'Keep up, Darius!' Violetta cried.
The moat islands were her favourite place to play, with no shortage of hiding spots and with trees as thick and as tall as the palace towers that shadowed them. The gentle trickling of water warned Violetta away from the edges of the bank, where the moat would eventually curve into the Aum River.
Her brother, Darius, hurtled toward her. The ball they'd been chasing rolled down the incline, gathering speed.
'Oh, no you don't.'
Darius was still some distance away when Violetta pelted forward, after the gift. She strained to keep an eye on the stunning patterns. They had never failed to bring a smile to her delicate features. Even amid the excitement of the game, she could recall Lord Jork's words when he'd presented it to her.
'Violetta, dear child. Let this always aid you in your troubles. Let it heal any holes in body or spirit.'
Violetta was pulled out of her reverie by Darius' call. He was gaining on her now and made no attempt to slow his pace.
'Keep up, slowcoach!'
Violetta met his gaze and grinned. There may have been three years between the pair, but Violetta could still outpace him. Despite his exhaustion, she saw Darius smile. It was a rare smile that her brother only gave her. There was a hint of playfulness at its edges, that showed every bit of his love for his sister.
'You know, I will beat you one day, even if I die trying.'
Violetta could feel blood rushing to her ears. She heaved in several short breaths as she tried to maintain her focus on the ball. It was hurtling down the banks now, with little intention of coasting to a stop. Her brother's heavy footfalls vibrated against the packed earth, like the thrumming heartbeat of the world itself.
Violetta weaved past her favourite tree, where it was said her mother had given birth to her. She spied the ball rolling past its roots.
'Hey! You're going to kill yourself at the pace you're going!'
Violetta jolted. She hadn't realized just how fast she'd been sprinting. Darius had drawn up alongside her, his arms, which had begun to pack on muscle, stretched out in a vain attempt to steady her.
Violetta giggled and chanced a sideways dodge, intent on trapping the ball beneath her skirts when her legs buckled. Time passed in a prolonged wave. She could feel her heart beat in her ears as she watched the ground rush up to meet her.
With a throbbing head, she blinked her eyes open. Darius knelt over her, his face framed by a glowing mass of stars. Wait. Stars? Was it really that late? Violetta studied the look on her brother's face. Concern etched his every feature, one arm extended toward her, glistening with traces of sweat.
Violetta watched her body respond. Her hand met his, the skin oddly cold to the touch. It almost seemed to vibrate. No, not his hand. Something else.
Darius pulled her to her feet. Once Violetta had regained her balance, she felt the sensation grow stronger.
'Darius, can you feel that?'
A tingling sensation seeped into her bones. It pulsed through her, prickling the hairs on the back of her neck.
'Darius, something feels wrong.'
Violetta turned and was surprised to find Darius facing away. His tall frame appeared to have frozen beside her much loved tree, his face turned up toward the sky.
'Brother? What's wrong? Tell me.'
Violetta followed her brother's gaze.
Darkness stole over her. Violetta could see the storm a mile off and it showed no signs of letting up. She flinched as she felt something hit her face. Water? Darius began to stir, but Violetta's eyes remained fixed on the sky. She had heard of rain. It was said that the Air Realm was frequently visited by such cool showers, but never had she heard of a storm in the Flame Realm. At least, not since the Almighty Storm of the Ancients.
Violetta felt her courage flee her. She let out a high-pitched squeal; a reaction to the hands that had forced themselves around her arms.
'Shh, it's just me.' Darius stroked the golden waves of her hair. 'We must get inside. Understand?'
Violetta gazed into her brother's dark eyes. She nodded.
'Good, we haven't got long before the storm hits.'
Violetta dove toward Jork's ball. She trapped it between her wrinkled skirts, gathering it up in her slender arms. The rain gathered speed.
'Darius, I've got it!' she squealed. Silence greeted her. 'Darius? Where are you?'
Violetta could hear raised voices in the distance. They were muffled, likely from inside the secret passage they had used to get down here.
'Darius?' She spotted a limp shape stretched across the lap of her tree. 'DARIUS!'
Something struck Violetta hard in the shoulder, lifting her clean off the ground. Her mouth formed a silent scream as she flew through the air, clinging tight to Jork's ball. To Violetta's surprise, she landed on her feet.
Violetta's vision swam, her shoulder screaming in agony at a chunk of ice that had pierced the flesh. She glanced about, searching for Darius when something else zipped past her ear. Violetta tried to put thoughts of the pain aside. She gazed above her, where the sky had become a blinding white.
Violetta's fingernails dug into her ball and the agony she felt appeared to diminish. Her eyes snapped down to her shoulder, which only moments ago had been spiking with pain.
'That's not possible,' she gasped.
Violetta's skin was pale and smooth, not a cut or scratch anywhere in sight. Her eyes wandered down to Jork's ball, before flocking back to the pale skies above. This had to be a dream. The sky here wasn't white. It was a bright and beauteous blue, always.
Remembering how Darius had been struck, Violetta returned her gaze to her tree.
Her legs carried her over to him, aching with the sudden chill. Violetta was unsure of what she was going to find. She drew close and saw the tree's tangled roots embracing Darius. His mop of dark hair was slick with the rain, his eyes only just glazing over.
Violetta knelt down and gasped at the sight of her brother's chest. A large needle of ice had speared his flesh, spilling ruby liquid around its edges. A banshee's wail exploded from her.
All sound escaped Violetta's world. The edges of her vision darkened, leaving her only with eyes for her brother.
'Good Lord, Prince Darius!'
Clarisse's harsh voice cut through the silence. The elderly nursemaid sprinted past, her cold stare fixed on the limp form of their Realm's heir. She bent down to examine the prince's wounds, shooting an angry scowl Violetta's way.
'Just what did you think you were doing?' she snarled.
The veins in her forehead began to rise, as though attempting to escape from their fleshy prison.
Violetta's face was devoid of emotion. She could do little more than stare when a startled scream sounded nearby.
'Mother?' Violetta got back to her feet. 'Mother, ice is coming down from the sky. We must go. Darius said-'
Violetta locked eyes with her parent. Tears ran afresh down Queen Isobel's face as she raced through the rain to reach her child. Her golden curls, which were usually pinned atop her head, now hung loose and trailed limply down her back.
No-one noticed the shards of ice soaring past. Violetta wanted to run. She wanted to warn her mother before it was too late, but her body felt like it had frozen in place. She strained against her fear with all her might.
'Mother, we must go! Now!'
The queen darted across to the great oak tree. She scooped up the body of her only son, wailing against his dark mop of hair.
The despair in her voice matched the feelings that stirred within Violetta.
Queen Isobel refused to part from her son. He lay there, still as stone, his flesh growing colder by the moment. Violetta would remember this day for the rest of her life. She clung tight to Jork's gift and prepared to race, to grasp hold of her mother, when another shard shot out of the darkness. A struggling scream filled the air. It was a scream that would haunt her forever.
Violetta swallowed her fear. Her heart thundered within her chest as she thought of what her father would say. She and Clarisse stepped over the sopping thresh-hold, lowering their burden for the briefest of moments. They knelt down, panting with the effort of the bodies they'd carried. Both were exhausted and in no fit state to venture on.
Violetta's skirts were bundled and soaked, her body trembling as she raised her head. When the colossal doors permitted them entry, the sodden entourage were gazed upon with fear.
Waiting guards clapped eyes on the unconscious forms of the queen and her son and rushed forward to unburden the women of their still forms.
Violetta's lips trembled as her mother and Darius were laid, quite unceremoniously, upon the grand hall's floor. She heard maids being called to fetch warm towels as tears slipped down her pale cheeks. She stared at the bodies that lay on the floor. It was my fault. If Darius and I hadn't gone down to the Moat Islands...
King Eagan appeared from around a bend, having been summoned by the senior staff. As soon as he saw the bodies, he froze. Violetta stood there, bedraggled and carrying Lord Jork's ball. She tried to blink. Her head felt too heavy for her shoulders to carry. She could feel that same weird energy from before, as though it were calling to her, mocking the unfortunate situation.
Violetta looked to her father, who hadn't yet spoken a single word. He was gazing down at his wife and son. Both looked so frail, their bodies frozen in an eternal embrace as Queen Isobel cradled her first born child. Her mother's energy, her very essence, seemed to have fled from her stiffening form. Even her familiar fragrance; the jasmine and lilies Violetta had adored, was no more. She could do nothing but stand there, powerless. Even her father; a mighty king, could neither move nor speak with the pain that held him. He bent over his precious wife, knowing that it was too late to do anything but arrange a burial.
It was late into the night when her father sent for her. The ice storm lingered, rain joining to lick at the palace windows. The servants had done all they could until the royal bodies could be taken away. There was, after all, a limit to one's duties as far as death was concerned.
Violetta stood at her chamber window, her figure pale in the moonlight as she digested her father's news. Dead? Part of her didn't want to believe it, yet how could she not? She had seen it with her own eyes. She felt her world growing distant; her surroundings like some grand illusion given to her by a merciless god. Sounds grew fainter, moments dragging out as though stretched by some elaborate machinery. Even the rare sight of the twin moons in her realm could not save her.
The undertaker had arrived not long ago. Violetta watched, helpless as the funeral carriage drove away from the palace; away with her beloved mother and brother in tow. Her nails gripped the edge of the window frame. She was convinced that they could have been saved.
'Why?' She whispered into the night.
She felt so helpless, staring out of her bedroom window. She could still feel her father's pain when he'd arrived to find his wife and son lying cold on the sodden floor. And here she was, in the room that had only last night housed the sleeping form of her brother.
Violetta leant forward, watching the rain spatter against the window. Its furious pounding imitated her heart as tears began to pour down her face. Her broken sobs restored the sound to her world, her body quivering with each uneasy breath. If only the storm would envelop her. She wanted to be with her mother once more, to hear her soothing voice as she drifted off to sleep.
Violetta sucked in a breath and stared down at the ball she held in her hands. She shuddered to think of what it represented. She longed to be rid of the wretched thing, to simply send it out of existence so she could go and reclaim the family she'd lost. Her eyes zipped between the rain strewn window and the tiny sphere. What use was it now when the very object she held was the source of her family's demise.
Violetta struggled against the free flow of emotion. She could feel her body heating, but paid her growing rage no heed. Her body tensed, veins bulging with the effort of her slight form containing such raw power. She screamed into the darkness and her anger gave birth to flame.
Fire sprung from Violetta's tear-streaked palms, gorging itself on her delicate flesh. The beauty of the flames danced in her eyes.
The princess whipped round, her face contorted in the throes of rage. King Eagan appeared, his face stern.
'What in the name of Peradon do you think you are you doing?'
The ends of his hair shimmered, igniting at the tips. Violetta could see him searching for restraint, his eyes focused on the flames she wielded.
'Well? Do you think magic is a game? It was rogue magic that killed your mother, and Darius!'
Violetta didn't trust herself to speak. Instead she aimed one hand in the air and allowed her power to consume her. Crimson flames ignited about her, enveloping her from head to toe. She turned back to the window, peering through the heavy downpour that was no match her tears, for her worst nightmares had been realized.
A sigh escaped her father's lips as he drew close, resting a large hand upon her shoulder. Her roiling flames immediately extinguished.
'You must not be so careless, child.'
Violetta could see the pain in his eyes. She reached out to take her father's arm, but he drew back, keeping her at bay.
'Magic is dangerous and such power requires extreme caution. Do you understand?'
With a stifled sob, Violetta nodded.
Violetta felt herself being embraced, allowed to nuzzle into her father's side. He stroked her golden fall of hair; the same coppery shade as her mother's had been.
Violetta withdrew from her father's arms and pulled him to sit by the rain-flecked window. Together they strained to see the under-taker's carriage as it disappeared into the pouring rain. There they sat, Violetta with her knees pulled up to her heaving chest, in the company of her only family.
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