Twyla parted ways with Renzo back at the castle. With no sign of her father, she headed straight over to Jericho's quarters. Ignoring the servants passing her in the hallways, she dodged one particular ornament that she kept almost knocking over in the past, and eventually made it to the wooden door in the west wing of the palace, a door that was considerably smaller and less grand than the other doors she had passed on the way here.
She almost barged right in without knocking but managed to catch herself in time; she had lost count of the amount of times Jericho had shouted at her for coming straight into his room. After two knocks, she heard his voice call, "Come in," so she pushed open the door and peered cautiously around it.
Jericho was standing by the window but he turned as she came in. Flashing her a grin, he leant against the window frame. "Princess. What can I do for you?"
Twyla closed the door behind her and shuffled awkwardly into the room. "I need to ask you something."
Her mentor opened his mouth, probably for a flippant reply, but quickly seemed to realise that she was being serious. "Okay. Shoot."
"Um… Have you heard of someone called… The Dark Magician?"
Jericho's demeanor changed immediately. His entire body froze, his relaxed expression tightening into a look of fear.
Then, all at once, he seemed to collapse in on himself. Burying his face in his hands, he let out a quiet sob.
"A-Are you okay?!" gasped Twyla, now extremely concerned.
"I will be." Jericho took in a deep breath and straightened out his body. "I just got reminded of someone I lost. That's all."
He picked up a framed photograph from his bedside table and casually tossed it onto the bed. Twyla reached out to pick it up but froze, glancing up at Jericho for permission. At his small nod, she picked up the picture and turned it over.
It was a photograph of a clearly-younger Jericho holding a small girl, about four or five years old, who looked almost exactly like him: dark skin, curly black hair, soft brown eyes.
Just like me, Twyla realised.
"Who's this?" she murmured.
"My daughter," said Jericho quietly, dull eyes fixed on the photo. "Her name was Marla. She died not long after that photo was taken."
Twyla's eyes widened. "I-I never knew you had a family."
"Well… I don't know if I'd call it a family. Her mother left shortly after Marla was born, so I raised her alone. We were never married." He closed his eyes briefly and let out a sigh. "As soon as I told my very religious parents that Eden and I were keeping the baby but not getting married, they all but disowned me. I haven't seen them since before Marla was born. I suppose that little girl was the only family I had for a long time."
Twyla felt tears prick behind her eyelids as she stared down at the image of that little face, the face of a child who had had so much to give to this world, but never got to give it. "What happened to her?" she asked softly.
Jericho cleared his throat, lowering himself onto his bed. "The Dark Magician killed her."
Twyla's breath caught in her throat. "What…?!"
""The Dark Magician" is a codename for one of the most evil magicians to ever live," he explained. "Her name was Nerissa Scribe. You know how the world of magic works, yes? Witch, wizard, warlock?"
Twyla nodded. "Witches have trinkets, wizards have wands, warlocks control the elements."
"Yes. Well, Nerissa was all three."
"There have been two known Hybrids of witch, wizard, AND warlock in the history of the kingdom. Nerissa was one of them. She was originally the royal magician, chosen for her strong elemental magic and wandwork. Her powers were so great that she actually wrote a lot of the spellbook that most wizards use today. But she was not… She wasn't…" Jericho hesitated. "She was a bad person. Magic is always intended to be used for good, but Nerissa, more often than not, went for the evil route. So eventually, your great-grandmother, Queen Phaedra, banished her from the kingdom. I heard there was a particular incident which triggered this decision, but I don't really know anything about it other than a lot of people died. Anyway, a few days after Phaedra banished her, Nerissa returned to the kingdom and slaughtered her in her castle."
Twyla's mouth dropped open. "What?!"
"That's when your grandfather, your father's father, took over. He, along with the new royal magician and her apprentices, managed to defeat Nerissa and seal her away in another dimension. At least, that's what I've heard."
"Wow…" Twyla could hardly think of anything to say to that. "So… why are you telling me all this?"
"You asked." Jericho shrugged, turning his head to gaze out the window. "Because Nerissa is still out there. She was still active twenty years ago when she killed Marla. We may not have seen her since but she IS out there. And there's no way someone as powerful and evil as Nerissa is just sitting around and twiddling her thumbs."
Twyla fell silent, her eyes fixed on the carpet. It was frightening to think that someone that evil was loose in the world, someone who had a terrible history with Twyla's own family. What would happen if Nerissa decided to go after her? Or her father? Fighting off bandits was one thing, but an immortal, all-powerful sorceress with three different kinds of magic?
Jericho must have sensed her thoughts, because he slid off the bed and offered her his hand, a small smile on his face. "Come with me."
Twyla curiously took his hand and let him lead her out of the room. They soon came to a part of the castle that Twyla didn't recognise, but Jericho didn't stop here. He led her right out the side of the palace and into the gardens, down the hill a little way and towards the edge of the forest that bordered this side of the castle.
They stopped in front of the first tree in the forest, a tall, slender redwood. In front of it sat a small grey headstone with the words "Marla. I will see you again on the path to heaven."
"Oh…" Twyla choked back a sob. Graves always filled her with a constricting kind of sadness, whether she knew the deceased person or not, and knowing that this grave belonged to the young child of someone for whom she cared more than anyone else brought her close to tears.
"I wrote those words on her grave myself," said Jericho quietly. "They're from an old poem my grandfather used to read to me. I like them because… well… someday, I'll see her again."
Twyla nodded slowly, watching her mentor carefully. He seemed to be transfixed by the grave, staring at it like he was expecting something to happen. She decided to give him some space.
Just as she turned to walk away, she spotted something floating towards them through the trees. Her confusion quickly turned to horror when she realised what this thing was.
It was the same ghost-like creature that had attacked her and Renzo not three hours ago.
Jericho, however, seemed mesmerised by the creature. He took a step towards it, a hopeful expression on his face. "M-Marla…?" he breathed.
"No, get away from it!" cried Twyla, trying to pull her mentor backwards. "It attacked me and Renzo earlier! It's dangerous! Please, we have to go!"
Jericho lifted his hand and, as if he was possessed, slowly reached out towards the wispy spirit.
A split second later, it shot upwards and soared over Jericho's head towards Twyla, who managed to draw her dagger and slice it in half before it hit her. But just like the last time, her strike did nothing, and the spirit whirled round to attack her again.
Before it could hit her, Jericho leapt in front of her and slashed at it with his sword.
However, instead of simply passing harmlessly straight through it, the blade scored a cut across the front of its body, producing a weird silver blood-like substance.
The spirit reared back with an inhuman scream of pain.
"What-?!" gasped Twyla.
Jericho didn't move. "My blade is infused with magic. It can harm this creature. Yours can't, so get out of the way before you get hurt."
As Twyla dithered, Jericho turned his head to look at her, revealing that his eyes were filled with tears. "GO!"
She reluctantly made a break for the trees.
The spirit, seeing this, tried to go after her but Jericho stabbed it from behind with his sword, producing another scream. It suddenly spun around, wrenching the sword out of Jericho's grip, and shot forwards, the blade of the sword pointed directly at Jericho.
Twyla screamed a warning, but it was too late.
The spirit flew through Jericho and disintegrated, leaving the sword embedded in Jericho's chest.
"NOOOOOO!" Twyla howled.
She sprinted out from the trees but she wasn't in time to catch Jericho as he fell. It was clear as she got closer to him that his wound was extremely serious; the blade had gone all the way through his chest and out the other side.
"Jericho!" she cried hoarsely, throwing herself down next to him. "What do I do?! Tell me what to do!"
Jericho was gasping for breath as his brown eyes found Twyla's. He managed a weak smile. "You can't… do… anything…"
Tears flowed freely from Twyla's eyes as she pressed on his chest with her hand, trying to feel how bad his wound was. "Don't you fucking die on me, Jericho Malachi Khan! DON'T YOU DARE!" She turned her head to scream up the hill: "HELP! I NEED HELP DOWN HERE! SOMEONE PLEASE HELP!"
Turning her attention back to Jericho, Twyla's face twisted in an expression of despair as she realised what Jericho himself already knew: no help would be able to make it in time.
Jericho wasn't going to survive.
"No…" Twyla croaked, bending her head as a fresh wave of tears dripped from her eyes. "Please…"
"Twy, l-listen to me." Jericho inhaled shakily. "Thank you. Thank you for everything."
"W-What are you thanking me for?" Twyla sobbed.
"Being a-able to watch you grow and l-learn over the last few years under my g-guidance has been the best e-experience of my life. You will b-be a great queen s-someday. Just r-remember that."
"B-But I couldn't even save you from that- that THING."
Jericho weakly lifted his shaking hand and brushed her cheek with the backs of his fingers. "You've always b-been like a daughter to me, Twyla. Thank y-you for giving me a f-family again."
Still clutching Jericho's hand with both of her own, Twyla leant forward, her head now resting on Jericho's chest. "I love you, Dad," she whispered.
Another weak smile, though Twyla's vision was so blurred by tears at this point that she couldn't even see anything. "I l-love you too. And r-remember… I will see y-you again on the p-path to heaven."
He slowly closed his eyes and his head fell back. His grip on Twyla's hand slackened and his heaving chest fell still as the life left his body.
Twyla let out an earth-shattering howl of pain and collapsed over Jericho's body. Her chest was on fire with agony, almost as if she had been the one stabbed. Her head and throat burned but she didn't care. She couldn't care. Nothing else mattered anymore.
Jericho was gone.