Apologies for the rewrite, but I felt the previous work weighed less on the emotional cues and more on pace.

You be the judge.


Brightening and darkening patches of sunlight peppered the Valhalla Abbey, as she hopscotched across them.

The footsteps echoing behind her stopped. "Sortiara."

So did she. "Sleep found one of us well last night." His silence made her continue, "So well for a moment, for a bleeding heartbeat, I imagined, how can a corpse still twitch?"

"Even corpses require rest," he replied, his timbre like dewed breeze across feverish skin. "You know of this, do you not, Sortiara?"

In a single dollish movement she turned towards where he stood … beyond there. The way a black-tattered reaper would linger near the edge of light.

"You don't know me."

"Don't think, kill." A lopsided dimple tugged his lip. "I like to think that is the Sortiara we both know."

The Valhalla Abbey darkened for a moment. Then lightened. A raiment-fluttering wind was making the brushwood outside scrape the cloister brickwork. Almost akin as these whispers, for they made Sortiara cradle her forehead. Stop! Leave me be.

Though unbidden, a memory emerged, spilling forth:

"'If winter comes, can … can spring be far behind?'"

Her eyes snapped open. Had she said tha—

"How ..." Now he was licking his lips, grip on his journal pouch tightening. "I had thought the sketches were all that made sense to you. For you."

"Now you know," was all she could mumble.

After all she was not the only one who aired her nightmares in sleep.

He reached for her; she backpedaled. These whispers, ever simmering and hissing, boiled forth so hard a hiss blustered past her lips. Stay back.

For they urged for his blood, thirsted long enough they did.

As if aware, he stayed his hand— and distance in one moment. In the next, the slate tiles gritted beneath his pacing, to and fro between fallen statues. "Then you must know that you— no, we, are merely running from a rainstorm."

"I know."

"And we are approaching crossroads."

"I know."

"Victim or Vict—"

A biting, red-hot sensation welled within her heart, and steamed in frost crawling through her right arm.

His hood flapped from the shatter of her spell.

His pacing stopped.

A pause.

And then the Valhalla Abbey resounded with the laughter of a man rasping for fading breaths.

The whispers hushed.

Sortiara flinched— then gripped herself in check.

Shuffling forward, he propped himself against the slab base of a pillar, shoulders shaking, until he regained himself:

"Do you even know my name?"

A bare-fanged rictus of madness twitched her lips.

"I see."

Dots of blood spattered the floor. Her blood. It made her nostrils scrunch, then flare, and pain seep beneath her fingernails half-clawing half-clenching her right arm. Have ... to keep … holding...

"Sortiara?"

"Stay back!"

"You are bleeding. Again."

"Because you are right about m—" Hot tears squeezed past her eyes. "About the Sortiara we both know. She is ..." And then she ducked her gaze, "sick."

Hands rested upon her shoulders.

They jolted.

"Don't think."

Then sagged. Her mind went cold once more. Gone was that rasp of skin-peeling-ice, in its place resumed the usual timbre so soothing, so warm she couldn't help herself leaning against his hand:

"I ... I—"

"Don't. Think."

She nodded once. A nod more herself than he, for as her fists slackened, so did the dam of her will thus far.

He must have seen this for he started backpedaling.

A swirl of black hatred drowned her senses.

Kill! …

KIll! …

Kill! …

KiLL! …

KIll! …

kIll!

In a last ditch of sanity her throat hitched for a word or two:

"I … am ... s …"