couldn't I just stick with defensive skills? Because… I could feel myself changing, even though my hit list only has a day's work. I was terrified of what I was becoming, of the red that splattered my legs, a warning of what was to come.

I didn't voice my concerns to Muirik; he would most likely wave it off as post-murder nerves. These new feelings were a slimy, globby bucket of ooze in my chest, spilling over my every nerve until it seemed like I was a monster on the inside, no different from the ones I killed today.

I squeezed my eyes shut while eating dinner, deciding not to dwell on it. It felt as though the more I thought about it, the more monstrous I would become. My appetite was completely eradicated now, and I shoved the cooked meat away from me with distaste.

Muirik slammed his cutlery on the table, glaring at me from his place across from mine. "You're being melodramatic, girl," he growled, and I stared at him unblinkingly. "It isn't as though you're killing because you want to, like some men in the village. You're killing because you have to survive, just like the monsters."

That was the wrong thing to say. I stood, dunked a piece of fabric into our water supply, and began vigorously scrubbing my legs even though all visual signs of blood were scraped away.

Muirik began muttering something about women and their moods when he thought I wasn't listening. It didn't matter to me. I was focused on trying to rub away the layer of skin, since it seemed like I'd never be able to rid it of the feeling of fresh blood. God, this was beginning to sound like some kind prequel to a horror film, showing the murderer's life before they became one.

That's when he said we were going outside to watch the moonrise.

Curiosity slowly began to override my disgust with myself. I wanted to see what the night sky looked like, especially after his story about the Flames of Creation. Slowly, I stood from the water pail and cautiously made my way back to my place at the table.

He nodded at me in approval. "That's better. Wait for me for one moment." With that final sentence, he stood and stepped outside for a minute, leaving me to dunk our dishes in the washing pail (yup, we had designated pails because we're that cool).

A moment later he stepped back in, and gestured for me to follow him into the outdoors that were tainted by the darkness of the night. Fear seemed to settle and brew in my stomach for a moment, considering how active Muirik said monsters were at night. But he said that he set up some more wards and a fire, so they'd try and stay away. I could only pray he was telling me the truth.

I stepped over the threshold, and my jaw fell slack with amazement.

Clearly Muirik wasn't expecting that reaction, for her burst into uncharacteristic laughter. But I couldn't help it. This night sky may not seem special to him, but to me, it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen.

The very first thing about this night sky that caught one's attention was the moon. Sure, it was the same spherical shape is the one in my world, but the colour was a bright, iridescent green, and even from where I stood it looked smooth and polished, almost like a giant tiger's eye in the sky. It bathed everything in an almost heavenly glow, as did the brilliant violet stars. When Muirik told me the story about how the stars blazed like violet flames, he wasn't kidding. Each and every one of them, and there were billions (if not trillions), shone and sparkled like an amethyst in the sky.

That colour of the sky itself seemed identical to the one in my world, though it seemed like it was made of ultramarine glass, delicate and easy to shatter. And there was this white almost band-like substance that surrounded the entire sky in a circle formation, and it seemed to be made out of something sparkly and eye-grabbing, like diamond dust.

"It can't be that amazing," Muirik scoffed.

I gaped at him. "Sure, not to you since your grew up with this sky! But this is completely different from mine. Mine seems almost dull in comparison." I wasn't going to ask why the moon was green or the stars were purple; I was guessing that it was just how things were here, like how our moon was white since it was basically a bunch of gray rock being illuminated by the sun and stars were glowing balls of gas. I decided

not to dwell on it.

Muirik has a fire going only a few paces away from his home, casting an eerie orange glow on the dusty ground. I felt so strange, sitting on the dirt ground with a strange retired knight in another world, staring at the foreign sky. Never in my wildest dreams would I have thought that all this was possible. In a way, I was such a selfish brat, consumed by my own idiosyncrasies.

People have always told me that I was naturally a kind person. But this wasn't true; I never looked past my own little world, my own problems. Sure, I worried about Dotty and Jesse and mourned for Alice every single day. But that's because they were all part of my life. So an entirely alternate world was completely beyond me, since it never concerned me before.

I guessed I was the very definition of a pitiful human being.

Looking for a change of subject so as not to make myself depressed, I struck up a conversation with the retired knight across the blazing embers. "So, Lucius and Alistair haven't come back. Do you think they're alright?" This had actually been riding on my mind for a while, and now seemed as good a time as any to bring it up.

Muirik let out a snort while sipping something from… a leather covered flask?! Dear Lord. "They're completely fine. They can handle themselves."

"Mmm," I murmured in agreement. From the first moment we met, they seemed much more capable and mature than I ever was. "Even though they're brothers, they don't seem anything alike," I giggled, recalling their spats.

But when comparing, say, Christian and Renard, I guessed I wasn't in a place to say anything. The very thought of their names in the same sentence made me start snickering.

Muirik looked at me strangely. "Oh. Figures they didn't tell you."

That caught my attention. "Tell me what?"

"They're not really brothers. I thought it was obvious."

My jaw dropped. "But… they… ah…"
"You even admitted they're nothing alike," he pointed out, and I sat back, defeated. "Which they aren't. Not that I can blame them."

"Elaborate, please."

Muirik took another swing from the leather-bound flask. "It's a bit of a long story, but it's not like we have anything better to do."

I wrapped my arms around my bare legs in preparation and to preserve warmth.

"Alistair's parents are from Colla Village, so naturally, he is as well," he began, spreading out his muscle-y legs. "For generations, their family served the Royal family, so Alistair was familiar with the princess, as they are the same age. They have been… well, I wouldn't say friends, but 'close' since they were small." He shrugged. "When Lucius was adopted into their family, he became a servant to her as well, of course."

That reminded me of that vision I had the other day. I internally gagged.

"Why did they adopt Lucius?"

Muirik lifted his head towards the sky. "I'm only so familiar with the story because it was around when I first came here that it happened. About thirteen years ago, I had retired officially from my knightly status, travelling the kingdom in search of shelter and work. I stumbled upon Colla Village, and they seemed to be having a bit of a monster problem in the woods just beyond Zural Field.

"Well, that's a bit of an under exaggeration. It was a big monster problem. A giant Barson, which is essentially a monster bear, was rampaging through neighbouring villages, like it was restless. The villagers feared that Colla Village would be next, so they joined all the men together, children like Alistair included, and decided to take it down. Out of curiosity, I joined the hunting party, maybe hoping for a place to stay in return."

His eyes narrowed at the jade moon, like the sight of it was repulsive.

"We hunted for days, and the Barson never showed. Finally, on the fourth moonrise, we came across something strange." He used his hand to gesture about sixty centimeters off the ground. "It was Lucius when he was about this tall, abandoned and sniffling against the trunk of a tree. His small, pale body was torn up and covered with blood, with only rags to cover him. He was all alone, and must've been abandoned. Alistair's father took it upon himself to bring the boy home and give him a family.

"Even though they aren't related by blood, Lucius treasures his family above all else. He'd do anything for them, even though that meant discarding his awfully big pride and serving some spoiled monarch. It was… an honour to train him." Muirik's eyes glazed over, and for a moment, I thought he was plastered. But then he snapped out of it, like letting a memory fade away. "He was always so dedicated and brutally honest. He was a brat from the start." He let out a hearty chuckle.

"Sounds like everyone admires him," I said with a warm smile. Lucius seemed like quite the amazing person. So… what was that vision about?

"We don't know where he came from, or why he was in the woods that day," Muirik sighed, turning the flask upside down. Not a drop came out. "But he has quite the personality on him, and is always willing to help. I'm glad that Jamieson took him in." I was going to go ahead and assume that was Alistair's father.

"I'm glad I met him and Alistair," I murmured softly, titling my head up to gaze at the violet stars. They blazed like tiny flames in the sky, wavering but staying strong.

Muirik nodded thoughtfully. "As you should be. But…" He hesitated, seeming to not want to say anything else.

I cocked my head to one side. "But what?"

"There's something about him," Muirik finished, his eyebrows slashing down. "It's different from other mages. But I just can't… I don't know what it is."

"Maybe you're imagining things," I suggested, but I doubted my own words. The thoughts I had in the vision were identical to his doubts. Something about Lucius did seem off. But I shouldn't get in too deep… I am, after all, going home someday.

Something let out a rough howl in the distance, making me snap my head in that direction. Muirik narrowed his eyes at the night sky and said, "I think it's about time we go inside now." With that, he stood, and kicked dirt on the fire until it flickered away.

Before we went inside, I gazed long and hard at the green moon. I missed my regular old white moon. I missed my family, my friends. Now I knew that I had been taking my safe, solid every day routine for granted. I never really understood what people meant when they said to 'enjoy the little things life gives you'. But now, I thought I had a pretty good idea.

Simple things like looking at the night sky were irreplaceable, because it could be torn away from you in an instant.

(+)

"You know, I've been wondering this for a while," Muirik began the next day as we stretched in preparation for training. "But where did you get those close?"

My shoulder rose and fell with a shrug. "I don't know; they were on me when I was brought here." I stretched my arms high above my head, as high as I could. "Why?"

"I've never seen anything like them," he muttered, stretching one muscled arm across his chest. "Though they seem really helpful in nullification."

My arms fell slack to my sides. "What'd you just say?"

He reached out and touched my back, feeling the material. "They're made out of Focca Wolf fur."

I think my expression said exactly what I was thinking. What the hell.

Heaving a sigh, he elaborated. "Focca Wolf is basically a monster wolf made of fire. They say that its fur can nullify fire magic. So what I'm saying is, if you were to run through a blazing building, you'd emerge completely unscathed."

My jaw dropped. "Really?! That's awesome!"

He nodded. "Indeed. I'm surprised that someone like you is clothes as such." And that cued my angry smile. "That's the power of magic. It's not only your garments, but your footwear as well," he continued, pointing down at my weird shoes. "Those are the footwear of a knight cadet. There were made for combat and comfort."

I wriggled my toes inside of the shoes. They did feel very comfortable, even though I've been working in them for days. And they were really light, as well. I felt as though I could just burst into spontaneous dance in them… but I wouldn't.

"In light of this," he snapped, startling me out of my reverie. "Today I'm going to be training you how to use magic."

For a minute, I blanked, and I was only able to blink in response. Then I did this weird scoff/giggle type thing. "I'm sorry," I said to him, staring him down. "What makes you think I'm a mage?"

His eyes were stabbing holes into my head. "Are you serious? All this time I've been hinting that you're a mage." He gestured to my entire body with a furious flick of his hand. "You're wearing some unique mage garb, have your destined weapon, and even the fact that you came here should be enough proof!"

I flinched, my eyes widening with horror when I realized how true his words were. If I really was a mage, that would explain how I wasn't destroyed when I was dragged into a Rift, have some enchanted sword and clothes that popped out of nowhere, and…

How I got to the other side of the road when I was about to be hit by that car! Dotty said that she didn't see my roll over there, and Christian mentioned he caught me (blush at the memory) as if I was falling. What if I teleported over there or something?

"The look on your face tells me that reality is sinking in," he groaned with an eye roll. "I'm willing to wager that your magic has activated inside of you sometime before, perhaps when you feared your life was in danger. That tends to be when it's first triggered, since the magic tries to keep its host alive so it won't disappear forever. Think if it as a natural defense mechanism."

Well, that seemed really handy. And if I really was a mage, I couldn't even begin to fathom the limitless things I could do. But considering all the books I've read and all the movies I've seen, such a power would come with a price…

"Have you ever noticed that you're stronger than average humans in your world?" Muirik asked suddenly.

Crossing my arms, I thought for a moment. "I… don't know. I mean, I'm stronger than a lot of girls, and my strength seems to be on par with some men…"

"The magic is to blame," he said, causing me to raise my eyebrows. "Magic runs through your veins and spirit. So naturally, it enhances any senses you could have. It makes you faster, stronger, more adept to learning. Which might also be why you adapted to my training and sword play so quickly."

Now that he mentioned it, it did make sense. It wasn't normal to become as good at martial arts as I was in a seven year time frame. That seemed above human level. Everything was beginning to click into place. Maybe I really was a mage…

"But my parents are human," I told him, wondering how I was a mage if they weren't. "And I've never had any encounters with magic, as far as I know."

Muirik was suddenly unable to meet my gaze. "There's another reason why you are gifted with magic. Something that has to do with your spirit." Apparently he wasn't going to tell me any more than that. "Above all, we need to figure out what kind of magic is within you."
"You have to know by now that you need to explain more than that."

He let out another heavy sigh. "By that I mean whether you have the magic of fire, ice, earth, air, Light or…" His gaze became heavy and clouded. "Dark."

I tried to swallow around the fear settling in my throat. I hoped that I didn't have Dark magic or whatever. I knew well enough by now that Dark equals bad.

"I figure that best way to test this," Muirik began again, holding his hand up to the sky. "Would be to test your survival instinct."

With a snap of his fingers, wind suddenly began to whip around us, taking my breath away. I got that sudden 'I'm falling' feeling, and I automatically squirmed, searching for something to hold on to. But before I knew it, it was over, and Muirik and I were standing in a completely unfamiliar area.

It looked like some sort of cliff, considering that I could see the moonset over the bleeding horizon. Chilly air from higher altitude whipped around my arms and legs, making me shiver. I could see tree tops from below, glaring up at me like a warning.

"What just happened?" I demanded, teeth chattering.

Muirik had the gull to shrug. "Simple teleportation. I only moved us to a location I thought would be better to test your skills."

"What skills? I barely know how to use a sword!" I exclaimed, growing tired yet again of condescending crap.

"Exactly why we're going to try and awaken them now," he grinned. Only it wasn't cheerful or joking; it was rather frightening, like I was a little girl and he was my father getting prepared to make me do something I really didn't want to.

"Where… are we?" I asked cautiously. Something in his eyes frightened me, as did this strange setting. It almost seemed like somewhere a hawk would nest or something.

"Keep in mind that your magic only awakens when your life is in danger," he snickered. Oh god. "So I'm putting your life on the line."

And suddenly my heart was plummeting to the cold, hard ground that was my stomach, only to shatter into thousands of bleeding shards. At the same time, I heard a large cry overhead, one so deep and booming that my eardrums felt like they were going to burst.

With my heart pounding in my ears and my blood rushing through me, I whipped my head up to stare into the moonset-dyed clouds. A large, winged form was swooping through them, getting closer with each revolution it made.

My face melted into a mask of pure horror and terror. "Don't tell me that's-"

"A mighty wyvern," Muirik sniffed, like he was proud of himself. "We just happen to be standing directly in front of its nest. You might want to begin focusing now."

Words couldn't even begin to describe how much I was beginning to hate this man. The animosity and fear were shaking me to my bones, to the point where I couldn't even pick up my arms. "How on earth- what am I even supposed to focus on?!"

"Focus on your spirit!" He yelled, and I whirled around to find that he had ducked behind a nearby tree, the coward. He was honestly leaving to face a dragon type thing by my fucking self! "Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and focus on your heartbeat! Then beyond that! What lies beyond your heart?!"

Hell if I knew! The wyvern was gradually circling closer, so close now that I could see its colour: a deep, ultramarine blue that glistened like it was wet. If I could make out that much, it wasn't a good sign. My breath began exploded from me in frantic, frightened bursts as my heart was a time bomb, ticking away until the wyvern was close enough to stare into my eyes.

I tried listening to Muirik, closing my eyes and slowing my breath. It was hard, extremely hard, especially when I was beginning to feel the wind from the wyvern's wings flapping stirring my hair around my shoulders. Focus… focus, goddammit… Even if I wanted to, I couldn't pull out Phoenix and fight with it. I would have to risk getting close enough to cut it, and it wasn't worth it. I would somehow have to find out how to get my magic going, or die trying.

I could count my rapid heartbeat… bump, bump, bump, bump. I tried picturing a red, fleshy heart beating in my chest, then beyond that. What lied in my bones, inside of me? What made up my being? God damn, it was spirit! For Chrissake why couldn't I feel anything?!

My eyes snapped open to see the wyvern directly above me, its golden eyes glaring down at me like I was the threat. Its wings flapped furiously, making my hair whip around my face and the debris around me dance in a rapid whirlwind. Oh god oh god oh god…

It let out another mighty cry, sounding like the hiss of a snake, the wail of an eagle, and the roar of a panther. Its wings almost seemed feathered, with a scaly body of a giant lizard. Once its mouth opened, I could see rows and rows of fangs, held together with a jaw made for chomping.

If I wasn't going to die from this thing eating me, it would be from the heart attack I was having right now. My eyes squeezed shut one last time as I felt the air around me stir from the beast rushing at me.

A light burst on my eyelids, and my body went completely lax. I didn't feel pain; I was in a numb state. Everything in my body tingled with power pulsing through my blood, carried straight to my heart. I wasn't aware of anything.

My eyes slowly opened to meet the fierce gaze of the wyvern, which suddenly hesitated a breath away from me. My vision became shrouded with black, and my body went on autopilot.

A hand rose from my side, palm-facing outward, directly at the monster.

Then everything was consumed with a blinding, razor sharp light just as the sun broke through the line of the horizon, casting everything in a brilliant golden glow as the flames licked away all signs of the wyvern's life.

I didn't know how much time passed; seconds, minutes, hours. All I could feel was slowly coming back to myself, like my own consciousness had been shoved from my body by an irresistible force. I blinked numerous times, trying to clear the dark fog that had clouded my vision.

"What happened…?" I asked groggily. Muirik stood in front of me, his body slack with amazement. His broad shoulders hitched up at the sound of my voice.

Slowly, he turned back to look at me with an almost awed gaze. It also looked a bit… frightened. I got that bad feeling in my chest again, the one that tightened around my heart in a poisonous grasp.

"Look," he gasped, stepping aside so I could see the carnage.

All of my breath rushed out of me as my legs buckled beneath me.

My brain wasn't able to properly register the scene I was seeing: a giant, scorched dragon skeleton, its jaw gaping like it was about to swallow something whole. Black ash dotted certain areas of the white ivory bones, every piece of flesh from its body burned away. The smell of sweet, raw, rotting flesh rolled around in the air like waves crashing to a shore. It consumed me, filling my nostrils until it actually became a taste.

I retched, my entire body stiffening like it had been zapped of any energy it had.

"Well," Muirik began, sort of breathlessly. "I think it's safe to say that you have the magic of fire."

No shit, Sherlock. I wanted to say something snarky, but I couldn't find my voice in the darkness I had been plunged into. It washed over me, a swallowing sea of no return. How many things have I killed now? I just burnt something alive. I was completely repulsed by myself. This couldn't be me. I didn't belong here…

All my thoughts were cut off by ice water being splashed all over my body.

… At least that's what it felt like. In reality, I still kneeled on the hard ground with my hands supporting me. But my body was beginning to go numb. Despite that, I could still feel my skin crawl, millions of little spiders (and the trauma strikes again) scraping on my skin.

"Muir-Muirik," I managed to gasp, gazing at him helplessly. He turned to look at me, then his expression snapped into that of shock. "Something's… happening…"

"It's… Valerie, a Rift is opening behind you!" He yelled, pointing.

Startled to shock, I managed to move my numbing head to glance behind me. Like something was tearing it open, it seemed like the space behind me was being ripped in two. Whisps of black were flickering from the gaping crack, and they almost seemed to be pulling my body, dragging me in…

"Muirik, what the hell!" I screeched, my vocal chords a protesting cacophony.

"It's dragging you back!" He yelled right back like I was dumb. "Back you your world!"

Behind all the fear and terror, I felt relief blossom in my chest, a newborn hope. I was going home. In a fucked up way, sure, but I was going home, no less.

"You'll be back!" He screamed just as my legs became engulfed by the black smoke. "Your purpose has yet to be fulfilled!"
My hope become a popped balloon. But I still found the strength to attempt a smile at him. "Guess I'll see you then!"
Everything became darker than pitch once more.

(+)

I couldn't remember my body aching this much. Well, maybe after my little encounter with the Kilta, but other than that this pain was foreign to me.

Was I going through acupuncture? That's sure as hell what it felt like. Everything about my body felt heavy, like I had been shot with a freaking elephant dart. I tried opening my eyes… nope, they were practically anvils. Try again…

Very slowly and painfully, my eyelids managed to crack open.

Directly above me were metal pipes and wooden beams, like the support to a… house…

"Val? You alright?" I heard a familiar voice call. It bounced off the walls, making my ears bleed. "I heard you scream…"

I tried to say something as warmth suddenly flowed through my entire body. Mom. That was my mom.

"Valerie!" She screeched from the top of the stairs. The light from the kitchen and smell of spiced chicken assaulted my senses, familiar and achingly comforting. The numbness was fading away, and I could feel the cold, hard basement ground beneath my hands and fingers.

Mom called Dad and Jason, then they all boomed down the stairs to my side. Jason wriggled his arm under my neck to support my deadweight, shaking me slightly.

"Val, what's wrong?! Why are you cut everywhere?!" He demanded, worry clouding his beautifully familiar features.

For a moment, the room was filled with some sort of numb shock. Then it was all broken by the warmth of tears flooding my eyes, an amount so copious I couldn't even see my elder brother's face above mine.

I darted up and threw my arms around his solid, warm frame, wailing like a child. I was home. For now, I didn't have to hurt any more. Shockingly enough, it seemed as though I was still in my school uniform, like my adventure hadn't happened at all.

But I knew it had. My cuts and bruises from training with Muirik were still there.

For now, I could forget all that. I could forget that I had become a murderer, that blood now stained my hands. All there was right now was my family and I in the cold basement, demanding to know what the hell was the matter with me.

Not even a second had passed in my world. The broken china still littered the floor.