Titaia extended her arms to the sides, fire engulfing her. It rose in a blazing column above the stage. And then went out with a puff of smoke. Titaia was gone. The crowd clapped and cheered and applauded her.
And even from behind the curtains she could hear them as clear as day. She was panting, a thin layer of sweat plastered to her skin. But it wasn't from the heat. It was from sheer exhaustion. Fire manipulating was a type of magic, and all magic requires an enormous amount of energy. To create flames from nothing is a hard enough task as is.
After an entire day of performing, Titaia was spent. She swore she heard bed call her name. Her head was spinning as she made her way to the changing rooms. She pressed two fingers to her temples and clenched her teeth. The world around her started to sway. She didn't even notice she was falling until she felt Carlos's arms wrap around her.
"Titaia," He said low in her ear. "Are you all right?"
She rested a hand on her head and stumbled out of his arms. "Yes, I'm alive and well. Just a little tired is all."
He was still holding her free hand in his. Concern laced his voice. "Are you sure?"
"Never been so sure in my life." She tugged her hand out of his and began to walk away. "I'm just... I'll see you tomorrow."
Before he could protest, she slipped into her designated changing room and shut the door behind her. She leaned with her back against the wood, taking deep breaths.
Her head was aching, her limbs throbbing. Her insides felt like they had set on fire.
Something wasn't right.
Her heart accelerated. She was hyperventilating now. She started to shake.
In one fluid motion, she tore the mask off her eyes and let it fall to the ground.
A burning sensation rippled across her lower back.
So much pain.
She suppressed a scream.
But it was too much.
She slapped a hand to her mouth, muffling her agonized cries.
And then, all at once, it just... stopped. Her breathing and heartbeat returned to normal. She swiped a hand across her forehead.
She met her own fiery gaze through the mirror, slowly looking up.
Her hand went to touch the red hot skin on her back. She turned around, catching sight of her back through the mirror.
And there it was.
Two smoldering black markings, perfectly symmetrical swirls below each of her shoulder blades.
She couldn't help it. She panicked.
"Titaia?" The door handle rattled. "Titaia, is something wrong? I heard you scream."
Oh no. It was Carlos.
In a hurry, she tugged the pins out of her hair so it tumbled over her shoulders like a black waterfall, concealing the markings. She strapped the mask back on and swung open the door.
"I'm sorry to disturb you, Carlos." She said cooly. "Just a spider. Everything's fine now. No need to worry."
"Okay." He touched her cheek. "But if there's anything you need, don't be afraid to ask."
"I'll... keep that in mind."
She closed the door and sank into her chair.
Titaia left in a hurry after that. Ducking her head under her hood, she ran all the way back to the inn. She tore off her mask and cloak the moment she burst into her room. Something felt seriously wrong.
She tore her tunic off and stared at the markings through the washroom mirror. It had stopped hurting now. Stopped smoldering, too. But her eyes hadn't. Her eyes were glowing in stunning shades of orange and red. They looked as if they would burst into flames there and then.
Her skin was sizzling, something she did whenever she grew anxious.
She ran a bath with ice cold water and teared her clothes off, sweating like never before. Her cheeks were tinted with red.
She climbed into the tub, the water cooling her down ever so slowly.
Her head disappeared below the water. Steam filled the air.
Titaia got colder as the bath started to boil. She sat there for a while, hugging her knees to her chest, thinking.
She stared at her hands. She laid back. She tried to relax. Focus. Concentrate.
But she couldn't.
Something felt wrong.
Something felt seriously wrong.
And then it started again.
She started shaking. Her breathing was uneven. Her heart felt as if it had stopped.
What's wrong with me?
She held her hands to her chest, water bubbling around her.
Her wrist felt like it had been poured over with molten lead.
She held her trembling hand in front of her face.
It seared onto the ivory skin of her wrist.
Hot tears rolled down her cheeks.
What's wrong with me?
Three black lines joined in a triangle, tip facing upwards.
Titaia shut her eyes, wishing the pain to recede.
But it didn't.
She sat there in the boiling bath, clutching her shaking arm, cradling it against her chest.
Ten minutes, twenty minutes, thirty minutes, forty minutes and then a whole hour. The pain still hadn't gone away.
Even when all the bathwater boiled away, leaving Titaia shivering alone in the tub. Even when her tears dried up and left her cheeks stinging.
Two hours later, she climbed out with quivering legs and immediately collapsed onto the bed. She couldn't be bothered to put on clothes. It was too hot for that.
Titaia lay there, her body wracking in sobs.
She didn't know why. She just couldn't stop.
Her head started to ache again. She clutched the pillow, crying into the plush fabric. Her limbs grew numb. But she only cried harder.
Her mind throbbed.
Then whispers came. Like they always do.
Pain. I sense pain. She is in pain. But I only do as his grace commands. Forgive me, children. The bonding will be over soon. You have many things to look forward to...
Titaia stopped listening.
Just like she always does.
The whispers come and go.
But she tries her best not to listen.
She'd gone through enough pain already. She prayed to the Fates, to the Lord of the Heavens, to anyone.
But she was only kidding herself.
They couldn't help her now.
Author's Note: This story is seriously like nothing I've done before. Which is a good thing, right? Well anyway, Titaia lives in the same world as Persephone in my other story, The Legend of Xanthe. But unfortunately their paths will not cross any time soon. They might, but I'm not promising anything.