Garaile was due to arrive with a group of armed knights and guards as his escorts, so when a solitary knight approached the castle on horseback, I knew something was terribly amiss. The carmine-haired knight, Sir Ion, had accompanied Garaile to Euria, and seeing the blood dripping from his usually immaculate armor made my anxiety rise.
“Give me your sword and make sure the doctor examines Ion,” I ordered the guard beside me.
As soon as I held the obedient protector’s weapon in my hands, I ran to meet Sir Ion, whose handsome bronze face was twisted in pain.
“What happened,” I asked once he entered hearing range.
“We were ambushed just up the road,” the young knight revealed as he clumsily dismounted. “A group of—”
Instead of waiting for the rest of Ion’s explanation, I quickly mounted his horse and directed the uninjured steed down the road to the ambush site, begging the gods to watch over the man I adored with each passing second.
♦ ♦ ♦
As I approached the impromptu battlefield minutes later, the sounds of the mêlée began to reach my ears. The cacophony of steel hitting steel, flesh meeting flesh, and men screaming in primal rage or wailing in desperation echoed throughout in the forest and I prayed that my men had the upper hand. The instant I laid eyes on Garaile, who stood knee deep in a nearby pond fighting two bald fey, I dismounted and ran to his aid.
The closer I drew to the unsettlingly familiar pond, the more the air surrounding me changed. The atmosphere felt oppressively heavy and the water I waded through became increasingly thick until its texture rivaled the consistency of mud. By the time the water reached my knees, I could no longer lift my feet. I quickly realized the severity of my predicament and silently cursed my rash decision to join the fray without enlisting help and analyzing the situation at hand. When I raised my hand to use my powers on one of Garaile’s attackers, no flames leapt forth and dread washed over me as I watched smoke pour from my palms.
What in Hesta’s name is happening?
I redirected my attention to Garaile and followed his azure glare to my left, where I caught sight of an odious bald assailant rapidly approaching me. I lifted my sword to strike my opponent, but I couldn’t lower my blade from its raised position. The weapon had been rendered completely immobile by the unnaturally dense air, so my frantic efforts to move it were futile. When I attempted to release the sword so I could engage in hand-to-hand combat, I realized my hands had become irreversibly fastened to my maddeningly stationary blade’s hilt.
“Someone help me,” I yelled, struggling not to surrender to the panic that seized me.
Alas, the few Hestian combatants who were able to peel away from their fights and come to my aid were also rendered motionless the moment their feet met the water. Even Garaile, who had been surrounded by four hairless foes, was similarly immobilized mid-lunge. Is this how our lives are going to end, I wondered while the cleanly shaven assailant closed the distance between us. Are Garaile and I to be cut down in the prime of our lives without even having the chance to say goodbye?
When the attacker reached me, he pulled a knife from his pocket and I briefly changed my focus to Garaile, who was desperately attempting to shake his own invisible restraints. Then, as my enemy’s lustrous blade moved in my direction, I closed my eyes and braced myself for the seemingly inevitable pain would surely ensue. However, instead of feeling his knife plunge into my chest or slice across my throat, I winced in pain as the bald fey used the blade to open a shallow cut on my upper thigh.
I opened my eyes and glared at the man in puzzlement, but my attention shifted away from him as my pulse quickened and a burning sensation radiated from the wound. Turning my gaze downward, I watched my blood soak through my dress, causing the fabric to smoke and catch on fire as it ran down my leg and soiled my dress. When my blood and the fire it fueled touched the pond’s still waters, a searing, icy sting shot up my injured leg to the freshly-dealt wound and then permeated every inch of my body. The excruciating sensation completely devastated me and cast out all of the confusion, fear, and anger I felt by replacing it with pure agony. As my pain overrode all of my senses, an anguished cry poured from my lips and I abandoned the sunlit Hestian woodland in favor of oblivion.