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Binarius

/ BINARIUSCOMPLETE / 212

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

B I N A R I U S

 

Kendra McMahan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form by any electronic or mechanical means including photocopying, recording, or information storage and retrieval without permission in writing from the author.

Copyright © 2017 Kendra McMahan

All rights reserved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Kendra McMahan eases readers into a unique and well-developed world where darkness, as a concept, seizes our fear and hatred, rendering us trapped by our own shadows. The vocabulary of McMahan’s world is impeccable – not the disjointed jamming together of apostrophes and consonants that make fantasy, sometimes, difficult to read. She provides us with a strong willed narrator up against the physical manifestations of an idea, and draws us in with wonder as she describes the universe her protagonist, Firrine, inhabits.”

 

*******

“It was a a short, fantastic read that left me craving more!

 

I’ll tell you what this book does not have.

-- Tons of action. It has actiony scenes, but it is not really an action book. This is not a bad thing.

—Romance. It doesn’t have a lot of romance primarily because the romance that was originally there has turned sour.

—Cliché plot. In no way is this book cliché. It is unique from the names to the story.

—Stupid lines. This book is filled with excellent vocabulary and interesting sentences.

Now that you know what the book doesn’t have, I’ll tell you what it does.

—A very likable main character. The main character is kind, brave, and easy to relate to. She cares so much about what is around her and is willing to fight for it.

—An intriguing plot. This book is about a young woman’s Queendom being threatened by a dark force, a force that is like no other. It’s the darkest of the darkness. The main character sets off to try and save her home and her people. This is the set up for the main journey.

—Characters you’ll love and charters you’ll hate. There are characters that you’ll become connected to , ones that you root for, and others you hope die soon.”

This book is full of greatness in my opinion. The characters you meet are people you will most likely have an immediate opinion on. The plot is interesting and intriguing. It has a nice, steady flow to it.”

 

*******

“The author delivers this story with such a passion, as if it were her own. You cannot help but feel compassion for the heroine and severe dislike for her oppressors. It’s lovely to read a book that puts importance on greater causes like preservation, home, hearth, family and survival as opposed to on something like fickle relationships. It is nice to see that this author is continuing the growing trend of strong women with strong minds. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am excited to see how the story evolves. I would definitely recommend this as a read!”

 

*****

“Binarius is an inspirational and captivating book that wisp the reader off into an enchanted world that is plagued with a dying sickness. Its composed with colorful and dark characters that will keep you on the edge of your seat and wanting more at ever turn of the page. I couldn’t put the book down and found myself reading it at every waking/craving hour! A symphony of elegant words flow like poetry with every new chapter as it takes your breath away…it’s phenomenal!Firinne the main character, takes you on a journey unlike any other on the world of Fia, and when you think you know the story you’re plunged into a roller coaster ride that flips you upside down with never ending excitement! I highly recommend this book for anyone who is looking for something new and refreshing. It hits the mark on ever level and will have you screaming at the top of your lungs for more!”

 

*******

 

“Anyone who has stepped into other dystopian world’s of the YA nature know how tricky life can get for these young heroes. Or in this case, our heroine, Firinne, young and naive, but full of hope.There are many underlying issues in this book, and in order to avoid any spoilers I’ll refrain from bringing them up in this review.However, this author did an amazing job in getting me hooked to Fia and hearing the story of The Blacken. While the cliffhanger was brutal, it’s a promise that something is just around the corner for this noble girl fighting to save more than just her own life.A must read if you fancy Rowling, Riggs, or even Collins.”

 

 

*******

 

“The series (so far?) is imaginative and compelling, truly original. But it’s not so far ‘out there’ as to be un-relatable. The intelligent reader will see that it’s not so much of a leap from things as they are now in the world to things as they WILL BE if we don’t wake up. This is written for the current generation, the generation that must take on the big issues: Capitalism, Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and environmental degradation.

Oh, and any sensitive reader will fall in love with the characters. They are multi-layered and multi-dimensional in their strengths and their flaws.”

 

 

*******

 

“ BINARIUS is just magnificent!! This magical journey continues with winding paths, questions answered and more questions asked. It’s a spiral through every emotion possible, Firinne’s emotions as well as your own. The mental imagery is fantastic! What a wonderful tale, a wicked journey and a courageous girl!! Sequel?? I’m ready for you!!!”

 

 

 

 

Dedicated To:

 

Corruption; for without the dark, we could never see the light.

Someone smart said that or something like it.

 

To all of the victims, perpetrators, and the all-in-ones, for without whom I would have never been able to proficiently write about illusion, addiction, love, loss, deceit, betrayal, and torment; even of the self.

 

More importantly, this is dedicated to my daughter. Without you, I would still be a

victim, and a traitor to myself.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Whoever fights monsters should see to it that

in the process he does not become a monster.

And if you gaze long enough into an abyss,

the abyss will gaze back into

you.”

 

— Friedrich Nietzsche

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

Reflections

 

She could feel the breath of the forest on her cheeks — the breath of a ghost, perhaps not even from this dimension. She felt weightless as she regained possession of her limbs, realizing quite instantly, that the tips of her toes were numb. Every subtle move that she made rustled the pine needles beneath her, and those sounds were like whispers through the forest, on a seemingly endless journey of resonance.

Get up. Keep going, she said to herself. Although, at this moment, she was thinking how blissful it would be if everything ended here. Her heart’s exhaustion was a cruel puppeteer to her imagination — portraying an existence of peace amongst foreign stars.

In the chaos and confusion, she had lost track of the sunsets. After escaping the intricacy of the underground tunnels, all of the days seemed to poison into each other, so much so, that she felt decades older. She was doing well following the rivers and keeping out of sight. Dry wood was easy to come by, and on the few nights that she risked exposing herself in the darkness, she found that her spectralin had weakened. After numerous attempts, she was left feeling both drained and defeated.

Gathering the few things she had, she faced the rising light and began the new day — whichever day it was. The Hums chirped above her in the trees, and although she should feel grateful for their company, there remained only sadness in her heart. This of course only made the Hums try harder to lift her spirits.

Once, while she was walking, a little one, probably only a season old, sat down on her shoulder, chirping briskly in her ear. The corner of her mouth angled up a bit, which surprised her because her lips were so tightly pursed together. The Hum felt it would suffice, and met with his family on the next branch, a couple of paces up the path.

The rye in her satchel was almost gone, and her energy was suffering. The food she had managed to take was the tainted food, which was distributed across the lands of Fia by the Desideriums. At first, the villagers were grateful for the food that was gifted, until it was realized that the food had been modified, and all of the spectralin had been removed — leaving only the most basic nutrients needed to survive, none of which really fed them.

 

 

The Desideriums (they had realized over the course of a few centuries) had plotted this kind of food distribution in an attempt to keep the people of Fia, weak of spectral power. This then, of course, led to the beginnings of The Ascension – which was only still thriving in vastly scattered communities on Fia.

The next kingdom couldn’t be more than a day away or so she hoped. She was afraid. Nevertheless, she forced herself to listen to the forest when it spoke to her. They were connected; she knew, the forest knew, and it would always send her some sort of message. Sometimes, it would be a branch falling with its tip pointing towards the direction of her intention. Other times, it would be a little Hum, who would fly in a different direction than its flock. The forest led the way.

All of the walking gave her too much time for reflection. All of it weighed her down like she had been bound with a string of rocks, and tossed into a raging river — water gushing down her throat — she alone was immortal. Firinne blamed herself. If only she had allowed herself to see them for what they truly were. Her expectations of others, and the longing to believe there was good in people — made the falsehoods that were right in front of her face become invisible. The fault was her own — she had chosen this ignorance.

She thought back to a story her mother had told her about how she was named. Her mother said that her name came from an ancient time, long ago, before The Blacken, from the language of her ancestors. While her mother was with child, the spectral essence of the baby’s soul, her soul, spoke to her. It told her what the child must be named — Firinne meant truth, and she thought it was ironic because the truth was the one thing she had not seen or had refused to see — whichever was the case.

In hindsight, she had seen all of the warning signs. Hints and whispers that dark intentions and selfish ambitions were at play. Yet, she loved them dearly — desperately, with every ounce of her being — the spectralin of her soul which now seemed tainted. She would have given them everything and this is where her thoughts became a mirror. She was forced, against her will, and now she was staring herself right in the face.

The guilt of what her ignorance had cost her Queendom, her family, and her people, was almost too much to bear. Legs shaking from the weight of it all, heart racing like the drums of war — the shame — to exist in her vessel — she pressed forward; alone and broken. If she stopped here, there would be nothing that she had left on these lands but a bloodbath — human blood — and the blood of betrayal.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWO

A Spite That Burns

 

A Few Days Earlier

 

 

Firinne was sitting in her room staring out of the window. She could smell the spring in the air that lightly brushed across her neck. The past few weeks felt more like missing time to her, and she was looking forward to getting back to things that she had neglected. Triphosa had done her more than a favor; she had probably saved Firinne. Since the current wave of frequency had taken hold of Fia, Firinne found herself struggling more than ever before.

It happened one night after evening’s feast; Firinne collapsed on her way to her chambers, falling down a few of the stairs. Thankfully, nothing was broken, although maybe a piece of Firinne’s inner-workings. She had been taken to her chambers and put in bed immediately. Auralia was desperate to help her daughter but she was too overwhelmed with everything that needed tending at Citrine. So, Triphosa volunteered.

For hours and hours, Triphosa put her hands on Firinne; summoning her energy to heal Firinne. It was as if Firinne had been paralyzed by something. When she thought back on it, it all seemed so fictional. She had no control over it and thought after thought, came racing through her head. Every fear she could have ever imagined came flooding into her mind; paralyzing her. She was too afraid to move; too afraid to breath. She screamed out in horror and every time that she did, Triphosa was there using her spectralin to try to counteract the effects of the frequencies that were attacking Firinne.

After a week of this, Firinne slowly started regaining control of her mind. That was three days ago, and when Firinne thought about that time, it was as if she hadn’t really been there at all. It was like being locked away in a room of your own mind, and having someone tell you what was going on while you waited in there. She remembered that she felt as though she might go mad from being locked in that room; the one that overlooked a town that was unrecognizable to her; a town of gray.

Firinne stood and walked over to the small desk that sat in the corner of her chambers. She began writing to her Uncle Bricius to ask if he would attend her birthday celebration. She knew her Uncle was busy, always traveling, and therefore, knew that her letter was probably a waste of time. Bricius was a well known leader of the Aldithenih faith — Firinne despised it. She could never understand her Uncle’s rationale for believing in (what she thought) was a faith so poisonous. It must be such a miserable life following a faith that condemns the smallest of mistakes with illusory threats of immortal agony.

Firinne often wondered how morally good these people of the faith would be if there was not such a horrible consequence lurking behind their every step through life. If eternal damnation was revealed to be a falsehood, then how many followers would take to the towns intent on acts of evil? True morality, she thought, was being a good person because you are an empathetic person, and not because you are afraid of the fate of your afterlife.

The faith of Aldithenih enraged her. She saw right through it. The faith had begun when the Mist of Blacken had arrived. Its basic premise was the belief that there is an all knowing being that created Fia, and if the people of Fia do not follow the Aldithenih virtues, they will be condemned to an eternity of torment. Firinne had no proof, but she knew the darkness was behind this, and it was just one of the many ways — manipulate and control.

Weakened and enslaved by fear, the people had forgotten their ways, the old ways.

Cyneric came into their chamber. He had barely glanced in her direction in the past three days of which he had been back at Citrine. She tried to ignore the guilt and secrecy that she felt emanating from him; so much secrecy locked up inside of him, he was full. Firinne could visualize all of it seeping out of the pores of his skin — wet and black like the thick, liquid the Desideriums siphoned from Fia.

“Have you found a pretty little mistress who consumes your thoughts?” She was never good at hiding her feelings.

Cyneric stopped, with his broad shoulders facing her. Her eyes traced his pronounced silhouette down to his fists that were clenched so tightly, she could almost see the blood boiling in his palms. “You make up such fantasies. They must bring excitement into your dull life!” He took a drink from his flask.

“You know you’re not supposed to have that in Citrine. Get rid of it.”

“Don’t worry, your majesty, I’m leaving.”

He then grabbed his sword, which was leaning against the far wall, and walked away, making sure to slam the door behind him so hard that Firinne was certain that he would pull the door clean off of the hinges.

This behavior had been going on for nearly a year now. She had known Cyneric for fifteen years, but something had happened. He was changed. Last Samhain, he began taking undisclosed travels, sometimes he was gone for weeks at a time. She had no way of contacting him while he was away. She was achingly in love with him, more than she ever thought she could love a person. When he was away, her whole body hurt as if it would cave in on itself if he did not embrace her soon. Now, when he returned, he barely spoke to her.

It was as if a part of himself that he had been preparing to unleash had been activated. At this point, the only thing that Firinne was holding onto was the person she knew him to be or thought she knew — but even the vivid memories of the past were beginning to fade. She felt like she would soon forget who that man was that she fell in love with, or more accurately, where the little boy she loved and had grown up with had gone. Doubt was beginning to plague her and the waters of spite were nearly boiling over.

Firinne hardly had time to think about it. She remembered that her Mum needed to speak with her — something about the food. She walked out of her chamber, following the stairs down to the cellar of the castle. The wooden door was warped and decayed, so she had to push on it hard to move it past the stones that were scraping the top seam of the doorway. Her mother, Auralia, was standing in the room, towards the boxes of spectral food which were stacked up against the wall. She looked dismayed. Her curly, auburn hair was held up by a carved piece of Birch that Firinne had made for her during the summer solstice.

“There won’t be enough…” Auralia said.

“Are you sure? I thought that the last harvest would get the Queendom through to Mabon.”

“Yes, I’m sure. We will be lucky if this lasts until Yule. We will survive, but our people will not. Something has to be done. The indoor gardens will need serious attention.” She put her hand on Firinne’s shoulder. “Take some of the young ones to the gardens to work the soil, would you?”

“Okay. I was thinking that we could also plant some more seeds while we are there. If enough spectralin is given to them, they might start bearing fruit just in time.” Firinne said.

“I was going to talk to you about that as well. We need to send someone to the mountains to meet with The Guardian for seeds, we’re low. I don’t know how much longer we will be able to keep this going…our Queendom I mean.” Her face was speckled with freckles and age.

Auralia kissed her daughter on the forehead and left through the warped, wooden door. Firinne could feel her mother’s weakness, and knew that she was probably rationing her intake of spectralin food.

She went to the Academy to gather the children from their classes and explained to the Magister that the children were needed in the gardens to assist. Magister Lirveen didn’t protest, as he knew that it would be good practice for his students.

Imphius Lirveen was a small, scruffy old man. He had a full beard, and a full belly to match, which felt like a round stone pressing into your stomach whenever he hugged you. He was the head magister at the Citrine Academy of Artistry and Spectralin Sciences, which he was immensely proud of. Teaching children had always been his lifelong passion and he was a grand asset to the Queendom.

Imphius was also a light-hearted, practical joker. One of the most popular of his jokes was that he would collect items that had been left behind by the students, wrap them up beautifully in a box, and gift them to the students on their final year of academy. The students would be completely perplexed, wondering how they were supposed to react, as most of the time, they had forgotten all about the item left behind from the years that had passed.

 

Once in the gardens, the children began working right away. They were all turning the dirt in their hands, humming, and speaking to the plants. From every child, there was a green aura looming like a mist between the child and the plant. Firinne could almost see the children’s thoughts in her own mind — intentions of love and strength to the plants; thankfulness for what the plants provided the Queendom, gratitude for keeping all of them strong, and thereby safe from the Desideriums.

Everyone in the Queendom knew that if they were left to only eat the food distributed by the Desideriums, they would lose their spectralin which would give the Mist of Blacken more psychic control over them. It would be easier for them to penetrate their thoughts and manipulate their emotions. Firinne knew that eventually they would suspect something, they would see or feel the Queendom’s strength, and battle or infiltration would ensue. But they could not worry themselves over that now — it was their only hope for survival. Fia needed them to live.

The children had begun planting the seeds and with the shared spectralin, they were now sprouting out of the ground. They were growing within seconds of being planted; winding up, out of the soil where leaves would begin unfolding themselves, like Flutters out of a cocoon. The children gathered up all of the fruits and seeds from the elder plants and put them into baskets. One by one, down to the kitchens, where the cooks would sort the fruits, start preserves, and package the seeds to be stored in the cellar. Firinne knew that the shortage of seeds was concerning, but it was hard to be certain which seeds contained high or low spectralin. The seeds which produced plants of lower spectralin would give little to no fruit or seed. All of the fear, hate, anger, and egos, was draining the life from their world. The more the Desideriums were ordered to push, the more people would fear, and the more the darkness would conquer.

The nighttime stories that her Mum had told her were engrained into her at such an early age that Firinne felt as if she had actually been there to see it all for herself.

 

 

The lands of Fia were once a peaceful place where the ancestor of old, taught the new generations the secrets of the cosmos. No one is certain who gave them the great wisdom, and if The Clandestine Guardians were asked, they would simply reply, The Ethereal Collective. They taught the generations how to access their inner spectralin.

The people of this land were once a powerful people, a people who lived empathetically with Fia, and one another. Then, the Mist of Blacken came. At first it was only noticed as a slight discoloration in the skies. After that, it came in like a fog, heavy blackness with a low, rumbling vibration. To this day, no one knows who sent the Mist of Blacken or who is controlling it, but it was known that if the Mist brought to the lands a vibrational frequency opposite of Fia’s, that Fia would be in danger. Fia is a living, breathing being just like humans. It is our job to protect her so that she can protect us. Balance, vibration, spectralin, empathy.

The Mist of Blacken settled above one of the lands, where an obsidian castle was built overnight. It has swirled relentlessly above Castle Blacken for over a decade now. Back in those ages, the Mist almost succeeded in spectral manipulation of the people of Fia. Through spectral manipulation, the Mist gains access to the mind and modifies the essence of the soul to create an illusion of existence. The people who were affected by this manipulation — they were endlessly afraid, locked in a state of panic — forever stuck in a frequency ensuring their inner imprisonment.

Castle Blacken is led by a dark collective consciousness; that is as much as the people of Fia know. No one knows who the leader of the Mist of Blacken is — tactics.

So, since the Mist of Blacken, Fia has been in a state of panic and it is a constant battle to fight the forces of the dark frequencies.

 

The hope that Auralia had always left Firinne with was that there had been whispers that The Clandestine Guardians were still alive, in small numbers and that one day Fia will lead them. That is the only chance, the only way — faith in Fia, and The Clandestine Guardians. Auralia would always follow the legend with an ancient hum, and Firinne would fall asleep to dreams of hope — or terror.

 

The Sun had fallen over the mountains hours ago and Firinne was back in her chambers. There was a single crystal glowing on the table that she was sitting at. The oval mirror was reflecting someone that she did not see — not truly. She was beautiful; long black hair, full lips, and eyes that disappeared into a deep abyss of mystery. But all that she could see was sadness. All that she could feel was the weight of Fia which she allowed to rest on her shoulders — which were aching.

She slipped into her nightgown and nestled deep under the silk blankets that smelled of Lavender. Cyneric was asleep with his face turned away from her. She loved to listen to his breathing, like waves crashing in — out. She missed him horribly. What an awful feeling it was to have someone’s warmth next to you in bed but feel so cold. There was an empty, aching space in her heart. A deepness she had never felt, and an impulsive longing to fill it.

Everything felt like a fast wind had come in; spinning her around in circles of confusion. She couldn’t tell up from down. Lost. She forced herself to cling tightly to the amazing memories they shared together; an attempt to reassure herself that all was not lost, that he would come back to her.

Tears were welling up in her eyes like the perspiration in Fia’s caves. She could feel her throat tightening — empathy’s noose. Let go of things that are out of your control, Firinne.

A truth that she knew but found too hard at this very moment to accept.

Through the distortion of her tears, she saw, what she thought, was a wisp of black mist, snaking its way up from the back of Cyneric’s head. As soon as she thought she saw it, she thought she hadn’t.

Panic.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

Desideriums

 

Deep within the bowels of Castle Blacken, there was an intense energy building; an ember ready to ignite. Desiderium guards were moving within the walls and on the grounds in straight, purposeful lines. Screams of agony echoed through the halls from the dungeons — Castle Blacken, the grand theater. Voices of peril bounced from wall to wall, smashing into the grand arches of the ceiling, and plummeting back down to the floors, where the Desideriums marched. This was a place of abuse, where even the vibrations on the floor caused by the victims screams, were abused by the boots of Desideriums.

Castle Blacken was a dreadfully beautiful sight to behold. Built of Obsidian that looked like liquid, there were intricate symbols carved into the sides of the castle walls. The corners and edges of the Castle were sharp, and they reflected the light of the Sun so intensely, that the lines of the castle looked like they were glowing. Following these glowing lines up, there was a single tower which was centered at what might have been the beating heart of Castle Blacken. The mere height of it created a shadow that stretched as far as the forests; miles away. At the top of the tower, there were three black spears pointing up towards the sky, where the Mist of Blacken swirled like a vortex above the castle. No one on Fia could deny that dark energy had been used to bring Castle Blacken to life, and it was just that — alive. A breathing entity that absorbed all things black — hate, greed, lust, envy, fear, power, dishonesty, and death. Tears provided it hydration — screams gave it life. Blood? Blood gave it power.

Inside the highest and most magnificent tower, there burned a black fire in the center of the room. Standing in the gray light surrounding the black flames, were the three Lords of Castle Blacken. The Dantalion Lords were facilitators — delivering orders to the Desideriums, and observing the vibration-altering process. They wore long cloaks made of black lace, with hoods that rested weightlessly on their skulls. The Dantalion Lords were a mortal adaptation of purgatory. Their bodies were spliced down the center, one-half was skeletal, and the other was a face resembling that of a human. Their skin was stretched tightly which made every bone and vein protrude. Their bones were as black as the stone beneath their feet. They were torn between two realities of existence — humble servants to the Great King of Castle Blacken.

The Lords were holding out their hands over the flames. While one hand had its palm facing up, the other black, skeletal hands were moving in a twisted sort of dance in and out of the flames. They were chanting something unidentifiable which would begin with a low growl, and then reach a slow climax; a high-pitched screech of ecstasy. With each pause between notes, black sparks would float out of the flames, which would enter into the mouths of the Lords upon the inhalation leading up to the next note. It was a dark, ancient magic whose purpose was to sort and concentrate the desired energy frequency that was being released onto Fia. This ceremony would be finished by the sacred ingestion of the Blood of Fia, which the Desideriums were siphoning from Fia, hourly. Fia’s blood was invaluable to all that was Castle Blacken. It was the source for their black fire, the drink that the Desideriums indulged upon, and the power which fueled the beasts they rode into battle.

There was something that was different in the castle on this day. The Desideriums were whispering to each other behind their black, masked helmets as if a battle would soon be engaged, or maybe a plan that was successful had led to this profound moment. Whatever it was, there was excitement in the air and it was seeping out of Castle Blacken — transforming into an air of nervousness as it whistled through the lands. It swept across the grasses, around branches, over the lakes, up the rivers — everyone could feel it. Something had changed.

A long day of preparation had ended and some of the Desideriums retreated into the great hall where they would dine on confiscated food and Fia’s blood. The Desideriums would drink and drink, until they were either fighting with each other, fumbling into the sleeping quarters, or ripping off the clothes of their latest female victim.

One man was pounding himself into and in-between a woman’s legs as she was chained to a wall in one corner, while another man violently fondled her breasts. With every untamed thrust, she was slammed into the stone wall, leaving bruises on the back of her skull. Yet, when she met his primal gaze, she thought she saw a look of horror in his eyes.

In another area of the great hall, two men were standing on tables, threatening each other with their Obsidian swords. There was a man who had fallen on the stairs that led out of the hall — he was now unconscious. All the while, screams were still echoing from the dungeons as if it were proper dinner music — The Grand Orchestra of Death And Torture.

What was worse, the Desideriums were the sons, brothers, and fathers who had once lived on Fia. When the Mist of Blacken came, it had a power that no one on Fia could fight. No man was safe unless he was weak, young, or sick — somehow the Mist knew. When the Mist found a Desiderium, it would twist its way down to him, wrapping itself around him, and sucking him back up into the Mist. Nearly ten-thousand men were taken from villages and castles that fateful day following The Ascension.

After the Desideriums were collected, the Mist of Blacken constructed them just as easily as it had built Castle Blacken. These poor souls were trapped and replaced with a dark apparition of the Mist of Blacken — like a soul it only needed a vessel — a desirable vessel. It was not clear whether the Desideriums were aware of the things they were doing and people often thought that if they were aware, how much they were being tormented just as much as they were tormenting the people of Fia — their people. Having no control of their actions, they would watch themselves do horrible things. What was even more concerning was whether there was even an ability to save the Desideriums from their slavery. If they could be saved, how damaged would their minds and souls be?

After all of the men had finally fallen asleep; heads on tables, bodies lying where they had fallen, women trapped under snoring men who were too afraid to move; the Mist would come to collect its vessels. The poor, lifeless, Desideriums floated on the heavy air of the black mist as it carried them down to the sleeping quarters, where they were suspended on hooks from the ceiling until sunrise — a prized collection; possession.

That was the moment of the evening when whichever woman who was left in the dining hall had to make her move. The moment the Mist of Blacken was out of sight, they would scramble, with whatever strength they had left in them, to the tables. The Desideriums fancied the blood of Fia more than the food, so there was always a heaping amount at the table which would be wasted the following day. Stuffing their mouths in silence with whatever they could get their hands on, trying desperately to not only taste the sweetness of the food which contained spectralin, but also build their strength. They ravaged through every morsel — they had to. Without those few moments of gluttony, they couldn’t be sure how many more days of torture they would survive.

These women had been at Castle Blacken for such a long time that they had a precise method. They had timed the Mist so that they knew when it would return to carry them back to the dungeons. Once the Mist of Blacken returned, they would muster every ounce of fear they could by forcing themselves to relive torture, rape, and whatever else they had been through, which masked the new spectralin they had just obtained from the food. Every evening the women in the dungeons were alternated, but they had all shared the method with each other in hopes of survival. Yet, it was becoming more apparent that most of them just wanted to die. They probably would die sooner or later.

When there is no foreseeable hope, fortitude becomes a wasted effort. They couldn’t see a way out; of Castle Blacken or the horrible situation that their world was in. It seemed that whatever power was controlling the Mist of Blacken, was allowing it to grow stronger by the day. No matter how hard the people tried to stay strong and faithful to the light of the cosmos, it was futile. Everyone — people, creatures, and plants were in despair. When they tried to focus their intentions on positive vibrational frequencies, there was always an obstacle that forced them to succumb to their fear. These women were no different. They were feeling more and more disconnected from The Ethereal Collective.

There were of course small acts of rebellion, and those women cheered for them, even through the pain they cheered; through the suffering of it all; they cheered, but it was only that — just a cheer.

A fleeting feeling of one small victory that is effortlessly shadowed by adversity.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

Bliss

 

Firinne awoke to the warm smell of biscuits and an empty bed. The latter of which she was growing accustomed to, although it was specifically on this day that she urged herself to forget immediately what had happened a couple of nights ago. It had to have just been her imagination; a result of her heartache, and it was this that she desperately tried to convince herself of. After a groggy, round-about discussion in her head, she knew she was still unconvinced, and, therefore, made a very difficult decision: today she would discuss it with Triphosa.

Her armoire was filled with gowns of silk, velvet, and cotton. They were all elaborately designed in her favorite shades — crimson, plum, black, gray, and deep gold. The cotton dresses often resembled the raw nature which surrounded her Queendom and rather than gems, there were raw, unpolished stones fixed to the fabric. Today she felt melancholic and so she reached for the slate gray dress which was whispered with black embroidery. It had lace around the sleeves and the collar. The fabric moved with fluidity — up and down, riding the air around her legs as she ran down the stairs towards the dining hall and more importantly to it’s beckoning smells.

The dining hall was enormous. The upwardly arched ceiling was encased with mahogany, wood beams that started from one point on the floor, arching its way to the center where they all met, and formed a star. The walls were draped with burgundy curtains made of velvet. The combination of the velvet and the subtle sparkles in the Quartz walls made the room appear to glisten — causing the dining hall to glow in the light of the sunset. The room, grand as it was, was inviting. Firinne felt it on this morning as her eyes met the long table where the seats were filled with her family, and friends. They were all groggy and delighted.

And Cyneric was not among them.

Firinne sat down in the chair next to Triphosa. Sleepy faces greeted hers with kindness. All of the glasses were filled to the brim with peach juice —squeezed from last year’s yield. The kitchen doors finally opened and one by one, the trays floated out to the table with all of the anticipated morning delicacies — buttermilk biscuits, fresh fruit, spiced oatmeal, eggs, and rosemary potatoes. There was a silly feeling that the air was leaving the room due to everyone sniffing in the rich scents enthusiastically as the trays moved about them.

Triphosa squeezed Firinne’s arm. “Did you sleep blissfully, my love?”

“It might’ve been if I hadn’t awoken cold and alone. Cyneric disappeared early again. Who knows where he’s gone.”

Triphosa messed her face up a bit. “Listen,” Firinne said. “I have to speak with you after we eat. There’s something…something I need to tell you, and it must be in private.”

“Of course. Meet me in the gardens in and hour or so, and we will talk about it. Don’t fret…I’m here. I always will be.”

Triphosa had always been there for Firinne. They became acquainted with one another when they were only twelve years old. They had been the best of friends ever since. She had come to Citrine Castle when Triphosa was young. Her family lived there for a few years, when one night, they vanished. Firinne could still recall that evening when they had ridden back to Triphosa’s small home, which was just on the edge of the village.

They had both been having a delightful evening — lying in the tall grasses, and watching stars; The Chalice of Life, The Serpent of Circles, The Guard of Citrine. They were talking about what the future might have in store for them, and imagining all of the magnificent things they would do. Firinne would always wait just outside Triphosa’s door to make sure that her friend would find safety inside her home. On this night, though, and just as Firinne turned to ride away, she heard a shriek echo into the night. When Firinne walked through the doorway, the walls were covered in blood and everything in the house was destroyed. Firinne could still remember, that in the room upstairs, all of the silk duvets had huge cuts in them, as if some careless thief couldn’t stand the thought of anything in the home remaining undamaged. It took a long time for Triphosa to recover from that and all that she had left of her family was a black stone pendant which had belonged to her mother. To this day, no one knew what had happened to her parents, but Firinne’s mother had chosen to adopt Triphosa, practically making them sisters.

 

 

 

The breeze whipped around Firinne like a ghost. Her senses were overcome by the smell of sweet grass, Lemon Verbena, and the smell of rich soil, moist from the early dawn’s dew. She was following the stone path down to the enclosed garden. On her way, she was making a mental note of the trees on every side of her. They were just starting to open up what would soon be peach blossoms. Firinne smiled fondly, knowing that the ancient trees would not feel their silent sadness until autumn, when their little babies would fall, one by one, down to Fia where they would begin their new journey of providing nutrients to the roots of their parent-tree.

Firinne was almost to the garden. She stopped in her tracks, turning around to view her home. She admired Citrine Castle, not just for its breathtaking architecture but also because of its history, her family’s history. Citrine Castle was built hundreds of years ago by her ancestors and it was one of the most admired structures in all of Fia. Firinne always loved watching the faces of travelers as they stared in sheer confusion, trying to decipher how such a feat could be built, as well as where all the crystals could have come from.

The Castle was built from carved Labradorite blocks. All of the towers of the Castle were lined with raw Citrine crystals that encased each terrace. The windows had Smokey Quartz pebbles encrusted into their outlines. All of the doors of the castle were made of Cherry wood, each of them having pyrography designs burned into them. Some were extensive scenes illustrating their people’s legends while others were trees, animals, flowers, land, and sea. If that wasn’t grand enough for the ancestors of Citrine, the middle and largest tower had Citrine crystals that angled inwards towards each other, creating an illusion of a golden pyramid at the top. Firinne’s family came from a line of crystal-fabricators. Since the Blacken had come, though, the line had become tainted, and Firinne was the last living, crystal-fabricator of her family.

Firinne had entered the garden, also encased in Citrine crystals that were taller than she was. The crystals provided the garden with shelter without obstructing the Sun’s light. Triphosa was at the edge of the garden admiring all of the new growth which was now peeking out of the warm soil beneath the ivy.

Triphosa was beautiful. Firinne secretly envied her for it. She was slender and delicate, with long black hair, and a face of unblemished perfection. Her face was like that of a doll — swollen pink lips, freckles in all of the right places, and skin as soft as silk. She had the eye of every man in the Queendom. Growing up, Firinne often felt mediocre — just an invisible entity standing in Triphosa’s great shadow of enthralling beauty. Firinne admired her in the golden light of the Citrine for what was such a long time, that it was nearly shameful.

Triphosa took her by the hand, leading her to a wooden bench near the ivy. “Tell me what’s troubling you. I’ll do everything I can to help.”

“I am sure you’ve probably already guessed it.” Firinne took a deep breath. “It’s Cyneric. Something is wrong with him and I don’t know what to do, or what to think. You know how much I love him. He’s my life.”

“What is it?” Triphosa said.

“I didn’t know what else to do but to talk to you. Mum is already too tired from her own battles to deal with this. I don’t know what else I can do.” Tears were beginning to escape from the corners of her eyes.

“Firinne, take a deep breath and tell me what is going on.”

Firinne explained all of the things that had been going on. She told Triphosa about the secret travels that Cyneric would disappear on, and the ice cold silence from him that greeted her upon his return. She explained how long it had been since they were intimate with one another, and about the harsh words that he would often spout-out at her in the times that he would actually speak to her. Firinne then went on to tell her that sometimes he would come home intoxicated, and that one time she had followed him to Nightsend Tavern just outside of the village.

At the end of all of this, Firinne met hesitation. She was so afraid to tell Triphosa what she had seen the other night. Firinne was never good at putting on a face, and Triphosa recognized it instantly.

“There’s something else…isn’t there? C’mon, you don’t need to be afraid…you can trust me. Don’t you know that by now?” Triphosa said.

“You have to swear you won’t utter a word of this to anyone!”

“I swear I won’t! You know me Fir…”

Firinne took a long pause to contemplate the decision to abandon her silence. In that moment, she sat still as if she was waiting for some unknown force to intervene. There was only stillness, and the eyes of her best friend, which were stuck on Firinne’s mouth — waiting for something to slip out.

“One night, and after a long day of bitter silence between us, and I…I climbed into bed for the night. He was asleep next to me, so I laid there…just staring at him…lost in my own thoughts. I saw something strange and now… the more that I think about it…“

“What Fir? What did you see?”

“Just as I was about to close my eyes, I saw a wisp of black mist peek out from the back of Cyneric’s neck. I tried to convince myself that it was just my imagination, but Triphosa, I know what I saw. I know it was real, I just don’t know what it means…or what I should do.”

“ I can’t believe what you’re saying. The implications of this…and what it could mean for Citrine are ruinous. It can’t be. I know Cyneric hasn’t been himself, but there is no way that he let the Blacken get to him. He’s far too strong for that. And his love for you…” Triphosa said.

“We met each other when we were young and fell deeply in-love. I feel like I know him more than I know myself. The memories I have with him are like my memories with you…the only reason I can think of for a darkness to have attached itself to him is his parents and their past.”

It was well known that Cyneric, like Triphosa, had lost his parents at a young age. The difference for Cyneric, was that he knew exactly where his parents were. The Crivinnes were never ideal parents. They were always fighting with one another, coming home intoxicated, and leaving Cyneric to watch his siblings. Sometimes they abused Cyneric which had left a permanent scar in its wake. After The Ascension and The Numbing, the Crivinnes went with the Blacken gladly, with no thought of leaving their eldest son to survive on his own at the age of eleven. If that abandonment wasn’t enough, they took his siblings with them in order to indoctrinate them, at a very young age, into the endless power of Blacken that would be theirs if they so chose. From what Cyneric had told Firinne, the last year that followed after his family had abandoned him, he became a seething and reckless adolescent. He was either constantly in trouble with the Citrine guards, or he was at the tavern drinking Fia’s blood. Firinne knew that she had saved Cyneric from himself and a path that would have been an endless abyss of ruin for him. In the confines of their entanglement, he would empty his soul out upon Firinne. She was his keeper. The bond between them was indisputable. They were insatiable.

“Maybe he’s fallen back into the pain of his past. It would make sense that he would shut me out of it. If he’s become so lost in the darkness that the Blacken is attaching itself to him, then I have to do something. I can’t bear to lose him. But what can I do? He will barely look at me much less ta—

Triphosa interjected. “I will talk with him. Maybe someone who is in a more neutral position will have a better affect on him. He won’t feel so threatened. We can’t waste any time on this, so I will find him tonight and see if I can get him to open up to me a little. A little might be just enough.”

“Would you? I don’t know what I would do without you Triphosa.”

Triphosa didn’t have to say anything. She stood up, gently kissed Firinne’s forehead, leaving her there to sit by the ivy and sort through her feelings; perhaps take a few deep breaths.

 

 

 

Later that evening, Firinne hastily ate her dinner in an attempt to avoid her mother until she knew more about the situation with Cyneric. She said good-night to everyone and hurried up to her chambers. She hadn’t seen Triphosa or Cyneric, and she was more than anxious to hear how their conversation had gone. She was impatient. Every moment that involved waiting, anxiety gnawed at her skin — this was one of those times, only worse because it involved Cyneric.

Trying to calm herself, she went out on the terrace and into the brisk, spring breeze. The terrace shown brilliantly under the moonlight, the blueish light mixed like watercolor — merging with the gold light of the Citrine — the whole terrace seemed to glow in dim, otherworldly hues. On the corner of the terrace was Firinne’s alter, which held her wraps of sage and Dragonsblood, along with crystals and stones. With the tip of her finger she touched one the crystals and it slowly began to give off a warm light. She then proceeded to light the sage — breathing in deeply it’s rich, woody smell. She then moved her hands across the smoke, pulling it into herself, and over her head. This ceremony was something that her mother had taught her as a way of cleaning the energy around herself.

With two Amethyst crystals in each hand, she looked over the sleepy Queendom. Everything but her insides were calm. She focused her spectralin and imagined pulling a brilliant light from the cosmos — through her, and into the crystals. The crystals would then shoot the spectralin all over Fia — blanketing her and her creatures in the higher vibrations of love. She knew that everything, still and living, resonated at a specific vibrational frequency during its natural state. Beings have the ability to change their vibration with their thoughts and emotions. The negative emotions were harmful to the being while love, empathy, and selflessness created a higher vibrational frequency which promoted health physically, and spectrally. The Mist of Blacken was creating such strong negativity that it was causing an invisible war between the dark forces, and the people of Fia. This is why it was so important for everyone to focus their thoughts on pure love, rather than fear, or their spectralin would be diminished, along with their world.

Firinne did this quite often, trying so very hard to overpower the turmoil her world was enduring. She would imagine that she had all of the power to change their circumstance, so much so, that for only a split second she felt like the Mist was an illusion. She was halfway through the ceremony, just on the brink of releasing this brilliance from the crystals when she stopped suddenly. Something was wrong; she could feel it in every nerve.

There was the sound of pounding at the door. She rushed over to find one of the Citrine guards panting and clutching the wall.

“I’m…sorry. I’m…sorry to startle you…received word that…”

“Take a deep breath.”

And he did. “Cyneric is at Nightsend Tavern again. This time it sounds like he’s gotten himself into a bad fight. Would you like me to take some of the men to retrieve him?”

“No, but I would like for you to accompany me to the tavern.”

She could feel her blood pumping, producing twice the amount than necessary. She knew little of how much she would need that extra blood.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

The Darkest of Fears Slightly Overlooked

 

Firinne was riding faster than all of her guards knew that she was capable of. A million thoughts were racing through her mind as she had no idea what to expect once she arrived. Would he come willingly or would he make a spectacle of himself? Was she going to walk into a bloodbath? Who had instigated the fight? What had triggered Cyneric’s violence? Why was he even at the tavern to begin with? She was furious. The harder she rode, the harder her sword would slam into her thigh.

Firinne was wondering if this night would be like so many of the nights before. She would help him up the stairs to their bed chambers where he would begin to apologize to her. She would dig at him for answers. He would tell her that he couldn’t talk to her about it, he was too ashamed of himself. He would run his strong hands all over her, grabbing her face and kissing her like his life depended on it — begging for her flesh. Firinne would always fight with him, yelling at him for leaving her alone so much. He would always conquer her. Leaving her feeling captivated by his warmth, with a mission to save him from whatever plagued his soul. This dizzy cycle was exhausting her. One minute she would be bitterly, heartbroken. The next minute, she would be completely devoted to his tenderness, and his rescue. To what end?

Fifty feet in the distance, she could see the tavern. She knew the owner well and had grown to despise him for even allowing a drop of Fia’s blood in his tavern. Jarden wasn’t a revered person by anyone. He would always make excuses as to why he would sell Fia’s blood, claiming he needed this, and that. Everyone knew he was just in it for the profit, but there was nothing that Firinne could do about it because Nightsend Tavern was just outside the town limits of Citrine. One day he would realize. That much she knew.

Suddenly, and quite awkwardly, Firinne became aware of reality again. She was staring at the front of the tavern door. She had a blank expression on her face, a clear indication that once again she was letting anxiety get the better of her. She had just spent the last fifteen-seconds imagining every possible scenario she could. The guards were standing behind her unclear of what she was doing. In her regained awareness, she felt her heart beat hard —over and over, like the drums of war. Get it together, she told herself. Nowadays, it seemed like she was having more conversations with herself, than anyone else.

In a split second, and without warning her guards, Firinne took control of her rage and kicked in the door. All of the Wasters jolted instantly, wide eyed with blurry vision and in complete confusion of who, and why the door had been kicked open.

“Where is he, Jarden?” Firinne said with more rage than she had anticipated. She saw no blood, no turned over tables, bodies — in fact, the tavern was relatively quiet, which made her exceedingly unsure of the situation she had just walked into.

“There was jus’ a bit of a scuffle Miss, nothin’ catastrophic. He’s shut ‘imself in a room upstairs… been there for a while now. Third floor on the left miss. Bring a guard..don’t think he’ll make the walk down the stairs.”

Firinne shot him the foulest look she was capable of producing with such a soft face; she probably looked more like an angry four-year-old, and queued the guard on her left to follow her. They made their way up the stairs and came to the third door.

“Wait here while I speak to him. I’ll leave the door cracked in case he puts up a fight.” The guard nodded.

The brass knob of the door was caked with layers of travelers dirt. She turned it expecting to find Cyneric sitting by the fire with a glass in hand, or unconscious on the bed. What she saw was a scene she could never have imagined — not ever. Directly in front of her was Cyneric, bare-backed and straddling, someone.

Firinne gasped. Amidst their groans, they had heard her. Rather than jolting amongst the duvet to hide their shamefulness (something that Firinne would have expected) they did something else entirely. Cyneric turned around to reveal one of two things. The first being a smile which could only be described as one of pleasure, satisfaction and oddly, purpose. The next was that the woman who he was mounted on top of was Triphosa, who like Cyneric, was grinning as if she had rehearsed it.

For a moment, Firinne felt her heart plummet into her stomach as if she had swallowed a heavy stone — momentarily breathless. Her whole world felt like it was on a raging sea, rocking back and forth under her feet — her ship was sinking. Struggling to comprehend even an inch of what she was witnessing, she absentmindedly put her hand on her sword.

The waves crashed in, hitting her soul.

Without a second thought, she drew her sword from its sheath, took a leap forward, where sword tip met the soft skin of Cyneric’s neck — the skin that she, herself loved to press her lips against.

“So this is what’s been going on with you? You’ve been sleeping with my best friend! I can’t believe you! How could you do this to me… and you!” Firinne was now looking into the eyes of her best friend. “You said I could trust you. You’re nothing but a whore! We took you into our home…took care of you!”

Cyneric said nothing. Instead, Triphosa stood up, confidently showing her naked body that Cyneric had just littered. “Oh dearest, naive Fir, you still haven’t connected it, have you? This has been going on for a lot longer than you would like to know. See, Cyneric and I have been promised to each other since we were children.”

“Promised? What do you mean promised? Both of your parents are gone. Spare me the damn riddles. Let’s just get it all out on the bed shall we? Everything else certainly is!”

“Firinne, this isn’t about you. It’s not even about me, or Cyneric. This is about the Blacken. We have just been playing our little parts…waiting for the right time to tear your world apart, see? Soon we will receive our reward as promised. The time —

“I should slaughter you both right now! You are nothing to me now, but a sickness in my life! Everything’s been nothing more than an act…all of the memories…they mean nothing. NOTHING!” Firinne moved closer to Cyneric. She wanted the pain within her to cut him as deeply as she had been cut. She wanted to see him bleed. She dug her sword into the crescent shaped indentation between his collar bones. She could see all of his muscles tense, the very same muscles that she had once clung to for safety, and pleasure.

“When all of this comes crumbling down, oh and it will…don’t you dare even think about coming back to me. I should soak this room in your blood. But you’re already dead…someday you’ll both realize it.” Firinne didn’t give them a second to respond. She slammed the door behind her so hard that it shook the decaying halls of the tavern. She said nothing to Jarden as she left.

Two of the closest people in her life, both of whom she had grown up with, were nothing but commissioned actors. Every memory she had was fabricated imagery in her mind. Firinne felt betrayed, and more than that, she felt foolish — both of which only made the fury inside of her swirl in new directions, towards inwardly un-plotted destinations. All that she knew at this moment of shattering reality was that she had to get back to Citrine Castle, fast. Whatever the point of all of this was, surely there was more to it. She had to warn her mother, and most of all, they needed to prepare for whatever was to come of this.

The guards followed close behind her, all of them on high-alert as they stampeded through the town of Citrine. There was nothing but the sound of hooves, clacking off of the cobbled stones — a rhythm that was precisely identical to the rhythm of the riders’ hearts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

Imphius Lirveen

 

The castle grounds were eerily quiet. Firinne and her guards were wondering what the time was. Everything seemed like a blur — as if they were just outside the realms of reality. She could see crystals lit through the windows of the castle, and accepted them as a beacon of hope.

Once in the castle, she ran. With every footstep, she held back tears. She came upon the grand staircase from the hall that led out to the stables. The right staircase led down one of the halls, up another staircase, five doors on the right was Auralia’s chambers. At this moment, that room (five doors down, on the right) was safety to Firinne. She felt the smooth, stone banister on the palm of her hand. She was only a couple of steps up when she heard footsteps somewhere on the top landing. She stopped immediately and looked up. That is when she noticed that there was a bit of something tied to the center banister, in between the right and left staircase.

“Is anyone there?” Firinne whispered.

Nothing.

She waited a few more moments, afraid to breathe. She knew the sounds of the castle well. Those were definitely footsteps that she had heard. Then, through the faint glow of the light, she saw a figure, moving slowly towards the banister. As the image came clearer into view, she saw that it was Magister Lirveen.

“Oh, Imphius! I was afraid it was someone else. I have to go see Auralia. Something horrible has happened and I need to…Imphius, are you okay?”

Imphius had a dazed, lifeless look on his face as though he hadn’t even heard her speak. He moved slowly, closer and closer, to the banister. This is when Firinne realized that there was a bit of rope tied around his throat.

“Imphius…no. Please don’t do this! Whatever it is…I can…I can help you. Just…just stop. Please Imphius, I can’t lose you!” Firinne was again left with no reaction from him. There was no way that she would be able to make it up the stairs before he jumped. He was right there in front of her, but she could not reach him. She didn’t know what to do but to plead for help in hopes that someone would be in one of the rooms at the top of the stairs.

She yelled as loud as she could, but no one yelled black — Imphius didn’t even blink. He was now standing on the other side of the banister, leaning into the open air in front of him as if he were welcoming his fate. Firinne focused all of her spectralin, trying desperately to create an upward force that might stop him from falling, or at least, choking. The events in the past hour must have weakened her, and it was too late. She instinctually closed her eyes. All that she could hear were the creaks from the rope being tested by the weight of Imphius’s body. She collapsed to the ground, sobbing uncontrollably. His body was dangling only a few feet above her, back and forth — lifelessly — just out of arms reach.

She didn’t want to believe that he was dead, so she held her knees close to her face. She wanted to hide from all of it. She could not bear to stare up at the old man that she loved so dearly. Firinne grew up without her father. Both him and her grandparents had died in The Ascension when the people had tried to overtake The Blacken. Firinne had been very young at the time. Imphius was the only person in her whole life who had guided and loved her like she imagined her father would have. He was more than just Magister Lirveen, he was her family. Now he was gone.

What Firinne heard next was the most repulsive sound that she could ever envision hearing after what had just happened. From above her, she heard a screech of elation echoing through the morbid air. Slowly, Firinne raised her head from its dark, maternal sanctuary behind the caps of her knees.

“Who’s there?”

Another perverse laugh followed. “Poor, pitiful Magister Lirveen. Here he is now, just as pathetic in death as he was in life. What a weak old man!” Triphosa’s voice reverberated off the walls like the screams of dying demons.

Firinne lost all restraint. “How is it possible that I was completely unaware of what a cruel, little bitch you are? What did you do to him Triphosa?”

“What did I do to the little man? Oh, just a bit of this and that…a dash of poison, a pinch of spite. Don’t worry, he never knew what hit him. Probably best he isn’t around anymore you know? Too weak for the wrath that is coming.” There was psychotic pride etched deeply into every angle and indentation of her face.

Cyneric was now standing next to her in silence. Firinne could barely stand to look at him. Him — standing there in full devotion to a cause that was so evil. It struck her that she could never trust anyone again, not after this; not really.

“So what’s your next move then?” Said Firinne.

Triphosa smirked, almost girlishly. “We’ve already taken care of that. While you were preoccupied at the tavern, Desideriums infiltrated your beloved Queendom. Everyone of any importance is now locked away in the dungeons. So, you now have two choices, dear friend…lie down your sword and come with us to the dungeons or I shall have to call upon the Desideriums to…handle you.”

“I guess I don’t really have a choice then. What are you both still standing there for? Let’s get on with it.” Firinne knew that they had won, but if she was clever, they would never have the chance to win again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

Darkness

 

The dungeons were cold. Their silent, stillness was unwelcoming. Firinne had convinced the two Desiderium guards to put her in the room that was next to her mother. Citrine’s dungeons were hardly ever used, but now they were filled with the cooks, guards (hers had stayed outside while she had entered the castle), maids, and worse — the children from the academy. As soon as the Desideriums had gone back upstairs, everyone began stirring. Auralia crept over to Firinne, and through the iron bars she took Firinne’s hand. Sadness was overwhelming her face. Her breathing was short.

“Did they hurt you Mum? Are you okay?”

“I’m fine. I was caught off guard and knew it wasn’t wise to fight them. Tell me what happened.”

“One of the guards told me that Cyneric was down at the tavern, and had been in a fight. I took two guards with me. When we got there, Cyneric was in one of the rooms upstairs…with Triphosa. They’re both devoted to The Blacken, Mum. They had been planning to overtake us since they came into our lives!”

“Oh Firinne…I’m so, so sorry. I know how much you loved both of them. Triphosa was like a daughter to me. I can’t believe they did this to you…to us.”

“No, I’m sorry…I was blind. This is all my fault! I should have seen the signs…I did see the signs, at least with Cyneric. I just didn’t…want to believe it.”

Auralia put her hand gently, under Firinne’s chin. “There is nothing you could’ve done. They had deep roots in our home. Don’t blame yourself….It’s already done, Fir. There’s no sense in dwelling on it.”

Firinne put her head down. She whispered. “And they killed Imphius…there was nothing I could do…he was…at the top of the staircase. I tried to call out to him but he didn’t respond, not even a flinch Mum. It was like…like he was possessed or something. He jumped off the staircase and hung himself. Triphosa and Cyneric were right there…just after…”

“He would have never done something like this…Oh, Imphius.”

“I tried to save him, but my spectralin was too weak.”

“Let me see,” Auralia said, and took Firinne’s hand. She closed her eyes for a moment. “No, it was not you who failed him. I can feel your strength. The Blacken must have blocked you.”

“We have to tell the children. They’re going to wonder where he is.” Firinne said.

“I will tell them. First, we need to sort out the plan.”

“What plan?”

“Your escape…you are the only chance we have of getting word out to the surrounding castles of what has happened. We need support.”

“Why me?”

“Well, aside from you being clever and strong…It just so happens that you ended up in the room next to mine. Your room has…secrets.” She smiled.

It was just like her mother to pull her from the depths of hopelessness. Firinne had a horrible habit of introverting into herself, allowing herself to get lost in the chaos of her emotions. It was in this cathartic chaos, that captivity would occur. She would feel as though the only way to escape the pain was to peel her skin off — to let the bits of madness escape. Firinne felt far more than she wanted to. It was her burden — the burden of feeling.

Auralia took a deep breath. “Long ago, when Citrine Castle was built, our ancestors created an underground labyrinth to provide an escape if the castle was ever seized by enemies. There are several entrances to the tunnels within the castle, but perhaps the cleverest of all is in the room you are sitting in. You have a way out of here. You must use it before the Desideriums come back to check on us.”

“But if I leave all of you, who knows what’ll happen. Surely they will blame all of you for my escape. There will be nothing I can do to protect any of you.”

“There is nothing that you can do to protect us. Our best chance is for you to find the nearest Kingdom and persuade them to aid us.”

“But what if I return and all of you are dead?”

“Firinne, if you return and we are all dead…then you must rebuild. You cannot dwell on things that are out of your control. You can’t live in the unknown, or you will go mad. You can do this. I raised you and prepared you for a lot of things…this is one of them. I have full faith in you. You are mine, and you are strong. One day, you will realize that.”

This wasn’t the first time that Auralia had spoken similar words to her daughter. Since the Mist of Blacken had come to their world, Firinne had struggled against constant fear which would often leave her in bed, sick to her stomach. The fears would begin slow, and progress into irrational scenarios that Firinne could barely control. Her mother was always there to pull her back to present. The recent events were, of course, agitating every irrational fear she had ever conjured up in her mind because something that she would have thought was so unlikely to happen, did happen.

“Now, go over to the farthest corner from you and clear away the dirt. You should be able to see a difference of the color in the bricks compared to the ones that surround them.” Auralia said.

Firinne moved slowly, afraid to make a sound. She gently wiped away the dirt, and saw that the bricks were a blend of Quartz and Citrine.

“The bricks are enchanted. They will only open to the Luxithanya bloodline. Do you have a pin in your hair?”

“Yes, why?” Firinne asked.

“Take it out and sharpen it on the stones. You will need to break through the skin on your finger. The bricks require your bloodline. When you are done with that, you will need to draw our insignia on the bricks with your blood.”

Firinne scraped her hair pin on the stones, trying to shape it to a sharp enough point on the end. She tested it with the tip of her finger, digging it deep into the thick skin. She winced at the pain. A pearl of blood formed at the tip of her finger and she began to draw.

This magic was ancient to their world. They had long ago abandoned it in the realization that their souls were fully capable of altering the elements. In the end, the magical ceremonies were reflected upon fondly as if it were a time of children in the midst of self-discovery. In drawing out the insignia, Firinne realized how amazing it was that this magic which was conjured centuries ago by her ancestors, still had such immense power.

The insignia had been completed. With four crystals rising outward from each other, — giving the illusion which appeared as though one was peeking over the tops of crystals which were growing upwards. In addition to that, four crescent moons guarded the roots of the crystals, giving strength to the foundation. The crescent moon was powerful, symbolizing death, darkness, light, and rebirth — cycles of the soul, and Fia.

“What do I do now?” Firinne asked.

“Every living creature requires air.”

Firinne lowered herself down to the floor, and gently blew across the top of the insignia. It happened slowly, but there began a faint glow which slowly turned into a bright shimmer of pink, white, and green light. Then the stones on the floor began dissipating. Once they were gone, there was a hole in the floor about three feet wide. Firinne glanced back at her mother with both amazement and sadness.

“You have to go now. We are running out of time, I can sense that they will be back any moment. Once you have passed through the opening, the stones will reappear. Get to the council at Archen Castle. Go!”

Firinne hesitated for only a moment to study her mother once more. She was landlocked in the desperation of her mother’s eyes — a hesitation that felt like centuries. Forcing herself through the binds of child-like devotion, she jumped down to the tunnel. Within a moment, the stones from above had reappeared.

Darkness.

It smelled of wet soil and minerals. The air was stale and moldy. Everything was silent other than her short breaths of panic. Firinne brought her fingers to a point, flicked her wrist, and unveiled a treasure hovering just above the palm of her hand.

Light.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

Life Cycle – Death Cycle

 

The Sun was falling slowly to the West. The forest was burning shadows of ashes across Firinne’s path. The golden hues of light were hallucinogenic in its partnership with her relentless trudging. It had been four or five days since she had escaped. She was beginning to feel disoriented. She thought that she should have arrived at Archen Castle earlier that day, so she was wondering if she had been turned in the wrong direction, although she could not recall her misstep.

All of her food was gone, so she had been surviving on roots, mushrooms, and the occasional fruit that she found while walking. The people had long given up eating Fia’s creatures once they had become aware that by doing so, they hindered their powers. It wasn’t just that, but they realized also just how awake the plants and animals really were. They could feel just as much as humans could. They could think with just as much complexity.

Nevertheless, if Firinne didn’t find something to eat soon, she would be forced to hunt and revert back to older ways. That thought just added to the already flourishing emotion that she had locked tightly behind her eyes. Her hand had been gripped tightly on the hilt of the sword she had found among the provisions left in the labyrinth, and there were now ornate indentations in her hand. She could feel the tension pulling at her spine.

She felt as if her legs would crumble into dust any moment now, sure that Fia would reclaim her fallen daughter. There, Firinne would stay, nestled between the soil and roots, cocooned in the coolness of a simpler life — after life.

At this moment, Firinne was reluctantly pulled from her trance by what sounded like a twig snapping not too far off in the distance. She dashed behind an unruly shrub, listening so intently that she almost forgot to breathe. Her heart raced at the thought of Desideriums lurking in the ashen shadows; just beyond the gold.

A little hum dropped down right next to her face, hovering there with it’s pygmy eyes fixed excitedly at her. Firinne gave it a scolding look and shooed it away. The silly thing is going to get me killed, she said to herself. But the Hum was persistent, and Firinne found herself nose to beak. She was overwhelmed with feelings of tenderness, and security, and a feeling that told her that she should follow the little Hum. So, stepping lightly, she followed the high pitched tickling sound of his wings towards a meadow. Just before the clearing, Firinne ducked down behind a large boulder. After a deep breath, she peeked around the side, waiting for movement.

Firinne sat there, her ears engaged, waiting for something — a rustle, movement — anything. There was only stillness other than the Hum who had spotted some Honeysuckles that had climbed its way up the boulder, and he was intent on the fresh nectar. After waiting a few more moments, Firinne slowly made her way to the edge of the boulder where it met the meadow. Just then, as if it had been waiting for her to conquer her fears, a stag galloped out into the clearing, stopping directly in front of Firinne — about ten feet away. Firinne was frozen instantly by the shock of it. Most of the majestic beasts had been slain by the Desideriums for their meat or their magical properties, so the few that remained hid away fearfully in the depths of the forest. And there, before her, was the most majestic beast she had ever seen.

His powerful muscles were covered in a blanket of chestnut brown which gradually darkened to his mane, just under is regal neck. And on top of his head, there was a chandelier of autumn colored antlers that were spread out like a throne. With fluidic grace, he knelt down and stretched the front of his body low to the ground — his head now lowered in her service. Firinne was lost in the depths of foreignness in his eyes, which seemed to enthrall her and terrify her. She couldn’t believe what she was seeing. Dumbfounded, she just stood there, alone in the meadow with the stag, not knowing what to do.

After a few minutes, the stag let out a short grunt and lowered his head even further to the ground. Slowly, Firinne made her way towards him. When she was just slightly out of arms reach, she put out her hand. The stag remained still until the last moment when he met (as if he were an old friend) the palm of her hand with his wet muzzle.

Firinne immediately felt reunited, as though she had known this creature her whole life. Gently, she put her foot on his leg and climbed her way up to his spine. She ran her hands down his mane, and she knew he was there to help her. The forest had guided her to him.

She took hold of his antlers, and slowly, with the immense power of the body beneath her, they made their way back to the path.

 

 

 

They had been walking for a while. It was almost nightfall now. They would need to camp at the next clearing and head towards the castle in the morning. Gently, she pulled the stag over to an opening in the forest. There, she found a circular clearing that was surrounded by boulders. It was the perfect place to rest. Firinne left the stag in the clearing so she could search for dry twigs.

Once the twigs were stacked, she began twisting the fingers of her right hand, dancing around the space just above her palm. Slowly, a small flame grew and she flicked it at the pile of twigs and watched as the flames began suffocating the dry twigs in warmth. Each time Firinne had done this since she had escaped, it took longer for her spectralin to grow, no matter how much she focused. She only hoped that there would not be any trouble the next day — she would have nothing more to rely on than her sword, and her stag. She thought about carving a stick to use as a wand, but that magic was so old, she hadn’t the slightest idea how to ensure it would work properly.

That night, Firinne hardly slept. She was being tormented by the past; haunted with relentlessly replayed scenarios: Cyneric’s soft lips on her quivering skin, the safety of his arms around her, running her hands through his thick hair. How could she miss someone who she didn’t actually know? But even now, as her world was crumbling all around her, he consumed her. Even now. Though he played the definitive role in her defeat, he had her love — still. How could she love someone who had almost destroyed her? Firinne thought to herself that she must be stupid, and weak. Yes, that’s it; I’m a stupid, weak waste of life.

 

 

Imphius, are you here? I need to talk to you.”

Over here. What’s the matter, Fir?”

It’s Cyneric. He’s run off again. I don’t know where he went.”

Oh dear.”

Why do I keep letting him do this to me? What purpose does it serve but to my own torment? He does whatever he pleases and doesn’t give a damn how it makes me feel!”

“…”

It’s as though he’s become a completely different person than the one that I grew up with, and it’s all happened overnight.”

Fir, some people change and some don’t. Then there are some people who never really were, but who are someone else entirely. You have to decide for yourself which one they are.”

Firinne was silent for a moment. “And what then if I don’t want to face the truth…his truth?”

Fir, my girl…you may not have a choice.”

 

 

A few hours later, Firinne woke up sweaty and out of breath. She had dreamed that Cyneric was crying to her that he loved her and was forced to betray her. Then, he was sucked off the ground by some invisible force. She watched as he disappeared in the sky; flying or falling farther and farther towards the stars.

 

 

 

 

The stag had been galloping all morning as if he knew the urgency their journey held.

“What’s your name, sweet beast?” Firinne said to him.

He slowed and perked his head up.

“Do you have a name? Or shall I bestow one upon you?”

His ear twitched.

“Let’s see then. You are my rescuer, leading me to my redemption. You are a glorious creature of the forest. You are Autumn. You are…” She said dramatically.

They came to a field that led out to a huge, grassy hill. Firinne heard a low, inaudible rumbling of men. Dismounting the stag (who still did not have a name), she pleaded with him to stay where he was, as she hiked up to the side of a hill. Crawling low to the ground, her field of view opened and she saw Desideriums, accompanied by their Demogorchians. They were managing seven siphoning contraptions, and filling huge stone barrels full of Fia’s blood. The whole operation was so loud and violent. Firinne could hear them breaking open the insides of Fia, and with every CRACK, Firinne would flinch as if in pain.

The Desideriums were finishing the morning’s work and were topping off the barrels, while others were packing up and organizing the Demogorchians. Some were being hitched to the huge metallic wagons that were carrying Fia’s blood, while others were being mounted by Desideriums. The Demogorchians were excited, which also made them even more dreadful.

Demogorchians were new to Fia, brought by the Mist of Blacken for labor, travel, and hunting. They were part organic, part mechanical. They fed off of Fia’s blood. When they were excited, they would release crippling screeches from jaws that were barely held on by rotted veins, and leathery skin. Arching the protruding bones of their shoulder-blades inward, they would screech over, and over again. It was a hypersonic scream that could either deafen someone or make someone collapse to their knees. They were programmable demons, given an unnatural intuition for the hunt.

Firinne waited silently in a controlled state of thoughtlessness (so not to be sensed) for the Desideriums and their repulsive beasts to leave. Finally, she watched the last wagon disappear on the horizon below, and she could move — and breathe.

 

 

 

The sun was behind them now, casting a shadow of Firinne and the stag on the soon-to-be-reached spaced ahead of them. The shadows of the stag’s antlers looked like spikes pointing to some unforeseen enemy. Firinne then realized that they were resting just under Archen Castle, shining brightly in the distance. Firinne drew an unmistakable deep breath. This was the end of a beginning — a new beginning to an end.

“You shall guide me through this darkness towards death, and rebirth, in all of your magnificence. You are the space in-between the beginning, and the end. You are Mabon.”

The stag held his head high — he had a name.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

The Doll House On Oppression Hill

 

Archen Castle was a huge fortress of Pine log poles. From a distance, it looked as if a giant had been stacking sticks to build a home for its doll, but the sticks ended up looking more like spears.

At the center of the town, there was a newly built Cryptoseum, built entirely out of marble, and dedicated solely to the Aldithenih faith. Quite purposefully, it was erected so that visitors and townspeople had to enter the Cryptoseum before they could visit Archen Castle itself, which lay protected in the middle of the kingdom.

As Firinne walked through the town with Mabon, she began to realize that everyone was staring at them. The women, heads down, concealed themselves fully. They were draped in a slightly transparent gray fabric, with white robes underneath. Every time Firinne made eye-contact with one of the women, they would turn away as though they were ashamed; ashamed of being a living thing that moved, and possibly also one who had breasts.

Firinne had heard stories of the Aldithenih towns, but she had never visited one. She remembered Auralia telling her about the restrictions placed on the women who were Aldithenians. They could no longer speak freely, dress the way that they wanted, or be — free. It was believed that women were only on Fia for procreation purposes. Once they had gone through the ceremony and dedicated themselves to their betrothed, given that man children, they were stuck in that life forever. Condemned to a life with no other purpose but to mother their children, look after their husband, and their home. If they tried to escape, they would be burned to ashes in the center of town.

Firinne realized that everyone probably considered her something like a wild beast — free to participate in life, in communion with demons. This reminded her of something Imphius had once told her: The thing about demons is that often times, the demon is far more convincing of innocence than the innocent, themselves.

There were no demons in nature and the only things that could empower a demon was blind, unquestioning submission — that, and fear.

Mabon led her through the crowds of spectrally, anesthetized prisoners, towards the cryptoseum. Once inside, it became hard for Firinne not to take an interest in the extensive sculptures that were found at every angle of the domed architecture. There were vivid scenes of demonic beasts snatching up naked women while their husbands were kneeling below, pleading in agony for her forgiveness. On another side, there was a lengthy sculpture of men walking, heads bowed in silence, before a faceless God sitting on a throne. This, Firinne knew, was a representation of the highest level of faith —believing in a God with no face, or history.

The followers of Aldithenih claimed that it was an ancient religion, and that their faceless God had halted the dark forces long enough to bring the truth back to the people of Fia. No one knew how it had happened, but there was now a book that was circulating through all the lands, telling the story of Aldithen – the savior. In the book, it was discussed that there was an invisible darkness trying to destroy their world and that in order to prevail, the people of Fia must live the way that Aldithen instructs — unquestioningly. It explains that mere mortals could not begin to understand the reasons for the instructions given, and, therefore, there should be no question of loyalty. According to the Aldithenih faith: drinking the blood of Fia should be a nightly ceremony, the Desideriums were needed for the great work, The Mist of Blacken is Aldithen’s spy, mortals should refrain from spectralin practice, humans are superior to animals — on and on it went.

Aldithenih was only beginning to be established years before the Mist of Blacken came but because it was prophesied in the Book of Relics, everyone took it as a sign that the Golden War had begun. This is the moment when the extreme separation between fractions of Fians occurred, and it was why Firinne was being closely observed, and probably judged, by the townspeople.

She could feel the energy tightening around her, but she could not tell if it was being emitted from the people or the cryptoseum. Whichever the case, the sooner she got through to the castle grounds, the better.

Once out of the cryptoseum, she came to the inner gates that were guarding the castle within.

“Please explain your business at Archen Castle.” Said the guard.

“I seek an audience with the Order of Epochs.”

“Please take a seat in the hallway to your left. Someone will meet with you shortly.”

Reluctantly, Firinne walked with Mabon towards the outdoor hallway. It was quite desolate, but she thought it might be better to not clog the hallway with her quite huge stag. She shifted impatiently from one foot to the next as the minutes passed by one another. Time felt slower here, what with its sterile attitude towards nature and humanity. It was as if she had stepped into some untouched, untainted sanctuary — everything perfectly in its place, and everything completely unnatural.

Finally, she heard the huge metal locks of the gate grind against each other. A small, frail-looking man in his mid-thirties approached her. The look on his face indicated to her that he was surprised to find her uncovered; her womanly silhouette testing his primal desires. It was clear that he had long been used to the usual Archen attire.

“Welcome to Archen Castle. Please state the intention of your visit.” As he said this, Firinne noticed that he was having a hard time looking at her as if his eyes were trying to escape a visual that would cause internal bloodshed within their owner.

“I seek an audience with the Order of Epochs.”

“What would be the subject of your audience?” His voice was very lifeless — rehearsed.

“My Queendom has been infiltrated. I seek immediate assistance.”

“I see. Firstly, you will need to make an appeal to King Gryndon. If the king approves your request, he will schedule audience with the Order for you.”

Firinne hadn’t planned on this. In fact, she hadn’t planned on any of this. This was all very new territory for her. If the King was anything like the town he ruled over, there may be no point to this visit. On the other hand, if Firinne explained to him what happened, he might comprehend the seriousness of it, and grant her permission.

“I understand, please take me to the king right away.”

“As you wish.” He then signaled to the guards to open the gate, “this way.”

The inside of the castle was stale. Firinne was left standing in a line of villagers (all waiting for their turn with the king) for what seemed like nearly two hours. She was exhausted from traveling all week and her feet were screaming at her. She hoped that Mabon was okay by himself in the waiting area where she had left him. He wasn’t used to the crowds of people.

Finally, the last villager returned from unknown appeals to the king. A guard then indicated to Firinne that it was now her turn. Inside the throne room, the King and Queen were seated next to each other in their matching thrones made of pine and iron. The Queen was barely visible behind the drapes of cloth that were suffocating her body. Firinne reflected, that the Queen’s wrought-iron crown, regardless of how ornately designed it was, resembled the shackles of a prisoner; perhaps she was. Was that crown the cause for both her ignorance and her oppression?

The king spoke. “What is the reason for your appeal?” He was a grumpy, rugged sort of man. His tone left Firinne feeling even less optimistic.

“King Gryndon, I have come from a distant Queendom to seek your assistance. Citrine Castle has been taken by the enemy. The nobles are being held prisoners in the dungeons. I fear for the safety of my people, and respectfully request your aid, as well as an audience with the Order of Epochs.”

“I am well aware of the current situation at Citrine Castle.” He said as he rubbed his hands over the stubble on his face.

There was a silence that rang out harshly after his words. Firinne wasn’t sure if she should speak. Her mind was racing. How was it that the king knew already of the situation?

“With respect, your majesty, have you already sent help to them?” Firinne said, cautiously.

“Of course not! It is none of my concern what the misfortune of another Kingdom is. I have my own Kingdom to worry about. You should worry about yourself.”

Firinne was dumbfounded. “Firstly, your highness, that place you are speaking of is a Queendom, not a Kingdom. Secondly, if you want to spit your regal lineage in my face, you ought to first know who it is you are speaking to. I am Firinne Celeste Luxithanya, Second Queen of Citrine Castle, and Extant Crystal Keeper.”

She could see the shock on his face before his words, which she guessed would not be of harmony.

“My apologies Queen, my advisors did not notify me of your arrival.”

“Most likely because they did not bother to ask.” She spat back.

“Yes…I will speak with them.”

“I’m sure…”

“I am deeply sorry for the current state of your Queendom, but as I have said, I am fully aware of the situation. There is nothing I can do.”

“Can, or will do?”

“Queen Firinne, all of the surrounding castles were informed of the situation prior to the siege—

“What? All of you knew and not one of you came to warn us, or help us?”

“I cannot speak for the others, but I was informed from a particular source that I cannot disclose to you, that the siege of Citrine Castle is the will of Aldithen. That, my queen, is something we cannot interfere with.”

By now, Firinne was most certainly shedding all of the composure that she had arrived with. “And did anyone bother to explain why the faceless God required my Queendom, or why he could not simply have…asked?”

“Mere mortals do not question the will of Aldithen. He is our God and we have nothing but faith in him.”

“Once again…the darkness, no one knows why Aldithen does what he does but everyone must accept it, for he knows more than our feeble little minds could fathom. Well, he is not my God, and I will reclaim my Queendom…with or without your help. When can I speak with the Order?”

Gryndon was looking sideways as the conversation now, clearly uncomfortable. “I…I will speak with my advisors. I will tell them to speak to the Order of Epochs on your behalf, to set up a convenient time for you to have an audience with them. In the meantime, I will make a room ready for you. Please join us for dinner this evening. It would be our honor.”

“Well, your advisors know my name now, hopefully, they will remember it.” Firinne bowed, turned and walked away without another word to the King and his silent Queen of persecution.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

Feast of Lies

 

The scents of the oils were almost tranquilizing once they made acquaintance with her cerebellum. The water was warm, comfortably drowning her aching body. This moment was peaceful, or it would have been had it not been for the elaborately angry conversations she was having between her, and herself.

There was no ignoring the altercation between her, and the King. Every time she thought about it, she relived it over again. Only, the relived conversation would consist of new dialogue by which Firinne would say all of the things that she should have said. Things like: wake of your ignorance, and I hope you burn. Perhaps what infuriated her the most was how he ended their conversation. It was just like an Aldithenian to downplay the situation, belittle the opponent, and then offer kindness following cruelness to justify their stance. His stance had absolutely no foundation, it was maddening. Then, to add that she had to (generally speaking) keep her mouth shut, in order for there to be any chance of returning to Citrine Castle with reinforcements. It was no wonder she found herself unable to relax. Now, in order for her to eat, she would have to attend dinner which would no doubt include all of the traditional pre-feast Aldithenih dogma. She wasn’t sure, at all, if she could handle it, but she supposed that she would (as usual) have no choice.

Just as she was in the middle of an intense, and moderately violent altercation with the King, there was a knock at the door. One of the castle’s servants cautiously popped her head through the crack of the door. Her hand was in front of her face as if she was afraid her eyeballs might be scorched by Firinne’s naked body. She said something in the most docile voice, that only, maybe, the mice could hear.

Firinne threw her head back in exacerbation. “For goodness…will you speak up! I can’t hear a damn thing you’re saying. There is no Aldithenih rule forbidding women to speak at a normal speaking volume.”

The servant gasped. “So…so, sorry my Queen. I was sent to inform you that Grand Master Bricius will be attending evening’s feast and he hopes to see you.” She shut the door before Firinne could say anything else, probably from fear that Firinne would unleash her witchy powers upon her.

So he’s here, she thought to herself. Uncle Bricius wasn’t an easy man to convince, especially when it came to defiance of the faith. But surely, he would insist on the safety of his sister, at the very least?

She felt claustrophobic. She felt filthy even despite her bath. She hated this castle and nearly everyone in it. She refused to pity any of them, even if the women acted like victims — little mice, hiding away in the shadows. Afraid to speak, afraid to breathe. Rise up little mice, rise up to the lions that tame you. If only they would unite with one another and find their strength. Oh, the strength a thousand little mice could have. But they weren’t just mice, they were sleeping mice. Oblivious to their oppression, they sought refuge within it. They clung to their lions and obeyed. Oh, how they obeyed. It was a grand circus of illusion, laughing off the questions in their heads, ignoring the pain with their religious dogma.

If only they could feel the wind, breathe the sweetness. If only they could see the beauty of the forests. To hear the cries of Fia, the true victim. All in time, all in time — Firinne had to believe that.

 

Down in the kitchen, the women were busy preparing for the feast. The king’s advisor had delivered a list of all of the dishes that the king expected to be served at the feast. The women were in sheer panic at all of the work they needed to do in such a short time.

The King’s 9th master, Dorrin Clavorn came in. “I want silence in here, do you hear me? Every dish on that list had better be made, all of ‘em satisfactory to the king, or I’ll have your hide. Fasting ‘aint over either, none you better touch a crumb’o this food.”

“Beg your pardon Master Clavorn, but I thought that fasting was to be over last night?” Said one of the covered servants.

“Did I say I was takin’ questions? I have decided to extend the fasting for another three days if that’s a’right with you? Keep to your cookin’.” He proceeded to kick a bucket of potatoes, which went flying into the air, hitting one of the women in the small of her back. He watched in relish, as her knees buckled beneath her.

After Master Clavorn had left, promptly slamming the door, the women began to turn their heads to one another.

“How does he expect us to work like this when we’re so weak we can barely stand?”

Another woman said, “I understand we must fast for Aldithen so that we may be pure for him, but why has the master extended the fasting period?”

“Yeah, what purpose does it serve?” another said.

Old Narcilla now spoke. “Hush girls! You do not question the King’s masters. You do not question the faith. Aldithen knows all, sees all. It is not for us to judge or to question.”

One of the girls fainted, hitting her head on the stone floor. Unconscious.

 

 

Dinner was going just as she had imagined that it would. She felt like a foreigner, not of another land but of another world.

They began the feast with an obscure ceremony, the purpose of which, was to give thanks to Aldithen for the food that would soon be served. Firinne felt that this was ludicrous. Aldithen had nothing to do with the food. Gratitude should be given to Fia, not some imaginary God. After the ceremony, the extravagant dishes were brought out by the hands of the servant women who had cooked them, rather than floating to the tables, something that would have been far less unusual to Firinne.

She could not see the faces of the servants, but she did notice that they were very shaky as they poured Fia’s blood into the iron goblets. Firinne was disgusted but mustered herself to politely request juice. It appeared that everyone found her simple request offensive, for immediately after, they broke into whispered fits among themselves.

There were about twenty people sitting at this table. Firinne only knew a few of them; the King and Queen, one of the King’s advisors, and her Uncle, Bricius. Bricius had only given her a small nod when she had approached the feast. He looked tattered. His face was sunken in and there were puffy, dark circles which rested comfortably beneath his irritated eyes. He looked much different from the last time that she had seen him, about five years ago.

After being discretely gawked at through the main course, someone finally spoke to Firinne. It was a woman, probably slightly younger than her own mother. She was very regal. Her hair was pulled tightly in a bun, but her face was not hidden like most of the women on the grounds of Archen Castle. She was wearing a gown of fine, plum colored silk, with bits of silver embroidered around her neckline.

“It appears that everyone has failed to introduce this table to our guest. What is your name dear girl?”

“I am Firinne Luxithanya, Second Queen of Citrine Castle.”

There were unmistakable murmurs amongst all of the distinguished dinner guests. Firinne thought she even heard someone gasp — from shock or disgust, she did not know.

“I have visited your Queendom, though it was a very long time ago, I must say that it is very beautiful. What brings you so far from home?”

Firinne didn’t feel like this was the sort of crowd she should be giving the privilege of details to. “Forgive me, may I ask your name? I don’t believe we have met before.”

“Yes, I tried to persuade Bricius to introduce me to the Queens the last time we were at Citrine Castle but he…it has been a struggle.”

At this, Bricius shot the woman a sideways glance. Was that panic, or irritation?

The woman could tell that Firinne was confused, and she didn’t pay any notice to Bricius. “Yes, this must be very confusing for you. Bricius and I had our ceremony about six years ago. My name is Etheldra. It is a pleasure to finally meet my niece! Bricius never mentioned how beautiful you are.” She patted Bricius’s arm lightheartedly.

Firinne looked at her Aunt, the stranger, and back to Bricius. “Uncle, would you—

Bricius had anticipated her and cut her off swiftly by asking some angry, dirty looking man about one of the dishes that had been served.

Dorrin Clavorn answered. “Oh, that? That’s an Archen dish. It’s got rabbit hearts, apples an’ some other things I can’t remember. The girls in there cook pretty good, so long as yeh stay on ‘em.”

 

 

Firinne was now pacing the halls, waiting to spot her Uncle. She was determined to corner him and demand an explanation for his secretive union. Her Uncle had never been very open about his personal life but she had never expected that he would hide something that relevant to his life, from his niece, and his sister. He clearly didn’t want them to know of his union to Etheldra. Firinne wanted to know why.

She paced back and forth on the smooth marble surface. Every time a door opened, she looked up eagerly, hoping to see her uncle. So far, it had only been straggling numbers of attendants who would look back at her in pure suspicion. She didn’t care what they thought of her. She was not here to receive their acceptance.

Another door opened. It was her Uncle this time. He approached her wearing a smile of indifference. “It is good to see you, Firinne. How are you? How was the journey?”

“Listen Uncle. I don’t have the time or the temper to indulge in formalities. How is it that you’ve been in union for near a decade and I am just now finding out about it?”

His face tightened. “I’m sorry if I have made you feel in-the-dark. It was not my intention.”

Firinne stood there, staring at her Uncle. She was waiting for him to finish his thought. After a few unbearable seconds of silence, she realized he wasn’t going to elaborate. “Right. Hopefully, I won’t feel the need to remind you that we are family, after what I am about to discuss with you. Your sister is in danger.” Her words hung in the air. She was expecting his face to change. She was counting on the panic in his voice, but it never came.

“I know. The King made me aware of it shortly after you arrived. There is nothing I can do for her—

“What do you mean there is nothing you can do for her?”

“We cannot interfere with the plans of Aldithen.”

“This is not the work of your beloved God! Triphosa and Cyneric have betrayed my Queendom. They are working with the Mist of Blacken.”

“Whatever you may think about this situation, you have been mistaken. It is time you let go of your old beliefs and put your faith where it belongs.”

“Don’t you dare tell me where I should put my faith!” She could feel the color on her cheeks. “Do you not understand what I, your niece, is telling you? They have Auralia in the dungeons!”

“It is all a part in the plan Firinne. I will not discuss this with you any further.”

Firinne stood there, glaring at Bricius. She could hardly believe his stupidity. “Then I will take it up with the Order.”

“The king has denied your request for an audience with the Order.”

“You’ve got to be…this is…I cannot believe you! Your sister is sitting in the dungeons, guarded by Desideriums. They killed Imphius and you’ll have nothing to do with it? That was once your home as well. Our relationship has been fragile ever since your allegiance to the Aldithenih faith but you’ve gone too far! I came here for help. I can see that there is no reason for me to stay.”

“Don’t leave. Stay here where you are safe.”

“This isn’t safety Bricius…it’s a prison of ignorance and submission. You’re just too damn naive to see it.”

She walked away knowing that her uncle wouldn’t chase after her. It occurred to her that she hadn’t even put her whole heart into that discussion. She had known from the beginning, somewhere deep inside, that it was a waste of energy. She had to find another way — she hadn’t the slightest idea how.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER ELEVEN

Convulsions

 

After innumerable attempts to sleep, Firinne decided that her restful desires were utterly pointless. She was too troubled to sleep. Her mind was racing back and forth, looming together angry thoughts, which left no room for ideas to thread themselves together. Maybe it was out of spite, or perhaps just child-like curiosity, whatever it was, she decided that while she was forced to be awake, she should ensure that the time was well used. She was going to explore the castle. She took the large crystal from her traveling sack which instantly became warm as it lit up between the palms of her hands.

She hadn’t the faintest idea where she was going, or what she hoped to discover. The marble was cold on her feet. The only sounds in the seemingly endless hallways were the sticky sounding, pat pat, of her footsteps. Sealed doors passed by her. There were so many of them. What secrets had they hidden away? As Firinne passed door after door, she began to feel silly. What was the meaning of this defiant-driven exploration, if she was too scared to open any of the doors?

She was just thinking that maybe she should turn back, admit defeat, and get back to thought looming when she turned down a stumpy corridor. At the end were two mahogany, twin doors. They were completely different from any other door she had seen at the castle — out of place amongst a characterless environment.

She inched her way towards them, as if they were living creatures who might wake with a scream, announcing to the Archen guards that Firinne had been a naughty girl, out exploring in the middle of the night; a guest no less!

Her fingers slid gently down the coarse surface, each hand on a door until they met twin, glass knobs. I must be out of my mind, she whispered. Slowly, she cracked the door. She couldn’t tell how big the room was. There was only a sliver of moonlight flowing in the vast, black air before her. Deciding that if the room was occupied, the occupants were surely asleep, she flung a small, milky ball of spectralin light from the palm of her hand, to the ceiling above. It stopped in mid-air, about twenty feet above Firinne, and made slow, tiny orbits in the empty space surrounding it. It was after about five orbits, that she realized there were shelves stacked from floor to ceiling with books.

As Firinne entered the room, it came alive. From where she stood, to the wall opposite of her, candles — hundreds of them, sparked tiny flames as if they were welcoming her presence. She had never seen so many books in her life. Imphius had worked hard to build the Citrine Library back to its former majesty (after Desideriums had been ordered to destroy it) but even before the destruction, their collection of books seemed mediocre compared to the countless, bound parchments that were stacked smartly on the shelves before her.

Then she noticed that there was a lonely desk in the heart of the room. As Firinne came nearer, she could see that the desk looked elderly. The wood was so exhausted, it was almost black which made the gold trimmings seem un-aged. As she pulled the chair out to seat herself, all of the shelves in the room began echoing thumping noises, as though the books were applauding her courage — begging to make her acquaintance, and share their secrets. She sat down like a child on the first day of academy, and as she did so, there was silence.

There was a small plaque on the desk. The words that were engraved into it were covered in a thick layer of dust. As she wiped the dust away, she read the words:

 

We are all born blind,

Seek and you shall find.

For hidden deep inside;

things — endlessly unknown.

Let it brew — fear, fault, question.

Ask us once, we shall never lie.

Ask us before dawn should

Break the sky.

Die not without ever having known,

What whispers of ink,

Need comfort your soul.

 

A riddle? Just then, there was a flapping sound of parchment above her. A blue book was fluttering towards her. Softly, it landed on the desk and became quite still. Firinne flipped through the pages. The book appeared to be instructions on the cleverest way to solve simple and complex riddles.

These books were capable of reading her mind. Then, the little blue book apparently realized that it was no longer needed because it took flight again, in a very flustered way, and found its shelf again.

Firinne was feeling suddenly awake. Her life was littered with conflict, and she had just discovered a very simple way to solve some of her most pressing issues. The next book that landed on the desk was a book all about lock-picking. Maybe this wasn’t as simple as she had thought it would be.

She put her hands on her head. “Citrine Castle has been overtaken by evil. I need to figure out a way to take back my Queendom and rescue my mother.” Nothing moved, other than what appeared to be the book on the table throwing a tantrum (if books could throw fits) which ended by nearly smacking Firinne in the face as it flew back to its shelf. “Well, this isn’t going well” she muttered to herself. “Maybe that was too broad of a question? Focus. Think simple.” She stared for a while through the window towards the moon. She didn’t need to say anything out loud but she did anyway. “The life of Fia and the lives of all her creatures are in trouble…we need to save Fia.” After all, that was the root of it. It wasn’t just Citrine Castle, her mother, or the corruption at Archen Castle. There were surely problems that Firinne wasn’t even aware of.

At first, there was nothing but silence following the echo of her own voice. She put her head down, thinking to herself that it was useless when she heard the friction of pages. On the highest shelf to the right of her, there was a group of books circling around each other, appearing to consult one another. Another book flew down and joined. After about five minutes of this, books had come and then gone, there were three books that floated towards the lonely desk and its troubled student. They landed softly on the desk and stacked themselves neatly on top of each other. They were bound in leather which indicated their age, as people of Fia had stopped using animals for such things long ago.

Gently, she grasped the book on the top. It was beautiful. There were swirls of gold engravings on the crimson front cover. As she opened the book, a smell of antiquity blessed her senses. She traced her fingers down the soft pages and read:

 

Kristellis Spectralli.

Prophesy of The Clandestine Guardians

 

Below, there was a cluster of crystals sketched out in ink. Firinne began flipping to the next page and for a moment, the page was littered with fine, ink letters but before she could read any of it, they slowly started to fade away. After this, the rest of the book was blank. Hastily, she grabbed the next book. This book was dark blue with silver engravings. The first-page read, Currantus Electrolifi. Below was another ink sketch depicting lightning trapped in orbs. As with the first book, all of the pages were blank. The third book was white with black engravings. Sonicus Leviti, apparently another prophesy given by The Clandestine Guardians, depicts objects in a forest, floating in mid-air. Firinne didn’t understand. Why had all of the pages disappeared? What use were they if they were blank?

Exhaustion had begun to set in. She had had enough. She stood up with her traveling bag (which she resolved to carry with her at all times now) hanging by her side. She grabbed her crystal and turned to leave. There was a loud crash as the books on the table spread themselves out and simultaneously banged themselves down on the desk.

Once the books knew (if books could know) that they had gotten her attention, they lifted themselves from the desk and formed a line at the same level as her bag hung at her side. One by one, the books nestled themselves into her bag. Surely she would be in unknowable trouble for taking books, especially ones as ancient as these, from this room. Yet, she couldn’t help but now feel a certain kinship with these books. It was as if they wanted to befriend her. She didn’t know what use they would be, but surely there was a reason for their insistence. She gave a final look to the cathedral of books in thanks and headed to the twin doors for the journey back to her chambers.

As she opened the door, she almost fell backward from shock. There was a little, old woman standing in front of the door.

“I’m so sorry to startle you dear. I couldn’t sleep and thought I would do a bit of reading” the old woman said.

“No, really it was my fault. I should have been more careful.” This was silly of course because how could she have known that someone was trying to enter the room just as she was leaving, especially at this hour.

“It’s nothing, dear. It’s such a fantastic room isn’t it?” said the old woman.

“Oh…yes, I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“Well, you wouldn’t have would you? It’s the only one of its kind.”

“Amazing! Well, I better be going now…it’s late. Sorry again… about that.” Firinne turned to leave.

“You know…I would much rather have someone to talk to in these late hours. How about if you join me in my chambers for some tea? I’ve got an old family blend you might appreciate.”

“Oh…well, yes, tea does sound nice,” Firinne said.

Firinne walked with the woman down the sleepy corridors. She noticed that the old woman hobbled when she walked. Most old women hobbled a bit, she supposed, but there was something unnatural to it, and she couldn’t quite place what it was. Her hair was pure silver, it curled down the hunch of her back. Her face was stocky, wrinkled, and sweet. Once they had passed Firinne’s chambers, she looked back a little reluctant to continue.

“Oh, it’s not much farther now. We just have to go down this bit of staircase up here.”

The staircase was narrow. Firinne wondered why anyone would put such a feeble old woman in a downstairs chamber. There were plush seats in the center of the room, surrounding a fire. The woman instructed Firinne to sit and make herself comfortable. Firinne felt awkward but did not want to be rude, and so she obeyed. The woman began pouring a mixture of herbs into a cloth sack. After that, she filled a copper kettle with water, and the herbs and hung it from a hook over the fire.

“So, tell me your name dear girl.”

“Firinne.”

“Wonderful to stumble upon you in the darkness” she smirked. “I’m Ednas”.

Firinne smiled back.

“So what brings you to Archen?”

“Business with my Uncle…” She dodged.

Ednas looked almost offended that Firinne had not elaborated. Firinne was beginning to feel like everyone at Archen put their nose where it didn’t belong.

Perfect timing. The kettle started screaming over the flames, begging for rescue. Ednas took two iron cups from the shelf and filled them.

“Would you like any blood?” asked Ednas.

Often, they (Blood of Fia drinkers) replaced honey, stevia, syrup, and sugar with Fia’s blood because of it’s thick, molasses-like consistency and taste. “Oh no…thank you.” She said this as politely as she could, although she was immediately disgusted.

“Very well. I don’t have anything else sweet, though. Will this be okay?”

“Yes, of course, thank you.”

“It’s an old family recipe — been with us for generations.”

“What’s in it?”

“Oh, I could never tell. I have been sworn to secrecy.” She smiled again as she lifted the cup to her nose and breathed deeply.

Firinne did the same. Chamomile, Peppermint, Sage, Ginger, Lemongrass…there was something else. What was it? Clove? No, that wasn’t right. It was so familiar, but Firinne couldn’t place it. Firinne moved the cup to her lips, about to take a drink when it finally hit her. It wreaked of Lupine. She panicked inside, but this had obviously been purposeful. She couldn’t let Ednas know. She faked just one sip and lowered the cup back down to her lap. Lupine was a beautiful purple flower. It grew wild in the fields and as lovely as it looked, it was deathly poisonous.

Firinne looked at Ednas with delight. “Oh, that is lovely. It’s very smooth when it goes down.”

“Isn’t it though. Really comforts the right spots on late nights.”

“Indeed…listen, thank you so much for your company and the tea. I really must be going now. I’m very tired.”

“Oh dear, just stay long enough to drink your tea. Indulge an old woman, would you?”

“No, I’m sorry…I can’t. I have a very filled day tomorrow and I’ve just remembered something I have to do before I go to bed.” Firinne stood and put her cup back on the shelf next to the fire. “Thanks again” she muttered quickly as she turned to leave the room.

In a moment, Ednas had crossed the distance between them and was now inches from her face. Firinne stepped back and pulled her hands to her face. Ednas’ eyes were completely blacked out. She was standing up straight and moving towards Firinne with every step back she took.

“I didn’t mean to upset you…I just…I really need to go to bed.”

Ednas said nothing.

“Please…I don’t want to…”

Ednas was cornering her. She didn’t know what to do. Without thinking of the ramifications, she flicked her wrist and revealed to Ednas a little ball of spectralin. As she did, Ednas began to cower like a child, yet still determined to keep a black eye on Firinne. Firinne slowly made her way around the room and back towards the door. She never put her back on Ednas. She continued to hold out the ball of spectralin as a warning of what she was capable of.

Ednas appeared to be having convulsions. With every move near Firinne, her body twitched into morbid angles — distorted — slow motion. Then, Ednas’ mouth flew open and black mist flew out of her mouth. It stretched itself across the room like vines. There was a deafening guttural scream like there was liquid in her throat. Firinne ran towards the stairs. One step after the other, in the tiny corridor. Behind her, Ednas was after her, in convulsing movements of speed and slow motion. Firinne could hear her nails, like claws, scrape the marble behind her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWELVE

A Means To An Escape

 

Her feet were smacking hard against the floor but her torso was taking the lead. She had to get to her room. For some reason, that was the only place she felt she would be safe. She could hear Ednas’ breathing following close behind her, raspy and hollow. The harder Firinne ran, the longer the corridor seemed to be. It stretched out farther ahead of her. She could barely see her chamber door.

Then, she was there. She slammed the door behind her. Her back resting against the opposite side of the door. She double-checked to make sure she had locked it, she had. Seconds passed. She was waiting for the door to crash in, or scraping at the door — something — nothing.

Minutes passed over her gasps which lasted seconds.

Knock, knock, knock. Slowly, Firinne turned to face the door. She turned the latch off of the eagduru, hesitated for a moment, as she opened the little miniature door. She let her eyes adjust through the iron grate. Ednas was standing in front of Firinne’s door.

“Hello dear. You’ve just dropped your hair pin in the corridor, just there.” She looked behind her in indication. As she turned, Firinne noticed black mist rise from the base of the old woman’s skull. Her face was twitching, and Ednas didn’t seem to notice. “Are you okay dear, you look like you’re in a state of shock?”

“Oh! Yes…I’m fine. Yes, thank you. If you could just push it under the door. I haven’t got any clothes on at the moment.” To herself, she prayed that this wouldn’t raise suspicion.

“Alright, my dear, have a lovely night. Do get some sleep won’t you. I hope you enjoyed my tea. I’m sure I will see you again.”

“Yes, thank you. It was lovely. Good night then…” Firinne watched as Ednas walked back down the corridor. She pried herself from the door only after she had confirmed that the corridor was empty — several times.

She could hardly grasp what had just taken place. Yet, she didn’t know why she should be so surprised. Scared, yes. Surprised, no. This Mist of Blacken, after all, was successful in taking captive the Desideriums, so why not Ednas? It was as if Ednas hadn’t even had the slightest indication of what had just happened. That couldn’t have been an act. No, she was definitely taken, momentarily, by the Mist. She had to have been. So if Ednas could be taken, why not anyone? Why not Firinne? Why not…Cyneric! Was it possible? She was pacing now. Maybe she was just latching onto any excuse not to believe that Cyneric was the monster she hoped he wasn’t? She was dizzy.

 

 

 

 

Firinne woke up early. She had hardly slept the night before. Every hour, it seemed, she would wake up from dreams of running down the corridor. At the end, every door would open into something different. The first door was a forest that was on shaking. The second door was complete opened into a field with bolts of lightning raining down on Fia, and so on. Eventually, she gave up trying to sleep once she saw that the sky was lightening. She decided that she would go visit Mabon.

Mabon was down by the stables. At first glance, Firinne still couldn’t believe that he had chosen her. She felt inferior next to him, and honored. He was standing a little ways off from the stables; disassociating himself from the horses.

“Mabon, how’re you?” she slid her hand down his chin, to his chest. He bowed his head briefly; in thanks. “I don’t like it here either. We’ll leave soon. I promise. How about a brushing?”

His hair was coarse and matted. After a good hour of brushing, she stepped back. He was reborn. His whole body gleamed in the sunlight. There were hints of gold that Firinne hadn’t noticed before. She kissed him on the bridge of his muzzle.

A hand rested gently on her shoulder. She turned to find Etheldra standing behind her.

“Would you like to go on a walk with me?” Etheldra said.

“Is there a place to walk, around here?”

Etheldra chuckled and said, “I know what you mean. Surprisingly, they do have a garden. It’s not nearly as impressive as Citrine’s though.” She winked and locked arms with Firinne.

Together, they walked through the outer corridor. Once at the end, it opened up into a wooded area. At odd distances, scattered from each other, were carved out areas of soil with flowers of various kinds. Firinne thought that it was just like this new kind of humanity, to destroy the natural beauty of Fia with generic, man-made beauty. Why couldn’t they just leave her alone? Why did they have to try to fix something that wasn’t ever broken? By doing so, they break her.

“Your stag is beautiful. I’ve never seen one so close before.” Said Etheldra.

“He’s not mine. He chose me. If anything, I suppose I am his.”

“That’s remarkable! When did he choose you?”

“On my way here…”

“How did it happen?”

Firinne stopped and looked Etheldra in the eyes. “Why does it matter? Aren’t such beasts below you? Below Aldithenih?”

“Well, you’re right about that. I’m not like them, though.” She gestured behind her.

“No offense, but you are in union with my Uncle. How could you not be?”

“Things aren’t always as they appear, Firinne. Despite what Bricius might have told you, I didn’t choose this. I didn’t have a choice. So now, I just play my part.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean that I am not one of them. I just play the ‘good, little Aldithenian’. I stay faithful to your Uncle and in return…well, I’m safe.”

“That seems like a pretty miserable existence.” Firinne was in no mood to sympathize.

“It is. In fact, I’m growing tired of it. When I met Bricius…well, I was in a really bad place. The only way out was him. So I made a desperate decision. I try on a daily basis to convince myself that I made the right choice. Of course, if I hadn’t…well, I’d probably be dead.”

“Why?”

“Did your Uncle tell you where we met?”

“No, he doesn’t tell me anything. Isn’t that apparent?”

“Right. He was sent to Castle Blacken on Aldithenih commands….”

Firinne just stared at her. “No…you were at Castle Blacken?”

Etheldra nodded. “Like I said, fight or flight.”

“I don’t understand how they justify the atrocities that happen at that place. I mean, everyone hears the stories…of what the Desideriums are permitted to do.”

“Like I said…I’m not like them.”

Firinne was fuming as the pieces added up in her head. “And so what, my Uncle made a deal with the lords because he fancied you?”

“Basically.”

“Typical…I’m sorry you went through that.”

Etheldra shrugged. “Don’t be. I don’t blame you and contrary to my moaning about life, I am better off here than I was there.”

“But Bricius is my blood, it’s personal. I almost feel responsible.” Firinne was ashamed.

“Sometimes, blood isn’t as thick as we think.”

“I suppose…”

“So, I’ve opened up a bit about myself. Now, will you please tell me how Mabon chose you?” she smiled enthusiastically; almost like a child.

“Well, it was actually a Hum that led me to him. I was just walking, trying to find Archen Castle. This little Hum was persistent. So eventually, I gave up and followed his commands. He led me to an open meadow, and there was Mabon. I was so shocked at first. I didn’t know what to do.”

“That’s amazing! So it was as if the Hum and Mabon were talking to one another?”

“Yeah, something like that.”

“So how did you know that you could approach Mabon? I’m sorry. I’ve never spent time in the forest. Never had the chance. It intrigues me. I hope you don’t mind all of my questions.”

“No, it’s fine. It was actually really amazing, even to me. He bowed himself to me and then grunted a bit at me when I took too long to come to him.” Firinne smiled.

“Incredible! I’ve never heard of anything like that before. You’re…blessed.”

“Thank you.”

“So, what are you plans now? I must confess that Bricius told me why you came here. I’m so sorry about your Queendom…and your family.”

Firinne nodded. “I honestly don’t know. I thought about barging into the Order and demanding that they listen to me…but they are all so corrupt now. I kind of feel like I am on my own in this.”

“I’m so sorry. I wish there was something I could do. I will keep you in mind. Maybe I will think of something.”

“Thanks, I appreciate it. So what about you? Do you intend on being a faithful Aldithenian till death?” She nudged Etheldra with her elbow, playfully.

“No, I don’t think so. I honestly can’t stand any of it. Sometimes I go to bed with an ache in my stomach. All this pretending is turning my stomach sour. I feel like I’m suffocating a bit. I’ve been locked up in Castle Blacken since I was 25. I’ve been free of that since Bricius, and now I’m locked up with him. I don’t belong here, but I’m also afraid of being on my own. I don’t even know where I would go.”

“You don’t have any family?”

“No, the Mist took my father and my mother.” She added “In two different ways.”

“That’s awful, but, I don’t believe anyone should stay somewhere they’re unhappy. As for where you would go…I would offer you my home but, well…y’know.”

“That’s sweet of you, I’m sure in time, something will present itself…it will for you as well.”

Firinne smiled at her. It was nice to have a somewhat human conversation with someone. It made her miss her Mum. “It was nice to get to know you a bit. I’ve got to take care of something, but I will see you at evening’s feast, yes?”

“Of course.”

“See you then.”

 

 

 

She was in the corner of her room, hugging her knees into her chest. It was all finally catching up to her. She was alone in the depths of her uncertainties. She needed her mother — no, she needed him. She needed him the way he used to be. She needed his strong arms around her. She needed his gaze that put her heart at peace. The kisses that made her dissolve. She hated him — she longed for him. She was stupid for wanting him — needing him. She was alone. He had left her…alone.

She looked up, in the way that someone would if someone else had intruded upon a private time of sorrow. Her fingers spread out across the sides of her skull — grabbing fistfuls of hair. She screamed. It was an angry scream. A scream meant for a kill. It scraped at the barren walls until it finally turned into sobs. Deep, belly sobs — the ones that lurch at you from within, determined to empty you. Wail after wail, she rocked back and forth, back and forth. She didn’t want to stop, not really. Part of her just wanted to empty herself into the air. Maybe she would be carried out of the window, on a breeze, far away from the burden of breath. She started hyperventilating. Tears pouring down her face — they may as well have been a pool of her own blood. She smacked the walls next to her, stopped breathing, and slowly started again. In, out. Slow, deep breaths. Pulled from her gut.

Calm.

She got up and walked over to the mirror. She dragged the tears away from her face. It was blotched with red. She tied her hair back and saw through the mirror the glint of something from under the bed. The books! She had forgotten all about the books.

There was a blanket on the chair. She grabbed it, sat on the bed and wrapped herself up in it. She stacked the books in front of her on the bed. She opened the book that was at the bottom of the stack; the most guarded. This book had to have something to do with krystallis and since she was one, it was smart to start firstly with the book she would know more about. The words were back, as was the ink drawing. She turned the page only to find one thing: Seek the old ones. Beneath it was a map that spread across two pages and indicated Firinne’s exact location. There was an ink path that showed where Firinne should travel — it cut through part of the Sacral Woods where she had traveled through to get to Archen Castle. Firinne thought that it was interesting that the map was showing her the safest route to take in order to avoid Desiderium capture. After the forest, she was to travel north, across the river and past the ruins of someplace she had never heard of before. After that, the mountains were North-West. The map was careful to avoid the open moors which provided almost no shelter, as well as Castle Blacken; on the eastern coast.

Firinne was dazing at the map, almost blankly — looking through it rather than at it. The map made it seem all so simple. All she had to do was follow that little inky path to the mountains — simple. But were any of the old ones still alive? Could she do this on her own? She had never traveled past the river, and she had never been on her own. If she didn’t go, her Mum would be rotting in that dungeon forever, or worse, killed. So really, there wasn’t much use in questioning any of this. She had to do this, whether she thought she could or not.

After what had happened with Ednas, Firinne realized that these books were on her side. She understood now that they guarded a secret. They only showed her what she was meant to see — their contents vanishing in the midst of evil. They would only reveal their secrets to her, and also perhaps to the old ones — if the old ones were still alive, Firinne hoped they were. She resolved herself that there was no other way. There was no one else she had or could trust. She had to do this, even if she had to die in the endeavor.

She decided that she would spend the rest of the day preparing, and possibly stealing things that she may need; after all, Archen was well supplied by the lords at Castle Blacken, and therefore she would feel little guilt. One more evening’s feast, she thought. She was terrified to leave this place and desperate to be rid of its hypocrisy. Not being in a chamber, doors away from Ednas was a relief as well. She stashed the books in-between the wooden planks of the bed frame, and the mattress. She grabbed her satchel. The best place to start was probably the kitchens, so she headed that way.

 

 

 

There were three doors in the kitchen corridor. One door was the pantry where preserved foods, grain, and bread were stored. The Second door held the meat from the butcher. The third door led to the kitchen. Firinne had been standing behind the wall leading to the kitchens, watching the activity. She needed to know, roughly, how often someone from the kitchens left to get something from the pantry or the butcher room. Luckily, it was midday, so the activity was relatively minimal. So far, only one person had come out to retrieve a small loaf of bread. From Firinne’s angle, she could tell the pantry was full — which was good because they wouldn’t miss much.

Quickly, Firinne moved down the corridor and into the pantry. The shelves were stuffed full with fruit preserves, loaves of fresh bread, potatoes, grains; there was no hunger in this place. She thought fast — bread, jerky, apples, and a sack of almonds. She stuffed everything hastily into her satchel, out of the pantry, and down the corridor before anyone knew it. She felt reckless. She also felt a little bit alive. She smiled smugly back to her chambers, where she stuffed the food in the open space between the floor, and the bottom drawer of the wardrobe.

 

 

 

This was her last feast. By early morning, she would rid herself of this place. As she entered the room, she bowed her head momentarily in respect of the King and Queen. The faces at the table were the same judgmental strangers, but their faces were more familiar to her now than Firinne liked. Etheldra was sitting where she always sits — next to Bricius. Her Uncle barely acknowledged her — Firinne didn’t really care anymore. Etheldra smiled fondly at her.

King Gryndon was discussing his latest hunting trip with various people around the table. They craved the kill and the power of slaying innocent creatures. Gryndon was reenacting how he straddled a deer — making stabbing motions with his fist. Everyone laughed, except for Firinne and Etheldra. Firinne told herself that she couldn’t afford to lose her appetite now. She needed to eat as much as she could before she set out the next day. While she had managed to take more than she had hoped in provisions, the journey ahead of her was long, and it wouldn’t be enough to sustain her.

The women in the kitchens had outdone themselves. There were platters upon platters of food. Firinne filled her plate with a turkey leg, creamed spinach, wild rice, and ginger glazed ham. She wondered how her meal was killed. Was it violent? Did the animal screech as it was slain? Again, she fought the churning in her stomach. It helped that everything tasted wonderful, and because Archen was provided with untainted food, she could feel the spectralin being nourished within her. Silently, she gave thanks to the animals.

Etheldra was on her second glass of blood. She watched as Etheldra almost spilled after knocking her glass into one of the platters. Etheldra giggled. People around the table were beginning to glance, nervously at Etheldra — whispering things to themselves back and forth. But Etheldra wasn’t so far gone that she wasn’t paying attention.

“Is there something you would like to say to me?” her speech was sluggish and presumptuous.

One of the women replied “Oh, no dear we were just discussing how beautiful your dress is. Is that satin?”

“Don’t try to deceive me. I’ve known enough of your kind to know that your whispers are anything but good natured.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean” the woman rolled her eyes, and turned back to her partner.

“Oh, of course not! You, people, are ridiculous. You claim to be so righteous, but that could not be further from the truth. I’ve played along to your tune and I—

Bricius interrupted. “Etheldra, perhaps you should retire to your chambers”

“Oh, you would love that wouldn’t you? For me to continue to keep quiet all because you rescued me. No, I have had enough of it. I can’t take any more of this shit! You are not Gods!”

Everyone around the room gasped, and then fell silent.

“It would be wise to watch your tongue in front of your King” interjected Dorrin.

“So the Queen doesn’t mind it then? Just the King?”

“How dare you!” Dorrin was now standing. Almost instinctually the King put his hand up as if asking for a pause.

“How dare I, you ask? This whole Kingdom is filled with nothing but liars, and their lies. I am a prisoner, not a guest. I will not hold my tongue anymore! You wanna know what I think about your precious, faceless God? He is a demon! A creature of deceit! Sit there for as long as you like and think that you are on the right side of things, but you aren’t. You are expendable and no God will save you. Not after you have lost your humanity and your values. I hope you all rot!” She flung all of the dishes that were in her reach across the table, and across the room.

Dorrin unsheathed his sword and Bricius rose from his chair, shielding Etheldra. “Etheldra, perhaps it’s been a long night. Go back to our chambers and I will be with you shortly.”

“I don’t need your company. Maybe I will take one of the younger guards in me…I mean with me. He would love to see the silk sheets!”

Etheldra spit in his face. She was oddly relaxed as she leaned her body around him and asked Firinne if she would join her. Firinne did.

 

 

 

Etheldra slammed the door to her and Bricius’ chambers. Their room was twice the size of Firinne’s. The bed frame was wrought-iron, with gold embellishments. The sheets were indeed, silk. There was a huge sitting area with a fireplace — big enough for Firinne to stand in, although the thought made her sick.

“Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?” said Etheldra, and then added as she gestured to the room “Admiring how your uncle is paid for his devotion? Bit sickening really. Meanwhile, people are suffering all across the lands.”

Firinne nodded. “What was…that?”

“What, my performance?”

“Yes, I mean…do you have a death-wish?”

“Oh, they won’t kill me.” She shooed the suggestion away with her hand.

“Bricius might not, but Dorrin” she paused, “he’s got the taste for it.”

“Well, I won’t have to worry about that after tonight. I’m done Firinne. I’m leaving. I can’t take this anymore. I don’t want to be a part of it.”

“But where will you go”

“I don’t know. I’ll find somewhere. Anywhere. I’m so sick of being afraid. I mean…here you are, off trying to save your whole Queendom on your own. No, fear. What’s my excuse?”

“Hang on…I’m terrified Etheldra! I may walk around here like these people are beneath me and I don’t need their help, but I am alone in all of this. I don’t know how I will be able to do any of it on my own.”

“Of course you don’t! But at least you’re trying. Sitting around here, traveling with Bricius, preaching Aldithenih…it’s making me sick.”

“I can’t say I blame you.”

“So will you keep quiet for me about it all, and could I sleep in your chambers tonight? I promise I will be out of your way at first light.”

“Actually, I’m going to be leaving here at the same time. I didn’t tell anyone because I can’t trust any of them, but I have somewhere else I have to go…”

“Oh, that’s perfect! Which way are you headed?”

“I’d rather not say…for my sake, and yours.” Said Firinne.

“I understand. Let me just pack up some things, and then we can head to your chambers.”

“Okay, what if Bricius comes looking for you?”

“He won’t. Never does.”

And Firinne thought that this wasn’t the first time something like this had happened. She thought that Etheldra had probably been unfaithful to Bricius in the past. This wasn’t something new in their relationship, it was only that it was out in the open now. She thought that Etheldra was right, he wouldn’t come looking for her — for fear of what he might find. It was odd. Firinne hated this place and what it stood for just as much as Etheldra did, but she could not condone being unfaithful to the person she was promised to.

On the other hand, Etheldra was trapped by the Aldithenih, and the mere suggestion of leaving Bricius was putting a threat to her own life. So while Firinne was revolted at the thought of Etheldra’s suggested adultery, she also admired her for it. Perhaps sometimes — in this new society that is slowly being dominated by men — the only power a woman truly had was her sexual identity. Her sexual identity both enslaved her, and liberated her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

Quiver

 

It was still dark as they gathered all of their possessions, and walked out of the side doors of the castle. Because of how the castle grounds were built, they had no choice but to risk walking through the town. Once they had Mabon, they tried to stick to the back roads of the town. Everything was quiet. Every step they took seemed louder than it was. They were both on edge. Etheldra was risking her life, and because Firinne was with her, Firinne could be condemned to the same fate if they were both caught.

The gates of the town were always left open, to welcome traders, and they were guarded by one person. As it happened, the guard had fallen asleep on duty. Etheldra was quick to remark how lucky they had been that he was sleeping because she was fully intent on sneaking up behind him and slitting his throat. She was acting a bit like she was a little kid sneaking away from home; running away in the middle of the night, but there was a sadistic twist behind it that Firinne wasn’t sure of.

They made it to the lowest part of the valley. From here, even if they were spotted, no one would recognize them from that distance.

“Are you sure you want to do this?” asked Firinne.

“Yes, I’m quite sure. I will head east from here to the coast. There are small towns littered about in that direction. I’m sure I’ll find somewhere.”

“Okay. Well, I wish that you have a safe journey. It was nice getting to know you a bit. If the circumstances were different…well…” Firinne shrugged.

“I’m quite fond of you as well. Thanks for inspiring me. Take care of yourself. I hope you can save Citrine, and of course, your mother.” She squeezed Firinne’s arm.

Firinne watched Etheldra until she looked like a smudge of shadow on the horizon; a mistake in an artists painting. Together, she and Mabon headed for the forest.

 

 

 

The woods were dense with fog, and the sun was beginning to rise. Even in the cool air, Firinne could feel the warmth of it on her skin. She was happy to be free of that prison. She belonged in the woods with nature. It greeted her as a friend; never judging her, and perhaps that made the woods a better friend.

She wondered what would happen once Bricius had realized that he had lost his woman? Would he send guards after her? Firinne hoped he wouldn’t. Etheldra was not perfect, but her life had been riddled with strife. She deserved to be happy. Maybe once Etheldra was free of Bricius, she could finally start healing some of her broken parts. The thought crossed her that someone could be your rescuer, and also your prison. Bricius was not evil, but he laid claim to a treasure that was not his to own, thereby adding to the cracks of time…Etheldra’s cracks. In turn, Etheldra also used him as her escape, without reflecting on possible repercussions.

They were already almost a quarter of the way through the forest. If they hurried, they could make it to The Forgotten Meadow in the late afternoon. From there, they could camp until morning. The next day, getting to the river would take no time at all. This was the easy part, it was what lay before the mountains, and the mountains themselves, that made Firinne uneasy.

The forest was coming alive with summer. Everywhere she looked, there were new buds of growth. She could smell their sweetness, and she was happy to have the forest alive, and at her side for this journey. She wouldn’t have been able to make it in winter. She took a deep breath. She could almost feel her Mum in the air.

It was quiet. There was no movement other than birds flapping within the tree branches. They were alone, and Firinne was glad for it. The more alone, the safer they were. Firinne thought to herself that if she stayed in these woods forever, she would never know that there was a silent war, slowly growing louder outside of them.

 

 

 

They were both getting tired now. Because of how quiet the forest was, Firinne was more hopeful than before, that she would be able to build a fire this evening. As they walked, she began collecting dry branches. Mabon watched her like a dog would. She could see the protectiveness in his eyes.

The air was beginning to cool as the Sun started moving further down, across the sky. After collecting a few more branches, Firinne could just make out The Forgotten Meadow, ahead of them. “Almost there,” she said to Mabon — even he looked grateful.

The meadow was empty. It was encased by the dense woods that they had just traveled through. There were a few boulders lying just at the edge of the meadow. Firinne walked over and laid the branches she had collected near them, thinking to herself that it would be the perfect place to sleep that night — the boulders would shield them from the cold, as well as block the light from the fire.

“Wake me in a bit, Mabon. I’m going to take a quick nap.” The soft, grasses were cool on the back of her arms as she drifted from consciousness.

 

 

 

She was stuck in another dream that she couldn’t make sense of. She was looking down on a gray sea. She was surrounded by huge castles, but there was something in the gray sea…is that?—

There was a hand on her mouth. Was this a part of her dream? She couldn’t recall the details of it. There was warm flesh there, the shape of a hand. No, this wasn’t a dream. Her eyes shot open. There, only inches from her face, with his hand pressed firmly over her mouth, was Cyneric.

“I’m going to pull my hand from your mouth. Don’t scream.” Firinne nodded, and slowly he pulled his hand from her mouth.

“What are you doing here?” She hissed at him, as she scooted herself back away from him so that her spine was pressed against the boulder.

“I needed to find you. I had to explain.”

“What’s there to explain? You ruined my life, now I have to clean it up, and the reason is pretty obvious.”

“Fir, I didn’t want to do those things. I didn’t have a choice.” He avoided her eyes; like a boy.

“And I am supposed to believe that? You can’t always claim to be the victim. At some point, you have to take responsibility.”

“It wasn’t me!” His voice was rising now. “You have to know that. C’mon Fir, after everything we’ve been through. You know me better than anyone could come close to knowing me.”

“Yes, I thought I knew you.”

“You do know me. It was the Blacken, Fir. It wasn’t me. It controlled me. Triphosa helped it control me.”

“If that were true then you wouldn’t be here telling me it was controlling you. You wouldn’t know it had.” Her arms were crossed now.

“I didn’t…not at first. But then something inside me…I wanted to be with you…I slowly started realizing what was happening to me. Then, for whatever reason, the other day it let go of me. As soon as it did, I escaped and followed you.”

“And how am I supposed to believe you?”

“You shouldn’t believe me, you should believe yourself. Look into my eyes. If you tell me that I am lying to you, I will leave, and I will never come back.”

His eyes were full of moisture. She hadn’t seen him like this for months, and months. It was as if it were really him. She wanted it to be him. She wanted this nightmare to go away. She was instantaneously torn between her intuition and her longing for him.

“Fir, I have loved you since we were teenagers. I would never hurt you. All of this shit that has happened…it’s completely gutted me. You are the most important person in my life. You’ve had all of me…always.”

She didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what the right move was. If he was telling the truth, she would lose him if she did not show him empathy. If he was lying, she was putting herself, and her mission in danger.

Cyneric inched his way towards her. Gently, he put his hand under her chin. “Fir, I’m sorry…for everything. If I had been strong, like you, none of this would have happened. I know you don’t trust me, you shouldn’t, but at least let me try to earn the trust back.”

His skin was warm on her. “And how would you do that?”

“I’ll help you get Citrine back. I’ll help you get your Mum back. I’ll do whatever you want me to do…just…give me a chance.”

“This is the last one.”

He nodded. “The last one…”

He sat himself next to her and slid his arm around her. She curled into him like a child. They sat there, curled into one another, for a long time.

“I missed you Fir. I know the Mist had me for so long. It’s…well, it’s all catching up to me.”

“What was it like? The Mist having you, I mean.”

“It’s torture. You can see everything that you’re doing, but you can’t stop what you’re doing. You are no longer in control of what you do. I guess it’s what we’ve always feared for the Desideriums. They really can see all of the pain they’re causing.” He was staring into her eyes. The space between them shrank, and they fell like gravity towards each other. She missed his lips; they silenced her mind.

“I’ll make it up to you, Fir.” She gave him a sad nod.

Then, they heard the sound of grass being crushed in the meadow. Cyneric got to his feet and drew his sword. Firinne grabbed his arm.

“No, it’s okay. It’s just my stag friend.”

Cyneric looked at her quizzically and then spotted Mabon as he came around the boulders.

Mabon lowered his head. “Cyneric, this is Mabon. He came to me on my way to Archen Castle. He’s kind of been my best friend this past week.”

Cyneric was clearly taken aback, but Mabon appeared to be threatened. He lowered his head further and gave a low grunt.

“Mabon, it’s okay.” What she wanted to say was, I think it’s okay.

Cyneric put his hand out towards Mabon, taking a step forward. Mabon pawed at the ground and grunted again. Cyneric took back his step, put his hands in the air, and said, “All right, all right.”

Firinne urged him to sit back down. “It’ll just take him some time to get to know you. See, you don’t just have to prove yourself to me now…you have to prove it to him.” She gestured to Mabon and gave Cyneric a confident smile. She was being feisty; it felt good. There had been far too much seriousness in the past week. She felt her chest give a little. She could breath.

“Do you have any food?”

“Yeah, I’ve got a couple things that were given to me by someone at Archen.” That was a lie. “Not much, just some bread, jerky, almonds… you?”

“Where are you headed? Will that food last you?” It was either a question of concern or a question fueled by motives, but Firinne didn’t falter.

“I’m not sure yet. I just needed to get away from Archen, so I thought I would start traveling through the forest.” Another lie, “Do you have any food?”

“Give me a second.” He disappeared behind the boulder and reappeared with a dead turkey which was hanging by a rope. “Shall I prepare our feast?” He smiled.

“Oh, look at you! You’ve killed a poor, defenseless bird. You’re such a big man.” She could keep playing this all night with him, but she knew that behind her playful jabs, there was anger.

“I’ll start on the fire while you clean the bird then,” Firinne said.

After having stacked all of the branches properly, she was blowing soft air at the embers. With every glow, it lit her face and showed her determination. Cyneric walked over with the bird which was now clean. They sat by the fire in silence as the bird cooked. When Cyneric had confirmed that it was done, he offered a leg to Firinne. “For you, my love.”

“Mmm.” She rolled her eyes. “Thank you. I’ll stick to what’s in my pack, though.”

Cyneric shrugged. “Suit yourself.”

After they were full and there was nothing left of the bird but bones, Firinne began making a bed from her cloak. She laid down, Cyneric beside her. They gazed at the stars for a long while when Cyneric finally broke the silence.

“Are you gonna be mad at me forever?”

“Forever is an undefined period of time. My forever and your forever could be two different lengths of time.” Cyneric was silent. She could tell on his face that he wasn’t in the mood to play. “We’ll see…that’s the best I can do and I’m sorry, but it’ll just have to be good enough.”

“I accept.”

Firinne lifted her head up so that he could slide his arm beneath it. She slid her hand across his chest. She knew every muscle, every mountain of his body. He hadn’t let her touch him like this in forever. He turned towards her with half of his body on half of hers. His strong hands pulled her into him. He kissed her neck, just behind her ear — then her cheek. The forest would not cool her tonight. She ran her hands down the gully of his back. Their lips were inseparable —they were stuck. She didn’t want to stop. She wanted all of him. He was crushing her with his flesh, but he wasn’t close enough. She was trapped. She was trapped.

She inched her body away from him. Her hand clenched into a fistful of the front of his cotton shirt, as she pushed him from her. Tears were now building in her eyes. She didn’t need to say anything. The look on her face was enough for him to read her thoughts. He couldn’t be redeemed so soon. She needed time.

Silently, they gazed at the stars — her head on his arm, his arm wrapped around her waist. Eventually, Cyneric dozed and she imagined the waves crashing in, and out.

He had come back to her. Everything he said seemed genuine. It had been so long since she had seen him filled with this much sincerity. He knew what he had done, and he was ready to make himself accountable for it. He was there to help her, and besides, she didn’t have anyone else. She needed him to be him. Yet, she couldn’t help to wonder. Would she ever be able to trust him again? Was there any certain way to know that he was being honest, other than her intuition, or love for him — whichever it was?

Yes, she wanted him to be hers; desperately, but she had lied to him twice. Why had she lied?

Because no matter what happens, I will never believe he is real. This is a strategic relationship now and, I will never let him have all of my secrets, again.

 

 

Cyneric was shaking her, trying to rouse her. No, I don’t feel Cyneric. I’m so cold. Firinne moved the palm of her hand along the ground next to her. Firinne shot up, her eyes wide in panic. She was paralyzed with instability. Cyneric was gone. The ground was shaking — Fia was trembling.

Violently.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Splinter

 

Where was he? Firinne was afraid to move. In the light of the moon, she could see that the trees were shaking erratically — all of the branches like weak muscles after a fist-fight. A small way from the boulder, she saw Mabon. His legs were sprawled out like a newborn’s. Off in the distance, she could hear the sounds of cracking and pounding. From the far end of the meadow, something caught her eye. There was a dark line that was continuously stretching straight towards the boulders. She barely had time to figure out what it was before she leaped to her feet and dived towards Mabon before the chasm engulfed her. There was no time to look back — to assess the damage, to see just how far the chasm went in its great revealing of Fia’s innards.

“Mabon, we have to go!” She screamed. Although, she didn’t know how they were going to walk while the ground was so unstable beneath them. She grabbed onto Mabon. “Listen, just take it slow. Get used to the pattern of motion.” He lowered himself to the ground so that she could ride him. Once she was on, he slowly began moving. After a few steps forward, he appeared to have gotten the hang of it. Perhaps it was that he had more than two legs to depend on, or perhaps it was because he was a creature of Fia.

Behind them, Firinne heard a sound that she had forgotten about in the midst of everything that had happened. It was like the sound of drums. It was definitely closer than it had been before. Then she heard an ear-splitting screech. It could only have come from one thing.

“Mabon, you have to get us out of here!”

It was as if he already knew. Her hands clutched so tightly onto his mane that her knuckles were a sickly greenish, white color. Her knees and thighs were straddled around his ribs so tightly — if they lived through tonight, they would both be bruised tomorrow. He rode hard and fast, in zig-zag lines that she soon realized were strategic. With every jerk of Fia, he would jerk with her. He rode on her tremors in complete unison.

There was another screech and more drums. She could hear them so clearly now. Of course, the Demogorchians could ride just as fast in this, they were like machines. An obsidian arrow flew past Firinne’s ear, landing with a sharp, thud into a tree on the right of her. Then, another arrow flew inches from Mabon’s ribs. She released one of her hands, and although her fingers were almost completely stiff, she pulled out a milky, ball of spectralin and flung it furiously behind her. It exploded into white flames on a tree far behind her.

In the light, she could see that there were only three Demogorchians with riders. The blast had knocked one of the Demogorchians into the middle one, which momentarily knocked them, and the rider on the far right, off balance. She hurled another spectralin at them. This time (since she was able to see where they were from the light of the previous hit) the spectralin engulfed the middle Demogorchian. He had been slightly ahead of the other two, so when he landed to the ground, the rider on the left tripped on the corpses momentarily.

They shot another arrow which skimmed the surface of Mabon’s fur, almost drawing blood. They were trying to take him out. She couldn’t let Mabon sacrifice himself for her. She bent down and whisper-yelled in Mabon’s ear. “We have to split up. I’ll aim the next one the best I can. When I do, you go right, and I’ll go left. You found me once, you’ll find me again. If I survive this, I’ll head toward the river up there.” She hoped that he could understand her.

Another spectralin flew towards the riders. As soon as she released it from her hands, she jumped off of Mabon and hurled herself into the left side of the path. She could feel the branches scraping the thin, layer of skin in too many places for her to count. She ignored it and ran. In and out, dodging trees, stumbling over rocks. The forest was dense and there was a light fog. Fia was still trembling and the sound was incredible; the forest was screaming, as best a forest could.

She tried to mimic Mabon’s zigzags. Occasionally, she would predict the wrong sway of Fia, and be thrown into the trunk of a tree. She turned herself towards the North; towards the river. There had to be somewhere to hide. Zig. Zag. That last tree may have cracked a rib. She barely had time to recuperate, when she tumbled into a dry, ravine. Just a little further down the ravine, there was a huge rock that was protruding out of one side. Below it, there was a willow bush. Firinne decided to investigate, so she crawled, woozily towards the stone.

She pushed the bush to one side with all of her force. Behind it, there was a small cave. Without hesitation, she clambered over the willow and threw herself at the very back of the cave. Fia was still shaking, and Firinne only hoped it would stop soon — and that the cave would not collapse in on her. She didn’t have a choice but to hide. There was no way she could outrun the Demogorchians — Mabon was barely a match for them.

It took her a few minutes to realize that she was still gripping the walls of the cave even though the tremor had halted. Everything was eerily quiet now — like the quake had never happened; all at peace. But she knew better and so she waited, and soon she heard hooves; paws; claws, whatever you would call the feet of a Demogorchian. They drew closer and she could tell that they had stopped just before where she was hiding.

“She has to be here somewhere. Search the area.” Said a voice.

She heard two Demogorchians prowl off in opposite directions. There had to be someone else. She heard a crunch as he broke apart the leaves dismounting his Demogorchian. Shortly after, she heard his footsteps as they walked sideways, down the ravine. Firinne stayed as still as humanly possible. He wouldn’t know. He wouldn’t think to look. Crunch. Crunch, crunch. She was sure that he was now standing directly in front of the willow; essentially, they were looking straight at each other. She hoped the willow wouldn’t give her away. Hopefully, he would never know.

One of the Desideriums returned. The Demogorchian let out a screech.

“Neither of you found anything?”

Silence.

“I had her! If this damn quake hadn’t started and woke her up…we could have slit her throat in her sleep if we’d wanted to. I should’ve never left to report our location. If I had stayed, she wouldn’t have been able to escape. Let’s double back and see if there is anywhere else we’ve missed. If we haven’t found her or that beast she was riding by then, we’ll make for Archen where Mistress Triphosa is waiting.”

She was battling extremes within herself to stay put; all she wanted to do was lunge toward him. Maybe he would smack his head on a rock on the way down, knocking him unconscious. Then she could use her spectralin to burn a hole through his chest — in peace.

The sounds of hammers on soil became more and more distant. Firinne was still glued to the wall of the cave. Her eyes were fixed on the air in front of her like she, herself, wasn’t even there.

Cyneric. Once again, Cyneric, had made a fool of her. How many damn times was she going to allow him to do this? She knew that no one else had seen, but the embarrassment was just as bad. Her face was hot, and her fingers were ice. The only victory she could account for was that she managed to save the books, and managed not to tell him a single, damn thing.

It was dangerous. She hadn’t made a single noise. No tears. No sobs. She sunk down like a forgotten marionette — enemy of her strings. She curled up like a child and squeezed her knees viciously into her chest. She closed her eyes, and the forcefulness could be seen on her face.

Emotion is not permitted.

He will not be granted.

 

 

 

She had stayed in the cave, in the same position, all night. It was too risky to go out into the night in search of Mabon, and besides, she hadn’t had the will to move. Now that the dull, blue light of the sky was peeking into the cave, she rose herself from the fetal position. She reached for her bag and chose the most palatable of options. She had no appetite but forced herself to swallow some of the jerky — hastily chewing through every bite, consciously avoiding the taste and texture. She almost gagged once which she followed with a punch to her thigh. It was her, versus the body plagued by emotions. She got through half of the stick and after thirty minutes of the battle, she conceded defeat and put the other half of jerky back in her bag.

The air outside of the cave was crisp; like apples and sage. The ground was sodden with heavy dew which made it easier for Firinne to move silently down the ravine. Everything was silent other than the usual morning sounds of the forest.

She had a mental map of last night’s deviation from the path they had been on. If she was right, considering how distorted everything had been, she needed to go farther east to find the main path. Once she had found the path, she would retreat a few feet towards the west again and then head north. This way she would know she was following the path, but she wouldn’t risk being seen by any of Cyneric’s Desideriums — if they were still lurking about.

She spotted the path from the previous night and thanked Fia for her fortune. Before emerging on the north bank of the ravine, she crawled up to the top of the other side to inspect her surroundings. She couldn’t hear anything unnatural, and there was nothing but forest to be seen. The forest was dense but as long as you knew how to navigate, its denseness could be used as an advantage. While other things could be hidden, so could Firinne.

She crawled out of the north side of the ravine and winced at the stretched feeling of her exhausted muscles. She had been so numb from the emotion that she hadn’t realized what a strain last night’s events had put on her body. She was weak, sore, and shaky. But she had to get to the river and find her friend. So, she continued to walk, farther and farther away from the ravine. If she could continue at this pace, she thought she might be able to reach the river by midday.

Firinne was vigilantly focused on this undertaking. Nevertheless, she found her thoughts swaying like the river current sways and swirls around stones during its journey. These thoughts were vomitus. She felt like they were glued to her skin. She felt filthy. He had touched her so lovingly. He had kissed her so passionately. He had pleaded with her so remorsefully. He had almost convinced her, cunningly. But it was all fabricated and it was the worst sort of fabrication — the fabrication of love.

He was so sick, so demented. Who was he? Really? At what point did the victim in him end, and the ‘emotional assailant’ begin? Was he ever really the victim or was it all just a part of the plan?

She would never know the truth. She had to accept that, here and now. Someone like him — no, she would never know. She had been deceived on an unbelievable level by someone she thought she knew so undeniably well. What did that say about her? It wasn’t just a question of whether she could trust someone else ever again, it was a question of whether she could trust herself ever again. Yes, there were warnings, but not the kind that could predict this scale of evil? No, — the only positive thing that she could say of herself, was that she hadn’t offered even a taste of her secrets to him. She could easily have construed that to victory, but she refused to give herself any more praise. She shouldn’t have put herself in that situation to begin with. If she hadn’t, she wouldn’t be walking through this forest alone and wondering to herself whether Mabon had escaped.

 

 

 

 

It was midday. Behind the rustling sounds of leaves, she thought she could hear the river. With every ten paces, the river grew louder and her heart began to weigh a bit less. There was something else, though. Another sound was fighting for resonance against the river, but she couldn’t make it out. Just keep going, almost there.

The sound had now transformed itself into voices. She was almost close enough to tell what they were saying. She began walking even more lightly than she had been. Every time she came up to a tree, she would hide her body behind it for a short time. More zig-zagging. One tree, across to the next. Stop!

“She wouldn’t have gone south! Yesterday, I tracked her heading North with that beast she was with. She had to have been headed this way.” It was Cyneric, and although it sounded as if he was talking to himself, Firinne knew better. Smart. He was waiting for her, convinced she would come; she had.

“We’ve been here for hours, though. Maybe she isn’t coming. Changed her plans. Too scared. If she isn’t coming, then we’re wasting time standing here. She could be headed back to Citrine. ARRGHHH!” He was doubting himself. This was good.

The sound of his voice left a bad taste in her mouth.

Firinne pressed her back as hard as she could against the tree. She was holding her breath.

After another quarter-of-an-hour Cyneric said, “Alright, let’s head out. Keep your eyes open. We’ve got our orders.” Then under his breath, “I should have killed her when I had the chance.”

Cyneric, along with the Desideriums and Demogorchians, resumed the path towards the south. As they walked up to Firinne’s line of sight, she shifted herself like a cog, around the trunk of the tree so that her back was now facing the opposite direction. She stayed there until she could no longer hear them. Then, she cautiously peered out from the tree. They were gone.

She decided that it was safer if she waited just a few more minutes before she ran, full speed, to the river.

 

 

 

The river was full and strong. The water was clear — rippling glass. She filled up her flask and took slow sips of the water. Without hesitation, she flung herself into the river as if it were her salvation. She submerged herself completely. She imagined the filth and darkness detaching itself from her flesh and drowning in the river — their remains claimed by water, forever floating down the river.

She heard the crack of a branch and instinctually dived behind a boulder that was embedded in the riverbed. Something moved one of the willow bushes that lined the riverbank — it was something big, and dark.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER FIFTEEN

Black Scabs

 

She had a relentless habit of picking at the calloused skin on the corners of her fingers; right next to the end of the nail. She would pinch the hard skin with her nails and tear it off. They were pieces of herself or — the ones that got knocked against everything simply because they were the skin on the top of her fingers. Maybe that was how fate was? You got knocked against life simply by circumstance or was it design?

Firinne had been sitting there by the river, completely absorbed by the other world in her head for far too long. Mabon nudged her on her shoulder, snapping her out of it, and she could no longer remember what she had even been thinking about. She felt like she lived in the world of fantasy more than she did the real world. Constantly engulfed by internal thoughts, scenarios, fears, and riddles. Maybe this was the beginning of madness, that point you can’t return from because you enjoy it so much — being separate from reality.

“I’m glad you made it, Mabon. That was a close one wasn’t it?”

There was one thing she couldn’t figure out. Why was it that she seemed like such an important enemy for the Mist of Blacken to defeat?

Surely they — it — whatever it was didn’t zero-in on just anyone on Fia with a Castle, did they? The assumption had been that as long as the people of Fia remained silent and obedient, they could live their lives in relative peace. She didn’t know why the Mist had sought Citrine, or why it was hunting her. She had escaped, but what was it afraid of her doing? She had no army, nor any allies. She was alone, other than Mabon and he wouldn’t qualify in their eyes as a threat. Was it just Triphosa and Cyneric over-exercising their power? Had they hated me that badly all of those years? It couldn’t be that. Cyneric seemed so defeated when she had managed to escape. He was almost panicked. He had failed the completion of his orders.

It wasn’t safe to camp at the river tonight. Cyneric and/or the Desideriums would probably circle back again. It was already late afternoon and therefore, they had no choice but to walk in the dark. Maybe that was better anyway — for now.

She looked in her satchel to see how much food she had left. The books were still there too, and thankfully they didn’t weigh too much. She doubted she would have been able to escape with them around her neck the night before. She pulled one out and examined the map. After the river, the forest went on for a while longer. She couldn’t remember what came after the forest, but before the mountains. She had never been past the river. She doubted that Auralia or Imphius had ever told her what lay beyond the river; there wasn’t need to.

Most of life at Citrine revolved around Citrine, the woods ahead of it, and Archen’s town. She knew of the mountains because that is where Auralia had told her the old ones lived. Hadn’t she mentioned that they would need to send someone for seeds? Now, these mysterious books were telling her to seek the old ones as well. Everyone in the past who had traveled to the mountains was sworn to secrecy. Firinne remembered when she was younger, she had tried to interrogate one of the guards after he had returned with seeds.

 

“What was it like? What were they like? The mountains! Are they pretty?” The guard would smile as he shook his head. “Sorry little Queen, can’t say. They’ll cut out my tongue if I do…blarrrghhh!” Then he chased her down the corridor with his tongue hanging out like a dog.

 

“I guess we’ll find out, eh, Mabon? We better get going.”

 

 

 

 

 

Firinne was sucking on jerky. The woods were blue now and the light of the sun dying behind the horizon was ultraviolet. Everything that was white in the forest glowed like the moon. The aspens that were all throughout the forest looked like skinny ghosts — the black scabs on their trunks like the last bits of flesh rotting away, giving way to the ethereal world. This hallucinogenic alternate world. It was like this forest had two lives within one — like twins — one that shown brightly in the light of the sun, one that became a shadow of its twin as night approached. All of their arms — boney and rigid, reached out towards each other forming a line of sharp netting. Interweaving locks of bones enhanced by a wild dance of entrancing color. It was a ceremony, and she could see them watching her from far off in the distance. They haunted the endless pits of her soul.

She could hear wolves calling out in the distance. Perhaps they had caught the smell of their prey, or perhaps it was a call to danger? The forest grew darker and darker as the minutes passed. It seemed that it was always that way. The days would linger on forever, and you could barely tell when the Sun moved, but at dusk the Sun would drop like a ball being thrown into a lake. Within minutes, everything was dark, so dark that is was hard to believe that there had ever been any light to begin with.

And yet, we always knew that the Sun would come back the next day.

She hoped that they would clear the forest before midnight. She could smell a storm coming; one of those heavy spring storms, and although she longed for those raindrops to beat against her skin, she knew that they needed to find shelter before it came. Maybe that was the call from the wolves? —

A storm’s coming; No, Firinne thought. The storm is already here. What’s coming now is just the violent sadness of what’s already been done.

This’ll just be wet.

 

 

 

Firinne didn’t know what time it was, but she hoped the forest would end soon. Her legs were aching and the motion-blur from the trees, as she walked past them, were now giving her vertigo. It was like riding through a blizzard and watching all of the little white specks of ice come towards you. You begin feeling like you aren’t moving anymore and everything ahead of you is going faster than it should.

The sky was black. Everything was black, but she could still see the gray clouds rolling over each other in the distance. There was something ahead, just through the trees. It was big, but she couldn’t make it out, not yet. She focused her eyes on the spot where she had seen it, hoping that with every step she would get a good view of it as the trees opened up like split-second tunnels.

She tripped. Of course she had, she was dizzy, tired, and it was dark. Mabon made a low grunt and nudged the soft place underneath her ribs. She grabbed onto his throne to pull herself up. She then resumed walking, but Mabon walked ahead of her and placed his body in her path so that she ran into his ribcage. He made another grunt. Get on, he seemed to say, and she obeyed.

She was up higher now which helped her visibility immensely. She still couldn’t identify the huge mass ahead of them. Less than a mile, she was sure of it. They were almost at the end and she hoped that things would be safer on that other side.

Mabon was moving faster, now that he didn’t have to keep pace with Firinne. She probably should have swallowed her pride miles back and hopped on him like a steed, but she was determined to treat Mabon as a friend, not her possession. She would only accept his help if he offered it. She would never be presumptuous or demanding.

They had just cleared the forest when the first slice of lightning slashed through the sky. It lit up everything and she could now make out what she had been trying to see. It was a castle, well, more of a ruin. She didn’t have time to think about who’s Castle it had been, why it was now in ruins, or why she had never heard of the castle that lay beyond the river. Mabon sensed her urgency or maybe it was the electricity in the air, but he picked up his pace significantly to clear the field between them and the Castle.

Another bolt of lightning. As they came up to the broken gates of the castle, yet another bolt struck. This time it touched the very tip of the center tower of the ruins. What happened next took Firinne’s breath away. From a metallic orb on the center castle, the lightning shot out in three different ways — up, right, and left. As the current of electricity that shot up lingered in the air, the currents that shot out to the left and right, passed from one orb to the next along the upper walls of the ruins. They both impacted on the same orb which was just above the massive gate. Somehow, these two currents became one and shot directly towards they sky where some force pulled both currents towards each other. Once they met one another at an angle, two other currents split in opposite directions so that there was a huge, electrical pyramid — creating a ceiling of static for the whole perimeter of the Castle. It stayed there for a little over a minute and then dissipated.

Mabon was shaking a little under Firinne’s legs, and she hastened to guess that it wasn’t from her weight. She patted him absentmindedly as her eyes lay fixed on the place the pyramid had been; its ghost still scorched into her retinas.

“C’mon Mabon, it’s alright. Let’s…let’s, go explore.”

Within the castle walls, there was the faint resemblance of its town, although it was clear that it had not been inhabited for a long time. There were gaping holes in most of the modest houses that littered the main street. Firinne couldn’t understand what could have caused such destruction. She had never seen anything like it. Whatever it had been, it had been hot; there were scorch marks on almost every structure.

On the ground, there were charred pieces of rubble and bones scattered everywhere. People had been burned alive here. A world that had lived, and perhaps thrived on Fia, had been destroyed. The fact that Firinne had never heard of such a place — well it may as well have been ripped off the face of the planet. Nothing left now but an imprint.

As they made their way towards the Castle, which she had decided would be the safest place for them to sleep, she thought she saw movement between the houses across the road. Maybe it was just a shadow…the shadows of ghosts playing tricks on my eyes.

The doors of the castle were made of silver with copper inlays. There were designs that she couldn’t see clearly on the doors, they appeared to be corroded with a white, chalky substance. She pushed hard and as she did so, bits of that chalky substance became loose from the hinges. The grinding of the door echoed through the dark castle. Firinne lit the room up with spectralin and found that the great hall of the Castle was completely broken away. Above them, she could see huge gaps in the ceiling where something had smashed through it, and there was nothing but rubble. They made their way down the corridor, all the while, the spectralin hovered just ahead of them to light their way.

They went through the dining hall which had a huge chunk of the outer wall missing. The table was broken in several places and cups and plates were scattered about. They continued to move. At the end of the dining hall were two doors. One for the kitchens and Firinne decided to choose the other door. The deeper they went into the castle, and away from the outer walls, the better.

The next room was the throne room. There were two thrones sitting untouched just above a small landing of stairs. They were the most beautiful she had ever seen. Again, they were made of silver with fine copper detailing. This room lay on the backside of the Castle. Most of the windows in the room were still intact, and from what they had already seen, this was by far the most undisturbed room they had come across.

Firinne went back to the dining hall and gathered some pieces of wood that had broken off of the table. She returned to the throne room and began stacking them in the center, just below the two silver thrones.

The fire was built. She had found some old curtains, and made a small bed for herself. She toasted the last bit of her bread on the fire. It had been a long day, an even longer week, and all she wanted to do was sleep. A dreamless sleep that would leave her feeling weightless in the morning. She was glad to have found the ruins.

Although Mabon was curled next to her, she felt alone.

If she had stayed awake a few minutes longer and had seen the shadow that moved across the broken window, she would have realized that she wasn’t really as alone as she felt.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SIXTEEN

The Prince

 

 

 

A crashing noise echoed through the castle and woke Firinne. She looked around disoriented. She knew that she couldn’t have been asleep for more than a couple of hours because the sky was still dark, and the rain was still trickling outside. They definitely weren’t alone in the castle just as they hadn’t been alone while they were walking through the town earlier that night. She tried to regain her wits and decide what her best options in this situation were.

She could hide behind the wall of the throne room and wait for whoever it was, or she could seek out the source of the noise. Maybe then, she would have the upper-hand. She decided that was the best option, slung her sword over her, instructed Mabon to stay, and headed out of the throne room.

The castle was almost pitch black but if she used any light, she would be an easy target. She walked carefully with her arms down at her sides, touching things as she went, to ensure that she wouldn’t bump into anything and give her location away. She passed the table and stopped to listen. She couldn’t hear anything. For some odd reason, Firinne felt brave tonight. She took her place, crouched on top of the dining table, in the darkness, and she waited.

For a long while, there was nothing — no movement — no noises. She began to wonder if she was wasting precious time sleeping. Wondering if the noise she had heard was just from a dream, or an animal in the castle. As she sat there, the rain seemed to quiet, and then she heard the soft scuffing of footsteps. They drew closer and she could tell that they were in the corridor coming towards her. When the noise began echoing in the dining hall, she spoke.

“Tell me who you are and why you’re following me.” She lit an orb of spectralin in her hand and cupped her palms so that there was a solid beam of light shining towards her prey.

His hands immediately flew to his face. “Will you knock that off, you’re gonna blind me!”

“Tell me who you are!”

“Oh for—, my name’s Kaolin Satel!”

“Right, that means absolutely nothing to me.”

“Listen, lass, why don’t you turn down your brighties and we’ll have a chat?”

By the sounds of it, she was talking to a boy. She turned her hand away from him. He was definitely a boy, maybe around the age of fourteen, and he had blonde hair that looked as though it was almost white. His face was like ivory — piercing sapphire eyes. His clothes were ragged — black pants with the knees torn up; leather boots, and his shirt was gray and stained — too big for him.

“All right, start talking.” Firinne wasn’t going to take her guard down even if it was just a boy — old ladies had surprised her enough already.

“No need for the tone. I was just poppin’ in to see who you were. I live here.”

“What do you mean you live here?”

“Exactly what I said. I—live—here—”

“Don’t be a smart-ass, I heard what you said. What do you mean? This place looks like it’s been abandoned for a decade.”

“Actually, it’s been four years. ‘Mazin what time can do to the world, eh?

“Mm…so you’re not going to try to kill me?”

“Nah,” he said. “Not unless you try to kill me.”

“Fair enough, care to join me by the fire so we can have that nice chat you suggested?”

“Sure thing,”

“After you…”

Mabon popped his head up as they entered the room. Firinne reassured him while they took seats around the fire. “So, what’s a kid like you doing at a ruin by yourself?”

“What’s a kid like you doin’ here?”

“I’m not a child. I’ll be nineteen in a couple of weeks. What about you?”

“I’m thirteen.”

“Right. So, what are you doing here by yourself?”

“I told you I live here…”

“Okay, well why do you live here?”

“I don’t know. It’s been my home since I was born…good a place as any I s’pose.”

“Can you just…can you start from the beginning? I’ve never heard of this place before. I don’t know who you are. Can you just start from the beginning?”

“You’ve never heard of this place before?” Kaolin stared at Firinne in shock. He almost looked hurt. “My name is Kaolin Satel, Prince of Stahrling Castle, and Guardian of the Current. My family ruled this Kingdom and it was one of the strongest on Fia. When I was nine, the Desideriums came in and murdered everyone…everyone, except me that is. Guess they didn’t know about me before they came. Lucky for me, I’ve been here ever since.”

“You’ve been here, on your own, since you were nine?”

“You don’t think I’ve got it in me?” He questioned her as he puffed out his chest.

“Well, I don’t know that I could have taken care of myself at that age, so I wouldn’t see how anyone else could.”

“Ah, well, my parents you see, they must’ve known somethin’ was coming because about six months before the attack they put me through a sort of survival training. Taught me how to hunt, forage, basic defense…that kinda stuff. If it hadn’t been for that…nah, wouldn’t’ve made it.”

“How would they have known there was an attack coming?”

“I don’t know. Don’t really remember them ‘avin a talk with me about it. They just sort of put me through the training and well, I was nine, so mostly I was just having fun. Thought it was a nice little treat. Being a prince and all…well, didn’t think it’d actually come in handy. Boy was I surprised.”

Firinne watched the smirk flash across his face. Then his eyes slowly fell to the fire and that boyish smirk was gone. “I’m sorry about your parents.”

“It is what it is, yeah?”

“Listen, you don’t have to act all callous and bold around me. Honest, my father died a long time ago by the hands of the Desideriums, and my Mum is currently locked up in our dungeons…as well as everyone else from the Queendom.”

“Which Queendom?”

“Citrine, have you been?”

“No, my parents told me that if anything ever happened I shouldn’t cross the river. They never gave me a reason, but I’ve listened all these years. So is it my turn to interrogate?”

Firinne chuckled. “Yes, all right, go on then.”

“What’s your name?”

“You want my full name or just my first name?”

“Hey now, don’t get all sassy with me. You’re first name would’a been just fine, but now I think I’d like your full name if you don’t mind.”

“Sure thing, I’m Firinne Celeste Luxithanya, Second Queen of Citrine Castle, and Extant Crystal Keeper. I escaped through an ancient labyrinth of tunnels under the castle. I’ve been trying to find someone who will help my mother and our Queendom, no luck so far. I came this way after leaving Archen Castle. A map ordered me to.” She shouldn’t have said that, she knew she shouldn’t have.

“So you’re a Queen, who’s been traveling all alone, and a map led you here. What map?”

Firinne lowered her head. “I shouldn’t have mentioned it…”

“Why?”

“I just shouldn’t have, all right?”

“Still don’t trust me?”

She looked up. “Trust is scarce.”

“You’ll tell me tomorrow.” Kaolin said.

“Oh, will I?”

“You’ll see…you’ll tell me. Now, I suppose I shall be most gracious and allow you to rest in my Kingdom. So if you don’t mind, I think I’ll get some sleep. Think your fuzzy guy over there will let me cuddle with him?”

“Unless you want to get mauled, I wouldn’t recommend the attempt…your highness. Mabon is an almost unreadable creature. He also happens to be my best friend. Good night…”

Firinne laid her sword down adjacent to her makeshift bed before tucking herself in.

Kaolin said, “Goodnight, my Queen” as he curled up by the fire.

“Hey, Kaolin?” Firinne said.

“What?”

“What is a Guardian of the Current? What’s a Current?”

“Tomorrow.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN

Revelatory Ruins

 

 

 

Kaolin’s scrawny, boyish figure was standing over her as she stretched her arms over her head. It was too bright in the throne room and as soon as Firinne caught a glimpse of him, she collapsed her hands across her face. Her mind was still stuck in the dream she’d been having; another gray dream that made no sense.

“Can I help you with something?” she said under hands and a smushed nose.

“Yeah, you can get your lazy arse up.”

“What time is it?”

“Too-late-o’clock.”

“Oh very funny” Firinne groaned.

“C’mon, get up. ‘Lots to show you.”

 

 

After Kaolin treated them to some apples, they spent the rest of the morning touring the Castle. Kaolin was like a boy that day. He pranced around from room to room with pride stamped on his face. In every room he would spread his arms wide as if he was showing something that was his own creation — it was endearing, but it made her heart hurt for him. She couldn’t imagine what he had been through, and all of it at such a young age. He had been forced to grow up faster than he should have had to. Today she could see that little boy begging to let down his guard and escape from reality — she wanted to keep him.

The most interesting part of Stahrling Castle was the laboritorium. To get to it, they had to go down at least a dozen flights of stairs, but rather than a spiral staircase, this one made squared, left angles that would sometimes cut across the vertical tunnel; switching off directions every few flights.

Once they reached the bottom, Firinne realized she was in foreign territory. There were huge towers, coils, disks, obelisks, and spirals of copper and silver in every area of the room. It was a gigantic space that was centered right at the bottom of where they had entered. From the bottom, she could see the sky from the floor of the courtyard — miles away. It was like the builders had stuck a square tube in the center of the Castle.

“What is all of this?” she asked.

“This is where mystical things are created.”

“Seriously…”

“The bloodlines of Stahrling Castle are…were, the Guardians of the Current. We, or I, guard the sky’s fire, the electrolifi, and they,” he pointed to the huge shapes of silver and copper, “harness it.”

“You mean like lightning in the sky?”

“Yes, but it’s more than that. Even when there isn’t a storm, the current lives in everything. It even lives in you and me.”

“So what is all of this for then?”

“This is our conductor. It makes the current feel safe and guides it.”

“Well, what is the purpose of it? I mean…what do you do with it?”

Kaolin stared at her with his mouth open for a few seconds.

She flinched a little. “I’m sorry, like I said…I’ve never heard of any of this before.”

“Just watch.”

From behind his back, he pulled what looked like two twigs coated in silver. He touched the two ends together and slowly pulled them apart. As he did so, a white stream of electrolifi followed. Then, he aimed the two twigs at a large, silver sphere to his right and the electrolifi struck hard. In a split second, Firinne was momentarily blinded by currents of energy connecting like magnets from one sphere to the next — finally connecting to the middle and shooting in zig-zags to the top of the castle. Firinne could now see the underside of the pyramid she had seen the night before. It was beautiful.

“So what did you think?” Kaolin said with his hands on his hips.

“That was amazing! I think I’ll be seeing lights in my eyes for days. What did it do?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, that was grand and all, but I don’t see what it did…what was the point of all of it.”

He shrugged, and with a completely straight face said, “No idea.”

Firinne studied him hard for a moment. “You have no idea? What do you mean?”

“I mean I’ve no idea. It was wicked, though, wasn’t it?”

Firinne laughed. “You’re being serious?”

“Dead. This has been here for as long as I can remember. My parents told me that in ancient times, someone came and instructed us to do this. They taught us how to be the guardians of the current. They helped us build these spheres. The electrolifi branches I have were supposedly created by these people, and they have been passed down from one generation to the next. We weren’t ever told what we needed to do this for but apparently my ancestors had reason to not question it.”

“That’s insane! Maybe it has something to do with the citrine pyramid at my castle?”

“Your guess’s as good as any…”

“So, you must use your spectralin to harness the electrolifi, like I use mine with crystals?”

“Yeah, I s’pose that’s it.”

Nothing made any sense. In fact, since meeting Kaolin, things made even less sense than they had before. What was the point of being a crystal keeper, or a guardian of the current? Why did it matter? What was its purpose?

The books —

 

 

 

It was later in the day. Kaolin had left to forage the edge of the forest for evening’s feast. Firinne was building a fire in the throne room where she planned on sleeping again tonight. She would head out tomorrow, follow the map to wherever it would lead her. The question that nagged her was what to do about Kaolin. She was afraid to trust anyone and even more afraid to get close to anyone. She had lost so much already but it would break her to leave him here.

“Those are some deep thoughts.”

Firinne jumped. “Aren’t they all?”

“S’pose you’re right…the way things are in the world now.”

“Mm.”

“Anything you wanna share with your close confidante, Kaolin?”

Firinne stared at him hard. She stared at him as though she thought that if she stared at him hard enough, the truth of him would spill out, and then she would know for certain.

“Why you lookin’ at me like that?”

“Sorry…I’ve just got a lot on my mind.”

“Yeah, we just covered that. You mind telling me what it is?”

“I just…I don’t know if I can trust you.” Firinne said.

“Who am I gonna tell? I’m a ruddy recluse!”

“I know, there’s just so much at stake…”

“Listen, if you wanna tell me then tell me. If you don’t, then maybe you should be on your merry!”

He was hurt. She could see it through his defensiveness. “Kaolin, don’t be that way.”

He put up a hand to silence her and perched himself in a window ledge with eyes set off sternly in the distance.

After a few minutes, Firinne crept towards him. She put her hand on his knee. “That thing you showed me this morning…that was fantastic.”

Kaolin shrugged.

“It made me realize a lot of things but mostly, it left me with more questions. I’ve been through hell Kaolin, and I’m afraid to trust you. No, that’s not right…I’m afraid to trust. But what you showed me made me realize that in order to answer these questions, I’m going to have to tell you.”

“Oh, really?”

“Yes, really. And besides all of that, I don’t think I could bear to leave such an adorable, scruffy mess like you behind. You’d look positively irresistible next to my shaggy stag.”

“Oi! You can stop all that right now!”

Firinne laughed. “See, I’m already getting the hang of you. Guess I can trust you after all.”

Firinne walked away shaking her head. Before she could disappear in the next room, Kaolin was off the ledge and after her.

“Oi! You forgot to tell me what was on your mind!”

“Yeah, you know…you’re right, I did. So whatcha gonna do for me?”

“I’ve already told you…I’m your confidante.” He said as he jabbed his thumbs into his chest.

“I’ll take it. What else’ve you got?”

Kaolin’s eyebrows were now messed up in frustration. “All right, how about your loyal guard?”

“You? Guard me?” Firinne rolled her eyes.

“Hey! You’ve never seen me in a fight! I’m vicious, I tell ya!”

“I’m only playing! All right my guard and my confidante.”

Kaolin nodded.

“Well, confidante…we’d better get you debriefed.”

 

 

 

They spent the next hour together with Firinne explaining everything that had happened to her. It was long and laborious to her. She was also faced with swallowing her pride and revealing some of the bits that involved her which she was not proud of. Kaolin sat there like one of Lirveen’s pupils — taking in every detail. When she got to the part about the huge library and the books, his eyes widened in amazement. When she got to the part about Cyneric and the quake, his face became stone. Kaolin really was a child at heart and Firinne thought that he tried to hide it beautifully.

“So where do I come in?” Kaolin asked.

“You, I am guessing, are the Currantus Electrolifi that the book mentioned. I am the Kristellis Spectralli.”

“There is one other on there, isn’t there?”

“Yes, the Sonicus Leviticus…”

“Do you know what that means?”

“No idea…Imphius probably would.”

“So we go through the mountains then?” Asked Kaolin.

“Yes, do you know anything about them?”

“Only that my parents told me to stay away from them.”

“Yes, I don’t know much about them either. But I don’t know what option we have…assuming you want to be a part of this.”

“I don’t think I have much of a choice. It’s pretty clear that I am the only living Currentus Electrolifi. I just wish I knew what it meant.”

“Your guess is as good as any. Maybe you should grab one of the books…see if anything happens.”

So he did.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHTEEN

Diffraction

 

 

The book lit up with an aura of colors. The light showed brilliantly through the skin of his fingers — an orange tint of red capillaries. From the spine of the book, a wispy cloud of light, rose above their heads and in a moment, the cosmos were displayed above them. Fia glowed a brilliant blue. She was surrounded by her siblings in the shimmering space around them. A golden orb began traveling towards Fia, with flakes of gold traveling closely behind. They encircled Fia. Then, Fia split in two, not down the center — she replicated. Now, two blue planets floated next to each other. They were encased in a web structure, with but a silver cord connecting them.

Kaolin and Firinne stared up in awe. A moment later, the images above them started dissipating and falling towards them — like flakes of snow that melted the moment they landed on their skin. They stared at each other for a moment. And in that moment, they realized that they were a part of something bigger than themselves. Something that was perhaps bigger than Fia. Some unknown force was pulling them into each other and guiding them to the unseen.

“Did that happen when you touched the books?” Kaolin asked, still staring up at what was now just the space between him and the ceiling.

“No, I told you what happened when I touched the books. That…that was incredible. I guess I was right to tell you about all of this. For some reason, you are supposed to be a part of this, just as much as I am.”

“Yeah, I’d say that’s pretty clear. What does it bloody-all mean, though? How can we trust it?”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean how do we know that this isn’t something that the Mist of Blacken created?”

Firinne shrugged. “We don’t, I guess. But I doubt the Mist could create something as beautiful as that. We’ll just have to trust it I supposed. Not like we have any other options.”

“Yeah, I guess you’re right. I just wish I understood.”

“You and I both…do you still want to come with me?”

“Nothin’ else better to do I s’pose.”

“Right. Well, my plan was to leave tomorrow morning. That good for you?”

Then, there was a different voice in the room. “I don’t think either of you will be going anywhere!”

Firinne moved fast. She unsheathed her sword. “Glad you could join us Clavorn. See you’re working for the Blacken, eh? I don’t know how you people at Archen keep your stories straight.”

“You just leave the stories to us then, love. Now, why don’t you put down that kitchen knife and we can talk all proper like.”

“Thanks but I’ll pass on that.” Clavorn moved slowly towards her. He appeared to be alone as far as they could tell. “Did you come alone or is Cyneric with you?”

“Ah, I’m glad you brought that up! I about pissed myself laughing when I found out that you was the lass he had been workin’ on. You miss him do yeh? Want to snuggle with him like you was in the meadow. Safe in is arms, love?”

“Oi! You can just shut your jab right now!” said Kaolin.

“Don’t threaten me little boy! I know all about you. Bet you cry every night for your Mummy.”

Kaolin reached behind his back and pulled out the silver-coated twigs.

“What are you gonna do with those? Poke me to death?”

“Thought you knew all about me? Guess you were mistaken.” As the electrolifi spread like a silken horizon, Firinne made her move. She jumped from the chair and then onto the table. In a swift movement, she leaped and spun in the air with her sword aiming for Clavorn’s throat. But the distraction hadn’t been enough. Clavorn blocked her attack and grabbed her other arm, pulling her into him.

“That was a pretty little dance. You ready to have some fun then?” He thrust his knee into her side and threw her into the stone wall, knocking the breath from her. She was pinned. He grabbed a fistful of her hair and pulled her head back, scraping his knuckles on the stone along the way. He thrust his hips into hers and buried his face in her neck.

Clavorn took a long, lustful breath. “Mm, you smell like a peach. Now, why don’t you tell the little boy to retire to his chambers so we can have a bit of privacy.”

“I’m not gonna leave her! Get away from her!”

“What you gonna do, boy? Throw a bit of light at me?” He pulled out a dagger. “You touch me and I swear I’ll let her bleed.”

Firinne didn’t know what to do. It was checkmate for the time being. They could either fight to the death or hope that a better opportunity would present itself — later. “Kaolin…just go. I’ll be all right.” she said through heavy breaths.

“I’m not gonna just leave you and let this pig have his way with you!”

“You will, and you must. If you don’t…he’ll kill us both. Just go.”

Kaolin stared at Firinne in disbelief. Disbelief and disgust. He turned and started walking towards the throne room, turning his head at the last moment so he could look at her again.

“You heard her. Go!” Clavorn yelled.

As soon as Kaolin had disappeared, Clavorn took Firinne by her hair and threw her into the table. The edge of it dug into the small of her back as he collapsed his full weight on top of her.

“I’m sure Cyneric won’t mind sharing. When we’re done having our fun, I’ll deliver you to him. You’ll be all nice and loosened up for him.”

Firinne was like a stone. She refused to play this game. Men like him wanted her to scream. They wanted her to scream more than they wanted what was inside of her. They wanted to feel the power, to inflict the pain and the fear, that would cause a combustion of hysteria. How else could he be a man?

“Awe, c’mon! I thought you wanted to play. Play with me, girl.”

Firinne turned her face from him.

“No? All right, don’t worry love, I know how to get you to play. I know how to get you to scream.”

He put his forearm on her neck as he started undoing his pants.

This is gonna hurt, she thought.

As Clavorn was looking down, Firinne got one of her hands, free and jammed it into his face with all of the spectralin she could. At the top of her lungs, she screamed “Now, Kaolin!” As she did, she could feel the tenderness of her ribs where Clavorn had kneed her.

“You bitch!” Clavorn screamed.

In less than a second, Firinne kicked with all of her strength into Clavorn’s abdomen, sending him into the free-for-all space between her and the opposing wall. Kaolin shot out of the throne room and before Firinne even saw it happen, Clavorn was glowing in odd convulsions of sparks and smoke.

Firinne ran to Kaolin.

Slowly, Clavorn began collapsing to the floor.

“C’mon, we need to get our stuff and get out of here!”

Together, they ran into the throne room and grabbed everything they could. Mabon knew it was time to leave and he followed them back out into the other room.

The room was now filled with smoke, the most putrid thing that Firinne had ever inhaled. It was somewhere in between burned hair and rotting meat.

“Is it safe to pass him?” Firinne coughed out.

“Mmhm.”

“How long does it last?”

“As long as it needs to.”

Firinne heard them and it sent gooseflesh up her arms. She ran to the window and slowly peered out. Cyneric was leading the way and they had already cleared half of the field between the forest and Stahrling’s gate. Cyneric was riding hard. Even from the distance, she could see the sick excitement in his eyes. There were now five Demogorchians following close behind him. If they didn’t leave now, they wouldn’t stand a chance at escaping.

They had probably seen Kaolin’s light-show. There was too much fear in Stahrling now. The Demogorchians could probably already sense them — knew what room they were standing in, right at this moment. If they didn’t, they could surely smell Clavorn’s scorched bones.

“They’re coming.” She said.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER NINETEEN

Decapitated Chasm

 

 

Firinne and Kaolin were on the other side of the castle now — where the darkness engulfed them. There were black lines in the sky tonight — blotting out the starlight. Even from outside, they could still smell the putrid scent of Clavorn’s corpse.

“They’ve gotta be in the castle by now.” Kaolin said.

“I’m sure they are. We need to head for those northern woods right now before they discover that we aren’t there. It’ll be quicker if we ride Mabon.”

Kaolin turned to Mabon, and then gave Firinne a look of apprehension.

“Now’s not the time, little man. I promise Mabon won’t hurt you. C’mon, let’s go.”

Mabon rode with all his might. It was pitch black once they hit the thicket of trees and Firinne was afraid to create any light. But it seemed that Mabon had no trouble navigating the thick forest, even though Firinne and Kaolin couldn’t see a thing.

Everything was quiet — so quiet that their breath sounded like the waves crashing at sea.

“Do you think we’re safe now?” Kaolin asked.

“I’m not sure. Every time I think I’m safe…well…”

“Yeah, You know, I’ve never actually left my home…not really. I mean, sure I’ve gone into the woods a bit to forage and hunt, but I’m really leaving. I don’t even know if I’ll ever be back.”

“You know Kaolin, I’m not sure that we are ever really home. I mean sure, we have our beds, comfort, and all the familiarities, but I think home is where friends and family are.”

“I don’t have any family, though.”

“It’s true. I know that nothing could ever replace your family but…I’m your friend now and as long as you’re with me, you’re home.”

Kaolin was quiet for a long moment. “Look at you gettin’ all mushy on me. Went from not knowin’ whether you could trust me, to calling me, family. You’ve come a long way, young one.”

“Oh, shut it.” Firinne smiled.

Kaolin flattened his hand on the top of her head and rustled her hair a bit.

“Kaolin, stop.”

“All right, all right, Sorry!”

She put her hand up to pause him. “No, listen for a minute.”

They both stilled. Even Mabon perked his ears up.

After a moment Kaolin said, “Yup, definitely the riders…damn.”

“Mabon, pick up the pace if you can.”

“How far do you think they’ll follow us.”

“To the ends of Fia, would be my guess. Keep your fear controlled, we don’t want to give them any help in tracking us.”

“How do you do that?”

Firinne turned around half of the way to look at Kaolin. “You seriously don’t know how?”

Kaolin shook his head.

“All right, you know the feeling your body gets when it’s really cold. Like the dead of winter and all of your limbs start to feel tingly and numb? Focus on that feeling. Focus on being numb and free of all emotions….like, you’re empty.”

“That’s it?”

“That’s what I do. It’s worked so far.” She shrugged. “Start practicing, Kaolin.”

“All right.”

Mabon took them deeper into the forest. Meanwhile, Firinne was trying to formulate a plan in her head. It was something she had never tried, but she thought that there was a chance that she would be able to do. The only downfall was that it could significantly weaken her. She hoped that if it did, Kaolin would be capable of filling in the gaps-of-fight for her.

“Do you hear them?” Kaolin asked.

“Nuh-uh. You?”

“No, maybe they gave up? Decided to try a different direction?”

“We’d only be so lucky.”

Seconds passed and there was a loud swooshing sound, accompanied by a series of loud screeches. The Demogorchians had been tracking them from above. One of them swooshed down and scratched Kaolin on the face while the others landed only a few feet behind them. Again, Firinne found herself being chased by a small herd of them, and again she wondered why she was so important to them.

Firinne yelled through the air. “You all right?”

“Yeah, just a scratch…bastard!”

“Kaolin, you’re gonna have to switch me spots. I’ve gotta be in the rear.” Firinne grabbed Kaolin’s arm as he grabbed hold of Mabon’s mane.

Firinne was now in the rear, clinging with her thighs for dear life.

Here goes nothing.

Just as Kaolin started yelling at Firinne, and asking her why she wasn’t attacking, the ground in front of the Desideriums began to shake. All of the riders, including Cyneric, stared at the ground, and then back at her. In the midst of the air screaming next to her ears, Firinne could faintly hear Cyneric yell something out to her, and for once, she didn’t care.

The first one sliced through the ground seconds behind the target. The sounds of crumbling rocks echoed through the forest. Firinne was raising crystals from the dead — massive shards of fractals — Quartz as sharp as blades. The second one didn’t miss. Up from the depths of the dirt, a crystal shot up like a dagger, impaling a Demogorchian, and causing its rider to be flung forward into the air. Moments later it was trampled by its kin.

Another crystal, larger than the last, rose into the air into the middle of the pack, causing momentary unbalance. Firinne wasn’t tired, not even a bit. It was like she had been awakened — resurrected. Never had she attempted crystal growing of this proportion, and she was excelling at it.

“You ready for the finale, Cyneric?” she yelled.

He locked eyes with her, and she held his gaze. Then a smile — the sweetest she had ever given him.

Forgive me Fia.

She tore open her mother, and her mother screamed— a horrible tearing — a thunderous noise.

Firinne opened her eyes and stared upon her creation.

Fifteen feet in the air and three times as long, as tall as the wooden spikes at Archen, stood a wall of crystals, interlocked and overlapped — flawless.

And from behind the crystallin barrier, Cyneric was screaming.

 

 

 

“That was amazing!”

“Thanks,” Firinne said, “we had better lose them as fast as we can. That wall will give us some extra time, but I don’t want us to get arrogant.”

“Which way should we go?” asked Kaolin.

“Let’s stay on track. They’ll have to cut to the east or west to get around the wall, and they might have a hard time finding our path again.”

“Right. C’mon Mabon!” Kaolin said.

“Oh, you’re friends now?”

Kaolin smiled.

 

 

 

Neither of them had slept all night and in contrast, they hoped Cyneric and the pack of Demogorchians had slept. In the early light, they could see that the peaks were drawing closer now. Firinne had never been this close to the mountains before. The only thing that she knew about them was that the Clandestine Guardians lived there or used to and that The Ascending had taken place there.

The path was now becoming rockier. She didn’t think that they would be able to continue to ride on Mabon’s back, and so she dismounted.

“What’re you doin’?” asked Kaolin.

“We can’t ride on him all the way up. He could easily lose his balance on these rocks, and then we’d all be in trouble.”

Kaolin nodded. “Thanks for the ride, mate.”

The air was beginning to cool, the higher up they went. So far, there was no sign of Cyneric or his pack, but they continued. Their pace was now slowing due to all of the rocks and uneven ground. Firinne could see now that the peaks at the summit were covered with snow; blinding beacons in a terrain of gray hues.

Kaolin stopped. “Did you feel that?”

“The cold?”

“Yeah, but it felt like we stepped into it.”

“Did you feel like something touched you?”

“Yeah…it was like the air around us was covered in silk for a second…like I stepped through a web.” Kaolin shivered.

“Keep your eyes open.”

The higher they traveled, the bigger the stones on the ground became, and Firinne began to wonder whether these were naturally occurring stones, or if they were from something else. The air had significantly thinned now and they were both panting a little for oxygen.

“Kaolin, do you know if there was ever a castle on these mountains before?”

“Nah, why?”

“I don’t know…look at these stones.” Firinne pointed down at one and traced her finger against it. “They’ve got straight edges.”

“Well, I guess we’ll find out if we come across a ruin.”

“Yeah, I guess so. It just seems odd…I know this is where The Ascending happened, but…something seems off.”

After they had walked a couple more feet, they noticed that there was black smoke, billowing up ahead. The closer they got to it, the more they became convinced that there had been a Castle on the mountain.

A gray fireball with a black tail flew through the air and caused a huge explosion in the distance.

“What’s going on?” Firinne yelled through the blast, — as if he would know.

Kaolin just shook his head. He looked scared — so was Firinne.

They were walking carefully now. Just up ahead, there were the same gray flames burning a small shrub. Firinne walked over to it and she noticed something as she got closer. The fire didn’t seem to be giving off any heat, even though she could clearly see that it was burning the shrub to ashes.

“Kaolin, c’mere and see this.”

After he had inspected it, Kaolin put his hand through the flames. Nothing happened. “What kind of fire does this?”

“I’ve no idea, but something weird is going on. We’d better be careful.”

She looked behind her down the mountain from where they had come. There was no sign of Cyneric and she was more hopeful that they had really lost him. The last thing they needed right now was a stampede behind them as they walked through this place.

The farther towards the smoke they walked, the more scorched everything became. But she couldn’t smell the smoke, the air seemed fine to breath, and she didn’t see anyone.

Then, like a door had opened, the mountains began to echo with the sounds of screams. She could hear the agony in each wail. Her chest immediately became heavy with sorrow. Something horrible is happening here, she thought.

“We’ve gotta go and try to help them. We’ve gotta help them!”

Kaolin nodded. They ran as fast as they could — jumping and pivoting around debris.

It had taken them almost a whole day to climb to this point, but it didn’t take long before the whole scene was clear. There were bodies everywhere and most of them weren’t moving. The ground was dark and sticky with blood. There was so much blood that it was impossible to tell who it had come from. Bodies upon bodies littered their paths — mangled and deformed, breaks in bones never seen before. There were men and women of all adult-age, lying like grotesque puppets — screaming into the air for their savior. Empty air.

Empty.

Firinne studied the ruins of the castle, trying to make out some sort of familiarity. Something that would tell her who this castle belonged to, what family reigned here. Everything was so black with ash that it was almost impossible to tell ash from stone. Everything was in pieces and it looked more like a rock-slide, than it did a castle. There was only one tower that was still intact but there were no symbols on it. She couldn’t understand why no one had told her about this place. Why didn’t she know that there was another Kingdom, or Queendom, on their lands?

The courtyard of the castle was even worse. At the center, there was a chasm caused by one of the fireballs. Inside of it, there was a mound of people screaming for help. None of them realized that they could not be helped because they were only heads…nothing more, just heads. Something had decapitated each and every one of them. What could do such a thing?

“We’ve gotta get out of here! We can’t help any of them!” Kaolin looked pale.

“You’re…you’re right. Keep moving. Get back to the path. If there is anyone we can help along the way, then we will.” She felt like if she spoke anymore that she would vomit, and she would never stop vomiting.

Kaolin was running and Firinne was at his heels. Then, something caught her eye. There was a man, in his mid-thirties with black hair. He had been impaled by a spike of obsidian. He was holding his middle, with his palms cupped like bowls, trying to stop his blood from falling to the ground — as though it would keep him alive longer.

She searched her memory and began walking towards him. Kaolin noticed that she was no longer following behind and stopped to watch her.

As she got closer she realized who the impaled man was. In a moment of complex emotions, she cupped her hands over her mouth so she wouldn’t throw up.

“Fff…Father?”

Maybe he didn’t hear her? “Father!” she said a bit more loudly. Still, nothing. She walked up to him and put her face in front of his eyes. He still didn’t respond to her, he just continued to try to catch his own blood. “FATHER!”

She was now screaming in his face. Crazed, she continued to scream hoping that he would finally hear her, see her. She tried to grab him, but her hands sliced through him like jelly. Firinne backed away and collapsed on the ground, unable to comprehend what was happening. Kaolin stood with Mabon, frozen while Firinne sat on the ground shaking uncontrollably, looking down at her hands and back at the impaled man who she was sure was her father.

A hand touched her back.

“Get up, woman-child.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY

Silver Summit

 

 

 

Firinne looked up. Standing behind her was an old woman, with long, silver hair. Her skin was wrinkled. The tip of her nose was like a miniature, peach. Her hands were rough but strong. She smiled down at Firinne with calm and understanding.

“You can see me?”

“Get up woman-child. Of course I can see you. We need to leave this place.”

“But why can you see me but…but he can’t?”

The woman bent down and took Firinne’s hand. After that, she pulled her up with a strength that Firinne hadn’t expected.

“Are you one of the Clandestine Guardians?”

The old woman pulled Firinne gently, in Kaolin’s direction. Firinne looked at Kaolin, and Kaolin shrugged — just as uncertain as she was.

“Where did you come from?” Firinne asked.

The old woman stopped and took Firinne by the shoulders. “We haven’t got the time for questions right now. We have to leave this place…now.”

Firinne nodded in agreement but deep down, she was wondering, as she always wondered, whether she should trust the old woman. But what choice did they have? They were instructed to go to the mountains. They must climb — climb and hope they would not fall.

An hour or so had passed. Farther up they went and soon they were walking in snow. The wind was howling and they wished they were warm. The peaks were so white Firinne had to squint her eyes. She could no longer feel her feet or the tops of her thighs; she kept punching them as if it would wake them up.

Firinne looked over at Kaolin.“How’re you holding up, Kaolin?”

“Oh you know, might stop movin’ on accident because all my limbs froze-over.”

Firinne put her arm around his.

“There…” The old woman was pointing to a pinnacle. Just below, Firinne could make out a round patch of darkness. It was a cave, and they weren’t far from it.

 

 

 

 

Once inside the cave, the old woman began stacking up wood in the middle for a fire. A golden ball of spectralin flew from her palm, and Firinne and Kaolin rushed over to it. They both sat down and started looking around the cave. There were primitive drawings on the walls — symbols that Firinne found no meaning in. Perhaps it was a language long before her time. There was only one other thing that stood out to them. At the farthest end of the cave, was a tremendous door. It was made of some kind of reddish metal, with designs, engravings, and moldings that Firinne had never seen before. It looked like it came from another land — time — world. Mabon was curled up in a corner clearly ready for bed and unfazed by all of the excitement.

Kaolin and Firinne looked at each other with curiosity.

“All in time, little ones. All in time.” The old woman smiled as she said it. “Kaolin, are you warm enough now? Limbs still on? How about you, Firinne?”

They both nodded. “Thank you…”

“Lazata”

“Thank you, Lazata. Wait…how do you know our names?”

“Must be my vast wisdom of all things.” She smiled again.

Kaolin and Firinne just stared at her.

“Firinne, I knew your Father once…a long time ago. Kaolin, I knew your parents as well, and that gorgeous white hair was confirmation it was you.”

They were flabbergasted. Together they both said, “How did you…”

“One at a time, we’ve got a lot to discuss, and you both have got a lot to learn. We need to use our time efficiently.”

“Let me start from the beginning. Long before your time, and even mine, the lands of Fia were peaceful. Blessings to the Clandestine Guardians, they showed us how to live in harmony with Fia and her creatures. In the beginning, we taught ourselves how to hunt, grow, defend, build, and carve beautiful wands to use for our spectralin. The Clandestines came from far away lands…lands, yet undiscovered by our people. When they came, they saw that our ways would eventually lead to friction between the people, Fia, and her creatures. The Clandestines had come long before our ancestors and so they knew how to be harmonious with Fia. They came and they taught us about our spectralin power. They taught us what it did to our spectralin when we ate one of Fia’s creatures. They taught us that to be more powerful, we had to live in unison on these lands, and that if we did so, we would no longer need to carve our wands. After the people of Fia had learned these things, The Clandestines retired to these mountains…this cave to be more specific so that they could watch over Fia. Centuries passed and Fia and her creatures thrived.”

“So where did The Clandestine Guardians go? I mean, where are they now?”

“Patience, Kaolin…I will get there.” Lazata said.

She continued. “Then, the Mist of Blacken came. It levitated across the lands of Fia. It blocked out The Great Star and threatened our existence. No one knew where it came from, except perhaps the Clandestines…they probably knew. The people of Fia were scared. They had never seen such powerful magic. So, all of the three, regal Queendoms and Kingdoms sought an audience with the Clandestines for guidance. The Clandestines said that we must go to battle, and so we did. We set up our post at Castle Leviticus and The Ascension began. We fought hard, but we had no idea what we were up against. The Mist brought in thousands of Demogorchians. While the Demogorchians were engaging us, the Dantalion Lords initiated the fireballs and obsidian spears. We never stood a chance, and we didn’t know until it was too late. After the battle, the Blacken came into every village and took every man it could find…aptly named, The Numbing. That is how the Desideriums came to be. It was our punishment for The Ascension.”

“So that ruin that we saw?”

“Yes, Firinne, that ruin is Castle Leviticus, left the way that it was on the day of The Ascension. Don’t you see? The level of barbarity that took place on that ground a century ago damaged the energy in that area forever. Fia cannot process such savagery, and therefore, that scene will be replayed like a memory, over and over again, until Fia can be healed. That is why you could not touch your father, Firinne. It’s not really him, it is just… Fia’s memory of him.”

“You said you knew my father?”

“Both yours, and Kaolin’s parents. I was there when their mothers and fathers had an audience with the Clandestines. Only the elders were allowed to have an audience. Your parents never got to meet the Clandestines.”

“So, why are you still alive, and where are the Guardians?”

“The Clandestines had another job for me. I was trained by them in the months prior, and during The Ascension. I still don’t know why they chose me. I would’ve gladly fought next to my brothers, and sisters. So, while everyone was making battle preparations, I was locked in this cave with the Clandestines preparing for something else.” She locked her hands together; cradling her abdomen.

“What did you prepare for?”

“Funny you should ask. I was prepared for this exact moment.”

“What’d’ya mean?” Kaolin asked.

“I mean this moment…when you two came stumbling up my garden path.”

Kaolin and Firinne looked at each other.

“You see, the Clandestines weren’t sure that the people of Fia would defeat the Blacken, so they devised a plan that they could fall back on. They prepared me for the plan in case they didn’t make it through the battle. As it were, they did not. They wanted to, but the Clandestines were only allowed to interfere with the people of Fia to a certain extent.”

“Allowed? Who gave them orders?”

“The Ethereal Collective, I suppose.”

“And who’s that?”

“Haven’t the foggiest,” She giggled.

Kaolin made a swirling motion around his temple. “So how did you know you could trust them?”

The old woman sighed. “Because of all of the things they taught me, and because of all of the things they knew about both of you. Both of you are a part of their secondary plan…the one they trained me for.” She looked at Firinne. “Those books you found at Archen weren’t there by mistake, and they were not the property of King Gryndon. They were placed there by me so that you would find them. I too, am only allowed to interfere to a certain point.”

“We could’ve used your help, though!”

“You probably could have, Kaolin, but you wouldn’t be the individuals you are right now if I had done you any favors.”

“Hang on a second.” Firinne put her hand up. “How exactly are we a part of all of this? I’m just trying to get my Mum out of the dungeons.”

“Is that all you are doing, Firinne? Really?”

Firinne hesitated.

“You can feel it all the way down to your bones, Fir. You are a part of something bigger, something predestined. As is Kaolin. We cannot even hope to defeat the Blacken without the both of you.”

“But what makes us so special?” asked Firinne.

“You are the last two, of the three Spectralin Families. Sure, everyone on Fia has spectralin families but they cannot do what both of you, do. Kaolin, your mother, and father could not manipulate the Electrolifi the way you do. Those pretty little, silver coated twigs of yours were made especially for you. Firinne, have you ever seen your mother grow crystals?”

“Well, no, but she taught me.”

“She taught you because the Clandestines told her parents how to teach you. Time has let both of you live as normal lives as you could, given the current circumstances but time has run out, and the Blacken knows it. That is why it has sent its cronies after you. It is afraid of you, afraid of what you and Kaolin are capable of.”

“Wait, you said two of the three…where’s the third?”

“He was stolen from Leviticus Castle and sacrificed by the Dantalion Lords, for the Blacken.”

“How old was he?”

“Two-years-old…”

Firinne shook her head. “They make me sick.”

“So, how are we supposed to stand a chance against the Blacken? I mean, it’s just the two of us right?” Kaolin said.

Lazata shook her head. “Three… I was instructed that at this point, I could interfere. I know I might not look like much life is left in me, but I promise your eyes are mistaken.”

Kaolin smirked.

“Still, though, how are the three of us supposed to stop this thing if a whole battle couldn’t?”

“After your training, you might think differently.”

“Training?” Kaolin and Firinne said together.

“Ah! Soup is ready!” While she had been telling them the story, she had made a pot of soup and they hadn’t even noticed. She now handed them stone bowls. “I’m afraid you’re gonna have to sip it. I haven’t gotten any utensils.”

Kaolin laughed. “I think the last thing we are worried about is proper eating supplies.”

“But I still don’t—

“Firinne, eat your soup. I promise I will explain the rest after. We need our strength.”

Firinne nodded and began sipping away. She thought she could taste a hint of clarity in it; something she hadn’t tasted in a long time.

 

 

 

 

After they had eaten, the old woman explained that the powers of the Spectralin families had the potential to be even more powerful than the Blacken itself. Kaolin and Firinne still didn’t understand how, nor did they know what the plan was.

“So how did you survive? You said the Clandestines didn’t make it. But you did. How?”

“So distrustful.”

Firinne could feel the red flow into her cheeks.

“It’s all right, it’s good…only to a point, though. Keep distrusting everyone and you won’t have anything to hold onto in the end. The Clandestines hid me deep in the cave. They sealed me in and the hiding place could only be opened from the inside. They drugged me with Belladonna and I didn’t wake up until the battle was over, the Clandestines were dead, and the Blacken had gone back to its castle.”

“That must have been awful. Waking up to find that everyone was dead and you are all that’s left.”

“Worst morning of my life.”

Lazata got up and walked over to the door. She touched the fingertips of her hand to a torus symbol in the middle of the door. The edgings of the door began to glow with a light, golden color. The ground beneath them began to tremble slightly, and the door started to open. It didn’t open the way a normal door does, but rather it slid to the side, and into a space carved into the rock horizontally.

The old woman turned to them with bits of silver hair falling into her face. With a smile she said. “Are you both ready?”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-ONE

Inside Clandestine

 

 

Kaolin, Firinne, and Mabon followed her beyond the door. At first it was a void of black, but once Lazata reached a certain stone on the floor, the pathway ahead, littered with foreign symbols, became illuminated by a warm glow. Each symbol was connected to each other and so, it was like watching a luminous plague hop across a circuit-board. Eventually, the light crept up the walls and farther onto the ceiling, which looked to be the entire height of the mountain they were in. At the far end of the huge room, there was an incline of stairs which led to three copper thrones, and three doors.

Firinne bent down to examine the strange symbols which were filled with light. She traced her finger along it’s arches. The light was liquid. She could scoop it up with her finger, but she could not keep it; dissipating in milli-seconds.

“What is this, Lazata?”

“I don’t know. The Clandestines built this place and all of its secrets. There was such a short amount of time that they had with me, to prepare me before they died. Consequently, I will probably never know what that incredible form of light is.”

“Do you think it could be spectralin in liquid form?” asked Kaolin.

Lazata shrugged. “That’s probably what it is, but we will never be sure. C’mon you two, we have much to do.”

They followed Lazata through the first door, where she then went and stood by a rack which was filled with an assortment of weapons.

“This is where you will work on combat. First, however, I need to take both of you to the Epiphany Chamber.”

Firinne and Kaolin looked at each other. They were both feeling wary about the whole situation now. They had gone through exactly two doors, and already the weight of what they were being asked to do seemed impossible — no one had asked — yet.

Two doors remaining.

The next room they found themselves in was a round room. It was very plain, other than the massive sarcophagus in the center of it, and just like the rest of the rooms, it was covered in symbols.

“Both of you will need to take turns lying down in the Epiphanous. Firinne, do you still have the books?” Firinne nodded, pulled them from her bag, and handed them to Lazata.

“Who wants to go first?”

Kaolin looked at Lazata. “Um, what does it do?”

“It helps you…see.” She smiled.

“I think I can see fine, thanks…”

“It will not hurt you, I promise. I too have done it.”

“Have you? Good for you!”

“Now, really, Kaolin. Why would I br—

“I’ll do it.”

Kaolin turned and stared at Firinne. If she could have read his thoughts, it probably would have sounded something like, the audacity!

“You’re desperate Fir! You’re not thinking clearly. Let’s just go.”

“No, Kaolin. I’ve got nothing left to lose. We have to do something and if that means I have to trust another old woman, and lie down in a creepy, stone coffin…well, I’m gonna do it. I’d love it if you stayed to watch.”

Kaolin hesitated.

“It’ll be fine…it has to be.”

He nodded with reluctance.

Firinne walked over to the Epiphanous, climbed in, and laid down. Lazata came over and inserted Firinne’s book into a slot on the side of the Epiphanous. When she was done, she touched her finger to one of the indentations on the outer lid.

Everything was sunset.

“I have to close this now. It will open on its own when it knows you’re ready.”

“It knows?”

Lazata smiled, and that smile was the last thing Firinne saw before the lid shut away the outside world —the one that plagued her, feared her, and the one which she loved.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-TWO

Epiphany

 

 

It was like floating and drowning simultaneously…

Anguish…realization.

Haste.

…Darkness and illumination.

Corruption.

Duplicate.

 

Firinne, wake up! I can’t see you!

 

An upsurge of colors.

An endless expanse of darkness, emptiness, nothingness…

…And everything is littered with stars.

 

 

 

 

 

Firinne’s eyes shot open. Her breaths were uneven.

“Take it slow, love,” Lazata said as she helped Firinne from the Epiphanous.

Firinne was shaking and her face was white. She did not feel weak, though. She felt more alive than she ever had.

“What’s wrong with her?” Kaolin asked.

“She has seen,” Lazata said.

“Seen what? I don’t understand.” Kaolin looked afraid.

Firinne spoke. “Kaolin, get in the Epiphanous. You have to!” Her voice was hoarse, but it was full of power — power she never knew that she had.

Kaolin was frozen.

“Kaolin! We don’t have time for this! I know you’re scared but there is a lot depending on us…a lot. It’s not a matter of whether you want to see or not. I will force you in there if I have to.” She was in his face now. “Look at me Kaolin, I’m okay. Just get in there and get it over with.”

Kaolin made no response. Instead, he walked over to the Epiphanous, and slowly climbed in.

The blue book was inserted into the slot. It’ll be okay, was the last thing he heard before the lid closed on him.

What Firinne had seen was enormous and vastly complex. She had no idea how she was going to do everything that was being demanded of her. Everything was dependent on her, and Kaolin. If they did not succeed, their world would no longer exist. She had no idea how volatile the situation here on Fia was or how far it expanded. Cyneric, Triphosa, Bricius — it all seemed so trivial, now.

“Everything’s gonna work out, Fir.”

Firinne smiled at the old woman. It was a fake smile, one that is meant to appease during uncomfortable situations. But Firinne felt no guilt, she knew that the old woman recognized it for what it was.

The lid opened, and this time, Firinne helped Kaolin out. He looked the same as she had only minutes ago. There was no other way for the body to cope with the magnitude of information that the Epiphanous provided. It was amazing what the body could endure.

Kaolin stared at Firinne for a long time. His boyish face was paled by a kind of instant maturity. He had been awakened. Deep inside herself, Firinne cried for his loss. He was no longer allowed to be a child. Whatever part of him that had still been a child when she met him at Stahrling Castle was gone now. She could see it in his face — his realization that he had no choice. They didn’t, not really, because if they chose to abdicate, they would be sitting idly by while watching themselves, Fia, and everyone they loved be completely destroyed.

Kaolin was pulling himself up straight now. Firinne could see the determination in his face.

“We better get started.”

Firinne nodded.

 

 

 

They were back in the weapons room now and Lazata was explaining what all of the different weapons were called, and what their uses were. There were so many different kinds, Firinne didn’t know where to begin. Lazata encouraged them to try all of them. She said that once they had found the weapon that was most comfortable to them, they could master their skills on the wooden dummies that she had pulled out from a closet. As for hand combat, she said that they had to fight each other, which didn’t appeal to either of them at all. On one hand, Kaolin didn’t feel right about hitting a female while Firinne didn’t feel right about hitting a young boy. As the hours passed that they spent together, Firinne had become more and more fond of Kaolin. He was like a little brother to her, although she knew better than to tell him that.

“I still don’t see why we have to train with new weapons. I have my electrolifi and Firinne has her crystals. We both know how to use swords and daggers.”

“These weapons are different and in order for you to use them, you must train with them so that you can develop a bond with your weapon.”

Firinne was looking at an ax. Too heavy, she thought.

Lazata continued. “All of these weapons have had spectralin encoded into them. These are the most powerful weapons in all of Fia, and if you use them proficiently, they will never fail you.”

Kaolin picked up a sword. As soon as he did, its blade began to glow blue.

“Once you have chosen your weapon, the weapon will bend to your needs, thus becoming yours.” Lazata continued, “Your weapon uses your unique spectralin gifts, but because it is a facilitator, it gives you back the energy that you provide it. Think of it as a friend.”

Kaolin walked over to one of the wooden dummies and struck. There was an eruption of blue electrolifi that webbed out all over the dummy. Kaolin’s eyes shot open, and he looked at Firinne, as the dummy behind him smoked. He was like a child with a new toy, and Firinne loved the smell of burned pine.

There was a bow hanging off of the weapons rack. Firinne had never shot a bow before and this one didn’t have any arrows with it.

“Lazata, where are the arrows for this bow?”

“Do you know how to shoot?” asked Lazata.

“No, I don’t. Could you teach me?”

“This is a very special bow. The stave is made of our ancestors’ wands, so if you choose to carry this bow, you will also carry, and be carried by, the energy of your ancestors. It doesn’t have any arrows because you make them as you shoot.”

She grasped the bow and studied its craftsmanship. There had to be at least ten wands melded together — each with their own carvings — made from different trees. Firinne walked over and placed herself about fifteen feet from one of the dummies. “Will you tell me how?”

“Of course. Your arrows will be made of crystal of course. Place your right hand next to your left hand at the grip. Then you will pull your right hand away from the grip and when you do so, you will need to form your crystal arrow.”

“And that will work?” Firinne was looking at Lazata, suspiciously.

Lazata smiled. “I promise that it will.”

Firinne did as she was instructed. She focused all of her intention and imagined a crystal arrow in her mind — like the ones that many of the guards had carried around at Citrine. She began pulling back and as she did, she could feel something cold pinched between her fingers. When she reached the string, she opened her eyes. Resting on her gripping hand, was a perfectly formed arrow made of Quartz.

Firinne felt a new level of confidence travel through her like a wave. For so long she had felt so weak, so incapable, so desperate. She pulled back on the bow, aimed for the dummy’s head and let go. The arrow sliced through the air and left prisms on the walls of the training room. THUNK. The arrow hit the dummy’s shoulder. Guess that’s what training is for, she thought.

For the rest of the day, Firinne and Kaolin practiced with their new weapons until Kaolin could no longer lift the sword with his arm, and Firinne had developed blisters on her fingers from the bow. Lazata remarked that they had a lot of work to do and suggested that they retire for the evening. She fed them another bowl of soup which they wished there was more of.

After they ate, Lazata showed them where the sleeping quarters were. All of them had separate rooms in the same corridor as one another. Each room was furnished simply with all of the basic necessities. There was a special door in each room which led into a cave-like area, which supplied fresh water for bathing — trickling down the rock walls. The beds were more comfortable than the hard floors, and scratchy woods that they had been sleeping on for the past couple of weeks. They were both grateful.

Lazata told them that she would wake them at dawn to begin training. They only had a week, she said. Regardless of whether they had more work to do or not, one week would have to do. Firinne watched as Kaolin and Lazata disappeared into their own separate rooms, and then retired into her own.

There was a shelf carved into the rock that had a stack of linen robes. Firinne was grateful as she did not have a change of clothes. She undressed and went into the Water Room to clean the salt from her body, and wash her dress. That same dress that she had worn when she escaped Citrine was now fraying at the bottom. There were stains, and some of the embroidered threads were coming undone now. She missed Citrine and for the first time since all of this had started, she realized that her life would never be the same again. This was good and bad, depending on how she looked at it, and the only thing that she knew for certain was that she would not be able to return home, really return home, for a very long time. It wasn’t just her mother that she had to worry about now, it was so much more.

The clean linens felt like silk on her skin as she lay down on the small bed. Her hands were crossed behind her head, and within minutes, her foot was now swaying side to side like the hand of a clock. She hadn’t slept alone in a room since Archen, and at Archen, she had hardly slept. She was sleeping inside a mountain — inside a castle, inside a mountain. She was really here and this was all really happening. Her worst-case-scenario meter could never have predicted this, not in a billion years.

There was a light knock at the door about thirty minutes later and she saw the bright-white of Kaolin’s hair as he poked his head through the opening of the door.

“Can’t sleep?” She asked him.

“No, you?”

“Does it look like it?”

“Can I…er…”

“Sure you can. I’ll scoot over and give you some room.”

“No, it’s okay. I’ll just sleep on the floor next to you. I brought my blankets.” He said as he held them up high over his head, as if expecting Firinne to feel better about the situation.

“Really Kaolin? You’ve not had a bed in…well…forever. I really don’t mind if you sleep here. Nothing weird, I promise.”

“No, it’s okay, really. I just can’t sleep in that room by myself…too quiet.”

“Yeah, I understand. It’s all kind of a whirlwind huh?”

“You could say that.”

“I just did.” Firinne said as she smirked at him.

Kaolin made his make-shift bed on the floor next to her. Together they listened to the water trickling off the walls. They laid there in silence for a long time. Eventually, Kaolin’s breathing slowed, and Firinne could finally sleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-THREE

Victimator

 

 

 

 

As Lazata promised, she came to wake them before the Great Star had risen in the sky (not that they had known that, after all, they were hidden deep in a mountain). After they had woken, the old woman fed them water and oats for morning’s feast. She told Firinne and Kaolin that today they would be training in combat, rather than with their weapons.

“I’ll leave you to it then. I’ve got some things that I’ve got to take care of today, which includes taking that Stag of yours out for a bit of fresh air.” Both Firinne and Kaolin nodded as she closed the door behind her.

During their short time in the Ephipanous, they had seen their training. Somehow, it had shown them the exact combat moves that they were to practice. It was just a matter of perfecting the moves, and executing them properly.

“Well, this’ll be fun. I promise to go easy on you.” Kaolin said lightly as he punched the air in front of his face.

“Don’t get cocky.” Firinne shot back. They were masking; finding a way to get through it. Now as they both stood in front of each other, their arms hung lax at their sides.

“How’re we supposed to do this, Fir?”

“Ugh, I don’t know. We’ve got to do it, though. How about you imagine that I’m…” She didn’t want to be insensitive.

“What that you’re the Desiderium that killed my parents? And how about I’m…Cyneric?”

“Yeah, okay. Let’s just try not to kill each other all right?”

“Agreed.”

The next few hours were a mixture of anger therapy, and comedy. At one point, Firinne went to kick Kaolin in the ribs but her dress stopped her short, which gave Kaolin the perfect opportunity to grab her leg and flip her. She landed on her chest and shortly after, Kaolin was on his, both laughing hysterically.

They both got a couple good shots in. Kaolin was now bleeding just above his eyebrow. Likewise, he had cracked Firinne’s lip open, and of course, this had given him the opportunity to call her a cannibal. Firinne followed that with grabbing his leg and watching as he fell flat on his back.

Overall, they were doing well. Their precision was improving and even though they were sore, they were doing well with not taking all of the blows personally. They would lighten every hit with a joke; determined not to impede their friendship.

Lazata came to check on them before their session ended, remarking that they were doing well and that she was beginning to prepare evening’s feast. They hadn’t rested since midday meal when they scarfed down some almonds and oats. Now, it was the last stretch of the day and they were both tired and ready to be done. They had worked on every move, twice over. Just as Firinne was coming in to throw a hit to Kaolin’s head, he had moved in on her and connected his fist with her solar plexus. Instantly, the air was knocked out of her and she landed on the floor on her knees. The pain was incredible and without any control, she began to sob.

Kaolin rushed down to her. “Fir, I’m so sorry!”

Firinne pursed her lips together and put her hand up as to say it was okay, as tears rolled like tidal waves down her cheeks. She couldn’t speak, she was still trying to get her breath back, but if she had been able to, she would have told him that it wasn’t the hit that was making her cry. It wasn’t Kaolin’s fault that he managed to hit the part of her body that would release these emotions that she had refused to release in the past week. Her heart needed to mourn for its loss and she hadn’t allowed it. She hadn’t allowed it to break down and be weak.

It was at this moment as she held herself up, inches away from kissing the floor, that she realized that in order to be strong she had to allow herself the weakness. She had lost or been betrayed, by almost every single person that she had loved. Everything was easy to understand. Triphosa, she was sick, but Fir could understand her. She couldn’t understand where that sickness came from, though. Cyneric was what made her ache so badly. She couldn’t piece together the real from the facade. It was the Blood. His dependency on Fia’s Blood is what made her question everything.

Back and forth, back and forth. Did he love me? Did he use me? Did he do both? When he kissed me, did it mean something, or was it just his mission? Does he work for the Blacken, or does he work for the Blacken because of the Blood? Without the Blood, would he have ever changed into this monster that he is now? How does someone let go when there is no resolution? When there is no truth?

Firinne lifted herself up and grabbed hold of Kaolin. His eyes were as clear as aquamarine. “Why did he do this to me?” she said through a mouth full of thick saliva; as if it’s your body’s way of making sure you don’t talk, so it has a long enough time to cry.

“Because he loves you and he knows he doesn’t deserve you.”

“But he had me. I gave him, myself…he had me.”

“You let him have you, but that doesn’t mean that he took you. How could he take you when he’s already taken the Blood? He’s a coward, Fir. He’s afraid to face the world. He’s afraid to face himself, and he’s afraid to face you.”

“I tried to help him Kaolin! I tried to heal his broken parts…I tried everything I could—

“But he didn’t want your help Fir. He doesn’t want to be saved because he’s comfortable being the victim, and the perpetrator. He thinks it protects him.”

Firinne held his gaze. For the first time since all of this had happened, Firinne felt a wave of clarity. Cyneric is the victim and the perpetrator because he knows his skin is not thick enough for the world. Because it’s easier to choose to be helpless, and it is easier to betray everyone in your life, rather than to give them your heart and risk them breaking it.

Regardless of how much that realization both angered her and caused her to pity him, she would have to treat him as such. And then it hit her. She had been one of his victims, yet she was also a traitor to herself. She allowed herself to be his victim for so long, and so she was also the perpetrator. It wasn’t just about forgiving Cyneric for what he had done to her — it was about forgiving herself for what she had let be done to her. In the end, it is our choice, but the real pinnacle is what we learn from the pain.

If I can learn from this, then I am not the victim or the perpetrator. If I can learn from this, then I have not suffered; not really.

She looked up at Kaolin. Her eyes were bloodshot; her voice was hoarse. “He’s been playing both sides for so long, I don’t think he even knows who he is anymore.” The victim or the perp?

His hand was on her back. “He’s a living contradiction. C’mon Fir, let’s go put our feet up.” He said as he helped her up.

Kaolin never mentioned to Lazata what had happened in the training room, and Firinne was grateful.

 

 

 

The next week was the hardest week of their lives. Every day, it was the same: wake up at dawn, eat, train until midday, train until evening, sleep, repeat. The first couple of days their muscles felt like they might actually fall off of their bones. Fir was sore in places she never knew she could be. Kaolin’s muscles would sometimes give out as he made his sword connect with the dummy, and the sword would fall from his hand making clanging noises on the rocky floor. As the days passed, though, every day got a little easier. At the end of the week, they were waking up before Lazata knocked on their door, eating their meals faster, and they had further perfected their training.

During combat, they found themselves blocking almost every hit and kick of the other’s. As for Firinne’s bow, she could now make arrows in a millisecond, shoot in one, and she almost never missed. Sometimes during training, she would stop to watch Kaolin’s progress. He had sufficiently learned how to control the electrolifi, and magnify it through his sword. His dummy wasn’t looking so great; it was more like a charred log now, with jagged pieces missing from its torso.

Overall, Lazata was proud of them and they were proud of themselves. Neither of them knew that they were this capable.

“So, when do we head out?” Kaolin asked Lazata.

“To where?”

“To…you know…fight the Blacken, save the world…all that?”

Lazata chuckled. “So hasty! I like the enthusiasm, though.”

“Good…so, when?”

“There’s two other doors, Kaolin. Tomorrow you will start training with the second. I gave you both three days for physical training, but now we’ve gotta speed things up a bit. Every day, you will walk through a new door. Every door is unique and important.”

“What is the next door, Lazata?” Firinne asked.

“The Temporal Door.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FOUR

Electrolifi Krystallis

 

 

 

They sat on the pillows and faced each other just as Lazata had directed them to do. She had placed a stone bowl on one of the small tables in the room, and the smoke from the dried herbs had now clouded the room with a smog of aroma. Lazata was walking around them in a circle gathering her thoughts. She said that this was something only Firinne and Kaolin could do and therefore, she had never done it herself, but she had been instructed by The Clandestines on how to teach it to them, when the time came.

“Okay, I need both of you to hold hands. If you can master this, then you will eventually be able to do it without contact. You will close your eyes and focus on each other’s soul. Try to speak to each other at first. If you can manage that, it will prove quite useful during attacks. After that, we will get to fabrication.”

“You ready, Fir?”

Nod.

They began.

First it was darkness and solitude. Gradually, she could feel his energy in front of her and she reached out to him with her mind and her spectralin. She concentrated on him, forcing herself to push past the black mass in front of her. It was like she was trying to push passed, and through, the tail of a comet — boundary breaking. Then, there was a twinkle and then more light; a spectrum of colors. She could feel him now. It was like they were standing together in this private space filled with light, but they could not see each other.

Kaolin?”

OI! THIS IS UNBELIEVABLE!”

Gah! Not so loud! You just bounced off the walls of my skull I think.”

Ha, sorry about that! This is amazing, though!”

Firinne laughed. “How can I laugh without moving my mouth? This is so peculiar.”

Beats knocking the shit out of each other, though, eh?”

Yeah, I won’t argue with you on that.”

So now what do we do?” he asked.

I guess we should snap out of it and tell the old woman that we are incredibly talented, and we’re ready for whatever she’s throwin’ at us next.”

All right”

See you in a bit.”

You’re such a dork, Kaolin.”

She moved herself away from his energy. It was like backing out of a hole underwater, but she found the darkness again. She slowly opened her eyes. Someone had pulled the cork off of the sounds of the world, and for a second, she could hear her heart beating like it was in her mouth. Then she noticed that Kaolin was lying on his back, holding his head, and laughing amid Ow’s, and Oi’s.

“Did you go mental on me?” she asked.

Lazata took the opportunity. “Silly boy let go of you too quick and now his head hurts.” She shook her own.

“Fir, have you ever drank a cold stream too fast and your head starts to tickle and feel sick?” he squealed out.

“Remind me not to introduce you to my friends, mate.” She rolled her eyes. “Absolute nutter, that guy.” Then she laughed.

“When both of you are through, we still have more work to do and I refuse to feed you two until you’ve completed today’s tasks.” Lazata’s arms were crossed now.

“Oh, all right!” Kaolin said though he said it between fits of laughter so it sounded more like, ahhoho rii-ii-ttttt.

Firinne grabbed his arm and pulled him up. His face was red and Firinne was trying not to fall back into a fit of laughter.

“So I assume that you were successful?”

They looked up at her trying to hide their smiles with an awkward puckered kind of look and nodded.

“All right, well we’ll give Kaolin’s head a rest and work on some fabrication. This can be useful for many things, but mostly you will need to use it at the end of all of this.” She waved her hand in the air as to indicate that all of this was somewhere in the room with them and could be seen. “It is imperative that you learn how to do this or there won’t be a point in continuing your training. Do you understand?”

They were both serious now. Lazata didn’t need to explain to them what they needed to do; the Epiphanous had already shown them. This was the last thing they would do once everything else had been done. This was the end before the beginning. They needed to combine both of their spectral gifts.

Firinne lightheartedly begged Kaolin not to shock her as they touched their hands together in the empty space in front of them. They would work from the floor up, and with their eyes open.

They were now four inches from the floor and the electrolifi was entwining itself into the fractals of the Quartz — pulsing and striking. Farther up they went; a foot now. Firinne’s hands began to shake. In the background she could hear Lazata encouraging her to keep going. Breathe, she told herself. They were at the point now and it was over. They pulled their hands apart. Standing between them, about four feet high, was an electrolifi-krystallis. Kaolin was smiling at her, and she smiled back.

The crazy old lady was standing away from them, rocking on her toes like she was a five-year-old. “I don’t think even the Clandestines themselves knew how incredible you two would be!”

It was all so very incredible but would it be just as incredible once they were out there doing it? Would they be able to handle it? Firinne wasn’t so sure, and she had a feeling that it wouldn’t be as easy as sitting in a cozy room with a bowl of incense. She resolved that she would talk to Kaolin later and insist that they practice every night before bed, just in case.

 

 

 

The next day, while they were eating before training, Lazata explained to them that the last door was specifically for Kaolin.

“Why just me?” he asked.

“Because the Leviticus child died during the Ascension. There were supposed to be three of you to carry out the last task.”

“I wondered about that,” Firinne mumbled.

“Kaolin, have you ever tried to move anything with your electrolifi?”

“That’d be a, no.”

“Well, today you will have to try. In the last room are objects ranging in different weights and sizes. You will need to practice all day today to try to move the lightest to the heaviest.”

Kaolin looked nervous.

“So what will I do today?” Firinne asked.

“I want you back in the combat room. Keep training with your bow, but I want you to take your sword in there as well, and freshen up your skills today.”

“All right.”

They parted ways and Firinne gave Kaolin a reassuring smile; you can do it.

 

 

 

The day dragged on and Firinne was having problems putting much effort into her training because she was so worried about Kaolin. He was younger than she; Lazata or the Clandestines or the world was putting too much on him. She knew that he was strong, stronger than most kids his age, but it sure seemed like a lot. They didn’t have a choice though, and she continued to remind herself of that. So whatever happened today in that room, good or bad, she would do everything in her power to support him in any way that she could.

After one of the longest days she had had in a while — the ones that just drag on and on forever; endlessly; it was time for evening’s feast. She sat down next to the fire as Lazata came out with bowls — soup again.

“Where’s Kaolin?”

“He’s still in there.” Lazata said.

“Should we wait for him?”

Lazata shrugged. “Give him a bit. If he hasn’t come out by the time we are done eating, you can go and get him.”

Firinne had scraped the last spoonful of broth. She set her bowl down, took his bowl in her hands, and filled it with soup; still warm from the fire. About five feet away from his door, she heard him yell and then heard a crash. Firinne peeked her head through the door and saw that Kaolin was on his knees — surrounded by a ruin of objects. His shoulders were bobbing up and down.

“Hey, little guy.”

He jumped a little and then wiped his forearm across his face. “Hey.”

“How’d it go today?”

“How’s it look like it went?”

“That bad, huh?” She sat down next to him on the floor. Everything around her was scorched, but the stones beneath her were like ice.

“Fir, this isn’t just some average bad day. This is the future of everything we’re talking about. I couldn’t lift anything! Not a damn thing! What am I gonna do?!”

“Well, I don’t know what you are going to do, but I’ll tell you what we’re going to do.” He was looking at her now. “We are going to go to our cave, eat some soup, and get some sleep. Tomorrow, I’m going to come in here with you and we are going to figure this thing out. I promise.”

“But what if we can’t!”

“We don’t know that yet, so there is no point in discussing it.”

“But…”

“C’mon, it’s my turn to get you off that floor.”

As they walked by Lazata, Firinne gave her a reassuring look.

Back in what was now their room, Kaolin immediately scarfed down his bowl of soup while Firinne crunched on some almonds. When they were finished, he looked at her expectedly.

“Yeah, I’ve got an idea.” She said.

“What’s that?”

“Maybe all of this doesn’t have to be just on you. Maybe if I can get in your head as you’re doing it— well, I could transfer some of my spectralin to you so that you can levitate the objects?”

Kaolin thought for a moment. “It’s worth a try.”

“You can’t give up yet. We haven’t even started.”

“I know. I’m just—

“Trying to adjust yourself to the idea of who you are destined to be, even though on some microcosmic level, you’ve known all your life?”

Kaolin chuckled. “Yeah— basically.”

“Get some sleep, little guy.”

“Oi! Don’t call me that!” He protested.

She loved bringing the boy in him out; a small triumph between friends. “You’ll get used to it.” She smiled at him before turning onto her side and falling asleep.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-FIVE

Your Accelerating Weakness

 

 

Firinne was standing in the corner of the room with her arms crossed, as she observed Kaolin. After a while, she saw what had led to his frustration during the previous day. No matter how hard he focused, he wasn’t levitating anything. If anything, he was just electrocuting all of the objects that were in the room. Each had its own electric-birthmark, now. She couldn’t understand how Lazata thought that he would be able to levitate objects with his electrolifi. It didn’t make sense but she knew that regardless of what made sense or what didn’t (because hardly anything made sense anymore) that they had to try.

“Stop Kaolin. This is pointless.”

“You think?” he said sarcastically.

“Let’s try my idea now.” She said as she stepped behind him. She wasn’t sure how this would work. She placed the palms of her hands on his shoulder blades.

“If you start to feel anything when I am doing this, I want you to try again. But only if you feel something. Okay?”

He nodded.

Firinne closed her eyes and focused on that place they had both traveled to, in order to speak to each other. She knew that this time, Kaolin might not be there but that was okay. She saw the lights, felt the pull, and grasped the calm.

Here it goes…

“Fir, I can hear you in there.”

“I guess we don’t need to try so hard at this anymore. All right, I’m going to start now so when or if you feel it, begin.”

Firinne couldn’t see that it had worked, but it had. Kaolin had connected to the lightest weight, and with his silver cord of electrolifi, it was rising into the air almost effortlessly.

Out loud he said, “Firinne open your eyes!”

As soon as she did, the object fell with a pitiful clunk to the floor.

“I guess we just have to make sure we are together when the time comes to do this?” Firinne said.

“Yeah I guess so…we should ask Lazata about it.”

 

 

 

According to Lazata, because of the help that Firinne had given, Kaolin was able to connect to the electrolifi that lives in all objects, and create such an intense power, that the object momentarily became weightless. But for some reason, he was not able to do it on his own. Over the next couple of days, Kaolin was supposed to practice with Firinne, and by himself. Either way, Lazata was confident that everything would work out the way that it was supposed to or how the Clandestines had foreseen it to. In addition to the leviticus practice, they would continue their combat, weapon, and spectralin fabrication. They had this last day left to train, and that scared the shit out of them; playtime was over.

So they trained, they practiced, they perfected, they pushed themselves to the limit every chance they could, and when they hit the limit, they made themselves stay there for five minutes longer; fleeting permanence.

By the end of it all, the Epiphanous, The Clandestine Guardians, and Lazata had made them into something worth reckoning and perhaps, something worth believing in.

At evening’s feast (their last one), Firinne had something that she wanted to discuss with Lazata.

“So how does the Aldithenih faith play into all of this?”

“What’s that?” Kaolin asked.

Firinne had forgotten that Kaolin had lived alone for so long and hadn’t ventured past the forest. “It’s a type of belief system that came into existence just before the Blacken arrived.”

“It’s not a belief system…it’s a fallacy. As I’m sure you have postulated, Aldithenih was created by the Blacken as a preemptive attack on Fia’s people. You see the logic don’t you? Give the people a grand delusion that looks like hope, and once they’ve latched onto it long enough, you reveal yourself. It was masterful…because once the Blacken came, the people were so sure it was sent by the faceless God, and it, therefore, strengthened their misguided faith. Now that those followers have seen some of the destruction that the Blacken has caused, they waste their efforts justifying their faithfulness to Aldithenih, rather than leaving it all behind, admitting they were duped, and using their efforts to fight the Blacken. They’re in complete denial, and mark my words,” She shook her crooked finger at them, “they’ll stay there until they absolutely cannot any longer.”

“I completely agree with you. And what’s worse is that the Aldithenih also obstructed the connection the people had with Fia before the Blacken sent this illusion to them. When I was at Archen — one of the most disturbing things I’ve seen. All of the women were cloaked and everyone stared at me like I was a savage.”

“It’s oppressive. Don’t you ever let anyone make you feel like you are a savage for having a close relationship with Fia. It’s probably good that I will never travel to Archen in these times…I probably would’ve been stoned-to-death because I would have called them all traitors!”

Firinne smiled at that. “You know my Uncle is one of them…I don’t know what’s gonna happen to him after all this. I’m so angry at him because he made the Aldithenih more important than family, but I don’t want him to get hurt.”

“There’s so much at stake here, but we can only hope for the best. We have our own kind of faith…the faith that we rest in The Ethereal Collective. Above and beyond our capabilities, the rest is left to the collective.” She leaned over and squeezed Firinne’s hand.

Kaolin broke the silence. “How could people be so — so, dumb?”

The last evening’s feast with Lazata was ended with hysterical laughter.

 

 

 

As they lay under the moist stones of their cave-chamber, it became apparent that they were both anxious for the day that followed. They had talked about it briefly, planning out the details, a few times but all of a sudden it was the eve of it. Firinne knew that the Blacken was expecting them; it had been expecting them for a while. The only explanation for taking Citrine was that somehow, along the decades, the Blacken had been privy to the Clandestine’s wisdom. The Blacken tried to capture Firinne before she could get to the mountains, and in the process, the Blacken had actually accelerated all of it. It was still so incomprehensible to them that something as powerful as the Mist of Blacken could be afraid of them, but perhaps the bigger point was that the Blacken was afraid, and it seemed only accurate to say that if something has fear, then it also has weakness.

“You ready for this, Fir?”

“Ugh…can we go over it again? I know, I know, but just one more time. I’ll feel better.”

“Sure, go for it.”

“Okay, we leave here, head back the way we came, and along the way I try to ignore my impaled father. Once we leave this place we communicate strictly with our minds so that we don’t give away our location, and we do not ride on Mabon until we get down the mountain. Oh, he’ll be so happy! He’s been miserable being so cooped up. Okay, so after that we head south to Citrine. Once we’ve hit Citrine we will investigate the area and decide the best course of action, but we only have one day to carry out our mission at Citrine because it will take us a couple of days to get to Citrine and after that we have to—

“Walk a million, thousand, billion miles to the coast and then build a ship with our bare hands, and sail across a sea we’ve never been across before. Once we get to the land on the other side we’ve—

“It’ll work out Kaolin…”

He took a deep breath.

It has to…, is what she heard in her mind and it echoed there during the hours that it took her to fall asleep.

 

 

 

 

Lazata was holding Firinne’s hands. “Don’t worry about a thing. The Clandestines believed in the both of you. They knew that you were capable of doing this and they never bestow more than can be managed. Everything you were supposed to complete, you did. You’ve mastered the techniques. You’ve even left me this beautiful electrolifi crystal which will remind me of you, and help me believe in both of you when you are away.” The final crystal they had fabricated now sat in-between the Clandestine thrones. It was six feet high and its electrolifi was undying; a constant array of colors and lights.

Firinne nodded. “Thank you for everything you have done…you’ve no idea what it’s meant to me. I wish you could come with us. I thought you would come with us.”

“Not yet Fir…but maybe after all this is over, you can persuade your Mum to grant me a small plot of land for a garden, and a cottage. I think I’d like that. The warm dirt and the fresh air…yes, I think so.” The smile glistened off her face like a child, and it pierced Firinne’s heart.

Lazata may have lived a full life of relative peace, but she still deserved to be free and live — really live. She would never forget this old, quirky, woman. In her own way, she had taught Firinne strength of a different kind. The way you are strong when you tell the world that you don’t give a damn what they think about you. When you say what’s on your mind because you are free — that kind of strength.

Kaolin was loading up the provisions on Mabon while Mabon was staring at Firinne with disgust, probably thinking that he is not a mule. Firinne took her bow and quiver and put them over her shoulder.

Lazata put a hand on Kaolin to stop him. “Kaolin Satel, stay with Fir, always. Believe in your little self, I do.” Kaolin pulled her into a fierce hug.

“Got everything?” Firinne asked Kaolin.

He met Firinne’s eyes with a boyish blush. “Yeah, I think so. You ready?”

“Yeah, I think so.”

Lazata insisted on hugs and left them with more words of encouragement as they left her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SIX

Pockmarked

 

 

 

 

 

They had been walking for over an hour and the forest was finally in sight. They had decided that they would head south-west, to avoid Firinne’s crystal wall, as well as anyone who might be lurking about the area. Firinne didn’t know how much Cyneric knew, but what she did know was that he was not going to give up on her — that was out of the question. Mentally, she was preparing for the worst. The Blacken had to know that by now, they had received their training, and she was held down by nervousness. They had walked out of that fortress in the mountain, different people than they had walked in — only a week and they had transformed incredibly.

Reaching the edge of the forest, everything was quiet. They walked lightly.

“Kaolin, if you start feeling the fear build up and you can’t get it under control on your own, I want you to focus on sending it to me, okay?”

“But what if you can’t handle my fear added onto your own fear?”

“I’ve done this more than you have. Besides, I have an idea on how to get rid of it rather than just disguising it.”

“All right.”

They had stopped at a stream. The water was crisp and there was a flock of birds, foraging in some grasses nearby. Mabon was drinking, and Kaolin was busy filling the flask that Lazata had given them to share. Firinne turned to look upstream and she watched the clear water as it gurgled gently along. She imagined herself floating with it; staring at a point some odd feet away from her, and using her eyes to travel down with the stream again. Repeat.

Black.

“Kaolin, take the flask out of the water and grab Mabon! Quick!”

A silky, dark mass was infecting the stream. She watched as it got nearer to her; its wispy tendrils changing the composition of the water. Everything up-stream was glossy black and Firinne recognized it instantly.

“What is that, Fir?”

“Fia’s blood. They must have a group of Desideriums working up there and somehow it leaked into the stream. Were you able to fill up the flask?”

“Yeah I did. People drink that stuff?”

“If Cyneric were here, he would be planting his face sideways in the stream with his mouth open. No one actually likes it…the blood…they just like what it does to them.”

“Ugh! It stinks!”

Firinne knew too well. “Damn them. This stream will be tainted until it’s completely drained itself into the seas…maybe even long after that. C’mon, let’s keep moving.”

 

 

 

Their first night out of the mountain was restless. They both took turns keeping watch and even when it was the other’s turn to sleep, sleep hardly ever came. They were used to their cave-chambers. Even Mabon was fidgety and they laughed (in whispers) as they watched him go round-in-circles; patting down the ground and ruffling up the leaves and grasses, only to get back up a few minutes later, and repeat the process.

By midday the following day they had cleared three-quarters of the forest leaving them the opportunity to camp out in the forest that remained. After that, it would be mostly open fields which may prove difficult in the way of anonymity. So that night, Firinne made some soup using the roots she had found in the forest that day, and they went over the plan. Firinne needed Kaolin to know what to expect in the fields. He had never even seen the fields, much less the fields with Desideriums and Demogorchians littered about.

He convinced her that he was prepared but Firinne was worried about him. He had never been in an open area like that, and he wasn’t very good at hiding his fear. He still needed a lot of practice, and that was something that was impossible to practice in a room with incense. That was something which was learned through experience, which also made it that much more terrifying.

 

 

 

There was a nice set of Alpine Currants, on the outer edge of the forest, so they sat behind them and picked berries as they surveyed the fields ahead. The berries were tasteless but they were edible. There was no movement in the field (that they could see) and there were a few hills ahead that would provide useful for concealment. They decided that the best thing they could do was to ride on Mabon and travel to the nearest hill as fast as Mabon could go.

“The faster we get through this, the better. Once we get through the lengthiest part of it, the trees will start coming back.” Firinne said.

“What if we’re spotted?”

She looked at Mabon. “Then you just better run like there’s a mountain lion after you.” Mabon lowered his head and grunted a response. “Kaolin, you’ve gotta really focus on your fear levels while we are out there. If we aren’t alone, they will pick us up fast. Got it?”

He nodded.

“All right, let’s go.”

Mabon never faltered. He rode as fast he could and Firinne and Kaolin held onto him as tight as they could. In less time than they thought, they had reached the first hill. Firinne instructed both of them to stay at the bottom while she crawled up to see the rest of the field. When she got to the top, she found what she’d been expecting — only a little worse.

There was a huge pack of Desideriums working on syphoning. This was something that she had seen before. What she had not seen before were the huge, gaping holes that pockmarked the field. It was like Fia’s bruises were collapsing in on themselves leaving vertical holes to the unknown world within her. She was decaying at an alarming rate now. Her concern for Fia now leaked into the pit of her own stomach. Would they be able to cross the field without being detected? Would they be able to cross without falling into Fia’s deep oblivion? They had to. They had to be able to. You’re not allowed to be weak or afraid.

At the bottom of the hill, she prepared Kaolin for what lay ahead. The plan was simple and the best she could come up with. They would ride Mabon along the bottom of this hill as far as they could. From there, they would cut across the field diagonally where the trees began.

Firinne decided that she would ride on the rear so that she could keep an eye out for any movement. Mabon led them across the field. There were smaller holes scattered about the field which Firinne had not seen and Mabon was doing his best to avoid them.

Fifty feet.

Thirty feet.

Twenty feet.

The next few second felt like minutes. Mabon let out a long, guttural noise, MMMRRAAEHHH, and Firinne and Kaolin were thrown from him. Kaolin was flung towards one of Fia’s pockmarks and the momentum continued to slide him towards the edge. Firinne had fallen hard. She had only a few seconds to react and she leaped for Kaolin. His hand was in hers and his legs were dangling into the darkest pit that she had ever seen. Behind her, the siphoning pack were mounting and preparing to pursue them.

“Push your feet off of the walls and help me get you up!” She yelled at him. There was nothing but blackness below his feet.

Firinne’s body ached, but she forced herself through the pain and managed to get Kaolin on firm ground.

Mabon was lying in a heap and heaving deeply. They rushed over to him.

“Mabon, you’ve gotta get up. They’re coming for us!”, she said as she pulled with both arms underneath his chin. “Get up!”

“Firinne, I don’t think he can. His leg is broken…must’ve twisted it in one of the smaller holes.”

“We can help him. C’mon help me!”

“Firinne, he’s over 300 pounds. Even if we could lift him, and he was able to walk on three legs, we don’t have the time. The Demogorchians are already too close to us.”

She looked behind her. They were gaining on them and fast.

“I can’t just leave him!” She was crying now.

“You can and you have to. We have to.”

Firinne picked Mabon’s head up, he stared into her soul, and she broke the connection with a kiss between his eyes. Kaolin grabbed her and pulled her into a fierce run.

Big hole to the left. Small hole, center. Small hole, left. Big hole, right.

They danced around each other as Firinne ran backward for split-second intervals to shoot arrows at the pack. The more she took out, maybe the more Mabon would have a chance. She could go back for him. She could still save him. Three beasts down. Four beasts down and they were out of time. The trees got closer and she could see the floor of the woods.

“Make Fia shake, Fir.”

And she did, with all of the sorrow inside of her, she did. Her crystals broke through the surface right as they entered the woods. This wall was better than her first, and it killed a piece inside of her for making it because Mabon was on the other side of it. When they stopped running, they landed in the meadow…The Forgotten Meadow where Firinne would never forget.

Collapsed on the ground, her nose pressed to the soil, fistfuls of grass — she stayed there sobbing long after Mabon’s cavernous screams ended.

She prayed for his rebirth.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-SEVEN

Blackbird Symphony

 

 

“Fir, get up! You’re bleeding!”

She looked in the grass around her and found traces of blood. There was an Obsidian dagger sticking out of her thigh. “One of the Demogorchians must’ve shot it.” Now that she saw it there sticking up like a pillar from her leg, she began to feel the pain.

Kaolin was staring nervously at her. “You’re gonna make me pull it out, aren’t you?”

Firinne nodded. “We’ve gotta find something to tie around my leg.” She looked down at herself and then up at him. “Use the strap from the canteen, we’ll make a new one with a strip off the bottom of my dress.”

She moved the tourniquet into position. “Pull it out. Now!” As soon as she felt the pain, she screamed and pulled both sides of the strap as hard as she could, cutting off the blood flow to the wound. Kaolin was staring at her with his face all messed up. She handed him the dagger. “Clean that off in the grass and put it away somewhere.” She looked around. There was nothing that she could use to disinfect the wound.

“We’ve gotta hurry!” said Kaolin.

“I know…I’m thinking. We’ve got probably another half day left before we get to Citrine. I’m not gonna be any good with this leg the way it is…and we can’t afford to use any of our spectralin on this.”

“So what are you thinkin’?”

“Witch hazel! Look in the satchel! It’s a little vial of clear liquid. Lazata said she extracts it from the plants found at the base of the mountain.”

“Yeah, it’s here! I’ve got it!” Kaolin handed her the vial. She poured a couple of drops into the wound and then ripped hastily at the bottom of her dress for a strip of cloth. She tied it around her leg and handed the vial back to Kaolin.

She reached her hand up to Kaolin and he pulled her up. The muscle was sore and every time she moved it, it felt like she was being stabbed again (although she hadn’t felt the actual stab the first time), but they had to keep moving. If Mabon were with them, he would carry her the whole day without a break, but he wasn’t, and she felt like an awful person. To her, Mabon was her equal. What happened back there was the same as if it had been Kaolin who broke his leg. She was furious that there was nothing that she could do to save him. She also knew that for an animal, healing and rehabilitation wouldn’t have come fast enough.

After they had been walking a while, Kaolin broke the silence. “I’m sorry about Mabon.”

“I am too…the way he was with me…it wasn’t usual of a stag to befriend a human. But from the moment that he did, it’s like…I don’t know…”

“What?”

“It was like he knew who I was and knew that I needed him even when I didn’t know. Is that crazy?”

“No, I suppose not.”

“I’m gonna miss his grunts. You know he was probably the last one, or one of the last ones at least?”

“Really?”

“Yeah, ever since the Blacken came, the Desideriums hunt down large creatures like him for food, and I don’t know what else. I think there’s something more behind it. Who knows, maybe they just kill them all off to move our extinction along faster.”

“You think that’s what they want? For us to be completely gone?”

“No, I guess not. They want us at a manageable level — humans and creatures alike.”

“But for what? I don’t get it.”

“I don’t know if we will ever know that. Whether it is just that it wants what Fia can provide or if it wants slaves or maybe it is just as simple as control…we can only guess. But I suppose in the end…I mean… does it really matter? Rape is rape regardless of reason.”

“Yeah. You think your Mum’s okay?”

“Do I think she’s okay? No. Alive? Yes. When they had Imphius kill himself, it was like someone tore out my heart. If I hadn’t been in the room, I would have know he was dead. I think you always do when someone close to you dies. I was so young when my grandparents and my father died, so I don’t remember feeling anything when it happened…but I’d bet my life, that I cried when it did.”

“The same thing happened to me when my parents died…”

“You endured so much more than me, and at a younger age. Look at you now.” Firinne nudged him lightly with her elbow.

“I wouldn’t leave the castle for a month after it all happened. I was terrified.”

“I probably wouldn’t have either. But eventually you did, and here you are now. Don’t discredit yourself…ever.”

 

 

 

 

There had been no sign of the Demogorchian pack through the day and as they settled down for the night, Firinne thought that maybe Mabon was a grand enough sacrifice for them. It must have been, and they must not have realized who Kaolin and Firinne were. Her leg was aching horribly now and she needed to rest. Kaolin volunteered to take the first watch as Firinne tried to sleep. She put a few more drops of witch hazel on her leg, lay down, and turned her eyes to the moon which was coming up between the trees; full and golden.

A few hours passed and Kaolin woke her. She positioned herself with her back against a tree and her bow resting on her knees. She stayed there until dawn when the brown-headed blackbirds began their water-droplet symphony.

 

 

 

 

They had hit the main road into the Town of Citrine. Traveling on it was a bad idea, so they backtracked a few paces into the forest. They would follow the road through the forest where they had cover, which was good because a few minutes passed and a group of Desideriums walked on the road — headed to Nightsend Tavern, no doubt. They walked with the Sun on their right side and followed the road for as long as they could. Eventually, they had to circle around (Firinne said it was best to stay away from the Tavern) to the east side of the Town of Citrine. The best chance they had of surveying the town, and the Castle, was to scale the wall that surrounded it.

Together, they climbed the wall. The outside crystal obelisks were laid out at an angle towards each other, so with a bit of effort they eventually made it to the top.

“This is where you live?” Kaolin asked.

“Used to.”

“It’s incredible! I thought your crystal walls were spectacular but this…” He shook his head, his eyes wide.

Firinne smiled.

If it weren’t for the Desideriums guarding all of the entrances of Citrine, Firinne would have thought that everything was back to the way it was before her life had plummeted into chaos. The people of Citrine were busy holding markets on the streets, but there was a new energy. Everyone’s head was low and they never stayed in conversation with one another for more than a few seconds.

The town vegetable garden was completely empty and it didn’t look like any work had been done on it for summer. She could feel it more than she could see it, though, and she could bet that her Mum was still down in that dungeon. Immediate anxiety filled her heart at the thought of seeing her Mum, Auralia. Not because she didn’t want to see her Mum, no she ached for it, but because she was afraid of what she might see. Auralia was already so weak when Firinne had left her.

She signaled to Kaolin to follow her back down the wall and into the woods that rested on the backside of the castle. Once there she led Kaolin to a circle of trees, stopping in the center. She could hear the blackbirds resting on branches above them and again they were singing. It sounded as though the forest was leaking water; every drop echoing off of every leaf.

“What’re we doing?”

Firinne smiled. “You and I…we’re gonna go in the same way I escaped.”

She recalled that night in her memory. The fear and the sheer panic. The desperation to do everything she could to return as soon as possible with reinforcements. She laughed to herself. If only she had known then what she did now. But she had returned; despite everything. Despite her Uncle’s unwillingness to help, despite Cyneric and his pack of demons, despite everything — she had returned. She took the stone dagger which had been secured between her leg and the tourniquet. The blackbirds grew louder as she slit a small cut into the palm of her hand and fed it to the crystal bricks. The stones dissipated in a spectrum of light, and once again she found herself staring into that darkness, in complete ignorance of what lay ahead.

My name is Firinne Luxithanya…and this is my resurrection.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-EIGHT

Crimson Rain

 

Triphosa led Cyneric by the hand into the room that was glowing with gray light. When they reached the pit, they both bowed low to the Dantalion Lords. Triphosa had a sickly smile on her face. No one spoke, Triphosa and Cyneric were capable, but the Lords were not — not in that way.

If you were to study Cyneric’s face long enough, you would see the pain he was trying to hide behind his cold face. The Lords were screaming at them inside their skulls. Screaming about orders that both of them had failed; screaming new orders that they would be killed for if they did not succeed. Tendrils of black mist reached from a black, bony hand to the throats of their servants. Cyneric’s face was purple; Triphosa’s was pinkly, and determined.

After their release, they walked through the corridors of Castle Blacken. Cyneric wiped the black tears from his face; they were sticky on his skin; like candy or blood. Triphosa didn’t seem to mind. She wore her black tears like war paint or a coming-of-age tattoo; proud; mind-fucked.

Triphosa didn’t speak until she was sure that the Lords would not be able to hear them.

“See what you’ve gotten us into?”

Cyneric said nothing.

“We’ve got to hurry…or there’ll be hell to pay. Go get our Dems ready!”

As he turned to leave her, she grabbed him forcefully by the front of his armor; scraping skin from his collar in the process — she kissed him violently, biting his tongue at the closing, and licking her lips at the taste of his blood.

Frantically, he flipped open the stopper on his flask and took a long drink of blood, himself.

 

 

 

It was a cocoon of darkness.

Then there was a hue of blue light emanating from Kaolin which reflected off of the slimy walls of the tunnel.

“How far do we have to go?” he asked.

“Not far but we need to move now before the stones cut us off.”

She could see a faint outlining of light on the ceiling ahead of them. They drew closer, closer, and then, she was pulling herself up through the hole and into the dungeon. She grabbed hold of Kaolin’s wrist and helped pull him up.

The dungeon was quiet and smelled of old blood and urine. In the cell next to hers was the silhouette of a person, crumpled up in the corner. She couldn’t tell if it was her mother, but by its shape, it was definitely a woman.

“Hey,” Firinne whispered.

The person stirred.

Again. “Hey,”

They lifted their head and slowly began to move from the shadows. As she got closer, Firinne realized that it definitely wasn’t her mother.

“Queen Firinne?” croaked the woman. It was one of the gardeners.

“Yes, it’s me. Where is Auralia?”

“I’m so glad you’ve come back! I don’t know where they took Queen Auralia. This morning, a group of Desideriums came down here and took her. All that they said was that they were relocating her.”

“Somewhere in the castle?”

“I assume so.”

“How is she?” Firinne asked.

“Not good…she’s weak. After you escaped, they gave her lashings. After that, she was only allowed a meal once a day.”

It was what Firinne had feared at that moment that Auralia had told her to escape and leave her behind. Somewhere deep down, she knew that this would happen, but she also knew that her Mum was strong.

“Kaolin, I need you to get us out of this cell. You know what to do.”

Kaolin pulled out his silver twigs and began cutting the lock on the door with electrolifi. It didn’t take long before the lock was lying in a mass of molten iron on the floor. Once they were out, he started on the lock for the gardener’s cell.

“Where are the children?” Firinne asked her.

“They are locked in the Academy. Triphosa has been attempting to undo the education that Professor Lirveen did.”

“What do you mean?”

“She’s trying to teach them that their spectralin is bad and that they should be in service to the Blacken.”

“Is Triphosa here?”

The Gardener nodded. “I think so. She assigned a Desiderium to the academy but Triphosa has been reigning over Citrine since you left.”

“No wonder she is so devoted to the Blacken…the perks. Listen, I need you to stay down here in your cell until you hear something…do you understand?”

“Of course.”

 

 

 

 

Kaolin and Firinne were halfway up the stairs now. At the top, Firinne stopped short to listen. She peeked her head around the corner for a split second. The corridor leading to the great hall was empty. It didn’t feel right, though. It seemed far too coincidental that they had relocated Auralia the same day that Firinne had come back to Citrine. What was their strategy?

“Kaolin, the corridor up her is empty, but don’t take your guard down. I think they’ve been expecting us.”

“All right, after you, it is.”

They moved into the corridor with their shoulders to the wall. Citrine was asleep. They hit the great hall and Firinne didn’t know where to go other than up. She stared at the banister of the stairs where she had failed to save Imphius. The person she was now would have been able to save him, and somehow, even though he was dead, it solidified her mission. At full speed she headed up the stairs with Kaolin trailing behind her. They turned down the corridor on the right.

“Check all the rooms.” She said.

One by one they opened all of the doors as they moved down the corridor; all were empty. Firinne was beginning to feel sick as she thought about all of the possibilities. For all she knew, they could have moved Auralia to Archen castle before Firinne and Kaolin had even arrived — or worse, Castle Blacken (good ‘ol worst-case-scenario generator). Or, this was a trap and they were heading for the bait; baby fish.

On the next landing that led up to the west tower, Firinne heard someone speaking. It was a woman’s voice, but Firinne couldn’t make out any of the details. She turned to Kaolin.

“I’m gonna go up. You should head down to the Academy. We’ve gotta get those kids out of here. Do you think you can take on the Desiderium?”

“Yeah, but I’m not leavin’ you.” His face was more determined than it was scared.

“Kaolin, I’m not asking you to leave without me, I’m asking for you to let me do this part myself. Once you get the children freed, then haul ass back up here. If Triphosa is up here, I want her to think I am alone.”

Kaolin nodded. “I’ll try to get this done as soon as I can.” He left like lightning — Firinne standing at the bottom of the staircase by herself. It was as if Citrine had died and Firinne was living inside of her ghost. Her home felt cold and disconnected. She could feel its walls aching for warmth.

Firinne opened the door, and there she was — Triphosa, who had Auralia strung up against a wall. The Mist of Blacken was wrapped tightly around Auralia’s wrists and Triphosa was in her face screaming at her. SMACK!

“Don’t you dare touch my Mum again!” Firinne yelled. Triphosa moved away from Auralia, and Firinne met her Mother’s eyes; full of the same warmth that was there the day that Firinne had escaped.

Triphosa turned around slowly, revealing that unmistakable, perverse smile. “Glad you could reunite with us, Fir. Mummy and I have missed you.” Then she laughed to herself; arm held in front of her stomach; divergent bow.

“I don’t know what you’ve been promised by the Blacken, Triphosa, but I can tell you that you’re on the wrong side of this.”

“Oh, am I, Fir? You’re so confident now that you’ve had a bit of training from that old hag up in the mountains. You’ve no idea the kind of power that the Blacken has, and will share with me…no idea! You’re on the wrong side of things Fir, and you always have been. You’ve got such a god-complex — so damn self-righteous!”

“If what you mean to say is that I have empathy and morals — then yes, Triphosa, I am God. Kneel before me.”

“Humans aren’t inherently good. We are born with evil within us, and it is only civilization who tries to make us good. You are fighting a losing war, Fir. Why should you deny me my right to be evil, and to desire evil?”

“No, you’re wrong. Humans are born with goodness… they are taught evil. You have been taught to be this person, and they have damaged you nearly beyond recognition. Do you even recognize yourself? I could help you, Triphosa.”

Triphosa became quiet. “After all of this, all that I have done to you, you would help me?”

“Of course I would, you’re —

Triphosa filled the tower with penetrating laughter — a siren of instability. “You’re pathetic Fir, and I’m done talking.”

Firinne didn’t need to be told; she immediately drew an arrow from her bow and aimed it straight for Triphosa’s head.

“Mmm, yes Fir, I can see why Cyneric’s having a hard time letting you go. I almost want to take a bite out of you, myself. That evil looks so delicious on you. Of course, he can’t really decide which he likes better…me or you, you or me.” She was sliding her hands down her hips. “I think he likes your tenderness though…you know, that soft fierceness…intensity.”

“You’re a depraved, sickly, bitch. You sit there and mock my training, but I bet you’ll never guess how quick my arrows fly. You wanna have a wager?”

“You know you’ve got one thing right I suppose…Cyneric was inherently good, but the world changed him. First it was his parents… yeah, that was tragic. Then, I came in and seduced him…with the Blood. I showed him how good it tastes. He could feel it the first night. How the world slipped away from him, and he didn’t have to feel anymore. But with his numbness came the cost. He couldn’t get out of it…that one time…it was enough, and I knew I had him the first time he lay with me.”

Firinne’s jaw was clenched. Arrow still aimed.

“He really did love you, you know. But he began to wonder who he loved more…you or the Blood. Now…ha…well, now he’s so weak, and so guilty, that he hardly ever cares. But I know there’s still a part of him that tries to fight it…like the night he was supposed to slit your throat.”

“Why are you telling me all of this? You think I care about Cyneric? I know what’s lost is lost.

“Oh, don’t deny it, Fir! Don’t try to play games with me!”

“I’m not playing games, and surely not yours. You’re trying to hurt me, but it doesn’t.”

“Oh really? Why’s that?”

“Because none of you matters. We don’t matter. I don’t matter! Only this matters!” Time stopped as the arrow flew, and it pierced through the oxygen towards its destination; heart. Triphosa had a millisecond to react, and she did, but the arrow caught her in the shoulder. Firinne was on the move before the arrow had struck, and now Triphosa lay on the floor in front of her.

She slammed her foot down on Triphosa’s chest. “You know what’s great about crystal arrows, Triphosa? You can’t break them — you’ve gotta pull them out the way they came in. You want some help?” She wrapped her hands tightly around the arrow and began to pull. Triphosa screamed out in agony as her body uncontrollably flailed around; legs kicking out wildly. In a matter of moments, Triphosa’s life was seeping out in a great pool of thick crimson — suffocating her chest, and creating artful masterpieces on the floor.

“This is what you wanted isn’t it, Triphosa? You wanted me to hate you. Didn’t you?” Firinne was leaning down, and screaming in her best friend’s face. “You wanted me to ache inside like you ache. You wanted me to hate you as much as you hate me. You wanted me to yearn to spill your blood.” Triphosa began to speak. “No, it is my turn to talk! You got what you wished for, but I’m not broken! I’m fucking furious, but more than that…I am revolted by you! Your whole, damn species! While I sit here and watch your blood spill to the floor, and I relish it, believe me, I do, I have also not lost sight of why I came here!”

From her hand, a spectralin ball flew across the room to the Blacken, made contact, and dissipated. Auralia landed on her feet; barely. During that moment, Triphosa hit Firinne in the chest with the Blacken or anti-spectralin. She was knocked backward onto the floor. The pain was incredible; she could feel the Blacken attacking her nerves. Auralia rushed over to her and used her hands to dissipate the energy. Triphosa was smiling at both of them as she backed herself towards the window.

“Triphosa, NO!”

Fabricate. Draw. Aim. Inhale. Release.

The arrow flew through the air as Triphosa began falling towards the garden. The same garden that Firinne had once admired her in. It was a perfect shot; straight through the heart, and Triphosa landed like a fallen angel on the wings of a Demogorchian. She smiled up at Firinne before her last breath and slid like a drop of blood off the abomination’s back.

Kaolin burst through the door. “What happened? You all right?”

“Little late aren’t you? Go see for yourself.” She said to him.

He headed for the window. “There was two of ‘em, bastards.” He looked down and saw Triphosa’s body splattered across the crystals that encased their beloved garden. “Some friend you are…” he said.

Firinne laughed, but the truth was that she was really crying inside. She was mourning her violence against a fictitious person; the girl who she gave all of her secrets to. Perhaps it was naivety, but Firinne had to believe that some part of that girl that she had grown up with was real — she had to; otherwise—

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER TWENTY-NINE

Numb Nostalgia

 

Everyone was seated in the great hall. One by one, the cooks got up and headed for the kitchen. It was nervous energy; the kind that is both relieving and anxious. Everyone knew that it wasn’t over, not nearly, but the Desideriums had left Citrine the moment that Triphosa died.

Auralia was standing off to the side talking with Kaolin. Every so often, she would touch his arm, and he would smile. No doubt, she was thanking him. Firinne was talking with the children, and asking them if they could go and work on the gardens after evening’s feast. There was so much work to do at Citrine. What was worse, all of the Citrine guards had been taken by the Blacken. The only thing that Firinne could think to do was to leave as soon as possible; surely that would be a big enough distraction.

As the trays came floating out, loaded with bread and cheese, Firinne went over to her mother. “Can we talk, Mum?”

Auralia nodded, and Kaolin smiled at Firinne.

They went and sat in the corner.

“Did you know?” Firinne didn’t need to explain.

“That you were chosen?”

Firinne nodded.

Auralia pulled Firinne’s dress up to examine her wound. She could see that it was healing well enough, but she pulled out a bottle of an herbal oil mix and began dabbing it at the wound. “I suspected but your grandparents didn’t live long enough to explain all of it to me. When The Clandestine Guardians came, The Ascension happened so fast. I was busy here at Citrine, taking care of you, and our Queendom. I supposed they were overly confident in the Clandestines, and so they thought there would be plenty of time to tell me about the prophecy.”

“What made you suspect it?”

“I should have clarified. I didn’t suspect that you were chosen, I suspected that you were special. The older you got, I became more aware of your abilities. I knew that there was something there that I wasn’t seeing. Kaolin told me everything that happened…the books, Lazata…”

“Have you seen Bricius?”

“No, why?”

Firinne explained what had happened at Archen Castle; Bricius, Etheldra. “I think he’s too far gone, Mum. He didn’t care that you were thrown in the dungeons. The Aldithenih has infected him.”

“I was afraid of that. Eventually, he will see the truth. You know your Father tried to tell him before he died? Bricius wouldn’t listen. Unfortunately, he may learn the hard way.”

Firinne couldn’t bring herself to tell Auralia about seeing her father at the base of the mountain.

“You must be so overwhelmed, Fir.”

“I am, but…I have to do this, even if it kills me.”

“I think you’re wrong. You don’t have to do this…you are choosing to.”

“…Is your back okay? One of the gardeners told me that they gave you lashings.”

“It wasn’t pleasant, but scars just give you a thicker skin. Don’t worry about me, Fir, you’ve got enough to worry about.”

“I’m sorry they did that to you…it killed me to leave you.”

“I know Fir, but you had to. It was the only way we could get to this point. I’m happy you’re home, even if it’s only for the bread and cheese.” Auralia smirked.

“I missed you too, Mum.”

“You’re not my little girl anymore, though.”

“No, and we have to leave tonight.”

 

 

Auralia asked two of the cooks to prepare a satchel of food for Firinne, and Kaolin’s journey; neither of them could think of anything else that they needed. Firinne was more concerned about the safety of Citrine. She explained to Auralia that they had to go on a long journey, but that she would not give her details. She didn’t know how much of their plan the Blacken already knew, and she couldn’t risk putting her Mother in more danger for knowing too much. Auralia wanted to know when they would be back, but Firinne couldn’t answer; she didn’t know herself.

Kaolin agreed with Firinne to sleep at Citrine for two hours; no more than that. She couldn’t stand the thought of sleeping in her own bed, so she slept in her Mum’s chambers; wrapping herself in all of the maternal smells.

When she awoke, she went out to the garden where she found two of the gardeners pulling Triphosa’s corpse from the top wall. Firinne asked them for a shovel, thanking them for their help, and requested solitude. She had dug the hole and was now standing over Triphosa. Mangled and disfigured, with eyes staring at the heavens; perhaps watching her soul depart. Firinne thought she may be sick but managed to keep it all down until the first layer of dirt covered her friend. How dismembered the world was — and she was spinning as she watched the pieces of it fly.

Firinne went to her chambers and was instantly nauseated for the second time that night. There were so many memories in this room; memories of her youth, and memories of Cyneric. She avoided the bed and headed straight for her pine armoire. She traced her hand across her dresses, remembering how she would choose the dress that suited her mood for the day. She was numb with nostalgia.

She pulled the tattered dress down over her shoulders and let it fall in a whisper on the floor. What did she feel? She walked into the new dress and pulled it up her skin. It hugged her like an old friend. The mirror was dusty, but behind the dust she could see the crimson. The black embroidery was like black birds resting on her collar.

Rebirth.

 

 

Auralia had Firinne’s hands in hers and was staring her deep in her eyes. She told her that she would be at Citrine waiting for her. She told her not to worry. She told her not to take too long. She told her to be safe, and she told her all of the things that any mother would say to her child. More than that, she told her daughter to believe in herself and fight.

“If you die, I will die, and if we are both dead, then we will meet again.”

They hugged for a long time. Then she felt Kaolin’s hand lie gently on her back, and she knew. It was time to leave; time to leave her Mum again — time to leave her home, Citrine. Everything had been packed meticulously for them.

“It’s a shame your stag didn’t make it. What did you name him?”

“Ma—how’d you know about my stag?”

Auralia smiled. “I sent him to you, didn’t he tell you? What did you name him?”

Firinne’s eyes were welling up with tears. “Mabon…” she croaked out.

Auralia nodded in understanding. “I felt him leave. He loved you, and he was okay to die for you…both of you.” She looked at Kaolin.

As they walked out of Citrine, the people of Citrine began to chant. It was an ancient chant; from time before time. Firinne remembered the tune as the one her mother would hum to her as a child.

Outside of Citrine, she stopped and turned around. The ground shook; Firinne shook. Her masterpiece came stabbing out from beneath the soil; impeding her view of home. The people were still chanting. Firinne was chanting with them, and as she took one final look at the wall, she knew the Blacken would never violate Citrine again.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY

Sea Spray and Barbs

 

 

They had become used to traveling primarily at night, and although their nerves were high-strung, the Moon was awake, and the woods were silent. They were traveling north-east now on the merchants road which cut through the woods. Rest was not an option; they had already tampered with the schedule that Lazata had provided by traveling to Citrine.

“Your Mum was really nice,” Kaolin said.

“Yeah, she’s amazing. Maybe after all of this is over, you can get to know her better. She’d probably beg you to come and live with us.”

“Really? I always kind of thought that when all this is over, I’d just head back to Stahrling, and pick up where I left off.”

“What, living in solitude, and eating voles?” Firinne laughed. “No, she’d insist you came to live with us once she found out about your eating habits.”

“Oi! They aren’t that bad…” He crossed his arms and put his head down. “It would be nice not to be alone all of the time, and…have a comfy place to sleep.” He smiled.

“Well, that settles it then. So let’s you and I just hope we can get through all this and make it back.”

“…I don’t even know where I would begin.”

“Begin what?”

“Starting over…how do I go back to a life that isn’t at all the same as it was?”

“I don’t know…”

“Let’s stop talking now for a while. We need to save our energy and I don’t want us to be overheard. From here on out, if you see one of the Blacken’s pawns — kill them on the spot. We can’t afford to be generous anymore.”

“But…damn, it’s like murdering our own people.” He said.

“It is exactly that, but there isn’t a way to wake them up until the Blacken is gone, and even if they did wake up…we don’t know what kind of state they’d be in. So, for the sake of our sanity…let’s just consider it mercy killing.”

Kaolin agreed and added, “May the ethereal collective know our souls…”

 

Dawn came and brought with it small pockets of scouts sent by the Blacken. The first two were easy and Firinne picked them off quickly with a couple of arrows to the head. Kaolin took care of their Demogorchians with his electrolifi sword; he sustained a few scratches. They were traveling in a new way — leaving sneaking in the shadows as a past-time. They walked on the edge of the road, partially hidden by the forest; like assassins — surprising their foes with vicious attacks. With every death, the air became lighter, that is until the Mist rolled in.

There must have been a thousand Demogorchians in the sky and the Mist of Blacken was spilling from their wings. Streaks of black crisscrossed the sky in grids threatening to suffocate Fia. The skies weren’t always like this; mostly it was just a black line behind, or in front of clouds; here and there. She’d never seen it like this.

The next day it rained. It was a massive deluge of black sludge — Fia’s attempt to detox. How long would Fia’s detox take, once all of this was over? What else would she have to do to mend herself? Maybe more importantly, would her people and her creatures survive the detox?

Firinne and Kaolin couldn’t get Fia’s blood off of them. It was sticky and sickly smelling, and they knew that there probably wouldn’t be a clear river for days. By midday next, they could barely eat because the smell was so overpowering.

 

 

 

Days passed, leaving cobwebs on memories. They were coming near the shore now where they hoped to find a ship that would take them across the sea. They still hadn’t been able to wash themselves clean and as they ran to the white cliffs, they were delighted to see that the sea’s waters were so clear.

Full-force, down to the rocky shore, where there were a few boats floating at the dock. They plunged themselves into the water, where the Blood disintegrated; it was the salt from the sea that did it. Neither of them had ever been to the sea before, and they soaked up the new experience like children on holiday.

After they were clean, they walked along the shore towards the dock. There was an older man who was untangling some rope on his ship’s deck, and as Firinne and Kaolin drew closer, he lifted his head; nodding his head toward them.

“Maybe we should talk to him?” Kaolin said.

Firinne approached the old man first.

“It’s our first time visiting the sea. My name is Firinne and this is Kaolin.” She said as she motioned towards Kaolin.

“I’ve been on these seas since I was just a lad. Learned to tie my first knot right here on this dock. This ship was my father’s until he passed…name’s Oswin.”

“Nice to meet you.You’re a fisherman, right?”

“Indeed…”

“You must sail quite often. Do you travel far out?”

“Aye…all the way out to the Untouched Coast, although I never dock there.”

“Why not?”

“You must be from far away if you don’t know about that coast opposite ours. No one ever goes there, it’s off limits.”

“Says who?”

“The Blacken o’course,”

“Figures…why’s it off limits?”

“Dunno, just is.”

“I see…well you’ll have to take us there.” She said as she crossed her arms.

“Wh…what you mean?”

“Just what I said, Oswin. I don’t mean to be rude, but the fate of all of Fia now rests in your hands, and your ship.”

“And who might you be?”

“I’m Firinne Luxithanya, Queen of Citrine Castle. This here is Kaolin Satel, King of Stahrling Castle. We are on a mission given to us by the fallen Clandestine Guardians, and if we do not go now, there will be no future for our world.”

“Prove it,” Oswin said.

“Prove what?”

“That yeh are, who yeh say yeh are,” He said matter-of-factly.

Firinne looked at Kaolin. Kaolin reached behind is back and pulled out his silvers, drawing a line in the air with electrolfi. Oswin immediately took a step back. While Kaolin was doing this, Firinne fabricated a crystal in the palm of her hand and presented it to Oswin.

“For you, Sir,” Firinne said. He took it from her somewhat hesitantly and then looked at it for a while. There was a long pause before he finally said, “I was told this day would come…”

“By who?” They asked together.

“Lazata…”

“How do you—

“She’s my sister. After The Ascension, I went to go look for her on the mountain…found her, and a whole bunch of other stuff I didn’t know before. Our father fought in The Ascension…”

Firinne touched the side of his arm. “My father did too, and Kaolin’s parents were killed by the Blacken.”

He gave both of them a knowing look. “I’d be happy to take you across.”

“Thank you so much, Oswin.”

“Aye, it’s about time that damn Blacken get what’s been comin’ to it. I can ‘ave her ready in about twenty.”

“Okay, we’ll just rest over there by those rocks. Let us know if you need any help.”

“Nah, I’m a pro at this stuff. You lot, look like you could use a bit of restin’.”

They sat at the rocks waiting, breathing in the sea spray, and contemplating what waited for them at the twin-shore the Blacken had deemed forbidden.

It was as though the game-makers who decide what is proper of victim and perpetrator, hero and villain, saw that all was not right in their world of make-believe. There is no rest for the wicked, the game-makers cried, and from the cliffs, Kaolin and Firinne saw the Dantalion Lords coming towards them through the fog.

Kaolin jumped up with such force that the rocks beneath him were kicked out by his leather boots. He ran towards the ship to alert Oswin. The old man’s eyes scanned the cliffs; the widest his eyes had probably been since youth before the weight of life had begun sagging the skin of a man who had almost existed too long.

Firinne was at the ship now, but she wasn’t sure what to do. She could try to pick them off with her arrows, if she missed, though, they would be alerted to their position. She didn’t want to put Oswin in danger either.

“Oswin, can you get her ready now? If we leave right this moment, maybe they won’t even see us.”

“I’ll try.”

“Okay, Kaolin and I will wait just up there on the shore so we don’t draw any attention to you. When you’ve got her ready, call out to us, and then let her go.”

“What if somethin’ happens and you two don’t get back here quick enough.”

“Then drop your anchor once you’re over the shallows.”

He nodded and walked around to the other side of the ship; long warped from the humidity.

Kaolin followed Firinne to an overhang below the cliffs which was situated right next to the path leading down to the shore. Firinne couldn’t believe they were here. Few had even laid eyes on the Dantalion Lords, and this was a clear indication that the Blacken knew what Kaolin and Firinne were up to.

Kaolin had his hands wrapped around each other in front of his mouth; blowing warm air into them; you could almost smell the adrenaline. All that they could do at this point was wait and see which came first; the ships departure or the Dantalions arrival.

As it happened, it was both — nearly. Their black lace cloaks trailed along behind them, almost floating above the rocks. They made no facial expressions other than a detachment; crazed; wide-eyed, mouths hanging open. It was now or never, and Firinne took the first shot, which embedded itself into the empty space between black bones. There was no reaction, not an instant one. Slowly, they turned their heads towards the overhang. One stepped forward slightly and from the palm of his fleshy hand, a black pit opened. From it shot a silky string with barbs attached to it.

Kaolin pulled Firinne behind a boulder. Kaolin then turned to the other side and hurled a bolt of electrolifi at them. One of the Dantalion’s cloaks caught fire and everything was burned to ashes — except for his immortal flesh.

There were three of them.

“Kaolin, the best chance we have is to move as fast as we can. Strike anything that you think could be vulnerable. I don’t know anything about them, but everything has a soft spot.”

The space between Kaolin and Firinne was now speckled with crystal arrows and bolts of electrolifi flying haphazardly. They aimed quickly and hid themselves back behind the boulder just as fast. On the next wave, Firinne was able to note that the Dantalion Lord closest to them, now had one of her crystal arrows sticking out of his eye, and he was beginning to convulse. There was black dripping down his face; blood that had been spoiling and congealing for centuries; epochs.

“Kaolin, aim for my arrow in his eye!”

When he did, it was as if time had stopped. The electrolifi traveled down to the head of the arrow, and the Dantalion Lord became still. Gradually, he began shaking all over, his head was moving in every direction; back and forth, up and down, side to side. He opened his mouth, wider than was humanly possible, and an orgasmic screech filled the air. It was sonic, and it knocked the strength from them; landing on their knees, where they held their ears and watched. They watched as there was an explosion of blackness which shot out everywhere.

The Dantalion Lord was gone, but his screech was still bouncing off of the overhang and shooting out across the sea where it would travel the waters for eternity — the source of the sailor’s delusion.

Evidently, the remaining Lords were livid, and so Firinne and Kaolin found themselves nearly engulfed by an explosion of gray flames which had landed just behind them, and the boulder. They darted off to the side and began showering them with Eletrolifi and crystal arrows. Oswin had pulled up the anchor now; the ship gently moving towards the open water. Every time Firinne implanted an arrow, Kaolin would aim for it and finally, after another crippling screech, another Dantalion Lord was dead; or ceased to exist since it had already been dead, before its death.

“Firinne, give me a shot and head for the ship! I’m right behind you!”

She did, the arrow shot through the air and sliced itself deep into the corpse’s heart. She ran to the boat and turned to watch for Kaolin. He ran toward them and turned to shoot the electrolifi, but before he could, the barbed silk had wrapped itself around his leg; and he crashed to the ground.

Firinne started laying arrow after arrow into the Dantalion Lord as she ran down the dock to help Kaolin. He signaled her to stop.

“I’m not gonna leave you!” she yelled to him.

The Dantalion Lord was pulling Kaolin into him, foot by foot.

“Use your sword!”

He turned himself around, sat up, unsheathed his sword, and came down hard on the tendril silk. It split and recoiled back towards its maker, but the Dantalion was still coming closer, despite the seven arrows that were sticking out of it. Firinne helped Kaolin up, but he could barely walk on his leg which still had barbs wrapped around it.

“C’mon Kaolin…do it…now!”

And it was slow motion all over again but this time the electrolifi spread itself out over all seven of Firinne’s arrows; a dreamcatcher of silver heat. The explosion was so great that it threw both of them toward the dock — pieces of rocks from the shore pelting at their skulls.

Before the ear-splitting sounds had even stopped, Firinne was up and pulling Kaolin to the end of the dock. They jumped into the sea, Firinne helping her friend swim to their ship. Oswin had released a rope ladder which Kaolin began to climb with Firinne’s support. As she steadied his back, she looked over her shoulder at the coast and its cliffs. She could see him, standing there — watching her. The silhouette that she would never forget.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-ONE

Spectorium

 

 

His silver hair was stuck to his forehead. A blanket was wrapped around him. Their ears were numb from the cold wind, and probably partially deaf. Firinne was sure she could still hear the Dantalion’s screeches echoing inside her skull.

“You really saw him?”

“I’m sure of it.” She said.

“Why didn’t he chase after us? Those Demogorchians can fly.”

“I don’t know…maybe it wasn’t the right time? Maybe he needed orders? You’re talking to the girl who was fooled by her lover and her best friend…”

“That bloke’s creepy…”

“He wasn’t always…let me look at your leg now that you’ve warmed up a bit.” He turned his body towards her and lifted his leg up onto her lap. The barbs were still wrapped around his leg.

“You might want to bite down on something…” Firinne told him.

He stuffed some of the blanket in his mouth and Firinne proceeded to begin unwinding the thing from his leg. It was like a thread of barbed wire, but the barbs were like razors; angled like fangs. She couldn’t tell which was worse; the initial attack, or this. Once she got all of it off of him, she took out her dagger and cut through his pants, up to his knee. His leg from there down looked like he’d been attacked by baby sharks. She finished by scooping up some seawater and applying it to the wounds; wrapping it with a clean cloth that Oswin had.

“You can stop gnawing on that thing now. I’m done.”

“AWWRRYSHHRRR”

“What? Oh! Yes, I’m sure.” She laughed.

“Whew, thanks for that.”

“Good thing my dress is red.” She said as she rolled her eyes and flicked her hair behind her shoulder.

“I do apologize, my Queen!”

“Both of yeh should quit yer chatterin’ and get some shut-eye. We only got about an hour-and-a-half left of sailin’.”

“Ay, ay Captain!” Kaolin said.

Firinne followed with, “Wake us in an hour. Thanks, Oswin.”

She curled up in the corner of the main deck and threw a blanket over her head. As if her body knew that it was preparing for a battle, she fell asleep quickly.

 

 

She dreamed of Cyneric. It was a muddled dream. He was sitting in front of her and she was talking to him. He didn’t respond to her, so she repeated herself. After a while, she got tired of it and went in front of him to better get his attention since his back was facing her. He sat there with a blank expression like he was daydreaming, and his mouth hung open slightly; letting drool drip on his leg, but the saliva dripping from his mouth was black. It was disturbing, and she felt sorrow. At the same time, she had no concern at all. She could do or say whatever she wanted to him, and he would never react or respond. Then she noticed that there was a woman behind him hanging from a rope; side to side; she could hear the rope creaking like it had when Imphius—

 

 

There was a slight tapping on her shoe.

“Queen…Queen…please wake. It’s been an hour.” Then she felt the blanket be pulled off of her head. The air was cool on her face; she could see the golden light of the sun setting. She slowly peeked her eyes open.

With a dry mouth she said, “Thanks, Oswin. Please call me Fir…no sense in formalities at this point.”

“Aye, will do.” Then Oswin proceeded to the other corner of the deck where Kaolin lay in a ball; injured leg sticking out of the blanket awkwardly. Oswin kicked Kaolin’s thigh and he woke with a jolt; reaching for his sword.

“Oi! My leg’s injured!”

“I know,” Oswin replied.

“So then why’d you kick me?”

“Teach you not to get smart with the Captain.” He smirked. Then he added. “I’d recommend getting your stuff together. Won’t be long now ’til we hit the shore.”

After their satchels were packed, weapons gathered, and cloaks on, they met Oswin at the ship’s wheel. It was dusk now and the stars were beginning to peek out, now that the blanket of blackness above could be seen.

“What’s that?” Kaolin asked. Off in the distance, there was something sparkling.

“I don’t know. I’ve never been close enough to see it.” Oswin replied.

Before they knew it, they lurched forward, bracing themselves, as the boat knocked into the sandy shore. They climbed over; landing in ankle deep water. Oswin was clearly concerned for them. They both thanked him and told him to head back.

“I don’t want you to get in the middle of all of this,” Firinne said.

“Come back in a day, and if we’re alive, we’ll be waiting for you,” Kaolin added.

“Safe journey…” Firinne said.

“And to you…”

They both pushed off hard on his boat and watched him as he floated back off into the dark distance. After they could no longer see him, they both turned to the green, glimmering in the distance. Neither of them needed to discuss it — they knew where they were meant to go.

The temperature was dropping slowly. The air smelled fresher here; pristine; organic. The Blacken had not bothered to conquer this land, only forbid it to the people of Fia. Why? The grasses were soft, and as they topped a hill, they saw the outlines of fawns grazing in a field — there wasn’t a sign of anyone else.

They were at the base of it now. There was a dome made of some type of metal in the center; surrounded by huge, un-carved pillars of Bismuth; sparkling with a rainbow of colors off its metallic surface. Firinne grabbed Kaolin by the arm and they began to walk, and limp, up the stone steps leading to The Spectorium.

Once inside, they found that the walls were lined with plates of Bismuth, which were graffitied with an indecipherable language. Sitting in the center was a staircase, about twenty feet off the ground, which stopped at the center of the dome. They knew what they had to do; the Epiphanous had shown them. They met each other’s eyes with excitement; this was it — the last step. The only thing that was unclear was what would happen after.

They put their hands together and began fabricating the first of three, crystallis-electrolifis. They fabricated to the exact dimensions that they were instructed to; four feet high. After the third, the inside of the dome began to glitter with the elctrolifi light emanating from the crystals; a spectrum of colors, reflecting off of the Bismuth walls.

Next was the hardest part. Firinne stepped near Kaolin and grasped his hand. “Are you ready?” she asked.

He nodded.

Together, they focused all of their intention on the task they had inherited from the fallen Leviticus child. Firinne’s hands were placed on his shoulders, and she felt the warmth of his flesh on the palms of her hands. With each of his silvers, he connected bolts to the two crystals closest to them, and a bolt from each followed to the third crystal. Slowly; painstakingly slow, they began to lift from the ground. By the time they had reached level with the stairs, Kaolin was shaking.

It happened in an instant. The graffiti on the walls of the dome lit up in gold; traveling from the floor to a diamond-shaped point at the top-center. From there, the electrolifi which was holding the crystals up, shot towards the diamond — connecting with it, and Kaolin no longer needed to hold up the crystals. Something in the Bismuth took control and the crystals were now levitating in the middle of the dome without any assistance.

Then like lasers, a shape began fabricating in the center of the crystals. It was a pyramid which looked to be made out of hematite. It looked like rope twisted and coiled up into the shape of a pyramid; cerebral. The only thing that they knew was that they had to get to it.

Lastly, the dome began to move and like an eye, it opened to the cosmos.

“Well done!”

Firinne didn’t need to turn around to know who it was. Cyneric was standing behind her, clapping dramatically. When he was done, he found his flask and took a swig of Blood. Before he had even had a chance to put away his flask, Firinne had an arrow aimed for his chest.

“Gonna kill me like you killed your best friend?”

“Maybe? It was easier than I thought.” Which of course she knew was a lie.

“If only you didn’t have to be so pure, you coulda been at my side…but you know this is the end right?”

“Quit acting like you’re someone you aren’t. I know who you are Cyneric. I’ve seen you cry in my arms. Held you as you felt your world fall apart. Saved you when you needed someone to save you. I’ve always saved you, even when you didn’t ask me to. Maybe I shouldn’t have, but I did because I loved you…I still do. I won’t sit her and put on a face just to give you something more to feed on. You chose this Cyneric. Don’t you see that?”

“Tell me…what did I choose?”

“To let the victim inside of you become the perpetrator. To let the world decide who you are, rather than the other way around. You can say whatever you want, but I know you, and I know that the only reason why you are doing this is because of the Blacken, and because of the Blood. You can’t live without it now. You’re so lost in that flask…I wouldn’t be surprised if you’ve squeezed your heart into it.”

“….”

She could see him struggling with emotion. “I tried to save you, but you didn’t want me to. You thought the Blood could, it was easier for you to drink the Blood than face yourself…face the pain.” She was crying now.

“I’m sorry Fir, I don’t know who I am anymore. I can’t…can’t…”

“You can’t what?!”

“I…” Everything he said next came out in a string of words that moved past Firinne so fast she hardly had time to react.

“Ican’tcontrolitkillmenow!”

As he said this, he pulled a wing clipping from a Demogorchian from behind his back. Firinne knew what shot out of it and where it was aimed. She reacted on the word kill and let her arrow fly; straight to the heart that she loved. Cyneric collapsed on the floor. Firinne ran to him with her back to Kaolin.

His eyes stared up at hers with a clarity in them that she couldn’t remember the last time she had seen. He reached up with one hand and touched the side of her face. She felt a tickling sensation on her scalp, like gooseflesh. Her hair was levitating away from her, standing straight on end, and then fell back to her shoulders as he began to speak, but instead of words, it was only blood that flowed out of his mouth.

A second passed, and he was gone. The last, living Sonicus Leviticus was dead. They never sacrificed him, they raised him, and they knew he was too young to ever remember who he had been. She could feel his blood seeping through her dress; a warm stickiness on her leg, and eventually she couldn’t feel it anymore; couldn’t feel him anymore, but she wished she could bleed with him, and maybe inside, she was.

“Ff..Fffi…Fir….”

Firinne turned around; shocked instantly. Kaolin was lying at an angle on the bottom stair. An obsidian talon was protruding from his stomach; his clothes already stained with blood. She rushed to him.

“I’m so sorry Kaolin!” She sobbed.

“It…it’s okay, Fir.” He spoke like he was trying to hold his breath.

“There’s gotta be something I can do.” The blood was really spilling out of him now. She was afraid to touch him; afraid to look at him.

“N…no…time…”

He was right. The Epiphanous had said that they only had a certain amount of time to act on this last phase or it would be lost to them forever.

“I could drag you!”

Kaolin squeezed her arm and he didn’t need to say how ridiculous she was being.

“Go, now!” he said with as much strength as he could summon.

She didn’t know what would happen after, but she knew she had to touch the pyramid before they ran out of time. She would take care of Kaolin as soon as it was finished. That thought was the only thing that made her get up and move.

The lights were moving like waves around the room; faster — faster. She ran up the stairs; jumping once she was at the top, into the open air. She flipped her body so that she could look down on Kaolin, the forgotten treasure that she had found, in the nanoseconds before her fingertips touched the pyramid.

Unity.

Duality.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-TWO

Cosmic Eye

 

Lurching; Writhing; Pulling.

Separate from myself.

 

 

Where are you?

 

 

What’s happening to me?

 

 

Firinne!

 

 

Lights; Darkness.

I am pulling apart!

 

 

What is going on?!

 

 

Suffocation.

 

 

Spinning; Grass; — Scrape the Sky; Stars.

Darkness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

CHAPTER THIRTY-THREE

_______________

 

 

 

My eyes shoot open — the room a blur. I must have that look; the deer-in-the-headlights one.

“Why are you looking at me like that? Didn’t you hear what I said, dweeb?” Then he pauses for a second, “Wait…Avery! Did it happen again?”

I can’t breathe for a second. I can’t think. The words are right there on my tongue, but they are taking too long to come out of my mouth.

Then, all at once like a drugged-up robot. “She’s here!”

 

 

 

 

 

 

“We do not merely destroy our enemies; we change them.”

— George Orwell, 1984

Acknowledgment

 

 

 

Thank you…

To my Mom, who once told me that it’s not what you say, but how you say it. I rolled my eyes then, but it is invaluable to me now. You are my light and you fed my fire. Thank you for letting me walk my own path and follow my dreams; even if it meant that you had to watch me suffer through it. Thank you for making time to read to me every night before bed regardless of how much homework you had to do.

To my Nana, who taught me to speak my mind, avoid passiveness at all costs, and never be polite (unless it is to your elders). Thank you for teaching me that sometimes selfishness is the only escape. Thank you for showing me the wonderful world of fiction at such a young age. I’m sorry it took so long to figure out that fiction is what I’m meant to do. You won — grammar is important to me now. Thank you for editing my manuscript!

To The Blacken — who trapped me behind four walls for fifteen years, because it knew that by doing so, I would find a way out — and so much more.

To my Grandpa for always encouraging all of my scientific explorations, even when they crossed the scientific threshold and went against your religion. You taught me about selflessness, death, and loss…maybe because you loved me and knew I could handle it.

To my Uncle for pressuring me to go to college so much — that I wrote this book instead. Thank you for loving me despite our differences. It’s okay Spock, I love you too!

To all of my friends, thank you for your continued support! Martina Gettman, Shawn Chilcote, Michelle Mackey, thank you for encouraging me through this and after it. Thank you for letting me pick your brain (Did you laugh? Did you cry? What did you see in your brain when you read that part? This is shit, isn’t it? Etc.) and for keeping me from falling off the writer’s cliff of uncertainty. I would have fallen chapters and chapters ago if it wasn’t for your guys’ texts filled with fancy French, pissed off at me about cliffhangers. I’m not sure I would have had the courage to finish writing this with out thinking it was a massive POS if it wasn’t for all of you.

To Amanda Ortiz, thank you for your support and for bringing this novel to life! I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to work with the incredibly talent artist that you are.

Todd Fahnestock, thank you for letting me pick your brain, making time to call me in-between big meetings in N.Y. (so that I wouldn’t have a panic attack), and for sharing your advice, encouragement, and enthusiasm.

To all of my favorite authors — there are no words for the momentum that you have initiated in my life.

Thanks to my Squishy, for being such a sweet girl (most of the time) and letting Mommy write the book about the Stag and the Queen who lived in a crystal castle. You are a force in my life, like the Hum’s wings.

Lastly, to my readers — I honor your existence. Honor your own existence, the existence of everyone in your life, and above all — honor your world.

 

GRAVITUS

The Binarius Series (#2)

 

 

“The first rule of real-life, creepy stuff is that you never, I repeat, never, go looking for that noise you just heard; the crying baby, to be specific. If you choose to accept that mission, it will most likely mean instantaneous demise. I may be storming through the Palace, acting like I’m tough-shit, but even through everything I’ve been through, I’ve never actually killed a person, much less shot one. At the heart of it, I am a hippie; and no you do not need to inform me that hippies, and the post-apocalyptic world do not play well together, thanks.”

-- Chapter 6, Never Follow The Sound; And Other Lessons on Morality

 

“ We became anesthetized, and distracted from the real, organic, raw, problems in our world. We were comfortable in that numbness that had been fabricated for us. We didn’t want to see the pain, the terror, the concern -- we didn’t want the responsibility. We didn’t want to sacrifice our comfort and our familiarity for a planet that was as fake as plastic to us....

So here we live, in an apocalypse, where all of our man-made illusions have been lifted from our eyes. Only now can we see what is truly important, and only now we realize what it cost us to not give a shit…..

My eyes are glued on the dark and dusty space beneath the sofa where an old copy of, 1984, lie abandoned; staring mockingly back at me, and I can almost hear it saying, I told you so.”

- Chapter 10, The Monotony Before The Apocalypse

 

 

 

 

 

Kendra McMahan lives in the Rocky Mountains of Colorado with her daughter and their dog, Ewok. She’s never been one for societal expectations and so she is a graduate from The School of Life. After 25 years of obsessing over books, writing poetry and activism essays, and trying to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up, she finally decided she was born to be a writer — naturally — and she apologizes that it took her so long but would like to remind everyone that everything happens when it’s supposed to. She writes with a relentless passion for the raw human, societal, and environmental condition. When she’s not writing, she can be found reading, homeschooling, gardening, crafting, and preparing for the zombie apocalypse.

 

If you loved BINARIUS, please let me know! Head over to Amazon, Goodreads, and/or Litsy, and leave me a review!

 

 

 

To stay updated on Binarius news, nerdery, and bibliophilia:

http://www.inkyquillwarts.com

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Binarius

BINARIUS, A TALE OF VICTIM AND PERPETRATOR, AND THOSE WHO INEVITABLY -- ARE BOTH. Somewhere beneath, within, outside the timelines of the cosmos, a planet has been tactically infected with poison. For this reason, Firinne lives with constant anxiety. She remembers a time when she was normal; before The Blacken came. Seemingly overnight, she is faced with betrayal, forcing her to abandon Citrine. What she finds is a world gone mad. Hunted by her betrayer and packs of mechanical creatures — she finds a ruin that lights up the sky, and an electric orphan who hides in the shadows. Together, they discover a prophecy that could ensure the survival of their planet — if they can manage to stay alive. The end of The Blacken might be near, but sometimes endings are disguised as new beginnings -- and some endings last forever. “Kendra McMahan eases readers into a unique and well-developed world where darkness, as a concept, seizes our fear and hatred, rendering us trapped by our own shadows. The vocabulary of McMahan’s world is impeccable - not the disjointed jamming together of apostrophes and consonants that make fantasy, sometimes, difficult to read. She provides us with a strong willed narrator up against the physical manifestations of an idea, and draws us in with wonder as she describes the universe her protagonist, Firrine, inhabits.” “The author delivers this story with such a passion, as if it were her own. You cannot help but feel compassion for the heroine and severe dislike for her oppressors. It’s lovely to read a book that puts importance on greater causes like preservation, home, hearth, family and survival as opposed to on something like fickle relationships. It is nice to see that this author is continuing the growing trend of strong women with strong minds. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and am excited to see how the story evolves. I would definitely recommend this as a read!” “Anyone who has stepped into other dystopian world’s of the YA nature know how tricky life can get for these young heroes. Or in this case, our heroine, Firinne, young and naive, but full of hope.There are many underlying issues in this book, and in order to avoid any spoilers I’ll refrain from bringing them up in this review.However, this author did an amazing job in getting me hooked to Fia and hearing the story of The Blacken. While the cliffhanger was brutal, it’s a promise that something is just around the corner for this noble girl fighting to save more than just her own life.A must read if you fancy Rowling, Riggs, or even Collins.” “The series (so far?) is imaginative and compelling, truly original. But it’s not so far ‘out there’ as to be un-relatable. The intelligent reader will see that it’s not so much of a leap from things as they are now in the world to things as they WILL BE if we don’t wake up. This is written for the current generation, the generation that must take on the big issues: Capitalism, Indigenous Peoples’ rights, and environmental degradation. Oh, and any sensitive reader will fall in love with the characters. They are multilayered and multi-dimensional in their strengths and their flaws.”

  • ISBN: 9781370112654
  • Author: Kendra McMahan
  • Published: 2016-08-25 02:50:31
  • Words: 61977
Binarius Binarius