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AN ICY FEELING crawled across Ravenna's skin

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AN ICY FEELING crawled across Ravenna's skin. Her eyes instantly snapped open. Disoriented confusion coursed through her veins as she glanced around Caelan's office, her eyebrows furrowed. Clusters of thin, glowing beams fanned across the room, bathing it in sunlight. She blinked. It was bright. Extremely bright. There weren't even shadows beneath Caelan's desk.

Her lips twisted. Another wave of unease filtered through her. She attempted to sit upward, to remove herself from the window seat. Her body refused to listen. It was almost as if an invisible force pinned her to the cushion. Her jaw clenched tight. The only part of her body that she could move was her face.

She looked around again, this time a bit more intently. As her eyes ghosted over the corner of the room, she noticed a speck of darkness. Her eyes narrowed. It appeared within the crevice of a wooden panel. It grew, larger, stretching along the wall. Wisps of black smoke seemed to twirl in front of the darkness, forcing it outward, away from the wall. It almost seemed to stretch toward the window seat.

Panic swelled within Ravenna. She tried to move again, to get away from the darkness. Her fingers twitched. Her toes wiggled. The rest of her body seemed filled with lead, stretched out across the window seat. It was almost as if someone had coated her skin in adhesive and it had dried to the cushion beneath her.

The darkness stepped away from the wall. It coiled, roiling within itself. A tendril of darkness shot out, tightening into a long, human like limb. An arm. It jerked to the right, bent at several angles, jagged like an edge of broken glass. In an instant, it had curled into itself and straightened, suddenly appearing unbroken. A regular ink-colored arm. Fingers sprawled out from one end, stretching into long, curved talons. Another arm shot outward, following much the same fashion. The darkness stretched upward, forming a slender neck shape and then a head.

Ravenna tried to scream. To call for help. To move. Nothing worked.

She couldn't breathe now as the creature moved closer. Two eye sockets appeared, a pair of small white holes mixed with the darkness that comprised the creature. It blinked at her --one eye, then another. Then both. A nose formed, stretched long and jagged. Then a mouth. Shadowed lips stretched back, revealing the sharpest teeth Ravenna had ever seen.

Hair spilled out from the crown of the creature's head. It fell in long waves, past her shoulders, toward the ground.

The moment the creature stopped in front of the window seat, its hair turned to the color of moonlight. Bright white strands cast across its face, veiling the wispy shadows that swirled across the creatures skin. It bent down, leaning closer to Ravenna until its face was mere inches from hers.

Then Ravenna blinked.

The monster didn't disappear. Its breath fanned across her nose, her cheeks, filled with blistering heat and the smell of fruit. The shadows vanished from its skin, revealing a shade of luminescent white. Freckles dusted the creatures cheeks. Those white eyes squeezed shut for a mere second, opening to reveal a pair of human eyes, irises colored a pale blue. Ravenna's eyes drifted upward, away from the painfully familiar facial features, toward the creature's forehead.

The air inside Ravenna's lungs vanished. She couldn't breathe, couldn't think, couldn't process the image in front of her. A crown of ice stretched across the features forehead, almost embedded within its porcelain skin.

Suddenly she stood. The room around her and the monster had melted away, revealing nothing but pure darkness. Ravenna stared into her reflection, into the pale blue eyes of the monster.

Her head tilted slightly to the side. The monster copied her movement.

She looked down, at her feet. A dress of shadows swirled around her feet, constantly moving within the shape of a skirt. Her hair trailed long, kissing her bare shoulders, in gentle waves of moonlight.

Another wave of panic surged through her. She lifted her hand toward her forehead. The rough edges of the crown brushed against her fingertips. She squeezed her eyes shut.

And then screamed.

A palm curled tight around Ravenna's shoulder and shook. Hard. Her scream cut short, breaking into a watery sob. Her eyes snapped open. Several glowing stones floated in the air in front of her, basking the room in a soft white glow. Vyses hovered over her, his palm on her shoulder. His expression was marred with concern. "Ravenna," he whispered. "Are you alright?"

She recoiled, pushing away from him. One of the pillows that had been tucked up behind her wound up in her arms, used as some sort of shield between them. She squeezed her eyes shut and tried to remember how to breathe.

Vyses took a step back, away from her. His hands remained in the air, palms twisted toward her in caution. "It's just me, lass. Vyses. Your friendly, neighborhood wizard."

Ravenna sucked in a sharp breath. Her tears started to slow and her heart began to calm down. She hugged her pillow-shield tight to her chest. The more she squeezed, the more it seemed to smell like Caelan. Comfort washed over her, calming her further. Once her breathing had steadied, she found herself ready to met Vyses's gaze.

His eyebrows were furrowed, a strong crease formed between them. "I'm sorry," Ravenna rasped at him. Her voice had shattered with her scream. Now her throat ached.

Vyses waved a hand. A bead of red magic appeared just above his palm. It morphed into the shape of a mug, filled with water. He held it out to her. "Just breathe," he told her. "Breathe and drink."

She sipped on the water. It helped soothe her throat, somewhat.

"What happened?" Vyses asked once she'd sat up completely and her panic had vanished. "I woke up to the sound of you screams. I thought you had been injured."

"I had a nightmare," she whispered. She clutched her magic cup tightly within her hands. "I had a really bad nightmare."

He blinked at her. "I could tell. You refused to wake. I had to force some magic into you before you'd respond."

Her grip tightened around the cup. She squeezed her eyes shut. A moment passed between them, filled with silence. Then Vyses sighed and leaned forward, his palm brushing Ravenna's. "What happened in your dream, lass?"

"It was the monster," she told him. "It was the same dream I've been having. Only, this time, the monster turned into me."

Vyses blinked. "Into you?"

She nodded. "It started as the same shadow creature. But then I blinked. And suddenly, it was like I was looking into a mirror."

He frowned at her. As he opened his mouth to respond, a sharp knock echoed throughout the house. Ravenna's brows furrowed with confusion. Both she and Vyses glanced through the window behind her, at the moonlight that illuminated the garden. "The sun hasn't risen yet," Vyses murmured.

"I wonder who that could be," Ravenna whispered back.

thank you guys so much for your patience! life has been a bit crazy for the last little bit

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thank you guys so much for your patience! life has been a bit crazy for the last little bit. i'm hoping that i'll be able to post regularly again next week. y'all are the best! ♡

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