What in the world is going on? Hope shifted back and forth on her feet, imagining the various scenes that could be occurring between Eric and Silvenford at that very moment. And she did not like how any of them played out.

Hope had had enough of waiting. She was no faint-hearted maiden to sit and dally whilst yon knight saved the damsel in distress. Anna was her damsel, and her distress was her fault. …

).0.(

Anna opened her eyes slowly—her head felt filled with thick wool and something sticky—she rolled it back and flinched. The torchlight blinded her. Vaguely, she knew there was something wrong with her, but it all felt so far away.

A voice stirred the edges of her consciousness, a voice she respected…and then came a voice she loathed.

Anna attempted to rise, for she had been slumped over some sort of table, but her body felt strange, liquidy, oddly cold. Maybe stronger though, for the tight ropes around her wrists no longer bit into her skin.

Then, the conversation between the men Anna had remembered caught her full attention.

"I have the key to ending all this- stupid, mortal world, consumed with restrictive ideals." A clang of steel. Then-

"You hold only madness and destruction." A grunt, more ringing metal. And then, the man she knew spoke again. "No! Hope…"

A blinding flash of white light exploded behind Anna's eyes.

).0.(

Eric felt his grip slipping. Although it meant nothing, at least physically to him to lose his sword, he could not allow Grant anywhere near Hope. And this was keeping him occupied.

"You think you're so high and mighty. Savior! But you're only lengthening the time of suffering. I have the key to ending all this- stupid mortal world, consumed with restrictive ideals." Grant was a lunatic, no doubt, but he was an evil lunatic

And Hope would be at his mercy if Eric failed her.

"You hold only madness and destruction." Grant lashed out at him. Eric grunted, moved sideways, and once again prayed Hope would remain safe.

Thinking of her name made him think of her scent too…distracting while he fought, and so oddly strong, as if she stood right there in the room.

Then, Eric noted Grant's nostrils were also flaring at a new scent. Eric twisted his head towards the staircase, and, to his fierce dismay, stood Hope.

"No! Hope…" Grant dug steel into Eric's outstretched arm. Grimacing, he continued, "why?"

).0.(

As her gaze alighted on a slumped figure, Hope's heart jumped into her throat. Anna? Watching Eric and Silvenford, waiting for their erratic movement to lend her a gap, Hope surrendered the safety of the staircase, and ran. Her mind screamed, if only Anna was safe, nothing else mattered. If only.

"Hope." The way Silvenford crooned her name sent shivers down Hope's spine. "I smell your blood. And it belongs to me." Hope turned her head towards him, looking at his visage in the torchlight, it pained her to realize she still found him beautiful. He was unearthly, and she knew what lay beneath that façade of pleasing flesh. Maniacal evil. "Hope. Come, give me your hand."

Why on earth should he believe I would…But to her absolute horror, while her mind ridiculed him for calling to her, Hope's feet were obeying his command. She moved toward him.

"No!" The cry broke from her throat; Hope stomped her foot down on the stone floor. "No." She glanced down at her hand where her mother's ring glittered innocently. So much trouble, simply from this. She hesitated, for a wicked thought had crossed her mind. "Silvenford." She prayed her voice remain steady. "You have taken what is dear to me. Shall I deal with you….my ring, for my sister."