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The Failsafe Prophecies

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A small team of people, including the author, has worked very hard to bring our paying readers high-quality reading entertainment. This is Samantha Lucas’ livelihood. It’s fair and simple. Please respect Ms. Lucas’s right to earn a living from her work.

 

The Seven Kingdoms

Copyright © 2015 by Samantha Lucas

 

Cover design by Samantha Lucas

All cover art and logo copyright © 2014

Edited by Amy Warren Stoll

 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED: This literary work may not be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, including electronic or photographic reproduction, in whole or in part, without express written permission.

 

All characters and events in this book are fictitious. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead is strictly coincidental.

 

No one associated with this book has any affiliation with the Disney Company or family. The use of Walt Disney, Disneyland, Walt Disney World, or any of the Disney brand is not meant to reflect an endorsement of any kind from the Disney Company. All copyrights and trademarks remain the sole property of the Disney Company.

 

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Book Dedication:

 

I’ve never had a book come out that I’ve been more excited about, or proud of. I know you will all love this story. I know the magic will capture your imagination, while the romance captures your heart. We have nine more books to go after this, so this is a commitment to a journey we’re taking together, and I want to thank you all for having faith in me and letting this wonderful story into your life.

 

I would never have gotten to this point without the love and support day in and out of both my kids. Nearly four years ago I had to completely reset my life, and they both have been with me each step of the way. If not for them, I think going back to fiction would have stayed in the dream category indefinitely. This is entirely backwards, but they’re the ones that have taught me that it’s okay to make the things I want a priority. And so I did.

 

Going back to writing full time was a scary proposition, one I wouldn’t have made without my kids pushing me, but once I made the leap, it was my best friend Kevin who helped keep my head on straight. His humor and support picked me up at the hardest moments and helped me get to the finish line of this first book… now he better be there for the next nine!

 

Lastly, I have to thank my friend and editor, Amy, without whom this book simply would not have been possible. This idea had to be indie, but to go indie all by yourself is just impossible. Amy’s editing of this book was the gift of a lifetime to me and I do hope just the beginning of the adventure. Amy, from sitting out at Disney with me, listening to me brainstorm, to your skilled editing, I honestly could not have done this without you. You took my raw ideas and helped me pull a fantastic story from them. Your comments and suggestions were so spot on and helped make this book strong, compelling, and wonderful. I thank you so much.

 

Writing a book always gives you a lot to think about, to take stock of, and writing this one really helped me remember just how very blessed I am and how very much I love writing. Now here’s to the next nine, may each one be better than the last! – Samantha

 

 

The Seven Kingdoms

A Tales of Elethiya Serial

The Failsafe Prophecies ~ Season 1 Episode 1

 

 

Samantha Lucas

Copyright © 2015

 

 

 

Chapter One

 

In the space between unconscious and awake there is only silence.

Rigo’s heartbeat echoed in that silence. He heard the breath enter his lungs and leave. Soon there was a strange distorted ricochet before the sound of children laughing entered the vortex and before his vision returned to him.

In the time it took for him to take a breath, all his senses were back on line, the heavy scent of the flowers, the sounds of running water and laughter. He was in a garden, pink trees everywhere, a small lake and a concrete path circling it. There were couples walking around the lake hand in hand, some on cell phones, kids playing, a man sitting on a bench working with a tablet. He recalled the sound of children laughing that he’d heard just before re-entering time and space.

He didn’t have time to sort out the disorientation before a loud crack split the air. In that break he saw the first roahn-ami appear, and knew why he’d been called to the area.

A human shaped figure, so black in color it would suck out the light of whatever was near it. Its ears were pointed like a cat. Its eyes, they weren’t eyes. They were two egg shaped pockets of white light that allowed it to find its target. They had wings and could fly, but most often, now for instance, their wings were tucked into sleeves in their backs, completely out of view. They could still levitate above most humans, hanging in the air above them like death.

The sweet scent that always accompanied them rivaled the florals. Rigo had come to hate that scent to the point it sickened him. The roahn-ami had only one purpose, to steal the souls of anything it could, and drag those souls to the darkness.

He scanned the area and found the roahn-ami’s target at the same time the demon locked on.

He had no idea what she’d done to elicit such a powerful enemy, but it was his job to make certain the roahn-ami did not succeed. She wore jeans and a yellow tee and had her long blonde hair pulled back in a band at the base of her neck. She was bent over a pale purple rose and completely oblivious to her pending danger.

He began to run, only taking a few steps before the lion buried deep within him came roaring to the surface. Two human feet hitting the pavement turned into four paws. He felt the power surge, the wind rushing through his long black mane. Everything he was became fiercely primal as he charged towards the beast and its intended prey.

He arrived at her the same time as the roahn-ami. She stood now, staring into nothingness. She didn’t notice his presence running towards her, nor the shape behind her. That told him all he needed to know.

She was already in the darkness.

Trapped between two worlds, the battle for her soul would be won or lost by a demon and a shifter.

The roahn-ami were incredibly agile, feminine in their movements, and able to achieve speeds the eye could not follow. This one used its power to pull the girl’s soul from her body. Standing behind her, its hands directed the energy through her body, out her back, and into one of the containers it wore on its belt, the only article of clothing worn by the roahn-ami.

Rigo pushed harder to reach the girl.

Only a few more leaps of his muscles and he’d reach her, but she was already falling limp. He roared as he pushed himself to his breaking point to reach her, but the soul was nearly completely gone. He felt the shiver of energy pass through him, the shift in energy on the planet that happened anytime a soul left or arrived.

 

Hayden slipped through the vortex and tried to force herself awake faster than was happening naturally. She sensed the danger deep within herself and knew she needed to be awake and aware fast.

Her first view was of a park-like space. Then she smelled the roahn-ami and saw Rigo’s transformation as he charged at a woman on the far end of the lake from where she stood. She watched as his human arms and legs became powerful cat-like limbs, as his long blond hair became a long black mane. He was beautiful in either form, and formidable. But as his lion, he emitted power and magic his human-like form would never have.

She had maybe three seconds to make a decision and to follow suit. She viewed the scene, saw terrified families and a group of teens, all with their camera phones catching the action. She prayed the containment crew was already on their way. When she saw the second target, a young woman with long black hair, wearing a traditional Asian-styled gown, Hayden began to run, quickly morphing into her sleek puma, the pads of her feet hitting the concrete, grabbing, and propelling her forward at a great speed. It dulled her claws, but only marginally. She roared a warning to the beast as she bore down on it.

She prayed Rigo was safe and her decision to save the other girl didn’t harm her friend and ally. Theirs was a sacred duty, and it wasn’t to one another. There was only one reason she would have been summoned here. These women had to be from the Marrow, and all she knew for sure, was she had to save this one.

 

Rigo lunged at the creature. His claws, tipped with magic for just this purpose, ripped into the vaporish flesh of the dark entity, tearing at it. Most would think the deep red that appeared against the black was blood, but these creatures didn’t bleed. They oozed toxins, a last defense against anything that may attack it. A human who came in contact with the substance would be dead in thirty seconds. There would be no way to save them.

He slashed again as the creature wrapped its arm around the limp woman’s waist, but he only managed to tear the soft cotton fabric of the woman’s simple shirt. She was stunningly beautiful. Her blonde hair was so pale it was nearly white and blended with her skin seamlessly. Her pale pink lips were parted softly as she hung limp in the beast’s arms.

This was the kind of beauty that seemed supernatural. He wondered for a fragment if she were an angel, but he knew better. Angels didn’t have souls for the roahn-ami to take.

He roared, lunging one last time, making contact again, this time with a tendon and ankle as the demon and the girl vanished into foul smelling vapor.

He drew a deep breath and roared in agony for failing her.

As he turned, he saw Hayden shift into her puma, chasing yet another of the dark winged ones across the lake.

He shook off the failure as the realization dawned that another woman was in danger. He moved through the gardens, across the lawn and the paved walkway with grace and power, quickly catching up to Hayden’s puma. As they both reached the creature, it was as if time slowed. A distortion of some sort surrounded them. It was like being in a dream and not being able to control your movements. He tried to lunge for the creature, but it was as if something held on to his ankle and yanked him back to the ground.

He could see the woman’s soul being stretched out of her body, sucked into the roahn-ami’s canister.

Hayden seemed as though she were encased in glass. She roared in pain and frustration as the soul slipped further away.

This was hell unlike he’d ever known it. To have all the power of the lion, all the magic endowed him, and not be able to do a damn thing.

He’d never known a roahn-ami to cast magic, so what was this?

As he moved slowly through the time distortion, he watched the girl, clearly caught in the same anomaly. The time distortion seemed to affect the roahn-ami’s technique, because unlike the victims he’d witnessed before, this girl wasn’t in a trance. She turned, drew a sword from the folds of her skirt, and slashed the roahn-ami’s hand that was pulling her soul. The hand fell to the ground and the soul snapped back to its owner. When it did, the time distortion melted and they were able to move again.

In the next second, Hayden pounced on the creature. Rigo took a risk and shifted back into human form, grabbing for the skull-shaped metal canisters hanging from a belt around its waist. He wrapped his hand around the leather straps and pulled hard, wresting them away just as the monster vaporized beneath the claws of his friend.

With his other arm, he grabbed for the girl who was in mid-collapse from the ordeal. As she fell into his arm, she dropped a jewel encrusted blade to the ground. He caught her just in time to soften the fall as her unconscious body fell into the grass beside the blade.

He grabbed for his cell and punched in three numbers.

“I need containment and restoration in Tanzania. Immediately.”

Though he knew the watchers would have already alerted the containment crew, he was feeling helpless and defeated from the loss of the first woman. Somehow, shouting out orders at a faceless voice over his cell phone made him feel better.

Hayden transformed back to her Latina form and knelt beside him.

“Did you call it in?”

“Yeah, but I’m sure the watchers got to it before I did.” He turned to look at her. The scene in the background was already shifting from screaming and running, to calm and oblivious once more.

“What the hell was this? I’ve never known the roahn-ami to attack humans that weren’t extraordinarily inebriated.” She tucked long black strands of hair behind her ear before gently reaching out for the woman lying in Rigo’s arms.

“She’s not human, Rigo.” She lightly brushed back the hair from the face of the woman he was holding. She was very young with porcelain skin, almond eyes and perfectly shaped lips. “This is Fa Zhen, one of the Royal Seven.” Her tone held the appropriate awe.

He looked down at the dainty woman. In the moments he’d been able to observe her, she had appeared delicate and demure… until she pulled out the sword.

“How can you be sure?”

She laughed and moved a tiny bit closer.

“Because I’m serahn. It’s the responsibility of my people to protect the royals, the same as it’s your people’s responsibility to protect the sacred seven. I’d know her anywhere.” She inhaled deeply. “I can smell her.”

“That’s your cat senses still online.” He tried to play it down because he knew, if this were true, if the roahn-ami had come after the royals, war was on the horizon,

“So what?” She answered defensively. “This is Fa Zhen. I don’t know who the other woman was, but if the roahn-ami are after the royal seven…”

“All hell is about to break lose.” His mind reeled with what this could possibly mean, for himself, for his people, for the human realm.

“Well, yeah, that, but someone had to have sent those creatures, Rigo. They don’t act on their own and the only ones who’d care about the seven…”

“Is someone from the Dark Marrow.” He spoke over her as his mind kept even pace with hers.

“Meaning there’s a breach in the wall?” For the first time she seemed confused.

He thought about that for a long moment. The wall between realms was his brother’s charge. He’d admit Wraithe hadn’t been himself for the past fifty years or so, but he couldn’t imagine something like a breach in the wall had gotten past him.

“Not necessarily. The roahn-ami can transcend realms, they move through the gates same as any other creature. They could be taking orders from anyone. And even if they are taking orders from someone in the Dark Marrow, that doesn’t mean the border between realms has been breached.”

There had to be some other answer than that. He looked up and saw the containment team had arrived and was briskly at work wiping memories and removing any paranormal trace left in the area.

“We need to get her back to Elethiya. Then we need to call a meeting of my people and yours.” Rigo slipped into taking charge. They needed answers and they wouldn’t be getting them lolling about in the grass.

“What about the other woman they took, and…” She looked down at the soul skulls lying beside his knees. “What about those?”

She shuddered slightly.

“I’ll take them with me. I think I know someone who may be able to free any wronged souls inside.” He hoped.

“They won’t have bodies!” She lunged backwards away from him.

“What do you want me to do, give the souls to the demons?” That was the only other choice he was aware of, and while some of the demons may have done right by whoever was in those jars, he didn’t trust them enough to chance it.

She chewed on her lip, looking unnerved.

“No. I guess not.”

“Rodrigo, we have ninety percent containment. Do you need transport?”

Rigo looked up to see a woman dressed in black leather, whose long black hair was slicked back into a tight, high ponytail. She seemed calm and professional and she used his given name, which almost no one did. He didn’t have any recollection of her. But with how the containment crew worked, that was to be expected. It was most likely that he’d met her on dozens of occasions and there was simply no memory of it.

He grabbed the leather straps of the skulls and scooped Zhen off the ground into his arms. Hayden stood beside him. There was only one thing they could do at this point, one place to go.

“We need to get to one of the portals. We need to get back to Elethiya.”

 

  • * * *

 

The moon lit the wet pavement beneath Wraith’s feet as he strode the fairytale lane where sweet houses and old fashioned stores lined either side. He inhaled deeply of all the scents that made up the early morning darkness and took comfort in being alone in the place he loved more than any other. There were sounds in the distance, night workers, cleaning and testing, painting and pruning. The scent of the pavement, scrubbed clean by the night crew, and freshly watered shrubbery danced together, while in the background he could smell the bakery preparing treats for the day ahead.

He walked down the abandoned Fairy Book Lane that was designed to look like small town America in another time, only with a twist. This town existed in a time when princesses lived simple lives and magic rested around every corner. His theme park was so like another just on the other side of the forest, that most would never know it had been designed long before Walt dreamed of building in Florida. It wouldn’t matter to most people that his park had come from a vision, an angel that appeared to him one night while Walt was still building in California. All he would ever be in the world of theme parks was a lesser imitation of the great Kingdom of Walt.

That, he could live with, what he couldn’t live with was that Walt thought it. That Walt, in his dying days, thought Wraith had betrayed their friendship. That mattered… and there wasn’t a damn thing he could do to fix it.

His heart was weighed down with guilt, all the memories swimming around him until he could drown in them. There were many nights he wished he could just simply slip below the surface of it all and never arise again.

His morose thinking left him alone when he suddenly felt the pull on his right hand. The sensation was the same as that night, the night of the vision. It all began with the very clear sense that someone was tugging on his hand, yet there had been no one in the room but him.

He closed his eyes for a moment and accepted the brush of the memory, the sense that the angelic creature who’d given him that vision was there, touching him now. He always assumed the repeating memory mixed with the sensation was meant to be a comfort, and he took its warmth that way. But his heart was broken, and there was no healing it.

He walked towards the Bavarian style castle. Set on a hill, it rose up out of the ground before him. In his mind, it had been an architectural feat to so perfectly replicate that castle from the vision.

He looked again to the centerpiece of his kingdom and wondered, for not the first time, about its appearance. The angel had been so clear in her descriptions that he saw it in his mind as she spoke. How he’d ever been able to describe it to the architect so that it had turned out exactly right, though, he’d never know. He would never tell another soul, but every time he saw its half curse appearance, the tentacles and vines growing on just one side while the other side looked like a child’s dream, he welled up just a bit with pride, and thought that was what Walt felt all the time.

The castle was an architectural masterpiece. The sight of it spoke to the deepest parts of himself and felt like a reminder, or perhaps a warning. If only the angel had told him more.

The whole park was the realization of the vision she gave him that night… and the best kept secret in Orlando, but he liked it that way. It served his dark secret.

His heart lay heavy in his chest over the memory of so long ago. It was his nightly ritual to remember. Self-inflicted torture, he supposed. He would walk the empty streets of the park, breathe in its magic, and torment himself with the memories of the friend who died thinking he’d betrayed him.

It was a memory that still seemed as fresh as five minutes ago. It was the look in Walt’s eyes when it became clear that Wraithe really wasn’t selling Walt the land he wanted.

“If only I could have explained. If you’d only known. I never wanted to take your theme parks, Walt. I needed this to protect the falls, my people, your people.”

“Wraithe.” A firm voice sounded behind him that he recognized instantly, Thornton Wolf.

He turned to look at his friend, even as a chill ran down his spine. There were only so many reasons anyone would disturb him in this place, at this time of day, and none of them were good.

“What is it?”

Thornton’s dark eyes held a deep level of concern, even as his body language spoke of calm control. The man dressed in a dark suit, his long black hair pulled into a band at the base of his neck, all combining to make him look like someone assigned to presidential detail, or possibly an assassin.

“Your brother is on his way here through the portals with Hayden and one of the royal seven, Fa Zhen.”

He heard words that made a sentence, but made no sense. His mind tried to put those pieces together, but nothing about that should have been.

“How is that possible? Why would they do such a thing?”

Aside from the risk they’d be exposed to from using the portals, bringing another of the royal seven to Elethiya breaks the treaty. He honestly didn’t know what set off more alarms, that they were using the portals, or that they were bringing a royal to Elethiya.

“I have no other information than that, and that they’ve requested a summit with the high council of immortals, and shifters.” Thornton held steady, showing no emotion.

There was a clawing in Wraith’s immortal soul that a human would have described as dread.

“Have you put out the call?” He asked, though he already knew the answer would be yes.

“I have.” Thornton nodded. “Everyone should be here within the hour. I waited to the last minute to disturb you. Everything is arranged. We just need your presence.”

Thornton’s darker skin and dark eyes, with the slight slant on either end would mark him as Asian in most circles, but truly within their kind, there was no race. The only thing that divided the immortals was whether they chose the light or the dark.

“I’ll be there.” He drew a breath as he made his decision. “Thornton, have Bala and Luxe attend.”

Thornton looked at him strangely. “Are you certain?”

“It seems to me it concerns them.”

Thornton’s phone sounded of a series of tones. He reached for it and answered immediately.

Wraithe took the time to look around his beloved park, once again thinking of his dear friend, torturing himself with the memories, knowing he’d handled everything so poorly at the end. It was a regret he’d have a very long time to live with.

“Wraithe.” Thornton looked visibly paled.

He was compelled to put his hand out, to steady Thornton on his feet.

“What?” What more could there possibly be?

“At best count, four of the royal seven have been taken by the roahn-ami from all over the planet. One is unaccounted for. One is here, the other is on her way here.”

He took a minute to let the chill settle to the depths of his being, and stared back up at his castle before stating three words he prayed he never would.

“It has begun.”

Chapter Two

 

Wraith slipped in at the back of the room and made his way along the side wall to his expected position at the front. Before him were the premier delegates from his people, the nay-chi, and from the protectors of the royal families of the Dark Marrow, the serahn.

“I think we have to all admit, this is bad.” Brunai, far too tense, vibrated with anxious energy.

“Yes, Brunai, it’s bad.” Thornton answered with calm control.

Wraithe kept his laughter to himself and covered a smile behind his hand. In all the time he’d known Thornton, in all the missions they’d been on together, he’d never seen him in any state other than controlled.

There was a lot of power in the room carved deep into the cavern behind the falls. The stones were damp and the sound of the falls was muffled by them, though a small stream trickled through the cavern. There were twelve chairs set at the front of the room, facing the others. Wraithe had taken his place on the end beside a serahn woman he really didn’t know well at all.

Twelve representatives from the Serahn shifters, all sitting in human form, were present along with five representatives of the immortal race, the Nay-Chi. Also in the cavern was a witch, two of the royals, and two humans, including Brunai, Thornton’s latest apprentice.

“I’m just not certain this particular… mix—” Jaylen, one of the serahn, present today dressed in pale blue silk that matched her long straight hair, barely held her contempt for the other races. “—represented here is going to serve this situation. The royals are our responsibility. I don’t see the need for the rest of you.” She folded her arms across her chest.

“That may be, Jaylen, but the human realm is our responsibility. I don’t see how you can possibly object to our involvement.” Drago, who represented the nay-chi, continued a dialogue that was already started when Wraithe entered.

“It’s not your presence I am specifically troubled with.” She stared down Kane, who was sitting in the very back of the room, dressed in his usual suit and tie, impeccable as always. Then her gaze moved to Ivin, sitting closer to the front beside Balaja.

“This is Wraithe’s territory, if he’s comfortable with the other races, I trust his judgment.” Drago was not one to be argued with. He was simply one of the most powerful beings in existence, and everyone in that room knew it.

“It’s true, Jaylen. This isn’t our land anymore.” Bayeen, another of the serahn, with his pale skin and white hair, tried to reason with her.

“I don’t like it.” She continued.

“I just think we have far greater concerns right now.” Drago pushed. “What we know for certain in this moment, is that five of the royal princesses disappeared from this realm last night.”

“Six.” A voice came from the cavern entrance.

Wraithe turned to see Rigo enter the room with two women. Relief swept through him. His brother was more than capable of taking care of himself, but being one of only three of their kind marked and gifted with shifting abilities constantly put him in danger. For whatever reason, his world just sat better when his brother was nearby and safe.

“Six?” Drago questioned him.

As Rigo walked further into the space, the two women stepped up behind him.

“Late yesterday I sensed a shift between the realms. It led me to an arboretum in Tanzania where I found two roahn-ami attacking two women.”

There was a ripple of nervous energy that sailed through the room, but no one spoke or questioned him.

“Hayden and I were able to save one of the women.” He turned and gestured to a petite Asian woman beside him wearing a long flowing gown. “This is Fa Zhen. We believe the other woman was Ella Cornwall. Though we cannot be certain and we have no idea why both women were at the same place at the same time.”

“Zhen, it’s good to see you.” Drago walked over to her and exchanged a deep hug. “I’m glad you are safe.”

“I cut off its hand.” She spoke softly, almost as if she were ashamed of what she’d done, then tipped her gaze to the floor.

“You’ve learned well.” Drago led her to the front of the room and showed her a seat near Bala and Luxe.

As he did, Rigo and Hayden stepped to the front also. She briefly acknowledged her people, then began to speak.

“We all know there’s only one reason a roahn-ami makes an appearance. I think we can assume the disappearance of all of our royals was at their hand.”

Drago came back to the front and addressed the delegates.

“I’ve been monitoring things from the Key for months now. We all know that the humans, unbeknownst to them, have been aiding the shift to the dark. I think this recent event is proof we are in dire times. The prophecy speaks that only these seven royals can unite the Dark Marrow and bring peace and balance to the light and the dark within the realm. My best guess is someone, or something, within the Marrow is trying to seal the darkness.”

“I agree. However—” Bayeen stood, his slow movement and length of his hair showing his age. “—we all know there are three failsafe prophecies. The Marrow being restored is the second.”

Chatter sounded within the room. Wraithe watched as brave warriors and spiritual masters alike, all voiced the one thing no one understood. What happened to the first prophecy?

“It is true that we should have seen two great kingdoms rise to legend here in the human realms first. Two kingdoms by two men, closer than brothers, their kingdoms would rival one another and betrayal would darken their union, separating the kingdoms one from another.” Bayeen continued, shaking his finger at the gallery of faces before him.

“Bayeen, we all know the prophecy. The only thing I can point to is that the human realm scarcely uses monarchies in this day and age, so this prophecy must have fulfilled itself at some other point in history and for whatever reason, we all failed to see it.” Drago seemed dismissive as he spoke of this key piece of information.

It was a dire thing to have missed. These three prophecies were the core of both the nay-chi and serahn’s existence.

“How could we possibly have simply missed such a huge event? One that we were all looking for!” Another of the serahn spoke up from the room, unsettling everyone.

“We aren’t here to discuss the prophecies!” Drago’s voice bellowed. “We are here to save these women first and foremost. We all know the fate of someone taken by the roahn-ami. If there is even anything to be done, we don’t have much time. Certainly there is no time for this argument, again.”

Wraith watched Zhen shiver. Bala reached over and took her hand, clutching it in both of her own. Luxe, Bala’s mate and true royal from the Marrow, sat beside her looking as if he were ready to draw a sword and simply deal with all of this in his own way.

The tensions were rising and he wasn’t sure how long Drago would be able to hold them all in control. The nay-chi would always respect his leadership, but the nay-chi were honestly quite outnumbered in today’s gathering.

“When the Marrow fell, it was decided that the royal seven would take refuge here in the human realms. It was assumed they’d be safe, but it seems they’ve been found.” Yet another serahn in the room voiced her thoughts.

Things were rapidly headed towards unrest when Jaylen stood and raised both her arms.

“Quiet. We are the serahn, and it is our place to bring peace to all things.” She turned to Drago. She seemed calmer than before, but there was grave distrust in her expression. “Though it is the responsibility of the serahn to protect the royals, if the Marrow goes permanently dark, the human realm will follow. So I do understand the concern of the nay-chi here.”

“I’m glad you agree, Jaylen” Drago looked out to the whole room. “Therefore it benefits us all to work together on this and find those princesses.”

For the most part, the serahn and the nay-chi were allies, but Wraithe had been watching the room as everyone expressed their opinions, and they could very possibly take Drago’s mere presence here as a show of dominance, or even aggression.

“Are you offering your help, Drago? Or are you asserting leadership here?” Annaia, lead counsel for the serahn, had been sitting as quietly as Wraithe himself. She now stood and spoke softly.

Where the nay-chi were primarily a warrior culture with a deep spiritual undercurrent, the serahn were their exact opposite. Many of both sects believed the creator had designed them to complete one another, but that had never proven true. In truth, the peace between the two races was tentative at the best of times, the serahn always accusing the nay-chi of being too brutal, while the nay-chi thought the serahn too passive. Wraithe could not fathom how they would come together over this.

“Annaia, you know as well as I do that we must work together here.” Drago asserted himself carefully.

“I don’t know that. I’ve listened to all the arguments made, but the royals are under our protection, though I recognize the efforts of the nay-chi since they’ve been in this realm. Still, this was an attack against us as much as the royals and the Marrow itself. You don’t really fit into this at all, and the humans… really. If not for Rodrigo being there when this happened, your people may not even know of this event.”

A rumble of sounds swept the room. Drago laughed outright.

“Annaia, are you serious?” He looked at her a bit incredulously. “An event like this is being felt in every species and race on this planet, and I’d guess in several other realms as well. And yes, of course I’m offering our help, if that’s how you wish to look at it. But let’s at least be honest here in this room. If the dark is moving, it’s not going to stop here. Many of my kind are spread out across the realms. All of their safety would be in jeopardy. If Earth falls, as the Marrow did, there will be no stopping the dark from taking everything. We have to restore the royals to their thrones and take back the Marrow, otherwise…”

The sound of mumbling rose again in the room. Wraithe looked at Rigo, catching his stare. They silently shared the fear everyone in that room was feeling.

“We cannot let this proceed to the need for the seven suns.” Drago stated plainly.

Annaia tipped her chin defiantly.

“The last I checked, this planet had not been invaded by the Vraigor, so I think your concerns are…”

“Annaia.” Drago shook his head and ran his hand over the scruff of hair on his chin. “You can’t be serious. We all know that invasion, if it happens, will come from nowhere. So what’s really going on with you? Why are you so resistant to working together here?”

She moved closer to him, her long ice blonde hair held in a braid, her long gown of greens and blues flowing behind her like water.

“I think you know why.” She spoke softly, but Wraithe was reasonably certain the entire room heard her.

“No. I honestly don’t.” He looked at her blankly.

She growled softly then drew a shallow breath.

“One of your kind already attacked the roahn-ami during this battle, wounding them, from what I’m told.”

“Killing them would have been better.” Rigo broke in.

“This is what I’m talking about.” Annaia extended her arm towards Rigo. “You know the nay-chi and the serahn always hit a wall when we try and work together. I will not tolerate violence. This is our territory. The royals are ours to protect.” She insisted.

Drago drew a very deep breath and straightened his shoulders.

“Well then I guess we’re just going to have to find a way to work together this time, because Annaia, the royals may be yours to protect, but this is our realm.”

She looked visibly slapped by his words and took a step back.

“It doesn’t need to come to this.” Wraithe finally felt the need to step in. “Annaia, sit down… please.” He waited a moment until she started to move, then he turned to Drago. “Do you mind?” He motioned at the room, asking permission to speak.

Even though, technically, this was his home turf and therefore he could do anything he bloody well pleased, thousands of years of living had taught him that diplomacy was always a good first choice.

Drago smiled and sat down between Jaylen and Bayeen.

Wraithe turned to address the room and noticed his brother wink at him in a show of love and support.

“The nay-chi and the serahn are both ancient races, created as protectors and guides. The serahn brings peace and comfort with their beauty, prayer, and ritual, while the nay-chi protects with their strength, courage, and ways of the mystic. We each know the truths of things that most around us never will. We know of underworld creatures like the roahn-ami, the grouncers, even the demons. We know of the witches, the vampire, and the dampier. We know of the dire warnings of the Vraigor, of the prophecies… Even still, we can be as blind as the humans when it comes to putting our differences aside and working together. If we are to fulfill our purpose here, we have to learn to lean on one another in these times, not fight one another.

“I think, for too long now, we’ve grown complacent. Where there were once hard lines drawn between acceptable and not, there is now only a sea of grey. Where we once had strong allies and clear enemies, we now have loyalty and betrayal available to the highest bidder.

“The nay-chi were once a proud race, here to protect the human realm. Now… It feels as if we’re killing time.

“Maybe it’s watching the humans constantly trying to bring about their own annihilation, or knowing the Marrow has gone dark. Maybe it’s the isolation, or the lack of any strong tribal connections any longer, but something has to change. Why not now?

“I’m disheartened the same as most. I’ve experienced things in this realm I never expected to. But look at Bala and Zhen.” He gestured to the two women, sitting side by side, holding hands. “The only two female royals left in this realm. They must be terrified, but they’re sitting here quietly counting on us to pull our heads out of our asses, to work together, and to bring those princesses home!” He ended on a roar, checked himself and smiled.

The room erupted into approval and he waited for it to quiet before continuing.

“We each know the prophecies. We each have our legends. What we know for certain is that all our fates are intertwined. It therefore serves none of us to isolate. Drago, you’re best used on the Key, continuing to monitor the supernatural activity. I think we should let Rigo and Hayden head up two teams to follow any trail to find these women. Annaia, lead your people in prayer and ritual, and Ivin…” He looked at his friend sitting beside Zhen in the front, her wild purple and magenta hair hanging loose over both shoulders. “Will you ask your sister witches what they know about the roahn-ami and what may be happening here? They would have the best readings on the darker energy, outside of Drago.”

“Of course, Wraithe. You can always count on me for anything.” She offered her devotion as he knew she would.

“Thank you.”

He gave her a simple nod of acknowledgement before moving on to the only known human in the room.

“Kane, I’m guessing you’re wondering why you’re here at this point?”

Kane stood and adjusted his cuff links, looking slightly bored.

“Of course I’m not. You need my club. You need my contacts. You need my discretion.” He shrugged. “You know they are always at your disposal.”

With that he sat back down. The conversation was finished.

Wraithe smiled appreciation, for the ease of getting what he wanted, and for the friendship.

“We have to come together, people. The princesses are counting on us, the Marrow is counting on us, Earth is counting on us… I dare say all of creation is counting on us. That may sound rather arrogant, but as Kane always says, it isn’t arrogant if it’s true.”

He chuckled to himself, knowing that statement would ruffle the serahn, and bemused that he had a place to actually use that statement.

“Each of us sitting in this room know the dark is rising.” He continued. “And we each know this disappearance of the princesses is only the beginning. We must stop this now before we lose everything. I have taken an oath to protect this realm and the humans. I will honor that oath. I have sacrificed too much to this call not to see it through.”

“Wraithe…” Briya, the only female nay-chi present, spoke up. “I think we should check in with the vampire and the dampier.”

She held up a hand to stop his protest before it even started. “I know. I know. But I have alliances in both camps. Even Drago has allies in the dampier. If anyone knows dark, it would be the vampires.”

She didn’t need his permission, but she was clearly showing him respect by asking.

“You know the vampires cannot be trusted under any circumstance. While I will give you that they most likely have some of the answers we seek, I cannot imagine any one of them actually helping us. And what if they send you on a wild chase just for fun? We don’t have the luxury of time here. The roahn-ami most likely removed all the souls of those women… assuming they didn’t kill the bodies already, a body without a soul will only sustain itself a limited amount of time, and the entire while it’s exceptionally vulnerable to other supernatural forces.”

His concerns voiced, he waited to hear how she would respond. He looked to the room to see if any of the others had an opinion. Most looked uncomfortable, at best.

Of all the races and sects he’d come across over the millennia, the vampire were nothing if not consistent, and they did not help the humans for any reason.

“Just let me try. I won’t waste much time on it.”

He shrugged. “So be it.”

Anything else we need to coordinate can be done so here in Elethiya, at my residence. We’ll stay in constant contact. Drago, Annaia, Thornton and myself will see to it that everyone stays in the loop.” He looked directly at Zhen and Bala. “We’ll keep you both safe, and we’ll find the others. I promise you both.”

He never promised lightly, but the way he saw it, if he broke this promise, they were all pretty much doomed anyway. The princesses being taken was simply a first wave. The plain truth was none of them knew what might happen next, but the dark was clearly upon them. There could be no loss here, not even a small one, or all of humanity would pay the cost.

Chapter Three

 

Bala watched the flicker of firelight dissolve into the black fur of her beloved wolf. He was her companion, protector, and friend, and there wasn’t a day that went by when she wasn’t blessed by the gift of him in her life. She placed a kiss to the top of his head, and ran her hands across his thick coat as he lay beside her on the floor, the motion always soothing. Her heart was heavy with thoughts of the day, and fear for what was happening.

“Balaja, my darling, come back to bed.” Luxe stood in the doorway between their cozy living room and luxurious bedroom.

Even now, all these years later, his deep black hair and dark amber eyes captured her. The cleft in his chin made him appear adorably wicked and he was undeniably handsome. For just a split second she remembered the first time she ever saw him. It was in the courtyard behind the back kitchen of his castle in Bella Sol, one of the seven kingdoms of what was once the Great Marrow before the dark overtook it.

Obsidian stood as she rose from the floor and took guard beside her.

Luxe pet the wolf’s head and motioned for him to go lay down which he immediately did.

Bala turned to face the fire in the hopes Luxe would not see the fear in her eyes tonight.

“Darling.”

Luxe came up behind her and wrapped his arms around her body, filling her with his warmth, his essence, and for just a moment she relaxed.

Obsidian whined.

“I can’t sleep.” Her voice was tense to match her mood.

He ran his hand over her hair, just barely touching the side of her face, then kissed her temple as he squeezed her tighter in his arms.

Their home was small, some would say tiny, just a few scant rooms. Nothing near the palace he came from, but it wasn’t so different from the home she grew up in. Stone walls, wood floors, the difference was this home they made together held warmth and love, something she’d never known before meeting him.

“You know I won’t let anything happen to you.”

She lost control of the first few tears. They ran down her cheeks as she pulled away and turned to face him.

“No. What I know is that you’ll die trying to keep that promise. I don’t want to be safe in a world that doesn’t contain you!” The tears flowed in a mad rush now.

Luxe stepped closer and pulled her back into his arms. Obsidian lay down, but she felt his gaze constantly on her. He, of course, trusted Luxe. But his duty was always to her above everything.

“Nothing will happen to either of us.”

He could promise no such thing and they both knew it. Ever since the meeting this morning, she’d been unable to get warm. Everything in her was alerted to the threat, the danger to their world and to this one, but Luxe, god help her, that’s what she cared about most.

She pulled back to look up into his eyes.

“I cannot lose you, Luxe. You are my heart, my soul, my great love. I would die without you.” She growled softly at herself and paced a few steps away. “I know how that sounds. I do, but I don’t care. My heart and yours…”

He came to her, took her hand and placed it on his chest atop where his heart beat strongly.

“They are the same, my love. I do not think you weak because you cannot bear to think of life without me. If I did, what then would I think of myself?” He smiled softly down at her.

For a small moment, she felt lighter. His sexy smile, his kind eyes, his strength, they all gave her butterflies, but it was his heart that she fell in love with and that she fought to restore to him. Now in a strange land, they were in danger of losing it all, and she couldn’t bear the thought.

“The serahn and the nay-chi, they do not work well together. They are too focused on their differences and you know it. The roahn-ami will exploit that!”

He placed his palm against her cheek.

“They are our friends, brave warriors each. I trust them, Bala. We will figure this out. We will fight for our realm and the realm we’ve come to know, and we will be the victors. We have the light on our side, how can we not win?”

She drew a breath to hold back another bout of tears.

“Don’t you see? We can lose. Unlike Wraithe, Rodrigo and Thornton, we are not immortal. We may not be aging in this realm, but it doesn’t mean we can’t die.” The fear shook her so deep she could barely breathe for it.

She had to get control of herself. She truly hadn’t wanted him to see just how scared she was, but here they were, and she could no longer hide it from him.

“The light will never win if those of us who fight for it give in to the fear of the dark.” His tone no longer spoke of love and affection. It was the King of Bella Sol she stood before now. A king once transformed by the dark, he knew better than any of them why they had to fight. “You know I cannot desert my people, my beliefs, my faith… not even for you, my dearest love.”

He pulled her body to his and pressed his lips to the top of her head.

“Therefore I will not allow you to give up, either.” He smiled down at her once more. “We will stand with our allies here, and we will figure this out.”

She had no response for him, but luckily she was saved from trying as a pounding started at their door and startled both of them.

Obsidian stood, every ounce of him at attention.

“What in the world?” Luxe laughed softly and moved towards the door.

“No, wait.” She reached for him.

“Darling.” He assured her with his tone and his gaze.

She had to pull herself together. This fear was unlike her. She couldn’t make sense of it, but ever since the meeting she had felt the dark shadow of fear slicing into her soul, and nothing she did seemed to stop it.

She knelt again beside her beloved pet, dropping her forehead to his. She rubbed the scruff on both sides of his neck and breathed softly.

“Darling, Rodrigo is here to see you.” Luxe led him into the small living room.

She stood and directed Obsidian to go lie down.

“I’m so sorry to come so late, but this was my first opportunity.” He kissed her cheek and acknowledged Obsidian, who gave one bark in return.

He returned his focus to her and stared at her so intensely a chill snuck up her spine.

“This truly is urgent, and it is the first opportunity I’ve had today to get here.”

She drew a breath and straightened her spine. Fear be damned, she was the Queen of Bella Sol. She would stand beside her King and do what was needed to restore their kingdom and to save the people of the realm she’d called home ever since the exile.

“You are always welcome. Can I make tea?” She offered.

“No, I won’t stay.” He looked to each of them, then back to Bala before reaching behind his body and bringing out four distinct skulls that most would have dismissed for an amusement park trinket.

Oh but she knew better. She felt the power on each, the resonance of light and dark. She immediately grabbed two pine cones from the basket on the table before her, waved them above the skulls then threw the cones in the fire. Their scent burst open into the space, but she still felt the darkness.

“Why have you brought those here?” Everything in her stilled, but the fear still tugged at her heart. She took a step away.

“It was either you or the demons, and I thought you the better choice. I assume one of these is empty, the one the beast was trying to contain Fa Zhen in. Hell, they may all be empty, but I couldn’t just leave them behind. I thought if there are souls in here, they deserve something more than to stay locked in here for all eternity.”

“What makes you think Bala can help you with this?” Luxe stepped behind her and placed one protective arm around her waist.

“She’s a seer of the light. She is their best chance. I thought you could ask Ivin if there was…” He sighed. “I just couldn’t leave them.”

She stared at the skulls dangling from his hand and her mind flashed back on her life. She may have made an extraordinary change from who she’d always been. It still felt all too new, though, and there was much about her power she didn’t yet understand. The worst part was that without Solomon to guide her any longer, she feared she’d never know.

“You have a good heart Rodrigo. I can’t fault you for that.” She moved to the fire and used the hook to pull out the cauldron hanging inside. “Place them here.”

He walked over and did as she instructed.

For a brief moment she closed her eyes and drew her power, then directed it through her palms at the cauldron. A white light extended from her hands to the black pot. When the energy hit the cauldron, the entire thing began to glow a pale yellow-green before the energy sealed at the top.

“They’ll be safe there until I can consult with Ivin. She is the kindest witch I know. She shares your heart. If there is a way to help these poor souls, she and I will find it.” She smiled, feeling honestly confident for a moment.

“Thank you, Bala.” He reached out, took both her hands and squeezed them. “There is something else.”

She laughed. “Of course there is. Would you like to rethink that tea?”

“You two talk. I will go get us some bread and ale.” Luxe offered.

“Darling, I don’t want…” She began to protest.

“And tea for you, my darling.” He chuckled and left the room.

“He’s the most gracious king I’ve ever met.” Rigo chuckled.

“We are so strange aren’t we?” She rubbed her hands in the heat of the fire for a moment, then turned away from it.

“Everyone is strange in Elethiya, Bala. I don’t think anyone thinks otherwise.”

She gestured for him to take a seat on the small floral sofa, and she took a spot in a pale green wing chair, pushing the ottoman aside with her foot.

“We are a land of strangelings from all over creation. Here because we’ve been cursed, or exiled, or are on a mission, assigned as protectors.”

She thought about his words, about the people she’d come to know since coming to Elethiya. “Aye, you’re so right.”

She smiled, feeling warm and content.

“Honestly, Bala, this is what I wanted to talk to you about. How much did Solomon teach you about the planets and the zodiac of this realm?”

She shook her head. Of all the things she thought he may want to discuss with her, that never even crossed her mind.

“Uh… that they are the gate keepers. The planets. Sentient souls holding the balance between realms. The zodiac sections are actually gates to the twelve realms of the universe. We didn’t spend too much time on this, but the reason we came here was because he told me Earth was pivotal in the balance of light and dark, because it was the only place where all the other realms connected. When the spell was cast to bring all the royals out of the Marrow as she fell to the dark, it was decided Earth because of that connection. It’s central to everything. And, of course, Elethiya was chosen because of the portal and the falls.” She was confused as to why he wanted to know about any of this, and frustrated that she didn’t know more.

She twisted her fingers together and watched the firelight play on his features.

He grabbed his long hair in his hand and pulled it behind him, twisted it, then let it fall over his left shoulder.

“I don’t think this event is random. I think whoever is behind it has been waiting on the timing. I don’t know enough about the astrology, but I thought there may be clues we could exploit, find some way to know what they’re planning, or at least, what’s possible. Saturn is one hell of a big gate keeper and he just moved out of Scorpio, didn’t he?”

“Yes. And the sun has been there once since.” She tried to recall anything Solomon may have said to her about this.

“That feels resonant to me.” Rigo pushed earnestly.

She blinked as she processed what he was saying.

“I haven’t given this any thought in forever, but…”

As she recalled Solomon’s lessons, she recalled how he’d found her battered and bruised, so lost and wishing for death. As she healed, he taught her of magic, of god, of astrology and the most fundamental rules of creation.

“Algatha would be the best person I know of to ask, but she’s traveling. There may be books at her place, but for some unknown reason, she’s left the guard of her house to a mortal woman who holds no magic and knows nothing of us. Believe me, your brother is not happy.” She smiled, but caught the laughter before it slipped out.

“A mortal in Elethiya?” Rigo was not so disciplined. He broke into loud laughter just as Luxe returned with a tray of food.

“I feel I missed something.” He set the tray down and handed Rodrigo an amber bottle.

“Only that my brother must be beside himself.” He laughed again as he drew a long sip from the bottle. “Ah, it’s probably good for him. It’ll keep him from wallowing.”

Luxe handed Bala her tea.

She kissed his cheek and he took a spot on the ottoman beside her.

“I just feel like there is divine timing at play here, Bala, and you have knowledge of the heavens. Do you think you could look into this?”

“So you want me to consult with the witches over soul skulls and then break into the astrologer’s home and find some knowledge about the gate keepers?” She rolled her eyes and laughed, feeling so much more like herself now than she had all day.

He smiled big.

“That about covers it.”

She laughed.

“Oh, so just another Tuesday?” Luxe smiled before taking a swallow from his ale.

“No.” Rodrigo became serious. “Just another Tuesday in Elethiya.” He winked. “There’s a difference.”

In that moment there was a sense of mutual camaraderie that was comforting.

“I’ll do whatever I can, Rodrigo. You know that I will. How is Zhen doing?” Bala had been worrying about the girl all evening.

“I don’t know to be honest. I haven’t seen her since I left her with the council. Why?”

She rubbed a chill from her arms as she thought back on the energy she felt from Zhen this afternoon.

“She seemed afraid. I can’t imagine what she’s been through, but there is something I don’t understand about what happened. Do you mind?” She didn’t want him to feel she was questioning his memory, but something wasn’t right and this may be her only chance to address it.

“Of course not. Bala, we are all in new territory here. We have to pull our strengths and insights here. What is it?” Rigo sat back and drank more of the dark ale.

She looked to Obsidian who was sitting on alert in his soft bed.

“Where were the protectors of these women? Why were you and Hayden the only ones there? And for that matter, the others… I know details are still coming in, but Obsidian never leaves my side, and if I were in trouble, he’d fight. I know each of these women have something similar, and if the roahn-ami attacked… it makes no sense they were nowhere to be found.”

It had been one small detail that had been bothering her all day long, and she was grateful to finally be able to give a voice to it.

“Honestly, I hadn’t even considered it. It’s been such a whirlwind since this all happened. We’re still gathering information. But as Hayden and I were the only witnesses, and it wasn’t as if we were simply standing there watching, there were many details I’m sure we missed. Do you think Zhen has the answers to fill in the missing pieces?”

She thought back to the young girl she’d been with earlier and shook her head.

“She seemed… in shock still. She barely spoke. Her energy was so small. She’s with Briya, as far as I know. Maybe you should talk to her? After all, you rescued her and brought her here. I’m sure she trusts you.” Bala didn’t want to be bogging down the system with these tiny details, but this one simply wouldn’t stop nagging at her.

He stood and took one last draw from the bottle before placing it back on the tray.

“I will do that tomorrow. I have one more stop to make tonight, and that’s my brother. I love him dearly, and he’s a powerful soul, but his guilt is getting worse and worse. If we’re going to have any shot of avoiding the seven suns prophecy, we need a leader. He needs me to remind him of who he is.”

Bala was hit with a hard wave of pain that originated out of Rodrigo’s heart. She stood and hugged him tight.

“I’m so sorry, Rigo. Just be there. The journey back is his own, but I have faith in him.”

She felt his pain ease and was pleased that her words had helped.

She and Luxe both walked him to the door in the small turret-shaped entry.

“Keep me informed on both things we discussed, Bala. I deeply appreciate it. I’ll be here for the foreseeable future, unless something pressing comes up.”

“Of course. I just… don’t expect miracles. I’m really not sure I’m the person for either of these tasks.”

He reached out and squeezed her hand.

“Ah, but I have faith in you, Balaja, strong of heart and rich in faith.”

She averted her gaze as she felt her cheeks heat.

“As a team, all of us, serahn, nay-chi, royals, witches… even some of the mortals, we’ll save both realms.” Luxe spoke in that royal tone that did not accept argument or dissent.

“Aye, Luxe. This is the time for which we were all created. We will defeat the oppression, bring the balance back to the light and dark, and reunite the realms. Faith, Bala. As you have always taught us, faith is our strength. We will fight back the night and we will win. Of that I have no doubt.”

Chapter Four

 

Wraithe’s heart was so heavy it was threatening to finally crush him. Even in the castle antechamber, a place he loved more than anything, there was no peace. It was midday. Below him were families, tourists, people here to see his creation. He ran his hand over the grey stone that outlined a small window showing the grand landscape of the park. Usually he loved watching from his secluded nook inside the main castle. But today, with so much at stake, he could barely breathe for the morose sadness bearing in on him.

“I knew I’d find you here.”

He recognized the voice of his brother before he turned from the small window to see him. The hero of the hour stormed through the small wooden door a lot like any hero would, exuberant and confident.

“Well, there’s only three places on Earth I habitually habitate. How many did you try before you came here, because I think that’s the real tell of how well you know me.” It took more energy than he cared to admit to rise to the level of sarcasm.

Rigo laughed and drew him into a bear hug.

“Oh, brother, always putting up those walls.” Rigo took a step back and smiled sadly. “But you’ll never push me away. You may as well give up trying.”

Wraithe chuckled and turned back to his castle window where he could stare out over his kingdom. “Never say never, brother dear.”

“I heard that.” Rigo moved in close and stood beside him.

Wraithe smiled slightly as the two stood side by side, one dark, one light, no longer just in hair and coloring, but more and more, it described their disposition as well.

In a moment of silent harmony they stared out over the world he created.

“So… how’s business?” Rigo asked, as if running a business was really what he was doing.

“Booming.” He answered drolly. “Maybe you’d like to go try out the new shooting gallery.”

“Oh no. Last time I did that I made a little boy cry because I beat his score, and you booted me from the whole park.” Rigo chuckled.

“You beat everyone’s score.” Wraithe looked at him dead on, attempting to look severe, even with the grin threatening to break through.

“There isn’t any point in pretending I suck!”

They laughed together, before silence fell again.

“Business is good, as always.” Wraithe answered more seriously this time.

“Just not as good as the kingdom up the street, aye?” He gave his brother a knowing grin.

“It’s not a competition.” He defended himself.

Rigo stepped away from the window and further into the small chamber where Wraithe stored some of his more personal artifacts. There was a fireplace to the left of the door into the next chamber, and on the mantle was the arrow he used to kill a woebegone that was trying to kill the then King of Babylonia. Beside that sat a rare purple crystal given him by the empress from the seventh realm when he when he rescued and returned her stolen child. An antique clock hung on the wall, softly ticking as its dragon-shaped pendulum swung back and forth. A desk sat in an alcove along the back wall, atop it the only public display of affection he ever allowed himself, a scant few photographs.

“No, of course not. Because you refuse to compete with his legacy.” Rigo now stood beside the mantle and stared back across the room at his brother.

Wraithe set his jaw firm, determined to defend himself. Everywhere he looked in this space was something that spoke of who he once was. It was like a mausoleum in some respects, and it had become his refuge.

“That’s not even fair. I am nay-chi. I am not here to be a business mogul. I am here to protect the falls and the people of this planet. This…” He looked around at the fixtures of the castle and thought of the seven fantasy lands just outside, each representing one of the kingdoms of the Marrow, each hosting what this realm thought of as a fairy tale princess. Only he and his people knew the real kingdoms existed, and right now, they were each in great danger.

“…This park is meant to protect Elethiya. Hiding the falls in plain sight was our best option after that nosey reporter had gotten too close to discovering the truth. Do you know the catastrophe that would befall this realm if they ever found out the truth about Elethiya? This park is not here to win awards, or compete with Disney World. As far as I’m concerned, the less visitors we have, the better. Walt built his Disneyland from love and devotion. I know, because I stood side by side with him when he did. I saw the love in his eyes every time he spoke of it. I heard the joy in his voice, witnessed the glee in his soul. I built this from obligation and a sense of duty. It’s nothing more than an outgrowth of the oath I took to protect these falls at all cost. The parks, the hotels, restaurants, marina … it’s nothing but a necessary divergence. And I’ve had this argument enough. I don’t need to have it with you, Rigo.” He folded his arms across his chest.

“No, you don’t. Which is why I’m not arguing. Yes, Wraithe, we’re protectors. We know the monsters under the bed are real and we are devoted to making sure the humans never realize it. But this life is a long one, to be sure, and we are allowed our pleasures along the way. There is no shame in running this kingdom into an empire that competes with his legacy. In truth, I think he’d admire you all the more for it.”

“You didn’t know him.” Wraithe grumbled.

Rigo sighed and moved closer.

“Brother, he was a great man, and I know you feel you let him down. But gods, it was decades ago and you cannot spend the next millennia like this. If you don’t wish to take this company global, fine, what about finding love? How’s Ivin these days?

Wraithe choked.

Rigo laughed.

“Ivin and I have an… arrangement.” He was sure he felt his cheeks burn.

“Aye, she fucks you and you dismiss her. Hell of an arrangement.” His tone was laced with disapproval.

“It’s not like that.” Again, Wraithe defended himself.

“She’s in love with you.” Rigo pressed.

Wraithe’s jaw dropped open.

“That’s not… That’s not possible.” He considered his brother’s words, but dismissed them.

Rigo groaned, came close and put his arm around Wraithe’s shoulders.

“You are so blind anymore. It doesn’t serve you.”

Wraithe pulled away, feeling exposed and vulnerable.

“Regardless of Ivin’s feelings for me, I’ve been very honest with her. I won’t ever love. Gods, brother, look at how losing the closest friend I ever had has destroyed me. Why would I fall in love? She would grow old, get sick and die, while I faithlessly watched, knowing all the while I could heal her. Fuck you for even suggesting it!”

He threw his arm out across the mantel, sliding all the treasures from atop it to the floor where they crashed in an explosion of sound.

“Wraithe…” Rigo visibly took a breath. “Many of our kind make love with the humans work. Some even have families.”

“Oh yes, and it works so well for them. Yes, let’s all start families so we can watch generation after generation of those we love, those we created, wither and die. I’ll take my kingdom of plaster and glass, thank you very much.”

A long silence stretched between them. Wraithe grew angrier and angrier, though he wasn’t sure why. Was it his brother’s suggestion, or was it having his own deepest longing exposed?

“You’re hardly one to speak on this subject, Rigo. You’re drawn to the human women, and they to you. You fuck women all over the realm, but have you ever loved one?” He spoke from his anger and didn’t regret the pain he saw flare in his brother’s eyes.

“I’d give my life to find great love.” He spoke solemnly.

“Aye, but more likely it’d be her life you’d be giving, wouldn’t it?”

The silence returned, only this time, with it there were walls of stone.

“Never say never, aye?” Wraithe spat back his brother’s words from earlier, feeling as if he’d accomplished his objective. He simply wanted left alone. It wasn’t that he didn’t love his brother, but his friendship with Walt had shown him just how deeply he was capable of hurting someone. He never wanted to take that chance again.

Rigo stepped in so close that Wraithe felt his breath on his face.

“I will never abandon you, Wraithe. I don’t care what you think you’ve done, or how you think you’ve betrayed Walt. I am your brother and I will stand by you every day I draw breath. Period.”

“Wraithe!” Ivin burst into the room, followed closely by Bala.

The entrance of the two women shook the men from their standoff and each turned to face them.

“Oh good, Rigo, you’re here too!” Ivin threw her arms around him in an easy manner, and he exchanged the hug warmly.

Wraithe nodded a greeting at Bala as she stood twisting her fingers nervously.

He refused to entertain the thought that Ivin could have fallen in love with him. They had a deep friendship, and she did allow him to ease his need when it grew too great. But that was all it was, all it could ever be.

“What’s so urgent, ladies?” Rigo spoke as if nothing were wrong in the world.

“Your soul skulls, Rigo.” Bala stepped forward.

“His what?” Wraithe’s alarm ratcheted through the roof.

“It’s nothing.” Rigo waved his arm dismissively, then turned back to Bala. “What did you find?”

She looked nervously between the brothers, then focused on Ivin.

“Ivin can tell you. She really figured it all out.”

“Not hardly. Without your intuition, Bala, I never…”

Wraithe cleared his throat loudly, drawing a stop to all conversation.

“Whoever was to credit, perhaps you all could simply fill me in on what Rigo’s soul skulls hold.” He glared at his brother as he spoke kindly to the women.

“Right.” Ivin pushed back lose strands of deep purple hair. “Well, two of them are empty. We burned them.”

She looked nervously to Wraithe, then back at Rigo.

“However, two seem to have souls inside. I think they may be two of the missing royals.”

“Oh my god! I mean I had thought maybe, but…” Rigo clapped his hands, paced a few steps away then back. “Can you bring them out?”

“Well, even if I could, I don’t have a body to put them in. But, that’s not really why we’re here.” She turned to Bala and motioned for her to come closer. “Bala…”

Bala was constantly the epitome of a Queen. Her long brown hair was braided and wrapped with small flowers and gems that sparkled. Her gown was long and lush, today in the shade of yellow. The sign of her people, a small elaborate scroll with a gem, was imprinted into her forehead at the place they believed to be the third eye. Her dark skin set off her lavender eyes so that when she looked at you, you fell instantly into her trance.

As she stepped forward, Wraithe watched her struggle and wondered how it was possible that she would be this rattled. As long as he’d known her, she’d been a woman of bravery, duty, dignity… the woman standing here was… off somehow.

“While Ivin and I were casting the spell on the skulls, I had a vision.” She bit her lower lip.

“Of what?” Rigo asked eagerly.

She shook her head and paced to the fire, stopping when she noticed the pile of debris at its foot. She looked back at the brothers with alarm.

“What happened here?”

Rigo stepped over the debris, wrapped his one arm around her shoulder and directed her back towards the center of the room.

“Doesn’t matter.”

“Well, I…” She looked over her shoulder at the mess.

“Bala.” Wraithe reached out and touched her hand. It was cold to the touch. He ignored it to focus on her face. “Just tell us about your vision.”

She nodded and released a breath.

“I don’t know what to make of it, really. I don’t know where these come from…”

“Bala, we all know of your visions. They’ve proven true time and again. Just tell us.” Wraithe spoke calmly, with authority.

She pressed her lips tightly together and nodded at him.

“There was a storm, like… black clouds, swirling over land. It was dark energy, of that I’m sure. I felt it. Everything was lit in orange, like fires were burning somewhere. Then I saw a castle spring up from the ground, then a second… the first castle I recognized. It was this one… only…” She growled in frustration.

“Bala, you’re doing great. Just keep going.” Rigo encouraged her.

“Well, I just… I couldn’t tell whether it was actually this one…” She raised her arms, gesturing to the four walls of the castle they stood in. “Or the original, the inspiration for this one. I know you drew this one from the vision, but we all know now, it’s Luxe’s castle from Bella Sol. The vision I had simply isn’t clear enough for me to distinguish them to know which it was. The second castle I didn’t recognize at all, but when I described it to Ivin, she did.”

Bala quieted, looking now to Ivin.

“It was the one inside the Magic Kingdom, Wraithe. I’m pretty sure of it. She described it near perfect, and as she’s never seen it…” She raised one shoulder and lowered it.

“She’s right, I’ve never been there, so I don’t know. But the one in my vision was white, blue tiles on its roof, lovely stained glass on the back. Overall, rather simplistic for a castle. It seemed small, but…”

“Yeah, that sounds like their castle, but focus, what else happened in the vision?” Wraithe directed her back on topic.

“A great battle happened. Wraithe, this wasn’t like one of my normal flashes, this was… I don’t know, it was…”

He took both her hands in his and rubbed the backs with his thumbs.

“Don’t worry about it making sense. Just tell us what you saw.”

“I saw ogres… with axes. I saw the roahn-ami. They were preparing for a great battle. They were pouring into the space around those castles, which I swear looked like what you would call a suburban neighborhood.” She looked pained as she spoke.

“You’re doing great, Bala. Don’t worry about making sense of it. Just keep going.” Again, Wraithe encouraged her even as he took in all the detail that she spoke of.

She drew a breath and nodded. Her gaze drifted off again, as if she was seeing again the vision.

“People are dead. Humans, I’m pretty sure. It’s like the neighborhood has been abandoned or… or else, everyone is dead and after that, I saw an enormous black cloud pouring out of the sky like… like…” She searched the ceiling as if looking for the word there.

“I don’t know.” She looked at Wraithe, pained. “That’s all there really was. It ended in that neighborhood. There were ravens though, just two of them. The houses were burned, some of them, there are toys on the lawns, cars on fire… I don’t understand really. I’m so sorry.” She ended in frustration.

He wrapped his arms around her.

“Don’t be sorry. You did amazing.” Wraithe played over in his head all she’d just told him, but it honestly didn’t make sense to him either.

“Wraithe, I have a thought.” Ivin spoke up.

He released Bala and turned back to Ivin.

“Okay.” He gestured giving permission to go on.

“There are a lot of rumblings within my kind. You know the witches aren’t loyal to anyone but themselves, but lately, I’m seeing lines being drawn, allegiances made. I’m seeing too many pairing with the vampires. It worries me. I didn’t want to say anything at the summit, but honestly, I feel it too, a dark rising. It’s in the ground beneath our feet, like it’s just waiting to burst through, and the vampires must be feeling it too. They’re seeing this as their time to take over the humans. Wraithe, the humans are in no way prepared to participate in a supernatural battle between the light and the dark. They’ll be annihilated. ”

“The Marrow already fell.” Rigo spoke out loud, though it seemed to be more in thought then statement.

“I saw that first hand. I wouldn’t wish something of that nature on anyone.” Bala spoke. “They took us by night, we never saw it coming. We’d become complacent in the world we’d built. So many died, Wraithe… we can’t allow that to happen here.” Panic edged each of her words.

Wraithe remembered the day the royals came through the portal. They were the last hope to someday push back the dark, but the opportunity to put them back in power had never come.

“So you think the dark is coming here?” He asked Ivin. “To Elethiya?”

She shook her head.

“Elethiya, the town, the falls, the park, they sit on protected land. It’s had protection spells on it longer than humans have been here. I think that’s why nothing attacked Bala the night the other royals were taken. I don’t think they have the power to break the spells on the land.”

He took that in. It made sense. He, himself, had taken part in the protection ceremonies on each solstice. So if they couldn’t attack on Elethiya…

“The rest of the planet is vulnerable.” His mind scrambled. There was no way to combat a full scale attack when they didn’t know when or where it was coming. Add into that any of the other races or sects seeing this as their time to make a move on the humans, and there was no way to be that prepared.

How would they ever be able to set up a full scale defense on this planet? Even if they mobilized all their allies, even with the few humans who knew the truth, the dark would have dark magic, the best they would have was earth magic. It was a losing proposition. It horrified him.

“We cannot allow the dark to take this realm. If they get Earth…”

“They’ll have access to everything.” Rigo finished for him.

“I can’t believe they have the power for that sized assault.” Ivin spoke up. “But given Bala’s vision…” She licked her lips, radiating nervous energy. “I think they’re coming after the kingdom.”

“But you said Elethiya was protected.” He was confused.

“I did. It is.” She shook her head as if to straighten her thoughts. “Wraithe, they aren’t coming after your kingdom… They’re coming after Walt’s kingdom.”

Chapter Five

 

Wraithe tried to take in Ivin’s words, the meaning of Ivin’s words, but it was too horrifying a thought.

“What do you mean they’re coming after Walt’s kingdom?” He grabbed her arm and yanked her to face him.

“Wraithe, calm down.” Rigo reprimanded him.

“Just what I said.” She seemed frustrated. “You know the prophecies better than almost anyone, Wraithe. There are four tells of the coming end. Isn’t your species here to stop that?”

Wraithe wasn’t sure if her frustration was directed at him, or if it was badly masked fear, but her emotion pushed him hard. He wanted her to stop. He wanted all of this to stop.

“One.” She yanked her arm out of his grasp and held up one finger. “Two men, closer than brothers, divided by that which they love, build two kingdoms that war against one another. I know religious scholars assume that to be the brothers of the Christian bible who birthed the tear in the Levant. You and I know, it’s not written so plainly in history, is it?”

He didn’t like her implications. He didn’t like the fear he felt as it slowly embedded its claws through the back of his neck.

“You and Walt, I saw you guys. You were closer than brothers.” She furrowed her brow and pointed a finger at his heart.

“Until I betrayed him!” He raged.

“You didn’t betray him.” Rigo stepped in and placed his hand on his brother’s arm. “Wraithe, you followed a dream, literally. Some type of fairy creature or angel appeared to you. Did you conveniently forget that?”

Wraithe walked away from them both and drew a deep breath.

“Yes. No.” He shook his head and turned to face them. “I haven’t forgotten. I remember her like it was five seconds ago. She had eyes like the Aegean Sea, hair silver blonde, and she was the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

He looked at his hand, remembering once again how it felt when she touched him.

“She told me to build a kingdom here at the falls. She said it was the only way to protect them in the coming age.” His heart ached at the memory. “I didn’t know anything other to do than to mimic Walt’s kingdom from California. He always called himself the king of Disneyland. It was his kingdom and it suited him so well. It seemed to make sense, given what the angel had said, but I had no idea he wanted to build here. So I did. I built a kingdom as the angel commanded.” He slumped and dropped his gaze to the wood floor boards. “And I broke Walt’s heart in the process.”

Ivin walked over to him and took both his hands in hers.

“Did you ever consider that the angel that appeared to you also appeared to him?”

Her words snagged on his conscious, bringing him fully back into the now.

“I can see you haven’t, but Wraithe, think of the legend. Think of Bala’s vision. This land, right where we stand, was the scene of one of the greatest battles in all of creation. The Dragon Clans scorched this earth until there was nothing remaining but death and bones. This is the legend of your people. You know it better than I.” She nudged him.

He knew the legend. It lived in his soul as if he, himself, had been there. He simply couldn’t speak it.

“It is said that the falls themselves healed the land and called for protectors.” Rigo spoke up. “Those of us here now, we are those that were called, given the sacred duty of protecting those falls, and that’s why you built this park when the angel told you to.”

“Yes, and Bala’s vision speaks of what comes next. The two kingdoms…”

“Two kingdoms will save the seven.” Bala all of a sudden spoke.

“What?” Wraith voiced the thoughts of all three as they turned to look at the dark haired beauty standing in silence in the corner of the room.

“I… I don’t know… it just came to me.” Confusion shone on her face. “I’m sorry.”

“No. Don’t be.” Ivin reached out to her, and Bala came closer. “That’s the second prophecy, the war between the two earth kingdoms.”

“I will not go to war against Walt’s kingdom. You don’t know, you didn’t see the look… you didn’t see the pain…no …you didn’t see the anguish in his eyes when I denied him the land…. When he finally understood that I wasn’t going to give into him. He felt betrayed to his core. I remember standing side by side with him through the strike, and how betrayed he felt then, how gutted. It didn’t seem to even touch what I did to him. God, that look, it still burns me to this day.” Wraithe cried out in his own pain.

Ivin dropped against his shoulder, tugging him close to her.

“You couldn’t sell him this land, Wraithe. We all know that.” She looked up into his eyes. “He was a good man, a god among dreamers, but he wasn’t immortal. He wasn’t the one assigned to protect this land and its falls.”

She placed her hand over his heart. “Forgive yourself, Wraithe. This guilt is causing your suffering, and compromising your service to the people you are here to protect. It’s gone on long enough, and if no one else has the balls to say it, I will. You are not the man you once were. You’ve let guilt and the loss of your friend… dare I say, brother, eat at you for decades. It’s more than time to let it go. If we’re about to face the dark, here, on this land, we need you.” She practically begged him.

“She’s right, Wraithe.” Rigo spoke up. “We’ve all been doing what we could to protect you, to let you grieve, but if all this is true… We can’t allow it to move on to the fourth prophecy. The sacred seven requires the humans and… Don’t take this the wrong way, I love the humans, but they are a chaotic mess right now. If the seven suns prophecy is triggered, I have absolutely no faith the light would prevail.”

“That’s harsh.” Bala spoke up. “The third prophecy is about love, and true love will always win.”

“Says the fairy tale princess.” Rigo stung her with his words.

“That’s not fair. I may be nothing more than a fairy tale in this realm, but in my own… Luxe and I had to overcome great darkness to be together. Our love won out, even when I didn’t think it could. I’ve seen the dark up close and personal. I’ve fought it and I will again if I must, but don’t underestimate love, Rigo. It’s far more powerful than you realize.” Bala blasted him with her passion and fear mixed.

“This isn’t the time for any of this. All that matters now is Wraithe. We need you back. You have to fulfill this prophecy.” Ivin pleaded with him.

“Excuse me, Sir. Great apologies, but… Oh!” A young adult male came through the door. He wore a knit cap, had a scruff of facial hair and clutched a laptop to his chest. When he realized he wasn’t alone, he pulled off the cap and ran his hand through his hair before he smiled.

“This isn’t the best time, Oz. What is it?” Wraithe addressed him.

“Ah… well I… It’s easier to show you.” He sat his laptop down on the dark wood table in the center of the room, opened it and started pushing buttons.

Wraith, Rigo, Bala, and Ivin all moved in closer to be able to view the screen.

“You asked me to survey all the surveillance.” He chuckled and looked up for approval, but was only met with stares. He pressed his lips into a thin line and went back to keying in a sequence of numbers and letters on the laptop. “Well, I found this.”

An image of a woman came on the screen. She had long blonde hair, and was in some kind of sleeping trance, elevated above nothing.

“It’s Blu.” Wraithe spoke firmly.

“Ah… no, Sir. Her gown is clearly pink and…”

“She would never wear pink!” Bala exclaimed. “She hated what it did to her complexion.”

“I don’t give a damn if the dress is blue, pink, or plaid. The woman, it’s Blu Stevens, betrothed to Prince Phillip of the twelfth realm, or as most of us know it, the Marrow.”

“Is that a kitten?” Ivin pointed at something on the screen, causing the other four to look closer.

“No… uh, I do believe, that is a rose.” Oz gave words to what the rest were thinking.

“If you saw a kitten, Ivin, then that’s her protector. He’s shifting. He usually takes the form of an owl, but if it’s shifting, there’s something in the energy that’s making it hard to hold its form.” Bala twisted her fingers in visible worry as she spoke.

“Well there’s clearly an energy field around her.” Rigo pointed to some distortions in the picture.

“Ivin, can you tell through this screen if her soul is intact?” Wraithe hoped they could at least get one of their questions answered about the fate of the missing women.

“No. I’d need to be able to touch her, or at least step into her energy field, but Bala can.”

Bala took a step back and rung her hands.

“I don’t feel it.” She rubbed her arms as if she’d just gotten a chill.

“Soul, no soul, kitten, rose, blue, pink, all great questions of the world, but are we forgetting the most important one?” Rigo stood there and stared at them all for a second before finishing his statement. “Where the hell is she?”

“Ah… Sirs… Madams…” Oz blushed. “It’s clear she’s inside the castle at the Magic Kingdom.” He pointed to several identifying markers: flags hanging on the walls, tables, chairs. But none was more clear than the slight view of a carousel through the large leaded glass windows.

“The one here?” Rigo asked.

Oz looked at him as if he’d sprouted a second head.

“There is only one Magic Kingdom. If you are confusing Disneyland in California with…”

“We don’t have time for the full history of the Disney legacy right now, Oz.” Wraithe placed his hand on the boy’s shoulder and he silenced immediately.

Rigo laughed outright and all the others stopped to stare at him.

“What?” He splayed his hand out towards the screen. “They put Sleeping Beauty inside Cinderella’s castle. Even the dark can’t keep that shit straight, so don’t jump on me.”

Wraith rolled his eyes.

Ivin snickered.

“Have they figured out she’s there?” Wraith asked the most obvious of questions, knowing there may have been an invisibility spell, but then how would the cameras have picked her up.

“Oh no. They know.” Oz punched in a few other numbers and the camera angle switched.

“Oh.” Wraithe uttered just the one word upon viewing the picture of what looked to be seventy personnel from the combined forces of park security, Reedy Creek, and the Orange County sheriff’s department.

There was a barricade in place, every Disney suit within probably a fifty mile radius was present and accounted for, and the cherry on top − at least two agents from the FBI.

“We’re going to need a containment crew.” Rigo stated the obvious.

All five of them stood in silence for a moment taking in the scene before Bala asked, “How do we get her out of there?”

Wraithe thought about that for a moment. There were several options, they simply had to choose the one that had the highest success potential and lowest human casualty risk.

“Uh… Sirs…” Oz broke in, his voice trembled.

“Oh what now?” Wraithe’s patience was being pushed to its limits.

He looked back to the screen which had yet another angle on the camera, one outside the castle where there were no less than twenty roahn-ami coming into view.

“Shit.” Ivin spoke without thinking, then put a hand over her own mouth.

“We’re going to need a really big containment crew.” Rigo’s tone grew dark.

Wraithe took it all in. The prophecies, the events of the past few days, what he was looking at now. There was no more running or denying the truth. This war was here, and it was now.

Chapter Six

 

Kane pressed the nerve in the woman’s neck a little more gently than he had in each of the men. It stood against all he was as a man to harm a woman, even like this.

“I thought when you said you’d handle these three, you were going to use your charm and celebrity.” Ivin questioned him as he gently laid the guard on the floor beside the two men he’d already incapacitated.

He stood, straightened his jacket and smiled at her.

“My charm and celebrity is rather limited to a female audience in most cases. What does it matter? You got what you wanted, now it’s your turn.” He gestured up the staircase.

He, Ivin, and Bala all moved up the stairs in silence. When they arrived at the top, Ivin motioned them to wait.

Bala nervously bounced on her toes while Kane calmly watched Ivin summon her magic.

She raised one hand above the other, moving it in a circular motion above the other until a deep purple smoke appeared between them. She blew it on the chaotic order in the room just beyond where they stood.

Each person Kane could see from where he stood immediately fell into a deep slumber. He had to assume the rest had as well.

“We’ve got ten minutes. I can’t do anything else after that.” Ivin spoke as she motioned them to follow her.

They stepped out of an exterior waiting area into a grand dining hall. Normally, the setting would be full of tourists enjoying a meal, but of course the entire space was off limits while security attempted to figure out the paranormal.

“Impressive.” Kane realized he’d never been here before. “I think Wraithe’s royal banquet hall has a more personal touch though.

Wood paneled walls gave way to ornate wall paper. The room’s high ceilings looked to be supported by carved wood beams and stone arches. There were royal banners suspended from the ceiling as well as applied to the walls. The most awe inspiring feature of the room was its leaded glass windows that looked over the amusement park’s carousel courtyard below.

“Be sure you don’t tell him that, whatever you do! He’ll probably demolish the thing to better appease his guilt. Now come on.” Ivin grabbed the fabric of her long skirt and forged ahead.

A matter of seconds later, Blu came into view just as she had appeared in the video, suspended over nothing. Her long pink gown hung like grand curtains from her small frame. Her thick golden hair did the same. When Bala first saw her, she gasped and stumbled, but Kane caught and steadied her.

“Are you all right?” He didn’t know her well, but when she stared into his eyes, he saw a deep fear lit within them. For the first time he thought to question if her coming with them had been a good idea.

“I have to be.” She shook off a shiver.

The three stepped up to Blu’s body, elevated by some form of magic to just above waist level for Kane, nearly at head level for Bala.

Stretched out as if she were asleep, she showed no signs of life.

“You want me to kiss her?” Kane smiled.

Ivin rolled her eyes.

“Kane, you are arguably the sexiest man I’ve ever met, and I’m a very old woman, but no. First of all, she’d have to have her soul for that to be effective—” She drew a breath and sighed. “—and as we feared, she does not.”

“We have to be extremely careful with this.” Bala pointed to the perfect rose lying across her chest.

“Thorns?” Kane was confused now.

“No.” Bala grew very serious. “I’m reasonably certain that is her protector. We each have one. The problem is, in the video we think we saw it shift from this rose to a kitten and then back. It worries me that it may not be able to hold its shape in this energy field. That would put a lot of stress on it. If it senses us as a threat…”

“If you each have these things, how is it so many of you were taken, and where’s yours now?” Kane asked abruptly.

In his years of dealings with Wraithe, he’d learned to question everything and never ever expect an ordinary answer to anything.

“Obsidian is with Luxe, downstairs, and as for the other part… I don’t know.”

“Okay we’re losing a lot of time here.” Ivin’s tone grew serious. “The magic suspending her was cast dark, but it’s earth magic. I can reverse that easily. The sleep factor, I’m not so sure about.”

She moved her hands above Blu’s body and stopped at the rose.

“Bala, I’m not picking up any life force from that rose.”

Kane watched as that fear in Bala’s eyes grew darker. He ran his hand down her back in a show of comfort and support.

“Let’s just get her out of here.” Bala insisted.

Ivin went back to her magic. “Kane, when I release her, you need to catch her, so be ready.”

He took a step closer and hoped he was ready.

A moment later the princess’s body fell into his arms. He quickly countered his own balance to adjust for the added weight.

“Not to be a total spoil sport, but what of this lot?” He gestured with his head towards the sleeping security force.

“There will be a containment crew on their way. Let’s get out of here.” Ivin led the way back to the grand staircase. “The rest is up to the guys and Hayden. Gods be with them.”

 

  • * * *

 

Luxe turned a 360, taking in the land of fantasy where they stood. Fairy tale music played from the carousel directly before them. There were people everywhere amidst the sound of laughter and the smell of popcorn and sweets. Shops lined either side of them, and a princess meet and greet was set up between a snack stand and a shop. Pressed concrete was beneath their feet and the castle rose up from behind them.

From what he could see, there was no less than twenty of the roahn-ami scattered around the area, some on the tops of buildings, a few slithering in and out amongst the tourists, some levitating just above the crowd.

Their own number was merely eight, even if he included Kane, Bala, and Ivin. They were very definitely outnumbered.

“What are we to do with these creatures?” Rigo questioned Wraithe as they stood side by side with Luxe, Hayden, and Thornton.

“We can’t start anything. We don’t have the numbers and there’s too much risk here.” Wraithe spoke calm and firm.

“I never should have allowed Bala to come here.” Luxe spoke in self-directed anger for putting his great love in such danger, only to have Rigo laugh harshly in response.

Luxe stared holes in him.

“Oh, I’m sorry. Was that not a joke? Were you seriously under the impression that stopping her was something you were able to do?” Rigo slapped him on the shoulder.

Luxe respected Rigo, but in this moment, he’d have been just as happy to run him through.

“She’s the only one that hasn’t been attacked. If Ivin is right, that’s because of the protection of Elethiya. None of us should have allowed her here.” He stood his ground, realizing now what a deadly mistake they may have made.

“Luxe, take it down a notch.” Thornton commanded casually. “For all we know, these things could be after Wraithe. No one remembers the last time he left Elethiya and he’s every bit as much a part of the prophecies as you and Bala are.”

Luxe took another view around. A roahn-ami hissed at him from its position atop a bright green vine made of plaster that looked to be ripping through the little shop beside them.

“And we’ve served all three of us right up to them! I’m going after Bala.”

He turned to storm the castle, literally, but then he saw Bala emerge directly behind Kane, who was carrying a still unconscious Blu.

“Thank god.” He was relieved to see her, but he wanted her out of there, now.

The five met up with Bala, Kane, and Ivin beneath the castle. They were already drawing a crowd. Tourists oooohing and ahhhhhing over the gowns the women wore, a few whispering about show times, and worst of all, phones capturing images.

Luxe took Bala’s hand and squeezed. Her smile back forced him to take a breath and trust that this was all going exactly as they planned. Getting Blu was the hardest part, now in just moments, she’d be on her way back to Elethiya, and so would they.

“Are you well, my darling?” Luxe had to hear her confirm it.

She kissed his cheek and he gladly accepted her warmth as she hugged him.

“Perfectly so.” She smiled at him, making him feel like an overprotective grandfather.

He felt the tiniest hint of shame for ever doubting her.

“I just love you so.” He would never be able to express how much a part of himself she had become. He stared into her eyes and what he saw reflected back was knowing. His love was returned tenfold.

Kane gently handed over Blu to Rigo, who took her with just as much care as she was presented to him. The sleeping Blu never made a sound, or gave any indication of consciousness.

“I can’t shift with this.” Rigo plucked the rose from her body and tossed it.

Bala reached out to catch it.

“Don’t…” She didn’t get a chance to finish her statement, or catch the rose. Instead she watched in guarded horror as it transformed midair into a large black and gold dragon, breathing green-yellow fire at them all.

Hayden and the three men beside her, Thornton, Wraithe, and Luxe, all drew bladed weapons from the enchanted sheaths that had previously masked their appearance.

“Shit.” Rigo couldn’t release Blu. It was his duty to get her out of there. “I have to leave.” He shouted out to the group.

“We’ve got this, Rigo. Go! Keep her safe!” Wraithe shouted back.

“Aye.” He couldn’t believe he was leaving his brother and Hayden mid-battle. “You, as well, brother.”

He wrapped his essence around Blu’s body, concentrating on the designated spot in Elethiya. A crack of energy later, they were gone in the vortex.

The dragon blasted them all with a steady stream of flame as it bellowed in distress.

Screams and cheers went up from the crowd now watching every move.

“We need to get these people out of here.” Kane whispered to Ivin. “I’m not good with a dragon or a sword, but I can do crowd control.

“This is completely out of hand.” She nodded. “I can use magic to hold them back.”

She raised her hands and sent out an energy wave across the crowd, erecting an invisible shield around the dragon and around their people.

Thornton’s jacket caught the edge of the fire and the flames multiplied in the leather fabric. He quickly tore it off and beat it against the stone façade of the castle while the dragon rose into the air… Or attempted to.

Wraithe caught its wing with one of his curved daggers and tore through the beast’s flesh. It shrieked as it attempted to fly anyway. Hitting the bubble Ivin erected, it didn’t get far. Its tail snagged a stroller parking lot, knocking over a sea of plastic, steel, and aluminum. It spat flame at the crowd, sounding like a faulty blow torch before it slammed into the storefront directly behind them, flattening an awning, cracking the plaster and knocking decorative stones from the roof.

As the façade came slamming to the ground, Kane charged at two little children, breaking through Ivin’s barrier and just barely saving them from the falling debris.

“Don’t hurt it!” Bala shrieked.

Wraithe moved in close on her left and signaled for Hayden and Thornton to come in from the other side. Luxe only saw Bala, and wasn’t taking orders from anyone.

“I’m not going to let you hurt it. Thornton, Hayden, back off!”

“Stay back, Bala.” Luxe attempted to shield her, but she pushed past him.

She ran to the dragon as it lay in a small heap on the ground and attempted to throw herself over it.

The dragon watched her coming, shook its head and lashed out with more flames.

Ivin manifested a shield for Wraithe, who was closest. With it he managed to reflect the flame away. It hit the energetic shield and immediately extinguished.

“That was new.” Kane returned to stand by Ivin and spoke calmly.

“I don’t have enough magic to fix all this.” She covered her face with her palm.

The crowd around them either ran, or applauded and cheered, clearly thinking this was all part of the magic on display for them.

“Stop!” Bala screamed. “It’s her protector.”

She again tried to calm the wild animal, only to have it snap at her with its enormous jaw.

She screamed and from nowhere, Obsidian came flying onto the scene, lunging at the dragon.

Luxe grabbed for Bala, but as he reached for her, the dragon bit into Obsidian’s shoulder blade. Luxe was thrown to the ground as a tearing pain from nothing he could perceive spanned the entire length of his body. Breathless, he put every ounce of energy into getting to Bala. He reached her just as a roahn-ami plunged a dagger into Obsidian’s fur.

“It has weapons?” Luxe stared at what he was seeing for a moment, then shouted, “It has weapons!”

The cry of the dog pained everyone within earshot.

Bala’s attention was focused only on her beloved wolf-protector. She didn’t fear the roahn-ami now. She wanted to kill it.

She reached out to dig her fingers into its vaporish being. If she could get the right grip, she could tear it apart.

“Bala, no!” Luxe yelled.

The demon reached for her as well, but stopped just short of impaling her with its claws. For a series of heartbeats, it was as if the world was silenced. It was only her and the roahn-ami. She was unable to move. It was as if she had no control over her own body. Her hands wouldn’t move, her feet, nothing. The roahn-ami stared deep into her soul, sending a shiver of ice into the deepest part of her.

A mere second later, the beast evaporated without touching her in the slightest.

Released from its grasp, she fell across Obsidian, breathing as if she hadn’t been able to get air for hours.

“No. No. No. No. Obsidian.” She grabbed the wolf, tears ran down her cheeks as she saw the deep red slash across its jet black fur.

Silence was so deep it was painful. The dragon had vanished. The roahn-ami had retreated to the rooftops, and the containment crew had arrived and were doing whatever it was they did, working with instruments that clicked and pinged.

“I have magic for this.” Ivin rushed in and fell to her knees beside them. “Hayden, can you transport him?”

Bala looked at the beautiful serahn, a god to her people, and silently begged for her help.

Hayden looked from Bala, to Obsidian, then to Ivin. “Of course. Where should I take him?”

“My house.” Ivin cast a short spell on the dog to put it into a deep sleep and slow the flow of blood. “Tell my sisters this dog needs the magic of the purple moon and they can prepare it for me. Also, tell them if they refuse you, they’ll wish they’d never looked to my doorstep for safety. I know where their enemies are and I’ll turn them over as easy as taking my next breath.”

Hayden nodded to Ivin and began to wrap herself around the wolf.

In a moment, they had disappeared.

Again the crowd cheered.

Bala fell to the ground with a whimper, feeling dark terror rising up from within. She felt Luxe wrap his arms around her. She vaguely heard the commotion going on. None of it mattered.

“I’ve got my bike, she’s pretty and fast. I’ll get you back home sooner than anyone else, Ivin.” Kane offered.

Ivin looked briefly to the others, but then spoke for herself. “Agreed.”

He braced her hand in his to help her up off the ground, but when he looked at her attire, he reconsidered his offer.

“I hadn’t considered what you were wearing.” He raised an eyebrow at her.

She looked down at her long dress. It was lightweight in fabric, but dragged the ground slightly.

With a flick of her wrist, a haze of purple smoke surrounded her for no more than the flash of an eye. When it left, her hair was slicked back in a long braid, she had on leather pants and a black knit top that hung off one shoulder.

“Never underestimate me, Kane.” She gave him a knowing smile steeped in confidence.

He chuckled. “It will never happen again.”

He bowed accordingly.

She rolled her eyes.

Ivin released the bubble she’d erected to protect the crowd, and realized the containment crew had arrived and had erected their own, only their bubble would erase all memory of the event from anyone who stepped through it, not under a protection spell, or carrying a sacred amulet.

“Please save him, Ivin.” Bala pleaded.

Ivin gave her a quick squeeze.

“I have every intention to do so, Bala.” She pressed her palm against Bala’s cheek before she turned to Kane. “You ready?”

He gave her a brief nod and gestured with his arm for her to lead. She looked back for just a moment before stepping through the first containment bubble.

“See you back at the fort.” She smiled, then left with Kane without looking back.

 

“We need to get Bala out of here, Luxe.” Wraithe spoke soft, but firm.

The surrounding crowd was moving from cheering to simply moving about their business as the containment spell washed over everyone.

Luxe stood and went to pull Bala up into his arms, when he heard a soft whimper. He looked down to see the smallest puppy he’d ever seen, ragged and dirty, hiding behind her skirts.

“How in the world…”

“It’s Blu’s protector. He knows now. He won’t attack us again.” Bala reached out and scooped up the small puppy, holding it close to her chest.

“We don’t have time to argue. I’ll trust your judgment on this, Bala, but I want Ivin to put a spell on it to restrain its shifting abilities for now.” Wraithe took control of the situation. “We need to go. Can you walk?”

He helped balance her between himself and Luxe.

“I’m fine. I’m sorry about before.”

“Don’t apologize. Just walk.”

Wraithe looked around at the crowd who was no longer paying any of them the least bit of attention. He sure as hell hoped Oz had scrubbed all the surveillance by this point. The four of them made their way into the crowd and through the bubble. They quickly made their way down Main Street to the main entrance, headed back for safety, home, Elethiya.

Chapter Seven

 

Luxe stared at Bala lying on the floor of their living room, standing guard over Obsidian. Today had not been an easy day. In truth, it was the first display of the dark they’d come to know back home that they’d faced since coming to the human realm. Everything here had been so easy, up until today. He’d been a fool to hope for even a second that the dark wouldn’t follow them, wouldn’t come to reclaim them to the Marrow.

He drew a breath and shook off his dourness. She needed him and he’d be strong for her.

“He’ll be just fine. Everything is going to be okay.” He moved in to sit beside Bala on the floor.

Obsidian was still unconscious from Ivin’s magic. Blu’s protector was still holding its ragamuffin puppy shape and was curled up beneath Obsidian’s long fur. He had to assume Ivin’s magic was at play there, as well, and that the spell she cast on him would keep him from transforming into anymore dragons.

Bala hadn’t even acknowledged him. She stared into the fire as if he hadn’t said a word.

“I saw you today. I saw you start to transform.” Now she turned to look over her shoulder. “How is everything going to be okay if you slip back into the darkness?”

He drew a breath and ran his hand through his thick dark hair.

“Bala, for your life, I’d risk the dark.” It was the truth. Nothing else mattered but her, and he’d risk anything, even his own life and that of the entire human realm for her. “After everything we’ve been through, I will not lose you. I will tempt anything to make certain of it.”

She turned and took both his hands in hers.

“No. You cannot let those thoughts in. I love you, my darling, more than anyone has ever loved another soul, but we have responsibilities and we can never tempt the dark. You can never slip on this. Otherwise, all we went through—” She shrugged and a tear slipped down her cheek. “—it will be worthless. It will mean nothing.”

He placed his hand along her cheek and she pressed against it.

“Bala, I was lost to the dark when you found me, but not now. Your love saved me. You gave me back my heart. I believe that makes all the difference. If I transformed now…”

“No.” She shook her head as fear filled her eyes. She placed both her hands on his face. “Promise me that no matter what, you will never risk it. Please, Luxe. Please. If you love me as you say you do, promise me.”

“Darling…”

“Just promise me.” She demanded this time.

He sighed and shook his head before looking deep into her eyes.

“Fine. I promise, but Bala, you could have been killed today. Between Blu’s rogue protector…”

“He isn’t rogue, just… confused.”

“Fine. Blu’s confused protector and that roahn-ami, I cannot lose you anymore than you can bear losing me. When that darkness stared into your soul today, god Bala, I thought you were gone. I couldn’t get to you. I couldn’t do anything. I was suspended in some energy field and couldn’t get to you. It’s too dangerous out there. We must not venture out of Elethiya again, no matter what.” To him the subject was now closed.

He wanted to pull her into his arms and lie beside Obsidian like they’d done countless nights before, and pretend everything was as it always had been.

“Luxe, something is wrong with me.” She swallowed hard and drew a deep breath.

The words alone sent a chill through him. He remained silent, knowing she needed to tell him whatever it was. Knowing he wouldn’t like it.

“There is a fear in me that never was before.” She pressed her hand against her heart. “I don’t know how to control it. I worry what it will do to Elethiya if I stay here much longer. I won’t put these people in danger.”

He calmly listened.

He wanted to brush it off, pretend it was simply that she needed sleep, but he saw it in her eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell me before? Did the dark one do something to you today?”

She smiled and rested her forehead against his.

“No, but I think he saw it. I think that’s why he left.”

He moved and placed a hard kiss to her forehead, then pulled her tight into his arms.

“We’ll get you help, Bala. We’ll go to Wraithe, if he can’t fix it, then Ivin, or Hayden.” He shoved down his own fear and looked at her directly. “Whatever it takes, I will not allow the dark to invade your pure soul, Bala. I will not allow it.”

She smiled and curled into his arms. She ran her hand along Obsidian’s fur and snuggled down even further into Luxe.

“I’m afraid that too much has happened. I’m afraid the prophecies are coming to be. Most of all, I’m afraid we are too late, too weak, too disorganized to fight this coming darkness.” She looked up into his eyes. “For the first time, I’m afraid that the light, that love, may not win after all.

 

  • * * *

 

Wraithe heated the fire in the small chamber of the castle that was his office. Even though it was a warm Florida evening, something about the day’s events left him chilled.

They still had no idea how to awaken Blu. Ivin couldn’t even be sure if her soul was one of those she had in the soul skulls Rigo brought.

Today had not gone well. They made a mess. Chaos and confusion reigned and it gave the perfect opening for the dark to come charging in.

He’d been stupid today.

Thank gods Oz had been able to stay atop the footage of all that happened and had erased it even as it was being recorded.

That young boy was as much a wizard as any he had ever known.

He walked over to his desk and looked at papers, mail, and a few personal items he had placed there.

Maybe Ivin was right. Maybe his guilt had been going on long enough.

Maybe it was time to lay down the grief he carried.

Maybe with all that was going on now, he simply didn’t have the luxury for this self-indulgence.

It was a long and very dark road from that dark day in sixty five.

He picked up a picture from his desk. One of himself and a smiling Walt, arm in arm.

Happier times.

“I loved you like you were my clan, Walt. You always mattered to me.”

The time had gone so fast. He’d felt so lost, so torn between his friendship and loyalty, and his oath. Then suddenly it was simply too late to do anything at all.

If the prophecy was true, if his kingdom, and Walt’s, were the center of this first wave of darkness, he had to find a way to protect them both.

“I failed you once, but I won’t do it again.”

He set the photo back down and glanced at a note card to the side of it. It hadn’t come through the post office and it had only his name on the front.

He opened it and read the card inside… and the chills he’d been feeling all night intensified.

Wraithe, that’s your name. In less than forty eight hours I’ve discovered who you are, and where you are. How long do you think until I figure out what you are?

I’m coming for you. – DC

 

* * * *

 

You’ve just read one episode of ten of The Seven Kingdoms, a serial from Tales of Elethiya. For more information on this series, the world of Elethiya, and all of Ms. Lucas’ writings, please visit www.samanthalucas.net or subscribe via Patreon at www.patreon.com/Elethiya


The Failsafe Prophecies

In the heart of Orlando, amidst the tourists and the theme parks, lays a secret, a hidden falls. The waters that feed the falls are rumored to be that of the fountain of youth. It’s said they can heal even the most deadly disease. Just remember, all magic comes with a price. The protector of these falls are an ancient race of immortals known as the Nay-Chi. They prefer to live in secret, protecting both the falls and the human race. Protecting the falls also means protecting the connection point between our realm and that of the magical world of The Great Marrow that stays hidden deep within the falls. When the Marrow fell dark, the seven royal families of the realm were evacuated to our world in the hopes that one day, they would be restored to their kingdoms and take back the Marrow. One night, the seven princesses are overpowered, several disappearing entirely, leaving a mystery to unravel by the Nay-Chi and their counterparts, the Serahn, a spiritual race of shifters pledged to protecting the royal families. Pressure is rising as the age old prophesies of each race seem to be coming true, the princesses are missing, and the vampire and the witches seem to be teaming up to overtake the humans. Together the immortals and shifters will have to gather their allies and work side by side if they hope to stave off the prophesies, restore light to the Marrow, and save Earth from a never ending darkness.

  • ISBN: 9781311554796
  • Author: Samantha Lucas
  • Published: 2015-12-05 18:50:09
  • Words: 20826
The Failsafe Prophecies The Failsafe Prophecies