She appeared with the thunder, her voice whispering among the rain.
Lightning flashed. The young mage jolted awake in a cold sweat.
She stood by her bed. Her uniform was singed, torn, and bloodied, her orange face pale and drawn. Her eyes were empty white, the expression in them of dark, pulling dread.
Irix brushed her long black hair from her face, her heart freezing to stone within her. Blood was soaking through the bandage around the soldier’s head. Another large splotch stained the fabric over her heart.
Pain pulled through Irix’s chest. “No…” She shifted toward the specter, horror squeezing her throat. “No, you’re across the sea,” her voice came out as a timid plea. “You’re in Dilikí…”
I… the figure hesitated. Pain crossed her sheer features. I think I’m dead, Irix…
Irix’s shook her head. Her breath caught. She pulled the covers aside and stood up. “No—No I’ll fix this. I’ll get to you somehow. I can—”
Please…Don’t. The young, war-torn woman reached out a hand. Her palm was icy against the back of Irix’s hand. It’s too late…The cuts and burns began to fade. I’ve come to say goodbye.
Irix stepped closer, tears welling up in her eyes. How much pain she must have been in before she died.
She was dead. How could she be dead?
Slowly, the specter raised her hands. They gently took either side of Irix’s head. She leaned in, planting a cold, misty kiss on Irix’s forehead. Tears began to spill down Irix’s face. She raised a hand to touch the hand of her friend, but it passed through. Irix bowed her head, choking on her grief. This couldn’t be happening. This had to be just a nightmare.
But Irix wasn’t one to dream. Not like this.
“I’ll find a way to bring you back,” Irix said.
No, the specter said, softly, fading. I must go. I’m sorry, Irix.
“Promise me,” Irix looked up into the vacant eyes, desperate. “Promise me you’ll remember me. You have to find me again.”
The young woman managed a sad, gentle smile. Irix…
“There has to be something,” Irix insisted. “I could—”
Let this happen. The specter ran a tender hand across Irix’s face, brushing a strand of hair from the mage apprentice’s eyes. Irix, let me go…
“I can’t,” Irix said, the tears resurging. She shook her head again, her voice breaking, “I can’t….”
I’m so tired…the specter sighed. She bowed her head against Irix’s. Keep faith, all right? Prosper, for me.
Irix bit her lip. She closed her eyes tightly. The tears burned her face. She nodded. “Your death will not have been in vain. I swear it.”
The soldier smiled. A smile Irix had missed. She’d seen it so many times before. But on a healthy, orange face, with brown eyes and warm breath. A herald of unbridled sarcasm, in brighter days, gone forever.
It was sorrowful now, faded, aching.
Never again. It would never be the same again.
“I love you,” Irix said, her voice shaking.
As do I, the soldier’s voice was little more than a sigh now. She faded, pulling apart like vapor. Goodbye, Irix…
Irix opened her eyes with a start. Thunder clapped loud, snapping painfully through her jaw. Her room was empty, her face drenched with tears.
She tore her covers aside and lurched unsteadily for the door. She couldn’t see straight. She tore out into the hallway, and tripped on the rug. Her palm hit the wall. She fell to her knees.
Irix clutched her face in her hands. “Eislin,” she choked. “Eislin no no no…” She doubled over, bowing her head. “No why did this happen…” Irix was mere months from finishing her training. She was going to return to the continent. They were going to be together again. Irix was going to protect her so she’d come home too–
The thunder churned outside, the rain tapped on the roof, but her friend was no longer within it. Eislin was gone.
Irix dragged herself upright and pushed on in the dark. She could hardly breathe. She welcomed the static seeping in through the looming windows. She gathered the pain, pulling it into her. Drawing the energy, collecting it, holding it. She could imagine the book in her mind’s eye, its location on the shelf, about where the spell would be located. What would happen if her master caught her attempting it, or if she even managed to pull it off.
The Arkenyon monarchy would fall. Arken and Dilikí would pay for their war. For cutting Eislin’s life short. Irix would dismantle them both.
And she would make something new.
Eislin would grow up in a better world than the one she left behind. And she would stay alive in this one.
Even if Irix never saw her again.
A/N: Kennick’s master is neglecting to mention something…Not important, right? Probably not important…