181 ~ Yarrow

2588 hours

She woke from darkness to the strangest sight she’d yet witnessed.

Her twin sister, crying as she held Caelum in her arms.

Caelum’s eyes were open, his face caught in a slight smile. He was dead. Yarrow knew this as well as she knew the layout of the castle. Anguish tugged at her heart. Gates of sorrow threatened to open then and engulf her, but she kept the tears back.

Somehow, she found herself sitting up and moving to her sister’s side. She put an arm around Zardria’s shoulder, and then — wonder of wonders — Zardria turned and buried her face against Yarrow’s chest, still sobbing. Yarrow’s other arm came around her twin and she sat there, comforting a woman she’d never really known, as the Empress mourned the man they’d both loved.

She was still weak, she could feel. Her throat hurt, an aching dullness that reminded her how close she’d come to death. Her eyes flickered over the room, and she saw the corpse of Lord Exsil Vis lying a few metres away. He truly was dead, and not unconscious. The floor was red with his blood. At the door to the hall stood Anala, hand over her mouth, agony on her face, and Yarrow saw, clear as night, how Caelum had died.

She felt no anger towards her friend. That emptiness-and-yet-wholeness she’d felt since waking from her dream of Kore, that strangeness, was fully present now, and she felt she could see how everything fit, perfectly interlocking pieces of fate and destiny. She felt fully present in the moment, and yet stepped away from it.

Presently Zardria had stopped her weeping, and was looking at her sister with a face blank of emotion.

“Never did I think this would happen,” she whispered.

“We never do,” Yarrow replied, still feeling herself gripped in that strangeness that made her speak with wisdom — something she’d never hoped to grasp.

Zardria extended her hand. “I would extend myself to you, sister, in truce,” she said, and Yarrow felt no shock, though the proclamation was, indeed, shocking.

She nodded. “I would accept,” she said, and grasped her twin’s hand with hers.

Immediate burning encased the palm and fingers of Yarrow’s hand, and she was sure she’d be crippled from it. Zardria’s face twisted in pain, and she knew the same feeling touched the Empress. Neither could pull her hand away; it was as if a glue made of fire held them together. The pain turned sharp and traveled through Yarrow like a lightning bolt, and with perfect clarity she could see Zardria’s every moment, every breath, every heartache.

She saw the disregard their mother held for her twin, the absolute loathing Zardria had been greeted with as a child. She saw, remembering herself, her own turning away from her sister. She saw the hate and malice that had gripped Zardria’s heart at such a young age and she saw, her own heart breaking as she did, the deal the girl had made with a goddess. She watched Zardria’s adolescence, her doomed love for Isidora, her failing to live up to everyone’s expectations, every time. She saw the things the girl had been driven to, and saw, at last, Zardria’s final redemption — the love she’d held, deep and pure, for her Consort.

She looked into her twin’s eyes, and saw in them that Zardria saw Yarrow’s life laid bare before her. A voice spoke in Yarrow’s head, and she knew it was Kore, knew her dream had been reality.

So long as the Dark One has a servant on the earth will She be able to fight against Our power in Heaven, Yarrow. You are My Chosen. You are My tool of victory for Us in Heaven and on Earth. You are the bringer of infinite compassion.

Yarrow knew, in that moment, exactly what must be done.

A light appeared between the twins’ palms, and suddenly they were blown apart, as if in an explosion. Yarrow slid to a stop against the smooth floor.

When she stood, the sight that met her eyes was Zardria’s body. But her sister was no longer in residence.

The woman laughed, and it boomed throughout the room like the resounding rumble of thunder. She smiled mercilessly at Yarrow, and seemed to grow in height. Her eyes were black; her nails had become claws. Black, membraneous wings, like those of a bat, had burst from her back. Her mouth held fangs.

“Dare you face Me, Bellica?” the Goddess who now possessed her twin intoned. “I am the ruler of Tyvian, and I will banish your soul there forevermore.”

As Yarrow drew her sword, Umbra lunged for the bellica.

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