The light of the icy sun reluctantly bathed everything around Clara and Sophia. At the edge of the forest, they could see the distorted figures of hundreds of creatures with elongated, skeletal, dark bodies with translucent skin through which blackish bones could be made out. Their bodies swayed, as if they found it difficult to stand. Sophia felt Clara shudder at her side. The sisters exchanged glances.
“Don’t be afraid,” Sophia said, her voice breaking. Clara gave her a weak smile, her eyes flooded with horror. “We just have to keep them busy. Until Miriam arrives with the sword,” Sophia continued, as countless creatures approached them, the sharp fingers that came out of those terribly long arms practically dragging on the ground.
Clara nodded weakly, took a deep breath, and closed her eyes. Sophia took one last look at her sister before taking a great leap. Suspended in mid-air, Sophia felt a sweet warmth caressing her skin and her appearance began to change. Her arms twisted, her legs lengthened and her entire body became covered with scarlet, golden and blue feathers. In her phoenix form, Sophia hurried across the sky toward the army of kelyphs who, far from being frightened, hastened their pace.
From her wings, razor-sharp feathers enveloped in flames rained down like a torrent onto the blackish, translucent bodies of the creatures. Each time one of the fiery feathers impacted on the creatures, their bodies became immediately engulfed in the flames, but it seemed that the fact that they were burning was but a minor inconvenience for the kelyphs, who simply shook their unnaturally long limbs until so as to extinguish the flames before they continued to advance inexorably.
As Sophia flew in a circle above the ground, throwing flaming feather after flaming feather, Clara vanished once and again, reappearing instantly at another point, only to stretch out her arms and conjure up a small sphere of energy in front of her and vanish once more. For a few moments, each sphere remained motionless, and then, with a blinding flash, they exploded violently, charring everything in their path and releasing powerful shock waves that made the trees tremble and the earth groan.
The explosions, placed along the mass of dark bodies, impacted powerfully on the kelyphs, who fell to the ground. Clara could see some of the very long limbs being expelled away from the creatures’ bodies. However, losing an arm or a leg did not present a major issue for those beings either. Those who had fallen due to the explosions simply stood up and continued on their way, even though the two sisters were forcing their powers to the very limit trying to contain them. After placing the umpteenth explosive sphere, Clara cast a glance behind her, where, in the distance, a very tall dark tower could be seen. Hurry up, Miriam, she thought, as she prepared her body to disappear again and reappear somewhere in the midst of the uproar of dark creatures and continue to place explosions.
Just as Clara materialised in the centre of the army, a terrible pain exploded in her chest. She looked down and discovered countless tiny shards of blue glass embedded in her chest, her clothing all bloodied up and torn to shreds. The creatures, clearly annoyed at the two sisters’ incessant and futile attacks, had begun to strike back.
Unable to react in time, Clara could only watch as one of the nearest creatures raised its arms above its head and, between its long, sharp fingers, a small ball of blue smoke came to being. The ball of smoke grew ever larger, eventually becoming solid. Fiercely, the kelyph threw it at Clara, who tried to dodge it by vanishing again. Even before she reappeared, away from the creatures, Clara knew that she had not been fast enough. She felt new pieces of glass sticking deep into her shoulder, face, and neck. She felt the blood flow unstoppably. She felt the world around her fade away…
In the sky, Sophia witnessed, with horror, what had just happened. She threw a thousand feathers of fire, forming a fiery barrier between her fallen sister and the army of dark beings, who seemed determined to get to Clara. Sophia descended, regained her human aspect and knelt beside her sister.
“Clara…” Sophia muttered, stroking her sister’s bloody hair. “Let me help you… I’ll heal you.”
Sophia grabbed Clara’s arms tightly, closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She felt the soft, familiar sensation of her restorative power flowing from her hands into her sister’s body. Sophia kept her eyes closed for a few moments, the darkness tinged with orange because of the fire barrier she had erected to protect her sister. Her restoring power continued to flood Clara’s body until, exhausted, Sophia had to stop.
What she saw when she opened her eyes brought on a heart-rending lament.
Clara lay on the ground, pale and covered with blood, her eyes fixed on the sky, on that immense icy sun. She did not respond. She could barely breathe anymore. Sophia felt her sister’s heart beating, but the wounds seemed so severe that even the healing power was not able to help her.
“Clara, don’t…” Sophia said. “You need to heal. You have to…”
Sophia was silent for a moment. She cast a fleeting glance at the barrier of fire, still standing, still burning vigorously. Then, she interlaced the fingers of her right hand with those of her sister and closed her eyes once more. If Sophia’s healing power had not worked, perhaps this would…
A terrible chill ran through Sophia’s body. After the chill, came a strange feeling of lightness, as if she had suddenly shed an immense weight that was holding her firmly to the ground. Suddenly, Sophia felt a terrible cold that disappeared without a trace just as quickly as it had come. She opened her eyes and separated her fingers from her sister’s.
“Clara?” she asked, hesitating. Her sister was still pale, but her cheeks seemed to be regaining a certain blush.
Slowly, as if pushed from within, the shards embedded in Clara’s skin left her body and fell to the dry ground. The blood still emanating from her wounds folded back, returning to the inside of the deep cuts, which immediately began to seal without even leaving the faintest of scars. Clara’s eyes found those of her sister.
“Sophia, what have you…?”
The wall of fire was extinguished. An infinite number of kelyphs crossed the column of smoke that stood where the fire had been just moments earlier. Sophia stood up, standing still between Clara, still recovering her health, and the creatures, who did not hesitate for a moment to leap to her, their long, sharp fingers ready to tear at her skin.
A terrible scream pierced Clara’s ears. Still weak and dizzy, she could only catch glimpses of dark silhouettes before her eyes. Gradually regaining her strength, her ears were able to pick up more clearly the cry that echoed and surrounded her. Clara recognised the voice as that of her sister. Sophia. The screams lasted only a few seconds, after which a deep silence spread around her.
The powers Sophia had transferred to her were still working to restore her health, but Clara felt strong enough to stand, although she almost fell again when one of the creatures threw itself at her. She felt powerful claws digging into her skin. With a shriek of pain, Clara vanished from her position, leaving behind an explosive sphere. A fraction of a second later, the woman reappeared some sixty feet above the ground, plummeting, unable to stop. As she fell she saw, on the ground in front of her, the explosion consuming everything: the kelyphs who had attacked them, the dry grass, the cold, grey ground… and her sister’s lifeless body.
When she was just a few inches away from hitting the uncontrollably burning earth, Clara’s arms spread out and, with a force she didn’t think she was capable of, she flapped her newly acquired wings, rising into the air and flying away.
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