“How clever of him.” Crystal’s blue lips formed a smile that was almost eerily beautiful.

Almost, Soleil thought. Forcing her fears down, she managed to ask, “Why are you doing this, Crystal?”

The older woman sighed. “I am unutterably shamed, my dear. So very shamed, to hear you talk and know that I was like you once, concerned about the whys and the hows when we should always focus on the whats and the whos.”

She shook her skirts dry, continuing in an admonishing tone, “Your first question should have been, Where am I? What do you intend to do with me?” Her disapproving gaze settled on Soleil. “Protect yourself first, you foolish child.”

She gestured to their surroundings. “But since you won’t ask, I shall volunteer the information. This, my dear, is the world the nymphs and satyrs used to inhabit.”

“The woods?”

“No, no, that is merely a gateway, but one that has been closed and will remain so until the four horsemen unlocks it. Until then, this world, with all its beauty and magic, will continue to languish, inhabited only by those able to cross over.” When she saw Soleil’s eyes widen in understanding, Crystal’s smile widened into a grin. “Yes. You guessed right. I am dead.”

Soleil had been expecting that, but even so she couldn’t stop herself from sucking her breath at the confirmation. “I’m sorry.”

Crystal’s lips pursed. “There you go again, foolishly thinking about me when you should worry over yourself more.”

Ah. Soleil inhaled deeply, telling herself that she should remain calm in case the worst was true. “Then…am I dead?”

“It will depend on a few things, but alas, we are getting ahead of ourselves.”

A golden wingback chair appeared out of nowhere, and Soleil found herself falling on it. A moment later, she found her hands tied to the armrests and her feet bound together.

Her eyes widened with fear, but Crystal murmured soothingly, “It’s alright, child. I only want you comfortable while I entertain you with a tale.” She waved a hand, and the scene of Soleil’s bedroom crumbled and faded, replaced by another scene. It materialized ever so slowly, like a puzzle coming into life.

The Woods of the Wraiths, Soleil realized.

“Once upon a time, there was a woman named Crystal, who only knew grief and anger.” As Crystal spoke, the scene played out like her words were a narration for a movie.

“In time, she might have taken her life because it had been so agonizingly empty. But fate intervened. She met a cursed child, and Crystal found something to live for.”

A fifteen-year-old Soleil appeared on the scene.

“She dedicated her life to teaching this child to be strong and finding a cure to her curse. Crystal wanted this girl to live, the way her son hadn’t a chance to. Years passed, and still death appeared to have the winning hand. And so she gambled on something unheard of. She went to the Woods of the Wraiths and tried to make a bargain.”

The scene changed, an older Crystal appearing as she knelt on the ground.

“She believed that the Wraiths would know something, having witnessed how the girl was abandoned by her demon sire. And it turns out she was right. The Wraiths had indeed seen how the curse was made and knew as well how to break it. The knowledge was hers…in exchange for her heart.”

Soleil’s lips parted in silent horror when she saw a wraith creep out of a trunk, crawling up Crystal’s body before sinking her sharp, grimy clawed fingers into her chest. The wraith drew out Crystal’s heart without leaving the smallest wound. As Crystal’s chest closed, the wraith took the heart into her mouth and began to chew.

“And so Crystal was able to save her beloved student, but in return she realized she also had to suffer losing her son all over her again.”

The scene crumbled into nothing, and now all Soleil could see was just an endless sheet of silvery white blankness.

Crystal had also disappeared.

“C-Crystal?”

“Boo.”

The coldly smiling voice was like an invisible slap to her ears, and Soleil jerked in her chair.

Crystal reappeared in front of her.

“Sorry. I just wanted to give you a shock.” She sighed. “How you are feeling now is how I felt when I realized that I no longer felt a thing when I think of my son.” Crystal touched her heart. “With this gone, I simply do not feel a thing. I try and try, thinking about our sweetest memories such as when my son brought me flowers to make me smile but the memories mean nothing—-”

Crystal disappeared and reappeared, and this time her face was mere inches away from Soleil’s.

It was like staring into the eyes of Death.

“Don’t close your eyes,” Crystal hissed, and her red eyes turned even redder.

Soleil gulped. “I w-won’t.”

“I want you to look at me as I tell you how much I lost with that sacrifice. It was like I had killed my son for the second time, and yet I could have lived with it because I knew I had done the right thing.”


Tags: Marian Tee Fantasy
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