Her tears stained the sand, her daughter standing at her side, trembling, unable to fully comprehend the breakdown of the adult world before her.
Upon the ground, bodies stained by blood and dirt, lay two men, one whom she had known but briefly, another who she felt had known for far longer than she actually had.
Both were motionless, equal in the death.
Convulsing with silent sobs, Taryse shook her head from side to side, struggling to hold herself together, to regain her dignity, to not let her daughter see her so weak; struggling… and failing.
Inwardly, she cursed herself for being so weak.
If only she could lift her head, if only she could find the strength to turn this sorrow into anger, to turn back towards their ruined home and take revenge.
She dug in the dirt with her hands, grains of sand leaving black stains beneath her nails. There was a weight upon her shoulders, a black presence that bore down upon her, that pushed her face closer towards the dirt, towards the dead.
Abruptly, the sensation dissipated, a sudden light spilling out over the fallen forms of the deceased.
Instinctively, she turned her head away, thinking it to be the glare of a motorcycle’s headlight.
Yet the light did not fade or advance, nor was it accompanied by the roar of an engine.
Instead, she felt a presence like no other she had ever felt; a warming of her heart and a soothing of her fears.
“Rise up, lady,” a soft voice from the heart of the emanation called out to her. “Rise up, lady, for whom the veil has been parted to permit such intercession as my presence might represent.”
She shook her head again, refusing to look at the voice’s owner despite the radiance that fell over her.
Gently, she felt her daughter at her side, her tiny hands grasping Taryse’s own.
“Mommy,” the child whispered softly at her side, “Mommy, there’s an angel here for your friends.”
Despite herself, Taryse found a smile touching her lips.
“Mommy!” the girl insisted once more, shaking her hand vigorously.
Slowly, Taryse Leiter lifted her tear-stained face from the sight of the fallen body and the sand before her and found herself confronted by a youth in plate armour, the metal radiant, his helm absent, revealing a long, pale face and a head full of dark brown curls.
She stared up at him, dumbfounded by his appearance.
“See, mommy! He’s an angel!” the young girl protested.
The young man smiled politely, gently shaking his head.
“I fear that I cannot claim such an honour, child. I am no more than a servant; a little trick made from folded paper and fabricated soul. I am but a messenger, come to deliver you tidings of both comfort and joy… as well as… a warning, mayhaps.”
“Comfort and joy?” Taryse questioned, smiling as she struggled to recall an aged tune, one that went around her head, summoning images of warmth and reassurance.
The saint in plate armour nodded, his pale features seeming to colour, as if he had been outside for the longest time and only now had stepped within.
He inclined his head, his smile unfading.
There was silence between them, the desert wind no longer beating against their backs.
“H-Have you come for…?” she asked at last.
The boy shook his head.
“None so great a task, though if it were in my power to grant peace to those who have fallen then with all my might, I would not shirk such a duty.
“Yet I am no psychopomp, madam, no guide for the dead. I am, in my humble way, but a warning.”
Instantly, Taryse seemed to shake free her reverie, at once assuming again the same defensiveness that had kept her alive as a tournament fighter.
The pain in her useless arm intensified; a reminder that she no longer had the abilities of the borrowed armour to force the limb once more into movement.
“What kind of warning?” she demanded, her tone firm.
Instinctively, Amelia, tears still in her eyes, stepped behind her mother.
“There are those who would wish to see you separated from that which is most precious to you. I bring you a warning of old friends with self-serving agendas.”
Bitterly, Taryse looked down at the fallen body of Chazz once more, tears stirring in her eyes, her teeth grinding together.
“It’s a little late for that,” she snapped.
“Forget not that I come bringing also hope as well as caution,” the youth chastised, his expression suddenly creasing in a frown as his eyes moved from Taryse to the cowering form of Amelia at her back.
Following the movement of his eyes, Taryse instantly felt a sense of fear rising within her. Slowly, she began to shake her head.
“No,” she whispered. “Whatever it is, whatever it means, you leave Amelia out of this!”
The ethereal saint continued to smile, his eyes twinkling.
“Your daughter is the Grail, my lady!”