Authors: Kendra McMahan
/ BINARIUS - COMPLETE /212
B I N A R IU S
Allrights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any formby any electronic or mechanical means including photocopying,recording, or information storage and retrieval without permissionin writing from the author.
Copyright © 2017 KendraMcMahan
All rights reserved.
“KendraMcMahan eases readers into a unique and well-developed world wheredarkness, as a concept, seizes our fear and hatred, rendering ustrapped by our own shadows. The vocabulary of McMahan’s world isimpeccable - not the disjointed jamming together of apostrophes andconsonants that make fantasy, sometimes, difficult to read. Sheprovides us with a strong willed narrator up against the physicalmanifestations of an idea, and draws us in with wonder as shedescribes the universe her protagonist, Firrine,inhabits.”
“It was a a short, fantastic readthat left me craving more!
I’ll tell you what this book doesnot have.
-- Tons of action. It has actionyscenes, but it is not really an action book. This is not a badthing.
--Romance. It doesn’t have a lot ofromance primarily because the romance that was originally there hasturned sour.
--Cliché plot. In no way is thisbook cliché. It is unique from the names to the story.
--Stupid lines. This book is filledwith excellent vocabulary and interesting sentences.
Now that you know what the bookdoesn’t have, I’ll tell you what it does.
--A very likable main character.The main character is kind, brave, and easy to relate to. She caresso much about what is around her and is willing to fight forit.
--An intriguing plot. This book isabout a young woman’s Queendom being threatened by a dark force, aforce that is like no other. It’s the darkest of the darkness. Themain character sets off to try and save her home and her people.This is the set up for the main journey.
--Characters you’ll love andcharters you’ll hate. There are characters that you’ll becomeconnected to , ones that you root for, and others you hope diesoon.”
This book is full of greatness inmy opinion. The characters you meet are people you will most likelyhave an immediate opinion on. The plot is interesting andintriguing. It has a nice, steady flow to it.”
“The author delivers this storywith such a passion, as if it were her own. You cannot help butfeel compassion for the heroine and severe dislike for heroppressors. It’s lovely to read a book that puts importance ongreater causes like preservation, home, hearth, family and survivalas opposed to on something like fickle relationships. It is nice tosee that this author is continuing the growing trend of strongwomen with strong minds. I thoroughly enjoyed this book and amexcited to see how the story evolves. I would definitely recommendthis as a read!”
“Binarius is an inspirational andcaptivating book that wisp the reader off into an enchanted worldthat is plagued with a dying sickness. Its composed with colorfuland dark characters that will keep you on the edge of your seat andwanting more at ever turn of the page. I couldn’t put the book downand found myself reading it at every waking/craving hour! Asymphony of elegant words flow like poetry with every new chapteras it takes your breath away...it’s phenomenal!Firinne the maincharacter, takes you on a journey unlike any other on the world ofFia, and when you think you know the story you’re plunged into aroller coaster ride that flips you upside down with never endingexcitement! I highly recommend this book for anyone who is lookingfor something new and refreshing. It hits the mark on ever leveland will have you screaming at the top of your lungs formore!”
“Anyone who has stepped into otherdystopian world’s of the YA nature know how tricky life can get forthese young heroes. Or in this case, our heroine, Firinne, youngand naive, but full of hope.There are many underlying issues inthis book, and in order to avoid any spoilers I’ll refrain frombringing them up in this review.However, this author did an amazingjob in getting me hooked to Fia and hearing the story of TheBlacken. While the cliffhanger was brutal, it’s a promise thatsomething is just around the corner for this noble girl fighting tosave more than just her own life.A must read if you fancy Rowling,Riggs, or even Collins.”
“The series (so far?) isimaginative and compelling, truly original. But it’s not so far‘out there’ as to be un-relatable. The intelligent reader will seethat it’s not so much of a leap from things as they are now in theworld to things as they WILL BE if we don’t wake up. This iswritten for the current generation, the generation that must takeon the big issues: Capitalism, Indigenous Peoples’ rights, andenvironmental degradation.
Oh, and any sensitive reader willfall in love with the characters. They are multi-layered andmulti-dimensional in their strengths and their flaws.”
“BINARIUS is just magnificent!!This magical journey continues with winding paths, questionsanswered and more questions asked. It’s a spiral through everyemotion possible, Firinne’s emotions as well as your own. Themental imagery is fantastic! What a wonderful tale, a wickedjourney and a courageous girl!! Sequel?? I’m ready foryou!!!”
Corruption; for without the dark,we could never see the light.
Someone smart said that orsomething like it.
To all of the victims,perpetrators, and the all-in-ones, for without whom I would havenever been able to proficiently write about illusion, addiction,love, loss, deceit, betrayal, and torment; even of theself.
More importantly, this is dedicatedto my daughter. Without you, I would still be a
victim, and a traitor tomyself.
“Whoeverfights monsters should see to it that
in the process he does not become amonster.
And if you gaze long enough into anabyss,
the abyss will gaze backinto
She couldfeel the breath of the forest on her cheeks — the breath of aghost, perhaps not even from this dimension. She felt weightless asshe regained possession of her limbs, realizing quite instantly,that the tips of her toes were numb. Every subtle move that shemade rustled the pine needles beneath her, and those sounds werelike whispers through the forest, on a seemingly endless journey ofresonance.
Get up. Keep going,she said to herself. Although, at this moment,she was thinking how blissful it would be if everything ended here.Her heart’s exhaustion was a cruel puppeteer to her imagination —portraying an existence of peace amongst foreign stars.
In the chaos and confusion, she hadlost track of the sunsets. After escaping the intricacy of theunderground tunnels, all of the days seemed to poison into eachother, so much so, that she felt decades older. She was doing wellfollowing the rivers and keeping out of sight. Dry wood was easy tocome by, and on the few nights that she risked exposing herself inthe darkness, she found that her spectralin had weakened. Afternumerous attempts, she was left feeling both drained anddefeated.
Gathering the few things she had,she faced the rising light and began the new day — whichever day itwas. The Hums chirped above her in the trees, and although sheshould feel grateful for their company, there remained only sadnessin her heart. This of course only made the Hums try harder to lifther spirits.
Once, while she was walking, alittle one, probably only a season old, sat down on her shoulder,chirping briskly in her ear. The corner of her mouth angled up abit, which surprised her because her lips were so tightly pursedtogether. The Hum felt it would suffice, and met with his family onthe next branch, a couple of paces up the path.
The rye in her satchel was almostgone, and her energy was suffering. The food she had managed totake was the tainted food, which was distributed across the landsof Fia by the Desideriums. At first, the villagers were gratefulfor the food that was gifted, until it was realized that the foodhad been modified, and all of the spectralin had been removed —leaving only the most basic nutrients needed to survive, none ofwhich really fed them.
The Desideriums (they had realizedover the course of a few centuries) had plotted this kind of fooddistribution in an attempt to keep the people of Fia, weak ofspectral power. This then, of course, led to the beginnings of TheAscension - which was only still thriving in vastly scatteredcommunities on Fia.
The next kingdom couldn’t be morethan a day away or so she hoped. She was afraid. Nevertheless, sheforced herself to listen to the forest when it spoke to her. Theywere connected; she knew, the forest knew, and it would always sendher some sort of message. Sometimes, it would be a branch fallingwith its tip pointing towards the direction of her intention. Othertimes, it would be a little Hum, who would fly in a differentdirection than its flock. The forest led the way.
All of the walking gave her toomuch time for reflection. All of it weighed her down like she hadbeen bound with a string of rocks, and tossed into a raging river —water gushing down her throat — she alone was immortal. Firinneblamed herself. If only she had allowed herself to see them forwhat they truly were. Her expectations of others, and the longingto believe there was good in people — made the falsehoods that wereright in front of her face become invisible. The fault was her own— she had chosen this ignorance.
She thought back to a story hermother had told her about how she was named. Her mother said thather name came from an ancient time, long ago, before The Blacken,from the language of her ancestors. While her mother was withchild, the spectral essence of the baby’s soul, her soul, spoke toher. It told her what the child must be named — Firinne meanttruth, and she thought it was ironic because the truth was the onething she had not seen or had refused to see — whichever was thecase.
In hindsight, shehadseen all of thewarning signs. Hints and whispers that dark intentions and selfishambitions were at play. Yet, she loved them dearly — desperately,with every ounce of her being — the spectralin of her soul whichnow seemed tainted. She would have given them everything and thisis where her thoughts became a mirror. She was forced, against herwill, and now she was staring herself right in the face.
The guilt of what her ignorance hadcost her Queendom, her family, and her people, was almost too muchto bear. Legs shaking from the weight of it all, heart racing likethe drums of war — the shame — to exist in her vessel — she pressedforward; alone and broken. If she stopped here, there would benothing that she had left on these lands but a bloodbath — humanblood — and the blood of betrayal.
A Spite That Burns
A Few DaysEarlier
Firinne was sitting in her roomstaring out of the window. She could smell the spring in the airthat lightly brushed across her neck. The past few weeks felt morelike missing time to her, and she was looking forward to gettingback to things that she had neglected. Triphosa had done her morethan a favor; she had probably saved Firinne. Since the currentwave of frequency had taken hold of Fia, Firinne found herselfstruggling more than ever before.
It happened one night afterevening’s feast; Firinne collapsed on her way to her chambers,falling down a few of the stairs. Thankfully, nothing was broken,although maybe a piece of Firinne’s inner-workings. She had beentaken to her chambers and put in bed immediately. Auralia wasdesperate to help her daughter but she was too overwhelmed witheverything that needed tending at Citrine. So, Triphosavolunteered.
For hours and hours, Triphosa puther hands on Firinne; summoning her energy to heal Firinne. It wasas if Firinne had been paralyzed by something. When she thoughtback on it, it all seemed so fictional. She had no control over itand thought after thought, came racing through her head. Every fearshe could have ever imagined came flooding into her mind;paralyzing her. She was too afraid to move; too afraid to breath.She screamed out in horror and every time that she did, Triphosawas there using her spectralin to try to counteract the effects ofthe frequencies that were attacking Firinne.
After a week of this, Firinneslowly started regaining control of her mind. That was three daysago, and when Firinne thought about that time, it was as if shehadn’t really been there at all. It was like being locked away in aroom of your own mind, and having someone tell you what was goingon while you waited in there. She remembered that she felt asthough she might go mad from being locked in that room; the onethat overlooked a town that was unrecognizable to her; a town ofgray.
Firinne stood and walked over tothe small desk that sat in the corner of her chambers. She beganwriting to her Uncle Bricius to ask if he would attend her birthdaycelebration. She knew her Uncle was busy, always traveling, andtherefore, knew that her letter was probably a waste of time.Bricius was a well known leader of the Aldithenih faith — Firinnedespised it. She could never understand her Uncle’s rationale forbelieving in (what she thought) was a faith so poisonous. It mustbe such a miserable life following a faith that condemns thesmallest of mistakes with illusory threats of immortalagony.
Firinne often wondered howmorallygoodthese people of the faith would be if there was not such ahorrible consequence lurking behind their every step through life.If eternal damnation was revealed to be a falsehood, then how manyfollowers would take to the towns intent on acts of evil? Truemorality, she thought, was being a good person because you are anempathetic person, and not because you are afraid of the fate ofyour afterlife.
The faith of Aldithenih enragedher. She saw right through it. The faith had begun when the Mist ofBlacken had arrived. Its basic premise was the belief that there isan all knowing being that created Fia, and if the people of Fia donot follow the Aldithenih virtues, they will be condemned to aneternity of torment. Firinne had no proof, but she knew thedarkness was behind this, and it was just one of the many ways —manipulate and control.
Weakened and enslaved by fear, thepeople had forgotten their ways, the old ways.
Cyneric came into their chamber. Hehad barely glanced in her direction in the past three days of whichhe had been back at Citrine. She tried to ignore the guilt andsecrecy that she felt emanating from him; so much secrecy locked upinside of him, he was full. Firinne could visualize all of itseeping out of the pores of his skin — wet and black like thethick, liquid the Desideriums siphoned from Fia.
“Have you found a pretty littlemistress who consumes your thoughts?” She was never good at hidingher feelings.
Cyneric stopped, with his broadshoulders facing her. Her eyes traced his pronounced silhouettedown to his fists that were clenched so tightly, she could almostsee the blood boiling in his palms. “You make up such fantasies.They must bring excitement into your dull life!” He took a drinkfrom his flask.
“You know you’re not supposed tohave that in Citrine. Get rid of it.”
“Don’t worry,yourmajesty, I’m leaving.”
He then grabbed his sword, whichwas leaning against the far wall, and walked away, making sure toslam the door behind him so hard that Firinne was certain that hewould pull the door clean off of the hinges.
This behavior had been going on fornearly a year now. She had known Cyneric for fifteen years, butsomething had happened. He was changed. Last Samhain, he begantaking undisclosed travels, sometimes he was gone for weeks at atime. She had no way of contacting him while he was away. She wasachingly in love with him, more than she ever thought she couldlove a person. When he was away, her whole body hurt as if it wouldcave in on itself if he did not embrace her soon. Now, when hereturned, he barely spoke to her.
It was as if a part of himself thathe had been preparing to unleash had been activated. At this point,the only thing that Firinne was holding onto was the person sheknew him to be or thought she knew — but even the vivid memories ofthe past were beginning to fade. She felt like she would soonforget who that man was that she fell in love with, or moreaccurately, where the little boy she loved and had grown up withhad gone. Doubt was beginning to plague her and the waters of spitewere nearly boiling over.
Firinne hardly had time to thinkabout it. She remembered that her Mum needed to speak with her —something about the food. She walked out of her chamber, followingthe stairs down to the cellar of the castle. The wooden door waswarped and decayed, so she had to push on it hard to move it pastthe stones that were scraping the top seam of the doorway. Hermother, Auralia, was standing in the room, towards the boxes ofspectral food which were stacked up against the wall. She lookeddismayed. Her curly, auburn hair was held up by a carved piece ofBirch that Firinne had made for her during the summersolstice.
“There won’t be enough...” Auraliasaid.
“Are you sure? I thought that thelast harvest would get the Queendom through to Mabon.”
“Yes, I’m sure. We will be luckyif this lasts until Yule. We will survive, but our people will not.Something has to be done. The indoor gardens will need seriousattention.” She put her hand on Firinne’s shoulder. “Take some ofthe young ones to the gardens to work the soil, wouldyou?”
“Okay. I was thinking that wecould also plant some more seeds while we are there. If enoughspectralin is given to them, they might start bearing fruit just intime.” Firinne said.
“I was going to talk to you aboutthat as well. We need to send someone to the mountains to meet withThe Guardian for seeds, we’re low. I don’t know how much longer wewill be able to keep this going…our Queendom I mean.” Her face wasspeckled with freckles and age.
Auralia kissed her daughter on theforehead and left through the warped, wooden door. Firinne couldfeel her mother’s weakness, and knew that she was probablyrationing her intake of spectralin food.
She went to the Academy to gatherthe children from their classes and explained to the Magister thatthe children were needed in the gardens to assist. Magister Lirveendidn’t protest, as he knew that it would be good practice for hisstudents.
Imphius Lirveen was a small,scruffy old man. He had a full beard, and a full belly to match,which felt like a round stone pressing into your stomach wheneverhe hugged you. He was the head magister at the Citrine Academy ofArtistry and Spectralin Sciences, which he was immensely proud of.Teaching children had always been his lifelong passion and he was agrand asset to the Queendom.
Imphius was also a light-hearted,practical joker. One of the most popular of his jokes was that hewould collect items that had been left behind by the students, wrapthem up beautifully in a box, and gift them to the students ontheir final year of academy. The students would be completelyperplexed, wondering how they were supposed to react, as most ofthe time, they had forgotten all about the item left behind fromthe years that had passed.
Once in the gardens, the childrenbegan working right away. They were all turning the dirt in theirhands, humming, and speaking to the plants. From every child, therewas a green aura looming like a mist between the child and theplant. Firinne could almostseethe children's thoughts in her own mind —intentions of love and strength to the plants; thankfulness forwhat the plants provided the Queendom, gratitude for keeping all ofthem strong, and thereby safe from the Desideriums.
Everyone in the Queendom knew thatif they were left to only eat the food distributed by theDesideriums, they would lose their spectralin which would give theMist of Blacken more psychic control over them. It would be easierfor them to penetrate their thoughts and manipulate their emotions.Firinne knew that eventually they would suspect something, theywould see or feel the Queendom’s strength, and battle orinfiltration would ensue. But they could not worry themselves overthat now — it was their only hope for survival. Fia needed them tolive.
The children had begun planting theseeds and with the shared spectralin, they were now sprouting outof the ground. They were growing within seconds of being planted;winding up, out of the soil where leaves would begin unfoldingthemselves, like Flutters out of a cocoon. The children gathered upall of the fruits and seeds from the elder plants and put them intobaskets. One by one, down to the kitchens, where the cooks wouldsort the fruits, start preserves, and package the seeds to bestored in the cellar. Firinne knew that the shortage of seeds wasconcerning, but it was hard to be certain which seeds containedhigh or low spectralin. The seeds which produced plants of lowerspectralin would give little to no fruit or seed. All of the fear,hate, anger, and egos, was draining the life from their world. Themore the Desideriums were ordered to push, the more people wouldfear, and the more the darkness would conquer.
The nighttime stories that her Mumhad told her were engrained into her at such an early age thatFirinne felt as if she had actually been there to see it all forherself.
The lands of Fia were once apeaceful place where the ancestor of old, taught the newgenerations the secrets of the cosmos. No one is certain who gavethem the great wisdom, and if The Clandestine Guardians were asked,they would simply reply,The EtherealCollective. They taught the generationshow to access their inner spectralin.
The people of this land were oncea powerful people, a people who lived empathetically with Fia, andone another. Then, the Mist of Blacken came. At first it was onlynoticed as a slight discoloration in the skies. After that, it camein like a fog, heavy blackness with a low, rumbling vibration. Tothis day, no one knows who sent the Mist of Blacken or who iscontrolling it, but it was known that if the Mist brought to thelands a vibrational frequency opposite of Fia’s, that Fia would bein danger. Fia is a living, breathing being just like humans. It isour job to protect her so that she can protect us. Balance,vibration, spectralin, empathy.
The Mist of Blacken settled aboveone of the lands, where an obsidian castle was built overnight. Ithas swirled relentlessly above Castle Blacken for over a decadenow. Back in those ages, the Mist almost succeeded in spectralmanipulation of the people of Fia. Through spectral manipulation,the Mist gains access to the mind and modifies the essence of thesoul to create an illusion of existence. The people who wereaffected by this manipulation — they were endlessly afraid, lockedin a state of panic — forever stuck in a frequency ensuring theirinner imprisonment.
Castle Blacken is led by a darkcollective consciousness; that is as much as the people of Fiaknow. No one knows who the leader of the Mist of Blacken is —tactics.
So, since the Mist of Blacken, Fiahas been in a state of panic and it is a constant battle to fightthe forces of the dark frequencies.
The hope that Auralia had alwaysleft Firinne with was that there had been whispers that TheClandestine Guardians were still alive, in small numbers and thatone day Fia will lead them. That is the only chance, the only way —faith in Fia, and The Clandestine Guardians. Auralia would alwaysfollow the legend with an ancient hum, and Firinne would fallasleep to dreams of hope — or terror.
The Sun had fallen over themountains hours ago and Firinne was back in her chambers. There wasa single crystal glowing on the table that she was sitting at. Theoval mirror was reflecting someone that she did not see — nottruly. She was beautiful; long black hair, full lips, and eyes thatdisappeared into a deep abyss of mystery. But all that she couldsee was sadness. All that she could feel was the weight of Fiawhich she allowed to rest on her shoulders — which wereaching.
She slipped into her nightgown andnestled deep under the silk blankets that smelled of Lavender.Cyneric was asleep with his face turned away from her. She loved tolisten to his breathing, like waves crashing in — out. She missedhim horribly. What an awful feeling it was to have someone’s warmthnext to you in bed but feel so cold. There was an empty, achingspace in her heart. A deepness she had never felt, and an impulsivelonging to fill it.
Everything felt like a fast windhad come in; spinning her around in circles of confusion. Shecouldn’t tell up from down. Lost. She forced herself to clingtightly to the amazing memories they shared together; an attempt toreassure herself that all was not lost, that he would come back toher.
Tears were welling up in her eyeslike the perspiration in Fia’s caves. She could feel her throattightening — empathy’s noose.Let go ofthings that are out of your control, Firinne.
A truth that she knew but found toohard at this very moment to accept.
Through the distortion of hertears, she saw, what she thought, was a wisp of black mist, snakingits way up from the back of Cyneric’s head. As soon as she thoughtshe saw it, she thought she hadn’t.
Deep withinthe bowels of Castle Blacken, there was an intense energy building;an ember ready to ignite. Desiderium guards were moving within thewalls and on the grounds in straight, purposeful lines. Screams ofagony echoed through the halls from the dungeons — Castle Blacken,the grand theater. Voices of peril bounced from wall to wall,smashing into the grand arches of the ceiling, and plummeting backdown to the floors, where the Desideriums marched. This was a placeof abuse, where even the vibrations on the floor caused by thevictims screams, were abused by the boots ofDesideriums.
Castle Blacken was a dreadfullybeautiful sight to behold. Built of Obsidian that looked likeliquid, there were intricate symbols carved into the sides of thecastle walls. The corners and edges of the Castle were sharp, andthey reflected the light of the Sun so intensely, that the lines ofthe castle looked like they were glowing. Following these glowinglines up, there was a single tower which was centered at what mighthave been the beating heart of Castle Blacken. The mere height ofit created a shadow that stretched as far as the forests; milesaway. At the top of the tower, there were three black spearspointing up towards the sky, where the Mist of Blacken swirled likea vortex above the castle. No one on Fia could deny that darkenergy had been used to bring Castle Blacken to life, and it wasjust that — alive. A breathing entity that absorbed all thingsblack — hate, greed, lust, envy, fear, power, dishonesty, anddeath. Tears provided it hydration — screams gave it life. Blood?Blood gave it power.
Inside the highest and mostmagnificent tower, there burned a black fire in the center of theroom. Standing in the gray light surrounding the black flames, werethe three Lords of Castle Blacken. The Dantalion Lords werefacilitators — delivering orders to the Desideriums, and observingthe vibration-altering process. They wore long cloaks made of blacklace, with hoods that rested weightlessly on their skulls. TheDantalion Lords were a mortal adaptation of purgatory. Their bodieswere spliced down the center, one-half was skeletal, and the otherwas a face resembling that of a human. Their skin was stretchedtightly which made every bone and vein protrude. Their bones wereas black as the stone beneath their feet. They were torn betweentwo realities of existence — humble servants to the Great King ofCastle Blacken.
The Lords were holding out theirhands over the flames. While one hand had its palm facing up, theother black, skeletal hands were moving in a twisted sort of dancein and out of the flames. They were chanting somethingunidentifiable which would begin with a low growl, and then reach aslow climax; a high-pitched screech of ecstasy. With each pausebetween notes, black sparks would float out of the flames, whichwould enter into the mouths of the Lords upon the inhalationleading up to the next note. It was a dark, ancient magic whosepurpose was to sort and concentrate the desired energy frequencythat was being released onto Fia. This ceremony would be finishedby the sacred ingestion of the Blood of Fia, which the Desideriumswere siphoning from Fia, hourly. Fia’s blood was invaluable to allthat was Castle Blacken. It was the source for their black fire,the drink that the Desideriums indulged upon, and the power whichfueled the beasts they rode into battle.
There was something that wasdifferent in the castle on this day. The Desideriums werewhispering to each other behind their black, masked helmets as if abattle would soon be engaged, or maybe a plan that was successfulhad led to this profound moment. Whatever it was, there wasexcitement in the air and it was seeping out of Castle Blacken —transforming into an air of nervousness as it whistled through thelands. It swept across the grasses, around branches, over thelakes, up the rivers — everyone could feel it. Something hadchanged.
A long day of preparation had endedand some of the Desideriums retreated into the great hall wherethey would dine on confiscated food and Fia’s blood. TheDesideriums would drink and drink, until they were either fightingwith each other, fumbling into the sleeping quarters, or rippingoff the clothes of their latest female victim.
One man was pounding himself intoand in-between a woman’s legs as she was chained to a wall in onecorner, while another man violently fondled her breasts. With everyuntamed thrust, she was slammed into the stone wall, leavingbruises on the back of her skull. Yet, when she met his primalgaze, she thought she saw a look of horror in his eyes.
In another area of the great hall,two men were standing on tables, threatening each other with theirObsidian swords. There was a man who had fallen on the stairs thatled out of the hall — he was now unconscious. All the while,screams were still echoing from the dungeons as if it were properdinner music — The Grand Orchestra of Death And Torture.
What was worse, the Desideriumswere the sons, brothers, and fathers who had once lived on Fia.When the Mist of Blacken came, it had a power that no one on Fiacould fight. No man was safe unless he was weak, young, or sick —somehow the Mist knew. When the Mist found a Desiderium, it wouldtwist its way down to him, wrapping itself around him, and suckinghim back up into the Mist. Nearly ten-thousand men were taken fromvillages and castles that fateful day following TheAscension.
After the Desideriums werecollected, the Mist of Blacken constructed them just as easily asit had built Castle Blacken. These poor souls were trapped andreplaced with a dark apparition of the Mist of Blacken — like asoul it only needed a vessel — a desirable vessel. It was not clearwhether the Desideriums were aware of the things they were doingand people often thought that if they were aware, how much theywere being tormented just as much as they were tormenting thepeople of Fia — their people. Having no control of their actions,they would watch themselves do horrible things. What was even moreconcerning was whether there was even an ability to save theDesideriums from their slavery. If they could be saved, how damagedwould their minds and souls be?
After all of the men had finallyfallen asleep; heads on tables, bodies lying where they had fallen,women trapped under snoring men who were too afraid to move; theMist would come to collect its vessels. The poor, lifeless,Desideriums floated on the heavy air of the black mist as itcarried them down to the sleeping quarters, where they weresuspended on hooks from the ceiling until sunrise — a prizedcollection; possession.
That was the moment of the eveningwhen whichever woman who was left in the dining hall had to makeher move. The moment the Mist of Blacken was out of sight, theywould scramble, with whatever strength they had left in them, tothe tables. The Desideriums fancied the blood of Fia more than thefood, so there was always a heaping amount at the table which wouldbe wasted the following day. Stuffing their mouths in silence withwhatever they could get their hands on, trying desperately to notonly taste the sweetness of the food which contained spectralin,but also build their strength. They ravaged through every morsel —they had to. Without those few moments of gluttony, they couldn’tbe sure how many more days of torture they wouldsurvive.
These women had been at CastleBlacken for such a long time that they had a precise method. Theyhad timed the Mist so that they knew when it would return to carrythem back to the dungeons. Once the Mist of Blacken returned, theywould muster every ounce of fear they could by forcing themselvesto relive torture, rape, and whatever else they had been through,which masked the new spectralin they had just obtained from thefood. Every evening the women in the dungeons were alternated, butthey had all shared the method with each other in hopes ofsurvival. Yet, it was becoming more apparent that most of them justwanted to die. They probably would die sooner or later.
When there is no foreseeable hope,fortitude becomes a wasted effort. They couldn’t see a way out; ofCastle Blacken or the horrible situation that their world was in.It seemed that whatever power was controlling the Mist of Blacken,was allowing it to grow stronger by the day. No matter how hard thepeople tried to stay strong and faithful to the light of thecosmos, it was futile. Everyone — people, creatures, and plantswere in despair. When they tried to focus their intentions onpositive vibrational frequencies, there was always an obstacle thatforced them to succumb to their fear. These women were nodifferent. They were feeling more and more disconnected from TheEthereal Collective.
There were of course small acts ofrebellion, and those women cheered for them, even through the painthey cheered; through the suffering of it all; they cheered, but itwas only that — just a cheer.
A fleeting feeling of one smallvictory that is effortlessly shadowed by adversity.
Firinneawoke to the warm smell of biscuits and an empty bed. The latter ofwhich she was growing accustomed to, although it was specificallyon this day that she urged herself to forget immediately what hadhappened a couple of nights ago. It had to have just been herimagination; a result of her heartache, and it was this that shedesperately tried to convince herself of. After a groggy,round-about discussion in her head, she knew she was stillunconvinced, and, therefore, made a very difficult decision: todayshe would discuss it with Triphosa.
Her armoire was filled with gownsof silk, velvet, and cotton. They were all elaborately designed inher favorite shades — crimson, plum, black, gray, and deep gold.The cotton dresses often resembled the raw nature which surroundedher Queendom and rather than gems, there were raw, unpolishedstones fixed to the fabric. Today she felt melancholic and so shereached for the slate gray dress which was whispered with blackembroidery. It had lace around the sleeves and the collar. Thefabric moved with fluidity — up and down, riding the air around herlegs as she ran down the stairs towards the dining hall and moreimportantly to it’s beckoning smells.
The dining hall was enormous. Theupwardly arched ceiling was encased with mahogany, wood beams thatstarted from one point on the floor, arching its way to the centerwhere they all met, and formed a star. The walls were draped withburgundy curtains made of velvet. The combination of the velvet andthe subtle sparkles in the Quartz walls made the room appear toglisten — causing the dining hall to glow in the light of thesunset. The room, grand as it was, was inviting. Firinne felt it onthis morning as her eyes met the long table where the seats werefilled with her family, and friends. They were all groggy anddelighted.
And Cyneric was not amongthem.
Firinne sat down in the chair nextto Triphosa. Sleepy faces greeted hers with kindness. All of theglasses were filled to the brim with peach juice —squeezed fromlast year’s yield. The kitchen doors finally opened and one by one,the trays floated out to the table with all of the anticipatedmorning delicacies — buttermilk biscuits, fresh fruit, spicedoatmeal, eggs, and rosemary potatoes. There was a silly feelingthat the air was leaving the room due to everyone sniffing in therich scents enthusiastically as the trays moved aboutthem.
Triphosa squeezed Firinne’s arm.“Did you sleep blissfully, my love?”
“It might’ve been if I hadn’tawoken cold and alone. Cyneric disappeared early again. Who knowswhere he’s gone.”
Triphosa messed her face up a bit.“Listen,” Firinne said. “I have to speak with you after we eat.There’s something…something I need to tell you, and it must be inprivate.”
“Of course. Meet me in the gardensin and hour or so, and we will talk about it. Don’t fret…I’m here.I always will be.”
Triphosahadalways been there for Firinne.They became acquainted with one another when they were only twelveyears old. They had been the best of friends ever since. She hadcome to Citrine Castle when Triphosa was young. Her family livedthere for a few years, when one night, they vanished. Firinne couldstill recall that evening when they had ridden back to Triphosa’ssmall home, which was just on the edge of the village.
They had both been having adelightful evening — lying in the tall grasses, and watching stars;The Chalice of Life, The Serpent of Circles, The Guard of Citrine.They were talking about what the future might have in store forthem, and imagining all of the magnificent things they would do.Firinne would always wait just outside Triphosa’s door to make surethat her friend would find safety inside her home. On this night,though, and just as Firinne turned to ride away, she heard a shriekecho into the night. When Firinne walked through the doorway, thewalls were covered in blood and everything in the house wasdestroyed. Firinne could still remember, that in the room upstairs,all of the silk duvets had huge cuts in them, as if some carelessthief couldn’t stand the thought of anything in the home remainingundamaged. It took a long time for Triphosa to recover from thatand all that she had left of her family was a black stone pendantwhich had belonged to her mother. To this day, no one knew what hadhappened to her parents, but Firinne’s mother had chosen to adoptTriphosa, practically making them sisters.
The breeze whipped around Firinnelike a ghost. Her senses were overcome by the smell of sweet grass,Lemon Verbena, and the smell of rich soil, moist from the earlydawn’s dew. She was following the stone path down to the enclosedgarden. On her way, she was making a mental note of the trees onevery side of her. They were just starting to open up what wouldsoon be peach blossoms. Firinne smiled fondly, knowing that theancient trees would not feel their silent sadness until autumn,when their little babies would fall, one by one, down to Fia wherethey would begin their new journey of providing nutrients to theroots of their parent-tree.
Firinne was almost to the garden.She stopped in her tracks, turning around to view her home. Sheadmired Citrine Castle, not just for its breathtaking architecturebut also because of its history, her family’s history. CitrineCastle was built hundreds of years ago by her ancestors and it wasone of the most admired structures in all of Fia. Firinne alwaysloved watching the faces of travelers as they stared in sheerconfusion, trying to decipher how such a feat could be built, aswell as where all the crystals could have come from.
The Castle was built from carvedLabradorite blocks. All of the towers of the Castle were lined withraw Citrine crystals that encased each terrace. The windows hadSmokey Quartz pebbles encrusted into their outlines. All of thedoors of the castle were made of Cherry wood, each of them havingpyrography designs burned into them. Some were extensive scenesillustrating their people’s legends while others were trees,animals, flowers, land, and sea. If that wasn’t grand enough forthe ancestors of Citrine, the middle and largest tower had Citrinecrystals that angled inwards towards each other, creating anillusion of a golden pyramid at the top. Firinne’s family came froma line of crystal-fabricators. Since the Blacken had come, though,the line had become tainted, and Firinne was the last living,crystal-fabricator of her family.
Firinne had entered the garden,also encased in Citrine crystals that were taller than she was. Thecrystals provided the garden with shelter without obstructing theSun’s light. Triphosa was at the edge of the garden admiring all ofthe new growth which was now peeking out of the warm soil beneaththe ivy.
Triphosa was beautiful. Firinnesecretly envied her for it. She was slender and delicate, with longblack hair, and a face of unblemished perfection. Her face was likethat of a doll — swollen pink lips, freckles in all of the rightplaces, and skin as soft as silk. She had the eye of every man inthe Queendom. Growing up, Firinne often felt mediocre — just aninvisible entity standing in Triphosa’s great shadow of enthrallingbeauty. Firinne admired her in the golden light of the Citrine forwhat was such a long time, that it was nearly shameful.
Triphosa took her by the hand,leading her to a wooden bench near the ivy. “Tell me what’stroubling you. I’ll do everything I can to help.”
“I am sure you’ve probably alreadyguessed it.” Firinne took a deep breath. “It’s Cyneric. Somethingis wrong with him and I don’t know what to do, or what to think.You know how much I love him. He’s my life.”
“What is it?” Triphosasaid.
“I didn’t know what else to do butto talk to you. Mum is already too tired from her own battles todeal with this. I don’t know what else I can do.” Tears werebeginning to escape from the corners of her eyes.
“Firinne, take a deep breath andtell me what is going on.”
Firinne explained all of the thingsthat had been going on. She told Triphosa about the secret travelsthat Cyneric would disappear on, and the ice cold silence from himthat greeted her upon his return. She explained how long it hadbeen since they were intimate with one another, and about the harshwords that he would often spout-out at her in the times that hewould actually speak to her. Firinne then went on to tell her thatsometimes he would come home intoxicated, and that one time she hadfollowed him to Nightsend Tavern just outside of thevillage.
At the end of all of this, Firinnemet hesitation. She was so afraid to tell Triphosa what she hadseen the other night. Firinne was never good at putting on a face,and Triphosa recognized it instantly.
“There’s something else…isn’tthere? C’mon, you don’t need to be afraid…you can trust me. Don’tyou know that by now?” Triphosa said.
“You have to swear you won’t uttera word of this to anyone!”
“I swear I won’t! You know meFir…”
Firinne took a long pause tocontemplate the decision to abandon her silence. In that moment,she sat still as if she was waiting for some unknown force tointervene. There was only stillness, and the eyes of her bestfriend, which were stuck on Firinne’s mouth — waiting for somethingto slip out.
“One night, and after a long dayof bitter silence between us, and I…I climbed into bed for thenight. He was asleep next to me, so I laid there…just staring athim…lost in my own thoughts. I saw something strange and now… themore that I think about it…“
“What Fir? What did yousee?”
“Just as I was about to close myeyes, I saw a wisp of black mist peek out from the back ofCyneric’s neck. I tried to convince myself that it was just myimagination, but Triphosa, I know what I saw. I know it was real, Ijust don’t know what it means…or what I should do.”
“I can’t believe what you’resaying. The implications of this…and what it could mean for Citrineare ruinous. It can’t be. I know Cyneric hasn’t been himself, butthere is no way that he let the Blacken get to him. He’s far toostrong for that. And his love for you…” Triphosa said.
“We met each other when we wereyoung and fell deeply in-love. I feel like I know him more than Iknow myself. The memories I have with him are like my memories withyou…the only reason I can think of for a darkness to have attacheditself to him is his parents and their past.”
It was well known that Cyneric,like Triphosa, had lost his parents at a young age. The differencefor Cyneric, was that he knew exactly where his parents were. TheCrivinnes were never ideal parents. They were always fighting withone another, coming home intoxicated, and leaving Cyneric to watchhis siblings. Sometimes they abused Cyneric which had left apermanent scar in its wake. After The Ascension and The Numbing,the Crivinnes went with the Blacken gladly, with no thought ofleaving their eldest son to survive on his own at the age ofeleven. If that abandonment wasn’t enough, they took his siblingswith them in order to indoctrinate them, at a very young age, intothe endless power of Blacken that would be theirs if they so chose.From what Cyneric had told Firinne, the last year that followedafter his family had abandoned him, he became a seething andreckless adolescent. He was either constantly in trouble with theCitrine guards, or he was at the tavern drinking Fia’s blood.Firinne knew that she had saved Cyneric from himself and a paththat would have been an endless abyss of ruin for him. In theconfines of their entanglement, he would empty his soul out uponFirinne. She was his keeper. The bond between them wasindisputable. They were insatiable.
“Maybe he’s fallen back into thepain of his past. It would make sense that he would shut me out ofit. If he’s become so lost in the darkness that the Blacken isattaching itself to him, then I have to do something. I can’t bearto lose him. But what can I do? He will barely look at me much lessta—
Triphosa interjected. “I will talkwith him. Maybe someone who is in a more neutral position will havea better affect on him. He won’t feel so threatened. We can’t wasteany time on this, so I will find him tonight and see if I can gethim to open up to me a little. A little might be justenough.”
“Would you? I don’t know what Iwould do without you Triphosa.”
Triphosa didn’t have to sayanything. She stood up, gently kissed Firinne’s forehead, leavingher there to sit by the ivy and sort through her feelings; perhapstake a few deep breaths.
Later that evening, Firinne hastilyate her dinner in an attempt to avoid her mother until she knewmore about the situation with Cyneric. She said good-night toeveryone and hurried up to her chambers. She hadn’t seen Triphosaor Cyneric, and she was more than anxious to hear how theirconversation had gone. She was impatient. Every moment thatinvolved waiting, anxiety gnawed at her skin — this was one ofthose times, only worse because it involved Cyneric.
Trying to calm herself, she wentout on the terrace and into the brisk, spring breeze. The terraceshown brilliantly under the moonlight, the blueish light mixed likewatercolor — merging with the gold light of the Citrine — the wholeterrace seemed to glow in dim, otherworldly hues. On the corner ofthe terrace was Firinne’s alter, which held her wraps of sage andDragonsblood, along with crystals and stones. With the tip of herfinger she touched one the crystals and it slowly began to give offa warm light. She then proceeded to light the sage — breathing indeeply it’s rich, woody smell. She then moved her hands across thesmoke, pulling it into herself, and over her head. This ceremonywas something that her mother had taught her as a way of cleaningthe energy around herself.
With two Amethyst crystals in eachhand, she looked over the sleepy Queendom. Everything but herinsides were calm. She focused her spectralin and imagined pullinga brilliant light from the cosmos — through her, and into thecrystals. The crystals would then shoot the spectralin all over Fia— blanketing her and her creatures in the higher vibrations oflove. She knew that everything, still and living, resonated at aspecific vibrational frequency during its natural state. Beingshave the ability to change their vibration with their thoughts andemotions. The negative emotions were harmful to the being whilelove, empathy, and selflessness created a higher vibrationalfrequency which promoted health physically, and spectrally. TheMist of Blacken was creating such strong negativity that it wascausing an invisible war between the dark forces, and the people ofFia. This is why it was so important for everyone to focus theirthoughts on pure love, rather than fear, or their spectralin wouldbe diminished, along with their world.
Firinne did this quite often,trying so very hard to overpower the turmoil her world wasenduring. She would imagine that she had all of the power to changetheir circumstance, so much so, that for only a split second shefelt like the Mist was an illusion. She was halfway through theceremony, just on the brink of releasing this brilliance from thecrystals when she stopped suddenly. Something was wrong; she couldfeel it in every nerve.
There was the sound of pounding atthe door. She rushed over to find one of the Citrine guards pantingand clutching the wall.
“I’m…sorry. I’m…sorry to startleyou…received word that…”
“Take a deep breath.”
And he did. “Cyneric is atNightsend Tavern again. This time it sounds like he’s gottenhimself into a bad fight. Would you like me to take some of the mento retrieve him?”
“No, but I would like for you toaccompany me to the tavern.”
She could feel her blood pumping,producing twice the amount than necessary. She knew little of howmuch she would need that extra blood.
The Darkest of Fears SlightlyOverlooked
Firinne wasriding faster than all of her guards knew that she was capable of.A million thoughts were racing through her mind as she had no ideawhat to expect once she arrived. Would he come willingly or wouldhe make a spectacle of himself? Was she going to walk into abloodbath? Who had instigated the fight? What had triggeredCyneric’s violence? Why was heevenat the tavern to begin with? She was furious. Theharder she rode, the harder her sword would slam into herthigh.
Firinne was wondering if this nightwould be like so many of the nights before. She would help him upthe stairs to their bed chambers where he would begin to apologizeto her. She would dig at him for answers. He would tell her that hecouldn’t talk to her about it, he was too ashamed of himself. Hewould run his strong hands all over her, grabbing her face andkissing her like his life depended on it — begging for her flesh.Firinne would always fight with him, yelling at him for leaving heralone so much. He would always conquer her. Leaving her feelingcaptivated by his warmth, with a mission to save him from whateverplagued his soul. This dizzy cycle was exhausting her. One minuteshe would be bitterly, heartbroken. The next minute, she would becompletely devoted to his tenderness, and his rescue. To whatend?
Fifty feet in the distance, shecould see the tavern. She knew the owner well and had grown todespise him for even allowing a drop of Fia’s blood in his tavern.Jarden wasn’t a revered person by anyone. He would always makeexcuses as to why he would sell Fia’s blood, claiming he neededthis, and that. Everyone knew he was justin itfor the profit, but there wasnothing that Firinne could do about it because Nightsend Tavern wasjust outside the town limits of Citrine. One day he would realize.That much she knew.
Suddenly, and quite awkwardly,Firinne became aware of reality again. She was staring at the frontof the tavern door. She had a blank expression on her face, a clearindication that once again she was letting anxiety get the betterof her. She had just spent the last fifteen-seconds imagining everypossible scenario she could. The guards were standing behind herunclear of what she was doing. In her regained awareness, she felther heart beat hard —over and over, like the drums of war.Get it together, shetold herself. Nowadays, it seemed like she was having moreconversations with herself, than anyone else.
In a split second, and withoutwarning her guards, Firinne took control of her rage and kicked inthe door. All of the Wasters jolted instantly, wide eyed withblurry vision and in complete confusion of who, and why the doorhad been kicked open.
“Where is he, Jarden?” Firinnesaid with more rage than she had anticipated. She saw no blood, noturned over tables, bodies — in fact, the tavern was relativelyquiet, which made her exceedingly unsure of the situation she hadjust walked into.
“There was jus’ a bit of a scuffleMiss, nothin’ catastrophic. He’s shut ‘imself in a room upstairs…been there for a while now. Third floor on the left miss. Bring aguard..don’t think he’ll make the walk down the stairs.”
Firinne shot him the foulest lookshe was capable of producing with such a soft face; she probablylooked more like an angry four-year-old, and queued the guard onher left to follow her. They made their way up the stairs and cameto the third door.
“Wait here while I speak to him.I’ll leave the door cracked in case he puts up a fight.” The guardnodded.
The brass knob of the door wascaked with layers of travelers dirt. She turned it expecting tofind Cyneric sitting by the fire with a glass in hand, orunconscious on the bed. What she saw was a scene she could neverhave imagined — not ever. Directly in front of her was Cyneric,bare-backed and straddling, someone.
Firinne gasped. Amidst theirgroans, they had heard her. Rather than jolting amongst the duvetto hide their shamefulness (something that Firinnewouldhave expected)they did something else entirely. Cyneric turned around to revealone of two things. The first being a smile which could only bedescribed as one of pleasure, satisfaction and oddly, purpose. Thenext was that the woman who he was mounted on top of was Triphosa,who like Cyneric, was grinning as if she had rehearsedit.
For a moment, Firinne felt herheart plummet into her stomach as if she had swallowed a heavystone — momentarily breathless. Her whole world felt like it was ona raging sea, rocking back and forth under her feet — her ship wassinking. Struggling to comprehend even an inch of what she waswitnessing, she absentmindedly put her hand on hersword.
The waves crashed in, hitting hersoul.
Without a second thought, she drewher sword from its sheath, took a leap forward, where sword tip metthe soft skin of Cyneric’s neck — the skin that she, herself lovedto press her lips against.
“So this is what’s been going onwith you? You’ve been sleeping with my best friend! I can’t believeyou! How could you do this to me… and you!” Firinne was now lookinginto the eyes of her best friend. “You said I could trust you.You’re nothing but a whore! We took you into our home…took care ofyou!”
Cyneric said nothing. Instead,Triphosa stood up, confidently showing her naked body that Cynerichad just littered. “Oh dearest, naive Fir, you still haven’tconnected it, have you? This has been going on for a lot longerthan you would like to know. See, Cyneric and I have been promisedto each other since we were children.”
“Promised? What do you meanpromised? Both of your parents are gone. Spare me the damn riddles.Let’s just get it all out on the bed shall we? Everything elsecertainly is!”
“Firinne, this isn’t about you.It’s not even about me, or Cyneric. This is about the Blacken. Wehave just been playing our little parts…waiting for the right timeto tear your world apart, see? Soon we will receive our reward aspromised. The time —
“I should slaughter you both rightnow! You are nothing to me now, but a sickness in my life!Everything’s been nothing more than an act…all of the memories…theymean nothing. NOTHING!” Firinne moved closer to Cyneric. She wantedthe pain within her to cut him as deeply as she had been cut. Shewanted to see him bleed. She dug her sword into the crescent shapedindentation between his collar bones. She could see all of hismuscles tense, the very same muscles that she had once clung to forsafety, and pleasure.
“When all of this comes crumblingdown, oh and itwill…don’t youdareeventhinkabout coming back to me. I should soak this room in yourblood. But you’re already dead…someday you’ll both realize it.”Firinne didn’t give them a second to respond. She slammed the doorbehind her so hard that it shook the decaying halls of the tavern.She said nothing to Jarden as she left.
Two of the closest people in herlife, both of whom she had grown up with, were nothing butcommissioned actors. Every memory she had was fabricated imagery inher mind. Firinne felt betrayed, and more than that, she feltfoolish — both of which only made the fury inside of her swirl innew directions, towards inwardly un-plotted destinations. All thatshe knew at this moment of shattering reality was that she had toget back to Citrine Castle, fast. Whatever the point of all of thiswas, surely there was more to it. She had to warn her mother, andmost of all, they needed to prepare for whatever was to come ofthis.
The guards followed close behindher, all of them on high-alert as they stampeded through the townof Citrine. There was nothing but the sound of hooves, clacking offof the cobbled stones — a rhythm that was precisely identical tothe rhythm of the riders’ hearts.
The castlegrounds were eerily quiet. Firinne and her guards were wonderingwhat the time was. Everything seemed like a blur — as if they werejust outside the realms of reality. She could see crystals litthrough the windows of the castle, and accepted them as a beacon ofhope.
Once in the castle, she ran. Withevery footstep, she held back tears. She came upon the grandstaircase from the hall that led out to the stables. The rightstaircase led down one of the halls, up another staircase, fivedoors on the right was Auralia’s chambers. At this moment, thatroom (five doors down, on the right) was safety to Firinne. Shefelt the smooth, stone banister on the palm of her hand. She wasonly a couple of steps up when she heard footsteps somewhere on thetop landing. She stopped immediately and looked up. That is whenshe noticed that there was a bit of something tied to the centerbanister, in between the right and left staircase.
“Is anyone there?” Firinnewhispered.
She waited a few more moments,afraid to breathe. She knew the sounds of the castle well. Thosewere definitely footsteps that she had heard. Then, through thefaint glow of the light, she saw a figure, moving slowly towardsthe banister. As the image came clearer into view, she saw that itwas Magister Lirveen.
“Oh, Imphius! I was afraid it wassomeone else. I have to go see Auralia. Something horrible hashappened and I need to…Imphius, are you okay?”
Imphius had a dazed, lifeless lookon his face as though he hadn’t even heard her speak. He movedslowly, closer and closer, to the banister. This is when Firinnerealized that there was a bit of rope tied around histhroat.
“Imphius…no. Please don’t do this!Whatever it is…I can…I can help you. Just…just stop. PleaseImphius, I can’t lose you!” Firinne was again left with no reactionfrom him. There was no way that she would be able to make it up thestairs before he jumped. He was right there in front of her, butshe could not reach him. She didn’t know what to do but to pleadfor help in hopes that someone would be in one of the rooms at thetop of the stairs.
She yelled as loud as she could,but no one yelled black — Imphius didn’t even blink. He was nowstanding on the other side of the banister, leaning into the openair in front of him as if he were welcoming his fate. Firinnefocused all of her spectralin, trying desperately to create anupward force that might stop him from falling, or at least,choking. The events in the past hour must have weakened her, and itwas too late. She instinctually closed her eyes. All that she couldhear were the creaks from the rope being tested by the weight ofImphius’s body. She collapsed to the ground, sobbinguncontrollably. His body was dangling only a few feet above her,back and forth — lifelessly — just out of arms reach.
She didn’t want to believe that hewas dead, so she held her knees close to her face. She wanted tohide from all of it. She could not bear to stare up at the old manthat she loved so dearly. Firinne grew up without her father. Bothhim and her grandparents had died in The Ascension when the peoplehad tried to overtake The Blacken. Firinne had been very young atthe time. Imphius was the only person in her whole life who hadguided and loved her like she imagined her father would have. Hewas more than just Magister Lirveen, he was her family. Now he wasgone.
What Firinne heard next was themost repulsive sound that she could ever envision hearing afterwhat had just happened. From above her, she heard a screech ofelation echoing through the morbid air. Slowly, Firinne raised herhead from its dark, maternal sanctuary behind the caps of herknees.
Another perverse laugh followed.“Poor, pitiful Magister Lirveen. Here he is now, just as patheticin death as he was in life. What a weak old man!” Triphosa’s voicereverberated off the walls like the screams of dyingdemons.
Firinne lost all restraint. “How isit possible that I was completely unaware of what a cruel, littlebitch you are? What did you do to him Triphosa?”
“What did I do to the little man?Oh, just a bit of this and that…a dash of poison, a pinch of spite.Don’t worry, he never knew what hit him. Probably best he isn’taround anymore you know? Too weak for the wrath that is coming.”There was psychotic pride etched deeply into every angle andindentation of her face.
Cyneric was now standing next toher in silence. Firinne could barely stand to look at him. Him —standing there in full devotion to a cause that was so evil. Itstruck her that she could never trust anyone again, not after this;not really.
“So what’s your next move then?”Said Firinne.
Triphosa smirked, almost girlishly.“We’ve already taken care of that. While you were preoccupied atthe tavern, Desideriums infiltrated your beloved Queendom. Everyoneof any importance is now locked away in the dungeons. So, you nowhave two choices, dear friend…lie down your sword and come with usto the dungeons or I shall have to call upon the Desideriumsto…handle you.”
“I guess I don’t really have achoice then. What are you both still standing there for? Let’s geton with it.” Firinne knew that they had won, but if she was clever,they would never have the chance to win again.
Thedungeons were cold. Their silent, stillness was unwelcoming.Firinne had convinced the two Desiderium guards to put her in theroom that was next to her mother. Citrine’s dungeons were hardlyever used, but now they were filled with the cooks, guards (hershad stayed outside while she had entered the castle), maids, andworse — the children from the academy. As soon as the Desideriumshad gone back upstairs, everyone began stirring. Auralia crept overto Firinne, and through the iron bars she took Firinne’s hand.Sadness was overwhelming her face. Her breathing wasshort.
“Did they hurt you Mum? Are youokay?”
“I’m fine. I was caught off guardand knew it wasn’t wise to fight them. Tell me whathappened.”
“One of the guards told me thatCyneric was down at the tavern, and had been in a fight. I took twoguards with me. When we got there, Cyneric was in one of the roomsupstairs…with Triphosa. They’re both devoted to The Blacken, Mum.They had been planning to overtake us since they came into ourlives!”
“Oh Firinne…I’m so, so sorry. Iknow how much you loved both of them. Triphosa was like a daughterto me. I can’t believe they did this to you…to us.”
“No, I’m sorry…I was blind. Thisis all my fault! I should have seen the signs…I did see the signs,at least with Cyneric. I just didn’t…want to believeit.”
Auralia put her hand gently, underFirinne’s chin. “There is nothing you could’ve done. They had deeproots in our home. Don’t blame yourself….It’s already done, Fir.There’s no sense in dwelling on it.”
Firinne put her head down. Shewhispered. “And they killed Imphius…there was nothing I could do…hewas…at the top of the staircase. I tried to call out to him but hedidn’t respond, not even a flinch Mum. It was like…like he waspossessed or something. He jumped off the staircase and hunghimself. Triphosa and Cyneric were right there…justafter…”
“He would have never donesomething like this…Oh, Imphius.”
“I tried to save him, but myspectralin was too weak.”
“Let me see,” Auralia said, andtook Firinne’s hand. She closed her eyes for a moment. “No, it wasnot you who failed him. I can feel your strength. The Blacken musthave blocked you.”
“We have to tell the children.They’re going to wonder where he is.” Firinne said.
“I will tell them. First, we needto sort out the plan.”
“Your escape…you are the onlychance we have of getting word out to the surrounding castles ofwhat has happened. We need support.”
“Well, aside from you being cleverand strong…It just so happens that you ended up in the room next tomine. Your room has…secrets.” She smiled.
It was just like her mother to pullher from the depths of hopelessness. Firinne had a horrible habitof introverting into herself, allowing herself to get lost in thechaos of her emotions. It was in this cathartic chaos, thatcaptivity would occur. She would feel as though the only way toescape the pain was to peel her skin off — to let the bits ofmadness escape. Firinne felt far more than she wanted to. It washer burden — the burden of feeling.
Auralia took a deep breath. “Longago, when Citrine Castle was built, our ancestors created anunderground labyrinth to provide an escape if the castle was everseized by enemies. There are several entrances to the tunnelswithin the castle, but perhaps the cleverest of all is in the roomyou are sitting in. You have a way out of here. You must use itbefore the Desideriums come back to check on us.”
“But if I leave all of you, whoknows what’ll happen. Surely they will blame all of you for myescape. There will be nothing I can do to protect any ofyou.”
“Thereisnothing that you can do toprotect us. Our best chance is for you to find the nearest Kingdomand persuade them to aid us.”
“But what if I return and all ofyou are dead?”
“Firinne, if you return and we areall dead…then you must rebuild. You cannot dwell on things that areout of your control. You can’t live in the unknown, or you will gomad. You can do this. I raised you and prepared you for a lot ofthings...this is one of them. I have full faith in you. You aremine, and you are strong. One day, you will realizethat.”
This wasn’t the first time thatAuralia had spoken similar words to her daughter. Since the Mist ofBlacken had come to their world, Firinne had struggled againstconstant fear which would often leave her in bed, sick to herstomach. The fears would begin slow, and progress into irrationalscenarios that Firinne could barely control. Her mother was alwaysthere to pull her back to present. The recent events were, ofcourse, agitating every irrational fear she had ever conjured up inher mind because something that she would have thought was sounlikely to happen, did happen.
“Now, go over to the farthestcorner from you and clear away the dirt. You should be able to seea difference of the color in the bricks compared to the ones thatsurround them.” Auralia said.
Firinne moved slowly, afraid tomake a sound. She gently wiped away the dirt, and saw that thebricks were a blend of Quartz and Citrine.
“The bricks are enchanted. Theywill only open to the Luxithanya bloodline. Do you have a pin inyour hair?”
“Yes, why?” Firinneasked.
“Take it out and sharpen it on thestones. You will need to break through the skin on your finger. Thebricks require your bloodline. When you are done with that, youwill need to draw our insignia on the bricks with yourblood.”
Firinne scraped her hair pin on thestones, trying to shape it to a sharp enough point on the end. Shetested it with the tip of her finger, digging it deep into thethick skin. She winced at the pain. A pearl of blood formed at thetip of her finger and she began to draw.
This magic was ancient to theirworld. They had long ago abandoned it in the realization that theirsouls were fully capable of altering the elements. In the end, themagical ceremonies were reflected upon fondly as if it were a timeof children in the midst of self-discovery. In drawing out theinsignia, Firinne realized how amazing it was that this magic whichwas conjured centuries ago by her ancestors, still had such immensepower.
The insignia had been completed.With four crystals rising outward from each other, — giving theillusion which appeared as though one was peeking over the tops ofcrystals which were growing upwards. In addition to that, fourcrescent moons guarded the roots of the crystals, giving strengthto the foundation. The crescent moon was powerful, symbolizingdeath, darkness, light, and rebirth — cycles of the soul, andFia.
“What do I do now?” Firinneasked.
“Every living creature requiresair.”
Firinne lowered herself down to thefloor, and gently blew across the top of the insignia. It happenedslowly, but there began a faint glow which slowly turned into abright shimmer of pink, white, and green light. Then the stones onthe floor began dissipating. Once they were gone, there was a holein the floor about three feet wide. Firinne glanced back at hermother with both amazement and sadness.
“You have to go now. We arerunning out of time, I can sense that they will be back any moment.Once you have passed through the opening, the stones will reappear.Get to the council at Archen Castle. Go!”
Firinne hesitated for only a momentto study her mother once more. She was landlocked in thedesperation of her mother’s eyes — a hesitation that felt likecenturies. Forcing herself through the binds of child-likedevotion, she jumped down to the tunnel. Within a moment, thestones from above had reappeared.
It smelled of wet soil andminerals. The air was stale and moldy. Everything was silent otherthan her short breaths of panic. Firinne brought her fingers to apoint, flicked her wrist, and unveiled a treasure hovering justabove the palm of her hand.
Life Cycle - Death Cycle
The Sun wasfalling slowly to the West. The forest was burning shadows of ashesacross Firinne’s path. The golden hues of light were hallucinogenicin its partnership with her relentless trudging. It had been fouror five days since she had escaped. She was beginning to feeldisoriented. She thought that she should have arrived at ArchenCastle earlier that day, so she was wondering if she had beenturned in the wrong direction, although she could not recall hermisstep.
All of her food was gone, so shehad been surviving on roots, mushrooms, and the occasional fruitthat she found while walking. The people had long given up eatingFia’s creatures once they had become aware that by doing so, theyhindered their powers. It wasn’t just that, but they realized alsojust how awake the plants and animals really were. They could feeljust as much as humans could. They could think with just as muchcomplexity.
Nevertheless, if Firinne didn’tfind something to eat soon, she would be forced to hunt and revertback to older ways. That thought just added to the alreadyflourishing emotion that she had locked tightly behind her eyes.Her hand had been gripped tightly on the hilt of the sword she hadfound among the provisions left in the labyrinth, and there werenow ornate indentations in her hand. She could feel the tensionpulling at her spine.
She felt as if her legs wouldcrumble into dust any moment now, sure that Fia would reclaim herfallen daughter. There, Firinne would stay, nestled between thesoil and roots, cocooned in the coolness of a simpler life — afterlife.
At this moment, Firinne wasreluctantly pulled from her trance by what sounded like a twigsnapping not too far off in the distance. She dashed behind anunruly shrub, listening so intently that she almost forgot tobreathe. Her heart raced at the thought of Desideriums lurking inthe ashen shadows; just beyond the gold.
A little hum dropped down rightnext to her face, hovering there with it’s pygmy eyes fixedexcitedly at her. Firinne gave it a scolding look and shooed itaway.The silly thing is going to get mekilled,she said to herself. But the Humwas persistent, and Firinne found herself nose to beak. She wasoverwhelmed with feelings of tenderness, and security, and afeeling that told her that she should follow the little Hum. So,stepping lightly, she followed the high pitched tickling sound ofhis wings towards a meadow. Just before the clearing, Firinneducked down behind a large boulder. After a deep breath, she peekedaround the side, waiting for movement.
Firinne sat there, her earsengaged, waiting for something — a rustle, movement — anything.There was only stillness other than the Hum who had spotted someHoneysuckles that had climbed its way up the boulder, and he wasintent on the fresh nectar. After waiting a few more moments,Firinne slowly made her way to the edge of the boulder where it metthe meadow. Just then, as if it had been waiting for her to conquerher fears, a stag galloped out into the clearing, stopping directlyin front of Firinne — about ten feet away. Firinne was frozeninstantly by the shock of it. Most of the majestic beasts had beenslain by the Desideriums for their meat or their magicalproperties, so the few that remained hid away fearfully in thedepths of the forest. And there, before her, was the most majesticbeast she had ever seen.
His powerful muscles were coveredin a blanket of chestnut brown which gradually darkened to hismane, just under is regal neck. And on top of his head, there was achandelier of autumn colored antlers that were spread out like athrone. With fluidic grace, he knelt down and stretched the frontof his body low to the ground — his head now lowered in herservice. Firinne was lost in the depths of foreignness in his eyes,which seemed to enthrall her and terrify her. She couldn’t believewhat she was seeing. Dumbfounded, she just stood there, alone inthe meadow with the stag, not knowing what to do.
After a few minutes, the stag letout a short grunt and lowered his head even further to the ground.Slowly, Firinne made her way towards him. When she was justslightly out of arms reach, she put out her hand. The stag remainedstill until the last moment when he met (as if he were an oldfriend) the palm of her hand with his wet muzzle.
Firinne immediately felt reunited,as though she had known this creature her whole life. Gently, sheput her foot on his leg and climbed her way up to his spine. Sheran her hands down his mane, and she knew he was there to help her.The forest had guided her to him.
She took hold of his antlers, andslowly, with the immense power of the body beneath her, they madetheir way back to the path.
They had been walking for a while.It was almost nightfall now. They would need to camp at the nextclearing and head towards the castle in the morning. Gently, shepulled the stag over to an opening in the forest. There, she founda circular clearing that was surrounded by boulders. It was theperfect place to rest. Firinne left the stag in the clearing so shecould search for dry twigs.
Once the twigs were stacked, shebegan twisting the fingers of her right hand, dancing around thespace just above her palm. Slowly, a small flame grew and sheflicked it at the pile of twigs and watched as the flames begansuffocating the dry twigs in warmth. Each time Firinne had donethis since she had escaped, it took longer for her spectralin togrow, no matter how much she focused. She only hoped that therewould not be any trouble the next day — she would have nothing moreto rely on than her sword, and her stag. She thought about carvinga stick to use as a wand, but that magic was so old, she hadn’t theslightest idea how to ensure it would work properly.
That night, Firinne hardly slept.She was being tormented by the past; haunted with relentlesslyreplayed scenarios: Cyneric’s soft lips on her quivering skin, thesafety of his arms around her, running her hands through his thickhair. How could she miss someone who she didn’t actually know? Buteven now, as her world was crumbling all around her, he consumedher. Even now. Though he played the definitive role in her defeat,he had her love — still. How could she love someone who had almostdestroyed her? Firinne thought to herself that she must be stupid,and weak.Yes, that’s it; I’m a stupid,weak waste of life.
“Imphius, are you here? I need totalk to you.”
“Over here. What’s the matter,Fir?”
“It’s Cyneric. He’s run off again.I don’t know where he went.”
“Why do I keep letting him do thisto me? What purpose does it serve but to my own torment? He doeswhatever he pleases and doesn’t give a damn how it makes mefeel!”
“It’s as though he’s become acompletely different person than the one that I grew up with, andit’s all happened overnight.”
“Fir, some people change and somedon’t. Then there are some people who never really were, but whoare someone else entirely. You have to decide for yourself whichone they are.”
Firinne was silent for a moment.“And what then if I don’t want to face the truth…histruth?”
“Fir, my girl…you may not have achoice.”
A few hours later, Firinne woke upsweaty and out of breath. She had dreamed that Cyneric was cryingto her that he loved her and was forced to betray her. Then, he wassucked off the ground by some invisible force. She watched as hedisappeared in the sky; flying or falling farther and farthertowards the stars.
The stag had been galloping allmorning as if he knew the urgency their journey held.
“What’s your name, sweet beast?”Firinne said to him.
He slowed and perked his headup.
“Do you have a name? Or shall Ibestow one upon you?”
His ear twitched.
“Let’s see then. You are myrescuer, leading me to my redemption. You are a glorious creatureof the forest. You are Autumn. You are…” She saiddramatically.
They came to a field that led outto a huge, grassy hill. Firinne heard a low, inaudible rumbling ofmen. Dismounting the stag (who still did not have a name), shepleaded with him to stay where he was, as she hiked up to the sideof a hill. Crawling low to the ground, her field of view opened andshe saw Desideriums, accompanied by their Demogorchians. They weremanaging seven siphoning contraptions, and filling huge stonebarrels full of Fia’s blood. The whole operation was so loud andviolent. Firinne could hear them breaking open the insides of Fia,and with every CRACK, Firinne would flinch as if inpain.
The Desideriums were finishing themorning’s work and were topping off the barrels, while others werepacking up and organizing the Demogorchians. Some were beinghitched to the huge metallic wagons that were carrying Fia’s blood,while others were being mounted by Desideriums. The Demogorchianswere excited, which also made them even more dreadful.
Demogorchians were new to Fia,brought by the Mist of Blacken for labor, travel, and hunting. Theywere part organic, part mechanical. They fed off of Fia’s blood.When they were excited, they would release crippling screeches fromjaws that were barely held on by rotted veins, and leathery skin.Arching the protruding bones of their shoulder-blades inward, theywould screech over, and over again. It was a hypersonic scream thatcould either deafen someone or make someone collapse to theirknees. They were programmable demons, given an unnatural intuitionfor the hunt.
Firinne waited silently in acontrolled state of thoughtlessness (so not to be sensed) for theDesideriums and their repulsive beasts to leave. Finally, shewatched the last wagon disappear on the horizon below, and shecould move — and breathe.
The sun was behind them now,casting a shadow of Firinne and the stag on the soon-to-be-reachedspaced ahead of them. The shadows of the stag’s antlers looked likespikes pointing to some unforeseen enemy. Firinne then realizedthat they were resting just under Archen Castle, shining brightlyin the distance. Firinne drew an unmistakable deep breath. This wasthe end of a beginning — a new beginning to an end.
“You shall guide me through thisdarkness towards death, and rebirth, in all of your magnificence.You are the space in-between the beginning, and the end. You areMabon.”
The stag held his head high — hehad a name.
The Doll House On Oppression Hill
ArchenCastle was a huge fortress of Pine log poles. From a distance, itlooked as if a giant had been stacking sticks to build a home forits doll, but the sticks ended up looking more likespears.
At the center of the town, therewas a newly built Cryptoseum, built entirely out of marble, anddedicated solely to the Aldithenih faith. Quite purposefully, itwas erected so that visitors and townspeople had to enter theCryptoseum before they could visit Archen Castle itself, which layprotected in the middle of the kingdom.
As Firinne walked through the townwith Mabon, she began to realize that everyone was staring at them.The women, heads down, concealed themselves fully. They were drapedin a slightly transparent gray fabric, with white robes underneath.Every time Firinne made eye-contact with one of the women, theywould turn away as though they were ashamed; ashamed of being aliving thing that moved, and possibly also one who hadbreasts.
Firinne had heard stories of theAldithenih towns, but she had never visited one. She rememberedAuralia telling her about the restrictions placed on the women whowere Aldithenians. They could no longer speak freely, dress the waythat they wanted, or be — free. It was believed that women wereonly on Fia for procreation purposes. Once they had gone throughthe ceremony and dedicated themselves to their betrothed, giventhat man children, they were stuck in that life forever. Condemnedto a life with no other purpose but to mother their children, lookafter their husband, and their home. If they tried to escape, theywould be burned to ashes in the center of town.
Firinne realized that everyoneprobably considered her something like a wild beast — free toparticipate in life, in communion with demons. This reminded her ofsomething Imphius had once told her: The thing about demons is thatoften times, the demon is far more convincing of innocence than theinnocent, themselves.
There were no demons in nature andthe only things that could empower a demon was blind, unquestioningsubmission — that, and fear.
Mabon led her through the crowds ofspectrally, anesthetized prisoners, towards the cryptoseum. Onceinside, it became hard for Firinne not to take an interest in theextensive sculptures that were found at every angle of the domedarchitecture. There were vivid scenes of demonic beasts snatchingup naked women while their husbands were kneeling below, pleadingin agony for her forgiveness. On another side, there was a lengthysculpture of men walking, heads bowed in silence, before a facelessGod sitting on a throne. This, Firinne knew, was a representationof the highest level of faith —believing in a God with no face, orhistory.
The followers of Aldithenih claimedthat it was an ancient religion, and that their faceless God hadhalted the dark forces long enough to bring the truth back to thepeople of Fia. No one knew how it had happened, but there was now abook that was circulating through all the lands, telling the storyof Aldithen - the savior. In the book, it was discussed that therewas an invisible darkness trying to destroy their world and that inorder to prevail, the people of Fia must live the way that Alditheninstructs — unquestioningly. It explains that mere mortals couldnot begin to understand the reasons for the instructions given,and, therefore, there should be no question of loyalty. Accordingto the Aldithenih faith: drinking the blood of Fia should be anightly ceremony, the Desideriums were needed for the great work,The Mist of Blacken is Aldithen’s spy, mortals should refrain fromspectralin practice, humans are superior to animals — on and on itwent.
Aldithenih was only beginning to beestablished years before the Mist of Blacken came but because itwas prophesied in the Book of Relics, everyone took it as a signthat the Golden War had begun. This is the moment when the extremeseparation between fractions of Fians occurred, and it was whyFirinne was being closely observed, and probably judged, by thetownspeople.
She could feel the energytightening around her, but she could not tell if it was beingemitted from the people or the cryptoseum. Whichever the case, thesooner she got through to the castle grounds, thebetter.
Once out of the cryptoseum, shecame to the inner gates that were guarding the castlewithin.
“Please explain your business atArchen Castle.” Said the guard.
“I seek an audience with the Orderof Epochs.”
“Please take a seat in the hallwayto your left. Someone will meet with you shortly.”
Reluctantly, Firinne walked withMabon towards the outdoor hallway. It was quite desolate, but shethought it might be better to not clog the hallway with her quitehuge stag. She shifted impatiently from one foot to the next as theminutes passed by one another. Time felt slower here, what with itssterile attitude towards nature and humanity. It was as if she hadstepped into some untouched, untainted sanctuary — everythingperfectly in its place, and everything completelyunnatural.
Finally, she heard the huge metallocks of the gate grind against each other. A small, frail-lookingman in his mid-thirties approached her. The look on his faceindicated to her that he was surprised to find her uncovered; herwomanly silhouette testing his primal desires. It was clear that hehad long been used to the usual Archen attire.
“Welcome to Archen Castle. Pleasestate the intention of your visit.” As he said this, Firinnenoticed that he was having a hard time looking at her as if hiseyes were trying to escape a visual that would cause internalbloodshed within their owner.
“I seek an audience with the Orderof Epochs.”
“What would be the subject of youraudience?” His voice was very lifeless — rehearsed.
“My Queendom has been infiltrated.I seek immediate assistance.”
“I see. Firstly, you will need tomake an appeal to King Gryndon. If the king approves your request,he will schedule audience with the Order for you.”
Firinne hadn’t planned on this. Infact, she hadn’t planned on any of this. This was all very newterritory for her. If the King was anything like the town he ruledover, there may be no point to this visit. On the other hand, ifFirinne explained to him what happened, he might comprehend theseriousness of it, and grant her permission.
“I understand, please take me tothe king right away.”
“As you wish.” He then signaled tothe guards to open the gate, “this way.”
The inside of the castle was stale.Firinne was left standing in a line of villagers (all waiting fortheir turn with the king) for what seemed like nearly two hours.She was exhausted from traveling all week and her feet werescreaming at her. She hoped that Mabon was okay by himself in thewaiting area where she had left him. He wasn’t used to the crowdsof people.
Finally, the last villager returnedfrom unknown appeals to the king. A guard then indicated to Firinnethat it was now her turn. Inside the throne room, the King andQueen were seated next to each other in their matching thrones madeof pine and iron. The Queen was barely visible behind the drapes ofcloth that were suffocating her body. Firinne reflected, that theQueen’s wrought-iron crown, regardless of how ornately designed itwas, resembled the shackles of a prisoner; perhaps she was. Wasthat crown the cause for both her ignorance and heroppression?
The king spoke. “What is the reasonfor your appeal?” He was a grumpy, rugged sort of man. His toneleft Firinne feeling even less optimistic.
“King Gryndon, I have come from adistant Queendom to seek your assistance. Citrine Castle has beentaken by the enemy. The nobles are being held prisoners in thedungeons. I fear for the safety of my people, and respectfullyrequest your aid, as well as an audience with the Order ofEpochs.”
“I am well aware of the currentsituation at Citrine Castle.” He said as he rubbed his hands overthe stubble on his face.
There was a silence that rang outharshly after his words. Firinne wasn’t sure if she should speak.Her mind was racing. How was it that the king knew already of thesituation?
“With respect, your majesty, haveyou already sent help to them?” Firinne said,cautiously.
“Of course not! It is none of myconcern what the misfortune of another Kingdom is. I have my ownKingdom to worry about. You should worry aboutyourself.”
Firinne was dumbfounded. “Firstly,your highness, that place you are speaking of is a Queendom, not aKingdom. Secondly, if you want to spit your regal lineage in myface, you ought to first know who it is you are speaking to. I amFirinne Celeste Luxithanya, Second Queen of Citrine Castle, andExtant Crystal Keeper.”
She could see the shock on his facebefore his words, which she guessed would not be ofharmony.
“My apologies Queen, my advisorsdid not notify me of your arrival.”
“Most likely because they did notbother to ask.” She spat back.
“Yes…I will speak withthem.”
“I am deeply sorry for the currentstate of your Queendom, but as I have said, I am fully aware of thesituation. There is nothing I can do.”
“Can, or will do?”
“Queen Firinne, all of thesurrounding castles were informed of the situation prior to thesiege—
“What? All of you knew and not oneof you came to warn us, or help us?”
“I cannot speak for the others,but I was informed from a particular source that I cannot discloseto you, that the siege of Citrine Castle is the will of Aldithen.That, my queen, is something we cannot interfere with.”
By now, Firinne was most certainlyshedding all of the composure that she had arrived with. “And didanyone bother to explain why the faceless God required my Queendom,or why he could not simply have…asked?”
“Mere mortals do not question thewill of Aldithen. He is our God and we have nothing but faith inhim.”
“Once again…the darkness, no oneknows why Aldithen does what he does but everyone must accept it,for he knows more than our feeble little minds could fathom. Well,he is not my God, and I will reclaim my Queendom…with or withoutyour help. When can I speak with the Order?”
Gryndon was looking sideways as theconversation now, clearly uncomfortable. “I…I will speak with myadvisors. I will tell them to speak to the Order of Epochs on yourbehalf, to set up a convenient time for you to have an audiencewith them. In the meantime, I will make a room ready for you.Please join us for dinner this evening. It would be ourhonor.”
“Well, your advisors know my namenow, hopefully, they will remember it.” Firinne bowed, turned andwalked away without another word to the King and his silent Queenof persecution.
The scentsof the oils were almost tranquilizing once they made acquaintancewith her cerebellum. The water was warm, comfortably drowning heraching body. This moment was peaceful, or it would have been had itnot been for the elaborately angry conversations she was havingbetween her, and herself.
There was no ignoring thealtercation between her, and the King. Every time she thought aboutit, she relived it over again. Only, the relived conversation wouldconsist of new dialogue by which Firinne would say all of thethings that she should have said. Things like: wake of yourignorance, and I hope you burn. Perhaps what infuriated her themost was how he ended their conversation. It was just like anAldithenian to downplay the situation, belittle the opponent, andthen offer kindness following cruelness to justify their stance.His stance had absolutely no foundation, it was maddening. Then, toadd that she had to (generally speaking) keep her mouth shut, inorder for there to be any chance of returning to Citrine Castlewith reinforcements. It was no wonder she found herself unable torelax. Now, in order for her to eat, she would have to attenddinner which would no doubt include all of the traditionalpre-feast Aldithenih dogma. She wasn’t sure, at all, if she couldhandle it, but she supposed that she would (as usual) have nochoice.
Just as she was in the middle of anintense, and moderately violent altercation with the King, therewas a knock at the door. One of the castle’s servants cautiouslypopped her head through the crack of the door. Her hand was infront of her face as if she was afraid her eyeballs might bescorched by Firinne’s naked body. She said something in the mostdocile voice, that only, maybe, the mice could hear.
Firinne threw her head back inexacerbation. “For goodness…will you speak up! I can’t hear a damnthing you’re saying. There is no Aldithenih rule forbidding womento speak at a normal speaking volume.”
The servant gasped. “So…so, sorrymy Queen. I was sent to inform you that Grand Master Bricius willbe attending evening’s feast and he hopes to see you.” She shut thedoor before Firinne could say anything else, probably from fearthat Firinne would unleash herwitchypowers upon her.
So he’s here, she thought toherself. Uncle Bricius wasn’t an easy man to convince, especiallywhen it came to defiance of the faith. But surely, he would insiston the safety of his sister, at the very least?
She felt claustrophobic. She feltfilthy even despite her bath. She hated this castle and nearlyeveryone in it. She refused to pity any of them, even if the womenacted like victims — little mice, hiding away in the shadows.Afraid to speak, afraid to breathe. Rise up little mice, rise up tothe lions that tame you. If only they would unite with one anotherand find their strength. Oh, the strength a thousand little micecould have. But they weren’t just mice, they were sleeping mice.Oblivious to their oppression, they sought refuge within it. Theyclung to their lions and obeyed. Oh, how they obeyed. It was agrand circus of illusion, laughing off the questions in theirheads, ignoring the pain with their religious dogma.
If only they could feel the wind,breathe the sweetness. If only they could see the beauty of theforests. To hear the cries of Fia, the true victim. All in time,all in time — Firinne had to believe that.
Down in the kitchen, the women werebusy preparing for the feast. The king’s advisor had delivered alist of all of the dishes that the king expected to be served atthe feast. The women were in sheer panic at all of the work theyneeded to do in such a short time.
The King’s 9th master, DorrinClavorn came in. “I want silence in here, do you hear me? Everydish on that list had better be made, all of ‘em satisfactory tothe king, or I’ll have your hide. Fasting ‘aint over either, noneyou better touch a crumb’o this food.”
“Beg your pardon Master Clavorn,but I thought that fasting was to be over last night?” Said one ofthe covered servants.
“Did I say I was takin’ questions?I have decided to extend the fasting for another three days ifthat’s a’right with you? Keep to your cookin’.” He proceeded tokick a bucket of potatoes, which went flying into the air, hittingone of the women in the small of her back. He watched in relish, asher knees buckled beneath her.
After Master Clavorn had left,promptly slamming the door, the women began to turn their heads toone another.
“How does he expect us to worklike this when we’re so weak we can barely stand?”
Another woman said, “I understandwe must fast for Aldithen so that we may be pure for him, but whyhas the master extended the fasting period?”
“Yeah, what purpose does itserve?” another said.
Old Narcilla now spoke. “Hushgirls! You do not question the King’s masters. You do not questionthe faith. Aldithen knows all, sees all. It is not for us to judgeor to question.”
One of the girls fainted, hittingher head on the stone floor. Unconscious.
Dinner was going just as she hadimagined that it would. She felt like a foreigner, not of anotherland but of another world.
They began the feast with anobscure ceremony, the purpose of which, was to give thanks toAldithen for the food that would soon be served. Firinne felt thatthis was ludicrous. Aldithen had nothing to do with the food.Gratitude should be given to Fia, not some imaginary God. After theceremony, the extravagant dishes were brought out by the hands ofthe servant women who had cooked them, rather than floating to thetables, something that would have been far less unusual toFirinne.
She could not see the faces of theservants, but she did notice that they were very shaky as theypoured Fia’s blood into the iron goblets. Firinne was disgusted butmustered herself to politely request juice. It appeared thateveryone found her simple request offensive, for immediately after,they broke into whispered fits among themselves.
There were about twenty peoplesitting at this table. Firinne only knew a few of them; the Kingand Queen, one of the King’s advisors, and her Uncle, Bricius.Bricius had only given her a small nod when she had approached thefeast. He looked tattered. His face was sunken in and there werepuffy, dark circles which rested comfortably beneath his irritatedeyes. He looked much different from the last time that she had seenhim, about five years ago.
After being discretely gawked atthrough the main course, someone finally spoke to Firinne. It was awoman, probably slightly younger than her own mother. She was veryregal. Her hair was pulled tightly in a bun, but her face was nothidden like most of the women on the grounds of Archen Castle. Shewas wearing a gown of fine, plum colored silk, with bits of silverembroidered around her neckline.
“It appears that everyone hasfailed to introduce this table to our guest. What is your name deargirl?”
“I am Firinne Luxithanya, SecondQueen of Citrine Castle.”
There were unmistakable murmursamongst all of the distinguished dinner guests. Firinne thought sheeven heard someone gasp — from shock or disgust, she did notknow.
“I have visited your Queendom,though it was a very long time ago, I must say that it is verybeautiful. What brings you so far from home?”
Firinne didn’t feel like this wasthe sort of crowd she should be giving the privilege of details to.“Forgive me, may I ask your name? I don’t believe we have metbefore.”
“Yes, I tried to persuade Briciusto introduce me to the Queens the last time we were at CitrineCastle but he…it has been a struggle.”
At this, Bricius shot the woman asideways glance. Was that panic, or irritation?
The woman could tell that Firinnewas confused, and she didn’t pay any notice to Bricius. “Yes, thismust be very confusing for you. Bricius and I had our ceremonyabout six years ago. My name is Etheldra. It is a pleasure tofinally meet my niece! Bricius never mentioned how beautiful youare.” She patted Bricius’s arm lightheartedly.
Firinne looked at her Aunt, thestranger, and back to Bricius. “Uncle, would you—
Bricius had anticipated her and cuther off swiftly by asking some angry, dirty looking man about oneof the dishes that had been served.
Dorrin Clavorn answered. “Oh, that?That’s an Archen dish. It’s got rabbit hearts, apples an’ someother things I can’t remember. The girls in there cook pretty good,so long as yeh stay on ‘em.”
Firinne was now pacing the halls,waiting to spot her Uncle. She was determined to corner him anddemand an explanation for his secretive union. Her Uncle had neverbeen very open about his personal life but she had never expectedthat he would hide something that relevant to his life, from hisniece, and his sister. He clearly didn’t want them to know of hisunion to Etheldra. Firinne wanted to know why.
She paced back and forth on thesmooth marble surface. Every time a door opened, she looked upeagerly, hoping to see her uncle. So far, it had only beenstraggling numbers of attendants who would look back at her in puresuspicion. She didn’t care what they thought of her. She was nothere to receive their acceptance.
Another door opened. It was herUncle this time. He approached her wearing a smile of indifference.“It is good to see you, Firinne. How are you? How was thejourney?”
“Listen Uncle. I don’t have thetime or the temper to indulge in formalities. How is it that you’vebeen in union for near a decade and I am just now finding out aboutit?”
His face tightened. “I’m sorry if Ihave made you feel in-the-dark. It was not myintention.”
Firinne stood there, staring at herUncle. She was waiting for him to finish his thought. After a fewunbearable seconds of silence, she realized he wasn’t going toelaborate. “Right. Hopefully, I won’t feel the need to remind youthat we are family, after what I am about to discuss with you. Yoursister is in danger.” Her words hung in the air. She was expectinghis face to change. She was counting on the panic in his voice, butit never came.
“I know. The King made me aware ofit shortly after you arrived. There is nothing I can do forher—
“What do you mean there is nothingyou can do for her?”
“We cannot interfere with theplans of Aldithen.”
“This is not the work of yourbeloved God! Triphosa and Cyneric have betrayed my Queendom. Theyare working with the Mist of Blacken.”
“Whatever you may think about thissituation, you have been mistaken. It is time you let go of yourold beliefs and put your faith where it belongs.”
“Don’t you dare tell me where Ishould put my faith!” She could feel the color on her cheeks. “Doyou not understand what I, your niece, is telling you? They haveAuralia in the dungeons!”
“It is all a part in the planFirinne. I will not discuss this with you any further.”
Firinne stood there, glaring atBricius. She could hardly believe his stupidity. “Then I will takeit up with the Order.”
“The king has denied your requestfor an audience with the Order.”
“You’ve got to be…this is…I cannotbelieve you! Your sister is sitting in the dungeons, guarded byDesideriums. They killed Imphius and you’ll have nothing to do withit? That was once your home as well. Our relationship has beenfragile ever since your allegiance to the Aldithenih faith butyou’ve gone too far! I came here for help. I can see that there isno reason for me to stay.”
“Don’t leave. Stay here where youare safe.”
“This isn’t safety Bricius…it’s aprison of ignorance and submission. You’re just too damn naive tosee it.”
She walked away knowing that heruncle wouldn’t chase after her. It occurred to her that she hadn’teven put her whole heart into that discussion. She had known fromthe beginning, somewhere deep inside, that it was a waste ofenergy. She had to find another way — she hadn’t the slightest ideahow.
Afterinnumerable attempts to sleep, Firinne decided that her restfuldesires were utterly pointless. She was too troubled to sleep. Hermind was racing back and forth, looming together angry thoughts,which left no room for ideas to thread themselves together. Maybeit was out of spite, or perhaps just child-like curiosity, whateverit was, she decided that while she was forced to be awake, sheshould ensure that the time was well used. She was going to explorethe castle. She took the large crystal from her traveling sackwhich instantly became warm as it lit up between the palms of herhands.
She hadn’t the faintest idea whereshe was going, or what she hoped to discover. The marble was coldon her feet. The only sounds in the seemingly endless hallways werethe sticky sounding,patpat, of her footsteps. Sealed doors passedby her. There were so many of them. What secrets had they hiddenaway? As Firinne passed door after door, she began to feel silly.What was the meaning of this defiant-driven exploration, if she wastoo scared to open any of the doors?
She was just thinking that maybeshe should turn back, admit defeat, and get back to thought loomingwhen she turned down a stumpy corridor. At the end were twomahogany, twin doors. They were completely different from any otherdoor she had seen at the castle — out of place amongst acharacterless environment.
She inched her way towards them, asif they were living creatures who might wake with a scream,announcing to the Archen guards that Firinne had been a naughtygirl, out exploring in the middle of the night; a guest noless!
Her fingers slid gently down thecoarse surface, each hand on a door until they met twin, glassknobs. I must be out of my mind, she whispered. Slowly, she crackedthe door. She couldn’t tell how big the room was. There was only asliver of moonlight flowing in the vast, black air before her.Deciding that if the room was occupied, the occupants were surelyasleep, she flung a small, milky ball of spectralin light from thepalm of her hand, to the ceiling above. It stopped in mid-air,about twenty feet above Firinne, and made slow, tiny orbits in theempty space surrounding it. It was after about five orbits, thatshe realized there were shelves stacked from floor to ceiling withbooks.
As Firinne entered the room, itcame alive. From where she stood, to the wall opposite of her,candles — hundreds of them, sparked tiny flames as if they werewelcoming her presence. She had never seen so many books in herlife. Imphius had worked hard to build the Citrine Library back toits former majesty (after Desideriums had been ordered to destroyit) but even before the destruction, their collection of booksseemed mediocre compared to the countless, bound parchments thatwere stacked smartly on the shelves before her.
Then she noticed that there was alonely desk in the heart of the room. As Firinne came nearer, shecould see that the desk looked elderly. The wood was so exhausted,it was almost black which made the gold trimmings seem un-aged. Asshe pulled the chair out to seat herself, all of the shelves in theroom began echoing thumping noises, as though the books wereapplauding her courage — begging to make her acquaintance, andshare their secrets. She sat down like a child on the first day ofacademy, and as she did so, there was silence.
There was a small plaque on thedesk. The words that were engraved into it were covered in a thicklayer of dust. As she wiped the dust away, she read thewords:
We are all born blind,
Seek and you shallfind.
For hidden deep inside;
things — endlesslyunknown.
Let it brew — fear, fault,question.
Ask us once, we shall neverlie.
Ask us before dawnshould
Break the sky.
Die not without ever havingknown,
What whispers of ink,
Need comfort your soul.
A riddle? Just then, there was aflapping sound of parchment above her. A blue book was flutteringtowards her. Softly, it landed on the desk and became quite still.Firinne flipped through the pages. The book appeared to beinstructions on the cleverest way to solve simple and complexriddles.
These books were capable of readingher mind. Then, the little blue book apparently realized that itwas no longer needed because it took flight again, in a veryflustered way, and found its shelf again.
Firinne was feeling suddenly awake.Her life was littered with conflict, and she had just discovered avery simple way to solve some of her most pressing issues. The nextbook that landed on the desk was a book all about lock-picking.Maybe this wasn’t as simple as she had thought it wouldbe.
She put her hands on her head.“Citrine Castle has been overtaken by evil. I need to figure out away to take back my Queendom and rescue my mother.” Nothing moved,other than what appeared to be the book on the table throwing atantrum (if books could throw fits) which ended by nearly smackingFirinne in the face as it flew back to its shelf. “Well, this isn’tgoing well” she muttered to herself. “Maybe that was too broad of aquestion? Focus. Think simple.” She stared for a while through thewindow towards the moon. She didn’t need to say anything out loudbut she did anyway. “The life of Fia and the lives of all hercreatures are in trouble…we need to save Fia.” After all, that wasthe root of it. It wasn’t just Citrine Castle, her mother, or thecorruption at Archen Castle. There were surely problems thatFirinne wasn’t even aware of.
At first, there was nothing butsilence following the echo of her own voice. She put her head down,thinking to herself that it was useless when she heard the frictionof pages. On the highest shelf to the right of her, there was agroup of books circling around each other, appearing to consult oneanother. Another book flew down and joined. After about fiveminutes of this, books had come and then gone, there were threebooks that floated towards the lonely desk and its troubledstudent. They landed softly on the desk and stacked themselvesneatly on top of each other. They were bound in leather whichindicated their age, as people of Fia had stopped using animals forsuch things long ago.
Gently, she grasped the book on thetop. It was beautiful. There were swirls of gold engravings on thecrimson front cover. As she opened the book, a smell of antiquityblessed her senses. She traced her fingers down the soft pages andread:
Prophesy of The ClandestineGuardians
Below, there was a cluster ofcrystals sketched out in ink. Firinne began flipping to the nextpage and for a moment, the page was littered with fine, ink lettersbut before she could read any of it, they slowly started to fadeaway. After this, the rest of the book was blank. Hastily, shegrabbed the next book. This book was dark blue with silverengravings. The first-page read,CurrantusElectrolifi. Below was another ink sketchdepicting lightning trapped in orbs. As with the first book, all ofthe pages were blank. The third book was white with blackengravings.SonicusLeviti, apparently another prophesy givenby The Clandestine Guardians, depicts objects in a forest, floatingin mid-air. Firinne didn’t understand. Why had all of the pagesdisappeared? What use were they if they were blank?
Exhaustion had begun to set in. Shehad had enough. She stood up with her traveling bag (which sheresolved to carry with her at all times now) hanging by her side.She grabbed her crystal and turned to leave. There was a loud crashas the books on the table spread themselves out and simultaneouslybanged themselves down on the desk.
Once the books knew (if books couldknow) that they had gotten her attention, they lifted themselvesfrom the desk and formed a line at the same level as her bag hungat her side. One by one, the books nestled themselves into her bag.Surely she would be in unknowable trouble for taking books,especially ones as ancient as these, from this room. Yet, shecouldn’t help but now feel a certain kinship with these books. Itwas as if they wanted to befriend her. She didn’t know what usethey would be, but surely there was a reason for their insistence.She gave a final look to the cathedral of books in thanks andheaded to the twin doors for the journey back to herchambers.
As she opened the door, she almostfell backward from shock. There was a little, old woman standing infront of the door.
“I’m so sorry to startle you dear.I couldn’t sleep and thought I would do a bit of reading” the oldwoman said.
“No, really it was my fault. Ishould have been more careful.” This was silly of course becausehow could she have known that someone was trying to enter the roomjust as she was leaving, especially at this hour.
“It’s nothing, dear. It’s such afantastic room isn’t it?” said the old woman.
“Oh…yes, I’ve never seen anythinglike it.”
“Well, you wouldn’t have wouldyou? It’s the only one of its kind.”
“Amazing! Well, I better be goingnow…it’s late. Sorry again… about that.” Firinne turned toleave.
“You know…I would much rather havesomeone to talk to in these late hours. How about if you join me inmy chambers for some tea? I've got an old family blend you mightappreciate.”
“Oh…well, yes, tea does soundnice,” Firinne said.
Firinne walked with the woman downthe sleepy corridors. She noticed that the old woman hobbled whenshe walked. Most old women hobbled a bit, she supposed, but therewas something unnatural to it, and she couldn’t quite place what itwas. Her hair was pure silver, it curled down the hunch of herback. Her face was stocky, wrinkled, and sweet. Once they hadpassed Firinne’s chambers, she looked back a little reluctant tocontinue.
“Oh, it’s not much farther now. Wejust have to go down this bit of staircase up here.”
The staircase was narrow. Firinnewondered why anyone would put such a feeble old woman in adownstairs chamber. There were plush seats in the center of theroom, surrounding a fire. The woman instructed Firinne to sit andmake herself comfortable. Firinne felt awkward but did not want tobe rude, and so she obeyed. The woman began pouring a mixture ofherbs into a cloth sack. After that, she filled a copper kettlewith water, and the herbs and hung it from a hook over thefire.
“So, tell me your name deargirl.”
“Wonderful to stumble upon you inthe darkness” she smirked. “I’m Ednas”.
Firinne smiled back.
“So what brings you toArchen?”
“Business with my Uncle…” Shedodged.
Ednas looked almost offended thatFirinne had not elaborated. Firinne was beginning to feel likeeveryone at Archen put their nose where it didn’tbelong.
Perfect timing. The kettle startedscreaming over the flames, begging for rescue. Ednas took two ironcups from the shelf and filled them.
“Would you like any blood?” askedEdnas.
Often, they (Blood of Fia drinkers)replaced honey, stevia, syrup, and sugar with Fia’s blood becauseof it’s thick, molasses-like consistency and taste. “Oh no…thankyou.” She said this as politely as she could, although she wasimmediately disgusted.
“Very well. I don’t have anythingelse sweet, though. Will this be okay?”
“Yes, of course, thankyou.”
“It’s an old family recipe — beenwith us for generations.”
“What’s in it?”
“Oh, I could never tell. I havebeen sworn to secrecy.” She smiled again as she lifted the cup toher nose and breathed deeply.
Firinne did the same. Chamomile,Peppermint, Sage, Ginger, Lemongrass…there was something else. Whatwas it? Clove? No, that wasn’t right. It was so familiar, butFirinne couldn’t place it. Firinne moved the cup to her lips, aboutto take a drink when it finally hit her. It wreaked of Lupine. Shepanicked inside, but this had obviously been purposeful. Shecouldn’t let Ednas know. She faked just one sip and lowered the cupback down to her lap. Lupine was a beautiful purple flower. It grewwild in the fields and as lovely as it looked, it was deathlypoisonous.
Firinne looked at Ednas withdelight. “Oh, that is lovely. It’s very smooth when it goesdown.”
“Isn’t it though. Really comfortsthe right spots on late nights.”
“Indeed…listen, thank you so muchfor your company and the tea. I really must be going now. I’m verytired.”
“Oh dear, just stay long enough todrink your tea. Indulge an old woman, would you?”
“No, I’m sorry…I can’t. I have avery filled day tomorrow and I’ve just remembered something I haveto do before I go to bed.” Firinne stood and put her cup back onthe shelf next to the fire. “Thanks again” she muttered quickly asshe turned to leave the room.
In a moment, Ednas had crossed thedistance between them and was now inches from her face. Firinnestepped back and pulled her hands to her face. Ednas’ eyes werecompletely blacked out. She was standing up straight and movingtowards Firinne with every step back she took.
“I didn’t mean to upset you…Ijust…I really need to go to bed.”
Ednas said nothing.
“Please…I don’t wantto…”
Ednas was cornering her. She didn’tknow what to do. Without thinking of the ramifications, she flickedher wrist and revealed to Ednas a little ball of spectralin. As shedid, Ednas began to cower like a child, yet still determined tokeep a black eye on Firinne. Firinne slowly made her way around theroom and back towards the door. She never put her back on Ednas.She continued to hold out the ball of spectralin as a warning ofwhat she was capable of.
Ednas appeared to be havingconvulsions. With every move near Firinne, her body twitched intomorbid angles — distorted — slow motion. Then, Ednas’ mouth flewopen and black mist flew out of her mouth. It stretched itselfacross the room like vines. There was a deafening guttural screamlike there was liquid in her throat. Firinne ran towards thestairs. One step after the other, in the tiny corridor. Behind her,Ednas was after her, in convulsing movements of speed and slowmotion. Firinne could hear her nails, like claws, scrape the marblebehind her.
A Means To An Escape
Her feetwere smacking hard against the floor but her torso was taking thelead. She had to get to her room. For some reason, that was theonly place she felt she would be safe. She could hear Ednas’breathing following close behind her, raspy and hollow. The harderFirinne ran, the longer the corridor seemed to be. It stretched outfarther ahead of her. She could barely see her chamberdoor.
Then, she was there. She slammedthe door behind her. Her back resting against the opposite side ofthe door. She double-checked to make sure she had locked it, shehad. Seconds passed. She was waiting for the door to crash in, orscraping at the door — something — nothing.
Minutes passed over her gasps whichlasted seconds.
Knock, knock, knock. Slowly,Firinne turned to face the door. She turned the latch off of theeagduru, hesitated for a moment, as she opened the little miniaturedoor. She let her eyes adjust through the iron grate. Ednas wasstanding in front of Firinne’s door.
“Hello dear. You’ve just droppedyour hair pin in the corridor, just there.” She looked behind herin indication. As she turned, Firinne noticed black mist rise fromthe base of the old woman’s skull. Her face was twitching, andEdnas didn’t seem to notice. “Are you okay dear, you look likeyou’re in a state of shock?”
“Oh! Yes…I’m fine. Yes, thank you.If you could just push it under the door. I haven’t got any clotheson at the moment.” To herself, she prayed that this wouldn’t raisesuspicion.
“Alright, my dear, have a lovelynight. Do get some sleep won’t you. I hope you enjoyed my tea. I’msure I will see you again.”
“Yes, thank you. It was lovely.Good night then…” Firinne watched as Ednas walked back down thecorridor. She pried herself from the door only after she hadconfirmed that the corridor was empty — several times.
She could hardly grasp what hadjust taken place. Yet, she didn’t know why she should be sosurprised. Scared, yes. Surprised, no. This Mist of Blacken, afterall, was successful in taking captive the Desideriums, so why notEdnas? It was as if Ednas hadn’t even had the slightest indicationof what had just happened. That couldn’t have been an act. No, shewas definitely taken, momentarily, by the Mist. She had to havebeen. So if Ednas could be taken, why not anyone? Why not Firinne?Why not…Cyneric! Was it possible? She was pacing now. Maybe she wasjust latching onto any excuse not to believe that Cyneric was themonster she hoped he wasn’t? She was dizzy.
Firinne woke up early. She hadhardly slept the night before. Every hour, it seemed, she wouldwake up from dreams of running down the corridor. At the end, everydoor would open into something different. The first door was aforest that was on shaking. The second door was complete openedinto a field with bolts of lightning raining down on Fia, and soon. Eventually, she gave up trying to sleep once she saw that thesky was lightening. She decided that she would go visitMabon.
Mabon was down by the stables. Atfirst glance, Firinne still couldn’t believe that he had chosenher. She felt inferior next to him, and honored. He was standing alittle ways off from the stables; disassociating himself from thehorses.
“Mabon, how’re you?” she slid herhand down his chin, to his chest. He bowed his head briefly; inthanks. “I don’t like it here either. We’ll leave soon. I promise.How about a brushing?”
His hair was coarse and matted.After a good hour of brushing, she stepped back. He was reborn. Hiswhole body gleamed in the sunlight. There were hints of gold thatFirinne hadn’t noticed before. She kissed him on the bridge of hismuzzle.
A hand rested gently on hershoulder. She turned to find Etheldra standing behindher.
“Would you like to go on a walkwith me?” Etheldra said.
“Is there a place to walk, aroundhere?”
Etheldra chuckled and said, “I knowwhat you mean. Surprisingly, they do have a garden. It’s not nearlyas impressive as Citrine’s though.” She winked and locked arms withFirinne.
Together, they walked through theouter corridor. Once at the end, it opened up into a wooded area.At odd distances, scattered from each other, were carved out areasof soil with flowers of various kinds. Firinne thought that it wasjust like this new kind of humanity, to destroy the natural beautyof Fia with generic, man-made beauty. Why couldn’t they just leaveher alone? Why did they have to try to fix something that wasn’tever broken? By doing so, they break her.
“Your stag is beautiful. I’venever seen one so close before.” Said Etheldra.
“He’s not mine. He chose me. Ifanything, I suppose I am his.”
“That’s remarkable! When did hechoose you?”
“On my way here…”
“How did it happen?”
Firinne stopped and looked Etheldrain the eyes. “Why does it matter? Aren’t such beasts below you?Below Aldithenih?”
“Well, you’re right about that.I’m not like them, though.” She gestured behind her.
“No offense, but you are in unionwith my Uncle. How could you not be?”
“Things aren’t always as theyappear, Firinne. Despite what Bricius might have told you, I didn’tchoose this. I didn’t have a choice. So now, I just play mypart.”
“What do you mean?”
“I mean that I am not one of them.I just play the ‘good, little Aldithenian’. I stay faithful to yourUncle and in return…well, I’m safe.”
“That seems like a prettymiserable existence.” Firinne was in no mood tosympathize.
“It is. In fact, I’m growing tiredof it. When I met Bricius…well, I was in a really bad place. Theonly way out was him. So I made a desperate decision. I try on adaily basis to convince myself that I made the right choice. Ofcourse, if I hadn’t…well, I’d probably be dead.”
“Did your Uncle tell you where wemet?”
“No, he doesn’t tell me anything.Isn’t that apparent?”
“Right. He was sent to CastleBlacken on Aldithenih commands….”
Firinne just stared at her. “No…youwere at Castle Blacken?”
Etheldra nodded. “Like I said,fight or flight.”
“I don’t understand how theyjustify the atrocities that happen at that place. I mean, everyonehears the stories…of what the Desideriums are permitted todo.”
“Like I said…I’m not likethem.”
Firinne was fuming as the piecesadded up in her head. “And so what, my Uncle made a deal with thelords because he fancied you?”
“Typical…I’m sorry you wentthrough that.”
Etheldra shrugged. “Don’t be. Idon’t blame you and contrary to my moaning about life, I am betteroff here than I was there.”
“But Bricius is my blood, it’spersonal. I almost feel responsible.” Firinne wasashamed.
“Sometimes, blood isn’t as thickas we think.”
“So, I’ve opened up a bit aboutmyself. Now, will you please tell me how Mabon chose you?” shesmiled enthusiastically; almost like a child.
“Well, it was actually a Hum thatled me to him. I was just walking, trying to find Archen Castle.This little Hum was persistent. So eventually, I gave up andfollowed his commands. He led me to an open meadow, and there wasMabon. I was so shocked at first. I didn’t know what todo.”
“That’s amazing! So it was as ifthe Hum and Mabon were talking to one another?”
“Yeah, something likethat.”
“So how did you know that youcould approach Mabon? I’m sorry. I’ve never spent time in theforest. Never had the chance. It intrigues me. I hope you don’tmind all of my questions.”
“No, it’s fine. It was actuallyreally amazing, even to me. He bowed himself to me and then grunteda bit at me when I took too long to come to him.” Firinnesmiled.
“Incredible! I’ve never heard ofanything like that before. You’re…blessed.”
“So, what are you plans now? Imust confess that Bricius told me why you came here. I’m so sorryabout your Queendom…and your family.”
Firinne nodded. “I honestly don’tknow. I thought about barging into the Order and demanding thatthey listen to me…but they are all so corrupt now. I kind of feellike I am on my own in this.”
“I’m so sorry. I wish there wassomething I could do. I will keep you in mind. Maybe I will thinkof something.”
“Thanks, I appreciate it. So whatabout you? Do you intend on being a faithful Aldithenian tilldeath?” She nudged Etheldra with her elbow, playfully.
“No, I don’t think so. I honestlycan’t stand any of it. Sometimes I go to bed with an ache in mystomach. All this pretending is turning my stomach sour. I feellike I’m suffocating a bit. I’ve been locked up in Castle Blackensince I was 25. I’ve been free of that since Bricius, and now I’mlocked up with him. I don’t belong here, but I’m also afraid ofbeing on my own. I don’t even know where I would go.”
“You don’t have anyfamily?”
“No, the Mist took my father andmy mother.” She added “In two different ways.”
“That’s awful, but, I don’tbelieve anyone should stay somewhere they’re unhappy. As for whereyou would go…I would offer you my home but,well…y’know.”
“That’s sweet of you, I’m sure intime, something will present itself…it will for you aswell.”
Firinne smiled at her. It was niceto have a somewhat human conversation with someone. It made hermiss her Mum. “It was nice to get to know you a bit. I’ve got totake care of something, but I will see you at evening’s feast,yes?”
“See you then.”
She was in the corner of her room,hugging her knees into her chest. It was all finally catching up toher. She was alone in the depths of her uncertainties. She neededher mother — no, she needed him. She needed him the way he used tobe. She needed his strong arms around her. She needed his gaze thatput her heart at peace. The kisses that made her dissolve. Shehated him — she longed for him. She was stupid for wanting him —needing him. She was alone. He had left her…alone.
She looked up, in the way thatsomeone would if someone else had intruded upon a private time ofsorrow. Her fingers spread out across the sides of her skull —grabbing fistfuls of hair. She screamed. It was an angry scream. Ascream meant for a kill. It scraped at the barren walls until itfinally turned into sobs. Deep, belly sobs — the ones that lurch atyou from within, determined to empty you. Wail after wail, sherocked back and forth, back and forth. She didn’t want to stop, notreally. Part of her just wanted to empty herself into the air.Maybe she would be carried out of the window, on a breeze, far awayfrom the burden of breath. She started hyperventilating. Tearspouring down her face — they may as well have been a pool of herown blood. She smacked the walls next to her, stopped breathing,and slowly started again. In, out. Slow, deep breaths. Pulled fromher gut.
She got up and walked over to themirror. She dragged the tears away from her face. It was blotchedwith red. She tied her hair back and saw through the mirror theglint of something from under the bed. The books! She had forgottenall about the books.
There was a blanket on the chair.She grabbed it, sat on the bed and wrapped herself up in it. Shestacked the books in front of her on the bed. She opened the bookthat was at the bottom of the stack; the most guarded. This bookhad to have something to do with krystallis and since she was one,it was smart to start firstly with the book she would know moreabout. The words were back, as was the ink drawing. She turned thepage only to find one thing: Seek the old ones. Beneath it was amap that spread across two pages and indicated Firinne’s exactlocation. There was an ink path that showed where Firinne shouldtravel — it cut through part of the Sacral Woods where she hadtraveled through to get to Archen Castle. Firinne thought that itwas interesting that the map was showing her the safest route totake in order to avoid Desiderium capture. After the forest, shewas to travel north, across the river and past the ruins ofsomeplace she had never heard of before. After that, the mountainswere North-West. The map was careful to avoid the open moors whichprovided almost no shelter, as well as Castle Blacken; on theeastern coast.
Firinne was dazing at the map,almost blankly — looking through it rather than at it. The map madeit seem all so simple. All she had to do was follow that littleinky path to the mountains — simple. But were any of the old onesstill alive? Could she do this on her own? She had never traveledpast the river, and she had never been on her own. If she didn’tgo, her Mum would be rotting in that dungeon forever, or worse,killed. So really, there wasn’t much use in questioning any ofthis. She had to do this, whether she thought she could ornot.
After what had happened with Ednas,Firinne realized that these books were on her side. She understoodnow that they guarded a secret. They only showed her what she wasmeant to see — their contents vanishing in the midst of evil. Theywould only reveal their secrets to her, and also perhaps to the oldones — if the old ones were still alive, Firinne hoped they were.She resolved herself that there was no other way. There was no oneelse she had or could trust. She had to do this, even if she had todie in the endeavor.
She decided that she would spendthe rest of the day preparing, and possibly stealing things thatshe may need; after all, Archen was well supplied by the lords atCastle Blacken, and therefore she would feel little guilt. One moreevening’s feast, she thought. She was terrified to leave this placeand desperate to be rid of its hypocrisy. Not being in a chamber,doors away from Ednas was a relief as well. She stashed the booksin-between the wooden planks of the bed frame, and the mattress.She grabbed her satchel. The best place to start was probably thekitchens, so she headed that way.
There were three doors in thekitchen corridor. One door was the pantry where preserved foods,grain, and bread were stored. The Second door held the meat fromthe butcher. The third door led to the kitchen. Firinne had beenstanding behind the wall leading to the kitchens, watching theactivity. She needed to know, roughly, how often someone from thekitchens left to get something from the pantry or the butcher room.Luckily, it was midday, so the activity was relatively minimal. Sofar, only one person had come out to retrieve a small loaf ofbread. From Firinne’s angle, she could tell the pantry was full —which was good because they wouldn’t miss much.
Quickly, Firinne moved down thecorridor and into the pantry. The shelves were stuffed full withfruit preserves, loaves of fresh bread, potatoes, grains; there wasno hunger in this place. She thought fast — bread, jerky, apples,and a sack of almonds. She stuffed everything hastily into hersatchel, out of the pantry, and down the corridor before anyoneknew it. She felt reckless. She also felt a little bit alive. Shesmiled smugly back to her chambers, where she stuffed the food inthe open space between the floor, and the bottom drawer of thewardrobe.
This was her last feast. By earlymorning, she would rid herself of this place. As she entered theroom, she bowed her head momentarily in respect of the King andQueen. The faces at the table were the same judgmental strangers,but their faces were more familiar to her now than Firinne liked.Etheldra was sitting where she always sits — next to Bricius. HerUncle barely acknowledged her — Firinne didn’t really care anymore.Etheldra smiled fondly at her.
King Gryndon was discussing hislatest hunting trip with various people around the table. Theycraved the kill and the power of slaying innocent creatures.Gryndon was reenacting how he straddled a deer — making stabbingmotions with his fist. Everyone laughed, except for Firinne andEtheldra. Firinne told herself that she couldn’t afford to lose herappetite now. She needed to eat as much as she could before she setout the next day. While she had managed to take more than she hadhoped in provisions, the journey ahead of her was long, and itwouldn’t be enough to sustain her.
The women in the kitchens hadoutdone themselves. There were platters upon platters of food.Firinne filled her plate with a turkey leg, creamed spinach, wildrice, and ginger glazed ham. She wondered how her meal was killed.Was it violent? Did the animal screech as it was slain? Again, shefought the churning in her stomach. It helped that everythingtasted wonderful, and because Archen was provided with untaintedfood, she could feel the spectralin being nourished within her.Silently, she gave thanks to the animals.
Etheldra was on her second glass ofblood. She watched as Etheldra almost spilled after knocking herglass into one of the platters. Etheldra giggled. People around thetable were beginning to glance, nervously at Etheldra — whisperingthings to themselves back and forth. But Etheldra wasn’t so fargone that she wasn’t paying attention.
“Is there something you would liketo say to me?” her speech was sluggish and presumptuous.
One of the women replied “Oh, nodear we were just discussing how beautiful your dress is. Is thatsatin?”
“Don’t try to deceive me. I’veknown enough of your kind to know that your whispers are anythingbut good natured.”
“I’m not sure I understand whatyou mean” the woman rolled her eyes, and turned back to herpartner.
“Oh, of course not! You, people,are ridiculous. You claim to be so righteous, but that could not befurther from the truth. I’ve played along to your tune andI—
Bricius interrupted. “Etheldra,perhaps you should retire to your chambers”
“Oh, you would love that wouldn’tyou? For me to continue to keep quiet all because you rescued me.No, I have had enough of it. I can’t take any more of this shit!You are not Gods!”
Everyone around the room gasped,and then fell silent.
“It would be wise to watch yourtongue in front of your King” interjected Dorrin.
“So the Queen doesn’t mind itthen? Just the King?”
“How dare you!” Dorrin was nowstanding. Almost instinctually the King put his hand up as ifasking for a pause.
“How dare I, you ask? This wholeKingdom is filled with nothing but liars, and their lies. I am aprisoner, not a guest. I will not hold my tongue anymore! You wannaknow what I think about your precious, faceless God? He is a demon!A creature of deceit! Sit there for as long as you like and thinkthat you are on the right side of things, but you aren’t. You areexpendable and no God will save you. Not after you have lost yourhumanity and your values. I hope you all rot!” She flung all of thedishes that were in her reach across the table, and across theroom.
Dorrin unsheathed his sword andBricius rose from his chair, shielding Etheldra. “Etheldra, perhapsit’s been a long night. Go back to our chambers and I will be withyou shortly.”
“I don’t need your company. MaybeI will take one of the younger guards in me…I mean with me. Hewould love to see the silk sheets!”
Etheldra spit in his face. She wasoddly relaxed as she leaned her body around him and asked Firinneif she would join her. Firinne did.
Etheldra slammed the door to herand Bricius’ chambers. Their room was twice the size of Firinne’s.The bed frame was wrought-iron, with gold embellishments. Thesheets were indeed, silk. There was a huge sitting area with afireplace — big enough for Firinne to stand in, although thethought made her sick.
“Well, that was fun, wasn’t it?”said Etheldra, and then added as she gestured to the room “Admiringhow your uncle is paid for his devotion? Bit sickening really.Meanwhile, people are suffering all across the lands.”
Firinne nodded. “Whatwas…that?”
“What, my performance?”
“Yes, I mean…do you have adeath-wish?”
“Oh, they won’t kill me.” Sheshooed the suggestion away with her hand.
“Bricius might not, but Dorrin”she paused, “he’s got the taste for it.”
“Well, I won’t have to worry aboutthat after tonight. I’m done Firinne. I’m leaving. I can’t takethis anymore. I don’t want to be a part of it.”
“But where will you go”
“I don’t know. I’ll findsomewhere. Anywhere. I’m so sick of being afraid. I mean…here youare, off trying to save your whole Queendom on your own. No, fear.What’s my excuse?”
“Hang on…I’m terrified Etheldra! Imay walk around here like these people are beneath me and I don’tneed their help, but I am alone in all of this. I don’t know how Iwill be able to do any of it on my own.”
“Of course you don’t! But at leastyou’re trying. Sitting around here, traveling with Bricius,preaching Aldithenih…it’s making me sick.”
“I can’t say I blameyou.”
“So will you keep quiet for meabout it all, and could I sleep in your chambers tonight? I promiseI will be out of your way at first light.”
“Actually, I’m going to be leavinghere at the same time. I didn’t tell anyone because I can’t trustany of them, but I have somewhere else I have to go…”
“Oh, that’s perfect! Which way areyou headed?”
“I’d rather not say…for my sake,and yours.” Said Firinne.
“I understand. Let me just pack upsome things, and then we can head to your chambers.”
“Okay, what if Bricius comeslooking for you?”
“He won’t. Never does.”
And Firinne thought that thiswasn’t the first time something like this had happened. She thoughtthat Etheldra had probably been unfaithful to Bricius in the past.This wasn’t something new in their relationship, it was only thatit was out in the open now. She thought that Etheldra was right, hewouldn’t come looking for her — for fear of what he might find. Itwas odd. Firinne hated this place and what it stood for just asmuch as Etheldra did, but she could not condone being unfaithful tothe person she was promised to.
On the other hand, Etheldra wastrapped by the Aldithenih, and the mere suggestion of leavingBricius was putting a threat to her own life. So while Firinne wasrevolted at the thought of Etheldra’s suggested adultery, she alsoadmired her for it. Perhaps sometimes — in this new society that isslowly being dominated by men — the only power a woman truly hadwas her sexual identity. Her sexual identity both enslaved her, andliberated her.
It wasstill dark as they gathered all of their possessions, and walkedout of the side doors of the castle. Because of how the castlegrounds were built, they had no choice but to risk walking throughthe town. Once they had Mabon, they tried to stick to the backroads of the town. Everything was quiet. Every step they tookseemed louder than it was. They were both on edge. Etheldra wasrisking her life, and because Firinne was with her, Firinne couldbe condemned to the same fate if they were both caught.
The gates of the town were alwaysleft open, to welcome traders, and they were guarded by one person.As it happened, the guard had fallen asleep on duty. Etheldra wasquick to remark how lucky they had been that he was sleepingbecause she was fully intent on sneaking up behind him and slittinghis throat. She was acting a bit like she was a little kid sneakingaway from home; running away in the middle of the night, but therewas a sadistic twist behind it that Firinne wasn’t sureof.
They made it to the lowest part ofthe valley. From here, even if they were spotted, no one wouldrecognize them from that distance.
“Are you sure you want to dothis?” asked Firinne.
“Yes, I’m quite sure. I will headeast from here to the coast. There are small towns littered aboutin that direction. I’m sure I’ll find somewhere.”
“Okay. Well, I wish that you havea safe journey. It was nice getting to know you a bit. If thecircumstances were different…well...” Firinne shrugged.
“I’m quite fond of you as well.Thanks for inspiring me. Take care of yourself. I hope you can saveCitrine, and of course, your mother.” She squeezed Firinne’sarm.
Firinne watched Etheldra until shelooked like a smudge of shadow on the horizon; a mistake in anartists painting. Together, she and Mabon headed for theforest.
The woods were dense with fog, andthe sun was beginning to rise. Even in the cool air, Firinne couldfeel the warmth of it on her skin. She was happy to be free of thatprison. She belonged in the woods with nature. It greeted her as afriend; never judging her, and perhaps that made the woods a betterfriend.
She wondered what would happen onceBricius had realized that he had lost his woman? Would he sendguards after her? Firinne hoped he wouldn’t. Etheldra was notperfect, but her life had been riddled with strife. She deserved tobe happy. Maybe once Etheldra was free of Bricius, she couldfinally start healing some of her broken parts. The thought crossedher that someone could be your rescuer, and also your prison.Bricius was not evil, but he laid claim to a treasure that was nothis to own, thereby adding to the cracks of time…Etheldra’s cracks.In turn, Etheldra also used him as her escape, without reflectingon possible repercussions.
They were already almost a quarterof the way through the forest. If they hurried, they could make itto The Forgotten Meadow in the late afternoon. From there, theycould camp until morning. The next day, getting to the river wouldtake no time at all. This was the easy part, it was what lay beforethe mountains, and the mountains themselves, that made Firinneuneasy.
The forest was coming alive withsummer. Everywhere she looked, there were new buds of growth. Shecould smell their sweetness, and she was happy to have the forestalive, and at her side for this journey. She wouldn’t have beenable to make it in winter. She took a deep breath. She could almostfeel her Mum in the air.
It was quiet. There was no movementother than birds flapping within the tree branches. They werealone, and Firinne was glad for it. The more alone, the safer theywere. Firinne thought to herself that if she stayed in these woodsforever, she would never know that there was a silent war, slowlygrowing louder outside of them.
They were both getting tired now.Because of how quiet the forest was, Firinne was more hopeful thanbefore, that she would be able to build a fire this evening. Asthey walked, she began collecting dry branches. Mabon watched herlike a dog would. She could see the protectiveness in hiseyes.
The air was beginning to cool asthe Sun started moving further down, across the sky. Aftercollecting a few more branches, Firinne could just make out TheForgotten Meadow, ahead of them. “Almost there,” she said to Mabon— even he looked grateful.
The meadow was empty. It wasencased by the dense woods that they had just traveled through.There were a few boulders lying just at the edge of the meadow.Firinne walked over and laid the branches she had collected nearthem, thinking to herself that it would be the perfect place tosleep that night — the boulders would shield them from the cold, aswell as block the light from the fire.
“Wake me in a bit, Mabon. I’mgoing to take a quick nap.” The soft, grasses were cool on the backof her arms as she drifted from consciousness.
She was stuck in another dream thatshe couldn’t make sense of. She was looking down on a gray sea. Shewas surrounded by huge castles, but there was something in the graysea…is that?—
There was a hand on her mouth. Wasthis a part of her dream? She couldn’t recall the details of it.There was warm flesh there, the shape of a hand. No, this wasn’t adream. Her eyes shot open. There, only inches from her face, withhis hand pressed firmly over her mouth, was Cyneric.
“I’m going to pull my hand fromyour mouth. Don’t scream.” Firinne nodded, and slowly he pulled hishand from her mouth.
“What are you doing here?” Shehissed at him, as she scooted herself back away from him so thather spine was pressed against the boulder.
“I needed to find you. I had toexplain.”
“What’s there to explain? Youruined my life, now I have to clean it up, and the reason is prettyobvious.”
“Fir, I didn’t want to do thosethings. I didn’t have a choice.” He avoided her eyes; like aboy.
“And I am supposed to believethat? You can’t always claim to be the victim. At some point, youhave to take responsibility.”
“It wasn’t me!” His voice wasrising now. “You have to know that. C’mon Fir, aftereverythingwe’ve beenthrough. You know me better than anyone could come close to knowingme.”
“Yes, I thought I knewyou.”
“You do know me. It was theBlacken, Fir. It wasn’t me. It controlled me. Triphosa helped itcontrol me.”
“If that were true then youwouldn’t be here telling me it was controlling you. You wouldn’tknow it had.” Her arms were crossed now.
“I didn’t…not at first. But thensomething inside me…I wanted to be with you…I slowly startedrealizing what was happening to me. Then, for whatever reason, theother day it let go of me. As soon as it did, I escaped andfollowed you.”
“And how am I supposed to believeyou?”
“You shouldn’t believe me, youshould believe yourself. Look into my eyes. If you tell me that Iam lying to you, I will leave, and I will never comeback.”
His eyes were full of moisture. Shehadn’t seen him like this for months, and months. It was as if itwere really him. She wanted it to be him. She wanted this nightmareto go away. She was instantaneously torn between her intuition andher longing for him.
“Fir, I have loved you since wewere teenagers. I would never hurt you. All of this shit that hashappened…it’s completely gutted me. You are the most importantperson in my life. You’ve had all of me…always.”
She didn’t know what to say. Shedidn’t know what the right move was. If he was telling the truth,she would lose him if she did not show him empathy. If he waslying, she was putting herself, and her mission indanger.
Cyneric inched his way towards her.Gently, he put his hand under her chin. “Fir, I’m sorry…foreverything. If I had been strong, like you, none of this would havehappened. I know you don’t trust me, you shouldn’t, but at leastlet me try to earn the trust back.”
His skin was warm on her. “And howwould you do that?”
“I’ll help you get Citrine back.I’ll help you get your Mum back. I’ll do whatever you want me todo…just…give me a chance.”
“This is the last one.”
He nodded. “The lastone…”
He sat himself next to her and slidhis arm around her. She curled into him like a child. They satthere, curled into one another, for a long time.
“I missed you Fir. I know the Misthad me for so long. It’s…well, it’s all catching up tome.”
“What was it like? The Mist havingyou, I mean.”
“It’s torture. You can seeeverything that you’re doing, but you can’t stop what you’re doing.You are no longer in control of what you do. I guess it’s whatwe’ve always feared for the Desideriums. They really can see all ofthe pain they’re causing.” He was staring into her eyes. The spacebetween them shrank, and they fell like gravity towards each other.She missed his lips; they silenced her mind.
“I’ll make it up to you, Fir.” Shegave him a sad nod.
Then, they heard the sound of grassbeing crushed in the meadow. Cyneric got to his feet and drew hissword. Firinne grabbed his arm.
“No, it’s okay. It’s just my stagfriend.”
Cyneric looked at her quizzicallyand then spotted Mabon as he came around the boulders.
Mabon lowered his head. “Cyneric,this is Mabon. He came to me on my way to Archen Castle. He’s kindof been my best friend this past week.”
Cyneric was clearly taken aback,but Mabon appeared to be threatened. He lowered his head furtherand gave a low grunt.
“Mabon, it’s okay.” What shewanted to say was, I think it’s okay.
Cyneric put his hand out towardsMabon, taking a step forward. Mabon pawed at the ground and gruntedagain. Cyneric took back his step, put his hands in the air, andsaid, “All right, all right.”
Firinne urged him to sit back down.“It’ll just take him some time to get to know you. See, you don’tjust have to prove yourself to me now…you have to prove it to him.”She gestured to Mabon and gave Cyneric a confident smile. She wasbeing feisty; it felt good. There had been far too much seriousnessin the past week. She felt her chest give a little. She couldbreath.
“Do you have any food?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a couple thingsthat were given to me by someone at Archen.” That was a lie. “Notmuch, just some bread, jerky, almonds… you?”
“Where are you headed? Will thatfood last you?” It was either a question of concern or a questionfueled by motives, but Firinne didn’t falter.
“I’m not sure yet. I just neededto get away from Archen, so I thought I would start travelingthrough the forest.” Another lie, “Do you have anyfood?”
“Give me a second.” He disappearedbehind the boulder and reappeared with a dead turkey which washanging by a rope. “Shall I prepare our feast?” Hesmiled.
“Oh, look at you! You’ve killed apoor, defenseless bird. You’re such a big man.” She could keepplaying this all night with him, but she knew that behind herplayful jabs, there was anger.
“I’ll start on the fire while youclean the bird then,” Firinne said.
After having stacked all of thebranches properly, she was blowing soft air at the embers. Withevery glow, it lit her face and showed her determination. Cynericwalked over with the bird which was now clean. They sat by the firein silence as the bird cooked. When Cyneric had confirmed that itwas done, he offered a leg to Firinne. “For you, mylove.”
“Mmm.” She rolled her eyes. “Thankyou. I’ll stick to what’s in my pack, though.”
Cyneric shrugged. “Suityourself.”
After they were full and there wasnothing left of the bird but bones, Firinne began making a bed fromher cloak. She laid down, Cyneric beside her. They gazed at thestars for a long while when Cyneric finally broke thesilence.
“Are you gonna be mad at meforever?”
“Forever is an undefined period oftime. My forever and your forever could be two different lengths oftime.” Cyneric was silent. She could tell on his face that hewasn’t in the mood to play. “We’ll see…that’s the best I can do andI’m sorry, but it’ll just have to be good enough.”
Firinne lifted her head up so thathe could slide his arm beneath it. She slid her hand across hischest. She knew every muscle, every mountain of his body. He hadn’tlet her touch him like this in forever. He turned towards her withhalf of his body on half of hers. His strong hands pulled her intohim. He kissed her neck, just behind her ear — then her cheek. Theforest would not cool her tonight. She ran her hands down the gullyof his back. Their lips were inseparable —they were stuck. Shedidn’t want to stop. She wanted all of him. He was crushing herwith his flesh, but he wasn’t close enough. She was trapped. Shewas trapped.
She inched her body away from him.Her hand clenched into a fistful of the front of his cotton shirt,as she pushed him from her. Tears were now building in her eyes.She didn’t need to say anything. The look on her face was enoughfor him to read her thoughts. He couldn’t be redeemed so soon. Sheneeded time.
Silently, they gazed at the stars —her head on his arm, his arm wrapped around her waist. Eventually,Cyneric dozed and she imagined the waves crashing in, andout.
He had come back to her. Everythinghe said seemed genuine. It had been so long since she had seen himfilled with this much sincerity. He knew what he had done, and hewas ready to make himself accountable for it. He was there to helpher, and besides, she didn’t have anyone else. She needed him to behim. Yet, she couldn’t help to wonder. Would she ever be able totrust him again? Was there any certain way to know that he wasbeing honest, other than her intuition, or love for him — whicheverit was?
Yes, she wanted him to be hers;desperately, but she had lied to him twice. Why had shelied?
Because no matter what happens, Iwill never believe he is real. This is a strategic relationship nowand, I will never let him have all of my secrets, again.
Cyneric was shaking her, trying torouse her. No, I don’t feel Cyneric. I’m so cold. Firinne moved thepalm of her hand along the ground next to her. Firinne shot up, hereyes wide in panic. She was paralyzed with instability. Cyneric wasgone. The ground was shaking — Fia was trembling.
Where washe? Firinne was afraid to move. In the light of the moon, she couldsee that the trees were shaking erratically — all of the brancheslike weak muscles after a fist-fight. A small way from the boulder,she saw Mabon. His legs were sprawled out like a newborn’s. Off inthe distance, she could hear the sounds of cracking and pounding.From the far end of the meadow, something caught her eye. There wasa dark line that was continuously stretching straight towards theboulders. She barely had time to figure out what it was before sheleaped to her feet and dived towards Mabon before the chasmengulfed her. There was no time to look back — to assess thedamage, to see just how far the chasm went in its great revealingof Fia’s innards.
“Mabon, we have to go!” Shescreamed. Although, she didn’t know how they were going to walkwhile the ground was so unstable beneath them. She grabbed ontoMabon. “Listen, just take it slow. Get used to the pattern ofmotion.” He lowered himself to the ground so that she could ridehim. Once she was on, he slowly began moving. After a few stepsforward, he appeared to have gotten the hang of it. Perhaps it wasthat he had more than two legs to depend on, or perhaps it wasbecause he was a creature of Fia.
Behind them, Firinne heard a soundthat she had forgotten about in the midst of everything that hadhappened. It was like the sound of drums. It was definitely closerthan it had been before. Then she heard an ear-splitting screech.It could only have come from one thing.
“Mabon, you have to get us out ofhere!”
It was as if he already knew. Herhands clutched so tightly onto his mane that her knuckles were asickly greenish, white color. Her knees and thighs were straddledaround his ribs so tightly — if they lived through tonight, theywould both be bruised tomorrow. He rode hard and fast, in zig-zaglines that she soon realized were strategic. With every jerk ofFia, he would jerk with her. He rode on her tremors in completeunison.
There was another screech and moredrums. She could hear them so clearly now. Of course, theDemogorchians could ride just as fast in this, they were likemachines. An obsidian arrow flew past Firinne’s ear, landing with asharp, thud into a tree on the right of her. Then, another arrowflew inches from Mabon’s ribs. She released one of her hands, andalthough her fingers were almost completely stiff, she pulled out amilky, ball of spectralin and flung it furiously behind her. Itexploded into white flames on a tree far behind her.
In the light, she could see thatthere were only three Demogorchians with riders. The blast hadknocked one of the Demogorchians into the middle one, whichmomentarily knocked them, and the rider on the far right, offbalance. She hurled another spectralin at them. This time (sinceshe was able to see where they were from the light of the previoushit) the spectralin engulfed the middle Demogorchian. He had beenslightly ahead of the other two, so when he landed to the ground,the rider on the left tripped on the corpsesmomentarily.
They shot another arrow whichskimmed the surface of Mabon’s fur, almost drawing blood. They weretrying to take him out. She couldn’t let Mabon sacrifice himselffor her. She bent down and whisper-yelled in Mabon’s ear. “We haveto split up. I’ll aim the next one the best I can. When I do, yougo right, and I’ll go left. You found me once, you’ll find meagain. If I survive this, I’ll head toward the river up there.” Shehoped that he could understand her.
Another spectralin flew towards theriders. As soon as she released it from her hands, she jumped offof Mabon and hurled herself into the left side of the path. Shecould feel the branches scraping the thin, layer of skin in toomany places for her to count. She ignored it and ran. In and out,dodging trees, stumbling over rocks. The forest was dense and therewas a light fog. Fia was still trembling and the sound wasincredible; the forest was screaming, as best a forestcould.
She tried to mimic Mabon’s zigzags.Occasionally, she would predict the wrong sway of Fia, and bethrown into the trunk of a tree. She turned herself towards theNorth; towards the river. There had to be somewhere to hide. Zig.Zag. That last tree may have cracked a rib. She barely had time torecuperate, when she tumbled into a dry, ravine. Just a littlefurther down the ravine, there was a huge rock that was protrudingout of one side. Below it, there was a willow bush. Firinne decidedto investigate, so she crawled, woozily towards thestone.
She pushed the bush to one sidewith all of her force. Behind it, there was a small cave. Withouthesitation, she clambered over the willow and threw herself at thevery back of the cave. Fia was still shaking, and Firinne onlyhoped it would stop soon — and that the cave would not collapse inon her. She didn’t have a choice but to hide. There was no way shecould outrun the Demogorchians — Mabon was barely a match forthem.
It took her a few minutes torealize that she was still gripping the walls of the cave eventhough the tremor had halted. Everything was eerily quiet now —like the quake had never happened; all at peace. But she knewbetter and so she waited, and soon she heard hooves; paws; claws,whatever you would call the feet of a Demogorchian. They drewcloser and she could tell that they had stopped just before whereshe was hiding.
“She has to be here somewhere.Search the area.” Said a voice.
She heard two Demogorchians prowloff in opposite directions. There had to be someone else. She hearda crunch as he broke apart the leaves dismounting his Demogorchian.Shortly after, she heard his footsteps as they walked sideways,down the ravine. Firinne stayed as still as humanly possible. Hewouldn’t know. He wouldn’t think to look.Crunch. Crunch, crunch.She was surethat he was now standing directly in front of the willow;essentially, they were looking straight at each other. She hopedthe willow wouldn’t give her away. Hopefully, he would neverknow.
One of the Desideriums returned.The Demogorchian let out a screech.
“Neither of you foundanything?”
“I had her! If this damn quakehadn’t started and woke her up…we could have slit her throat in hersleep if we’d wanted to. I should’ve never left to report ourlocation. If I had stayed, she wouldn’t have been able to escape.Let’s double back and see if there is anywhere else we’ve missed.If we haven’t found her or that beast she was riding by then, we’llmake for Archen where Mistress Triphosa is waiting.”
She was battling extremes withinherself to stay put; all she wanted to do was lunge toward him.Maybe he would smack his head on a rock on the way down, knockinghim unconscious. Then she could use her spectralin to burn a holethrough his chest — in peace.
The sounds of hammers on soilbecame more and more distant. Firinne was still glued to the wallof the cave. Her eyes were fixed on the air in front of her likeshe, herself, wasn’t even there.
Cyneric. Once again, Cyneric, hadmade a fool of her. How many damn times was she going to allow himto do this? She knew that no one else had seen, but theembarrassment was just as bad. Her face was hot, and her fingerswere ice. The only victory she could account for was that shemanaged to save the books, and managed not to tell him a single,damn thing.
It was dangerous. She hadn’t made asingle noise. No tears. No sobs. She sunk down like a forgottenmarionette — enemy of her strings. She curled up like a child andsqueezed her knees viciously into her chest. She closed her eyes,and the forcefulness could be seen on her face.
Emotion is notpermitted.
He will not be granted.
She had stayed in the cave, in thesame position, all night. It was too risky to go out into the nightin search of Mabon, and besides, she hadn’t had the will to move.Now that the dull, blue light of the sky was peeking into the cave,she rose herself from the fetal position. She reached for her bagand chose the most palatable of options. She had no appetite butforced herself to swallow some of the jerky — hastily chewingthrough every bite, consciously avoiding the taste and texture. Shealmost gagged once which she followed with a punch to her thigh. Itwas her, versus the body plagued by emotions. She got through halfof the stick and after thirty minutes of the battle, she concededdefeat and put the other half of jerky back in her bag.
The air outside of the cave wascrisp; like apples and sage. The ground was sodden with heavy dewwhich made it easier for Firinne to move silently down the ravine.Everything was silent other than the usual morning sounds of theforest.
She had a mental map of lastnight’s deviation from the path they had been on. If she was right,considering how distorted everything had been, she needed to gofarther east to find the main path. Once she had found the path,she would retreat a few feet towards the west again and then headnorth. This way she would know she was following the path, but shewouldn’t risk being seen by any of Cyneric’s Desideriums — if theywere still lurking about.
She spotted the path from theprevious night and thanked Fia for her fortune. Before emerging onthe north bank of the ravine, she crawled up to the top of theother side to inspect her surroundings. She couldn’t hear anythingunnatural, and there was nothing but forest to be seen. The forestwas dense but as long as you knew how to navigate, its densenesscould be used as an advantage. While other things could be hidden,so could Firinne.
She crawled out of the north sideof the ravine and winced at the stretched feeling of her exhaustedmuscles. She had been so numb from the emotion that she hadn’trealized what a strain last night’s events had put on her body. Shewas weak, sore, and shaky. But she had to get to the river and findher friend. So, she continued to walk, farther and farther awayfrom the ravine. If she could continue at this pace, she thoughtshe might be able to reach the river by midday.
Firinne was vigilantly focused onthis undertaking. Nevertheless, she found her thoughts swaying likethe river current sways and swirls around stones during itsjourney. These thoughts were vomitus. She felt like they were gluedto her skin. She felt filthy. He had touched her so lovingly. Hehad kissed her so passionately. He had pleaded with her soremorsefully. He had almost convinced her, cunningly. But it wasall fabricated and it was the worst sort of fabrication — thefabrication of love.
He was so sick, so demented. Whowas he? Really? At what point did the victim in him end, and the‘emotional assailant’ begin? Was he ever really the victim or wasit all just a part of the plan?
She would never know the truth. Shehad to accept that, here and now. Someone like him — no, she wouldnever know. She had been deceived on an unbelievable level bysomeone she thought she knew so undeniably well. What did that sayabout her? It wasn’t just a question of whether she could trustsomeone else ever again, it was a question of whether she couldtrust herself ever again. Yes, there were warnings, but not thekind that could predict this scale of evil? No, — the only positivething that she could say of herself, was that she hadn’t offeredeven a taste of her secrets to him. She could easily have construedthat to victory, but she refused to give herself any more praise.She shouldn’t have put herself in that situation to begin with. Ifshe hadn’t, she wouldn’t be walking through this forest alone andwondering to herself whether Mabon had escaped.
It was midday. Behind the rustlingsounds of leaves, she thought she could hear the river. With everyten paces, the river grew louder and her heart began to weigh a bitless. There was something else, though. Another sound was fightingfor resonance against the river, but she couldn’t make it out. Justkeep going, almost there.
The sound had now transformeditself into voices. She was almost close enough to tell what theywere saying. She began walking even more lightly than she had been.Every time she came up to a tree, she would hide her body behind itfor a short time. More zig-zagging. One tree, across to the next.Stop!
“She wouldn’t have gone south!Yesterday, I tracked her heading North with that beast she waswith. She had to have been headed this way.” It was Cyneric, andalthough it sounded as if he was talking to himself, Firinne knewbetter. Smart. He was waiting for her, convinced she would come;she had.
“We’ve been here for hours,though. Maybe she isn’t coming. Changed her plans. Too scared. Ifshe isn’t coming, then we’re wasting time standing here. She couldbe headed back to Citrine. ARRGHHH!” He was doubting himself. Thiswas good.
The sound of his voice left a badtaste in her mouth.
Firinne pressed her back as hard asshe could against the tree. She was holding her breath.
After another quarter-of-an-hourCyneric said, “Alright, let’s head out. Keep your eyes open. We’vegot our orders.” Then under his breath, “I should have killed herwhen I had the chance.”
Cyneric, along with the Desideriumsand Demogorchians, resumed the path towards the south. As theywalked up to Firinne’s line of sight, she shifted herself like acog, around the trunk of the tree so that her back was now facingthe opposite direction. She stayed there until she could no longerhear them. Then, she cautiously peered out from the tree. They weregone.
She decided that it was safer ifshe waited just a few more minutes before she ran, full speed, tothe river.
The river was full and strong. Thewater was clear — rippling glass. She filled up her flask and tookslow sips of the water. Without hesitation, she flung herself intothe river as if it were her salvation. She submerged herselfcompletely. She imagined the filth and darkness detaching itselffrom her flesh and drowning in the river — their remains claimed bywater, forever floating down the river.
She heard the crack of a branch andinstinctually dived behind a boulder that was embedded in theriverbed. Something moved one of the willow bushes that lined theriverbank — it was something big, and dark.
She had arelentless habit of picking at the calloused skin on the corners ofher fingers; right next to the end of the nail. She would pinch thehard skin with her nails and tear it off. They were pieces ofherself or — the ones that got knocked against everything simplybecause they were the skin on the top of her fingers. Maybe thatwas how fate was? You got knocked against life simply bycircumstance or was it design?
Firinne had been sitting there bythe river, completely absorbed by the other world in her head forfar too long. Mabon nudged her on her shoulder, snapping her out ofit, and she could no longer remember what she had even beenthinking about. She felt like she lived in the world of fantasymore than she did the real world. Constantly engulfed by internalthoughts, scenarios, fears, and riddles. Maybe this was thebeginning of madness, that point you can’t return from because youenjoy it so much — being separate from reality.
“I’m glad you made it, Mabon. Thatwas a close one wasn’t it?”
There was one thing she couldn’tfigure out. Why was it that she seemed like such an important enemyfor the Mist of Blacken to defeat?
Surely they — it — whatever it wasdidn’t zero-in on just anyone on Fia with a Castle, did they? Theassumption had been that as long as the people of Fia remainedsilent and obedient, they could live their lives in relative peace.She didn’t know why the Mist had sought Citrine, or why it washunting her. She had escaped, but what was it afraid of her doing?She had no army, nor any allies. She was alone, other than Mabonand he wouldn’t qualify in their eyes as a threat. Was it justTriphosa and Cyneric over-exercising their power? Had they hated methat badly all of those years? It couldn’t be that. Cyneric seemedso defeated when she had managed to escape. He was almost panicked.He had failed the completion of his orders.
It wasn’t safe to camp at the rivertonight. Cyneric and/or the Desideriums would probably circle backagain. It was already late afternoon and therefore, they had nochoice but to walk in the dark. Maybe that was better anyway — fornow.
She looked in her satchel to seehow much food she had left. The books were still there too, andthankfully they didn’t weigh too much. She doubted she would havebeen able to escape with them around her neck the night before. Shepulled one out and examined the map. After the river, the forestwent on for a while longer. She couldn’t remember what came afterthe forest, but before the mountains. She had never been past theriver. She doubted that Auralia or Imphius had ever told her whatlay beyond the river; there wasn’t need to.
Most of life at Citrine revolvedaround Citrine, the woods ahead of it, and Archen’s town. She knewof the mountains because that is where Auralia had told her the oldones lived. Hadn’t she mentioned that they would need to sendsomeone for seeds? Now, these mysterious books were telling her toseek the old ones as well. Everyone in the past who had traveled tothe mountains was sworn to secrecy. Firinne remembered when she wasyounger, she had tried to interrogate one of the guards after hehad returned with seeds.
“What was it like? What were theylike? The mountains! Are they pretty?” The guard would smile as heshook his head. “Sorry little Queen, can’t say. They’ll cut out mytongue if I do…blarrrghhh!” Then he chased her down the corridorwith his tongue hanging out like a dog.
“I guess we’ll find out, eh,Mabon? We better get going.”
Firinne was sucking on jerky. Thewoods were blue now and the light of the sun dying behind thehorizon was ultraviolet. Everything that was white in the forestglowed like the moon. The aspens that were all throughout theforest looked like skinny ghosts — the black scabs on their trunkslike the last bits of flesh rotting away, giving way to theethereal world. This hallucinogenic alternate world. It was likethis forest had two lives within one — like twins — one that shownbrightly in the light of the sun, one that became a shadow of itstwin as night approached. All of their arms — boney and rigid,reached out towards each other forming a line of sharp netting.Interweaving locks of bones enhanced by a wild dance of entrancingcolor. It was a ceremony, and she could see them watching her fromfar off in the distance. They haunted the endless pits of hersoul.
She could hear wolves calling outin the distance. Perhaps they had caught the smell of their prey,or perhaps it was a call to danger? The forest grew darker anddarker as the minutes passed. It seemed that it was always thatway. The days would linger on forever, and you could barely tellwhen the Sun moved, but at dusk the Sun would drop like a ballbeing thrown into a lake. Within minutes, everything was dark, sodark that is was hard to believe that there had ever been any lightto begin with.
And yet, we always knew that theSun would come back the next day.
She hoped that they would clear theforest before midnight. She could smell a storm coming; one ofthose heavy spring storms, and although she longed for thoseraindrops to beat against her skin, she knew that they needed tofind shelter before it came. Maybe that was the call from thewolves? —