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|Alright... part 4 is FINALLY done! Don't know what else to say, really. I am a bit disappointed that the first chapter isn't even as long as the prologue, but that's just the way things go.||
Verene slipped into the empty classroom, closing the door behind her. He wasn't here yet. She crystallised the air, forming a full-body mirror suspended in front of her, and admired her reflection. Her dress was a rich blood-red, and cut so that although it showed little of her skin it hid none of the soft curves of her body. In the years she had spent at the magic school she had grown a lot, and she had discovered that even denied the overt use of magic, there were other ways she could get what she wanted.
There was a sound at the door, and Verene's mirror vanished in a soundless shatter. Even so small a magic as that was not permitted to her, but she was always careful not to be seen, and she gave every appearance of obeying Master Heudan's order. At least they didn't watch her so closely as they used to. The door opened to admit a tall, well-built man with scarlet hair. He was handsome, but not overly so, and he obviously prided himself on his appearance.
Verene smiled sweetly at him. "Sadmear, it's so good to see you. I miss your teaching so, you know how the others hold me back."
"Verene my dear, I know well how advanced you are, and your potential, but..." Sadmear hesitated.
Verene looked worried. "Sadmear? You will teach me won't you?"
Words tumbled out of Sadmear's mouth as he confessed. "I cannot. Verene, some of the things I have taught you should not be taught to anyone. I don't know what possessed me. I..." His heart lurched as he saw the tears flowing freely down Verene's cheeks. "Verene, please," he pleaded with her. "It's for the best."
Verene stepped forward and clung to him, burying her head in his chest as she sobbed. "Sadmear," she cried, "I thought you were my friend."
"I am, Verene, I am."
She looked up at him through the tears in her eyes. "I don't believe you," she said. "You know it is all I have, and... I could not bear it if I could not learn any more. Do you know how terrible it is, in the classroom? All the other students are trying so hard to do the stupidest, simplest things, and I do them thrice over, over and over again, because that is the only time I am allowed to use magic. That is all they let me do!" Verene had stepped away as she spoke, but now she drew close to Sadmear again, the top of her head only coming to his chin as she looked up at him. "If you truly are my friend, you won't do this to me." A tear ran down her cheek. "You wouldn't be so cruel if you cared about me."
Sadmear's resolve shattered as he looked into Verene's violet eyes. So full of passion were they that he could not hold her gaze for long, and he turned his head away as he said, "I'm sorry, Verene. I didn't mean to hurt you so. Of course I'll still teach you."
Verene yawned. This was her last class of the day, and it was almost over. She was burning to do some real magic, not the pathetic exercises they had to do in class - they served more to tease her desire than to satisfy it. She couldn't wait until later tonight, when she could study with Sadmear again. She yawned again. She still had a few minutes of this drudgery to endure first, however.
"Verene!" She looked up, realising she had almost dozed off. The teacher was looking at her with annoyance. She wondered why he even cared if she slept; he knew perfectly well that she had nothing left to do. "Master Heudan wishes to see you. Now." Verene was surprised. Surely sleeping in class didn't warrant this? Well, at least it would take her out of this.
She wandered along the halls of the school, wondering why Master Heudan had summoned her. It had occurred to her by now that he must have some other reason; her teacher wouldn't have gone to him simply because she had dozed off. She reached the door to his rooms and waited.
The door swung open almost immediately. Master Heudan was in there alone. Verene knew she was in trouble straight away. She hadn't seen him this angry since she set a teacher on fire. That was when they had first set watchers on her, to stop her using magic when she wasn't in class. She started thinking furiously, wondering what it was she had done. She had been good, she was sure; the watchers couldn't have seen her do anything she shouldn't.
Master Heudan looked straight at her with his dark eyes. "You were told not to use your magic outside of classes."
"But I haven't!" Verene protested. Master Heudan's gaze didn't waver in the slightest.
"When you were younger, I allowed you some leeway. You made mistakes, and were punished for them. Some you are still being punished for. However, by now you should know what you are supposed to do and what you are not. I know you can tell right from wrong, or you would not have tried to hide this from me. You knew it was wrong, and did not want to get caught." Verene's thoughts tumbled over themselves. She hadn't used magic outside of class where there was even a possibility of a teacher watching, or even another student. She had been so careful! When she had almost been caught the last time, she had stopped completely, except for her sessions with Sadmear, and Master Heudan couldn't possibly know about that. He couldn't!
"Sadmear has been told to leave. His part in this is worse still than yours; he should have been more responsible than this. It is beyond comprehension that one of our teachers should behave so. He will be gone by morning." Verene couldn't contain the shock. Her mouth dropped open. How could he know? Her hands began to tremble. "Don't try to speak to him. You are in almost as much trouble as you can be already, and I shall find out if you do. However, I am at a loss when it comes to you. I have tried everything to make you understand that you cannot simply do as you wish, at the expense of everyone else. The school has lost a good teacher today." He paused for a long time, staring at Verene. She tried her best to hold her hands still. She was wrong; he was much angrier than she had ever seen him. She could see his hand clenched beside him. Master Heudan was always under such tight control of himself that the clenched hand was tantamount to a scream of rage in another person.
"I don't know yet what to do with you. If you were any other student you would have been expelled immediately, but you are too powerful to be released without training. As you well know. For now, go to your room. You are not to leave for any reason. You may no longer attend any classes. Your food, and any other necessities, will be brought to you. You will be watched at all times." Tears began to well in Verene's eyes, but Master Heudan's fierce stare didn't soften the slightest amount. "Leave." He pointed to the door.
Verene stumbled out of the room. The tears blurring her vision robbed her of all grace as she lurched down the hall. She entered her room and fell on her bed, gasping for breath as she sobbed into her blankets.
Interlude: The Lady of the Waters
Meria looked with sorrow at the river. This had been her home for as long as she cared to remember, this glade by the riverside. There was nowhere in the world, she was sure, where the grass was as soft, the water as pure, and the forest so perfectly pleasing as this place. Until now. The water that burbled past her house was no longer clear, but clouded and murky, and the poison in it was clear by the fish floating past, belly up.
Meria's arts had long kept her and her home hidden and safe from other people, for she cared not for company. When the foulness came from the West, she strengthened her guards to keep out the tainted creatures, and to keep those animals that still roamed free within her domain safe. She was content to allow the rest of the world to take care of their own problems; she would keep her paradise to herself.
Now that had all changed. Even Meria's magics could not keep the poison from the river; she had kept a small pool clean, but in the river the taint was too thick and strong. Every day she found another of her treasured animals dead by the riverside. Her paradise was being destroyed.
Today she had found a fox by the riverside. It was the last; not just of the foxes, but of all the animals she had kept safe. She had stared a long while at the sleek red fur before she buried the fox, and then she slipped into a deep depression, crushing her own heart with hopelessness. Grief overwhelmed her completely, and she simply sat by the river, quietly shedding tears into the filthy water.
For two days she sat by the river, unmoving. It seemed she had cried every drop of moisture out of her body. She looked then at the many graves she had dug by the riverside, and reached towards the water, cupping a mouthful of the foul liquid in her hands. Her body ached for thirst and her heart ached for all that had been lost and would never be regained, and the poison in her hands seemed as sweet as nectar to her then. Then it seemed as though the still bodies lying in those graves called out to her, beseeching her not to join them, not yet, not like this. She opened her fingers, letting the poison rejoin the river.
Meria went into her house and dyed black every piece of clothing she had. She was mourning now, and since nothing would ever bring back her lost paradise, she would remain in mourning forever. She packed a bag, and left her house; as she left, the house crumbled as though it was not made of wood, but of dust. She took a straight branch from a fallen tree to use as a walking staff, and left her home forever.
Verene stood on the balcony, the doors to her room thrown wide behind her. The sun had set. Clouds covered the sky, drenching the landscape in darkness. Rain streamed down her face, soaked her nightgown. It was impossible to tell if she was crying. She wasn't sure herself. Everything was a mess. Sadmear had been sent away, and they watched her all the time. There was no way anyone else would teach her now. She didn't even know what would happen to her. They might keep her in her room forever, and never let her use magic again. Maybe there was a way to drain the magic out of a person, so they couldn't use magic? That was the most terrible thing she could think of. She would rather die first.
She looked over the edge of the balcony. Her room was several stories above the ground. She had thought it wonderful and romantic at first; a room in a tall tower, just like a fairytale. Now it was just high. Just high enough.
Meria paused and looked in annoyance at the sky. It should not be raining. She was sure of that. Her face was wet, for she never shirked the touch of water, but her clothes were dry. Some of her tricks still worked, even on this unnatural downpour. At least it was clean. She closed her eyes and tilted her face towards the falling rain for a moment, letting it wash the dust out of her hair, before she continued on.
The rain came down steadily. Lithanna had sheltered under a large tree, but the leaves high above still released large drips regularly. She tried hard not to think. It was easier during the day, when there were things to do, but the nights were bad. The best she could hope for was to fall asleep quickly, but that would not be possible in this weather. There was nothing to plan ahead for, as she barely knew where her next meal would come from, so her thoughts inevitably dwelled on the past. There were precious few good thoughts there. She huddled closer to the tree, drew her legs up to her chest, and tried to just listen to the rain.
She winced as a rivulet of water ran down her finger and along the claw attached to it. Even so small a touch as that was painful. That was one thing time had not dulled. She would have to be careful to dry her claws tomorrow. She had found out a long time ago now, just how dangerous it was to let her claws rust. Two winters ago now, she had been unaware of the need to keep her claws clean and dry. They had rusted, and soon after her fingers became infected. She lay for days as the pus oozed from her fingers, compounding pain upon pain, and fever wracked her body. She had never neglected cleanliness again.
Her hair, once dark and soft, was now a tangled mess. It was impossible to comb her hair without lacerating her scalp in a dozen places. She missed her hair. It was the one thing about her she knew was beautiful. She had been teased relentlessly about her scrawny, lanky figure when she was young, but no-one had ever made fun of her hair.
Lithanna started crying softly, aware that she had once against forgotten to forget. The rain stopped, but it was a long time before Lithanna fell into a restless sleep.
Lithanna awoke and stretched out the cramps in her legs. Her stomach rumbled at her, reminding her that hunting had been poor yesterday. Soon she was running easily through the forest, back and forth through the trees, warming herself up while she looked for signs of game. A rabbit darted through the undergrowth, and she amused herself by chasing it for a while. It slipped into a burrow before she could catch it however, so Lithanna continued her methodical search.
Eventually she heard the trickle of a stream. She headed towards it, and was delighted to spot trout swimming in the lazy current. She thrust her claws into the river, spearing a trout with lightning-fast accuracy. She scraped the scales off, then hunkered down to eat it. She caught another and ate that too before she leaped into the river.
She spent a long time taking off her dress; it was difficult not to rip it, and clothes were hard to come by. She washed it in the stream, then allowed it to dry on the bank as she bathed herself., carefully washing her claws despite the pain. When she was done she climbed out of the stream and lay down beside her dress. A full stomach had made her drowsy, so she slept as the warm wind dried her.
She woke and carefully put her dress back on. This one was beginning to get too many rips to be useful anymore. She would have to find a farmer's house; most of her clothes were stolen from washing put out to dry. Now that she had eaten, there was little to do. She had to keep moving; if she stopped, she would have time to think. She decided to follow the river; food was easy to get there, as long as she didn't get tired of fish. She quickly shut her mind against the memories that threatened to surface and began walking.
|Samis and the Pearl of Light||The Path of Least Forgiveness|
|Fallen angels||She Flew|