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Songs of Virtue
A Lullaby of Virtues (Prequel Short story)
Hearts of Ashes
I: Yarrow Virtuesong
Hopeless. Death bound. Words wrapped in steel.
And the only way to describe Symphonist day for me. Merchants flood Virtuefalls with instruments, accessories, and illegal phoenix ashes. Damaged goods that didn’t sell. Of course we’re hopeless, they take our money. Death bound? Out of question without power. One million song parchments couldn’t save me today.
Chords of sunshine spear from above and bathe the water in yellow. I bend my head down to drink from it. Not recognizing the face reflecting in the water, I smile and it smiles back. Great, I’m still me… Hair, skin, and eyes the color of fallen leaves. A darkened white tunic and brown cloak I won at a song tag tournament, thank you very much.
Vidanoche officers from Virtuesprings arrived today. Aristocrats in triple black suits, cloaks, and instruments slung across their chest, ready for combat. It takes months to travel so they must’ve left during winter. What people do for song parchments.
The teal wind rippled lake joyfully washes over limestone rocks, so I follow the leaf-carpeted path toward the community of trees that guard this primitive forest. Resting on an emerald tree trunk, protecting it, is the world’s best companion. My rebec; cracked peg box, missing strings, chipped ivory paint. My mentor insisted I name her, but only those with power have the right to do so. Beggars can’t be choosers in Virtuefalls.
The smell of ashes assaults my senses. I spin on instinct with my hand out. Stupid of me. My raven-black bow rests next to my instrument.
A group of Vidanoche symphonists approach with Swords on their holster. Their kin symbol embroidered in phoenix hairs; A crowned golden phoenix singing to twin moon, from the infamous Vidanoche flag. As if the bandaged instrument cases slung around their captains back isn’t deadly enough. The nerve.
The captain steps forward, tall and clean-shaven, anger flashing from his eyes. “This area is closed off today boy. Whether we let you walk away with your limbs depends on what kin you belong to?” A soft cold voice. Accent of Vidanoche.
He examines the bandages wrapped around my right hand. This isn’t good. “I belong to no kin. Just let me grab my things and I’ll be on my way.”
A short haired solider peers over his shoulder. “This kid painted his instrument white? How gullible.”
Symphonists say distance is the only division between Virtuesprings and Virtuefalls. Lies. The true division rests in the instruments. This simple difference, makes them stronger, insidious, not death bound.
A lone drop of sweat trickles down my face, leaving a trail of temporary coolness. I study the trees, expecting to see the silver armor and aqua cloaks of Vidanoche Symphonists, but the leaves remain still.
A flash of pink shimmers from the corner of my eye.
“Go ahead, draw your weapons Vidanoche,” says a voice from above. She sits high on a tree branch; Pink cloak, brown hair, we even have the same mocha-brown eyes. We’re far from related, but she’s always watched over me.
A pink glow flickers from her pupils. Pure, like a river without ashes, the perfect illusion. Pink fire is a hoax according to the Symphonist Guide to Understanding Phoenix Fire.
She waves. “Yarrow! Long time no see.”
I wave back. “Hey!”
The captain places his hand on his instrument case.
Datura shows her hand. Her fingers grasp the neck of her pink rebec, one of the last ancient stringed instruments; Narrow boat-shaped body, three strings, and flower shaped peg-box figures. Pink fire lunges from the miniature-sun shaped f-holes, slithering down the tree like snakes in the Ashen Amazon. Datura jumps, her feet plunge the leaves and turns them pink. She draws her arched pink bow; short with orchid black flowers wrapped around its hairs.
She guides her fire with her bow, trapping the soldiers in a circle.
Instantly, they lower their heads and fall to one knee.
She aims. “Just kidding.” She waves her bow to dismiss her fire.
A soldier faints and the rest help him up. The captain steps forward. “What is someone like you doing in these parts,” his confidence diminished.
Datura plucks a flower from her bow and shrugs. “You know, just enjoying the wonderful weather. The boy is with me. I have personal business to settle with him.”
“For the sake of my men, I will walk away.” He looks into my eyes. “I apologize for not handling the situation sooner.” His shift now on Datura. “Now you have to deal with her.”
They rush off uphill, avoiding the pink leaves like a plague.
Her aura adds weight to the air around us and momentarily I forget all else.
She freezes. “Why do you have that look on your face? Is there a wild phoenix behind me?”
I scratch the back of my head. “Its been three years since I saw you, can you blame me? And no, there isn’t a wild phoenix behind you.”
She sighs and puts her pink rebec away in a bandaged black leather case. She rushes my rebec and examines it. “A song from a good heart is always filled with virtues. I hope you still live by those words.”
“C’mon, you know it’s not safe to mention song and virtues in the same sentence. Remember last time?”
She collapses on the pink leaves with my instrument in her hand. “I thought you were dead. Once I heard of rejuvenating trees, I jumped on the first Fupsie I could find. Those phoenixes sure are fast on their feet.”
Memories of her slow my breathing. I playfully throw a branch at her. “Why would you risk coming back? Things are worst than ever now.”
She waves me off. “I’ll be fine. There’s a storm of songs coming and I came to get you out.”
Datura and I don’t really see eye to eye when it comes to risking one’s life. “You’re the only fifteen-year-old I know that controls an ancient rebec. How would I survive out there with a beaten up rebec?”
“Do you know how many Sixteen-year-olds I’ve encountered who can heal with fire?” She lifts one finger. “What are you afraid of Yarrow? The war is over; things are better now.”
I cross my arms. “How would you know? You left me here without a word.”
She rises and hands me my instrument. “Kind of hard to send letters when you’re in the front lines.”
My chin dips to my chest. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know…”
She smiles. “It’s ok. Come, let’s grab a snack. I’m starving.”
Datura’s glowing pink eyes guide us through the labyrinth of roads. Her presence pours heat into my veins. One of the many perks of controlling pink fire. Datura used to leave sweets by the ash-yard where the dead rest. This way she could meet death and ask him some questions.
Death clings to me like a shadow, but those with power welcome it in Virtuefalls. So we used the only Virtuesong we knew as bait. I move closer to her light. “Remember the week you laid out sweets for the reaper?”
Her light expands. “That son of a song. He never showed. I just wanted to take his weapon and stop this war. Seemed like a good plan at the time.”
Yeah. At the time…
We reach a narrow path filled with lit torches. Scarlet phoenix fire illuminates the dark tree trunks that rise steadily into the sky. We follow the path into a small village built on the hillside with rickety wooden stands used as shops.
A harp guards the only open bread stand. Some still use its sound to keep thieves away. The old vendor greets us with a smile and fringe of grey hair around his balding. Datura taps her foot and places a finger on her lips. “I’ll have two sugared breads. Actually, make that four.” She hands over three song coins, grabs her bread, and examines my face. “Oh right. Did you want one?”
I wave her off. “No thanks. Sugar makes me fall asleep now.”
We sit by the benches near a performing stage made of stone. Datura gorges herself on bread as if she hadn’t eaten in days. But she always eats like that, so it’s hard to tell.
She eradicates the first bread. “You should get that sugar thing checked out. That’s no way to live.”
Sad, but true.
A group of kids no older than twelve jump on stage. Boys and girls dressed in grey cloaks made of bed sheets with rugged linen boots on their feet. They bow for their only audience and rush across stage with swords made of broom handles. A lust fills their eyes when the weapons clash.
Another boy climbs on stage, older, and stands tall on top of a crate; Beaten scarlet lyre in his hand. He fills our ears with music, changing the torchlight fire next to Datura.
She stands and claps. “Exciting!”
The torchlight fire turns scarlet for a few seconds, then returns to it’s natural color. His lyre isn’t not strong enough to command it, and his instrument to cheap to hold the fire. The end result of using sono-vis, a way of syncing with fire through force. Without the right instrument, his fire will never cooperate. And in this world, without connections, resources, or song parchments, he is limited. Death bound.
The other kids fall when he’s done. Not exactly how the war ended, but a spectacular show that earns them an applause from us. Datura and I used to perform here. I couldn’t summon my fire, but I played all the villains to ensure her victory. We made good money. Symphonist kids perform for large crowds when no guards are around. Of course, if your fire resembles the color of any previous Warlord, Emperor, or Song Crown, you earn a lot more.
Datura rewards them with a few song parchments and we make our way to the old park.
A group of boys in grey cloaks walk by us and whistle at Datura. “Were heading over to a nearby campfire party,” one shouts. “You’re more than welcome to join us pink lady. But leave the boy behind.”
Datura turns and greets them with a disrespectful hand sign. The group of kids return the favor and head off.
My nostrils flare. Not for the reasons you think. Datura and I are far from romance. Not to mention friends are hard to find in Virtuefalls. She can fight, speak the ancient tongue, and holds enough heart to be merciful against the weak. With her inhumane tolerance for sugar, I’m sure she can sweet talk her way into anyone’s heart. But not here, not plotters.
We reach the abandoned playground where two swings hang heavily from a sagging wooden frame. Spots of rust pepper the old steel chains that hold the ancient wooden planks. The unchecked grass brings memories of my first healing task.
She tosses me a bread. “Eat it. I know how you handle news and I would rather you be less alert.”
My pulse pounds my temple just thinking about what news requires lost consciousness for my Virtuesong brain to process. I’ve learned long ago not to question Datura. I examine the sugared bread; whose rich aroma beckons me. Its delightful sensations whip inside my memories and I can’t resist. I devour the sugared bread down. Ravishing!
She chips wood with a small dagger from the sagging frame and starts a fire. The chains creek when she sits on the plank; rebec on her shoulder with the flowers of her bow rested on the strings.
Her song fills the air like waves from lavender beach. The same songs that resonated in previous wars under the trenches and created this world. One where every born Symphonist child is prey to those in power. That’s why we carry instruments with fire itching inside them.
Her pink fire warms the air like phoenix breath. Her song increases in speed, swimming through my brain like wakeful dreams. That sound drowns when a speck of midnight-black rises from her fire.
I fall to my knees.
Her eyes glisten before she closes them. Telling me all I need to know.
She’s poisoned. Dying…
Power comes at a price. When our fire is stripped of life, their owner suffers the same fate. This is the bond between symphonist and instrument. A bond that betrays my mentor. I gaze at the wrapped bandages covering my kin symbol. The poison that infects her was created by my ancestors. And now their laughter fills the sky. As the only power I have, is useless if I can’t heal Datura.
I gaze at the wooden plank that once acted as my favorite seat. It hangs from one side, the chunk of rotten wood to heavy for the rusted chains. The plank falls, reminding me that my situation is no different. Poison rusts the chains that holds the bond we share, and that too will dissolve.
My heart soaks the sound of her magical shoulder instrument. It seems I’m simply tired. This world talks about peace, but their hearts lack virtues. We were young when Datura took me under her wing. She grabbed a stick and pierced my abdomen. That’s when I became an arson.
A healer of gardens.
“We live in a world that craves power. Maybe I deserved it Yarrow. My kin are responsible for your downfall.”
I slam my fist. “You’re my fire twin. Stop being so simple. Maybe it’s time the world sees my best Resona impression?”
The creaking swings stop moving. “Resona? You never told me your kin name. Your allowed to tell me know since I won’t be around long…”
I unwrap my bandages. “The kids called me Yarrow the friendly before the attack. Right before we met, I earned the title healer of veins.”
My bandages fall. Fear blinks from her eyes when she observes my mark; A flying phoenix under a wall of flowers.
“Before Emperor Sinensis died he gave me a kin name. Harbinger of Alitura. The world will be a darker place when you’re gone. One of songs and fire. This I can promise.”
“And that’s what I’m afraid of.”
She hums a wordless melody softer than a singing phoenix. Hymns of the old Virtuesong kin created by Resona during the first song war. A hoax to help her soldiers fall asleep before she turned them to ashes.
The joyless moon shines like fingers stretching across the sky. A reminder that I too must stretch my fingers and grasp my bow if Datura is to live.
Small pellets of water wet my hair, a foreshadowing of the day when the sound of her heart, no longer mutes my ancestors lust for power.
II: Syringa Vidanoche
Slung across my back, hanging from his midnight leather case, sits my rebec Nochi; a poison incapable of killing. A rebec for a poor girl, they joked. No one feared Nochi until I earned the kin name Reaper of Songs. But in Virtuesprings, titles don’t grant the freedom I seek. And without my instrument, I have nothing to say.
Lady Niza wakes up and removes her sleeping fold. Her moon-round eyes blocked by the golden highlights hanging from her white hair. “Syringa!”
I flinch at the cruelness of her tone.
She yawns. “Syringa, we lost two hours of training. When armed symphonist show up at my gates, how will I regain them?”
She holds my gaze to sniff out my fears like a phoenix fixed on their prey. I take a knee. “I’m worth more than two hours of practice Lady Niza.”
I don’t have to study her hazel eyes to know she takes my measure, judges the way I hold my rebec, criticizes my clothing; Dark silk cloak, laced leather boots, and a leather tunic embroidered with a crowned phoenix signing for twin moons, symbol of kin Vidanoche. If you’re going to instill your enemies with nightmares, have sympathy and look your best, she always says.
Niza hums her morning lullaby softly. A hymn of the old used by the Virtuesong to wake the spirit. I know it works. A silver glow rises from my eye pupils. Even as a Reaper, I haven’t earned the right to wear highlights like Niza. But this will do for now.
She falls back on her pillow and covers her face. “Prepare the garden Syringa. And make sure the phoenix is well fed.”
I rush down the three-story structure of golden wood, covered with blooming white flowers and greyish vines. The jewel of her garden. A sweet phoenix sound vibrates outside like a great sea of songs. Sturdy onyx chest, three thin toes forward, the other grasped on the floating beige pads. Scarlet fire pumps from the hairs on his head like racing hearts. The fire mirroring his eyes.
A vibrant tropical fish leaps from the coral pond. The phoenix inhales and releases a steady stream of scarlet fire, only to bathe the water with scarlet ashes. Poor guy, his fire outdid itself. This isn’t good…
The lower fountain grass near the treehouse turns gold. Niza lands on the grass before it has a chance to summit to her power. She draws a small dagger from her golden cloak and cuts the remaining grass as punishment for their delay.
Tiny charms ring softly from her ivory long braid scented with phoenix oil. She wears leggings of crisp black linen, leather sandals laced up to her knee, a white cloak, and a golden tunic covered with dandelion fluff ashes. Sunlight glimmers on the Virtuesong tattoo engraved on her neck; a phoenix wing wrapped around the sun.
The phoenix flies to Niza’s shoulder. “Child, let me see your instrument.” She examines Nochi; Silver, half-moon shaped f-holes and peg box figures. She catches my bow and does the same. Arched, midnight, and covered with her favorite flower; The golden three petal iris. “Let me see what progress you’ve made.”
I climb the sparkling white vines cascading the wooden wall that surrounds her garden. They sparkle with frozen phoenix ashes, protecting us from the phoenixes that fly over our heads at night.
I sway my bow gently across Nochi. His sound soars through the garden like a phoenix on an up-draft. Niza places a wooden stick on her hair and the phoenix sets it ablaze. Silver fire slowly rises from the scarlet, it sparks, sending showers of silver into the grass. Nochi’s fire kindles with no thought of the flowers he destroys. How typical of a Vidanoche instrument.
I aim my bow at the fire. “Venitay,” I whisper. Silver fire leaps into Nochi through the moon shaped f-holes.
I spent every leave training with Niza. Enduring beatings, unbarring trails, doing chores. In return, I gained a distinct edge over those in my kin. Nochi kept me alive long enough to learn few children survive war.
Niza lifts her hands. “Find the traitor in my garden. My phoenix will keep you entertained, as usual.”
I flick my nose. “Ready.”
She laughs. “Remember Syringa. If you find yourself in a flowerless garden, swinging viciously with only the wind to whisper in your ear, do not fear my child. It means I sent you to the afterlife for destroying my flowers.”
Her threats make everything difficult. Before the war, she made me walk the Lunae Dessert with water in my mouth. I drank some when a flock of sand phoenixes chased me. She made me do it again. Some tried to rob me of my instrument along the way the second time. Their ashes now lie in the Ashen Amazon.
The phoenix dominates the sky to display his only birthright. His cries can heal souls, but one hit of scarlet fire can destroy it. Phoenix fire rival’s magma in temperature. And those are the baby ones.
I guide my fire through the patches of yarrow flowers separated by soil covered roses. Scarlet ashes fall from the phoenix when he hovers over a batch of yellow winter jasmine flowers growing on the balcony. Niza hates winters.
I aim my bow, “Nochi, incantay.”
Silver fire leaps onto the roof, consuming the flowers like a newborn phoenix. Aqua smoke belches from my fire and leaves behind ashes of the same color. Niza’s favorite part.
Bright yellow flickers from her eyes and catch the sunlight. She claps and her pupils gleam like two golden song coins. “Good job. Downcast sun rays would fill the forest if I had to make ashes of my only progeny.”
She forces me into a fighting stance. “Why did you really call for me? Vidanoche aren’t known for their kindness. And as Reaper they have more eyes on me now.”
Chaotic drops of aqua ashes fall on Niza’s hair. No worries. It’s not the first time she’s been covered in another’s ashes.
Niza throws the ashes into the pond. “Vidanoche this, Vidanoche that. At twelve you fought your first war and earned respect amongst your peers. Perhaps some more than others. What fuels Nochi’s fire now?”
I gaze at Nochi. “To lead my kin into a new age. Justice is harmony and only peace can free us. This is what being a Reaper of Songs means.”
Her brows furrow. “To lead? Harmony…You spend your time training your life away. At sixteen, you should explore the world. There is more to life than just surviving Vidanoche.”
Grown ups. Only good for speaking a game of lectures. And combat of course. But they do exactly what they warn us about. Lady Niza and survival is like fire to a phoenix. Without it, she too would flow freely in the Ashen Amazon.
A strumming sound of harps reach the garden. It’s time to report for Symphonist week. Merchants from around the Forest of Songs come to trade, create friendships with other kins, or conflict.
The sun hangs in the sky- a near perfect circle without strings. It punishes us with relentless heat. It’s bright orange pouring into the garden like a pot of glowing lava. I expect nothing less from the star where Niza’s phoenix sleeps. And I hope he rests for years to come, as I fear for the world if she decides peace is no longer possible.
I sit cross-legged on her oak brown floors, made of trees from the Hanging Gardens of Virtue. Goldenrod fire sways and curls on the stony fireplace; our tiny sun. It’s long shadows flash over the Virtuesong paintings that hang above it.
Niza joins me with the biggest book I have ever seen. A great tome with cracked brown pages of ancient script and faded leather covers to hold it together. She opens a page and rips it out, closing the book before I get a glimpse of what I can’t understand.
She catches me spying and I shift my gaze at the painting of Nizen Virtuesong; His white armor layered of silk, plain with spots of phoenix ashes. Armor that speaks of age and victories. Above his left shoulder, the leather hilt strapped to his back holds a lute; An ancient stringed instrument capable of commanding an ancient phoenix. A weapon that carries unimaginable burdens to their wielder.
Lady Niza observes the painting of Resona Virtuesong; A slim, silver-haired woman in a brown cloak with a pink flower in her hand. The first and last to control umber fire.
I cross my arms. “Would you really trust another Virtuesong? Where is her instrument. Where is her armor?”
She sighs. “It would be dishonorable to her instrument if she allowed those who have no understanding of power to be in it’s presence. There are worst things than death for people like us Syringa.”
This is why I don’t ask questions. The thought of something worst than death sends shivers to my spine. But I can’t resist to know the unknown. “What’s in the page Niza?”
“A gift only someone of Virtue’s can read. A great song war might rise again, and for the first time, my lineage can’t fight it alone.”
The messenger phoenix flies into the room and snatches the rolled paper with its talons. The glow in Niza’s eyes turn the scarlet fury in his head gold. He flies away and leaves a trail of golden ashes that only a fool would follow.
Niza stands. “Being a leader requires difficult decisions Syringa. I’m constantly torn between taking my own life, or killing everyone around me to achieve the peace I desire. Resona carried my burden. That’s why she doesn’t wear armor. To give her enemies a chance.”
Her look brings me up on one knee. This is power. Unfortunately, one that’s shared. And those who posses it aren’t as kind.
I fear for the unlucky Virtuesong who receives those scriptures. Man, woman, child, it’s all the same. Without great power to protect them, they will be hopeless. Death bound.
My name is Vidanoche Syringa. Progeny of Niza Virtuesong, Feather of Suns. And this is my lullaby.
I go by Virtuesong Yarrow. Progeny of Datura Solis, Tongue of Ashes. And this is our lullaby.
Thankyou for reading-
First Chapter on Next Page
[+ First Chapter? Just take me there.+]
I: Yarrow Virtuesong
My ancestors were obsessed with power and phoenixes. That was a true love story. This is torture.
We sing and hum through the forest. Datura runs ahead, her pink highlights contrasting the brown in her hair. She stops. “Let’s hum one more hymn Yarrow.”
I cross my arms. Just because we share the same umber skin and hair, doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with everything she says. “That depends. You know how powerful these hymns are. Wouldn’t want to sing the wrong one,” I say.
The moon pours from the dome of the dark sky. The air hits my nose with a fresh smell of blooming flowers. Veins of silver with sea-green petals. A true sight.
Datura picks up a pink orchid that matches the rebec and bow in her hand. “Virtues rule and conquer all.”
I shrug. “I’m only a Virtuesong, I don’t know it all. But my fire is virtuous, pure, and refuses to fall.”
A pink glow rises from her mocha-brown eyes. Pink fire slithers from the sun shaped f-holes on her rebec onto the flower in her hand and turns it to ashes.
The light in her eyes flicker. “I don’t think it was a good idea to pick these up.”
I catch her before she falls. She places a hand on my cheek. “Finish it,” she whispers.
“And if the reaper comes, our virtues will rip his mask off.”
Her eyes close.
A chant used by my ancestors in dark times. I’ve always wondered why they wrote these poems. But here I stand in a similar situation, without any virtues to send death away when it comes for Datura. No army at my disposal. No phoenix shrouded in armor to fly us away. Just songs and each other to soothe us.
Those flowers were breed to release a smell that knocks the one who plucks it from its birth place. The towering trees here drop sea-green leaves to cover the shed the sits between the branches. If I stand still, maybe time will join me and my bones won’t realize that they soon to must perish like this part of the forest. But I must move. Her life depends on it.
I rest my beaten old ivory rebec on my shoulder. Lay my arched midnight bow on its strings and begin to play. After its sound rings across the forest, I realize there is no fire around.
I search through Datura’s pink cloak and find a candle. Every time I gaze at it, I’m happy of the brown one I wear that I won at the local Song tag tournament. With the sticks that hold her hair together I flick them to light the candle.
My muscles remember the movement of my lullaby before the rest of me does. I can’t play songs yet, my instrument isn’t strong enough to hold my fire. My fire twin fights for her life, so I have no choice but to try. The fire turns white and I continue my lullaby to encourage it to stay.
My nascent fire kindles with excitement, like a child with a new instrument. But the sound of phoenix cries cuts my lullaby short. The symphony they create is much deeper than we realize. And I know this sound. It’s a cry of death. One of my ancestors.
And for the first time, I wish I were the endangered phoenix creature. So that I may turn to ashes and be reborn long after they are gone. But this isn’t possible. At least not for a song like me. White smoke releases from my fire. It’s angry. Dancing for the moon, trying to dispose all its anger. If only I could do the same.
Yarrow you fool… Datura lies on the floor dead. And you spend your time describing your fire.
[_Wake up. _]
I aim my bow at the fire. “Venitay.”
It slithers down the candle, like the glass lizards from the Ashen Amazon. The leaves turn to their natural green before my fire lunges onto the hairs of my bow.
She protects me. I heal. This is our relationship. One I’m fond of.
The crackling sound of my fire vanishes. I aim my bow at the towering ancient trees. A sea-green light shimmers from them. And here in the night, I’m at a disadvantage. A hymn licks my ears with fear.
A hand rests itself on my shoulder and I freeze like frozen ashes. “Virtuesong fire kindles dances,” says a soft, cold voice.
My legs shake. “Eat your guts. Turn you to ashes.”
I swing my bow and miss. She kicks my stomach and I tumble across the grass, hitting the very trees I swore to protect.
The woman sits on Datura. She gazes around the forest like she’s arrived at a song party until the caramel eyes hidden behind her hanging sea-green highlights find me. She tilts her head to the right. “Virtuesong? Oh. You should be more discrete, ever considered a different colored fire?”
She’s right. The light of my fire has never helped me in a world so dark. A strong wind passes by, lifting the hood of her cloak high enough to let me see the mark on it. One no sixteen-year-old should ever see. “The mark on your cloak. Are you?”
She holds the hood against the wind to confirm what I saw was real; A heart with two rebec bows across it. “Wisteria. Relations…Four.”
She draws a short sea-green arched rebec bow. Frozen phoenix ash where mine has hairs, sea-green orchids with dark petals wrapped around the bow. She gazes at her bow. “Your sound disturbed my night hunt. But as I contemplated on whether I should kill you or not, I remembered of childhood myths that spoke of an untold Garden. Where only one pure of heart can enter. I believe that is you, Virtuesong. “
I stand and wipe the blood from my lips. “What lies there?”
Her face expression goes blank. “I wouldn’t know; darkness is my forte. You’re as clueless as the last Virtuesong. He sang quite well as they stripped his essence from his soul.”
Myths no one knows about. Fires that break bones, Emperors and Czars who all took the same route. Fools. “Not interested. Whatever lies there isn’t mine.”
She lifts Datura’s lifeless body off the ground, like an orchid who missed blooming season. “That’s how it starts. One village, and the thirst for powerlessness begins. Just like a song. Isn’t that your Virtue?”
“No. It’s the one of my ancestors.”
“Then the day will come when you are waiving flowers over her grave. There are gods amongst us, and we have relied on their kindness for too long.”
My arms tremble at the sight of a Relations Four member. An organization trained for one purpose; Extinction of all songs, fires, and phoenixes that disturb the peace. As the last descendant of Resona Virtuesong, my very existence disturbs that peace.
Her brows furrow. “Don’t be frightened Virtuesong. You stare at me as if I want you dead, but yet you stand before me in perfect health.”
“My friend is dying. I’m far from perfect health.”
A sea-green glow rises from her pupils. They glow on Datura’s face. “My men call her Tongue of Ashes. I heard what happened to her. Don’t fret Virtuesong, death is the least of your concerns. I can’t speak for the Tongue however.”
I get on my knees. “Let her go. You know who I am already. You know how much I’m worth to anyone with power.”
She gazes at me, confused. “Money? A rain of songs is upon us Virtuesong. I have no intentions of standing under it with no umbrella.”
I stare at Datura. The thought of her never waking up boils anger inside me. This Forest is filled with greed, power, and hate. And it’s not fair that we have to suffer for others lack of virtues. The fire on my bow gives out, leaving me alone with Wisteria.
She glances at my bow. “Virtuesong. You disrespect me. As a child I’ve heard stories about the Virtuesong kin. Heroes of mine.” She looks around. “Where are the phoenixes? The fire? The smell of death?”
She looks disappointed. I’ve always disregarded my kin for their obsession with power. But here I stand wishing I were like them. Once again, someone else is hurt because I wasn’t born a destroyer. I drag dirt across my face, grab my rebec, and pierce it in the ground through it’s handle.
She looks at my instrument. “Careful Virtuesong. Or you might get someone else in close proximity killed. Seems you toy with old traditions you know nothing about.”
I gently step forward. She’s alert, vigilant. Ostenday Chorimiz. A move used during the Virtuesong influenza pandemic of 1200 A.S. (After song) which killed more people than the first ashen war.
She drops Datura’s body. “Interesting. You don’t seem like the type of song to bluff. You would really use that move against me?”
“Leave us alone and I won’t.”
I lift my rebec off the ground. If I go through with this, I won’t see the sun again, but she will be safe. If I don’t, I’ll be once again relying on the gentleness of those with power.
The ritual begins. “It’s obvious you’re no Virtuesong. We’re a little bit light on on life. But, I can tell by the look in your eye you respect my ancestors. Oddly enough since Relations Four started to take them down.”
“Respect? You misunderstand Virtuesong. This respect comes with force; it is the level of praise one receives when they have attained power.”
I lick the hairs on my bow.
She ready’s herself. “Interesting, there is darkness in you Virtuesong. How many do we have to kill to make you claim your rightful place?”
I begin my movements, dancing through the leaves like a drunkard, but diligently, a dance created by Resona when she was of eight years, and it has evolved into a weapon of destruction.
Virtuesongs say if you run the world do it correctly. My ancestors test me now, but I’ve always known them to wish failure on others. Wisteria produces a gust of wind with the wave of her bow. Flowers fall from its hairs to increase the winds speed. Silly of her to do so. This dance releases me of all control of my body. And when my fire rises, it will spread and illuminate this forest for days.
This will be my last gift to the world.
She strikes her bow on the ground to stop the wind. The glows in her eyes brighten, shining on my skin like sunrays. It’s as if she wants me to succeed. Warmth helps my blood flow, and now my body thinks I’m in a natural state.
My vision blurs and I see a Virtuesong dancing through an orchid-umber-garden. I bring myself back. She wants to see if Virtuesong’s are real, if I’m like the ones in the stories. “Conforti Meti etdabi Teni Sangunay.”
I can feel the surge of power flow through my skin. It brings a chuckle out of me. This is what my body wants, to be like everyone else. Thirst for power and fame, but I refuse even in my last breath to give in. It’s not want I want.
I move forward and she takes steps backwards until I’m near Datura again.
A shimmer of pink reaches me, stopping my feet in its tracks.
“Fool,” Datura says. She struggles to move her hand, stretching her fingers to reach for her bow. A drop of pink fire slithers from her instrument. Pink anger arises from the fire, releasing a smoke that can put any ancient phoenix to sleep.
Wisteria flips backward twice to get away. Animosity flashes from her glowing sea-green eyes. “You have something in you Virtuesong, and for the sake of your friend, I suggest you allow it to control you. Only power can defeat power. Nothing less, nothing more.”
She throws her hood on and disappears through the ancient oak trees.
I chase her, but Datura’s hand grabs my foot. “If you ever attempt to give your life for mine, I will follow you to the afterlife and torture you for eternity. You fool. What were you thinking?”
I remove my foot from her hand.
[_I go by Virtuesong Yarrow. _]
Gaze into her eyes. I should be the one angry here. How can I can protect someone who refuses it?
Descendant of Resona Virtuesong; Empress of Songs. Czar of Virtues.Sister of ashes.
And this is our song.
Thanks for reading again. Hope you enjoyed.
If you liked Songs of Virtue, I would like to introduce you to my other series, Hearts of Ashes on the next page. A world governed by water, instruments, and heart parchments.
[+ Wait? More? Take me there.+]
I: Silver Songheart
Death… It’s not what I fear, my fear rises from the truth that I can’t protect everyone from it.
Armed with my arched black violin bow covered in orchids, I dash through the lavender grass, tiny raindrops splattering inside the heart shaped f-holes of my lilac violin Ayzendri. White boots, lilac cloak, heart shaped ear cuff lings; clothes for a Songheart. The sky swirls with black clouds brining me to the secret cave entrance faster. I head uphill alone, death is near and at sixteen, I’m not strong enough to fight it.
A thud of boots snapping together resonates across the hill. I pull my cloak against my body and hum. Their faces, thousands of men approach, instrument cases on their backs, lute and harps in their hands, armored. The air binds with the smell of the ashes left behind by their songs. And I will take no part of this.
A girl my age approaches, violet highlights in her silver hair, a glow in her eyes to match them. She drops her white cloak, revealing her tunic imprinted with a symbol that only brings nightmares; a heart releasing ashes.
She chews on a toothpick. “Hey you! What blood runs through your veins.”
I remain silent. Only fools answer to girls who assume power beyond our hearts understanding.
She turns to the mass of soldiers behind her. Some of their legs shaking. “Can she hear me?”
The armored harmonists draw their viola bows. “Answer her!” one yells.
A forced smile rises from my lips. “Hello, I am Silver Songheart, sister of orchids.”
Whispers travel amongst the men and a laugh breaks out. The girl turns and marches through her soldiers, grabs the one with the loudest bark, and kicks him in my direction.
She licks her finger and swipes it through her tunic. “I am Striata Songheart. Wielder of the violin Azyi.” Disillusionment strikes my heart. “Come Sister, show me the power of your orchids.”
I lift the lilac cloth covering my black gemmed marble container called cerami, held by my lavender thigh holster; violin symbols and a lilac gem in the middle. I sway my bow across my violin, the black gem lowers and lilac water rises from the container like a wave from the Songheart seas.
Striata hums, creating an everlasting force in my mind that makes me regret being born under the violet spectrum. Gifts of lilac water that can calm the angriest of harmonist, but her strange rhythm reminds me that for each water than can protect, there are three that can destroy.
Forgive me Fathers of Songheart.
I hold, inhale, and let my bow limply fall to my side. I can’t leave without answers. “Why do you attack me?” I show her the emblem on my neck. A winged heart with a violin bow across. “We are the same, waters of Violeti.”
Her soldier charges, sword in hand, his viola planted where his laugh conquered the sky.
My lilac water forms into the shape of a heart.
The heart launches pellets of lilac water, each one melting away his armor at subcritical temperature that can rival the sapphire magma from Ochresni mountains. I aim my bow. “Harunay!”
A lilac arrow forms and strikes him in the hand, violet smoke belches from it as it dissolves to ashes.
My lilac water burns the grass.
My eyes close and I wave my bow, returning my lilac water inside my cerami, one only responsive to the sound frequency of my violin Ayzendri.
When I open them, the enemy lands a hit with his only arm.
Pain shakes my temple, in rhythm, distracting me from from dodging the next kick. I tumble over the lavender grass, the words “May water light our enemies’ hearts on fire,” pounding in my head. Words of my ancestors.
The girl laughs and raises her hand. “Power! Show me!”
He charges and we exchange blows.
Ayzendri’s heart shaped peg box figures strike his cheek, I kick him in the stomach, and dash toward my airship.
Lying on the ground around me are harmonist with their eyes shut. The lilac, black, and white cloaks of my people. I reach the body of a child. He wears a suit with a graduation pin; lilac highlights in his hair. I try not to look at the ashes of his instrument, but the brightness of my cloak make the dark ashes more visible.
“Help…” whispers a voice nearby.
Over my right shoulder a solider rests on the trunk of an oak tree. A black glow in his eye pupil, a sign of death. He’s not the only one. Dead Songhearts replace the animals that should be roaming this part of the forest. Making me question my being here. Should I strike with my full power and fall?
I approach him with cautious steps. A child died within my distance and I couldn’t save him. One who showed me that not all Songhearts are of darkness. Someone has to pay for this and this man will let me know who I will receive my payment from.
The lilac glow in my eyes can see through him. He fears this forest, as he should. I sit by him and play my symphony. This sound guides my lilac water through the dead leaves on the ground, surrounding us in a circle.
He grabs my foot. “Don’t leave me here,” he says.
My lilac glow shines on his face, a violin tattoo imprinted under his cheek. He is marked. “What does that girl want?”
“The boy who rules the Songheart seas, the song whisperer.”
My foot stomps his chest. “Why attack my home?” I gaze over at the boy’s body. “My clan…”
“As my penance for the life I’ve taken. The boy is in the Kingdom of Ochresni, in the district of roses.”
Ochresni… Ruled by Emperor Leriyu Ochresni, the strongest lute player of this generation, the tongue of hearts.
He falls asleep before I gave him some sort of speech, letting him know his safety in the afterlife only lasts as long as I walk with the living.
Shouts reach me from the distance, they look for me, for my instrument.
The lilac glow from my eye pupils leads me through the narrow path of bushes, but the smell of ashes guides me toward the foot marks on the ground. This smell is no different than the one left behind by my orchid garden when it was still of this earth. But where are the ashes? Something else must be going on…something evil. I rest my bow on the strings and ready myself.
I peer over my shoulders to see a man standing under the shadow, amber glow in his eyes. “A Songheart whose heart isn’t sealed? If that’s the case, show no mercy and take this child under your wing, as a child with such traits is worthy of a crown.”
I take a knee. Master… “Come Master, let’s show them our power. Release me, I beg you.”
He laughs and removes his hood. Two violin bows marked under his eyes. His hair grey and old, but his face young. “It is here where I die Silver. Now leave.”
I shake my head. “Last time this happened, I wasn’t able to dismiss myself properly. So this time I will not make that mistake.”
He rips the top of his cloak, his tattoos of the ancient scripture glow. He removes his necklace, a golden heart with wings. “You have proven yourself worthy of the titles I have given you, but the world will not see it this way. They will reject your kindness, and if you’re lucky, they will do so directly and not through deception. Just remember that you live with your decisions, not the judges that walk this earth.”
Lilac water swirls around Lyrin. “What is so important about this boy, important enough that you refuse to release me. Give your life to pleasure a manic.”
The air dense. “He is my son, Songheart.”
I lower my bow and my water returns to my cerami. “This won’t be the last time we see each other so I’m going to save my words until then. For now, all I can say is…Thankyou.”
“Don’t thank me sister of orchids, thank the person who is responsible for the pureness that you hold in your heart. May the night be with you, and shall it not, fill it with life so that even the sun envies its light.”
I smile. “And may your song turn five thousand men into ashes.”
Biting my tongue helps me hold the tears. I am now a Songheart, and crying violates our third law.
Any sense of doubt leaves my mind and I forget about all threats that await ahead, and focus on one thought; I must reach him, protect him, kill for him…
I sprint in the direction of the voice, catching a glimpse of the amount of harmonist that head uphill and think to myself, how even in the face of death, his aura remains pure. Death will not be comfortable in his departure. This is true, I know it.
Maybe that’s the key to keeping death away!
I turn, and he smiles before he flips in the air with his lyre, amber water swirling at his sides, cutting his enemies like hearted blades from the famous Lifloriz Armory Museums.
Good-bye Master Lyrin, and may the ashes of your enemies give life to this forest.
At the end of the hill lies my airship; Roof on the garden, covered in lilac vines, thorns made of ashes, and a large heart at the top with wings.
I rush to my room, the control center. A large glass window to give me a view of this hidden forest, a hammock, and plenty of tools to help me fight this Songheart imposter. I turn on my wall fountain and play my song to turn the water lilac, the fuel source of my ship.
Ayzendri’s sound sings through my heart. Relieving all anger, fear, and worries, molding the color of my marble stone fountain lilac.
My lilac light reaches the wall. “Kingdom of Ochresni,” I say.
The mass of men continues to rush Lyrin, he’s taken a quarter of them out, but he’s just begun.
My fists pound the glass. The girl skips around the ashes of my home, her laughter piercing the glass that prevents me from jumping below.
She looks up and and sticks out her tongue. She grabs a sword from one of her soldiers and points it at the ship.
She twirls and dives it into her soldier’s heart, splattering blood onto her hair, an accessory for her highlights. A foreshadowing of my death.
In her eyes at least.
Thick violet smoke rises into the sky. My home reduced to ashes by water that burns no hotter than mine. My drawings, my writings, the belonging and souls of those who saved me. The things that forged my heart.
This girl…she seeks destruction, chaos. I gaze at my reflection through the glass, the lilac in my eyes dark.
Why would anyone force a Songheart to breathe chaos, ashes? It is all we know, it is the pleasure we suppress.
But she doesn’t have what I need. A Songheart with power, a child who will restore our name in this world of harmonies and war.
Days have passed since my master died. I press my forehead against the coolness of the glass. The view of the Ochresni kingdom below, made of trees and skyscrapers with flowers blooming in their edges. Airships fly around me and avoid coming to close. They know the heart symbol that lies on top of my ship. I was promised peace as a child, and since the age of five, I’ve done nothing but train with forces that most harmonist only wish to meet. Curses overwhelm my heart and I have no solution without guidance; Only that I must travel through this Kingdom of Ochresni as my last task. Then I will be free.
I head to my roof garden and sit on the edge of my ship. The orchids here are genetically modified to draw more energy from the sun, making them a good source of water when we need to play. I swing my feet, pretending to study the people below. Maybe I too should seek a young master to join the army I will build. But peers now a days, can get you captured, taken by forces I dare not speak of.
I rip an orchid from a batch of winters near me and throw them off the ship. The lilac light from my eyes shine on them, causing lilac water to drop from the pellets onto the streets below.
A warning to all those who threaten this new boy I am to protect. To think there is another of me. I hope for his sake he doesn’t wear the heart mark imprinted on my neck sides. Or he won’t make it past this year, before all cities, kingdoms, nations, and islands lust for power begins.
My name is Silver. Clan name, Songheart, of the first Harmonist.
Those who trained me gave me the name sister of orchids. Long story.
And I don’t know what the future holds for me, but I know this.
I refuse to let my heart go unsung, as only the ashes of my heart can create the peace I long for.
We are not Symphonist! You have a voice and I want to hear it.
I hope you enjoyed this short-story prequel of “Songs of Virtue.”
Unlike Symphonist, we don’t need a messenger phoenix to communicate. As an author, I love feedback.
[* So if you’re inclined, I’d really appreciate a review. Loved it, hated it- I still want to hear what you have to say. *]
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In the Forest of Songs, Symphonist of Virtuefalls and Virtuesprings have the ability to connect with fire through the sound of instruments. A paramount survival trait that allows them to fend of the phoenixes that fly over their heads at night. Yarrow: I go by Virtuesong Yarrow, and with my beaten rebec I can create healing fire. A useless trait against the poison that threatens my only friend. And to make matters worse, I am Virtuesong, a target for those who only crave power. Syringa: My name is Syringa Vidanoche, and with my rebec I can create poisonous fire, a skill that has earned me the title of Reaper of Songs. And now all who oppose Vidanoche will come for my instrument first. A Songs of Virtue short-story.