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Poison Barrier

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The girl in darkness stood in awe as she beheld the angel in light before her. Her feathered wings in gold, green, purple, burgundy, her frilled crown a contrast to the skulls on her staff and at her feet, the ringed halo behind her held the stars within and folded out the wings of a demon ... whose ally was she?

"Due to the chain of the marching souls, you shall never be united ... ever again," said a soothing voice. The girl wondered who had spoken, for the angel's lips had not moved. Even her eyes remained closed. She might well have been a statue, if not for that unproved knowledge of dreams telling the girl otherwise.

"Who are you?"

Then the girl realized she would not have been able to answer the question herself.

"Eris. Your time has passed. His time has passed."

Was she Eris?

"Hilda is not yours."

No, the angel was not speaking to her, but to Eris.

"Hilda ... my name?" It didn't ring a bell.

"Does it matter? I am her, she is me! Let us go!"

Another voice, this one too familiar : her own, but she had not spoken. Or had she? All around the angel, there was only darkness. Hilda couldn't even pinpoint a direction.

"Let me see!" she said to the angel, and the angel smiled. The halo spread its wings wide to erase the darkness and itself with it.

What Hilda saw was not what she wanted to see, but then again, she had never said she had wanted to see the other with her voice.

Light in all colors of the rainbow played above an eternal winter and a cold wind bit at Hilda's skin. She was dressed too thin and she instinctively wrapped her arms around herself, envying the royal robes of the angel.

"Far, far, so far from paradise! Why must we live in this frozen hell? Why?" called a thousand hoarse voices. Hilda's head snapped to her right.

Mere meters from her walked a line of people, chained to each by bands around their necks. As if driven by something, they marched onward despite them seeming at the end of their strength. They sockets were empty, their words had a hollow ring to it, much like the echo voice of the angel. It took her a moment to realize it wasn't an echo.

The line went from one horizon to another, there had to be ten thousands. Hilda spun around and saw the same chain in the other direction, so far away it was only a narrow line ... no, multiple narrow lines overlapping at the very edge of the earth. Just how vast was this circle that it could be so far away from one side to another? Would they wander for eternity like this?

She wanted to change this fate.

"Can I do anything for them? At least answer me this, if nothing else!"

"Choose one of two paths. One for greater happiness in devotion, one for lesser happiness in virtue. One road to save one soul you love more than anything, another to save a million of strangers who will never know your name."

"But how can I make a true choice when I know nothing about who I am or who they are?"

The angel pointed to a nearby ice wall, opposite of marching souls. Hesitantly, Hilda approached the line, but the marchers paid her no heed and did not slow down. She waited till there was an opening and slipped through below the binding chain.

In the wall was a reflection of Hilda herself, but it did not quite move in tandem with her. She leaned close into the mirror image and in delayed response, so did the reflection. It was almost identical to herself, save for the small curls aside of the face and clothing from an place or era which Hilda did not recognize. Eris?

When her hand brushed across the icy surface, it fell through. The reflection's face lit up with undiluted happiness as it grabbed for her hand. On reflex, Hilda pulled back and Eris replaced her hope with utter despair.

"Why won't you let me? It is for the best, you must remember the promise! Let me in!"

Hilda held her hands close and shook her head. "How do I know what you'll give me? I want my own memories, not yours."

Her mirror image fell to her knees, wailing on, "We must be together, we have been separated for so long, he is waiting! Let us be together, please, I beg you! Let me in and then all will be well. Please end this suffering!"

Let who be together, her and her reflection, or her and ... him?

It took all Hilda's willpower to not step forward as her compassion commanded. She felt that if she touched this creature it would instill in her something that could kill an important part of herself.

She focused on the laments of the marchers and took a step back.

"No, let me be with him! I am you, you are me! I am Eris, you are Eris! We belong with Laures, don't you feel it?"

The marching souls, their staggering, their pleas started to sound louder again.

Another step away.

"Don't betray yourself! Bring your true self to life!"

"If I am you, you would call me myself."

Laures? What made this one person more important than all those others?

Another step.

"Don't! I ... you ... he needs me! We promised! Let me show it! Don't you want memories?"

"No selective ones. I want my judgments to be on my own accord, I have no use for misleading thoughts."

Firmly, she turned around to face the angel.

"Let me be the savior. Another may be the princess. If Eris is dead, it is not my concern. I have a life to live, if I must sacrifice it, it better be for someone worth it."

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Hilda woke to find her neck stiff, the product of her sleeping with her head on the cabinet so that Sheryl could have a good night's rest. Normally they shared the bed, but Hilda's nightmares made her an uneasy nocturnal companion, and Sheryl needed her peace. Given all that had happened yesterday, Hilda's guess at nightmares visiting had been fair, but in retrospect she was not sure whether tonight's vision truly was a nightmare. It was too coherent, for one thing. Real dreams and nightmares rarely made sense.

Still groggy, she stared into the mirror before her. The girl who looked back was only her, with rings under her eyes and tangled but not curly hair.

She stretched her arms and yawned, then looked over her shoulder. Sheryl was still asleep, a dim smile on her face.

Hilda took out a brush and tried to make her hair more presentable. While doing so, the cloak Roderick had given her fell to the ground. A chill ran across her back and she wondered why she hadn't noticed before ... it had been so cold in her vision that she had actually felt warm upon waking, but no reality set in. That was another thing dreams did not do, affect one's skin.

Picking up the cloak and wrapping it tightly around her, she stood up to light the fireplace. The wood was almost gone and yesterday she had missed work during the busy evening hours, so she had only been paid a little. She would have to be sparing or else they wouldn't have enough to eat.

She placed the iron fireplace in the middle of the room to spread the warmth, then opened the closet to prepare breakfast. In between broth, dried meat and a bit of vegetables that an admirer had given her, there wasn't much choice, so she made soup. Not the best choice for breakfast, but it would have to do.

While waiting for it to finish, she placed her thoughts in order. She could not recall why she had this tendency, but whenever she was faced with a problem she would approach it as an artist. Leaping out of her drab reality of a single room residence in the poor district, she landed into a colorful extension of very real problems.

The elusive duende that haunted in the flaws, the muses that could drive one into madness over futile perfection, either demons of the artist. Technique, mechanic and structure were the tools to tame them. Her own existence was a festival that she had been dropped in to dance a role, scriptless and without even knowing what the celebration was about.

Since she couldn't distinguish all of the festival well enough to tell the theme, her best chance was to observe and learn from the surrounding dancers.

~ The Heroine

An amnesiac young woman who wandered into town. She remembers nothing personal, but turns out to be an experienced dancer when taken in by a young musician named Sheryl. Together, they have a job at a tavern. The Heroine is fairly attractive, and thus attracts a lot of unwanted attention. She will not take nonsense, but does not have the power to change much. She would like to have that power.

The Heroine's emotions are kindness and pride, embraced by two senseless chains, one of darkness to draw her to a demon, one of sunlight and warmth to draw her to a saint.

~ The Demon

An unearthly beautiful man in possession of refined demonic powers, who frequently protects the heroine. He does not live in this town, yet always seems to be around to save the heroine. Most recently, he saved her from possible rape and imprisonment, which the heroine finds difficult to feel gratitude for due to the method he used. He alludes to knowing her past but refuses to tell her or even why he won't tell her. He might just be the man who robbed her of her memories and the lord of the demons, who destroyed the famous Azel people.

The Demon's emotion are sadness and cruelty, embraced only by one golden chain to bind with that of the Heroine, and wires of blood to the world.

~ The Saint

A young man in possession of chaotic holy powers, which he is yet inexperienced with. He has saved the heroine from death by drowning and shortly there after is claimed to be her lost lover, but will not push this when finding the heroine cannot remember. He is distraught to notice she might have come to like Laures. His upsetting is understandable, should his story be the truth : he is the last of the legendary Azel people. He possessed their powers and claims he can unseal the Heroine's memories once he is skilled enough.

The Saint's emotions are kindness and sadness, with only gold to bind him to the war and a fire between him and The Demon.

Hilda bit her lip. Who was supposed to be The Hero?

All things considered, she had good reason to believe Roderick. Laures himself had admitted he had done something that would have her hate him.

Laures had not saved her from poverty and starvation. According to Kukur, Laures had been in a brothel having sex with whores at her time of abduction. Pretty whores, so they were expensive. Apparently he had been unable to spare some of that money to help her and Sheryl rent a better room. She would never have asked for money, but if he had offered, she would have taken it. Sheryl needed all the help she could get.

Kukur had also claimed he had known that she had been abducted. How? Sheryl had known too, but she might have visited the tavern. Either Laures had gone to the brothel after learning she had been abducted, or he had supernatural powers to he could use to spy on her. Did that mean he had also known when she was drowning ... after she had rejected him? Had he known she was drowning, or unable to tell because he had followed her demand to stay away from her by shutting down his spy magic? Any answer drawn from this was muddled.

Torturing a man to death for the bruises on her arm, when those bruises would have been less if he had shown up earlier? This had a clear answer and it was called hypocrisy. Especially if he himself had abducted her and damaged her mind, just to leave her alone and starving.

As difficult as it was to admit, Laures' priority was not her happiness, just her attention.

Hilda buried her face in her hands. She wanted to love him, but why? He represented so much that she hated. He had mockingly called her mercy a desire to be a goddess ... what arrogance he must have, that he cannot perceive any motivation that is not self-serving.

Roderick ... when she thought of him, it felt much like her first meeting with Laures. Not quite recognition, definitely not love at first sight, but it was like there was supposed to be something there, something warm and nurturing. If time made her love Laures despite knowing nothing of him, then the same time should rekindle her love for Roderick, if it ever had existed.

As it was, she could not tell how diluted her feelings were. There really was only one thing she was certain of.

Sheryl had been a kind constant amidst the increasing chaos of the last few weeks of her life — all the life she had known. It was not within Hilda's power to save lost souls in frozen hells, but she could help the girl on the bed before her. She had no role in the play as far as Hilda could tell, but then again, she wasn't that fond of fate's festival as it was right now. Her priorities were here, starting with a bowl of soup for an ill girl.

Hilda sat on the edge of the bed and softly shook Sheryl by the shoulder.

"Sheryl, please wake up."

"Huh ... you're still here, Hilda?"

"Off course I am, silly. Why wouldn't I be?" Hilda said while helping Sheryl sit up.

"I dreamed you were gone ... someone else had taken over your body. Someone who wasn't as kind as you, who was blind to evil ... she didn't care for me."

A small shock went through Hilda's mind and body. If Sheryl had seen the same ...

She leaned forward and embraced Sheryl. "Don't worry, I will stay myself and I will stay with you, I promise."

Sheryl hugged her back with weak arms. Hilda felt her shake. Whatever happened, Sheryl shouldn't suffer for it. If she brought her along she might land in the crossfire, but she could not abandon her.

"Sheryl, I'm going to pack and meet with Roderick in a few hours. He has invited me to come along to the Azel ruins, to a sacred place where he might be able to unseal my memories. However, I will only go if you come along."

Sheryl pulled free and laid her hands on her lap. "You shouldn't worry for me, Hilda, I'll be alright. You should worry for yourself. Roderick is a complete stranger, whom you have only met one once, how can you be certain to trust him?"

"If I were an ordinary girl with amnesia, I would not go. But I am not. I am in the middle of a supernatural conflict and if the legends are anything true, it will bring catastrophe."

"But Laures, yesterday you said you doubted him ... you liked him at first, Hilda ... what if Roderick turns out the same?"

"Sheryl, you once said it was strange that I remember language, specific dances and how the economy works, yet could not remember the legend of the Azel people. All my personal memories are gone, all my impersonal memories stayed, so somehow the Azel people were personal to me. I'm taking my chances with Roderick."

Hilda picked up the cloak Rod had given her and wrapped it around Sheryl.

"In fact, I hope you'll forgive me but I'm taking my chances and yours. Remember that bard whom we performed with once, as he related the tragedy of the Azel people? They had the power to heal. Roderick has inherited this power, I have seen the mark of the Azel myself. Perhaps I exploit him when I cannot even remember him, but if he begins to heal people, you might as well be the first. So, please, come with me."

"Oh, Hilda, but what about you? Are you certain you don't care what Laures will think?"

"All evidence points towards him having malicious intentions. He only cares for me as his pretty doll. Well, I care not for having a demonic stalker who tortures and kills people in my name, and I do care for having my memories back. There, you don't have to worry about me being entirely selfless for your sake."

Hilda got up and poured Sheryl some soup. "Eat up, I'll be done packing soon."

Sheryl finally showed that sweet smile of hers, even though it showed through tears. Any shade of doubt Hilda had felt melted away.

In a distant corner of Hilda's mind, a woman was chained in ice and could not scream.

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