As if the gates of heaven had bursted open under the hand of Typhis, the mighty God that resides in the eye of the cyclone, the windstorm picked up even more intensely, ravaging the woods.
Amidst this wild spectacle, a single area was remaining untouched, unaffected by both man’s effort and nature’s assaults.
The most intriguing point about the unscathed circle was that it was filled with flowers coming from all over the world of Ator; they were gathered in aesthetic patterns, lining small paths that ran through the garden. At the end of such a path stood a bench on which a beautiful woman rested, admiring flowers she had picked, disregarding the storm rampaging on the other side of the invisible shield, a small stone's throw away from her.
Instead of withering, the flowers started to grow roots. Sensing her sister closing in, the goddess let go of the plants, placing them in a flower bed where it continued to flourish, keeping a single bloom in her hand.
The contrast between the commotion outside the shield and the soothing scenery inside the unmovable bubble of power, the later enshrining a cabin at its center, reminded Gabriel of Bael, who now took a seat beside her, as they were also two opposites beautifully and peacefully coexisting.
“There you are, Gabriel. Happy to have three cute nieces?”
Raising a hand to her lips, Gabriel noticed that a smile had unconsciously sneaked itself on her face.
“Maybe … I guess? It’s not bad to have more family members.
Fortunately we found Nisha pretty fast, it’s lucky she prayed as soon as she arrived in [Ataraxia], her soul wasn’t corroded yet.”
Dread coldy shrouded Gabriel’s mind when she thought of the things the enigmatic space could have done to the dragon’s soul, much less to her sanity.
“Why are you so obsessed with that young dragon anyway, Bael? She is cute and everything, I like her too, but she’s just a mortal like any other. That doesn’t make sense for you to pay her so much attention, or to treat her so well.”
Playing with the flower in her hand, Gabriel tried to imagine her sister’s reasons, waiting for an answer. She would not admit it out loud, but jealousy had also played its role in her inquiry. For countless years they had been with each other, sharing everything, looking after each other. They only had the other in their life.
The apparition of the small dragon, competing for Bael’s affection, was worrying her.
“You mean apart from the old goat’s request to look after her?”
Gabriel's uneasiness must have shown on her face, Bael leaned against her on the bench and rubbed her hand, reassuring her.
“Let’s start with the latest interesting event then, when we found her in [Ataraxia].
Leaving aside her unusual strong prayer - I think everyone was able to hear her, we were quite lucky to arrive first - have you ever seen a soul that could resist the dissolving effect from [Death’s Empire]? All souls must be wiped clean before entering the great circle of reincarnation, Nisha had been deadly wounded and was thus meant to fall under its authority and melt.”
“As you said, we were lucky enough to be the first ones to react and get her out of there before the corruption took hold of her, although those bindings that were holding her might have been shielding her.”
“You see, I believe it’s more complicated than that. The bindings are indeed fascinating; have you ever seen anything like that before? But I don’t think they were supposed to protect her from dissolution, they were too easy to break from the outside. It took hardly any power at all for me to crack them open. My guess is that they were meant to keep her locked in [Ataraxia].”
Bael’s suggestion seemed to astound her sister, painting a pondering look on her face.
“Do you think that someone marked her soul to abduct it later in [Ataraxia]? Is that why she had the appearance of an -”
“I don’t think so, actually. The appearance of a soul is difficult to alter, and her strength seemed genuine.
So far, all I know is that that form seemed to be the true appearance of her being, even though her outer physique is that of a dragon. I don’t know exactly how it came to be this way, but maybe it’s connected to her parents.
All in all, it was probably to preserve her soul in case something happened to her body; she would have only got out after reaching a level of strength sufficient to break the shackles by herself, maybe it was a hidden plan to ensure her safety, for a while at least.”
Trying to comprehend all of her sister’s theory’s implications, the blonde goddess’ eyes went wide after a second.
“How much strength did you say you needed to get rid those constraints again? I can’t believe someone would trap her there willingly, who would be cruel enough to do that? The damage it could do to her mind, she could have lost her sanity forever…”
“It’s merely a guess of mine. And depending on how you look at it, rather than a trap it could be more of an insurance to protect her. Earlier I told Nisha I’d have had no choice but to welcome her inside my realm, yet there’s almost no chance that would have had happened. Her body might have had died, but her soul would have been kept safe.
With all these elements gathered, you should understand why everything about Nisha fascinates me. Why wasn’t her soul in the form of a dragon as well? Who put those constraints on her? How was she able to resist [Death’s Empire]’s pull?
Rasenth is involved in her fate too, I always thought that the egg he was guarding in his shrine was his own; once, I checked to see if there was a life spark inside of it, so I know that the egg wasn’t dead at least. It must have rested there for thousands of years, being nurtured and getting ready to hatch. I don’t think even that old goats’ kid would take that long.”
Watching the tornado helplessly trying to break the barrier that protected their garden, the two sisters stayed silent for a while, pondering on their conversation.
The violent gales invoked by nature slowly receded, the angry drumming of water hitting the tree tops changed tune, subsiding into a softer melody.
“I always knew she wasn’t your average girl. Intriguing and always pleasant to be around. When she talks to me, I feel like talking to you, Bael, it is one of the reasons why I am treating her well as well.
But summing it up like this, it also scares me. How long has it been since something frightened me?
And yet, I probably won’t stop caring for her; the next time she prays I’ll be there to meet her. With a smile on my face.
Nisha is a strange girl, isn’t she?”
Squeezing Bael’s hand, Gabriel softly sighed and let go of the petals she was holding; scattered, they dropped to the ground where they withered and returned to their initial state, a nameless seed.
“This wasn’t just the latest incident, right? You’ve been torturing yourself on that matter for a while.”
Bael smiled and channeled her power, making the seed return to its bed, where it bloomed again in a vibrant red colour, thorns lining its beauty in a dangerous hue.
“Indeed, there have been too many things that don’t make sense. Nisha is a sweet girl and has no knowledge about the world, she’s not at fault here.
We will figure it out eventually, there’s no rush. Having a little mystery in our life makes it interesting, doesn’t it?”
Gabriel stood up and walked to the invisible wall. Sticking one hand outside, the green haired goddess caught a rain drop, admiring the crystal clear liquid on her fingertip, waiting with her other half for the storm to pass.
Blinding white light was everywhere.
The last thing Nisha remembered was smashing the ground, because …
Unable to recall the reason why she would have done such silly thing, the young girl was trying to sit to get a better overview of her situation, when a blazing pain shot up between her left shoulder blade and her heart.
For a second the light seemed to burn the very core of her being, tearing her soul, but the moment passed and she found herself sitting in a bed of dirty formerly white linen sheets, her hand on a layer of bandages wrapped around her torso made out of the same material.
After spitting a mouthful of black bile, Nisha looked around her, she didn’t recognize the room she was in. All the walls were built with some kind of dark wood, empty of any decorations or windows. A single enchanted lamp mounted directly on the wall was illuminating the room in a soft orange glow.
Looking down at her body, what the dragon saw anguished her. A small trickle of blood was escaping a compress already soaked in blood tightened to her chest, the dark patches on the sheets where she had laid bearing witness that the stream was not a result of her awakening.
The sheets look about as good as I feel. Where am I?
Searching for more clues about her location, the injured girl draped the linen blanket around herself, the reason apparent as her clothing laid on the bedside table, cut into stripes, damaged beyond salvation.
Let’s see what’s behind that door.
Her decision to stand up proved to be a bad one, as a wave of exhaustion and pain spread through her body right away, the wound in her chest protesting loudly against the unfair treatment.
She groaned in pain, the small trickle from before turning into a greater current, soiling her only piece of clothing - aside from the bandage that wasn’t covering what Lydia had called “sensitive parts” to be hidden at all cost during the lady lectures.
In spite of her injury, Nisha smiled a bit. A saying had came to her mind, something Eldrin had repeated a lot when he was tutoring her.
One step at a time and I’ll be done before I know it. Just take one step at a time.
Pressing her right hand on the bandage, the dragon waited for the blood flow to decrease to a reasonable amount to take her first step to the exit.
Once she felt well enough to make another attempt, the injured girl exaggerated every motion of the process, slowly testing each movement, wondering if it would ache, like an old lady with a brittle body.
If I could see myself right now, I’d probably laugh at myself, this must look so ridiculous. Well, laughing would hurt, I guess.
Frequent bouts of pain assaulted Nisha every time a gesture overexerted her battered body, but she was too tired to even groan.
Silently, the play continued, a small step, a grimace or a small happy gleam in the eyes when a movement did not hurt her strained muscles too much.
The way from the bedside to the door wasn’t exceeding a length of ten feet, nonetheless Nisha was drenched in sweat by the time she could rest her left hand on the door to open it, taking a moment to catch her breath and recuperate from the conquest of the path to freedom.
Here goes nothing, I guess. Have to open the door. Please there can’t be enemies outside, right now I couldn’t even fight a chicken.
Delaying the inevitable, the dragon closed her eyes and took in the sensations from her other senses, unhurriedly taking deep breaths to calm herself.
To her surprise, the room did not seem to have been erected on solid ground, it was swaying ever so gently from the left to the right, akin to a branch in the wind she remembered, she sat on it while she was waiting for prey to pass by her, the bow ready in her hand, the rough wood brushing against her delicate skin …
Reliving this memory helped her think of something that wasn’t ache or feebleness, the mellow rocking soothing her mind and preparing Nisha to leave the room and face the truth.
She had wanted to place her torn clothing inside her [Soul Space], however the wound and the exhaustion were preventing her from gathering any mana or aura, leaving her only with the blanket on her bare body to face the outside world.
The wooden door squeaked far too loudly for Nisha’s taste, surely alarming everyone around, letting a single line of light fall through the small gap.
Squinting because of a bright assault, an instinctive fear drove up the dragon’s breathing, the blurry memory she had reckoned right after waking up seemed like a premonition.
Evading the stinging rays meant moving, therefore the dragon had no choice but to allow her eyes to adjust, a tear rolling down her cheeks.
I can’t really call it pain compared to the other wound. Hopefully I won’t feel that powerless again anytime soon.
After the attack of those noble brothers, I swore to myself that I would never allow myself to be that helpless again.
“Was smiling always this hard?”
Ignoring whatever might be waiting for her, Nisha advanced through the last obstacle, eliminating the last barricade sheltering her.
Stretching all the way to the horizon, the sky was of a deep blue colour, occasional clouds were passing by here and there; a flawlessly bright and clear day on which a girl in particular would have ran around and played happily from dawn till dusk. The whole idea seemed laughable, mocking her for being injured and feeling exhausted.
The room’s dark wood was also used on all the nearby constructions, floor and walls ; Nisha still had no idea where she was, and she was pondering on why there was a large trunk in the middle of the strange place she was in when a high pitched outcry caught her off guard.
Before she had a chance to turn around and identify the sound’s source, someone embraced her, pressing on her wound.
“Oh thank the gods, you’re awake Nisha. I thought we were going to lose you too.”
The familiar voice allowed her to ignore everything else and a smile emerged on her face. Awkwardly moving her left hand to reciprocate the embrace, her left hand pinned in between them to stem the blood.
“I guess I have to apologize. Sorry for worrying you, Anna.”
Leaning onto the older girl, Nisha was simply happy that her older sister was safe and well, leaving the two women behind in the inn had weighed on the dragon’s heart since the moment she had decided to venture off to find Luthais.
“Stupid! Don’t talk, you’re heavily injured. Come with me, we’ll wait for Lydia to fetch Lance Corporal Hale, you shouldn’t be up.”
The fact that Nisha had missed that her second sister - who now had already taken off to get the lance corporal - was present, was proof to how weakened she was.
Supporting her by the shoulder, Annabelle refused to hear any of the former dragon’s protests and guided her towards the edge of the platform they were standing on, urging Nisha to take a seat on the dark wooden stairs leading above the room she had slept in.
“Does it hurt a lot? I haven’t seen the wound myself, but both Luthais and Hale said you got impaled by a spear, and you weren’t waking up … I’m so glad Nisha, I really thought you … wouldn’t wake up again.”
Unable to control herself anymore, Annabelle started to cry out of relief.
“It’s not that bad, really. I’m just happy to be with you Anna. Everything’s fine.”
Anna and Lydia are safe. That’s all what matters.
Where exactly they were, how grave her injuries were, why the wooden construction was moving or what had happened to the siege, none of that mattered at the moment to either of the two sisters.
The only thing they cared about was that they were together again, Nisha had not lost any of her relatives.
Seeking solace in each other’s presence, the time slowly passed as they waited for Lydia’s return.