The Oath Breaker

Heather A Busse
(All Rights Reserved Copyrighted @2020)

Sidras – Yfir Region Aulei

Chapter 1
Sowing Seeds

“For power, the clans risked damnation. For the light of the daystar, the Murienez risked barren tones. Sow the seeds, cast them to the four pillars; Space and Time, Life and Death. In the soil, the light returns fertile.”

The Journal of Rocco Murienez” Rocco Murienez
Dai Ithra, 5632

Dai Ithra, 5641

The message came during true-night, one Tiger Moon, for Clarita Murienez. She sat in her private suite, a goblet of Cirovarran wine in hand, a fruity, woodsy vintage. The aroma tantalized. The crisp sweet flavor slid over her tongue and down her throat. A sealed parchment lay on the thornwood table. She sliced the seal off with a letter opener. Unmarked wax popped and fell to the tabletop.

A score ran the length of the page, musical notation arranged in such a way the casual observer heard a beautiful composition on the hammered fortelang when played. For Clarita, a member of the Triune Alliance had sent a message. Each note represented a word or phrase. The arrangement brought chills to Clarita. The hairs along her arm raised. The night cast starlight over the table. She traced the notes with her finger. A tear sprang to her eye, unshed. Her chest tightened and her breath caught. The seeds were sown.

The seeds cast, thousands thrown to the winds, to take root on foreign soils, on foreign planets. It has begun Papa. Clarita let her thoughts drift down the Song. She hoped it reached his soul in Caellun, World of the Dead. Assuming Fircete had intervened and found him a place there instead of Rariny. The Punishers dealt swift and unrelenting justice against sinners. Her papa was never evil. Not to her.

Clarita rose from her chair and set down the wine, moving to the fireplace across the room. She sent a prayer to Fircete, for success and crushed glow clusters into a cauldron. The dual God and Goddess in one, Savior of the Barren Tones, Clarita raised her voice to dark.

Fire cooked the brew in a decorative hearth, at the end of her study. The flowers flashed in the murky liquid and disappeared.

From a golden, filigree cabinet, Clarita removed a flask of Irwanese essence, dripped three droplets and stirred astern five times. She changed the direction, deosil. Once all the ingredients were mixed, she opened the cabinet with the press of the gold leaves. It opened a small compartment with a vial of Portal Guardian L-IV tone.

The cabinet stored Clarita’s collection of tones, hundreds of them in small flagons, stored in an intricate leaf and vine glass case, decorated with copper filigree and secured with the Portal Guardian L-IV tone. She twisted the top off the vial and dabbed a tiny drop of tonal energy on her tongue. She lifted her hand to the cabinet.

“Lanzamiento del portale guardián,” she whispered. Clarita invoked the tempest within. No, she didn’t have a dynamic and orotund voice; she had the whisper of a storm at sea, a raging thunder and lightning.

Not the best for controlling spell work, but powerful nonetheless. She hated to admit her limited ability with the arcane arts. Still, achieving the Second Height, Third Order meant something to her clan. Her own tone mingled with the Portal Guardian L-IV. A flash of green ringed the case and dissipated, two doors opened as if on invisible strings. She returned the Irwanese tone to its place next to an Astani Hatchling. A rainbow of color swirled in its vial.

Securing the case once more, she returned to the cauldron and doled out a bottle of the concoction with a ladle into a crystal bowl. The mixture whirled under starlight shining through the window. She set the bowl in the window to bask and draw the moon’s aura to infuse in the spell.

She had waited so long for this night, prepared and waited to make her father’s dream come true. He was supposed to be alive to lead this endeavor, but Clarita had promised him the day he fell to collect the seeds and cast them into the worlds for a harvest worthy and powerful enough to restore the light of Infernua Izar to the Dai Ithran people. The daystar. They needed the star’s light. Her gaze fell on the worn leather journal on her bookshelf. She had her father’s words memorized.

Clarita took up her wine and went to the window to think. The letter brought promise. Thousands of seeds blowing on the winds of just as many planets. Take root. Grow and gather the energy needed. She willed their success, praying over the bowl. Thousands of Dai Ithrans volunteered for the task, to sacrifice themselves for the distribution and planting.

Just over a hundred years since her Papa passed and still she fretted like a little girl of age 20 at his bedside. Sure, 125 years wasn’t old, not by Dai Ithran standards, yet a hundred years to wait. It was agony. You’d be so happy Papa. Thousands volunteered. Three clans answered the call. She leaned against the window and gazed out at the dim starlight, the faint moon’s glow. The world seemed to suck the light from the night, despite the daystar, Infernua Izar’s existence. One day, she’d return the light, as her father had planned.

The day-night he died remained locked in Clarita’s soul. The punishment of eternal night may have caused his death, in a way, but Adulfo Murienez had ordered it. She remembered it clearly. Clarita clutched the window’s edge and gazed out at the moon. The dim glow stared back cold and distant, nothing like the warmth in her father’s eyes. The punishment quarreled with the light, any source of light, ever reaching to squelch brightness for a Dai Ithran.

A clan messenger had come to the door of their family suite, on the third floor of the Murienez Compound. They wore the plain garb of a clan servant, brown cloth, the slaver’s whip embroidered on the collar. The letter waited on a silver tray. The messenger bowed to her parent’s servant, Salata Murienez. Salata picked up the missive and set it down on the antechamber table. Clarita had watched from the sitting room, through the open doorway.

A moment later, Salata walked in and bowed, fingers pressed to the embroidered whip on her collar. She wore a similar brown shirt and loose trousers to the messenger. Her cuffs showed the whip emblem as well. “High One, a letter has come with the High Seat’s seal.”

Rocco Murienez smiled at Clarita, brushed his hands through his dark hair and stood up from the table where they were busy sorting seeds for the family garden. Their legacy he had called it. So much like Clan Cirovarre who tended their orchards, her father insisted they create a Murienez garden, one to last the ages, one to carry their name.

Her mother, Eliosa, entered, pushing a cart of tools and parts for her latest invention. Clarita watched the cart from the corner of her eye. Mystery resided there, a puzzle only the shape unknown. The wheels squeaked. Salata’s dulcet voice murmured an answer to her father’s question. Clarita placed her hand in his and squeezed.

“You’ll have to finish sorting the seeds. We will plant next true-night.”

“You said that last true-night.” Tears threatened Clarita’s eyes. Snot filled her nose and she sniffled. “You promised.” He frequently left them to hunt Feloria and other places on the continent. Captured tones had earned them not only gold, but her father’s high rank within the clan. It also meant he was gone and in danger far too often.

Rocco set the letter down and picked her up. “I know my little sprout. But all oaths come second to those I made to our clan and High Seat. I am called to the hunt once more.” He kissed her cheek and set her down. “I must prepare.”

Her mother dropped a tool. The parts clattered, some crashed to the floor. She bent to retrieve them, hands shaking. “He has called you specifically the last three hunts Rocco.” The life expectancy of a tone hunter was not good. Her mother placed the tool back on the cart, breath raspy and short.

On day five Winter Moon, in 5536 AY, Rocco Murienez shaved his face, ate his evening meal, picked up a satchel of glass vials for the hunt and kissed Clarita and her mother Eliosa goodbye. “Until true-night dawns,” his eyes crinkled when he smiled. Crystalline blue orbs locked on Clarita, a mirror of her own. She returned his grin and bounced on her toes for him to pick her up. He gave her a quick hug and patted her dark tresses.

Rocco Murienez, a man of granite, a wizard of the Second Height, lover and father went out into Feloria upon the High Seat’s command. Three days later, his brother, Clarita’s Uncle Elanzito, found her father in a patch of sferico spora fungina, the plants produced poisonous spores. The hunting party had lost him in the day-night. The darkness too solid, not even the hover globes illuminated enough to save him when he fell into the sferico. Her father had inhaled spores for days in the field on the outskirts of Feloria. Three days he breathed the deadly toxin.

As a small child, she lay in his bed, unwilling to leave his side as his skin blackened, his frosty blue eyes dimmed and his cheeks fell hollow. They whispered of his plans.

She remembered clearly asking. “Father will you live?”

His answer echoed in her mind. “No and yes, my little sprout. He had traced her cheek with his finger. “Just as the Cirovarran farmer tends their orchards, I have tended my own crop. You are the propagation of your mother and I. In you I live.” Agonal breaths cracked his usual orotund voice. “Sow the seeds Clarita.”

Her mother, Eliosa neither slept nor ate. Adulfo paid his respects and as the High Seat, Eliosa had little choice but to accept his condolences. Day 13 of the Winter Moon, in 5536 AY, Rocco Murienez was no more. He took his final breath and exhaled. The stars glowed upon him in those final moments.

Clarita clutched the edge of the window. She watched the bowl light up under the true-night moon and murmured prayers to Fircete. Bless the seeds cast upon the cosmic winds. Bless the seeds sown into the worlds. Bring them fertile soil and sustaining rains. Bless them with the strongest tones.

The door to her antechamber opened and in walked her mother, Eliosa. She strolled the length of the room. The pointy features of her chin and nose, the gifts she’d bequeathed upon Clarita at birth, remained prominently youthful, despite her entry into middle age. The cauldron and the bowl on the window ledge caught her eye. “Praises to Fircete?”

She inclined her head, unwilling to confide in her mother. Not yet. She’d tell the High Seat and her family of the seeds when she had word of their successful implantation. Too much was at stake and if they died, well there was not a place on Dai Ithra to hide and not even the punishers of Rariny had the tools to invoke her salvation. Clarita treaded the edge of a razor path. Yes, the seeds had volunteered, each one cataloged and willing to depart their world in search of energy great and powerful enough to reveal their daystar’s light. Infernua Izar. “I was remembering Father.”

Pain flashed in her mother’s golden eyes. “There are days I think I hear him in the Song.”

Eliosa did not have the gift of singing or hearing the Song. But it was not unheard of for tonal vibrations to ring so strong one felt like they heard it. It was possible Rocco lingered in spirit. “Fircete preserve the barren tone.” For most Dai Ithrans, they believed Berehan not only concealed the light of the daystar from them, but also the sound of their tones in the Song. Their spirits silent until the Day of Redemption.

“Fircete preserve the barren tone.” Clarita swallowed. An ache radiated from her chest. She prayed for more than her father’s salvation. “What brings you this true-night?” She cast her eyes about the room, wondering if her mother suspected Clarita’s activities.

Eyes shining, Eliosa beamed. “I’ve done it. Come see.” She took Clarita by the hand. “The latest coach lasts for three days before it needs a tonal charge and moves faster across the land than the previous model. I’ve called it the R-5.” Her mother always named the coaches for her father, Rocco. Clarita followed her, she glanced at the musical score, spirit lifted. The seeds were cast; her mother had an improved coach. The darkness of Dai Ithra couldn’t last forever. Hope bloomed in the only child of Rocco and Eliosa. She eagerly followed her mother down the hall of the Murienez Compound, leaving the bowl on the sill.

The liquid swirled in the bowl bright as starlight and flickered; it swirled and turned in time to the rotation of the world. A mass of inky dark filtered into the pattern and danced among the twinkling lights. Beats passed, a tone flickered and disappeared and another. No one heard.

Dai Ithra — Surleyt Region Aulei

Chapter 2
Practice the Forms

“Dancers put to movement what writers put to poems, what artists put to canvas, and what musicians put to instruments.”

Madame Perla Boucher, Premier Maître de Ballet
Lady of the Northern Star

Earth, February 2007

One winter, cold winds shook the walls of Henly House, an entity whistled transformation between the boards and windowpanes. Snow gusted on frosted air and fog rolled thick from the Mississippi River, across the bike path parallel to the river and over the family’s sizeable yard in Saint Paul, Minnesota.

Anna Henly donned her earbuds and turned on the music player before clipping it to the tutu over her practice leotard in the family room. She was unaware of the visitation or the thunderous percussion outdoors. Change coasted on unheard celestial notes. It lurked. Patient and watchful. Slithering on currents of light and shadow.

Sound struck Friday night with a musical quality. Fluted air. Fog shrouded the walled garden in the backyard, obscured the fountain statue of the demon, King Nysrog and rolled down East River Boulevard out front. Change loped upon the unsuspecting household as stealthy as a whisper. Barely noticeable. Anna bent forward to stretch her back and legs. She touched the carpet with the palms of her hands. Cold leeched warmth from her fingers.

A melody of February cut through the frozen field and brush outside. Ice sealed the surface of the river and icicles tinkled like bells along the house’s rain gutters. Rafters groaned and the floorboards creaked. A staccato rhythm unfolded. The old, Victorian mansion protested the coming change.

The Angel of Justice fountain in the front foyer cast her eyes to Yushrah and mouthed her silent song. A unicorn plucked strings stretched between the broken remnants of a tangle tree. Her horn glistened in the forest glade. Stars shined upon a distant shore from a painting on the second floor. Merfolk swam in a golden bay. The art told stories. Stories of old worlds and people. Henly House braced itself against the gathering wind.

Tonal energy rode on winter winds and slipped into the Henly family room whistling change. It searched a mural on the wall, noted the sleeping dragon and Mount Tia’Nan on the planet Umpisa. The entity moved, hovered within the fireplace and scratched a place among the flames to sit and watch. The family who lived here knew of the Celestial Watch, the evidence was as clear and bright as the Sidras daystar. There was no reason for his presence and yet there he was in the hearth.

Anna thumbed open a book called, “A Technical Manual for Classical Ballet in the French, Italian and Russian Traditions” and spread her legs out on either side to read. Choreography for the dance “Waltz of the Stars”, shown as illustrations on the pages, depicted solo and partner dance variations. Odd how she had never heard of the “Cosmic Score” ballet before Madame Perla Boucher brought the audition for Fale Ffantasi Cymru to her attention. Anna had five months to learn the solo movements. Her stomach turned and muscles tightened. Five months.

She leaned forward and breathed for a deep stretch to warm her limbs. A shadow swept the ceiling and Anna gazed up. A shiver ran down her spine. Wind stirred her hair. The room was drafty as if to defy the fire over by the coffee table. She turned to the left.

 Her sister Caitlyn, reclined in a worn chair, brunette hair splayed behind her like a mermaid basking on a sunlit beach, a book on neuroanatomy in her hands. Her highlighter struck like a slap across the face, darting slick over sentences. Caitlyn paused to tap her chin and read. Her tawny skin glowed amber and copper in the fire’s light. At 17, she exuded rigid focus. As a junior at Winding Heights Academy for Art and Science, Caitlyn had reported to the guidance counselors an interest in the human brain. Her sister shifted in the chair and crossed her pencil thin legs.

Brains, beauty and goals. Her sister’s mantra echoed in her mind. Set the goal. Do the work. Achieve.

Anna leaned further for a longer stretch and pointed her toes. The pointe shoes flattened towards the floor. Jealousy was not becoming. Strands of her own orchid pink and silver hair fell from her ballerina bun. Curls snapped against her face. No. Jealousy would not do. Caitlyn had her many gifts and Anna had hers.

She rotated and leaned over her right leg. Their brother Mark, sat at the coffee table in front of the sofa, fireplace behind him to the left, painting figurines for his 3D tabletop game, A Celestial Knight’s Quest. Paint splotches stained the table and the placemat where he worked. Midnight oil smudged the tip of his nose and colored his creamy knuckles.

Flames danced in the hearth casting shadows against the wall. Wood crackled and popped percussive and sizzling. His blond hair curled around his ears, damp with sweat. He took after their dad, more Scandinavian in appearance, big for his seven years and blue eyed. Mark cultivated his own unparalleled interest for knighthood. A wooden practice sword, sheathed in leather strapped to his waist, poked the carpet where he knelt at an odd angle. He was observant and disciplined, choosing to practice sword forms with their only neighbor, the Bryces’ youngest child, Ephraim.

Mark was disciplined and single-minded. He continued his work with one hand and watched the room, as if observation was second nature. His paintbrush stroked the clothing of a new knight, a woman riding a shark and wearing blue scale armor. A large trident in her hand. Color transferred from the brush to the water knight. A Knight’s Quest had themes in correlation to elements and other phenomena. As a bizarre twist, the game included medieval style equipment with space ships and futuristic weapons. Anna found the game intentionally difficult to play.

Skilled players used musical notation, words from languages she’d never heard of before, and 29 different currencies to complete their quests before the other heroes on the board.

The music in her earbuds changed from “Apparition de Giselle” to “Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy”. Anna lifted from the floor, rose en pointe and pliéd. She moved through the positions, sweeping the floor with her pointed foot. Heat wrapped her inside invisible flames. She jerked, stopped dancing and glanced around. Caitlyn was still in her chair; Mark at the table. Mr. Fyglia the family’s tiny grey kitten pounced at shadows near Caitlyn’s chair. Her sister bent down and scooped him into her lap, scratching behind his ear. Mr. Fyglia purred.

Movement caught Anna’s attention. Light and shadow strobed across the floor. The figure of a boy, two or three years older than her, appeared as a golden light and evaporated. The small hairs on Anna’s arms lifted and the lines of her lilac birthmark glowed lavender against her beige skin. She rubbed the lines as if they’d disappear so easily. They never faded when she wanted them to.

The invisible energy remained, a solid figure unseen. She raised her fingers to touch the heat source and gasped. It felt like skin, an arm. Anna shivered, backing against the wall. Her shoulder blades touched the mural of a mountain, a dragon curled around its base guarding a treasure of gems and precious metal. Musical instruments and books poked from the dragon’s hoard.

The presence advanced upon her, warmth pressed against her ear and heated the silver and orchid curls framing her face. Fingers touched her waist and encircled. The next song’s first notes sparked “Waltz of the Stars” and Anna stumbled to find her footing. A solid mass of summer and sandalwood scented air launched into the choreography and Anna followed, partnered for the first time. By a ghost! The specter knew the steps, he, she knew it was a him. He coalesced heavy and thick as fog around her, electric and potent. Strong and magnetic, a star drawing worlds into an orbit. Anna circled the dancer and glowed. Her shine radiated brighter than ever before.

Caitlyn caught her attention, pointed at Anna. “Your shine.” Mr. Fyglia chewed on the highlighter, pawing Caitlyn’s pants.

“I know.” She mouthed, breathing for control. The flare had to pass. Light and shadow flickered at intervals throughout the room. Her partner guided her in a turn and lifted her from the floor, their bodies hugging in motion. Cello sounded the next verse.

Cracked friezes of fruit trees and satyrs frolicking among boulders and flowers caught radiant flecks of color like rays of sunshine through a crystal. The light bounced from his skin as they danced. A kaleidoscope of rainbows floated over the mural and plaster moulds. Angels gazed upon them, lyres in hand, trumpets pressed against pursed lips. Ornate art clashed garish and mocking next to the torn wallpaper, threadbare recliner and old CRT television mounted next to the fireplace.

Color played like fireworks against Mark’s face, though he hadn’t noticed yet. No. Anna studied him. He had noticed. His blue eyes shifted to the sides, but his face remained focused on the knight figurine, but Mark noticed the sounds, the movement of light in unnatural patterns, the scritch of their sister’s marker and the kitten’s play.

Rainbows swept the invisible figures arms and chest, showing muscle and skin. It swirled and evaporated only to reform. Anna caught bits of fiery hair in gold and white, piercing eyes of blue, or green, or gold, feathery soft lips and broad shoulders. He was taller, by at least a head and flashes of color appeared to dance upon the beat of wings growing from her partner’s back. He lifted her and turned. Anna positioned her arms and legs and lowered. She touched the palm of her hand against his cheek.

With him as an audition partner in Wales, she was assured a spot at the Fale Ffantasi. He knew the whole dance for her audition piece. The notes of the song faded and a mass of energy pulsed once more as brilliant as a supernova igniting in her soul and collapsing. The figure disappeared, a boy not much older than her in appearance.

The music went silent.

A hand yanked the headphones from her ears and she stopped. The backdrop of stars dissipated, her partner’s scent lingered, sandalwood and wind, warm sunshine and something unidentified, floral and smoldering like dusk in a warm climate. Oh what a terrible way to wake from the dream. Shivers ran down her spine and she hugged herself, refusing to meet their eyes. Mom and Dad. Ellen and Charles Henly. Anna groaned. Was the ghost even real? Was he even a ghost?

Hawkish disapproval met Anna’s gaze. Mom’s cedar eyes, raving and fearful roved Anna head to toe. “Your shine. Dim it.” Her voice cracked thick as Minnesota nice. She snatched the music player from Anna’s waistband and tucked it into her jean’s pocket. Mom insisted she had the power to control the shine.

Just behind Mom, Dad lurked like a grizzly bear in human form, hairy and large. His physical features rivaled Vikings of old, traveling the seas on a longship. “You have to learn Anna.” Dad always took Mom’s side, though he had named the phenomena ‘the shine’ when she was little, he too wanted it to disappear.

A beacon of light radiated from her birthmark brighter than ever before. The lines glowed a fierce, joyful lavender as bright as a signal fire. Purple luminescence, a starry sky, bright as the heavens on her skin. Defiant and marvelous. Her parents flashed worry to one another.

Silver and orchid curls snapped the hairpins and bounced down her shoulders. Anna trembled jubilant and excited. She didn’t quite look exactly like her family. A bit more plump and shorter than her mom and sister who embodied a perfect blend of Welsh and Indian features.

No one in her family had lavender-brown eyes, none of them had her pink-purple orchid hair streaked with silver and none of them had a lilac shaped floral birthmark snaking over their limbs and torsos that glowed. Anna was a bonafide freak of nature.

As their lecture washed over her, she thought about the ghost and the way his skin ignited a deep desire. Anna wanted to meet other people outside of her family. Maybe some friends from her virtual classroom to start. Real living people.

Mom and Dad never let her travel beyond the grounds of Henly House. She had spent her life hidden at home, attending the virtual classroom at Winding Heights while Caitlyn and Mark attended the lower and upper campuses for their respective grade levels. Essentially, she was a prisoner, grounded at home her whole life. Her soul ached to win a spot in the Fale Ffantasi.

Dad smacked a stack of unpaid bills in his hand. “Just relax.” Relax. Good direction and useless. Why not ask a tornado to relax; the coaching was about as effective. Fear wafted from both her parents and worry. The unpaid bills, why not just sell the house? Anna often replayed the old argument. They couldn’t leave. The trust was tied to the house. Mom’s job as an administrator in the law office didn’t pay enough and Dad’s new construction company Henly and Son’s had no contracts. Each bid rejected. Mom aspired to sell her romance novels, but so far, she had had little interest from publishers.

They didn’t have enough money to sustain them, but the trust paid for their education and the wages for Flora, their cook, and Roger, the live-in butler and driver. Mom’s family owed the two of them for a lifetime of service. Indeed, Anna didn’t want to see them out on the streets, especially since both of them had lived in Henly House far longer than Anna or her siblings.

Maybe Wales was too much to ask. Doubt reigned. What sort of family required they remain in a crumbling house just to pay Roger and Flora and their tuition? Bastards. The grandparents she had never met lingered as villains in her mind.

Dad clapped his hands, disrupting her daydream. “Just relax.” He paced behind Mom.

It hit her. Why it hadn’t before she didn’t know. She had gotten carried away in the enthusiasm of her dance instructor. Madam Boucher had talked so much about the audition, as if it were already settled. The excitement, well she had just believed her dream would come true. The truth struck harsh. They didn’t have the money to send her to Wales. Anna’s shoulders sagged. “No one ever sees me you know.” Their slice of Saint Paul was secluded. She petted Mr. Fyglia. He licked her finger, perched on Caitlyn’s leg.

“And that is a good thing.” Mom cheered.

Caitlyn tapped her chin, deadpan and literal as ever. “No one knows about Anna’s shine. Her birthmarks look like tattoos, her hair dyed, her eyes like contact lenses. You’re overly protective.” Thank goodness. Caitlyn always had her back.

Dad growled. “We just want what’s best.”

What was best. A house on a lone block. Isolated and lonely. East River Boulevard hosted two houses. The Henlys occupied the old rundown mansion nearest the river and the Bryces, lived down on the corner where East River met East Lion’s Road. The street ran perpendicular. A mile up, a medical device factory and the frontage road for I-94 served as the gateway to the rest of Saint Paul.

The Bryces consisted of two boys Ephraim and Trenton, and their grandmother Margot. None of them ever bothered Anna. Neither did the employees who worked in the Bryce mansion. The youngest, Ephraim Bryce, was Mark’s best friend and as far as Anna knew, he had never revealed her oddities to a living soul. As far as the Hanson & Hanson Medical Device Manufacturing Company, the employees never ventured further than the lot where they parked. The workers clocked their eight hours and fled the parking lot as if the second coming was on their heels.

“An invisible invader lurks in the house and no one has noticed.” Mark joined them, his hand tapped the practice sword against his leg. He squared off with Mom and Dad ready to draw. “Ephraim says we must keep the oaths.”

Concern flited across Mom’s face. She composed her features, smoothed her pants. “It’s not playtime Mark.” Mom turned to Anna. “You have to find a way to control the glow.” Mom leaned over the ballet book, scowled and picked up the brochure Anna had tucked inside the pages. “What’s this?” She held up the brochure for Fale Ffantasi Cymru.

“Mine.” Anna snatched it and smoothed the page. The woman on the cover had painted lines on her skin much like the birthmark coursing its way down Anna’s arms and legs. She wore an elegant, faerie costume in green and trimmed in flowers. The cover reminded Anna of various paintings in their house, a particular mosaic in a first floor bathroom, once meant to impress guests, showed a similar winged woman. She had thought her mom might like the idea. A secure place to hide when she grew up. Her throat tightened and she swallowed the ache, letting it settle in her chest.

Madame Perla claimed the company had great talent and a famous benefactor; a woman named Dame Violet Aberdeen. A real dame! She willed her parents to let her go. “I planned to audition,” she whispered.

“Wales is a world away. Out of the question.” Dad stepped beside Mom, Charles and Ellen, a united front against Anna. They clasped hands, grim expressions on their faces. “Perhaps it’s time to end your virtual instructions with Madame Perla Boucher,” Dad snapped. “We work hard to protect you kids.” His voice rumbled, an angry swarm of bees and rock falling.

“You can’t! It’s all I have.” She looked to Caitlyn and Mark, silently pleading for help. The two of them squeezed her hands. Dancing was not just a dream. It made her unordinary features acceptable. The oddities in her flesh seemed normal among the fae in a dance, an asset instead of a hindrance. One day she’d leave.

Mom paced, twisting her fingers and rubbing her eyes at intervals. Dad rumbled in his gravely boom, “If you value ballet so much, I’d expect you to respect the privilege. It’s not like we can afford the practices.”

Stress deepened the lines of her parent’s faces. Their shadows danced against the walls, flickering and anxious. “We can’t.” Mom’s voice cracked. She shuddered, stifling a sob. Limited resources weighed on them thick as wet snow. Anna suspected finances were worse than they let on. The battle was lost for now with money an issue.

Outside the storm intensified. Wind whipped the windows, and snow fell rapid and slanted, as if to drive holes through the house. Flakes gathered against the walls, covered shrubbery and tree limbs. In the kitchen down the hall, a kettle whistled ready for the evening tea service. Anna heard Roger’s Connemara voice rise and fall as he talked to his partner Stanley on the phone. Laughter burbled and his Irish accent amplified as he responded to some news, “wonderful to hear.”

The music of Henly House, the dynamics of conflict and happiness. Clouds roiled above the old mansion and energy heightened. Anna trembled, a vibration gathered within her soul, ready to burst through her body. An image formed in her mind, of snow-capped mountains and a valley with skyscrapers nestled between peaks. A palace glimmered against the stone backdrop, golden and blinding as if all the stars in the universe merged to shine as one beacon, one singularity.

Anna’s spirit latched onto a melody, notes cast about the room tempestuous and fierce and then diminished, anchored within her. Wind speeds decreased. Tethered to her siblings and home, she leaned against the wall, afraid and panting. Whatever just transpired, she clung to her soul afraid it would fly away. How strange.

Mark nudged her. “You’ll be okay.” He rasped in a low voice.

Sapped of energy, Anna nudged him back, silent and introspective. The argument was lost and it tore a gaping wound inside. The dying of a dream and yet the ghostly dancer beckoned in her mind, a golden youth who understood the lines of her torso and the placement of her feet, her hands, the music. He knew the “Cosmic Score”. Tingles thrummed under her skin. The glow continued to blaze as fierce as a beacon.

Among the embers and burning wood, the unseen and unnoticed watched. The girl knew the sacred dance, The Waltz of the Stars. Odd for an Earthling. Flame licked around and through the entity. The fire felt nice and cool, comforting compared to the scrutiny back at the Night Palace. Antares materialized and let his wings bathe in heat. He turned and looked up to see the boy staring back at him. Sludge in a bog. Antares flared, golden light radiated from him as powerful as a star fragment and dematerialized.

Mark returned to his paints and wondered if the little fairy boy had a name or if he’d return. He set the paint down and sat cross-legged to stand sentry. He’d sound the alarm if the creature reappeared. One look at Mom and he shoved the idea to tell them aside. They’d call him a liar, tell him he was playing. No. He couldn’t wait to confide in Ephraim on Monday. Two days was a long time to wait. He bounced his knees anticipating a confrontation. Two days, maybe he could sneak out of the house for a little while. Mark watched his parents, content on the television screen. Tomorrow, he’d sneak over to Ephraim’s house.

Ev Irwan — Subreyt Region Aulei

Chapter 3
Weather Report

“There are dark secrets and flaws to hide and then there are revelations and consequences.”

Journal of Seed 5837
The Triune Alliance, Earth

Earth, February 2007

Wheels squeaked in the hallway outside the family room and stopped for a moment, the door to the room opened and a cart rolled into view. Flora pushed the contraption, an old tea service, left over from the days when Anna’s grandparents owned and lived in the house. Flora paused and adjusted the rose cardigan she wore and smiled, a sparkle in her grey eyes. She announced. “Chamomile tea infusion anyone?”

Anna beamed back; relieved the attention was no longer on her. The boiling cauldron of emotion abated, the energy in the family room calmed. For now, the ache decreased. Later she could cry to Flora about how her Mom and Dad shut down her dream. The woman had to be in her seventies and had often acted the grandmother for the children. She had wiped away many a tears over the years.

Another day, Anna would think on how to raise the funds to audition in Wales. For now, she traipsed to the cart, breathing chamomile and lemon. Honey glistened from a crystal bowl in the room’s dim light. “Thank you.” She bobbed on pointe and down again, anticipating dollops of cream. Lemon scones piled on a platter sparked hunger in the pit of her stomach. She trembled, stomach gurgling.

Mark grabbed two scones, one in each hand and gobbled his first bite before setting them on a plate. Crumbs sprinkled around his feet.

“Just in time Flora. Thank you as always.” Dad, Caitlyn and Mom joined them as if they weren’t just arguing. The look of fear in her mother disappeared. The argument forgotten and resolved as far as her parents were concerned. Each of the Henlys heaped cups and plates with the refreshment.

Behind them, the television announced the 10 o’ clock news. Dad and Mom whipped around startled. They moved to the only decent furniture they had, a white plush couch. “We have to see this.” Dad waved them away. Discussion over. Their rules triumphed; Anna’s desire set aside.

For as long as she could remember, Mom and Dad watched the news like religious devotees attending services, eyes glued to the station for World News seven nights a week.

Unshed tears gathered at the corners of her eyes. At least they knew what she wanted for her life. “Flora, if you have some time this weekend, I’d like to talk.”

“Sure. Anytime.” She squeezed Anna’s shoulder. “You know where I live.” She winked.

Anna nodded, turned to find a seat to enjoy the snack and found Caitlyn right behind her, hands empty. She’d placed her scone on the table next to the recliner. The tea on its saucer. Anna winced as Caitlyn threw her arms around her. “We’ll figure out how to pay for the trip. I’ll think of something.”

“Thank you.” The anxiety didn’t quite settle, but her sister’s words helped and the enthusiastic hug. She squeezed back and ruffled Mark’s hair. “Thank you both.”

Mark shrugged and tapped his sword with his fingers. “I got you.” The sword bounced against his leg. He followed Caitlyn back to his own treat. Caitlyn resettled in the recliner with Mr. Fyglia and Mark at the coffee table next to the couch and the fireplace. Mom and Dad kept their eyes glued to the news; even their bodies leaned forward as if to absorb more information.

More tension melted from her shoulders and back. Anna tucked the flyer for the Fale Ffantasi Cymru in her book and retrieved her tea and scone from the cart. She sat cross-legged against the back wall, the dragon’s head near her waist. The motivation for practice had evaporated, and while 10 o’clock was not late for a Friday night, Anna longed to sleep. One day, she’d have a life of her own outside Henly House and nothing Mom and Dad said could stop her.

Anna sipped her tea and chewed the lemon scone. Practice forgotten. The root of their family problems involved money and her shine. Mom and Dad would never listen to her ideas. They lived in fear. They feared change more than poverty. They feared exposure, more than Anna’s dreams and opportunities. They had remained faithful to the last testament and will of long deceased grandparents out of fear. She took another bite and sipped the chamomile.

The shine came unbidden, radiating from her birthmark. Anna had no idea how to stop it. Yet, she might exploit it for money. An idea struck. She set her items down, crawled over to Caitlyn and whispered. “Will you please lend me a pen and paper?” Caitlyn handed it to her without a word. She was too preoccupied by the brain and Mr. Fyglia to ask questions, but did raise a brow.

“Be sure to return the pen.”

“Of course.” Caitlyn obsessed over her pens almost as much as her science books and lab equipment. The coat and lab book, her beakers and slides, the telescope and microscope her magazines and charts. “I would never dream to keep your pen.” Anna chuckled. Caitlyn frowned for a moment but didn’t break from her concentration.

She crawled back and drew a line down the page. In one column, she considered ways to market her appearance for money, videos online, a blog. Did she dare attempt a career in modeling? No. Models were tall and slender. Unrealistic for the average woman, but the chances of the industry accepting her were slim. She crossed the idea out on the page and then rewrote it. This was brainstorming. Every idea counted. Talk show? Sell a book about her life. No. It would be about one page long. Anna Henly, Glow Girl who never leaves home and then the end. Brainstorming, she left the idea.

In the other column, she jotted down medical facilities in Minnesota. The University of Minnesota conducted research and so did the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. She wasn’t sure how, but a scientific explanation had to exist for her malady. A doctor definitely had a better chance for discovering what caused the shine and whether it was a genetic mutation or chemical exposure. Basically, Anna wanted to understand if she was Super Woman or Spider Girl; born to it or made via a freak accident. She was old enough to schedule an appointment and seek professional help. She had a right to a life and potential cure. So far her internet searches yielded no promising results. Time to take more drastic measures, even if she got into trouble.

 Flora cleaned up the cart and wheeled it out of the room. She planned to ask Flora for advice on how to raise funds. She had an idea to ask Roger for rides to doctor’s appointments.

The world had over seven billion people in it. Someone had to know what was wrong with her and how to fix it. From past internet searches, Anna hadn’t found another person with a glow. Still, a scientist or doctor had a better chance of figuring it out. Mom and Dad had no excuse to keep her isolated. She’d bring Caitlyn to the appointments, for support and for her scientific mind. She’d understand the doctors better.

Plans appeared on the page and Anna sighed.

A breaking news alert shrieked. She jumped, jostling the tea infusion. Chamomile dampened the carpet and wood underneath. She pulled off her tutu to sop up the spill and glanced at the television.

The audible pulse grabbed the Henly children’s attention, even Mark who had sat watching the fire for about the last fifteen minutes instead of painting his figures. Mom and Dad leaned forward on the sofa, stiff and alert. A newscaster, a woman in a navy suit, faced the camera. “I’m Anita Blake, coming to you live from the World News station in London. Storms have ravaged the European continent in the last hour. The most intense systems have pounded a small region off the coast of Spain in the Strait of Gibraltar where our own Lance Elbert is broadcasting live.”

Mom grabbed onto Dad’s arm, sticking like a leech.

Energy brushed Anna’s shoulder and she pressed hard against the wall. “Who’s there?” An unseen hand felt her hair and departed. Cold infiltrated the space the presence had occupied. The smell of sandalwood hovered all around. She hugged herself, refocused on the TV.

On the television, the studio had disappeared and a camera panned a rocky shoreline. Wind howled around a man dressed in a suit and trench coat. The sky thundered overhead and blackened clouds roiled like a witch’s cauldron. Mom stared transfixed to the screen, Dad equally engrossed. An opening split the space behind the man, hiding the landscape. A hole, dark and crackling and absent of light. It swirled and pulsed with energy around the perimeter. Pebbles flew into the abyss, a few striking the reporter in the face. He struggled to keep hold of his microphone. His hair lay matted to his scalp. Lightning forked and flashed into the circle before separating. The cavity seemed endless, sucking light and sound from the area around it.

“It’s happening again.” Mom shuddered into Dad’s shoulder, forceful enough he flinched. Dad did not hurt easily.

Anna gathered with Mark and Caitlyn behind the couch. She set her hands there. Her siblings gaped, mouths open. Both too stunned to speak or look away. Warmth flooded the space next to her and the smell of summer and sandalwood. Straining, she heard a sound mingled with the broadcast, a melody slightly out of reach. Memory sparked and dashed away. Was the presence a ghost, a hallucination? From where had he come? The Henlys had some strange things about them, Anna could admit that much, but a ghost in the house. She’d never encountered one before tonight. He had to be a ghost. Right?

Hopping from one foot to the next, Mark bumped Anna’s hip. “The intruder is there.” He pointed at the fireplace.

Looking, Anna saw wood and ash, flame and smoke. Nothing else except what she had physically felt from invisible hands and limbs during practice. A body unseen. Did Mark see it or him rather? She shook her body. Snap out of it. “I don’t see it Mark.” Why had she denied her brother’s observations, well she hadn’t seen whomever he saw. She didn’t want Mark to have seen the dancer. This was her thing, her newfound friend. Childish, yes. Anna didn’t care. She bit her lip. The ghost boy was her companion and crazy. What a crazy position to take. She turned to Mark and shrugged.

“I know you saw him.” He whispered. The glare, oh the glare on his face spoke of betrayal. Anna had never acted as if his claims were fantasy or make-believe. Until now.

Yes, she could vindicate him and then she’d have to talk about her experience and the words refused to come. Anna watched the television screen.

The vortex expanded. An odd expression of glee lit the reporter’s face. Holding his trench coat closed, Lance Elbert bellowed in an English accent, “Right behind me, in the Strait of Gibraltar where the storm’s power is most concentrated, you can see -.” The camera vibrated under heavy winds. The reporter stooped lower to the ground as thunder rumbled and the clouds grew tighter and darker. Darts of lightning struck the water and the rocky heights. Tongues of energy flickered and struck the vortex. The bolts disappeared into the opening. “As you can see, a vortex of sorts has opened up behind the camera crew and myself. Objects have flown inside.” The reporter almost sang with excitement. Joy lit his eyes. Utterly crazy for him to stand there. The hole was now the size of a man and Lance’s coat flapped, the fabric fighting to loosen from his body. How the crew and Lance managed to stay rooted to the ground was beyond Anna’s comprehension.

An unearthly light beamed from the ocean towards the land. Red orbs appeared around the vortex’s median and merged with the lightless mass. Off camera someone screamed, another man shouted. “We have to move, Lance.”

Thumps distracted Anna from the screen. Mom’s feet drummed against the floor. Her face radiated a white light. The glimmer expanded to a halo around her head. She fell back; eyes rolled up and then closed. Her body convulsed and arched, back distended.

Dad took her by the arms, “Come on Ellen, fight it. I’ve got you.” Her head lolled, piles of brunette hair, silken and thick, went slack and lackluster. Dad rocked Mom, humming a lullaby.

The notes tickled memory. A song from a distant dream. She remembered the walled garden on a summer afternoon. She was six and the fountain of King Nysrog gleamed under the sun. Music wafted over grass and stone as she played alone, concealed behind a wall of rose bushes and lilacs. Water spilled from a mallet in the winged creature’s hand, his fangs shined silver and his eyes glowed red. The melody grew louder at the base of the fountain. Anna trailed her fingers in the water, humming the tune. The memory departed.

Power thrummed in the family room. Anna swayed. Mom’s eyes popped open and she gasped body rigid as a board. She gripped Dad’s herculean arms like a vice and then the glow vanished. Mom slumped, a mass of tangled hair and sweat, her skin’s usual brown tones blanched moon white.

Anna’s heart pounded. Caitlyn circled the couch, pacing and muttering about epilepsy or seizures. She flipped through her book and hurled it at the recliner. Clearly, the answer didn’t exist there. But her sister liked to have the answers. She needed to solve the problems. Caitlyn was a fixer. “We should call an ambulance.”

“No.” Dad barked. “She’s fine.”

Mark’s lip trembled a sure sign he was ready to cry. “What’s going on, Anna?”

She pulled him to her side and hugged him with one arm. “I’m not sure, but I think Mom’s going to be okay.” The guilt persisted. Her denial to Mark. She squeezed him harder.

“Mom, Dad what happened?” Fear cracked in Caitlyn’s voice. Her hands clenched the couch cushions in a death grip, knuckles made pale from the effort.

“Nothing to worry you.” Mom rasped and leaned against Dad. She seemed okay though wan and weakened.

The wind died down on the screen, but the news crew continued to retreat, rejoining teams from Spain and other nations across the continent and the United Kingdom. Lance faced the camera once again, his reedy figure bobbed on the shoreline. “Below the surface of the water, there appears to be a radiant white light. Are you seeing this Anita?” The reporter spoke directly to his counterpart in the station’s studio. The camera panned across the water, but it was so dark and the lightning blinding. It was difficult to see if the lumens came from the water or the sky. Soon the blackened hole dissipated and the clouds cleared. Bewildered reporters snorted relief when a rainbow graced the landscape from the hill to the shore of the Mediterranean Sea.

Dad turned off the television. “Caitlyn, Anna, Mark, its past time the three of you were off to bed. Gruff and tired, Dad lifted Mom into an upright position on the couch.

It was Friday, not a school night, but Anna knew better than to argue. She snatched her book from the floor and followed her siblings down the hall towards the kitchen and the back stairs. Whatever just happened; Anna struggled to find a rational explanation. Caitlyn attacked problems with logic. The most likely answer was often the truth.

The glow, their money problems, the phantom, the storm’s vortex and now Mom’s seizure were unbelievable events. She didn’t see logic in any potential answers. Her resolve to help fix their money problems wavered. If Mom had health issues, money wasn’t going to save them, at least not money alone. “Do you think Mom will be okay?”

“I don’t know. People can die from seizures and we don’t know the cause of Mom’s.” Caitlyn marched ahead of them. “She really needs to be seen by a doctor.” Caitlyn hurried, creating distance. The seizure had upset her just as much as Mark and likely she wanted to consult another book or website.

“Did you see her eyes?” Anna marveled about the aura of white light around her face, the halo of energy.

“Did you hear the music?” Mark shouted, smacking his sword in his hand.

Anna stopped on the second floor landing. “The song Dad was humming?” Maybe Mark remembered the song too. The notes were so familiar like from a distant memory or dream, a melody sung to her when she was young. “I think I remember it from when I was small.”

He shook his head. “No, from the TV, during Lance Elbert’s report. There were words, but I couldn’t understand. What a night! The invisible boy and the storm.” He tapped the wall with his sword and dashed up the next flight to the third floor. He passed Anna’s bedroom door, dashed down the hall and around the corner to his room. Caitlyn was already out of sight.

Anna slunk inside her own room. Green wallpaper and a vast rose garden painted to frame her desk, window and bed, greeted her. She dropped the book on her desk. Bare oak tree branches, covered in snow, tapped the windowpane.

She opened the laptop to search for the video on YourLife, but no luck. World News hadn’t ended yet. They’d load it later to the platform. Anna closed the device and waltzed into her bathroom to shower, praying her mother was okay and thinking of the song, the one Dad hummed, the other one Mark insisted was on the news report, and the one in Anna’s soul, driving her to a future away from Henly House.

With the phantom dance partner gone, even the scent of him; she dismissed the exchange as imagination. Sometimes the music took her on a journey to faraway places and considering her deepest desire to leave home, it was no wonder she’d imagined a partner.

Mom’s paroxysm was real and terrifying. They didn’t need one more problem. Seeing her sister agitated, freaked Anna out. How often she had relied on Caitlyn’s unruffled personality for strength. How often she had relied on Mark’s observant bravery. She shuddered and hunched down in her bed. Sleep eluded her for most of the night. She dreamed of a magical wood and a set of starry eyes, a golden halo and heard the sound of wings flapping. Arms lifted her from the forest floor. The smell of music and summer invaded Anna’s senses and brought comfort. She slumbered the sleep of death. Transformation had come to Henly House on a whistling wind.

Mark cleaned himself up and stowed his sword underneath his pillow. A good knight prepared for the worst and prayed for the best. Why Anna lied to him, well she had her reasons. Probably she didn’t believe her own eyes. His sister often succumbed to insecurity. Ephraim had taught him the word, his older brother Trenton had told him about it. The word described people who didn’t believe in themselves and his sister Anna, doubted a lot, because she never had life experiences—at least not outside their house. He wasn’t knocking her. Facts were facts. In some ways, Mark knew a lot more.

The lie still pissed him off. Mark was trustworthy. An honorable and worthy knight. He quickly brushed his teeth in the small bathroom attached to his bedroom and then returned to the space for his bed. A figure of golden light sat there, the boy he’d seen earlier by the fireplace, the one who had danced with Anna.

A golden halo ringed the winged creature. For the most part, it resembled a human, if people were made of gold starlight. It looked like a teenaged boy. His wings fluttered, uncomfortable on the bed. Mark didn’t have a chair or a desk like Anna and Caitlyn. He had a tiered bookshelf built into the side of a castle playhouse and a top bunkbed for when Ephraim spent the night.

“Well, what do you want?” Knights were brave.

The creature shifted, faced Mark and opened his mouth. No words came out, nothing Mark recognized as intelligible. Music emitted instead. A radiant sound full of energy and warmth. The song from the news report! What did it mean? Mark marched towards the creature, ready to demand answers or help. The boy needed help. Mark stopped short. The creature’s shoulders were slumped, his head down. A wave of sadness wafted from him.

“I’m sorry I don’t understand.” He didn’t understand the music, but Caitlyn might. Mark yelled. “Wait here, I’ll get my sister Caitlyn. She’s the smartest person in the world.” The glowing boy blinked and remained seated.

Mark dashed down the hall and around the corner to Caitlyn’s room. She had a place near the front stairs. Mark leaned over the rail and glanced down towards the celestial fountain. An angel holding a sword on high gazed upward. He loved the angel statue called Maigan Liel, Angel of Justice. He imagined himself with wings and a sword, a real one not just a wooden practice sword. He had to wait another three years before they really started to train at the academy.

He entered Caitlyn’s room. His sister’s bed was unmade and empty. She’d probably gone to read more. Caitlyn spent most of her time reading and learning. Her bedside lamp flickered on and then off. The bulb flashed brighter and burst, spraying the space around it with glass.

Mark ducked and fled the room. He definitely needed to consult Ephraim before school on Monday. He rushed back to his own room to find his bed empty, the golden fairy gone. Warmth no longer radiated from the bottom bunk. Scorch marks showed on the wood frame and threads from the bedspread appeared singed. Strange. Mark picked at the blanket and examined the wood. Seeing no fire, he climbed to the top bunk for sleep, unsure what to do and prayed morning came fast. He needed to see what his friend had to say about the invisible boy.

Art by Ivy Rautio

Chapter 4
Other Worlds

“Glory to the Tone Weaver who sang all life. Glory to the Twelve who sing at His side. We listen and reflect in our tones the Song.”

Tonal Account for Dame Gulara Rianna Jurrah
Commander of the Cambrian Volcanic Belt

Earth, February 2007

Winter usually provided more hours of ballet practice for Anna, as she had to stay inside most of the time. Her body had grown accustomed to releasing tension and stress through hours of vigorous pointe work, Pilates for strength training and yoga. Skipping didn’t really jive with her goals either, but after last night, she didn’t see any reason to devote every waking moment on an audition her parents intended to prevent her from attending. Especially since her father’s comment about the money. They couldn’t afford the lessons. They couldn’t afford the travel. At least she had a few plans in mind.

Money had a significant impact on the problems plaguing the Henlys and most of it came from the family trust. The worry over bills probably triggered Mom’s paroxysm. In the light of day, she had second-guessed the experiences from the night before. Perhaps other viewers saw the news and had posted about the storm online, but the glow from her mom. She’d never done that before. Why would she hide it? Anna froze for a moment. Her mom and dad always spoke like she had the ability to control the shine. Did they know from experience how to control it, but lied about why? She had to see the news report again. Gather the evidence. Follow the trail. Mark had talked about a song too.

She picked up a mug of cocoa and choked down a sip, barely able to swallow. The honey yogurt tasted like sawdust on her tongue. Cinnamon flecks landed on her lips and she licked the spice clear, unable to enjoy the morning treat. Reality certainly had a way of sucking the joy from a dream.

Anna rolled her shoulders and crossed her legs in the office chair at her bedroom desk. She tapped in the website for YourLife, searched World News and scrolled for the weather report on her laptop. Videos populated on the World News’ YourLife page featuring the stormy broadcast the night before, with Lance Elbert. The station had interviews posted of people who witnessed the vortex split the air and the lightning strikes from the water. Another video queued and Anna listened, straining to hear the music Mark mentioned. Nothing. No noticeable music. A dead end. Not that a storm across the world mattered much for the Henlys. Except the importance Mom and Dad placed on it, but then had they truly behaved as if the storm was important or the news in general.

She had no proof of the ghost or entity, the song from the video, but at least plenty of video existed of the vortex. Her mother’s glow, they’d deny it if asked. Anna knew from experience, deny, deny, deny was the Henly motto.

The oath Mark talked about was more likely the vivid imagination of a young boy and not a hidden legacy, just as the phantom partner who joined Anna’s dance was only a conjuration of her mind. Anna needed evidence.

 Mark spoke with conviction when he brought up the Henlys keeping their oaths and she physically remembered the texture of the ghost’s arms and chest when he guided her in the “Waltz of the Stars” and she doubted his scent was a manifestation from a dream.

At least the saying went the path of least resistance. What was most likely the truth was probably the truth. Something like that. Rational thinking explained the experience as a dream.

She clicked play on another video and sipped more of the cocoa. At least there was one concrete avenue to explore. Flora and Roger. The two of them had served in Henly House since before the kids were born. Flora had come when Mom was a small child. The two of them had to know about the family trust. What happened to the fortune that once afforded Mom’s family a mansion on the river. If she understood that truth, she’d have a chance to help her parents agree to sell the house and perhaps find a way to Wales with or without selling her story or becoming a science experiment. June was five months off. It didn’t give her long to work.

She tapped the volume control for the video, unable to hear above the whine of the wind and the thunder. Lance yelled at the camera. Oddly, he appeared excited for the storm. A bonafide storm chaser by the look of his associated page on YourLife. He’d traveled the globe for earthquakes, tornadoes, tsunamis. The whole works. Whatever his passion, none of the videos from Spain’s storm contained music. Anna shut down the browser and then her laptop. Time to talk to Flora.

In the kitchen, Anna combed through her tight curls with her fingers and paced. She approached the hall to Flora and Roger’s rooms. The kitchen had a vintage vibe with copper fixtures and pots, sunflowers and gold gilt trim. Across from the breakfast nook, one door led to the garage and the other door kept Flora and Roger’s spaces private and quiet. The kitchen proper also had two doors, one to the hall for the dining room and family room and then the front foyer, the parlor and solarium and the other went to the backyard door and rear stairs. The house no longer contained a cellar. She paced, avoiding the conversation and then took a deep breath. Here goes. She dashed through the hall for Flora’s room, stubbed her toe and yowled. Flora opened her door and peered through the crack.

“What are you doing girl?” She opened the door further.

Anna hopped with her foot in hand. “I just stubbed, well no matter. I came to talk.” Her eyes darted along the hallway, surprised. The wallpaper here, silver birds and green branches, looked intact. No cracks or portions peeling from the wall. The ornamental plaster in the middle of the ceiling, it spread outward like a growing vine.

“Oh, yes.” Flora exited her room and closed the door behind her. In her years of service at Henly House, Flora remained steadfast in her duties and exhibited a happy, warm personality, but her space was hers alone. Anna respected that. “What did you want to discuss?”

“You’ve worked here since my mother was a child.” She shuffled her feet back and forth, meeting Flora’s penetrating stare and then snapping to examine the wallpaper design once more. The birds flew from branch to branch, some perched on twigs, others in flight, another held a berry in its beak.

“Yes.” Flora clasped her hands in front of her plump petit frame. Much like the sea, calm and tranquil, stormy and fearsome, no matter its many forms it remained mysterious and dependable. The sea provided. Flora remained unwaveringly similar. Anna often wondered at her age. Flora had the presence of mind to outlive them all.

“What was it like? Did they have money? What happened to it?” Too many questions and yet they needed answers. She paced, unable to keep focused on Flora’s gaze. The woman had a way about her, it made Anna want to not only spill her darkest secret, but bare her entire soul, her every fear—to completely clear her conscience like in a confessional. Only she needed answers, not absolution. Information to assist her plans to raise funds and figure out a method to dim her shine. The Henlys needed financial salvation and Anna needed a normal body.

“It was marvelous. The parties and the house were all decorated so elegantly, nothing like what you see now except for much of the artwork is the same. And your family did have money in those days. Your grandmother hosted important people in business and politics both locally and from visitors across the globe.”

“And the trust? Where did the money go?”

Flora sighed. “What’s this about Anna?”

She leaned against the wall and burst into tears. “My audition.”

“Ah, well I can say the family had money and much of it now resides in the trust, controlled by your grandparents’ executor. One day, if your mother and father follow the requirements of the will, you’ll have access to those funds, greater access than you have now.”


Flora scowled and crossed her arms. She spoke clipped and sharp, Welsh strong on her tongue. “Anna, I’ve lived here a long time and in some few ways we’re like family, but I am an employee first. I do not know the details of your grandparents’ will.”

She felt slapped, stunned silent. She gave a short nod, wiped her eyes and retreated, hurrying up the back stairs to her bedroom. Of course prying was a mistake. She had no right to put Flora in a compromising situation. She depended on her earnings here. She returned to her laptop. What an ass. She’d made an ass of herself. Sounding greedy and uncaring for Flora’s life.

The door to her room banged open and she whirled to see Mark standing in the doorway. His blond hair knotted and sticking to the side of his head. Tears welled in his blue eyes and he shivered, still in his pajamas and without his sword.

“Anna,” he said. Body tense, he stumbled into the room, his wild hair matted against his face. “Caitlyn.” His lower lip trembled.

She jumped up and ran to Mark, taking him by the hand. “Show me.” They jogged down the hall, turned the corner and passed Mark’s room on the way to Caitlyn’s bedroom. A mural of an island decorated the wall outside her door, a mermaid sat on a rock. The image seemed so realistic, more a portrait than a fantasy painting. The tail flicked the water and Anna blinked, rubbing her eyes. The mermaid’s mouth formed an o and she inhaled. Mark tugged Anna’s hand and she jerked away. She needed more sleep. “What’s wrong?”

“She was crying and I came to help her.” Mark ran to Caitlyn. She lay curled under the covers. “See, she’s not stable. Her body disappeared and came back.” Mark uttered nonsense.

Then Caitlyn faded and reappeared. Anna choked. Unbelievable! She dived to her knees next to the bed and felt her sister’s arm. She flickered and returned solid as the down comforter. “What the hell?”

Caitlyn’s cedar eyes popped open; she howled incoherent statements and kicked. Anna took a foot to the face and stumbled back. Her sister flickered. One moment she howled on the bed as wild as a timber wolf and the next she completely vanished. She flickered like a light switch turning on and off or like a ghost vanishing and then reappearing. The phenomena repeated. Anna touched Caitlyn’s chestnut hair. Sweat moistened her skin. “I don’t understand Mark. What is this?”

She stared at her brother, his mouth worked silent and quivering. A fat tear dripped to the floor from his chin. “I’m sorry. I don’t know.” He whined. The usual defender was gone and Mark the little boy stood there fully terrified. It was unfair to ask him about the situation. He was a little boy and Anna was only 15. They needed Mom and Dad.

“Go find someone, Mom, Dad.” Anna saw Mark out of the room and returned to Caitlyn’s suddenly empty bed. Hair emerged and then a hand, followed by the rest of her. She trembled and leaned over the edge of the bed. Caitlyn choked and coughed phlegm before projecting vomit across the floor. Last night’s ham dinner. The partially digested contents twisted Anna’s stomach and her mouth watered. The pungent mess sprayed flecks all over Anna’s pajamas. The cocoa and yogurt threatened to vacate. “Caitlyn stay with me.” She clutched her fingers. Please hurry. She prayed for a savior and watched as her sister dissolved once more. Still, no one appeared to assist them.

Stars lit the sky overhead as Caitlyn Henly stepped onto the cobbled street. Their brightness shined cold and distant from where she stood. The air smelled of river water and wet wood. This was not home, nowhere near home. Panic bloomed and she squashed it. Caitlyn Henly didn’t panic. Docks lined the waterway to her right and to the left she noticed brick warehouses, devoid of life. She jerked at the sound of scratching claws scurrying over cobbles. The gloom made it difficult to see the source. Permanent moisture gathered in the hollows of the streets. River water lapped the lower edges of the port and filled cracks between stones. She was in a city, a nighttime place, and all the buildings and streets looked dark. There were no streetlights along the docks, none of the windows glowed with activity.

A chill crept up Caitlyn’s spine and a light appeared ahead of her down an alley. How she had come to this place mystified her. One moment she was asleep in her room, the next here. Yet, the moisture in the air misted her skin, the scurrying feet didn’t sound like the echoes of a dream.

She rubbed her shoulders and moved along the line of buildings towards the lantern. As she drew near, she gasped, eyes darting around seeking observers. She reached out to a globe hovering several feet from the ground. Impossible and yet here the device floated in place casting illumination into the gloom. She circled the orb, awestruck. What a marvel. The scientist within her longed to slip it in a specimen bag or container to bring it home for a more intimate study.

Shadows swept the docks and street. Buildings lingered in mist and the floating globe light struggled to break through the shade and fog. The light fought the dark and the dark struck back. Odd how the shadows filled the port and rolled over the floating globe. The globe remained steadfast, a beacon, fierce and weak in intervals depending on the activity of the dark. The two phenomena played counter to the other like two soldiers in combat. One clearly had the upper hand and it wasn’t the hover globe though it fought valiantly and continued to emit a dim glow. The oddity defied known physics.

Footsteps echoed from the street behind her. She whipped around, not seeing anyone there. She tried the nearest door to hide and found it locked. The next one didn’t budge. The click of heels drew nearer. With a twist, the doorknob turned and she threw herself inside, gently closing the door. She crouched down among objects covered in dusty cloths, large shapes, furniture she thought. Caitlyn crawled between crates and two wrapped lamps, and tucked herself into the darkness between the wall and what felt like a large chest.

The room smelled musty, as if mold had grown wild in the darkest places. The warehouse felt cavernous. As if, the darkness might swallow her whole. Caitlyn shuddered, inching towards the front to hide behind a wardrobe. The globe light outside barely differentiated between lightless space and the buildings. A window provided some view of the outside. Why didn’t the light penetrate the dark? It appeared distant, despite being right there. Shadows threatened to overwhelm the globe, even as the glow resisted—penetrating the gloom.

A voice called out. “Bring him. He can show us where he found the artifact.” The speaker sounded like a man with a thick accent similar to Italians in New York or New Jersey, though unfamiliar inflections infused his words. What a trippy dream. Mixing time periods and places. She had to be dreaming.

Caitlyn peered between the chest and the wall, leaning forward to see through the building’s window. Three men approached, wearing garb fit for a 1880s fashion catalog, Victorian suits and long coats. Their wide hats, nothing like Victorian men’s wear, slouched to the side and ended in points. Floppy wizard hats without stars and an inability to stand upright. She crawled a little closer, hovering behind a bookcase just out of sight she thought. It was hard to tell if they had a view of her or not, but none of them looked in her direction. Thankfully.

Their garments created layers over slender figures. Two had better clothes, one of them short with blond hair and a manicured beard. The other tall, handsome and dark. Olive skinned like people near the Mediterranean. The third man, ratty and disheveled, dangled between them, held up by his arms.

The short man shook the captive, who dangled in his tattered clothes, moaning. “Don’t drain me, High One,” he rasped. The captive’s face drooped, covered with grime.

“Let him go.” The dark man loomed like a crow over the other two. He was handsome for his age; probably 30 years give or take.

The dirty man dropped to the ground out of sight and harrumphed in pain.

“Well, did you find it?”

The captive cried, thin and reedy. “I am close, I know it. It’s within one of these warehouses. I will find it. Spare me, please.”

The blond, Veticco, turned to the warehouse and tapped the window. “Have you checked in here, Briz?” His gaze swept the room, foxlike and pointed attention. He roved the spaces, paused where Caitlyn huddled behind the bookcase, frozen. Terror ran up her spine. Veticco turned to the grimy man. “Well?” He kicked the man. “Don’t lie to me. I don’t have the patience and Rofallo has less.”

“Names, Veticco. Use my name again and I shall strike you hollow where you stand.” Rofallo lifted his hand, a vial swirled with a mesmerizing liquid, it shined similar to Anna’s birthmarks and it had a sound like soft music playing in another room. Caitlyn couldn’t quite understand the words. He pulled the stopper and Veticco backed away. Rofallo returned the vial to his coat pocket.

Veticco muttered, scratched his beard and grimaced. “You said my name.” Caitlyn heard him whisper. Clearly he had less power in the situation.

Standing, the one called Briz bowed. “We might search it now. With your help.” Rofallo held up his hand in the man’s wrinkled and worn face. He still had the look of a hunted ferret, not strong enough to defend.

The gloom increased and cast the trio in a menacing light. This place reminded Caitlyn of a Gothic novel with monsters lurking. The urge to hide intensified. This was not a place for discovery. These men did not seem like lifelong friends. Goons, partners in crime maybe. Not friends. Caitlyn shut her eyes and willed herself to wake up. Return to her bedroom and wake. She remained in the dank warehouse.

“Get your pack; we have spared you for now.” An icy edge entered the crow’s words. He shoved Veticco. “Go. This was a waste. Report to the highest. Send my regards.” He tipped his hat and stalked off into the night.

The blond left the ferret man alone, choosing a direction opposite Rofallo. Caitlyn slunk further back into the darkness the moment she realized Briz intended to enter there now. She moved to the chest as soon as the door turned, opened and Briz entered. Her feet scuffed the floor. “Who goes there?” He crept around the furniture, leaving grease prints from his hands on the cloth covers. “No, I don’t want to know. Leave me be.” His voice quavered and cracked, feet shuffling.

She held her breath, closed her eyes and thought of another place far away. A place safe and warm. A place full of light. The room tilted, Caitlyn’s stomach heaved. She fell for a long time and then her feet landed on soft, silky grass.

Light warmed her face and she opened her eyes. Trees unlike any she’d ever seen formed a canopy over her head. They had wide trunks with thick leaves. Tiny bulbs dangled from the branches and glowed similar to the floating lights back in the dark place, near the riverside dock, but more like large Christmas bulbs. Flowers bloomed rich and a fragrance both addictive and sweet invaded her nose.

Peace filled her and song; a thrum stirred her soul. It sent shivers down her spine and tingles in her mind. The hum vibrated through the air. A tiny creature appeared in front of her, screamed and darted away before she fully registered what it was. A leafy figure with wings? Compared to the last place, this one felt like a soothing balm, a sanctuary on holy ground.

Caitlyn closed her eyes and thought of home. A trickle of vomit trailed the carpet of her bedroom floor. She wept and moaned. Sweat slicked the sides of her face. Heat ignited within her, she swayed too hot to stand or move.

Anna held her sister and rocked. “Wake up, please wake up.” Please come back soon. Where was Mom or Dad? Anyone? Panic stricken, she held her sister’s arms. Her flesh blinked diaphanous and insubstantial one moment and then solid the next. Waves of heat radiated from Caitlyn.

Caitlyn sputtered, jerked and sat upright, eyes opened wide and delirious. She leaned over and puked once more. Flecks landed on Anna.

“You’re awake.” Anna pulled the hair away from her sister’s face. “I’m here. Mark went to get Mom and Dad.”

Perspiration rolled down Caitlyn’s arm and soaked her pajamas. Trembling and mute, snot welled in her nose. Sobs wracked her body, her figure contorted and bent. A wail ripped from her throat. “It hurts. Oh heaven it hurts.” She collapsed against her pillow, pallid and weak. “Water, please.”

Anna hesitated to leave Caitlyn. She had her by the hand and started to lift. “Come into the bathroom. Come now. Let’s get a drink of water.” Better to bring her with in case she physically faded again. The instant departures and returns like someone flicking a light on and off disconcerted. This sort of phenomenon didn’t happen. She thought of the storm and the black hole behind the reporter on the video. The similarities struck her between the two events. Mom’s convulsions, Caitlyn’s physical dissipation and manifestation. What in the hell was going on; the whole household was on a bag full of psychotropic drugs. She knew better though. Their lives had always been odd, since the day she came into the world with the shine. The Henlys were anything but normal.

Anna turned on the light in Caitlyn’s bathroom, guided her sister inside. “It’s okay.” The lie slipped out. The Henlys were in uncharted territory. Dangerous and life threatening, nothing about disappearing from reality seemed safe. Finally, an oddity far different from her birthmark and no smug satisfaction from it. She turned on the faucet and stuck a glass from the counter in the water. “Drink this.” Anna’s hand brushed against Caitlyn’s arm. If she clung to her, her sister had to stay rooted in reality.

Caitlyn’s teeth chattered and her skin went from raging inferno to arctic frost. Despite the sweat, Caitlyn’s suddenly sickly pale skin had never felt so cold. “I had this dream. I think it was a dream.” She spoke slowly and Caitlyn took the glass from Anna’s hand and gulped. “There was a place with lights floating above the street where a river and some warehouses converged. Three men showed up on the banks of the river, just outside a row of storage warehouses. I snuck into one of them and tried to hide. One man almost discovered me, but then I was ripped through space and time to another scene.”

“Of course you didn’t dream this. You disappeared Caitlyn like you phased out of existence and popped back.” Unbelievable as it was, Anna just saw it.

“You remember that weather report, the one with the hole that opened up in the storm behind the reporter?” Caitlyn’s teeth chattered and her hands shook as she sipped the water. “This dream or not dream was different than the storm, but it had an aperture in reality—at least in my mind it did. In one place, the trees sang with life, it was the most unreal part of it and I saw a flying leaf with wings. The creature flew through a wooded area and in the branches, a network of globes like Christmas tree lights floated among the leaves. The first place was all dark and sinister; the second location sang. It comforted me.” Caitlyn left the bathroom. “I need to write this in my field guide.” She brushed past Anna and froze. A leaf disconnected from her pants and floated to the carpeted floor. Caitlyn bent to retrieve it and held it up to the light.

Green edges ringed a bluish tinted vein along the flat of the leaf. The leaf fluttered in Caitlyn’s hand, though the window remained closed against the wind.

Woodwind instruments vibrated their reedy song at the center of the leaf. Alien words wafted through the room as a cantata. Happy voices repeated a refrain. Anna’s feet lifted and for a moment, she forgot Caitlyn’s predicament. “Do you hear the music?” An itch spread between her shoulder blades and into her toes. Anna scratched behind her ear, an urge to fly, to rise on point and then off the floor magnified by the melody. She hummed a few bars.

Caitlyn started to shake her head and then paused. “Maybe.” She scrunched up her face, thinking. “The dream place wavered between silence and music. Like the weather report from last night.”

Caitlyn had heard it too. Anna’s stomach dropped. None of this made any sense. “Mark says he heard you shout and then he saw you disappear from your bed.”

From the hall, Anna heard Roger Eyrton, the household butler and driver, calling, his Connemara dialect strong. “Are you alright?” Footsteps padded towards them. “Mark asked me to come check on you.” Flame-red hair appeared first through the doorway; he had to crouch to enter. A giraffe folding in two. “Is everything okay?” A close-cropped beard framed his square face and concern marred his ruddy, freckle-splattered features. He still wore a suit, charcoal colored and cut from a fine material, the sort of thing designers called couture. Expensive fit Roger’s personality. The color turned his green eyes ashen.

“Did you just come in?” Anna ignored his questions.

“I was out with Stanley last night. It’s his birthday.” He cracked a smile, a bonfire of excitement ignited. Stanley was Roger’s partner. They hoped to marry one day, when the law changed, but for now the two of them worked to save for their dream home. “I took him to Silvan Horn’s Bavarian Bistro in downtown Saint Paul. It was amazing! The drinks, the food. Stanley held me tight when we danced. They had a jazz trio.” The Irish butler danced about the room. Anna laughed. The man had a bottomless stomach for food and never packed on extra pounds. Roger turned to Caitlyn and started. “So, what happened?”

They didn’t respond. Anna watched her sister waiting for the whole story and she shrugged. For once, Caitlyn appeared flustered and confused.

“You can tell me the story over some tea. Flora left a fresh pot of hot water on the stove.” He guided them from the room down the front stairs towards a grand staircase and fountain built into the curve.

Anna rounded the stairs, hand on the bannister until she reached the bottom and gazed up at the angel, Maigan Liel. A sword, pointed up towards the fourth floor landing, stuck from her hand. Water spilled from spouts at the base into a pool surrounding the angel. A placard showed her name, Maigan Liel, Angel of Justice sculpted in silver limonite by an artist named Yew Arro.

“Where’s Mark?” said Anna.

“Flora took him to wash and change before breakfast. I came to check on you on Mark’s insistence. He claimed you needed help now. Your mother and father aren’t home.”

Caitlyn took the lead, a sign she was feeling better already. “Where did they go?” She seemed more substantial too.

“They have an appointment with a banker and the estate manager for the house.”

Anna froze. “On a Saturday? Why?”

“They can hardly afford the upkeep here and want to find out their chances on getting a loan. The trust has limitations and with the lawyer for your late grandparents’ maintaining control, they need a loan or a miracle.” Roger clasped his hands. “I shouldn’t even tell you this. Your folks keep insisting you’re too young and ignorant to truly grasp what’s going on here.” He rolled his eyes towards the ceiling. “As if any of you are that dumb.”

They entered the kitchen, copper appliances and pots gleamed in the morning sun. Sunflower tiles lined the countertop against the wall and yellow paint made the kitchen nook particularly bright. Anna squinted and joined Caitlyn at the table in the nook. Across from them were three doors, one to the garage, one leading to a dining room and the other to a hallway where Roger and Flora kept rooms. For a long time, Anna wanted nothing more than to move to a better house, now she observed the quirks. The carvings and geometric patterns, marking the home as an Eastlake Victorian, all the artwork and unique furniture, even if it was ramshackle. She had always know it as home and now they might lose it. If she were hearing Roger correctly.

Roger poured mugs of a lavender infusion, one of Anna’s favorites.

The smell roused her spirits. Languid comfort seeped in and Anna felt calm. The infusion returned some of Caitlyn’s color and she spoke. She described the details of the dream from her snapping through the darkness and then appearing in another place. When she detailed the features of the men, she saw from the warehouse and the leafy creature, Anna thought about one painting on the back stairway. The artist’s rendering of a forest with tiny winged creatures matched Caitlyn’s experience with the leafy being in the tree.

The house was full of artwork, both fantastical and impossible, so much, like what Caitlyn described. Landscapes of other worlds and mythical beasts. Much of it scared Anna. The house didn’t explain the leaf, the one stuck to her sister’s pajamas. Leaves didn’t magically appear in February, not in Minnesota. Though, the vanishing was no dream. Anna clutched her mug. Were the places and creatures in the artwork real?

“It was real,” Caitlyn finished. A haunted look filled her black eyes; she slouched over her mug featuring a cartoon character raven from a movie titled, “Phoenix in the Darkest Night”. The producers adapted the feature from a famous novel a favorite book from Caitlyn’s collection. Her sister lifted the raven mug and drank.

“I believe you.” Roger patted her hand, not a condescending glimmer in his eye. “There are psychologists who say our minds speak to us in dreams. Philosophers say dreams are a window into our souls and there are those who say they act as doors to other worlds.” He cocked his head and winked. “Perhaps write them down in detail and date them, you may see a trend.”

Caitlyn froze and then nodded. She swayed, clearly tired and ready to fall asleep.

When the tea was gone, Roger went down the hall from the kitchen to his room and Anna followed Caitlyn back up stairs to their bedrooms. She paused at the painting. The artist Minersa Shan, rendered the image more like a portrait, as if she  observed the tree and the winged figure in person, as if painting a piece of history, the Renaissance equivalent of a photo. She assumed the artist rendered the piece long ago. The roses and the pixie drew Anna in, mesmerized she reached out to touch them, but halted, withdrawing. It was silly; they were not flesh and bone. She didn’t want to mess up the paint with the oils from her fingers, but curiously, the winged figure stared back, hand raised as if to reach out and touch her.

Caitlyn mumbled and continued back to her own room for sleep. Since she wasn’t phasing, Anna studied the art for a time. They were out of their depth and alone. Roger hadn’t quite believed them, talking about how Caitlyn should write down her dreams. Dreams are a message from the mind, a door to another world. Such nonsense with their predicament. Caitlyn literally phased out of existence and back and all Roger could say was write down your dream. What bullshit. She stifled the urge to scream.

Camilla Bonavirez dangled above the warehouse docks in Feloria, secured within the crepuscule. The vaporous black substance cast out from her soul’s tone, hid Camilla from other people without limiting her view. To the north of the island city, she saw the main tower for the Wizard’s Trove. A spear to the true-night sky. Down below, she watched a girl with dark hair, strange clothes and brown skin struggle to open one of the doors. Men were approaching. Smart of her to hide. By Dai Ithran standards, the visitor was young, at least a few years younger than Camilla, maybe 60 years old at most, barely near maturation. Definitely pubescent.

She didn’t have the power to hear the Song, few did yet she sensed power in the girl’s tone, a certain vibration, the type to draw the animavillam like flies to honey. So far, the hunters hadn’t picked up her tonal scent. One of the doors opened in time to conceal the visitor before the familiar forms of Rofallo Huntorevarre appeared underneath the hover globe. Short Veticco Murienez joined him. The man had a gait to make a fox jealous, how he stepped both cautious and sift, deft and loping. A predator in a small body. She slid a stiletto from the sheath at her hip and waited. The girl, these men were not dead, marked and paid with heavy weight starions.

The blond, Veticco, dragged another person, a stranger, beneath the light. A ferret faced man with no more confidence than a sack of bildagers, the furry creatures liked to scurry in every direction from hunting vicero cats. The ferret man was a bildagers among vicero and non-magical in tone. He didn’t belong to one of the clans, but he was Dai Ithran. A commoner. What did two men from two different great clans want with him? To drain him for a spell? A weak spell.

The dagger spun in her hand as she flipped it around. Camilla disliked waiting. The moments an assassin spent before collecting the dead most often brought boredom, countless moments in silence and gloom. The men retreated, Rofallo in one direction, Veticco in another. Their quarry was free. He entered the warehouse where the girl hid. Camilla tensed for a moment and witnessed the man depart, unruffled, well not any more than the grime of the street or tatters of his clothes showed. He had no weapon, no bloody marks. The night remained quiet and unmolested. Though the girl did not exit the warehouse, Camilla felt confident she remained safe.

Footsteps clicked against the cobbles. Another person approached. Camilla felt in her pocket, lowered from the crepuscule towards the street and dropped a coin. Twin stiletto blades, embossed into the coin, landed upwards. It clattered, scaring the hooded figure who bent down to retrieve it. She pulled back her hood, revealing the face of Poltira Cirovarre. Poltira turned the coin in her hand and watched Camilla approach. “I am dead.”

Another dagger slid into her hand and she raised them. “Indeed.”

“May I ask who?”

It never hurt to tell the dead. “Ferrana Cirovarre High One.”

The older woman gave a short nod; a flicker of heartache crossed her features. Ferrana was her granddaughter. The commission pained Camilla. Still she struck with both blades at once, straight to the neck and heart. Sharpened metal sliced and plunged. Blood oozed and Poltira collapsed in a heap. Camilla left the coin in the High One’s still warm hand. The message was sent. She cleaned the blades and tucked them back into their homes, paused at the doorway to the warehouse and realized the entire building was empty. Interesting. She hadn’t felt the visitors go. The crepuscule surrounded her once more and she skimmed the air all the way back home, to Kulnerais.

Chapter 5

“There is nothing quite like fae metamorphosis in the whole of Aulei, nothing more entertaining and nothing so unintentionally destructive.”

Observations of Fat Ornunk ∞
Memorializer Log Eastern Pool Six, Fa Xin

Sidras, Ice Moon 5691

Music distracted Prince Antares’ from his purpose to hunt down his mother and father in the Night Palace to demand an explanation. They’d commanded him and his three siblings, Eridanus, Lacerta and Vasant, to attend the month long Sidras World Cup festival during their transformation. Were they mad? He seriously doubted their sanity and instinct for self-preservation. Their edict didn’t account for the safety of the capital Sidry or the faeries who dwelled there much less the visitors.

A steady thrum emanated from within his tone, a continuous harmony growing louder with each step. He eyed the double staircase to the second floor and the throng of palace staff and guests flooding the halls. The swell of each note sparked golden flames along his skin and wings. His hair crackled and the wall nearby shimmered, almost transparent, as if struggling to exist. Waves of heat rolled from Antares and frustration. The catalyst for the change, puberty, coursed through him unchecked and unrelenting. To reduce the crowd around him, Antares ducked between a proha tree growing from floor to ceiling, and the central fountain of Berehan bestowing the goddess Emria with the gifts of fortune and chance. Goddess bless me.

He eyed the double staircase leading to the second floor. Visitors and palace staff walked the halls in large form while others flew as streaks of light snapped in small form above their heads. Antares didn’t dare snap from large form. The transformation disrupted what little control he had over his power. He prayed for control during the metamorphosis, prayed for salvation. The internal flares had already caused the demise of his best friend, Moss Spree and Antares could not stand the guilt.

A spray of golden flame shot from his wings and caught a plaster panel of Emria on fire. So much for prayers. “Muddy pellets.” He swore and ducked under an ornate sconce. Palace staff snapped to small form around him, their wings fluttering rage, streaking as motes of light down the hall to combat his pubescent flare. Water fae assembled and showered the blaze. Moments later, earth faeries burst into large form and cleared the rubble. Soot still stained the floor when they were done.

The workers vituperated Antares with scowls and flicks to his wingtips. He flinched. In large form, he was bigger than the average fae, more muscular and awkward as if he hadn’t quite grown into himself yet, which he hadn’t. Not his physical form or tonal. Antares would not have full control in mind, body and tone until he completed the metamorphosis. Fae puberty sucked sludge from the deepest parts of the Fiandi. Burning embarrassment, Antares slunk away from the scene.

At the base of the stairs, he punched the marble likeness of Tvegi the Blue, in the face. The statue rumbled and shifted, flapping his wings. Fire erupted from the dragon’s mouth. Tvegi thundered and sang through the Song, Qit͡lëm͡bë, I shall call you shooting star, for you are quick to blaze and just as hasty.

Antares shuttered. Offending a dragon from this distance and the day had barely begun. He hadn’t slept well of late. Dreams of distant worlds haunted his sleep. Puberty and sleepless nights were no excuse. My apologies wise one. He sang through the Song. Tvegi resettled into the marble form, his tone in the Song no longer present in the Night Palace or anywhere on Sidras. The artwork served as tonal doorways, nothing more. At least Tvegi’s physical form was light years away on Umpisa. Antares eyed the figure a moment more and departed the space.

A pine fae hovered in small form above Antares, witness to the whole exchange. He huffed, fluttering his wings in rage. Pine needles dusted the hallway floor. The faery worked as a suite cleaner in the palace. At least the silver moon livery he wore suggested the faery’s position. He, along with the entire palace staff, had suffered from not only Antares’ pubescent change, but his three siblings, Eridanus’, Lacerta’s and Vasant’s,  as well. “Watch your flare Antares.” He snarled before he fled the scene as a streak of green light.

Fly away little pine. He didn’t blame him.

The staff had the palace and guests to think about, his mother and father, Queen Chriessa and her consort King Comissros, to serve. The visitors had come for the Sidras World Cup. A mud sucking event full of conceited narcissists who never thought a day in their lives beyond the mirrors in their dressing rooms. Antares shoved through faeling, firing wings and hair, the growth of nature in them—bark and stone, petals and droplets. The hall looked as if the entirety of all fae kind had come to molt at once. Fae shedding their old skins in heaps. Gross.

If the heaps of fae exuviation were not bad enough, carts of silks jammed the corridor, arrelynian fabric, illegal velurveln, lace and starion diamonds for the fae lucky enough to procure the rare gems. Hopefuls who dreamed of winning the Sidras World Cup. Antares scoffed and stepped around the parcels and trunks, careful not to burn. As if he had full control of his power yet. He didn’t. No fae in puberty had full control; they hadn’t fully matured for Berehan’s sake.

Though Antares’ was the worst. The absolute worst. Since the day he entered the vine stage in the fae lifecycle, danger saturated the transformation process. The palace, the city, all fae kind stood on a precipice of annihilation. Well, the destruction wasn’t as bad as annihilation, not quite. So far only one fae had died from his flare. Antares’ froze for a moment. Grief threatened to drown him once more. Six months had passed since his best friend in the Song had died. Six months since Moss Spree’s demise and it was Antares’ fault.

Fae were incredibly resilient creatures, thank Emria, otherwise he might have silenced more tones than a Dai Ithran wizard. The goddess had bestowed split tones upon them, half shared in her essence of chaos and fortune, the other half with a natural phenomenon. It assured them resiliency and long life. Antares’ shared his tonal essence with the stars. His transformation promised greater bursts of tonal energy, enough to not only ruin Sidras World Cup entries, but entire buildings. Sidry was not safe, which was why his mother and father had to send him away, far from Sidras until he completed the transformation.

Antares ran up the stairs to the next floor and glanced around. His mother and father had to be in Emria’s Hall, the most extravagant audience room in the palace and dedicated to Emria. They received guests and petitioners in the room during special occasions. Yes, likely the two of them were wingtip deep in state affairs. Antares almost turned back, but the question bore asking, why had they insisted he come now of all times?

Pain radiated from behind his eyes. Antares rubbed his temples and pinched the point of his ear to release tension. Nausea invaded and he fell against the wall behind a proha tree leaf. The wide trunk caught him on the shoulder. A bog faerie bounded into him and gasped, breathless from the impact.

Sticks and moss squelched between fingers and bare toes. Mud slimed the wall from the elderly fae’s wing. Wizened brown eyes took in Antares and grunted. “My apologies.” The fae inclined her head. “I didn’t see you there.”

Feathered sprouts tittered laughter above them. Their youthful wings beating like hummingbirds. Blue down speckled the bog faery’s hair. She reached a gnarled hand up and plucked the feathers. “Sprouts think themselves invincible, unaware how fast the plant stage sets in and then the vine. I remember those days.” She tottered after the sprouts who snapped to small form. The bog fae snapped after them, faster and brighter despite her age.

Antares wiped the muck from his arm, wondering if the woman was close to final maturation and if she’d come from the Fiandi. Moss Spree had come to Sidry from the swamps. Had she known him?

“Watch it hatchling.” A harried assistant to some ambassador hustled around Antares, rubbing his arm. Scorch marks faded from the fae’s birch bark. New bark formed and he continued through the throng. 

Snapdragon faeries and pumpkins, oak fae and tectonic earth, skulked with cases in tow. “I hear an angel from the Hirtus will sit on the judges panel.” A volcanic faerie erupted. Another vine to plant transformation in the palace. Muddy great. Why not invite pubescent gravity or storm faeries? Lava flowed from her mouth and puddled on the floor. Palace fae quickly neutralized and cleaned the area.

“No, an angel wouldn’t stoop so low.” The snapdragon snipped. “As if the crown would host our supercilious celestial kinsfolk for the Sidras World Cup.”

Antares stopped listening. As if the angels would ever join the fae in a month long celebration of the best constructed fashion in Sidry, even if the competition promised one thousand respects to the winner. The angels didn’t care about respects or currency—of any kind. It was madness how diligently they stuck to their purpose in the Song. The uptight warriors rarely cracked a smile, never attended festivals and never traveled the realms unless absolutely necessary. The angels were not coming to the Night Palace.

Tucking his wings, Antares’ rubbed his eyes. If the transformation were not bad enough, he hadn’t slept well in weeks.

Each night brought strange dreams of distant worlds and a mortal girl with fae blood. The dreams didn’t make much sense, because as far as Antares knew, the fae had never procreated with short-lived aliens. He shoved the dream from his mind and slid behind a proha tree, growing along the wall, as the entourage for Qiana Dur promenaded, supplied with casks of starion diamonds—opened to show rival faeries just how much the world famous courtier commanded in her contest arsenal. Acorns, pearls, rolls of lace and skeins of silk and velvet rolled with them on carts. Qiana’s plumage poked into view from the middle, fuchsia feathers grew from her wings and along her arms and shoulders. Antares’ heart thrummed as fast as a hummingbird’s wings. Breathless and fearful, he prayed to Emria for mercy. Dim the flare.

Golden flame ran the length of his arms and sparked the tips of his wings. His ears burned from lobe to point. Luckily, Qiana’s sycophants pressed around her, moving on a current of praise down the hall. Spectators shouted for autographs and personalized portraits. Qiana flowed through them, untroubled by the crowd.

Six months before the two of them were inseparable and now he didn’t have a wing of respect to face her. Shame and grief flooded Antares and fire blazed along the edges of his wings and hairline. Since the loss of his best friend, Moss Spree he had avoided friends and family alike. Flame caught the proha tree and he slapped the embers out. Qiana never glanced his way. Thank Emria for small mercies.

Antares sighed relief the moment Qiana disappeared from sight and then peonies burst into the golden hallway. Muddy sludge and rabbit pellets! His moment of relief vanished.

Blooms erupted from sconces and gilt chandeliers. Peonies bloomed from the trunks of the proha trees. Murals shifted from a starry night sky to a spring meadow, adopting the essence of Prince Vasant Spugliguel Azarin, Antares’ younger brother, and Master of Spring. Carduus Thistle, his partner and love, strolled next to him. Grass sprouted from the floor. Bunnies appeared and hopped among the flow of guests and palace staff who traveled in large form. A lone stag surveyed the crowd before bounding off to find a doe. Life fruited from trees, birds tweeted and flew into open rooms. To have an uncomplicated metamorphosis. How easy to bear bursting flowers and fauna.

Summer heat roiled in Antares as he stepped from behind the proha to greet his brother. Spring’s entourage never glanced his way. Carduus carried empty vials in a box, three other spring fae—Deutzia, Tulip and Procyon followed close behind. His fur fluffed and shiny. The trio pushed a cart stacked with crates and chattered like birds about the entry Vasant had planned for the competition. Carduus tucked a thistle behind the prince’s ear. The two touched wingtips, unaware of Antares. Thank Berehan. Thank Emria.

Antares admired and even loved his siblings, no matter how boastful and arrogant one of them behaved. Vasant preened the locks of his green hair. Thick strands cascaded down his back. Peony wings flapped, unconcerned the tips poked Tulip who giggled. The flower faerie walked almost on the edge of Vasant’s elbow. He’d never leave Carduus for her. Foolish flower. Still, she gazed at his brother like a sunflower worshipping the daystar.

Procyon poked Tulip in the shoulder diverting her attention. “Fae will think Vasant the most prolific designer on Sidras once they see his creation.”

She smiled at him, petals falling to the palace floor in a shower of white. “He’ll win the Sidras World Cup, by my tone in the Song and Emria willing he will.”

Carduus balked, “This is not for the -.”

“That’s what I want them to think.” Vasant snarled. “Tsuʻa kha œkoi.”

Interesting, his brother didn’t want them to speak. Starve your tongue, he had said in Sidran. The desire to greet Vasant diminished. His brother had personal business to attend and didn’t need his pubescent sibling flaring at the wrong moment. He ducked back behind the tree, finding sanctuary in its leaves.

“Have no fear of Vasant dear Brother.” Snow fell and congregated at Antares’ feet. Ice appeared on the wall behind him. Over his shoulder, his sister Eridanus hovered in small form, a spectacle in glacier white and blue. The embroidery of her gown glistened with silver icicles. Cranberry and mistletoe cast an intoxicating scent. The embodiment of a snow storm, Eridanus Queen of Winter. The eldest Azarin sibling and heir to the Star Throne.

“Not fear of Vasant. Concern.”

“The metamorphosis happens to us all Antares. You can no more control nature than Mother. She may rule the night sky, but is she the creator? No.” Eridanus popped into large form. “Just yesterday, an ice berg burst from my essence into the grand hall. The palace staff had a Rarin quagmire on their wings to clean, because of me.”

Eridanus cared for logic and reason. If stars collided, she’d say it was the natural order of things and she’d be correct. If whole planets in orbit around those stars died, she’d still insist it was the natural order and she’d be accurate once again. Facts didn’t sooth emotion. For Antares, guilt burned and grief distorted the sounds of his tone.

He took in his sister’s frosty gaze, colorless hair and azure tinged skin. Evergreen fell from her snowflake wings and hair. Hoarfrost curled from her breath. Icy serenity emanated in Eridanus. A depth of wisdom lurked behind her façade, much like their mother, Queen Chriessa.

“You’re right as always Eridanus. I still question Mother and Father’s wisdom in requiring my presence now.” Antares repressed the desire to confront their parents about calling him home. “Whatever their reasons, I am certain it could wait until after the competition.”

“You think this without knowing their reason.” Eridanus cast snow across the hall. Icicles descended from the ceiling and a blizzard commenced. Fae darted to warmer sections of the palace. His sister sure knew how to cut a path through a crowd. “You’re intelligent enough to discern why they require all four of us Antares.” She rounded him, unintimidated by his flare. Eridanus glided in large form as smooth as a faerie moving as light, unencumbered. She didn’t seem concerned about competing either. “We’re here for a specific reason and it’s not about a competition, not entirely.” Her wings beat slow and steady.

“What’s your guess?”

Eridanus frowned and stepped away. Her snowy figure wobbled from material to transparent. “We all change Antares.” Eridanus’ flung her silver hair back and turned. She snapped, her body flashed a blinding blue and then sped away, a tiny indigo streak.

We all change Antares. There was something wrong. The truth cut deep. Antares recoiled. The fae lifecycle differed for each of them, depending on their nature in the Song and the gift bestowed upon them from Emria. Mother shared half her tone with the stars like Antares and their father, shared his half with Sidras’ moon. We all change.

Antares grimaced and clutched his chest, unable to voice the inevitable. Risking the whole city. There was something wrong. The danger forgotten, he snapped, burst as a concentrated supernova, blinding faeries, Antares raced to the Star Tower, his private suite in the Night Palace. He preferred the space of his Summer Castle in the south or the Hirtus in the north to hide, but the Star Tower had a tonal lock and quiet whenever his parents required his presence. Antares no longer felt compelled to confront his mother and father. What Eridanus had implied ate at his soul, dimming his tone. He thought of the elderly mud faery.

Inside the tower, constellations rotated in a heavenly scene on the walls. The first floor comprised of a private library and desk. The next level served as a bedroom, a toilet and wardrobe. Antares had an observatory in the point of the tower. Stars shined over him.  The Hunter stalked The Spider while The Tangle Tree swayed in cosmic time to Berehan’s Drum. Each constellation mesmerized and soothed Antares. When he felt lonely, the stars shined as friends. When he felt paralyzed in fear, the stars served as shields.

Spluttering interrupted Antares’ thoughts. A crash and stumble up the staircase spiral echoed within the tower, announcing Humidity—his body servant. A bottle of bilberry honey wine sloshed in the rotund faery’s hand. Humidity sprinkled the tiled floor with the purple vino and burped a long extended rumble. “Oh, you’ve returned.” Sweat streamed from Humidity’s pores and dampened the straw he called hair until it matted the sides of his face. His wings dragged, barely wider than his body. The body servant lumbered in large form, unable to trigger the col liại response fae used to shrink and expand their sizes. Under his arms, he carried empty vials. “Well, now you’ve returned, I don’t suppose.” Humidity belched, hiccupped and leaned against the gold wall, flakes of gold rained around the bibber’s feet.

“What?” Antares snarled. Sprays of sparkling light showered the space from his wings. The implication of Humidity’s tone, the vials under his arms. Two whole boxes. “What do you want?”

“With the fashion cup, a lowly servant like myself has to grab opportunity where they can and I was thinking. Your flare might attract a fine price, maybe even a respect or two.” Hope died in Humidity’s expression as Antares turned from the observation platform.

“You thought to profit from my metamorphosis.” Antares fiery wings beat and a golden halo flared around him as he landed in front of Humidity. Flames blazed in his eyes and the fusion of stars burst in his spirit.  

Humidity had many characteristics. He enjoyed drinking and eating. His waistline shouted the testimony on a daily basis. Condensation formed on the wine bottle and perspiration dripped into the cases. Humidity let the vials slip to the floor and sagged into the nearest wing-backed chair. Not many fae wanted to serve Antares. Most cited radiation caused damage to their wings and elemental expressions. It wasn’t his fault he burned petals and fur to cinders. Humidity had a dogged ability to withstand Antares. So here, they were an incompetent drunkard and hopeless prince.

“You’re not entering the contest and your brother -.”

“What about my brother?” Vasant had vials when he just saw him with his entourage.

“He was looking for unique sources of energy.” Humidity’s cheeks jiggled and he uncorked the bilberry wine for another swig. “It’s not a crime.”

The flame along Antares’ wings died. A manageable light glowed from within. “No, it’s not a crime.” Not even an illegal material by World Cup standards. “I’ll let you have one bottle. If you sell for any respects, I want half.” Stretching his wings, Antares worked to increase his flare, letting his tone ring clear across the Song to weave the harmonies of a contract.

He reached for the internal stars and fell to the floor, his light dimmed. Antares slipped into unconscious dreaming and floated from the physical husk gifted to him by Emria, Goddess of Chance and Fortune.

Artwork by Ivy Rautio

Chapter 6

“Glory to the Tone Weaver, Singer of Life. Exalt the Maker of Worlds. Berehan!”

Score of Berehan
Divine Scrolls, First Listener, Cloud Empire

Sidras, Ice Moon 5691

Humidity was gone when Antares woke. His body servant had left the empty bottle of wine on the floor, next to the two boxes of vials. Three vials were missing, three. Antares pushed himself upright and groaned. Pain radiated from his center. His tone barely emitted a harmony or single musical note. He scrubbed his eyes, unsure how long he’d slept. They had had a deal, one vial and Humidity had taken three, siphoning his tonal power. The wretched sludge drinker. Greedy and muddy inventive of him to think about earning wealth from Antares’ tone during the competition. Fae shopped like crazed Dai Ithran wizard’s hunting tones for their spells. Humidity better bring him respects.

Antares shuffled from the observatory and down to the bed room. He tucked his wings and fell on the bed for sleep. Stars exploded behind his closed eyelids.

A lavender glow manifested and then a garden came into view. Along a wall, roses climbed the bricks. Wisteria bloomed in trees and feather vine creeped along the base. Glow bulbs and prohas dotted the landscape. Firebugs flew over a green field and the smell of growth and fresh air charmed Antares. He floated above the garden path languid and peaceful. His starry wings fluttered, free from the mountain of grief that saturated his waking moments.

A figure wreathed in light danced towards a rose bush. The petals opened and Antares drew closer. A vortex spun from the depths of the rose. Endless black eating light. The wind stirred and increased. Lightning flashed from a cloudy sky. The familiar girl stared ahead, unable or unwilling to look away. “Waltz of the Stars” played in the air and through him. She positioned herself in the first pose and Antares joined. She knew the footwork to charge the stars. For one of the short-lived, she commanded a lot of tonal power. She rivaled Antares’ tonal essence and eclipsed many other guardians, maybe all of them.

Antares found her singularity irresistible. He rotated around her, a star in orbit. They transformed from two separate beings into one, dancing across the cosmos and the Song. Stars shifted, the black of space narrowed. Time and Space pressed in on them. Their limbs touched systems and planets. Life extended, protected in the ritual movement. Strange how well a mortal understood the protection of Aulei. Her duty in the Song.

The dance ended and the girl broke free from Antares or perhaps released him. He swayed against the contours of her body. She rested upon his shoulder for a brief moment and stepped apart, a distant light in her eye. The girl pivoted as if transfixed by an unseen force. The lines of her body blazed like a beacon.

Light pulsed from within a rose bloom. A vortex opened and Antares attempted to step towards the girl, unable to move. Rooted to the ground, even his wings refused to cooperate. He couldn’t snap from large form into small. Muddy puberty. Antares cursed under his breath. The girl moved further away down the garden path, closer to the roses. He pulled on his feet and worked the muscles of his wings, muddy Rariny, let go. His foot lifted. Antares bolted for the dancer.

From the center of roses an endless black devoured the light. The wind stirred and increased, buffeting tree and flower. Lightning flashed from a cloudy sky. The girl stared ahead, unable or unwilling to look away.

“Don’t touch the roses.” Antares shouted.

Her fingertips reached out and then she snapped from existence, ripped from the garden. Antares opened his eyes and rolled off his bed. He crashed to the floor, wings battered.

This was bad, a violation of Berehan’s Will. The portals were for emergencies, not fancies or carefree romps on distant worlds. Antares imagined the metamorphosis’ potency as weak and shuttered in a deep recess at a dark point in Aulei thought through the Song. Absorb my might, my tonal flare. To the universe he begged for a respite, just long enough to be useful.

He had to report the violation to his mother. To his father as well, King Comissros, Commander of the Celestial Watch. The first duty of all fae, guard the nexus and guard the realms. Stellar fusion flared, starlight beamed from his core and he trembled, an unexplainable terror gripped him.

The girl represented a harbinger of change, more than natural transformation from a vine to plant. More than a diligent guardian dancing the protection for the stars and worlds of Aulei. No this girl was dancing on the edge, a threat to the worlds. How a Guardian of Aulei could endanger them all in such a foolish way. Had she known? How could she not know better? She seemed about the same age as Antares or the equivalent for her world, which meant the girl hadn’t realized her full potential yet. Whatever her goal, singing counter to the Song, counter to Berehan’s will was a crime worthy of a Rarin punisher.

He had to warn his parents. Antares ran down the stairs in the tower, burst through the door and snapped to small form streaking above spectators and palace staff. He blazed like a comet towards Emria’s Hall and paused at the sight of autumn leaves littering the corridor. A pumpkin patch burst from the floor and grew among patches of squash and ripened stalks of corn.

His sister Lacerta rounded the corner, dressed in layers of copper silk and orange trim. Leaves fell from her crimson hair and acorns lined the hem of her dress. Warmth emanated from Lacerta’s plump smile. She rushed to hug Antares as he popped into large form. “Where have you been? Have you seen Vasant? Mother and Father have called us to Emria’s Hall for the invocation.” The words burbled like music from her mouth. An entourage of western fae huddled nearby, some above Lacerta shrunken to an inch or two in size and the others large to guard her back. Harvest fae circled Antares, boasting their calm so near his fire.

A flirty sciurid stroked his arm, locking grey eyes upon Antares’ fiery blue, careless of his smoldering fur. Antares arched a brow in his direction, curious. Now was not the time for a dalliance.

Their parents had impeccable timing, calling them on the heels of such a disturbing dream. The girl didn’t feel like a threat, particularly in the dance. Though her tone felt immense, a force of gravity sent to break stars. She had opened a portal, commanded the energy in a single fingertip. Trembling he recoiled from the sciurid’s touch. Definitely not the time. Nrof tshǔler zwi tshǔpu. Stars collide and the terror comes.

“What’s wrong Antares?” Lacerta squeezed his arm, heedless of her burning fingers. They healed bronze and coppery in color. “You look as if you’ve seen the dead walking.” She clasped her hands over her mouth. “I’m so sorry. I know how much Moss meant to you.”

He nodded. Lacerta was eternally joyful, an excellent counter to Eridanus’ icy demeanor and Antares’ extreme heat. Light shined in her auburn eyes and Antares returned the smile. “It’s not Moss.” The spark of joy reignited in his sister. “I’ve been dreaming of this girl. She’s not from Sidras and not fae, well maybe half fae.” Nothing he explained made sense. “I mean, it seems she may be a guardian, even knows the steps to protect the universe, but then she tried to open a portal in violation of Berehan’s law. Who does that?”

“You’re not making sense.” Lacerta cocked her head. “Let’s see what Mother and Father want before we try to figure out the meaning in a dream. We have flesh and blood to find, our brother who has disappeared from the palace for some reason.”

“Vasant wants a unique energy source to win the Sidras World Cup.”

“He’s entering the contest?” Lacerta threw her hands up. “What bottle fobbing prince of the realm thinks competing is a good idea.”

Antares grimaced, flexing his arms. He wasn’t entering, but he’d thought to earn respects from his flare through Humidity’s sales. Was that much different? “Vasant wants to earn respects and if we’re to rule our own seasons, income would be nice.”

“Fair point.” Lacerta continued down the hall towards the staircase. “Well, we’re not going to find him standing around. We can search the city. Maybe he’s gone to the shops in the Midnight District.”

The forbidden zone. Illegal contraband. While intergalactic travel was not exactly banned by the gods, most celestials looked down upon it, particularly the angels of the Hirtus. Serving as host to one of the largest smuggling operations in the Yfir region in Aulei didn’t help their reputation among their fellow celestials. The Guardians of Aulei had enough reason to criticize the fae. The forbidden zone gave them one more. “After you.”

Antares followed Lacerta, snapped into small form and flying down the palace stairs, through the front entry and out into the open. Stars twinkled above, the constellations beckoned. Antares fought the urge to join the cosmic performance. The Hunter chased The Owl, An Lyr Min plucked his lyre and Emria’s Eye burned a brilliant blue rimmed in red. The Three Memorializers gazed into a pool of felesium.

Buildings strung close together, offices and businesses, and landing pads for starships towered above the market square and in the Midnight District. The fashion hub hummed with activity. Even on the cusp of true middle night, fae flew from store to store, parcels and bags dragging them down. Revelers sang in the streets. A band played music for the shoppers and lovers strolled arm in arm, wingtips touching.

Lacerta streaked above them, a blaze of copper. Antares followed close behind and burst into large form just as they touched down outside a noisy tavern. “If Vasant wants to win the fashion cup, he’ll want the best velurveln on the market.” Lacerta approached the tavern and whirled. “There is a Skeldic shop in the Midnight District.”

Unicorn spun fabric generated triumphant hope to varying degrees, depending on the individual creator’s personal ability in the Song. Their strength in magic dictated the level of luck. Hope manifest came to mind when Antares thought of the harmonic celestials. Velurveln was banned from the competition. So naturally, most fae utilized it—if they had the currency. The Skeldic Raiders in particular made their fortunes selling illegal materials to the faeries of Sidras.

“Yes, he’ll want velurveln, but what of the unique source of energy? Clearly, his entry will have a mechanical component or be animated in some way.”

“Who can say what Vasant’s thinking? We have to hurry.” Lacerta raced through the crowd and down a narrow alley to enter the Midnight District. Smoke billowed from an inn, The Angel’s Bliss. Ironic. A den of drugs named for the rigidly proper angelic host. Antares swallowed laughter. Lacerta glared at him.

Music tumbled through the doorway, out into the street. Fae slumped in the street along a stone wall, traced lines with their tongues over rainbow colored tremela. They stared vacant-eyed at the stars. The fungi grew in abundance throughout the Yushrah Pass and down in the Vohshesh Hills in the north. Apparently it caused a euphoric and hallucinogenic experience for faeries who licked the fine powder from the fungi’s surface. The insult ‘fungi licker’ came to Antares’ mind. Lacerta yanked his arm. “I’m coming.” He continued to eye them, their witless expressions. Did Humidity use the stuff?

“You can come gawk at the addicts another time Antares.” She continued to yank his arm as if trying to remove it from the socket. Acorns fell from her dress and a couple of maple faeries dove for the currency, scooping them up and pocketing them before Lacerta had a chance to say a word in protest. “See, they’re stealing my acorns.”

“Well, when you sew them to the hem of your dress and wade through a crowd as packed as this one, you’re bound to lose a few.”

“Don’t be such a stink pit.” Lacerta dashed between two buildings, shoved through a group of alien traders.

Skeldic Raiders with their beaded hair and beards stepped out of the way. They were taller than  most tree fae and built to break rocks. Valteri cursed from mouths full of razor pointed teeth, their physical features reminded Antares of sleek minks in humanoid form. Neither race had wings and definitely didn’t share tones rooted in nature or with the gods. The Skeldic grimaced at his sister. The Valteri bared fangs and hissed insults at Lacerta and then Antares.

“Pardon me.” He murmured to keep the peace. Valteri were persnickety on a good day and quick to anger. The trio bared their curved blades for a moment and then slid them back into their scabbards. They rethought their chances against not only the Skeldic skurar guns, but eyed Antares and the golden flame roiling over his skin. He stepped around the traders. Control the tonal power. Reduce the flow. He thought the mantra knowing chants had zero ability to contain his flare.

Antares skipped over a heap of garbage and an unidentified pile of muck swarmed by insects. It reeked of piss and bile. He hiccupped and swallowed hard, fighting the urge to sick up. Coming to the Midnight District was a mistake, a selfish mistake. Faeries resisted his metamorphic transformation based on their shared tones with Emria. The alien traders didn’t have the same protection. What a fenging idiot.

“I bet he’s gone to buy zargots.” The crowd thinned down another street and Lacerta halted in front of a row of shops. Thank Emria.

She studied the names posted over the shops. One shop, the Volztaq Nation, sold a type of liquor called Volz. The drink was potent enough to get dragons and punishers drunk. Humidity refused to drink the stuff.

Another store glistened in a warm light, boasting spices from the Orcos. The proprietor had named the place Three Stars. The Orcos spice had magical properties and while not entirely useful for the fae, most alien markets had some for intergalactic travelers. Antares doubted the shiny powder did much, but froze when one of the Skeldic traders entered the Three Stars, a bag slung over his back and one hand on the butt of his skurar. He watched the visitor inside the store for a moment. Skeldic people were rationalists. Known for their calm and imposing demeanors. Perhaps Antares had misjudged the Orcos powder.

The next store had piles of boxes and casks full of what appeared to be black glittering rocks. The pile flashed and sparked not much different than Antares’ skin during a flare. Zargot crystals from Zarthon 5. Many advanced worlds used the zargots for fuel in their starships. They made the space-time skips possible, not that Antares knew enough about intergalactic travel or how to build ships with STS speed. Humidity claimed zargots fueled the ships and then aliens could skip from one area of Aulei to another in a matter of moments. He supposed it was a better mode of transportation than using the Euradian Sea and violating Berehan’s will by opening portals through the current. The girl popped into his mind, her orchid hair and flesh. He shivered, dismissing the dream.

Lacerta flicked his wing tip with her fingers. “What are you doing?”

He shook himself. “Oh sorry.”

“Vasant isn’t here.” She’d gone from warm to irritated in a short time. “He was here. According to the owner, Vasant has purchased enough zargots to travel all the sectors of Aulei in one go and then back again.”

“How would that many crystals help him in the Sidras World Cup?”

“I don’t think he intends to enter the competition.” She glared at him. “Vasant has other plans and I hate to find out what they are.”

“Maybe he plans to leave Sidras. Can’t say I blame him.” Antares snapped with Lacerta and burst back into large form outside the palace. “hyúny ai snãm” Antares whispered in Sidran. He wanted to leave too, though he refused to say it too loudly. He never knew who might be listening. The palace staff were loyal to his mother and father, not him. Humidity didn’t count; he was loyal to no one but himself. Antares paid him dearly for service.

“You have a point.” Lacerta had heard him.

Antares winced, bracing for another flick to his wing. The flicks smarted, not exactly painful, but a bygone practice for sprouts to goad one another during play. Some fae never grew out of the habit.

“No, don’t flinch. The metamorphosis is the worst, probably worse for you, but no flight over the Yushrah Pass for any of us Antares. It’s not easy, not for me, not for Eridanus and certainly not for Vasant. Imagine the number of baby bunnies littering the hall whenever he roams through?” She hopped up the stairs in a hurry. “Vasant probably wants to leave Sidras. Mother will go nova on him if she finds out.”

“I was just saying I didn’t blame him.” His wings bristled.

Lacerta frowned at him.

Now didn’t seem like the best time to tell his mother and father about the dream. They had real problems like the change from vine to plant and Vasant escaping the planet in direct violation of their parents’ orders. “I wonder where he found a ship.” The fae didn’t build starships and never traveled Aulei.

Lacerta flicked her wing tip at Antares in irritation. “We’re late and still haven’t found Vasant. When next I see him.” She clenched her fists and snapped for Emria’s Hall. Antares followed as a streak of golden flame.

Image Credit –

Chapter 7

“They will return to you,” He sang. “There will be cycles of living and then a final turn. The splinters will return to Emria.” So the goddess spun across the vast black of space and detonated Her tone. Berehan’s promise accepted.

Berehan’s Promise
North Memory Pool Cycle One

Sidras, Ice Moon 5691

Gul Hickory, the palace steward, fretted at the entrance to Emria’s Hall in the Night Palace. Antares watched the elderly hickory fae flutter from one end of the double doors to the other as guests filed inside, some in large form and others snapped to nothing more than a finger length. Bark peeled from Gul’s skin, casting flakes across the golden floor. Antares clasped his arm and swept behind Lacerta. Neither one of them dared snap inside the hall, not with the metamorphosis ready to strike.

“I haven’t seen an invocation so tightly packed.” Antares paused, unsure where to stand. He had his wings tucked as close to his body as possible and he fought the physical need to flare. So far, he had command. He clenched his teeth and muscles. Pain shot through his arms and knees. “Do you know why there are so many here?” Gul was too far to hear his question and Lacerta was focused on finding their sister.

An angel from the Hirtus was present, standing near the dais where two thrones supported the voluminous clothing of his mother and father. Shocking. An angel had come.

Prince Nir, Angel of Infinite Surrender, scanned the crowd through eyes as black as his skin, darker than night and darker than Antares’ mother by a shade. His feathered wings beat brilliant and glossy among the assembled faeries to create space. His mouth moved, Antares assumed with complaints for the faeries who refused to leave Prince Nir enough room. The tangle of leaves and fauna among the nearest fae, bobbed like acorns on water. Fingers darted out to snatch a wayward angel feather, another rarity for the fashion competition.

Sympathy surged in Antares. The angel had come during the competition on purpose and to the invocation. Havoc in the form of thousands of faeries, littering the city and palace alike, were enough to give Berehan pause. An angel didn’t have a wing’s chance. Muddy idiot. Three ladybird faeries circled Prince Nir, their red curls brushed his arms and their wingtips intermingled with his feathers. They cooed, ignoring the flickering rage in the queen’s eyes.

His mother sat on the Star Throne, next to his father, who occupied the Moon Chair. Gold starlight radiated from the dark skin of his mother and her starry wings. A crown of starions and gold shined from her glossy black curls. She stared disrespect at the trio of ladybirds, until they felt the heat coming from the queen. The ladybirds shivered and slipped into the crowd of faeries arranged in tightly packed rows facing the dais. Prince Nir sighed relief and inclined his head giving respect to the queen. Antares imagined her bank account in Sidry growing by the moment. Respects were a highly prized currency, the best among the fae’s 29 acceptable exchangeable tenders.  

In contrast, his father shined as pale as the Sidras moon, bedecked in silver. The sliver moon of House Azarin glistened on the Celestial Watch’s uniforms and the palace staff. His father ruled the watch and the domestic staff, his mother ruled the fae of Sidry. Far too many faeries had come to the invocation. Even captains from the nexus. They rarely left their posts.

Admiral Corundum Red observed the crowd from behind the dais, along with Captain Cowrie Sand and a few others Antares didn’t really know. Peculiar, how his mother avoided eye contact with him and Lacerta.

His sister found Eridanus and the three comingled between a pillar and a cluster of watch recruits. So many. Faeries in small form by the thousands hovered above the assembly.

“Where is Vasant?” Eridanus hissed. Snowflakes gathered on the surface of her gown. Frost curled in the air.

Lacerta shrugged. “Not in the palace, not in the city.” She lowered her voice and whispered in their sister’s ear. “We’ll talk later.”

Eridanus gave a short nod.

 A hush fell over the crowd as soon as Mother stood. The fae pestering Prince Nir finally departed his personal space for the assembly, finding a place to watch and listen.

The folds of spun gold and velurveln fabric framed his mother’s figure. His breath caught, as did all the faeries in the room. Gul Hickory stumbled to his side and gasped respect. The aura of the queen expanded and took in the entire host of faeries and the single angel. She amplified her voice and tonal energy. Her words struck like bells in the hall and reverberated. Antares was sure the entire palace, possibly the whole city heard her.

“You might be wondering about the invocation to mark the four hundred millionth annual Sidras World Cup. I assure you, the invocation and opening ceremonies will occur as planned in three days’ time.” The king joined his mother, took her hand and faced the assembled. She smiled, beaming more light and energy.

Antares surged. His flare increased and Eridanus amplified the cold within to counter his heat. Fae stepped or flew a bit further from them, wary of sudden pubescent explosions. Sweat beaded along his brow and goosebumps ran the length of his arms. His wings flitted, tucked as they were.

“As every season changes and cycles pass, we known as Emria’s brood, transform too. Six lifecycles exist for the fae and we,” she squeezed his father’s hand. “We’ve entered the final phase, maturation.”

Shocked silence greeted the announcement. It was too soon for a moon and star. Antares shivered, his belly flexed and his vision blurred. Darkness invaded and the image of the girl in his dream came to mind. She walked the garden path. A moth to flame. The roses beckoned and the light. Petals unfolded. Antares’ shook his head, breathing slow. Saliva gathered in the corners of his mouth, bile threatened to expel. He swallowed a few times.

Final maturation. The hall erupted in a flurry of whispers. A dozen faeries nearby burst into tears, lamenting the impending loss. How long did they have? Days, a year, millions? Hard to say for the final phase, especially one initiated too soon.

Lacerta took his hand. She trembled, visibly upset. Silent tears streaked her cheeks. Eridanus pressed closer, face as cold as stone. Only her near proximity showed how affected and fearful she felt. Eridanus stood first in line for the Star Throne. His sister would fit well when the time came.

Confirmation of what Eridanus, what he had suspected didn’t help. Antares turned within the circle of faeries, visitors and palace staff, the Celestial Watch. Admiral Corundum Red seemed unfazed as if she expected the announcement. Captain Cowrie Sand, rotund and brimming with seaweed and shells, appeared just as calm and expectant. The nexus knew. Of course.

A primary duty for the consort, his father, was command over the Celestial Watch. Prince Nir, the admiral and captain all served in the watch as leaders along with other celestials throughout Aulei. Someone had to train for the post when his father’s tone returned to Emria. Choosing from seasoned veterans made the most sense. A pain of regret touched Antares. Moss Spree had dreamed of working the nexus, as a generator or even a monitor. Swamp faeries were rarely fit to serve as generators, having tones rooted in aquatic or plant life rather than powerful energy sources. A monitor was a likelier post. Antares never trained for the role, not since his friend’s passing.

His father’s resonant voice thundered. “No matter the time we have left, we will announce the succession.”

So formal. Palace scribes shimmied between a giant oak faery and an ash to record the proclamations. The two tonal trees jostled one another for the best view, grumbling insults. Muddy stupid of them to carry on like bottle fobbing saplings during a royal invocation. But there they stood shoving like sprouts in plain view.

“To rule in my place, I name Eridanus Cetus Attarib Azarin, Princess of Winter, Mistress of Crystals, Commander of the Icy Edge and Defender of the Realm.” His mother’s words washed over him. It was really happening. “The Court of Stars finds her ready and willing.” Eridanus floated over the crowd ringed in an icy glow. She touched down at the dais and received a small circlet placed on her head by their mother’s hand.

Sweet Song of All, it was truly happening. The agony. Antares barely heard what came next. Sparks sprayed like a tempest from his skin and wings. Fire burst above him like sparklers during Festival Moon ritual. Golden light sparked and caught fur and petal, hair and limb. Fae curses reigned. Fungi licker and flune seemed most prominent along with swamp dweller and sapling. No matter. Antares had heard them all before—especially in the month after Moss died.

Approval grew louder near the front of the hall and ran to the back. The irritated faeries joined the celebration. Eridanus was well loved and capable. She would make a perfect queen. The scribes cast the announcement and date in ancient Sidran, Aulein and the modern tongue into a rocky tome.

Father raised a hand and silence followed. “Strength, humility and intelligence are qualities of the best Celestial commanders. I know only one with the strength and humility to carry this weight and in time, they will learn. Prince Nir of the Hirtus, Admiral Corundum Red and Captain Cowrie Sand stand in witness and acceptance of our son, Antares Tubiel Azargol Azarin, the Summer Prince, Master of Stars, Commander of the Celestial Watch and Defender of the Song.”

Shock permeated the atmosphere. Fae flicked their wings in disrespect, folding their tips. The faeries in small form turned away, unwilling to acknowledge him.

A beam of light erupted from Antares’ center and swept the room from floor to ceiling. Flame danced down his arms, fired from his wings and burned the tiles beneath his feet. Faeries shrieked terror and snapped to flee. The walls shimmered and evaporated in ash. The ceiling caved in around Antares. The oak fae streamed past with the ash in tow. Both screamed incoherently, leaves singed and wing branches broken.

From the dais, his mother descended on a column of starry light. The column expanded into a sphere and engulfed the room, neutralizing Antares’ nova flare. Waves of guilt crashed in and Antares met his mother’s eyes. Queen Chriessa in her golden raiment, radiated control. She levitated in large form; a goddess of Aulei as far as Antares was concerned.

He quivered and lowered his gaze, glanced around. The destruction. Burning gilt friezes, mosaics broken, the lights shattered. Antares glimpsed his mother, snapped to small form and escaped the remnants of the hall, rushed as a tiny beam of light into the sky, across the Yushrah Mountain Pass.

What an unmitigated disaster. Commander of the Celestial Watch. His parents were mad. He searched the wilds of Sidras for a place to hide. The last thing the Sidrians needed was a pubescent faerie in charge. If Berehan knew. Antares paused. Berehan did know. The First Singer heard all tones and all rests. If the First Singer didn’t know, the mystics of Fa Xin knew and for that, Antares flew faster. There had to be a place unheard of by even the creator, a solitary place to hide, just until the metamorphosis passed. Vasant came to mind. His brother had the right of it. Leaving Sidras was a stellar idea, even if it broke tradition and flouted the law.

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Chapter 8
Clan Bonavirez

“Seven Dai Ithrans raced across the ancient plains of Vion El. The manes of their ornilots flowed in the daylight, shining silvery white. Rolavarre, Murienez, Huntorevarre, Cirovarre, Pelinvarre, Quiorra, and Vel Enssos surrounded an Althean woman, a healer from the distant world. Wind blew the grass about her ankles. She clutched a cloak to her chest, her dress in tatters. Seven drew blades from decorative scabbards and another rider approached in the distance. Delinah Bonavirez bounced in her ornilot’s saddle, the creature’s hooves beat the earth. “Stop,” she shouted. Her words lost in the wind.”

The Archives of Clan Bonavirez
Cyrene Te Grine Bonavirez, Dai Ithra

Dai Ithra, Tiger Moon 5691

Daggers and the estate guards patrolled the grounds outside Kulnerais. Camilla Bonavirez watched within her crepuscule. The gloom born in all Bonavirez concealed her against prying eyes and light. The difference between the estate’s guard and the Daggers was akin to the difference in a boulder and a mountain. One was significantly more than the other one. Neither terribly easy to destroy, but the mountain less so. Never mind the old adage about a reed in the wind, the Daggers flew malleable when events warranted a bend. The clan assassins trained in versatility. An ever-changing nature and immovable determination both qualities made succeeding as a clan Dagger possible.

Daggers perched on ledges, in the hollows of brush and walked the night path. Their footfalls soft and blades in hand. Icy eyes noticed everything, even the fog where she disguised her approach. While they didn’t see her, all Bonavirez recognized the mist as one of their own.

She flowed over the grounds, pausing to hover near statues of famous clan members past. One memorial in the middle of a glade of lumina glicine caught her eye as it always did when she returned home. The flowering trees lit the square where they grew, the petals illuminated by an inner substance unknown to her. Kulnerais’ landscape sprawled vast and wide atop a high cliff within the Vicero Mountains. The clan allowed no other dwellings there. In day-night, the flowers bloomed brightest. When Infernua Izar, the daystar’s light refused to grace the people with illumination, the flora provided.

The purple buds gleamed in the night, full of an inner glow to light walkways. Camilla’s feet touched grass; her boots crunched the sod muffled and airy. A startled guard stumbled into a tangle tree and grunted. The air rushed out of him. How young he looked in the crisp uniform of Kulnerais’ guard. The stiletto dagger embroidered in night velvet thread showed his rank. He was a new recruit. The dagger’s minute size revealed all. Had he earned a name? He was no more than 60, barely past puberty. Not much younger than she was. Few whiskers shaded his face. The telltale Bonavirez traits of orange hair and piercing blue eyes, features to distinguish them from other clans, stood out against his dark skin.

The boy blended with the trees. Vaporous tendrils of his crepuscule emerged like ink from a polpo in the sea. The siphons of the creatures sprayed ink to ward off danger much like the boy’s attempt to conceal himself. The youth trembled ready to flee for safety and yet she appraised him. The Daggers always looked for new members to train.

Camilla sheathed her daggers. The twin blades disappeared in a flash; she hardly noticed drawing them. Strange. The boy was no threat. Yet day-night provoked danger. The clans stalked the streets of Feloria, seeking tones for magical rites and magicless Dai Ithrans to exploit. While the great clans commanded respect and remained relatively untroubled, the lesser clans and the common people had much to fear the moment Infernua Izar crested the horizon. The daystar, darker than night, never shed its light for the people. Plants and animals benefited, the world had to eat and thrive but the people never saw the light, never experienced the glow. He was right to worry. She reached for him as he flinched to escape. Camilla turned towards the clan’s seat in Feloria, named Kulnerais meaning power.

“My apologies Unknown.” He might have a name, so Nameless seemed inappropriate. Unknown was acceptable for Bonavirez’ who hadn’t met. She didn’t recognize his family grace; the quirks the clan members exhibited naming them a Te Grine like herself or a Vel Grine, En Arine and so forth. He simply trembled like a frightened baby vicero cat, mouth agape. “Is Ilario in?” she said.

The boy gave a nod, stumbled back into the tree before he found his feet and dashed away into the gloom of day. Camilla tapped her lip. Perhaps not a Dagger after all, she smiled. Camilla returned her attention to the memorials.

The statues, one of a woman, delicate with hair piled high in curls to frame her face tilted up with adoration at a man. Liona and Gaspare Te Grine Bonavirez. Her parents. Gaspare’s love returned to Liona and captured in carved haliate. The stone’s white shine beckoned to Camilla. Their union was legendary. Clan members regaled her with stories as a child. She landed on the grass and drew the crepuscule inside. The black fog evaporated. Guards started nearby clutched their swords and relaxed upon seeing her. Daggers strolled the lawns, calm as still waters. Camilla touched her mother’s face first and then her father’s, lingering to memorize the lines of their bodies and hair, the clothes they wore, utilitarian clothing with flexibility. An ache spread through the root of her tone and vibrated from her core. She pulled away, the visit concluded.

She crossed the lawn. Kulnerais stood on the edge of a cliff, partially built into the stone and partially overlooking the city Feloria in Dai Ithra. Builders fashioned the estate with 12 levels and a vast lawn crossing the cliff’s ample ledge. Gardens grew as breathtaking as any other estate at the river’s edge. The Dia Vithra River flowed far below, split around Feloria and coming together again from north to south. The Wizard’s Trove, the black tower to the north of Feloria gleamed in the distance, globe lights faint in the windows of acolyte rooms. The cliff within the Vicero Mountain Range, named for the large cat who stalked the region, served the clan as a place easy for Bonavirez’ to defend.

Camilla rode the gloam to the front entrance, tapped both guards on their insignias as she passed between them into the foyer. Hover globes brightened the entry, illuminating a grand staircase and a great hall straight ahead. Straight head, underneath the staircase, Bonavirez’ gathered in clusters around the great room. Families of Te Arines, Al Grines and Val Grines whispered near bookcases, their Nameless cloistered nearby awaiting orders, eager to serve. All the orange hair and icy blue eyes gazed from tanned faces, pale and mahogany shades. Xiomar En Arine Bonavirez strutted from group to group, a goblet in hand. He stood taller than anyone else in the room, his brash and lupine eyes gleamed a hunter’s stare.

Columns of precious stones and ornate friezes ringed the square walls and central quadrate. Brocade adorned furniture, piled with cushions and silk throws. Anagio smirked as Camilla entered; her close cousin circled the crowd and gathered Te Grine kin. Aurorna, long flowing hair bound behind her, joined them, a broad smile lit her features. Sour faced Nestore flanked Anagio, glaring about the room at clan members who were not Te Grines. What had she come home to? Camilla kissed Nestore’s cheek and then hugged and kissed Aurorna.

“What are they doing here?” She leaned into Anagio, scraping her cheek against the stubble of his face. He needed a shave. She breathed. And a bath. He smelled like unchanged socks or waste left out for a day-night or two. “Is Amarais too much for Xiomar to manage?” The clan’s seat in the north, commanded power and wealth. The En Arines were not suffering. The family didn’t tolerate fools exactly, still Xiomar liked to crow his attributes when opportunity presented.

“Oh it practically runs itself.” Winter frost chilled the room. Xiomar’s gaze penetrated Camilla as he rounded Anagio, Aurorna and Nestore. His copper skin shined. The man was handsome, an Irwanese lion on the hunt. His daggers sheathed against his hips, seemed modest compared to the contents of his tight pants. “Moon-like skin suits you Camilla. Easier to spot in the dark.” He smiled, teeth clenched together, wolfish and sensual. Bonavirez women and a few men swooned, though they tried to hide their interest.

Anagio stepped between them. “Camilla’s unavailable at the moment. She has more important matters to attend.” He rambled when he talked.

Xiomar sipped wine from the goblet, never looking away. “Oh does she?”

“What are you doing here?” Camilla tensed only slightly, but Xiomar noticed and smiled again. Insufferable, impertinent. He had no business in Kulnerais; the north needed the En Arines to keep clans Rolavarre and Murienez at bay. Rivalry among The Ten while illegal often resulted in death for no less than a few enemies on all sides. Leaving a whole the Amarais household weakened to come here, how selfish and foolish and brainless! Camilla radiated calm and smiled, gritting her teeth.

He leaned in, smelling of fresh sandalwood and spice, a bit of sweat. She almost genuinely grinned at the scent. Xiomar felt nervous. Good. “A few of the families feel Ilario’s health is fading and as such it’s time for him to name an heir.” He turned to survey the assembled clan members, no less than 11 clans had come to secure an heir. “I have a theory. I think Ilario intended for you to take the High Seat, but then the clan elected you a chancellor for The Ten.” Xiomar pinched Anagio’s arm. “This leaves him only a few qualified Te Grines to name—our Anagio here, Aurorna,” he gave her a quick nod. Respect there. Interesting. He passed Nestore without a glance. “Of course no one thinks Nestore competent enough. Your Uncle Yulrieno is a force of pure Bonavirez delight, no matter how difficult it is to find him, I have no doubt he has the intellect and fortitude to lead. If he wants the job.”

They had enough families present and probably more staying in rooms in the city to force a vote if Ilario didn’t act soon. She understood how clan politics worked. To secure the heir, they’d have at least 65 percent in attendance, more than 90 thousand families. Too many for Kulnerais, but Feloria was large. Inns of all sizes happy to serve a powerful clan.

The air pressed in thick, Camilla sought a way of escape. She flinched as Xiomar attempted to touch her face. Well the succession was her grandfather’s problem, Xiomar was correct, the clan chose her to represent them among the Ten. She might have considered a conspiracy to keep a Te Grine from attaining the High Seat, except for a few things; she was the most powerful wizard in recent Dai Ithran history, her service as chancellor made the most sense against the nine other great clans.

Camilla’s power outpaced the members of her own clan. She could easily lay waste to the assembled in the room, her crepuscule was darker and larger, her magic stronger and her daggers truer. Of the inborn magic wielders on Dai Ithra, Camilla was most powerful and among those who stole tones, she eclipsed them in the same way the creator eclipsed their daystar in total darkness. No, she didn’t quite suspect conspiracy; more like the herd of opportunity had come to graze in the great room of Kulnerais and the predators were on the prowl.

Besides, Xiomar knew Uncle Yulrieno was formidable and capable, so were Aurorna, Vito and Salantia. Anagio might do it in a hundred years, for now, he needed experience in the wide world or off world, if only the ban on Dai Ithran intergalactic travel would expire. Innocent Anagio, her cousin’s gaze spoke of trickery, the same look when they were children terrorizing the household in Muirtana—playing sneak the peira fruit from the clan cooks. Glee evaporated in Camilla. She missed those days.

When she left Muirtana for the Wizard’s Trove, the spark born in her, she had abandoned Anagio and Aurorna. The three of them wards of their grandfather Ilario. Aurorna followed her a year later, leaving Anagio entirely alone. The three of them had earned different paths in the clan. Anagio an aspiring steward, Aurorna apprenticed to their seer Cyrene, and she a dagger and diplomat. The distance between them seemed as far across as the Plains of Vion El.

“I am so pleased you’re here to see that Ilario makes the best choice for us all, Xiomar.” Camilla turned away from the stony giant. “Now if you’ll excuse me.”

Anagio made to follow with Aurorna at his heels, her long locks swaying as she moved. “Wait. What is your command? Ilario hasn’t come to greet the families and Cyrene is in her cavern consulting the felesium waters.”

Aurorna answered, stopping Anagio. “We’ll have the clan staff and Nameless start dinner preparations, assign rooms for our guests and provide refreshment—as we should have before.” Good. Aurorna was most capable, given motivation. Otherwise, she liked to daydream in the quiet of the mountains or hike along the trails of the Vion El. Aurorna had earned a wizard’s rank, though only as a second heir to the fifth. She had avoided the weakest rank by only a single step up. Though, her ability to read felesium was a boon to the clan. Two seers among half a million Bonavirez’ gave them an edge against the other nine great clans.

Nestore followed the two of them, his pinched expression cast about, skulking like a ferret in long grass. Gross. Camilla fought the urge to shudder. If Uncle Yulrieno were home or if Ilario had come out to see the arrivals of all the Bonavirez and if Cyrene had -. Well, speculation hardly ever solved problems. Xiomar in Kulnerais was a problem. Amarais was weaker without him; their holdings in the north were weaker in his absence. She knew his game. He’d drunk deeply from the cup of ambition. Xiomar coveted Ilario’s position and his suite in Kulnerais. He might get it the day Ilario fell. She prayed his tone still sang strong within the Song of Aulei and for Eresh, the Shepherd of the Night to leave him.

She strode down a corridor in the direction of Ilario’s study and private rooms. Winged punishers with bared fangs adorned alcoves in the walls, their claws spread to strike a sinner. Cyrene had spelled the statues of Kulnerais; magic imbued with her tone to strike invaders blind or dumb, even the carved haliate depicting her parents had a charm to hinder interlopers with ill intent. For now, the sculptors remained docile works of art. Angels stood in rows painted on the wall, advancing on the enemy against a field of stars, their silver swords pointed onward and shields at the ready. She touched the charcoal arm of Prince Nir, commander of the Celestial Host, Champion of Berehan and leader of the angelic horde. He had such an intense expression set upon a square face and ample shoulders. The angel had command during one of the worst wars in Aulei, the First Sýking War. Clan scholars claimed whole worlds perished when the Sýking came.

Camilla touched the angel’s face and moved on to find her grandfather. It was not like him to avoid guests.

The scratch of a pen on parchment sang to Camilla the moment she opened the door. The scent of glow clusters drifted heavy through the room and sprays of moon blooms provided light from vases to either side of Ilario’s desk. He continued to write, but motioned for her to enter without looking. Grandfather still radiated brawn in his body, a keen intellect in his eyes, wizened from hundreds of years on Dai Ithra. 800 nearly. Camilla cocked her head, fingered one of her daggers out of a nervous habit and shut the door behind her.

She approached the desk and waited for her grandfather to invite her to sit. He served as High Seat, she as chancellor and first among wizards, also the youngest in recorded Dai Ithran history. None of her achievements mattered. Camilla remained erect until Ilario set down the pen and motioned for her to sit.

“Granddaughter, must I always command?”

The question caught her off guard. She slumped into the chair, lacking her usual vicero cat like grace. “There will come a day.” She didn’t finish the comment. One day, Eresh. She shoved the thought aside. No. It was too soon to think about now.

“I know the families have come to demand I name an heir. They’re right.” He centered his blue eyes upon her and scratched the whiskers of his beard, which retained a few of the Bonavirez orange. Wrinkles made his hands and features soft, but Grandfather had solid muscle still. The black suit he wore had large crossed stilettos embroidered in matte black thread over his left breast. “It is in your will to keep me alive Camilla and yet despite all of your power, Eresh will come for me as He does for us all.” He retrieved his pen. “I shall see you at dinner I trust.”

The dismissal cut deep. No discussion. Camilla glanced at the document. Across the top in thick ink, read The Last Will and Testament of Ilario Te Grine Bonavirez High Seat, Wizard of the First Height and Second Rank, Citizen of Muirtana.

Vision blurry, Camilla rose from the chair, cast the crepuscule and skimmed to her rooms far above the rest of the clan. The highest ranking usually took rooms fortified by the cliff partially below the ground floor. The stony walls provided some defense. Camilla preferred the view of Feloria and the Wizard’s Trove.

She crossed the room to a balcony and observed the muted hover globes crisscrossing like a net throughout the city, marking streets and prominent buildings. Let the clans attack her there. They’d find out how she defeated 50 wizards in arcane combat before the Ascendant Panel. She watched true-night in the depths of her spirit’s shadow and wept.

            It was not often she admitted loneliness in the time since her mother and father perished or fears about losing other Te Grines. Camilla Te Grine Bonavirez of the First Height, First Rank, the Il meglio del meglio in ancient Dai Ithran, and Chancellor on The Ten didn’t succumb to things like grief. She crossed her arms around her legs and rocked—praying to Eresh for mercy, to Berehan for redemption and grace.

A familiar scent drew near, part sweat and grime mingled with river water and mud. Anagio. She wiped her eyes and sniffled. “What are you doing here?” Camilla withdrew the crepuscule.

“The Nameless have escorted the families to their rooms and we’ve directed staff to prepare dinner. Ilario –.”

“Has dismissed you.”

Surprise flitted across his face and then he relaxed. “Yes. Of course you visited him.” Anagio clasped his hands behind his back. He’d worked in the clan estate in Feloria for a few years now, making strides to ascend from attendant to majordomo.

She nodded. “He has written his last bequeath.” Camilla turned to see the moon’s light and distant stars twinkling in the cosmic Euradian Sea. She longed to travel the stars and see other worlds. Did they enjoy the light of their daystar? Were they cursed to live in darkness too? Shadow fought the light on Dai Ithra, muting stars and the hover globes alike. “I imagine we will hear more at dinner. Thank you for reporting, though it improper.”

The rebuke stung, but Anagio’s features remained smooth. She felt his angst and noted the tension in his jaw. Clan Bonavirez maintained distinct roles. Anagio was an attendant, Camilla a chancellor, an assassin and wizard, Ilario the High Seat, Xiomar the northern duice, a duke in ancient Dai Ithran. He ruled the northern Bonavirez holdings. The Nameless worked in any capacity available to earn a name and position. Camilla exhaled. She didn’t fault Anagio. Ilario refused to greet the families, and Cyrene remained cloistered in the viewing pool cavern.

Fools. All of them, herself included. She flicked her chin-length hair and slumped into a high-backed chair. She motioned for Anagio to sit and he crossed the space for an identical seat. She kept her rooms sparse, a few paintings of her parents, a statue for Fircete, the Dark God, in the center, simple furniture, a bed, a bathroom and wardrobe. The apartment suited her though, the large space, the rooms were wasted.

“I am a fool.” Anagio opened his mouth in protest. She raised a hand. “I am. We all are fools. Ilario most of all. Here I am grieving for my losses—again. Fearing for the future loss of our grandfather and forgetting my duty above all else. It’s our job Anagio to hold one another to account and this is precisely why a Te Grine is ill prepared to succeed as High Seat.” She crossed her legs. “Xiomar was forced to leave our northern estates to see we fulfill our oaths to clan and family. We’ve failed, allowing emotion and attachment to reign.” The truth rankled. It tore at her tone and struck a blow to the gloam inside her. She saw Anagio’s shame in the rose flush of his creamy pale skin. “I think we freshen up for dinner and descend as a united and abashed family. We take whatever course Ilario has set.”

“I shall notify the Te Grines.” Anagio departed.

Camilla trembled, such foolishness. She flipped a stiletto dagger from within her sleeve and spun it across her fingers to think. She had time before the evening meal to berate and then compose herself. What fools. They’d handed the clan to the En Arines and likely her choice in partner, the way Xiomar eyed her earlier. 

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Chapter 9
Changes Come

“For An Lyr Min favored the virtuous, plucking the praises on his lyre for those who showed the seven virtues.”

Mercies of An Lyr Min
Cathedral of Singers

Ev Irwan, Tiger Moon 5691

On Althea, the law demanded order and on Sidras, the fae lived by chance, but on Ev Irwan, the people fashioned their lives from the seven virtues. Seven virtues sung during high holidays, seven qualities good Irwanese folk exemplified in their daily lives.

Prince Cholistan Albantheirren was no exception as he plucked the strings of his Riverland Harp and sang on the balcony of the suite he shared with his twin brother, Levander. Notes from his song, “Love under a Full Moon” drifted across the balcony and over the ledge towards the platform where the starships he and his brother owned docked.

Inside, his brother blasted prerecorded data chips. The latest music by Thyr Veinelwyn road the currents of the Song to drown the notes of Cholistan’s ballad to commemorate his love for Catriona Paedearg. He didn’t expect a stone-brained fool like his brother to understand the musical sphere of snels or the heavenly chords of Yushrah. Few modern musicians did. He expected Levander to have respect while he practiced, though he often struggled to exhibit wisdom and good judgment. The disregard for Cholistan’s rehearsal irked him to no end.

He knew how much Catriona meant to him, since their 700th birthdays. The two of them no more than small children, it was adoration at first sight and her gift to him back then, the Riverland Harp, the very one he strummed meant more to him than the moon or the daystars.

Instead, the clear words of Thyr Veinelwyn grated on Cholistan’s ear tips so harshly frost formed along his lobes. His usual olive-green skin appeared pale and sickly. Frost froze the strands of his wintery white hair too, dangling down his back like sheets of ice. Percussion thumped, metallic winds and screaming xlychofens merged to form the vilest, most vexing noise imaginable while the singer bayed carnal lyrics throughout their tower suite. Half the castle probably knew the words intimately by now. Likely Levander had a female in there, maybe two or a group of—no, he dared not think about the humiliating mélange of nude bodies. Cholistan sighed, set down his Riverland Harp and stormed from the balcony into their shared suite. A lyrical assault struck his ears and his tips quivered. Thyr bayed:

Never mind the Ultipan
I’ll be your biggest sycophant
Sweet darling we’ll never fight
I’m your most devoted acolyte
Touch my ear tip with thine own
Our bodies twined we’ll shudder and moan

Cholistan grabbed the palm sized disc plate and smashed it against the floor. The music ceased. Thumps and giggles roared from behind the doors of Levander’s bedroom. Definitely a few Irwanese inside, maybe even aliens from off world. His brother liked to dabble. No shock there, since his twin had returned to Castle Grey hours after middle night, he had plenty of time to gather a small orgy of sycophantic whores. Chastity was not a virtue, however humility was and constant pleasure and attention didn’t exactly blunt the peaks of Levander’s self-admiration. 

The door to his brother’s room opened. Levander peered out. Artificial red and green lights glowed behind him, pulsing to set an amorous ambiance. Figures writhed on the bed in shadow. Lights danced upon bare skin. Cholistan looked away. No aliens this time. “What are you doing? You know what’s coming, we have much to prepare.”

“I might ask you the same and roll you for smashing the S-Rep. Feng de!” His brother loved the song repeater. It put loose Irwanese ladies in the mood, so he claimed. He bent to pick up the pieces and tossed them aside, clearly considering them a lost cause. Levander wasn’t the tidiest of Irwanese and once they completed the trial, grew to full adulthood and married; his brother would have to repair his reputation as a sloven wastrel. No virtuous lady wanted to train a grown Irwanese in proper behavior befitting their station, not when they had gialo viên to instruct them during their childhood. The tutors inspired perfection or made good use of the thistle whip to correct. Unfortunately, Levander had enjoyed the thistle. Too much and too often with a few adventurous lovers.

Cholistan knew better. He lived virtuously and avoided the stinging thistle.

The women Levander brought home hoped to complete the Ultipan. That’s why they kept coming; despite the fact, their mother, Queen Ulia, never sent an invitation for them to attempt the completion. She never would when the time came. In the old days, the ritual was open to any physically eligible Irwanese no matter their class or station. Their mother had ideas about the old days. The Ultipan was a sacred rite for Irwanese to find the mate most likely to result in offspring, but those not handpicked by the queen did not belong—no natural way they belonged on the Elemental Throne. According to their mother. Ambition kept a stream of bodies sneaking from the princes’ balcony, down to the starship platform and over the ledge to escape through the trees and stony base of the mountains once their time with Levander concluded.

Foolish hopefuls. If Levander was stone-brained, the ladies and the occasional male to bed him were a pile of witless mire pigs with nothing but air between their ears.

“I was practicing my song for Catriona. I shall perform it when she completes the Ultipan.”

Choking, Levander fell to his knees; olive-green skin blushed darker with mirth. Guffaws erupted between wheezes, his ears wilted, weak and amused. “You think.” He slapped the stone beneath him. “You think Catriona will attend?” Face turning several shades greener, Levander rolled to his side, clutching his ribs. “Cholistan, you can’t be serious.”

The Paedeargs were nobles. His mother had no just cause to exclude Catriona. Cholistan’s heart sank, tone nearly silenced by the laughter.

The melancholy struck Levander. His laughter died and he wiped his eye with the back of his hand. “My apologies. I know what she means to you.”

The words failed to find Cholistan. He stood there staring at his brother, dejected and soul weary. With the Tettaneithe just months away and the Ultipan to follow, the Albantheirren twins had plans to lay and supplies to gather, last rites to prepare should they perish in the trial. When it came down to the Irwanese at court, the Commons and merchant class, the two of them had no one else to trust and depend upon. Their parents had a duty to impartiality as they oversaw the coming trial.

Even Catriona might find her name in the book to hunt them until she killed the Albantheirrens or they slaughtered her—if her family submitted her to the competition. He whispered prayers the Paedeargs planned to send her brother or a cousin instead. Better, lame Geum in place of his tone’s desire. Cholistan clutched his chest, worried and frowning. Killing any Paedearg rankled.

The Tettaneithe, Trial by Sword in modern Irwanese, was a time for the heirs to prove their worth before ascending the Elemental Throne in Castle Grey. They had to survive the peerage chosen to hunt them and pass the tests set by the Commons to ensure they embodied all seven virtues required of a worthy monarch. And here Levander teased him, knowing full well, in a few months, their lives would change forever. His stomach twisted and ear tips wilted, chilled and icy. Whyn-gryn blood flowed through the two of them, exposing their inner sentiments. Emotion bounced between them, another reason Cholistan found Levander’s activities unfavorable.

“I’m truly sorry.” The truth of Levander’s statement showed in the taut lines of his muscles, bulkier than Cholistan, hair wilder, but otherwise the two were identical. He felt what Cholistan felt, down to their twin tones in the Song. Their notes resonated louder together and diminished when apart.

“Don’t think of it.” Cholistan swayed, turned on his heel to retrieve the Riverland Harp from the balcony, he didn’t much feel like practicing “Love under a Rose Moon” anymore.

One day, he’d play the song for Catriona as she listened nearby. His heart thudded, skipping, a desperation bloomed inside him, a nagging sensation like a drone setting time in a melody. Time was running out. He had to prepare, to act and survive no matter the cost. His future with Catriona depended upon it. Her future too. Another king or queen might strip the Paedeargs their last noble claim. They’d be landless and nameless paupers, worse than a peasant without a virtue to them.

In his own bedchamber, Cholistan tucked the Riverland Harp in a cabinet made especially to keep it dry and out of Ortali Major and Ortali Minor’s light. The twin daystars cast rays across his bedroom, brightened a mural of the northern Vryd Mountains. Albantheirren green and copper ornamentation lined the walls, geometric moulds in ngolc blych, a green stone quarried from the hills surrounding Verreihen. The fireplace across the room still smoldered with a few embers from the night before.

Cholistan fell onto the bed, pillows fluffed upward and bounced, blankets shifted under his weight. How to ensure they’d win the Tettaneithe and for him to complete the Ultipan with Catriona. Perhaps Ordanigad had ideas, Cholistan sat up, glanced around, locked eyes on the altar, near the window of his turret room, a song to the gods? Bribery? His tone sang whatever it takes to secure the throne and an invitation for Catriona to the mating ritual.

He grabbed two pouches of gold, a few gems including the only starion diamond he owned and fled the northwest suite to find his lifelong friend Ordanigad Erdigong. Ordanigad did not belong to the gentry, the merchant class, not even the Commons who represented the laborers. He was a scoundrel and a peasant, the lowest echelon of Irwanese society and therefore with everything to gain, he might bend tradition and law to help Cholistan. A smile parted his lips; for once, he was acting more like Levander instead of a love-struck minstrel. His grin widened at a nearby chambermaid and she scurried around him, frightened in the livery of House Albantheirren, the world tree embroidered on the back of her tunic. Cholistan hummed:

Love under a rose moon
My life I give to you
Faithful and true
Love under a rose moon

A superior song to Thyr Veinelwyn’s music. Modern Irwanese didn’t seem to appreciate the finer points of cosmic song theory; instead, they programmed overly simplified arrangements into song repeaters using what current singers called the artificial creator. What an affront upon Berehan, a blatant disrespect for Aulei and the Song of All.

At least an idea had formed—a rough one. Cholistan whistled, smiling at castle staff and noble guests alike. He rounded the stairs and traveled the northwest corridor to a central hall. Drab walls of grey stone, flanked him, only broken by periodic stained glass windows or tapestries. Several columns displayed statues of An Lyr Min and other incarnations of God. Various Irwanese figures and animals carved from a translucent substance stood in nooks along the corridors. Cholistan ignored the attempt to refine and beautify the grey and mirky stone of Castle Grey. Once the walls glimmered white, made of đlá hloa slabs. Time and weather turned the rock grey, hence the castle’s name. 

He made it to the castle’s entrance and swore under his breath. “Feng de.” His father, dressed in the woodland green and copper of the Albantheirren colors, advanced before a trail of advisors, guards and attendants. Grey staff flowed around them unencumbered by the way the entourage took up half the foyer. As if magnetized, King Rostan Albantheirren’s attention fell upon him.

Where Cholistan was contemplative and scholarly, his father was a man of action, a hunter and builder, an imposing figure, much like the height of a world tree and just as solid, his roots growing deep within the ground. The princes looked significantly like their whynirwan mother—all snowy white hair and muted olive-green skin edged in frost, yet they had the green of their father’s eyes. Eyes staring down Cholistan as if he had stolen another book from the library without permission.

“It will displease your mother a great deal if you’re intention is a visit with a certain Irwanese lady.” Grynirwan people embodied the wild wood, all forest things brown and green—yet fire burned in his words as if frynirwan blood ignited suddenly in his father, piercing and scorching. The retinue feigned an inability to hear and see. “You are not seeking the young Paedearg.” A statement.

Feng de, of all the sludge-flicking things. Aside from his fear of flying, Cholistan cursed himself for failing to use his Series 5 C-Bird to find Ordanigad. Fear didn’t exactly describe his unwillingness to get in the spaceship. He wished Storm were there. The ice lion, who occasionally allowed him a ride on his back, might have flown him down to the Verreihen city center. “I’m not.” Except Storm was on the plains of Upper Brolgden, tending his pride.

Surprise flickered across his father’s face briefly. “Oh. Well. Love is a fickle thing.” He waved him away and returned his attention to a close advisor, Anteirr Cietthan, an aged, stynirwan, cracked and mottled like a weathered boulder. “The Altheans know we’re not going to agree without another summit.”

Anteirr nodded at his father’s comment. Quiet contemplation clear in his posture. He pinched his ear tip. “Mining rights in the Subreyt are highly contested Your Majesty, yet I think we can get them to agree on our claims for outpost 35.”

Breathing to calm his heart, Cholistan rushed through the entrance and down the lawn towards the city. His plans concerned Ordanigad, and Catriona had failed to notify him of her family’s arrival in the city.

He’d wait to find her after he convinced Ordanigad to aid him. No cost was too high; his future with Catriona depended on their success in the Tettaneithe and their union would elevate the Paedeargs to a respectable position in society. As king, he’d pardon them for their cowardice in the Second Sýking War and reestablish trade space in the markets for their family’s orchards. Love under a rose moon. Cholistan raced into the heart of the city.

The Euradian Sea surrounded the island of Welchloch and the Enla River cut a path through the land and split it from north to south. A smaller branch flowed to the east, creating a smaller island with nothing on it, except for a high tower, which served as a library with tomes millions of years old. To the north of the split, smoke billowed from a chimney on top of a small hut. The home, nestled between hills and wood, field and stream, housed two young Irwanese. Norenthia Kerrigan leaned over a table in the hut and scanned a map of Ev Irwan, the continent to the east—named for what the people called their planet.

Her mate, Fludgath Mordei pointed a finger at a location in the Vryd Mountains, the northern range above the Swyeiren River. “It’s here.” Fludgath touched his ear tip to hers and turned a deeper shade of green. Foliage appeared in his brown hair and buds grew. His expression of love warmed his chocolate eyes. Water flowed from her and his grynirwan nature drank deep. One day, they’d have offspring, gryn-blyn, perfectly formed sharing equal parts of them.

A paper written by Gatigan Iseldirh titled, “Shards of the God Stone” rolled and bound with a cord, sat next to him. It contained specific directions on how to find the second piece. Excitement  trembled in his limbs. He looked just as he did when they had first met and completed the Ultipan at an unexpectedly young age for Irwanese people.

She smiled; three years ago, the event took place in the city of her birth, Hileirren. Customers had swarmed her mother’s textile shop. Norenthia had reorganized skeins of melu, a down fabric, coveted by the local gentry. The crowd had pressed in closer, more shoppers flowing into the store, nearly bursting the wood beams supporting the two-story business.

She had gone out into the boulevard and bumped into another young Irwanese. He had the warmest cocoa eyes and smile. Fludgath Mordei. Their shoulders touched and in the moment, their tones merged, light and sound detonated and sparkled. Irwanese flowed away from them in the street, aware of the vibrant display characteristic of an Ultipan. They gathered and cheered for their union once the initial merging completed. So young, just in their 1400s, a few hundred years from recognized adulthood. The Ultipan occurred when it occurred; not a power in the Song dared deny nature its rite. 

Rage stormed through the Kerrigan household when her mother and father discovered their tonal union. Anger subsided. No one could deny the Ultipan and Norenthia felt happier than ever before, she was completed without knowing her soul was missing a piece.

They packed her few belongings, Norenthia followed Fludgath to Welchloch and there they realized she heard the portal anchor too. Another guardian for Ev Irwan. In the Ultipan, they were inseparable by the elemental nature in their union, but also by their work as the last two portal guardians on Ev Irwan.

Norenthia nuzzled him for a moment and grinned. “It’s my turn.” She picked up the shard from the table, one of six cast to the winds of the world and necessary for the interstellar amplification of tones. Flecks of a shimmery substance diffused a star-like glow around the room from inside the shard. Guardians from each world had a god stone made to tap into the cosmic song and increase power for portals; if the time came, the guardians needed the extra boost. She was not as strong as Fludgath in wielding the tonal energy needed to open or close a portal. The other qualities of a guardian had yet to manifest in her. They needed the god stone.

Whole worlds had died in the Sýking Wars. It didn’t much matter they took place during the first movement of Aulei. Guardians didn’t take a lack of threat for granted—unlike the other denizens of the realm. Feng de, Irwanese people in their comfortable lives, no concern in the world. Never learning their history.

She faulted the ruling class and the scholars—with the exception of Hilojt Pirdowyn, An Lyr Min bless his tone—he had a knack for memorizing whole volumes with a mind as adroit as falesium in the memory pools on Fa Xin. When they came looking for more information on portals and god stones, Hilojt had located the writings of Gatigan Iseldirh. Thank An Lyr Min. Neither one of them had proper training, just Fludgath learning on his own for a few years before meeting Norenthia. Yes, she blamed the ruling class. None of them seemed aware how close Ev Irwan had come to losing their designated guardians. What a cosmic shame.

Norenthia pulled items from their hut for the journey. This time, she would travel to find the stone and leave Fludgath to guard the western anchor, secured deep within the Welc Wood. She took a vleithken leather pack and filled it with provisions, dried porgon flowers and mixed flurth, gorl nuts, dêurülng fruit and a jar of pickled Cáurn mèo. Her mouth watered thinking of the fish. Droplets of water fell from her hair and splashed against the dirt packed floor of their hut.

Hands enveloped her and the scent of creep vine and vurnth trees, Fludgath’s personal fragrance, delighted her senses. She leaned into him.

“I’m not ready for you to leave.”

Their ear tips touched as they embraced. Norenthia placed the god stone back on the table and followed him to their bedroom. One last hour together. Water and wood joined, their tones harmonized and flesh touched.

Outside, the Ortalis lowered on the horizon, casting the land in evening shadow. The first distant stars appeared faintly in the sky and in the tower library, Hilojt Pirdowyn ignited a lamp to scribe notes on the Celestial Score. The ledger sprawled open on the desk showed star charts and notation written in Hilojt’s deft hand. Circles marked Nika 16 and Ulnov 7 in the Olantius region of Aulei, the planet Kintar in the Serleyt and Sa’ Neith from the Pertagli System. Gnarled hands inked a line through the symbols noting the solmization of their scales. Aged lips moved fervent in prayer. “Bless us oh tonal Creator Berehan, Keeper of Life’s Beat. Bless us Radiant Minstrel An Lyr Min sustain the lyre’s canto. Spare us oh Shepherd of the Dead, Eresh, delay the final rest.”

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