A Red Rose

A dark shadow bent over the sleeping form of a young girl in the bed, stroking away an errant lock of hair from her delicate brow. The girl was beautiful, looking restful in her sleep, unaware of the visitor in her simple room. Her skin was fair, with only a slight hint of a tan, a mass of tangled walnut brown hair spread out around her head on the bed. High cheekbones, a small, straight nose and arched eyebrows gave her an almost divine look, all perfect in its innocence. Slightly slanted eyes and pointed ears bore sign of her elfin heritage. A soft smile curled her soft lips as she dreamt of something undoubtedly pleasant.

The dark shadow carefully pulled the quilt down, revealing a pair of slender shoulders, then put a hand inside its large cloak. The girl in the bed sighed in her sleep, causing the dark shadow to still for a moment, waiting to see if she awoke, but the girl stayed asleep.

Slowly the shadow withdrew a thin dagger from its robe and moved it towards the girl's slender throat. The tip of the dagger came to rest against her smooth skin, moving over it, almost caressing it, without piercing it.

Dark eyelashes fluttered over the girl's cheek, and slowly she started to wake. Light green eyes, so pale they seemed yellow, widened as she spotted the intruder. The girl's mouth opened to scream, but was cut short as the lethal tip of the dagger struck down to draw blood.

With a start Ereptus jerked awake. The small room he'd taken at a local Inn seemed to close in on him for a moment, until he was entirely awake. Shaking he sat up and looked about the room. It looked just as it had the other night when he had gone to sleep; simple with a sturdy bed and a little cupboard with a washbowl on top. It had been a dream, yet it had seemed so real.

He ran a hand through his dark hair, vaguely registering that he'd been sweating, and stood up to pace the small space of the room. There wasn't an ounce of magic in his entire being. He was a simple soul living a rogue's life. Yet he couldn't shake off the feeling that he had just had a premonition. He had been away too long. It was time for him to go back and face his inner demons. If for no other reason than to see her and make sure that she was still alive and well.

Although the sun had not yet shown its golden face Ereptus started to get dressed, packed his few things and left the Inn. He stole a horse on a small farm outside the city and started his journey towards the city of Nivrim where he had once left the girl. He could only hope that she was still there. After all, it had been three years since he had last seen her.

The street in the city of Nivrim was bustling with citizens walking to and from little shops running their errands. A few soldiers were standing at a street corner looking over the street making sure there was no trouble arising. The many soldiers and guards of the city made it one of the safest in the area, allowing a lonely girl to grow up without fearing for her life.

Ereptus was standing in the shadows of a narrow alley, keeping away from the busy street, not wanting to be seen. From where he was standing he had a good view over the street, and the small bar on the opposite side, where he knew the girl now lived.

It had been four years since he had first met her. He had been called back to the city of his past by an old friend to repay a favour. The favour had turned out to involve bringing a dirty brat to Imagica, taking the girl away from the violent streets of the city. She was an elfin girl with some magical powers, and the city was not a good place for her to grow up, being almost ruled by crime as it was. As young as she was, she had already shown potential beauty and sooner or later she would be killed if she stayed in the city, or worse.

At first he had been angry, not wanting the responsibility of an elfin girl, but during their trip to Imagica, he had involuntarily started to like her, more than he even wanted to admit to himself even to this day. The girl had been suspicious of him at first, as she seemed to be towards most people, but had soon grown fond of him, and he had a nagging feeling that she had had a small crush on him, in the way teenage girls did. She had started to see him as some kind of idol, wanting to share his life, stealing what was needed and living from day to day.

That was the reason he had left her. Or at least he told himself so. Once they had arrived in Nivrim, one of the cities in Imagica, he had gotten them a room at an Inn, and the next morning, while the girl was still asleep, he had left, leaving her with only a small pouch of money and a rose.

Ereptus moved out of the way as a couple came walking through the alley, disturbing his thoughts. Casting a quick look at the entrance to the bar across the road to ensure himself that she had still not come out, he settled back into the shadows.

He had stayed in Nivrim for a year after leaving the girl, staying in the shadows, watching over her. She had never known, as far as she was aware, he had left her that morning to never return. Once he had been ensured that she was doing all right, by that time she had gotten a job as a bar maid during the late afternoons and evenings, he had left the city. Being that close to her without speaking to her had been difficult, and putting distance between them would take the temptation away.

It had now been three years since he'd left the city behind.

She would be older now.

Ereptus frowned. Where had that thought come from? Before he could delve deeper into his own thoughts the door to the bar on the opposite side of the road opened and she emerged. Seeing her again was like a punch in the gut to Ereptus. She had been promisingly beautiful as the young girl he had met, a girl that was too old to be a child, and too young to be a woman. The young, elfin woman coming out from the bar was astonishing.

With a scowl he saw that he wasn't the only one who noticed. Several of the men on the street slowed their pace to get a good glance at her. She seemed quite unaware of their attentions as she started walking down the street. Slowly Ereptus emerged out of the alley, keeping his distance from her as to not be seen, while following her down the street.

His eyes took her in as they were walking through the streets of the city. It was obvious that she was now a grown-up. Although her body was slender she had the distinct forms of a young woman. She was wearing a simple skirt of soft leather, and a leather bodice that stuck to her like a second skin. Her long, walnut brown hair was tied back in the neck falling down her back all the way to her waist.

Ereptus quickly slipped into a dark alley as the young woman stopped in the middle of the street and turned around, a small frown creasing her brow. She scanned the street, but didn't see him, although he was standing quite close. From where he was standing he could clearly see her face with her unusual eyes. Framed with thick, dark lashes they stood out in their light green colour, a shade so light that they seemed yellow most of the time.

As the girl turned back and continued down the street Ereptus slipped out of the alley again following her down the street.

Rain wiped off the last of the wooden tables with a damp cloth and then straightened her aching back and looked around in the little bar where she worked in the afternoons and evenings. It was a small, but cosy, little bar in the centre of the city where the citizens gathered in the evenings for a chat and a couple of beers. Nivrim was a peaceful town, and she had not had much trouble since she first arrived four years ago.

The job was hard on her back and sometimes a customer who had had a little too much to drink might try and grab her, but on the whole it was a good job. It paid enough to let her rent a little room on a top floor of the bar and pay for her lessons in magic. It definitely was better than living on the streets as she had done as a child.

The bar was empty at the moment, Rain being the only one left after closing time to wipe off the tables and blow out the candles. She finished her tasks swiftly, hung her little apron on a rusty spike behind the counter and started up the stairs to the second floor where her little room was located.

Once in her room she lit a small candle by her bed and started to get ready for bed. As she was about to take off her leather bodice she felt a prickling feeling in the back of her neck. She turned slowly to the small window overlooking the street, but as far as she could see it was empty. All day she had had the feeling that she was being watched, ever since she had gone for her magic lesson in the morning. Frowning slightly she turned away from the window, but she couldn't shake off the feeling of unease that had settled in the back of her mind.

Knowing that she would be unable to sleep if she didn't check, she went downstairs and unlocked the door to the bar. She peeked outside, but couldn't see anyone, so she opened the door wide and stepped outside on the empty street. The crisp night air caressed her skin as a light breeze swept through the street. She stood for a moment enjoying the silence of the city at night time, then smiled at her own foolishness, there were no people anywhere close, and turned to walk back inside.

As she reached for the doorknob someone caught hold of her from behind, a heavy hand clamped over her mouth preventing her from screaming. She tried to get loose, but whoever was holding her was big and strong, and she wasn't even able to budge the hold he had on her. He turned her around, and she saw another man, a wide grin on his face displaying uneven, yellowish teeth. He was thin and unwashed with tangled hair and patched clothes.

'Well, hello there', he said in an unpleasant voice. 'We've been waiting for you. Very kind of you to walk straight into our arms like this.'

Rain made another attempt at getting away from the man who was holding her in an iron grip, but it only made him strengthen his hold, making it difficult for her to breathe.

The other man chuckled at her futile attempt. 'My friend is too strong for you, girl. You better just give up.'

'Do we have to bring 'er to the boss right away?' the man who held her said gruffly next to her ear. 'I think we deserve to have some fun with 'er first.'

The other man stepped closer, touching Rain's cheek with a dirty hand, grinning widely. 'You're right', he said. 'She's quite something this one.'

As he was starting to touch Rain's hair he caught sight of something and his eyes widened, but before he got the chance to say anything Rain felt something hard hit her captor in the back, causing him to drop her. While she was scrambling to her feet she heard some muffled noises and then a couple of thumps.

Brushing some dirt off her skirt she looked at the two men who attacked her. They were now both lying unconscious on the ground. She stroked back an errant lock of hair, fastening it behind her ear and looked down the street. Where had her rescuer gone off to? Frowning, she kneeled by the two bodies, searching them for personal possessions that might tell her who they were.

As one of them moaned loudly she almost tripped over her own feet in the haste of getting away from the man before he woke up.

'You little fool', a soft voice said behind her, helping her up. 'Are you deliberately trying to get caught again? I didn't bring them down for you to wake them up again the first thing you do.'

Rain pulled her arm back as soon as she was standing and turned around to glare at her rescuer.

'Look!' she snapped. 'I was just going to..' she trailed off, staring at the man standing in front of her.

He looked just like she remembered, if not more good looking. He was dressed in black, as she remembered he always used to be, tall and slim with dark hair falling to his shoulders, curling slightly at the collar. He had a square jaw which was currently covered with a day's stubble and dark, almost black, eyes that were watching her intently.

'Ereptus!' she gasped, overcome with the shock of seeing him again after such a long time. 'What are you doing here?'

Ereptus shrugged, an amused smile playing on his lips. 'Saving your hide, obviously.'

Rain glared at him. 'I was doing fine on my own.'

'I saw that.' Ereptus said dryly.

'I don't need your comments.' Rain snapped at him, annoyed that he had come back when for once she actually had not been able to take care of herself.

'Let's continue the conversation inside.' Ereptus said as one of the men on the ground started making noises and seemed to come around. Without waiting for an answer he ushered Rain inside the bar, closed and locked the door.

'What are you doing? You're not coming in here!' Rain glared at him, hands on her hips.

'Would you rather I went out there and met those to brutes again?' Ereptus asked her.

She was sorely tempted to say yes, but held her tongue.

'Fine. Stay then.' She sighed.

Ereptus moved around in the bar, found a candle which he lit with the help of some embers in the fireplace. Then he put it on a table and sat down, watching her silently until she gave up and joined him at the table.

They sat quietly for a moment, watching each other and the changes that had happened since they had last seen. Rain was well aware that she was the one that had changed the most, going from a teenager to a young woman. Not that Ereptus seemed to notice, she thought grumpily. He hadn't changed much himself the past few years. He was still a handsome rogue.

Ereptus was the first to start speaking.

'You seem to be doing all right here', he said.

Rain nodded. 'I am. I've been able to take care of myself quite well without you.'

An amused smile touched Ereptus' mouth, but he didn't say anything.

'I'm learning my magic, and making my own money.' Rain continued.

'No stealing.' Ereptus stated.

'No stealing.' Rain admitted, and added tonelessly. 'You got your wish.'

Ereptus said nothing, just looked at her with his dark eyes, unnerving her.

She nervously stroked away a lock of hair from her brow. 'So.. Where have you been all this time?'

'Travelling around.' Ereptus answered vaguely.

Rain looked up, meeting his eyes. 'What made you come back?'

'I was in the area.' He looked away, seemingly very interested in the interior of the bar.

'I'm surprised you dare to come this close to me.' Rain said.

Ereptus jerked his head back to look at her. 'Why wouldn't I?'

'You seemed to be in quite a rush to get away from me last time.' Rain said bitterly. 'You didn't even bother to say good bye.'

To her satisfaction, Ereptus actually looked a little guilty. 'It was easier not to.'

Rain glared at him. 'Easier?' she asked, raising her voice an octave. 'Well, I'm glad it was easier for you to break my heart while I was sleeping!'

'Did I then?' Ereptus asked silently.

'Did what?' Rain muttered angrily.

'Break your heart?'

Rain looked down on her hands, her answer coming softly, hardly more than a whisper. 'Yes. You were my only friend.'

Ereptus leaned forward over the table and caressed her cheek with his knuckles. 'I never wanted to hurt you, Rain', he said silently, locking his eyes with hers. 'I left because I thought it was the best for you.'

A silent tear trailed down Rain's cheek as she looked at him, and Ereptus caught it on his finger, watching it for a moment, a wistful expression on his face.

'How could it be the best for me?' Rain asked. 'I was young and alone in a new land. You left me abandoned.'

Ereptus wiped the tear off his finger, breaking eye contact. 'I was afraid that I would be a bad influence on you', he admitted.

'How noble of you.' Rain said bitterly. 'The least you could have done was to leave while I was awake.'

'I had my reasons.' Ereptus mumbled so low that Rain barely could hear.

'Well.' She stood up. 'I don't think I'm interested in hearing them anymore. You left me, and that's fine with me. I can take care of myself now. And I'm going to bed. Good bye, Ereptus.'

Ereptus stood as well. 'I'm not leaving.'

Rain glared at him, hands on her hips. 'You're not staying here with me!'

'I'm not going anywhere until we've figured out what's going on and what those men wanted with you.' Ereptus said calmly.

'The same they always do, most likely.' Rain said exasperated.

'I don't think so. They were talking about bringing you to someone. I think those two were more than just your regular street thugs.' Ereptus said, and then his eyes narrowed. 'What do you mean "the same they always do"?'

Rain sighed. 'Good night, Ereptus.'

She hurried up the stairs and to her room, locking the door behind her, before Ereptus could reply. He could sleep downstairs on the floor, she thought stubbornly. She quickly got ready for bed and lay down to get some sleep. It was difficult though, her mind still occupied with the fact that Ereptus was back. She wasn't sure whether she was angry or happy about the fact. She would never forget the morning she had woken up to find that her only friend had abandoned her. A lot of hopes and dreams had been crushed the instant she had realised he would not be coming back.

Ereptus looked at the sleeping form in the bed from where he sat on a chair by the window. She was in an uneasy sleep, tossing and turning, now and then mumbling something under her breath. As if bewitched he stood up and walked over to the bed to get a better look at her. He hunched down by her side, stroking an errant lock of hair away from her fair brow. She was so beautiful that it almost hurt him to look at her. He couldn't help but wonder how he had ever been able to leave her all those years ago. But of course, she'd then only been a teenager, even if she had already shown the promise of the beauty she had become.

Suddenly she sat up, still half asleep, looking around the room with sleepy, yellowish eyes.

'Ereptus?' she mumbled.

'I'm still here, pet.' He said softly, stroking her cheek with his hand.

She seemed to accept that and settled back down, a soft smile on her lips as she went back to sleep. Ereptus watched her while she was sleeping, his mind trying to figure out what was going on. He'd returned because of what he had explained away as a nightmare, but he'd come just in time to save her from some thugs planning on taking her to someone. He simply couldn't figure out whom, the young woman in the bed didn't look like she could have any enemies.

After some time he finally gave up and settled down in a corner of her room, leaning against the wall to get a few hours sleep before dawn.


He jerked awake, staring up at Rain who was standing before him, dressed in a pair of leather trousers and a soft leather bodice. Her hair was loose, falling over her slender shoulders. The light green eyes seemed more yellow than he remembered them being as she narrowed them at him.

'How did you get in here?' she asked pointedly. 'I'm quite certain I locked the door last night.'

Ereptus stood up, running a hand through his dark hair. 'Locked doors have never been much trouble for me.' He grinned charmingly.

'I should have known', Rain muttered.

'Yes, you should.' Ereptus agreed.

Rain ignored him, walking over to the door to go downstairs. 'I want to find out who those thugs were yesterday. If they're planning to come after me again I'd rather find them first.'

Ereptus got up and followed her. 'I would suggest you visit the Inn', he said casually.

Rain stopped and looked up at him, her yellowish eyes narrowed. 'Why would you suggest that?'

'I heard the men speak before you came outside yesterday. They mentioned that they were staying there.'

'And you didn't think it would be a good idea to tell me that until now?'

'Not really, no.' He grinned at her.

Rain muttered something incoherently and continued down the corridor, Ereptus following her with a big grin on his face. As she opened the door to walk out on the street something small and blue grey snuck inside and climbed up her leg, to finally make its way to her shoulder.

'Peeves!' Rain smiled. 'Where have you been all night?'

'So you still have your pet lizard.' Ereptus commented dryly.

Rain glared at him, her eyes shooting yellow sparks, but not bothering to remind him that Peeves was a little dragon. Ereptus looked at the little beast perched on her shoulder. He wasn't much larger than last time he'd seen him, only about the size of Ereptus' hand. Blue grey scales covered its lean body and two small horns protruded from its forehead. It had a long, slender tail which was wrapped around Rain's neck.

'Let's go to the Inn and look for those men.' Rain muttered while absently stroking Peeves who let out a sound which sounded strangely similar to a cat's purring.

They reached the Inn a little while later and Ereptus quickly found out from the innkeeper which room the two men had rented.

'How do you do that?' Rain asked, awed, as they were walking up the stairs to the right floor.

'Do what?' Ereptus asked.

'Get information from someone who really shouldn't be giving it to you.'

Ereptus chuckled. 'It's a skill honed with years of experience.'

'What do you do?'

'I just confuse them. They never realise they told me what I wanted to know.'

Rain shook her head. 'I'll never understand you.'

They had reached the correct room and Ereptus pounded on the door, but there was no answer. Rain tried to open the door, and to her surprise, it actually opened. Looking up at Ereptus to see him nod to go ahead, she opened the door and Ereptus stepped inside. Before he could stop her Rain walked in after him, and let out a loud gasp at the sight.

The two men from last night were lying on their beds, both dead with a wound in their chest. A thin, silvery dagger protruded from the chest of one of the men. As Ereptus saw the dagger a cold shiver travelled down his spine. It was the same dagger he had seen in his dream, he was certain of it.

'Let's get out of here!' he said roughly, pulling Rain with him outside and closing the door to the room.

'Who could have killed them?' Rain whispered, shaken by what she'd just seen.

'My guess would be whoever hired them.' Ereptus said. 'The one who wants you dead.'

Rain stared up at him. 'Wants me dead? What makes you think that?'

Ereptus looked down the corridor. 'Let's not discuss it here. We'll go somewhere and then I can tell you.'

'Ok.' Rain nodded. 'We can go out to the forest. I have the day off today. Another girl is working in the bar.'

They quickly left the city and went into the forest lying close in the west. Rain led Ereptus to a little glen where they could sit down and talk in peace from the little goblins that inhabited the forest.

'So, tell me why you think someone wants to kill me.' Rain said, sitting down in the grass to lean against the trunk of a tall tree.

Ereptus paced the little glen for a while without responding before stopping to look down at her with his dark eyes, making her feel a little uncomfortable.

'This is going to sound crazy', he said, raking a hand through his dark hair.

'I'm sure it will.' Rain agreed, receiving a scathing look as reply.

Ereptus sat down next to her, leaning against the same tree trunk, sighing deeply.

'I had a nightmare before I came here. As a matter of fact, it's the reason I came here.' He turned his head to look down at Rain. 'In the dream I saw you lying in your bed sleeping, but you weren't alone in the room, there was someone else there as well.'

Rain felt uncomfortable, a cold shiver running down her spine. 'Who was it?' she asked quietly.

'I don't know.' Ereptus looked away, frowning, trying to remember his dream. 'The person was dressed in a dark cloak, covering the face. All I could see was a hand holding a dagger. A dagger that looked exactly like the one stuck in that dead body at the Inn.'

'I guess I won't be so lucky that it was just a coincidence.' Rain muttered.

'Not likely.'

'I just don't understand who would like to kill me.' Rain gave Ereptus a bewildered look. 'I don't even know all that many people, how could someone know me enough to want to kill me?'

'I don't know, pet.' Ereptus said, absentmindedly stroking away an errant lock that had fallen down her brow. 'I can't imagine why anyone would want to hurt you.'

Rain made a grimace. 'As if you haven't wanted to strangle me yourself on occasion.'

Ereptus grinned. 'That's another matter entirely though.'

'This all makes no sense!' Rain burst out, standing up to start pacing the little glen in irritation.

Ereptus stayed sitting, watching her as she walked around the glen, muttering curses under her breath, making him smile. They weren't words one would expect to come from a beautiful, young woman.

The attack came so quickly that neither of them had the chance to react. A dark shadow came out of nowhere and threw itself at Rain who fell down with a yelp, the shadow on top of her with a dagger, identical to the one that had killed the men at the Inn, in its hand.

Ereptus scrambled to his feet and ran towards Rain and her attacker, she was fighting to keep the dagger away from her throat, but the shadow was a lot stronger. Throwing himself at the shadowy figure had it fall off Rain and drop the dagger, and Ereptus got a better look at it. It was definitely something alive, a man dressed in a dark cloak covering him completely except for a pair of black boots showing beneath the hem of the cloak.

As Ereptus reached for the dropped dagger a sound came from the man on the ground, and the dagger magically moved back into the man's outstretched hand. Ereptus cursed, pulling Rain to her feet and putting her behind his back to protect her. The man attacked again, struggling with Ereptus to get to Rain who had moved a few feet back, staring at them.

'How about giving me a hand, pet?' Ereptus panted, kicking the man so that he fell.

'Oh! I'm sorry, Ereptus!' Rain seemed to have snapped out of her fear and started working on the words to cast a spell, and soon a blue shimmering shield enveloped her and Ereptus protecting them from harm.

The man had gotten to his feet again, but didn't attack them again.

'We will meet again.' The voice was barely more than a gruff whisper, but they could both hear it as clearly as if it had been shouted at them. Then the man lifted his dagger in a salute, and with a strange noise the man disappeared in thin air.

Rain, drained from her protective spell, fell to the ground and their shield vanished. Ereptus picked her up, holding her against him.

'You're still not strong enough for such spells', he admonished.

'It was the only thing I could think of casting at the moment.' Rain said with a weary smile.

Ereptus brought her back to her room above the bar where she lived, Rain barely being able to walk alone in her current state.

'Are you sure you are ok?' Ereptus asked her as he put her down on her bed.

'I'm just tired, and I think I bumped my head.' She winced as she touched the back of her head with her hand. 'Ouch. Yes, I definitely bumped my head.'

'You better lie down then. It can be dangerous to be up and about if your head took some damage.'

'I think I will.' Rain yawned.

'Get some sleep, pet.' Ereptus caressed her hair, watching her drift into sleep, then he went over to the window overlooking the street beneath.

He was glad that he had come, strangely enough his dream had proved to be real. Now he must decide what to do to protect Rain against this mysterious man who wanted to hurt her. He cast a quick glance at Rain as she mumbled something in her sleep, but she seemed to be ok. Silently he walked towards the door, he had to run a couple of errands, and then he knew what must be done.

Rain awoke slowly, stretching like a cat. Her head was still aching, but not as bad as it had been before she went to sleep. Looking out the window she could see the early morning light, which meant she must have slept all through the night.

'Ereptus?' She looked around the room, but he wasn't there. Frowning, she stood up, almost stepping on something that was lying on the floor. She looked down and started cursing loudly. It was a rose, a single, red rose lying on the floor. He had done it again!

She picked up the rose, glaring at it, but not able to bring herself to throw it away. Instead she put it on her bed, looking at it not sure whether to cry or scream. She pulled her boots on with jerky motions, still annoyed at Ereptus' habit of leaving her without saying fare well.

Then she stopped suddenly, a thought hitting her. Say what you will of Ereptus and his habits, he would never leave her alone when she was in danger. Frowning, Rain finished her dressing and left her room. Ereptus would not have left unless he knew she was safe. Or if he was planning to make sure she was safe.

The last thought had Rain running down the stairs and out into the street. She had to find him. He couldn't take on a man like the one they had met in the forest. The man knew magic, probably a lot more than Rain did. The only reason he had left the day before was that he had been toying with them. He could easily have gotten through the shield she had conjured.

How had Ereptus known where to go? Rain stood in the middle of the street feeling lost and uncertain of what to do. What had Ereptus noticed that she had not? She bit at her lip in frustration. Then she remembered. When the man had fallen she, and certainly Ereptus, had seen his black boots beneath the cloak. What she hadn't registered at the time was that the boots had been covered in something white and sticky. Cobweb!

Rain started running. There were only a couple of places she knew where there were large cobwebs, and the man would have to be at one of them.

She reached the forest with the entrance to the webs later in the day, looking up into the tree crowns where the thick webs spanned between the limbs and tree trunks. Spiders had never bothered her, but she knew that the ones living in these webs were a lot larger than just regular spiders. With a sigh she heaved herself up into the cobwebs, looking around to try and find the right path.

The cobwebs in Arachnos' lair were treacherous, and if one stepped in the wrong places there was always the possibility of falling through to an immediate death. Rain walked carefully, trying to make sure that she stepped only where it was secure, while scanning the surroundings for a trace of Ereptus of her dark assailant.

After having walked around in what seemed like hours Rain finally heard some noises and could sense Ereptus' presence. Worried about his safety she increased her pace and soon came into a piece of the web next to a treacherous hole where one could easily fall in. Terrified she saw Ereptus lying bloody on the floor, the man in the dark cloak standing by him, moving his limp body with a foot.

'Ereptus?' Rain shouted, causing the man in the cloak to notice her, while Ereptus didn't react.

'Well well well..' the man said. 'If it isn't the brat. I'm glad you've decided to join us, it saves me the hassle of having to go and get you.'

'What do you want from me?' Rain asked warily. 'I don't know you.'

'Are you sure about that?' the man asked slowly, removing the hood of his cloak.

Rain gasped. The man was older now, but she could still recognise him.


Her father's cold eyes looked at her in disgust. 'Do you still believe that lie?' he said. 'I'm not your father, never have been and never will. My wife took care of you when you were a wee baby, since her friend's soul had left her mortal body, and left you behind.'

'Neither of you were my real parents?' Rain asked, stunned.

'Of course not you stupid girl!' the man snapped. 'I'm human, and so was my wife. You're an elf.'

'I always thought I was a half elf.' Rain said. 'I don't remember your wife. I thought perhaps she had been an elf.'

'She wasn't. I'd never have married her if she was.' The man glared at Rain. 'It was a pain having you around, glad I was to get rid off you when I left you in that city.'

Rain's eyes narrowed. 'Then why are you here now?'

A cold grin spread over the man's face. 'Oh, but don't you know, brat? It's your heritage I want.'

'My heritage?'

'That your mother left you. I want it, it will bring me great powers.' The man's eyes were insane as he stared at Rain. 'I have been looking for you for years, gathering knowledge until my magic was strong enough to get what I want from you.'

Rain had been moving closer to Ereptus as they spoke. She was now able to bend down and check if he was okay. His breathing was laboured, but he was still alive, allowing Rain to let out a relieved sigh.

The man had gone on to rambling about Rain's heritage and how he deserved it after taking care of her for so many years, paying no attention to her as she tried to wake Ereptus.

'You should not have come here, pet', Ereptus said, his voice barely more than a whisper, his dark eyes watching her tenderly.

'You fool.' Rain mumbled. 'I had to come. I couldn't leave you to your own foolishness. You'd have died.'

'And now we both may die instead, Rain.' Ereptus sighed.

'Maybe I don't want to go on without you', Rain said, a small catch in her voice.

Ereptus lifted his hand slowly, caressing her cheek, a soft smile playing on his lips. 'Yes, you do, pet. You have a long life in front of you and you will live it and have lots of fun.'

A tear fell from Rain's eye, running down her cheek until Ereptus caught it on his finger.

'Now, get out of here before it's too late.' He tried to usher her away, but he was too weak.

'No. I won't leave you.' Rain glared at him.

'Get away from him!' the man suddenly shouted and a bolt of energy suddenly threw Rain across the room, away from Ereptus.

Before she could recover the man was above her, staring down at her with fanatic eyes.

'Your heritage will be mine now', he hissed, leaning down and pressing his hands against Rain's forehead. She could feel him draining her energy, but was too weak to fight him off, he was so strong.

Before she could see what happened the man was thrown off her, and she could sit up, although very dizzy from the loss of energy. She looked up to see what had happened, and caught sight of Ereptus struggling with the man on the treacherous cobwebs, rolling precariously close to the gaping hole.

'Ereptus! Watch out!' she screamed, trying to get to her feet to get to them.

'Stay away, Rain!' Ereptus yelled at her, and she stopped, but only for a moment.

The man who she had once believed to be her father had wrestled out of Ereptus grip, and was kicking him towards the edge of the hole. As Rain ran closer the man looked up to see her, mumbled a spell that had her frozen still, unable to move. But the moment of inattention had been enough for Ereptus to get on his feet. Tired to death he grabbed on to the man and held on with all his remaining strength, and hurtled himself towards the hole.

The freezing spell wore off just as the two men fell down the endless hole and Rain ran straight to the edge looking down, but all she could see was darkness. There was nothing down there.

'No!' Rain cried, tears streaming down her cheeks. 'Please, god.. no..'

But there were no reply from the Gods, and the hole was still empty and dark, not a sound coming from it. Feeling as if her heart had been wrenched out of her chest Rain forced herself up and left the cobwebs.

She didn't know how long it had taken her, or how she had managed, but she found herself back in her room. The red rose still lying on her bed.

Walking over to the bed with heavy steps she picked up the rose, staring at it. It seemed she was bound to be left a single rose and then lose Ereptus. Only this time she had lost him for good.

Using her last ounce of energy she put an enchantment on the rose to keep it from withering, so that she could always keep it with her. Then she collapsed on her bed, tears streaming endlessly down her face, the rose clutched tightly against her chest.