Blinding snow. That was the last thing Nox could remember. A memory of stabbing knives and the freezing cold – nothing seemed real anymore. She felt like she was floating in a vast sea of nothingness; as if the only reality was the emptiness inside her heart. Dimly she heard a voice calling her name.
“Nox Descius? Nox, wake up, dear.” Nox felt the emptiness and light slipping away. Guiltily she tried to grasp it back, struggling to pull herself back into the bright cold abyss that now seemed so comfortable and familiar. The voice persisted, becoming stronger and more urgent.
“Nox? Wake up, girl, you can’t sleep forever!” Slowly Nox pulled back into consciousness. Although her eyes were still closed, she felt something solid against her back, something cool over her face, and something heavy on her arms, legs and torso.
Putting a hand up to her head, Nox groaned and sat up. With a start, she felt at her forehead. That was not her face! Her eyes flew open, and it only took her a few seconds to realize she was wearing a mask. Her eyes were behind a sheet of darkened glass that dimmed the bright light around her. The rest of the mask seemed to be constructed of metal and only covered her forehead and nose, leaving her mouth and chin free. Blinking her eyes and trying to get used to her surroundings, she glanced down at her clothes. She was wearing plated battle armor, iron boots, gloves, and a heavy cloak.
“Nox!” Nox looked up as she heard her name, meeting the blue eyes of a motherly-looking figure. “Oh, Nox, you are finally awake!” the woman exclaimed.
“Where am I?” Nox mumbled. Her mouth had unexpectedly gone dry. “Who… am I?”
“Nox Descius, you mustn’t trouble yourself with all that silly nonsense. You are safe at home,” the woman crooned.
Nonsense? Nox thought. I only asked where I was. The woman was murmuring soft things and stroking Nox’s hair, babbling things to herself that sounded like, “Poor Nox, out there all alone, unarmed and helpless… and only twelve years of age! What was miserable little Mordaedel to do? Oh dear, oh dear…”
Mordaedel slowed her stroking and passed her hand over Nox’s eyes. Immediately Nox felt a still calm descend over her mind; almost an eerie peace she suddenly felt the urge to embrace. She felt drowsy, and her eyelids drooped enough for her to not catch the sly smile that spread over Mordaedel’s face as the woman watched Nox’s irises change from deep brown to blood red, and a red streak appear in the girl’s black hair.
Six years passed, and Nox grew up to be a fearful young warrior and sorceress. Black magic was her tribe’s specialty, but she was more skilled in the art of hand-to-hand combat. She and her friends 100% and Death Adder had learned how to fly by splitting their cloaks into two large bat wings, and so also learned how to fight in mid-air. All of this was thanks to Mordaedel, the silver-haired elf in the black hood, leader of Nox’s tribe, who had originally found Nox dying in the mountain range.
“My three finest young warriors,” she would murmur, as she passed the ranks of soldiers and stop in front of Nox, Percent and Adder. Then she would put her mouth next to Nox’s ear and whisper, “And my own little one.” Nox would always try to make her mother proud when departing on missions.
She would try to do that now, as this was her first mission into the mountain range with only her two friends: 100% and Death Adder. 100%, or Percent, as everyone called him, was a few years older than Nox. He had blue eyes and black hair with slight blue tips. His armor and cloak were also blue and black. Death Adder, or Adder, as Nox called her, was a month younger than Nox. She was not the best flier, but could tunnel underground without difficulty. She was brown everywhere Nox was black and dark green everywhere Nox was red - that included the colored streak in the hair. She had some features, though, that made her stand out - the slight snake fangs, for example.
Mordaedel had tracked a pair of trespassers in the mountain range, and it was the responsibility of the trio to destroy them before they caused any trouble. Slipping her six red katanas into their hidden sheaths, Nox turned to Percent and Adder. “You guys ready?” she asked, a sparkle in her eyes.
“Definitely,” Percent replied, his eyes shining behind his mask. Adder only turned her eyes milky white, a feat that intimidated most that did not know her – but it meant a yes.
“Remember,” Nox recounted what Mordaedel told the whole tribe, “Don’t lose the mask. The snow could blind you.” Splitting her cloak and spreading the two fearsome red wings, Nox took to the sky with her friends following her.
It was not long before Nox spotted the two trespassers Mordaedel told her about. One was dressed in black, the other in grey. Circling above them, she motioned for the others to attack. All three of them hid their wings and dropped down, weapons drawn. At that point everything went wrong, and the fight ended all too quickly. The trespassers had clearly been expecting an ambush and not only whirled around with their weapons drawn, but raced forward and met the trio in a fierce clash of blades. Nox had crossed blades with her opponent and was glaring into two luminous green eyes.
This warrior had incredible strength. Nox could not overpower her opponent, which she sensed was even a female. No matter how hard she pressed on her blades, the green-eyed warrior gave as good as she got.
“Open your eyes, warrior,” cried a female voice. “You were never meant to be used!” Nox lightened the pressure she was placing on her weapon, confused about who was speaking to whom. Her opponent suddenly shoved her backwards and disappeared into the blizzard. Nox lost her footing and tumbled off a short ledge, landing on her back. Staggering to her feet, all Nox could see was white snow. Where did everyone go? Before she could even move, she saw a streak of black in front of her and received a staggering blow on the face. Stumbling backwards, she dropped her katanas and clutched at her face, but it was too late. The mask fell to the ground, and Nox was blinded by the swirling snow. The only thing visible was the black figure above her with the glimmering green eyes - and even that was fading fast. The whiteness was overpowering. "Who are you?" Nox asked in a dazed voice. She slowly picked up the mask, but she fainted before she could put it back on. The last thing she saw was the strange symbol on the mask.
My head… Nox felt paralyzed, as if the blow on her face had crippled her. Opening her eyes, all she saw was dazzling whiteness of a blizzard. “No!” she cried out. She had already experienced this years ago. She looked down and realized that she could see her body; that her eyes were adjusting to the light. Her eyes grew in horror as she saw her armor was all damaged and bloodstained – was that her blood? It did not even look like her armor, as the metal was all silver instead of black and red. Also, her cloak was gone. Looking up with effort, Nox saw a tall, slender figure holding a deadly serrated katana to her throat, and saw the familiar flash of motherly blue eyes.
Nox tried to speak, but only one word came out. "Mordaedel...?"
The warrior's words came echoing back to her. You were never meant to be used…
Nox’s eyes flew open and she sat up, gasping. Looking around her, she saw she was once again in the room she had awakened in six years before. But it was different this time: the room was darkened, and the only light came from a dying fire in a fireplace. Nox leaned forward into a comfortable sitting position and tried to put all the pieces of what had just happened together. Her thoughts were interrupted by the sound of grinding metal. Looking up, she saw a figure sitting by the fireplace, sharpening a serrated one-edged sword.
"Mordaedel." The word was sour on Nox's tongue. The woman turned her head slightly, but continued sharpening her sword, the noise grating over Nox's ears.
“So, you've figured it out, haven’t you?” her mother asked. "Now you know what the light can do to you. I gave you that mask for a reason; you should have protected it better."
"What the light can do to me?" Nox got off the table she was lying on as quickly as possible and groped for her katana. Thank goodness it was still there, but she wasn't wearing armor - just plain clothes that allowed her to move freely. She swallowed and muttered, "The light did nothing to me. It was you who banished it from my eyes."
Mordaedel turned around from the fireplace she was sitting by, still sharpening the serrated katana she was holding. The mask on her face gleamed, the symbol on it stinging Nox’s eyes: a cat eye, with icicles hanging from the bottom and the eyelashes made of burning fire. But the woman's blue eyes by themselves were worse. They glittered with deadly malice and mock affection.
“Percent and Adder brought you here to my quarters when they found you collapsed in the snow without your mask,” Mordaedel growled. “Little did they know your eyes had been opened.”
"My eyes had been opened?" Nox repeated sarcastically. "They were open the whole time. There was just that stupid mask in the way, thanks to you!"
Angered, Mordaedel moved with blinding speed, but Nox managed to cross blades and hold them there.
“So this is how you do it!” Nox cried. “The trespassers in the mountain range – you fight them to the point of death then use them for your own!” There was another flash of movement and the two were circling each other in the crowded room. Nox staggered a bit, looking down at a slice on her hip.
“You see the symbol on the mask? It stands for renewal. If you are burning, I will freeze you. If you are frozen, I will burn you. I will always see what happens, like a wildcat watching its prey.” Mordaedel snarled. “You would be dead if it wasn't for me.” Another streak of action. Nox tried to parry, but Mordaedel managed to get around to the girl's other side and stab her sword right through the lower right side of Nox's torso.
Through a blurry haze of pain, Nox threw herself against the nearest wall, forcing Mordaedel's sword out. But as soon as she turned around, her adopted mother stabbed at her again, right above her stomach. Fighting not cry out, Nox reached out and grabbed Mordaedel's blade with both hands, shoving the sword out again and pulling it back into the wall beside her. Mordaedel jumped backwards, groped for something on a table, and sent a barrage of knives at the young sorceress. Nox ducked and managed to avoid getting stabbed altogether, but the knives came so close that they raked her arms more than once. Then she received a heavy blow on the back of her head and the world went white.
Breathing heavily, Nox looked around. Time seemed to have frozen. She was dimly aware of a presence at her back, but she clutched at her own sword and used it as a support, ignoring everything else. Blood was dripping from all her wounds, staining the ground beneath her. A slight breeze stirred her hair, bringing echoes of a melodic voice with it. Nox struggled to hear the words.
"Need help, friend?" It was the warrior from the mountains.
Nox blinked, but didn't turn around. "Who... are you?"
A black shape glided past her. Looking up, Nox saw it was a huge black wildcat, but with the same glittering green eyes the warrior had. The cat stopped in front of her and lowered its green gaze to Nox. "I asked... do you need help?"
Nox looked down and struggled to calm her breathing. "No."
The panther morphed and turned into the warrior Nox had fought. "You lived with her for six years. You should know what she can and cannot do, as well as what you can and cannot do."
Nox nodded slowly and looked up at the figure before her. Dressed in completely in black, the girl's green eyes stood out like stars. Although there was no wind, her black hair seemed to flow around her. "Who are you?" Nox asked again, lowering her head.
The girl looked down and did not answer. Nox felt a gentle hand on her shoulder and felt a sweet breeze blow by. The whiteness was fading away.
Looking up once again, she saw Mordaedel looking down triumphantly at her handiwork. Nox growled and staggered to her feet. Suddenly Mordaedel's expression changed completely and she backed away, a mixture of horrified fear and awe on her face. Nox's bat wings were on fire and the girl's eyes were glazed over completely red and glowing. The blood-stained floor around her caught on fire as well.
But Nox knew nothing of what the witch was seeing. She limped forward slowly, ignoring the pain from her injuries, and pointed her sword at Mordaedel.
“Your symbol means destruction to me. I would be dead, thanks to you!” Nox cried. "But not today!" By instinct, the young sorceress grabbed the nearest object on a table and threw it at her adopted mother’s head. The object struck Mordaedel right in the face, shattering both the mask and itself. The witch’s eyes grew wide.
“Lucky you, Nox,” she whispered, as the object Nox had thrown emitted beams of light. “Your throwing skills have sent me into exile.” The beams of light circled around Mordaedel, trapping her until she was completely encased in light. Nox was thrown backwards as the light exploded and shattered like glass. Mordaedel was gone.
Nox lay there for a while, her energy draining away. Never in her life had she felt so tired. A small breeze stirred her hair, bringing with it a small but familiar voice. "My name? Why do you want to know my name so badly?"
Looking up, she saw the girl dressed in black standing in the corner. Her green eyes glittered with laughter. "But I suppose you've earned it. Maybe, just maybe, I'll tell you..." Smiling, the girl started to fade away. Another breeze blew by Nox's ear, bringing with it faint traces of laughter.
My name is Onyx.
Nox smiled and struggled to get to her feet, then froze when a hand was offered to her. Looking up, she realized it was only Percent, with Adder behind him. Sighing with relief, she took the offered hand and stood up.
“We heard the entire thing,” Percent stated, as Adder tended to Nox's wounds. “It angered us, but we knew this was your fight. Mordaedel had always seemed to fawn over you, and we guessed that your anger at betrayal would fuel your strength. That thing you threw at her was the embodiment of all the light she sucked out of her victims.”
Nox nodded, looking down at the bloodstained rags on her arms. Did Percent and Adder know about Onyx? Probably not - and she wasn't about to tell them about the warrior either.
"You know," Adder said, a faint smile playing on her lips. "Mordaedel was our leader. Now that she's gone, who will lead us now?"
Nox rolled her eyes in amusement. "I'm only EIGHTEEN."
"You defeated Mordaedel in battle," Percent interrupted. "What else do we need?" His eyes were warm behind the mask. "She even impaled you. Twice. And you survived."
Nox looked up, her eyebrows raised. "And... what does that have to do with anything?" She broke off when she saw Percent was being sincere. Unable to meet his blue gaze, she stood up slowly and stepped out of the damaged house. Mordaedel had lived at the peak of a mountain overlooking the tribe’s lair, where the snow and wind raged the fiercest and the light was the brightest. The light struck her in the face once again, but this time she welcomed it, closing her eyes and letting the wind blow her hair back. It’s finally over…
Percent and Adder stood on each side of her, removing their masks as well. Percent looked over at Nox. “You look good without the mask.”
Nox struggled to hide her blush. “So do you.”
Adder giggled like a young girl. “You two are so cute!”
Nox looked over with an amused glare and slammed a snowball into her friend’s face, only to be rewarded with a snowball on the back of the head from Percent. Laughing for the first time in years, the trio wrestled around in the snow as the blizzard around them brought comforting cold and light. Whoever Onyx was, Nox hoped to thank her one day.
Finally, Nox thought, as the trio sat overlooking the village. Finally, we can welcome the light.