“Just… who… are you?”
Raden spoke the words aloud as he clutched his chest, his powers raging wildly within. He felt as if at any moment his heart was going to explode. A mysterious force had reached deep into his core, prying his soul from his earthly corpse. He collapsed to his knees; one hand gripping his chest as the other hand barely broke his fall. Every beat of his thundering heart felt like an explosion of hellish anguish coursing through his veins. Thump. Thump. Thump. Raden grimaced painfully, struggling to lift his head. The mysterious force bore down upon him with unbelievable pressure. Howling winds swept across the mountainous landscape, his hair and tattered robe flailing uncontrollably in the sudden typhoon. Through rippling locks of hair, Raden strained to lock eyes with the Vicedonian prince. How can this be?
The Ancient’s symbol for Chosen illuminated brightly on Aric’s forehead. The strange angular marking shone brilliantly as it came alive, tattooing itself into his skin, searing deep into his flesh with excruciating permanence. As the symbol fully manifested, it began to pulsate rhythmically in step with Raden’s own heartbeat. Every radiant burst of light coincided with the unbearable pounding in his chest. Thump. Thump. Thump. Before Raden could even begin to guess what was happening, a deep and primal scream grabbed him.
Aric yelled so loudly that the mountaintop of Sargatum shook from his torture. He grabbed his temple, squeezing down with the palms of his hands, desperately trying to subdue the agonizing storm clawing its way out of him.
Symin raised his right hand. “Stay back! Everyone stay back!” He quickly dropped to the ground, grabbed a hold of Raden by the back of his collar, and pulled him away from Aric with his one good arm. “What the hell is going on, Raden?”
“I’m… not sure. My powers… they’re… they’re out of control.” He forced the words through clenched teeth as his body tightened like a loaded spring.
Aric screamed once more.
Raden looked up and saw the unimaginable. “By the One…”
All those in attendance held a collective breath of fear. They witnessed pillars of ice burst forth from the ground and encase the young prince. Deadly spikes jutted out in all directions, warning the Renzai to keep their distance. The glacial towers glistened brightly from the morning sun as the ice frosted over, thickening the clear ice and hiding Aric from the outside world… at least that was the facade.
In reality, and only to those with eyes powerful enough to see, Aric’s body was being consumed by a growing shroud of thick darkness that seemed to suck in the very sunlight of the morning rays. Whipping tar-like tendrils peeled off the shroud and snapped about. At a glance, Raden thought he saw ghostly faces appear behind the mysterious force, tortured souls with hollowed-out eyes and mouths painfully drawn out beyond normal means. They called out with desperate pleas to anyone who would listen. But just when the faces appeared to fully materialize, the malignant cloud shifted violently and once again they were gone, vanished into a nightmarish prison that they were destined to never escape.
Aric’s body began to convulse violently. Racked by these unexpected seizures, Aric’s cries of pain were now accompanied by a guttural groan that seemed to emanate from deep within the mountain fortress itself. Renzai troops looked around with dread. Aric’s eyes rolled up into his head, leaving only the whites of them visible to terrify his enemies. His body lifted high off the ground, hovering eerily in the air as his arms began to twist in circles, tightening in unnatural positions and stretched to their very breaking points.
“What is going on inside the ice?” uttered Sako. The wound on her cheek began to bleed again, strands of maroon cascading down her pale skin.
A sudden burst of energy exploded from within the shroud, sending a massive plume of midnight-infused smoke up into the early morning sky. It was a darkness so deep that the night seemed to have returned with a vengeance. Soldiers both near and far were forced to drop for cover as they braced themselves from the apparent storm of ice. Powerful gusts of bone-chilling wind battered their bodies, forcing them to hold their ground or risk being blown off the mountaintop entirely.
Sako slammed the broken hilt of Reaver deep into the rocky ground, refusing to back away from Aric as everyone else had done. Despite the unexpected turn of events, her stubbornness would not allow the Vicedonian prince to get the better of her—no matter what the cost. As monstrous winds blew across the mountaintop, she gripped the hilt with both hands, dug her feet into the ground, and held on tight.
“You… will… pay!” she swore loudly, her words drowned out by the roaring wind.
Just then, the powerful tempest increased in ferocity, forcing Sako to readjust her grip… but it was too late. Her fingers peeled apart one by one till the last one gave way. The raging storm grabbed a hold and sent her soaring through the air straight towards the mountain’s edge.
“NOOOOOO!” she screamed.
Then, a booming silence took over.
The whirling storm dissipated in an instant. Evaporating out of existence in a single moment of divine intervention. Sako skidded across the ground, her feet dangled dangerously over the edge as she came to a fortuitous stop. Recognizing the opportunity, she pulled out a dagger from her side, rose to her feet, and leaped high into the air, hell bent on finishing what she had started before with Aric.
“Don’t do it, Sako!” cried Raden. “He’s much too powerful!”
“He… must… DIE!”
Aric watched Sako rise into the air with killer intentions, but he was in no position to stop her. His body was no longer his as it continued to react to the dark energy of the shroud. He still felt the tips of his extremities, yet he could not control them. A heavy presence weighed down upon his chest, pinning him in place as he watched helplessly.
Sako aimed straight for Aric’s heart, the recent memory of her shattered blade enraging her to no end. This time, I take your heart, you bastard!
Aric’s body unexpectedly stopped twisting, freezing still as it hovered in the air. Sako’s eyes widened as she relished her opportunity to deliver the deadly blow. She focused onto a single point on Aric’s chest and gripped her dagger with white knuckles.
Icy tendrils snapped out from the shroud and pierced the sky to greet Sako. They reached for her legs, but skillfully, Sako twisted her body in mid-air, breaking free of its grasp and repositioned herself to still drive down her dagger into Aric’s heart.
C’mon Sako! Do it! Symin prayed that Sako could pull off this miracle feat.
Sako drove the dagger straight down with ferocious momentum. “DIEEEEE!” she exclaimed as the blade zoomed in on Aric’s heart.
Raden’s jaw dropped in horror as a mysterious arm burst forth from within the shroud, grabbing a hold of Sako’s neck and catching her in mid-air.
Excerpted from Chosen by T. Sae-Low. Copyright © 2015 by T. Sae-Low. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author.