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The wind flew at her, its prying tongues of ice-cold vapor slapping her face in fury. Behind her, Deraphine could hear the furious voices out for blood growing steadily louder; the small pinpricks of lit torches bobbed like disembodied spirits through gloom.
Just a bit further, just a bit further… The thought filled Dera’s mind, desperation pushing aside all reason. That phrase sounded so strangely similar to the dream she once had of just a bit further, just a bit further until she found the hidden grail…
Crevices grabbed at the long billowing folds of her cloak as she continued to scale the mountain, occasionally slipping over unseen pebbles along the path. Her hand patted the satchel clutched possessively at her side; it weighed down on her with leaden force, the nagging reminder of…if all else failed…if he did not save her.
Don’t fail me, please don’t fail me.
The tall golden towers pierced the sky, coming finally into view. Warmth rushed through her body, a thick blanket of relief. Deraphine rushed to the door; the citizens were far away enough that she could not even here them. He would make it right, shelter her from the storm, and stand by her side to defend her. The large wooden gates waited a short distance, as open and welcoming as when she was a child, a mother’s arms ready to embrace Dera into its folds of never-ending sanctuary.
She pounded upon the door with the bronze handle, furtively shooting glances behind her; he did not come. Trepidation slowly stealing over her, Dera tried the handle. “No…no…no,” she whispered, as it remained unyielding. “Father!” Dera shrieked, slamming her fists upon the doorframe. “Father! Please, don’t let them get me!”
Absolute silence followed.
“Father!” Somewhere in her deep, convoluted mind, something shattered: first her mother, then Nohen, but they had no choice, not like Belisarius, who could protect his own daughter. No, he had decided she was not worth the risk after it all. One by one, every person she had ever cared about had been ripped from her life without her ever being able to tell how much she loved…
A whip cracked, and Dera was suddenly on her knees, bent over with pain as her cheek began bleeding profusely.
“I warned you.” The High Priest Lysandrius descended from his horse, his authoritative echoing ominously at the head of the crowd. A sneer snaked across his face, only for the eyes of the cornered woman Lysandrius loomed over. “This is what happens when a Gifted becomes to emotionally attached, especially one of your prowess. Slowly, they all abandon you; you are too foreign and volatile to spend time in their company.”
Dera glanced behind Lysandrius; no familiar face stood behind him, only the tense, expectant features of a mob awaiting justice. They all were pushing eagerly each other, trying to see what was happening, while at the same time not daring to step in front of Lysandrius. Awe had soured into fear, which imploded into vengeance. They were no longer individual citizens, but a single entity with a need to see its anger fulfilled.
“Deraphine of Acashia,” Lysandrius continued in a booming voice, “witch, you are accused…”
“Why don’t you bring me to court?” Dera demanded desperately, trying to appease the flames of vengeance stirring around her. “What justice is this? Where is my trial for me to defend myself?”
A smug smirk danced across his face as he stared imperiously at the young sorceress struggling to her feet. “The magistrates have decided; you are too dangerous for the public to judge you in a courtroom, particularly given your crime. We hold court here now, in the open, before the eyes of the Eternal Lights, for the murder of Nohen Candlerise.”
Blood drained from Dera’s face. “How dare you,” she whispered, struggling to control her temper. “How dare you accuse me of that! You killed him! You!”
“By your presence, you contaminated his mind: we all heard him raving of your innocence, your cause.” The High Priest spat out words with venom. “I visited him and realized that your magic had driven him to insanity and he would not bow down.” He turned to the crowd behind him. “Do any of you blame me, for sacrificing a broken madman to save your lives? Or will you give the proper guilty to the one destroyed that law abiding citizens with her delusions and wiles!”
The crowd roared in its approval.
“Kill the witch!” a voice, high-pitched and furious, screamed from the crowd.
“No!” Deraphine screamed, her entire body feeling weak. “No! He was my friend, I lov—”
“I warned you!” Lysandrius repeated, a manic glint gleaming in his eyes. “All those years ago, I warned you to be careful of you emotions.”
“I know the truth,” she appealed desperately, “this man—”
“You failed, witch, just as your father failed that night. It seems as though your father, Belisarius, has finally regained his senses on how to discipline his wayward daughter, only twenty-one years late!”
Those words shattered her. Tears threatened to spill from her eyes. He was right, Lysandrius was right: the final person whom she ever trusted had abandoned her to the storm.
She remained in her mind shock state as he took deliberate steps forward, a snake awaiting his prey, closing their distance to three yards. “You always were weak, Deraphine, unable now to save yourself,” he murmured quietly so that only she could hear. “Never forget, your Gift should have been mine.”
And then it began: Dera’s body contracted as pain, unbelievable pain, shot through her veins, her blood boiling. Shards of ice seemed to pierce her spine so that she flung her head back in shriek of agony, her long hair sweeping dirt from the ground. Then she felt it, the draining of her essence as her Gift went slowly, excruciatingly slowly, to the caster of the spell. Deraphine felt like a puddle in his manipulation, melting under the sheer weight of the High Priest’s powers, the accusations, the accusing stares of all those people…
I had meant to save all those people.
They would never see her as a person who had concocted so many potions and designed so many spells solely to give others life. The people who once came to her for a cure for an unknown ailment now desired nothing more than for her to be gone from their lives: that final realization destroyed any reason or logic, wiped away any spell or incantation, in Dera’s mind.
Time to take flight. There is nothing left to lose.
Her eyes closed tight to prevent another scream of pain to escape her lips, Deraphine blindly fumbled at the ties of the satchel.