and he stumbled forward into the snow. As he hit the ground, pain filled his chest, like he had been stabbed. He did not see the red blood dripping onto the snow, nor the tip of his former short sword sticking out form between his ribs. None of this registered in his fever dream. Luca climbed back to his feet, and spat out a mouthful of blood. Everything was burning up, despite the freezing cold around him. Everything was on fire. He couldn't even feel the icy wind in his face. He hated the cold. His mana was rising, as though on its own. He was weaving a spell. It was strange, because he wasn't even thinking about it. It was like his mind was doing things of its own will. He half-walked, half-stumbled few steps backwards, and stepped on something buried in the snow. His father's blade. Almost absentmindedly, he reached down and picked it up. It felt warm in his hands - too warm for a steel blade covered in snow. The armoured Acarian, in response, drew his heavy axe. Zinoro had simply ordered him to knock Luca out, but this mindless brute was going to end up killing him with how much of a struggle he was going to put up. It was getting harder to breath. He was gasping and wheezing. Everything was burning up. His mana was overflowing now. He had never drawn so much in his life. The old nursery rhymes and cautionary tales about overloading yourself with mana echoed in his head. He could feel it. He could feel his own life energy fading with each breath. The Acarian swung his axe... And as he released the magick he felt himself being ripped away from the snowy ground below his feet. He felt every molecule in his body being shredded to oblivion, and he felt them all rocketing away at the speed of light.
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I knew this day was coming. Lodin watched as Zinoro pointed his sword at his chest. The blade was burning black. How many times have I seen this in my dreams? He was bleeding. He didn't even feel pain anymore. Lodin fell backwards, landing in the snow. He could see his son struggling against the grip of a massive Acarian, screaming and crying. He had never seen Luca cry before. He always tried so hard to hide his pain. Was the boy even aware in his sorrow? Lodin closed his eyes. He didn't want to say goodbye with a lingering gaze. He had always hated goodbyes. When the time for his seclusion had come, he hadn't said goodbye to any of his friends. He hadn't said goodbye to his wife, or his youngest child. Farewells pained him more than anything. Still, I was selfish in denying him that. I've made so many selfish choices over the years... He had hoped he could hold things off. But the remnants of the Acarian scout's campfire in the cave had told him that his day of reckoning was nigh. He had intended to warn the others away. The girl Arlea's death was his fault. All the slaughtered villagers were his fault. He should have warned them away the moment he got back from the hunt. Once again, he had failed. Just as he may well have failed his son. He didn't want to think of such things in his final moments. Instead, the dying man comforted himself with other images from his dreams. His son, and the girl with hair as dark as the night. The other five in the group. His son's second family. The family he had failed to give him. He knew that great hardships awaited the boy, but he also knew that, no matter how dark things got, it would all work out in the end. “Luc-” Zinoro's blade entered his heart, and he was unable to finish saying his son's name. Then, he was dead. The final piece of his puzzle had been put in place. And with that thought in mind, Lodin smiled as he faded into the embrace of death.
Chapter II A Soul's Refrain
Luca's sleep was short and fitful, and his dreams were troubled by painful memories. He saw the death of his father, repeating again and again in his mind's eye, continually taunting him with his inability to stop it. He saw the glowing, single red eye of