The Sugar Quill
Author: Ashley  Story: The Serpent and the Sorceress - Book 1: Shadows Rising  Chapter: Chapter 1
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- Chapter 1 -

- Chapter 1 -

The world below the silver crescent moon was still, except for the four figures sweeping across the snow-blanketed field.

They moved quietly, their long, billowing black cloaks disguising them from roving eyes as mere shadows dancing through the night. The wind was cold as it touched their cheeks, trying to claw its way through the scratchy black material that enveloped them from head to foot. Each figure held a wand poised to strike at their side. They were on a mission, one with a very clear objective. Persuade the residents living in the house perched at the edge of the field to join them, or kill them; there was no room for error.

The waning moon lit their path as they drew closer to their final destination; a spacious country house perched on the edge of a large field that had been covered with fresh snow. They couldn't Apparate, because of the strange powers belonging to the residents inside the house. They could sense the disturbance of energy. One of the figures shuddered involuntarily, wondering if perhaps this was a suicide mission, if there was already an ambush waiting for them.

The taller one leading the pack suddenly stopped as the row of trees they'd been walking beside ended abruptly. He turned to the other three and whispered in a low voice, "This is it. Remember how we planned it. Nothing, absolutely nothing can go wrong...or we're dead."

"But Lucius -" one of the figures began, addressing the tall one. Abruptly he stopped when he realized he'd uttered the man's real name. In a flash, Lucius was on him, one hand gripping his robes, knuckles white, and the other brandishing the wand mere inches from the figure's face.

"Don't be a fool, Igor," he whispered menacingly, slowly and clearly pronouncing each syllable of the other's name. Igor's hood had dropped with Lucius's sudden movement, and in the pale glow of the moon his eyes were wide with terror. Igor himself was barely eighteen, and was terrified of what Lucius might do. It was against the Death Eater's code to utter real names while on a mission, as the Aurors were everywhere, listening to everything - those who forgot were punished.

"Please, Radanisaar," friend of shadows, Igor whispered, tumbling slightly over Lucius' chosen name, "I'm sorry, it's just - are there - are there really Selenai in that house?"

The other two figures leaned forward slightly, waiting for Lucius's response. He loosened his grip on Igor's robes, and then let them go completely. "Yes, Domias," the watcher, he said quietly, "there are. One for certain - the woman, I think. The man may not be, but we can't be too sure. Selenai powers are usually associated with women, but there are some men who possess them...and are all the more deadly for it."

There was a sharp intake of breath from the other two, and Lucius turned to them. "What did you expect, that our Lord was lying to us? He's entrusted us with a very important mission because we are the best," he threw Igor a disdainful look, "of all those who were initiated with us. This is our chance to prove ourselves."

"Indeed," one of the two figures replied, stepping forward. "And I'm honored to be serving it with you, Radanisaar." The other figure stood silent, watching the events unfold before him, a slight scowl on his lips.

There was a desperate fire that lit Lucius's half-hidden eyes that night, and it signaled trouble. He'd always been one to jump at the chance of pleasing the Lord of Darkness, regardless of what happened around him. He'd always been a stubborn boy at Hogwarts, too, driven only by a personal craving for the taste of success. Though he talked of the past seven years as though Hogwarts had been his, he'd never managed to catch up to Black and Potter.

A low growl erupted from his throat at the thought of those names, but he silenced it by clamping his mouth shut. Lucius and the others hadn't noticed, as they were too busy talking, heads together in a circle. Indeed Black and Potter had outperformed them all, which was probably why Lucius was so keen to join the Dark one's inner circle - to sit amongst such high ranked men, and even then, one day, rise above all of them. The figure didn't doubt for a second that Lucius would be able to do it; he wouldn't be beaten this time.

"Ophyres," Lucius whispered irritably, cutting through his thoughts. Ophyres, it was in an ancient tongue and meant, roughly, serpent holder. Why he'd been given that name, he still didn't know. A brief image of fiery red eyes flashed through his mind, followed by their widening and narrowing as they examined him. "From this day forth, you shall be known amongst the brotherhood as Ophyres, the serpent holder. Time shall tell whether you will live up to the name...or die by it." That statement had been followed by questioning murmurs amongst the Death Eaters and a hissing laughter that hadn't extricated itself from his memory even a year later.

The figure moved towards them quickly, trying to shut out the sound, and listened to the plan, willing it to push out the other protruding thoughts. "The house is not five minutes from where we stand," Lucius whispered. "It's two stories high, as you can see, and the living room faces the west. That's where the Selenai will be, I'm sure." He raised his eyebrows as if daring one of them to question him. They kept their silence, and so he continued. "The man should be there too. I will enter through the kitchen, and Domias," Lucius said, turning to Igor, the shadows of his cloak not hiding his malicious grin, "will enter through the front. Be ready to curse when they attack you."

Igor gulped visibly and gripped his wand tighter with shaking hands. "Eridanus," the flyer, Lucius said, addressing the other figure, "will come with me. You'll cover me as I attack from behind." Eridanus nodded and clutched his wand tighter. "Now the child will be in one of the upstairs rooms, out of the way, sleeping. Don't bother with it, it's too young to have any power and it would just waste time to let it speak. Ophyres, you will enter through the east window on the second floor."

The man called Ophyres was just about to object when Lucius coldly interrupted, saying, "There is tree outside the window. You'll climb that to get in. No magic, or our cover's blown." Opyres remained silent. "Because we don't want the child interfering, kill it. The Dark Lord's instructions were exactly that. It shouldn't be too hard for you, should it?" Lucius's tone was mocking.

A chill ran through Ophyres's spine, but he nodded slowly. "As the Dark one wishes," he murmured.

Lucius nodded in return. "Very good. Now we must move fast. Undoubtedly the Aurors will be notified during the assault. We've got very little time for diplomacy. If the man must die, kill him. However…we must ask the woman to join us…perhaps to spare the man's life." Lucius' lips tightened into a cold smirk. "If she declines, kill him then. I'll ask her one final time after that, and if she again refuses...I'll deal with her."

The words hung like icicles in the night air, and reverberated through Ophyres's mind as he swiftly jogged towards the looming house. Kill it. Kill him. I'll deal with her. It was the casualty with which Lucius said it that made him shiver. It was true, they had been Death Eaters for nearly a year now, but initiates weren't used for too much during that time, except to be trained on spiders and rats. From those trained, the Dark Lord personally selected what facets they would be useful for. He was setting up for a war, and only the most skilled were sent out on missions like the one he was faced with that night. Killing little children was not something they'd been 'trained' for - but it was a child of a Selenai, and could grow to become a fiercer being than the Dark Lord could ever hope to be - so there was duty in it's death.

The Selenai were a group of witches mainly, and some wizards, whose existence excited fear in anyone who knew of them. They were energy changers, but no one knew the full extent of their powers. No one lived long enough to find out, but stories had been told and records, as vague as they were, had been kept, though difficult to find. They were shrouded with darkness, and their powers could be wielded without the use of a wand as a focus - which was required by normal witches and wizards. They could sense changes, shifts and imbalances in energy fields around them. If someone used a spell within a certain range of them, they'd know exactly what. The more evil the spell, the more energy it took, and the further away they could sense it.

Aurors tried to track them down, to get them to join the Ministry, but there were few left, and it had become a dirty name, Selenai, so no Auror dared outright ask someone if they were or were not of Selenai blood. Respect for their kind lessened, just as their numbers did, as it became more widely known that their powers were tainted - tainted by an ancient evil and capable only of destruction. The Dark Lord was aware that the few remaining would make powerful allies and deadly adversaries, which was why he'd sent the group of four to that residence - either way, he'd have one less thing to worry about.

A biting gale whipped by Ophyres, stinging his cheeks and breaking his clouded thoughts. He was nearly there, but he was frightened, and though he quickly dismissed all fear, it continued to creep slowly back, accompanied by the hissing laughter that seemed to grow louder inside him. He was off to face one, possibly two of these creatures.

Shaking his head, Ophyres approached the dark house. The tree was there, as Lucius had said, and looked easy enough to climb. Its thick, knotted branches wound themselves around the eastern corner of the house, almost like a staircase. He began at the bottom, jumping to catch hold of a broad branch, and pulled himself up with only a little difficulty. He continued on that way, until he was finally level with the window, panting as he clutched the branch that would bring him right in front of it. Now, he only had to wait. Lucius's signal would tell him exactly when to enter.

He didn't have to wait long. It seemed that only seconds after he'd reached the top of the tree green sparks flew from below him. There was a shattering of glass, and the sound of wood splintering came from the front. Ophyres hesitated, but only momentarily, before sliding the window open noiselessly and slipping into the darkened room. He quietly crept across the wooden floor, careful not to let it creak, but as he reached for the door he became aware of eyes on his back.

Whirling around, with his wand in front of him, he found himself facing a small form sitting rigid in bed. It was a girl, and she looked barely ten, but her eyes were alert and held something that made his insides go cold with fear. The eyes of most ten-year-olds were vacant, and hers held what could easily be mistaken for profound understanding - but that was not the only thing that bothered him; it was her expression. She sat rigid, but her face was calm, showing nothing at the fact that a hooded stranger had just entered her bedroom.

A shriek was heard from downstairs, and her eyes darted to the door behind him before returning to him once again. She pulled the blanket back quickly and jumped up from the bed. "Don't move," Ophyres said, giving his wand a shake. The girl was oblivious to the venom that laced his threat and began walking towards him, her large dark eyes fixed on his. Suddenly it felt as if the wand in his hand was made of lead, and his arm sagged with the weight, even as he struggled to pull it up again. Taking advantage of his moment of weakness, the girl darted around him and yanked open the door.

For a fleeting moment he just stood there, riveted to the spot. When she left, however, sensation burst through his arms and legs and he sped after her, cursing under his breath. She was almost down the stairs when he realized that he still held his wand, and quickly shouted, "Locomotor mortis, " freezing her in mid-stride. She fell to the floor in a crumpled pile. He slowly walked down the stairs and roughly righted her. The only things that could move were her startlingly dark eyes, like pools of night sky, and they burned with intense hatred.

Ophyres pulled away from her glare with an unexplainable reluctance and began dragging her towards the hallway when another sound caused him to turn quickly. "My patience grows thin, and these tricks are tiring," Lucius was saying as he advanced slowly on a woman who was crouched over a man's sprawled form. Tears were running down her cheeks as her hands fumbled around his face, resting sporadically in different areas, but there was no question about it, the man was dead.

Finally her hands returned to her lap, and she looked up at Lucius with the same startlingly intense eyes as the girl. "I'd die first. You tell that to your Dark Lord," she said angrily, and then turned when she became aware of Ophyres and the girl watching her from the entrance to the living room. The woman's eyes filled with fresh tears when she saw her daughter, but she closed them momentarily. Instantly the bind that had held the girl stiff disintegrated, and she thrashed wildly, kicking and screaming.

He hadn't been aware that the bond would break, otherwise he would have held on tighter, but the girl had already loosened herself from his grip and was running towards the woman, her arms outstretched. "Ophyres!" Lucius roared, his eyes still on the woman. "One small task..." he trailed off as the woman hugged her daughter close to her, and then he smiled from under his cloak. All anyone could see was two thin lips curving into a smirk. "Very well," he said finally, "two birds with one stone. Avada..."

Everything was in slow motion now. The woman was pushing the daughter away from her. Igor and the other Death Eater, Eridanus, had appeared in the other entrance, watching anxiously before yelling something about the Ministry...and Aurors. The sound was thick with distortion, so much that Ophyres could barely make out a word of it. Then, for the scarcest moment he felt another presence, filling him, radiating with a power so strong that it almost brought him to his knees. Thoughts began to take shape inside his mind, but they were not his own. Images flashed through his mind, so fast he thought he might be sick. Time around him had slowed, but he himself was moving at a breakneck speed.

"Ophyres," a voice whispered. It seemed to come from four corners at once, from in front of him and behind him, but when he whirled around, there was nothing there. He turned again, and found his eyes locking with the woman's...the Selenai's. She was looking at him, almost through him, her sad and knowing eyes boring into his, but her lips didn't move when the next sound came, "Severus." His heart beat wildly and sweat began to bead on his forehead, but the Selenai woman continued to stare through him calmly, unmoving. She knew his name. He felt his chest tighten, but before he could think another thought, the voice filled his mind, and screamed "save her!"

He stumbled, clutching his head, and the presence left him as quickly as it came. The urgency of the woman's voice, however, lingered in his memory and rang in his ears. When his awareness finally returned to his surroundings, he expelled the breath he'd unknowingly been holding before looking up. In front of him, Lucius was raising his wand, his mouth was moving, and a green glow began to run up the length of the wooden shaft. In spite of himself, Severus found that he too was moving - stumbling forward, grabbing the girl, hearing screams and seeing nothing but green light as he continued forward, not able to stop, and smashed through the window in front of him.

Then time sped back to normal, and he gasped as he felt the shards of glass tearing his cloak and ripping his skin. Blood was on his hands, and his hood had been pushed back, stray pieces of glass etching long red lines over his face. Blood began to drip from those wounds too, and rolled its way down his cheek, staining the pearly white snow beneath his fingers. The night was denser, darker as it swirled around him, and the atmosphere was one of deathly calm.

He looked over to the girl, who'd landed not a meter from him, and was startled to find her staring at him, her breathing labored. He tried to sit up as she moved forward, but he felt weak, drained. His head throbbed, as did his left forearm beneath his cloak. The Death Eaters were being summoned, something was happening. Grimacing, he struggled to his elbows, and froze when the girl reached out and clasped his face. Her eyes never left his, but her face remained expressionless. "Ophyres," she whispered. A hot fire seared through her hands into his skin and spread quickly through his body, penetrating him to the deepest bone. He tried to pull away, to rid himself of the sensations bubbling under his skin, but she gripped him tightly - too tightly for a ten-year-old girl - but that thought was only freed after the fact.

His head began to swim, and his thoughts no longer ran in connected lines. They flew in from all levels of his conscious and unconscious, until they, too, were swallowed by the searing fire pillaging his body. Then she let go, and the fire subsided, leaving only a dull throb. Her eyes rolled into the back of her head and she collapsed. Just as he reached out to see if she was breathing, Severus felt himself being roughly tugged to his feet.

"Didn't you hear Igor?" the voice cried in panicked exasperation. "They're coming. The alarm has been raised." Severus looked at the other man and saw that he had his face uncovered, and it was pinched tightly with fear. The man's eyes wandered over to where the girl was lying in the snow and he looked back again, his eyes troubled. He'd seen Severus jump in front of Lucius, but couldn't understand why. Severus himself couldn't understand it any better, but knew he'd have a lot to answer to once they returned to the Dark Lord.

"The girl, Severus?"

He winced when he heard his name. "Dead," he replied, and then began to stumble away from the house, leaning only slightly on the other man, who was looking back.

"She's dead, Ludo."

The other man nodded grimly, then turned to Severus. "Do you feel well enough to Apparate?" He squinted nervously into the blackness then back at him, shifting his weight from one foot to the other.

Severus looked at him for a moment, feeling a coldness descending upon him - not the same cold from the night, but another that gripped him tightly. His eyes fell on Ludo's hand, clutching his wand with white knuckles and noticed his eyes darting from him to their surroundings as if he was trying to decide on something. Severus started when he realized why that was. The "brotherhood" of the Death Eaters only promised so much protection until times like this where it was every man for himself. If a Death Eater wasn't able to escape, his "brothers" would kill him. They said it was so that they'd be saved from torture in Azkaban, but nearly all knew that it was really to prevent their secrets from being released to the Ministry.

But that was not the case tonight, as Severus felt better than well. He felt as if he had slept for two days and had just woken, revitalized. The girl...she hadn't been just a normal girl.

"Yes," he said softly, watching Ludo visibly relax and loosen his grip on his wand.

Severus watched Ludo Apparate, and then pulled out his wand to do the same. He hesitated for a minute, and instinctively reached up to touch his face. Drawing his hand back, his eyes widened in the moonlight at what they saw. There was no blood on his hand - in fact, there was none at all, anywhere on his body. His hands and face had completely healed.

Wonderment caused him to pause only slightly longer, until he heard voices and saw witches and wizards Apparating by the house. Panicking, he quickly recited his Apparation spell, and felt himself lurching forward and falling. The last things he remembered as darkness washed over him were the eyes of the girl, and then everything went black, just after a voice in his head whispered something that made his stomach heave: the girl had been one of them, she'd been a Selenai.


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