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The Oath Breaker

Heather A Busse
(All Rights Reserved Copyrighted @2020)

Sidras – Yfir Region Aulei

Prelude
An Ordinary Life

In the beginning, Berehan birthed the universe Aulei in Song. And like most newly created things, the creation grew and expanded of its own free will. Aulei turned through the seasons and in each turn, The Song changed, for no two seasons existed exactly alike.

The First Law of Sidras
The Night Palace Repository

Aulei: Year 5480
Cycle: An Lyr Min

An inky mass approached the outer edges of Aulei. The mass didn’t recall its name and image, but understood its duty. Deep inside the oily substance, a light flickered. Dark filaments sniffed out a rent in another creation. Aulei. It flowed into it as long snakes through grass, a vaporous slither. A cosmic melody struck the visitor upon entering the new plenum. Tendrils flowed and danced from star to world to the deep black of space.

Where the inky thing lacked light and life, it drew nearer the nebulas of creation and feasted, for it had purpose and reason. Hope coursed through the entity as it split into countless pieces and spread through the closest regions of Aulei.

The Song of Aulei registered the newcomer as an interruption to the individual tones in The Song. Whole notes went silent for a time and then the cosmic symphony sprang back, its beats just as strong as before. Berehan’s response.

Its harmonies struck the visitor as distant stars and planets danced their rotations. Pangs of hunger erupted within the entity. It thirsted more desperately than the most desolate wasteland. Looking internally, a swirl of light flickered, the thing worried for the living. Deep need and an ache spurred its movement ever faster across the vacuum of Aulei’s space and time. Playing counter to the frenzied beats of starvation, Aulei registered the visitor’s intent and named it Sýking.

Chapter 1
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 and an entity whistled between the boards and windowpanes heralding transformation. 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 invading wind.

The winter wind ignored the house’s protest 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 seventeen, 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.

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 Celestial 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.

Chapter 2
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. Her tongue remained stuck. 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.

Chapter 3
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.”

“Why?”

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 fifteen. They needed Mom and Dad.

“Go find someone, Mom or 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, 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. He 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 of the events struck her. 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. 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 bildager 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 4
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, 5540 AY

Dai Ithra, Blood Moon 5641 AY

           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. And so she worked on her father’s plan to ensure one day they’d finally see.

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 twenty at his bedside. Sure, one hundred twenty-five 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 also 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.” Ragged 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.

Memory slipped from Clarita and she 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.

Chapter 5
Transformations

“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 432, Eastern Pool Six, Fa Xin

Sidras, Ice Moon 5691 AY

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,” said Humidity. 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.

Chapter 6
Contraband

“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 AY

            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 trees bloomed 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 stalked, The Owl flew, 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 is 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,” said Antares. 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.

Chapter 7
Invocation

“They will return to you,” He sang. “There will be cycles of living and then on the final the splinters will return, 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 AY

            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 a 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.

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 AY

Daggers and the estate guards patrolled the grounds outside Kulnerais. Camilla Bonavirez watched within her crepuscule. The gloom born in all Bonavirezes 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 sixty, 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,” Xiomar continued. “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 fifty 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. 

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 AY

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 Rose 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 tutors 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 floor 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 Swveiren 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.”

Chapter 10
The Art Speaks

“Speak and act in truth for it is the measure of self. Break not an oath, for you risk the breaking of self.”

Lessons from Master Takahashi Kaito
Commander of the  Komainu, Nippon

Earth, February 2007

            Seven days after the news report, and the first time Caitlyn phased from her bedroom, Anna leaned back in the wicker chair where she sat in the solarium. The mid-February sun warmed her face through the tempered glass, framed in wrought iron. The ridged and rounded ceiling bathed the space in brightness and provided a reprieve from the bitter cold outside. Thanks to Flora’s dedication, the whole room boasted flowers and trees. A Honeycrisp apple tree grew in the center and birds of paradise lined the stone floor.

Her laptop remained open, though the screen for her Algebra II class sat neglected. Concentrating on school had proven impossible, not with recent events in her family. Since Caitlyn’s first time phasing, their parents had become scare around the house—leaving before they woke for school, arriving home to sequester themselves in their home offices upstairs, or insisting the questions Anna and her siblings had were nothing more than child’s play—an extension of Mark’s imagination. The deep denial and avoidance in her mother and father had Anna thinking. It wasn’t just that they refused to acknowledge what happened right before all their eyes. They didn’t just believe the lies; they needed to believe them. From what were they hiding? 

Her mother’s glow the other night during the weather report was significantly different from Anna’s own birthmark. Yet, she had glowed. There had to be a connection. It wasn’t imagination. In the moment, Mom’s seizure seemed most important, scary even. Thinking back, Anna replayed the night. The entity, the weather report and vortex, her mother’s seizure and glow, had she concealed the phenomena the whole time? If her mother had answers, Anna might not need a doctor to run tests. Anger sparked light under her tan skin. The lilacs on her arm brightened. Her parents had kept her hidden like a terrible secret and all along, they had answers to her shine. It was complete bullshit. Well, Anna and her siblings were ready to corner Mom and Dad for the truth.

 She clicked out of the math class on the Winding Height’s virtual classroom, and a chat window popped into view. The names of Felicity Gregor and Gabriel Okada from her math class appeared. Both attended Winding Heights, along with Anna’s siblings, but they were sophomores like her. Sadly, she had never met them in person or on video chat. Her parents had the feature disabled the moment they gifted her the laptop for school. No pictures, no videos, no cell phones, she had the Winding Heights of Art and Science interface installed and not much more. They had even restricted access to search engines and results.

She clicked the chat, pressing her mouse a bit too hard. The key stuck and a box opened on the screen with text from Felicity. Anna tapped the mouse key back into place. She couldn’t afford to break the damn thing.

            Felicity: Gabriel’s testing for his license soon. Want us to come pick you up when he passes?

            Chills ran down Anna’s spine. She’d forgotten about Drivers Ed. A friend with a license opened up new doors. She could go to the library. She could research public records or old articles not available online about her family.

Anna typed: Yes.

             Felicity: Great, it’s settled. I’ll ping you when Gabriel passes.

            Gabriel: I’ve practiced a lot, even nailed parallel parking.

            This was great news. Tingles ran the length of Anna’s arm. The lines of her birthmark buzzed with energy and a slight glow appeared. She didn’t care if the shine flared as bright as the noon day sun. Bless Gabriel! He better pass.

Anna typed: I can’t wait. When you pass, will you please take me to the library?

            Moments ticked by and Anna saw no response. Then words appeared. Gabriel quipped: No problem. Would you like to visit a cave too? He entered a smiley face.

            Fair point. What person in captivity ever requested an immediate visit to a library? By all photographic accounts, the buildings seemed cavernous and dark, barely exposed to the light of day or the public.

Anna pounded the keys: Yep. The cave’s second on my list. How did you know?

            Felicity interrupted: Be serious. This is freedom Anna. We’re going ice skating and shopping at the MOA. Supposedly, the Mall of America was one of the biggest shopping centers in the world.

            As long as they hit the library too, Anna didn’t care if they left the state. She typed: Fine with me. Talk later.

She closed down the laptop and piled her school books neatly on the coffee table. Mr. Fyglia twined his body around her legs momentarily. She leaned over to scratch behind his ear. Light from the window caught his attention and he was off to chase the phantom shadows.

She was done with school for the day. Thank any god listening.

Mark and Caitlyn would be home from school any moment. Mom and Dad wouldn’t be home from work for two hours. They had a little time to investigate the storm and Caitlyn’s phasing in and out of existence. Had she made it through school without an episode?

            The front door banged shut and Anna jumped up from the wicker chair. That couldn’t be her brother and sister come home yet. No. She dashed out of the solarium and down the hall, past the music and family rooms to the front foyer.

            A woman rushed away from the house, her jacket open and flapping in the winter wind. Flora locked the door and turned; startled she tucked one hand behind her back. “You scared me.” She touched the neckline of her green dress; a matching sweater trimmed in red ribbon covered her arms against the chill air.

            “I didn’t mean to, Flora.” Anna leaned against the window for a better look at the woman, but she was too far down East River Boulevard, headed to the corner where East Lion’s Road began. “Who was at the door?”

            A classier, well-kept mansion loomed larger than life against the winter landscape on the corner of East Lion’s and East River. It was a Victorian like the Henly’s abode without the ruin. Black ornamentation and curved arches along the porch eclipsed the cracked paint of the Henlys’ house. Anna touched the glass and traced frost with her finger. “Was she Ephraim and Trenton’s grandmother?” She had the look, dark skin, older, but refined and delicate. Anna hadn’t seen her face clearly, but tawny curls fit how Ephraim described the Bryce matriarch and she had darted in the direction of the Bryce home.

            “She left a note for your parents.” Flora nodded. “Nothing to worry about, of course.” She took a deep breath and flicked the letter, her features paler than usual.

            “Of course not.” Anna frowned. Flora seemed startled. Shaking and fidgeting over a note from the neighbor. Another door slammed in the direction of the kitchen announcing Mark and Caitlyn. She frowned again, reached to pat Flora on the shoulder and ran her fingers through her hair instead. What would Flora say to comfort? Anna had no clue. She retreated for the kitchen to greet her siblings.

            Caitlyn tossed her book bag on the table in the nook; Mark followed and slumped in the booth curved around the table. Roger entered, removed his hat and smiled brightly. He raked fingers through his hair, which caught the afternoon sun like a bonfire in autumn. The keys to the family’s old Essex Super Six in his hand, jangled against the Australian Shepherd keychain Stanley had given Roger. “Good afternoon, Anna.” Roger glided past her and slipped the keys on the hook near the garage door. He was lucky the roads were clear.

            “Hello Roger.” She beamed. “How was your day?”

            “Oh just grand.” Roger cocked his head and smiled. “However, I’m off to see my love and shall find rejuvenation in his arms,” he said. Ever for the dramatic, he clasped his hands and batted his eyelashes.

            “Oh,” Anna giggled. “Enjoy the time away.” What else was there to say? She didn’t have experience in many friendships much less the romantic sort. Anna joined Caitlyn and Mark at the table. Roger departed. She scanned the room for signs of intrusion from Flora or anyone else. Seeing no one, she asked her sister, “Did you phase?”

            Caitlyn nodded. “Only once. I don’t think anyone noticed.” She stared at the tabletop. “Well, no one except for Trenton Bryce.” She grabbed her bag and rummaged through the contents, pulling out a leather-bound journal, tied with a cord.

            “He saw!” Anna jumped in her seat and slapped the table. “What did he say? Tell us everything.”

            Caitlyn didn’t answer the question. “I’ve written down my experiences here and I have an idea, a working hypothesis. It’s batshit crazy, but…maybe it’s best to show you.”

             “Okay, so Trenton didn’t say anything?” Anna said.

            “He did.” Crimson filled Caitlyn’s cheeks. Shame flickered in her brown eyes. “He said I lacked proper guidance and called our mother an oath breaker and,” she hesitated, “a coward willing to sacrifice all life.”

            “I told you I wasn’t playing.” Mark quipped. He picked up Mr. Fyglia and set the kitten on his shoulder. His grey paws clung to Mark’s shirt as he licked his cheek.

            “It seems Mom and Dad have a lot of questions to answer.” Anna drummed the table with her fingers.

            “Well, let me show you this before we do anything else.” Caitlyn opened her journal. “I’ve described each separate location, I’m certain they’re separate locations where I’ve phased to during each episode. I’ve logged the date, approximate time and details for each place. I’ve also described why I think they’re separate places by noting the terrain, life forms and seasons or respective seasons. I am assuming things to a degree as well, but…” Caitlyn nudged Anna to get up and motioned for Mark to follow. Caitlyn started for the door leading to the rest of the first floor and dashed down the hall towards the music room. The hall way loomed dark, full of sudden mystery.

While the ornamentation and art appealed to Anna’s senses, the space felt cooler than other areas of the house. Menacing in a way; it creeped her out.

Caitlyn explained, “There is an unexpected thing about the phasing, look at this page.” She pointed at the words. “Read this.”

            Mark turned on the light and the three of them huddled together. Mr. Fyglia climbed down Mark’s back, leapt to the floor and darted out of sight.

Anna scanned the page and then read aloud:

February 6, 2007

Trees larger than redwoods swayed in the breeze, their vine-like branches and leaves entwined to form a bough over a clearing in the wood. Music floated on air from violins played by invisible hands. The daystar radiated heat overhead. Floppy-eared animals scurried around me, unafraid to come near—a cross between a squirrel and rabbit.

Hooved animals entered the clearing, one strummed a lyre and another turned on hind legs like a dancing horse. Only these creatures had bearded muzzles and long flowing manes. They had tufts about their ankles that covered their cloven hooves.

The horned animals, so similar to the unicorns of Earth’s myths and legends, circled a central, larger horned animal. This unicorn sang. The song struck me simultaneously as familiar and alien. Her companion beat a drum, the sides carved to show the features of a horned green man who also beat a drum. Flowers ringed the horned green man. 

Caitlyn’s description continued to include more animals, birds and details about grass and flowers. She wrote about insects and more about the unicorns. Anna studied the painting, a piece titled “Harper Ritardand” by Minersa Shan. The trees looked like Caitlyn described, the drum, the lyre, the singer—all of the details exactly as her sister captured them in her notes.

            “There’s more.” She lead Mark and Anna throughout the house. A night painting matched the city and the river described in one of the first places Caitlyn had visited down to the brick warehouse where she took refuge while hiding. People dressed like how Caitlyn had described in Victorian garb stood along the docks, some loading boats with crates, others moving items into the warehouses.

Another painting captured the lifelike features of a fairy or pixie hovering among trees where lights floated like Christmas bulbs throughout the wood. The placard beneath the painting, like so many in Henly House, named the artist as Minersa Shan and the title, The Sidran Nexus. An ocean and merfolk matched her description of another place. Giant seashells gathered along the beach and rocks jutted from the ocean floor off the coast. The artist called the piece Nika 16. A strange name for a place where merfolk lived.

            Chills enveloped Anna, a cold to set her teeth chattering. She hugged herself, burying her face deeper within the hoodie she wore.

            “I believe the artwork in the house corresponds to places and real living beings,” said Caitlyn. A fervent light made Caitlyn’s eyes gleam. Anna leaned closer. Yes, she had a slight glow to highlight the deep almost black depths of her irises. She seemed more lively, more focused on figuring this out instead of shrunken and sickly like the first few times she had phased.

            “That’s impossible.” And yet, the vortex on the news, the phasing, the glow—was it so farfetched? Anna considered what their parents would say. They’d explain the phasing as a dream and claim the artwork proved it was all a dream, because Caitlyn had seen these pieces all her life. So of course, it was imagination. They needed more concrete evidence. Video or better yet, something physical. Real tangible evidence. “Okay, so likely you’re correct, but we know what Mom and Dad will say. We need to prove your idea.”

            “Let’s start with the video from the World News report. That’s something they can’t ignore.” Caitlyn most definitely seemed more like her old self; the self-appointed leader of the Henly children.

The transformation in her sister encouraged Anna. She hadn’t quite realized just how freaked out she had been over the events from the last week and a half. The three piled onto the wicker sofa in the solarium. Anna opened her laptop and typed in a search for the vortex in Spain. Articles and videos populated.

Caitlyn touched the screen. “Play that one.”

Anna looked at the title, A Melody from the Vortex. Someone had posted the video to YourLife, a man named Takahashi Kaito. She clicked to load the video when their parents entered the room.

“There you are,” said Mom. “Turn that off. We have to talk.”

Anna closed the laptop as their parents took up chairs in the room, opposite the apple tree. She leaned back in her chair, crossed her arms and glared. Neither one of them had listened to Anna or her siblings over the last week. They had been missing after Caitlyn phased the first time and had done their best to avoid conversation every day after. Now they wanted to talk? She bit her tongue, stomping on the urge to swear.

Dad clasped his hands to speak. “We’ve struggled with money for several years now and have come up with a solution, just a temporary one until work picks up for me and your mom.”

“We’re taking on renters,” Mom said. She beamed at them and faltered, clearly expecting excitement or a happy reaction.

“What?” yelled Mark.

Caitlyn stared, silent. Anna fumed, the lilac imprints on her arms heated with energy. The Henly siblings crowded closer together on the wicker sofa. Mark’s wooden sword poked Anna in the ankle and she rubbed the spot. “Ouch”.

“Sorry.” Mark shifted the sword belt. “If you had kept the oaths.”

“Enough with the oaths,” Mom shouted. “You do not know what I’ve gone through, what I’ve lost.” She stood, but Dad tugged her hand and she sat down.

Anna opened her mouth to speak, but Caitlyn blasted them. “You have ignored us for over a week and we have questions. Do you have epilepsy? Are you aware I’ve phased from existence, popped into random alien worlds and back again?”

Mom shrank, visibly shaken. Dad flinched as Caitlyn’s words pummeled them. “Are you going to acknowledge the vortex on that weather report last week? What about your seizure and the way you glowed, almost like Anna’s shine? We needed you and you were gone, barely around the house, leaving before we wake and coming home late into the night. What’s going on? You do realize Flora and Roger have their own lives? They’re not actually our parents,” Caitlyn snapped.

Dad paled and rubbed Mom’s shoulders. She sagged against him, whimpering and mumbling incoherent babble. Tears welled in her eyes. “We’re your parents. It’s our duty to protect you.” Mom blinked the tears away. “We…well our efforts…it’s just a dream. This will all be fixed, you’ll see.”

More vague nonsense. Anna quipped. “You’ve said all this before.” Except for the renters. That was new.

Anna pondered Caitlyn’s question and her statement. It was true; Flora and Roger were not their parents. Flora had made a comment about them not really being family, but workers with clear boundaries. And not for the first time, she wondered where were their relatives? What had happened to their grandparents? Did they have aunts and uncles? Not that Mom and Dad had ever explained it, not even for her third grade genealogy project when they had to create family trees. Anna’s had looked most bizarre with just five names.

“Are you going to talk with Margot Bryce and keep your oaths to the legacy?” Mark snapped.

“Are you going to tell the truth and stop pretending like we’re playing a child’s game?” Anna added her own question; though what she really wanted to know was the truth about their family, the house and how to control her shine. Instead, she piled on with her siblings. Besides, Caitlyn’s phasing was scarier and needed attention now.

“People don’t just fade from existence and reappear.” Mom’s voice turned flippant and cracked. She sobbed, face scrunching up as she hunched forward, defeated. Dad put his hand on her back. “Well…we hadn’t anticipated things coming out like this…the thing is—.”

Dad interrupted. “What your mom is trying to say.” They exchanged a look, Mom and Dad, an unspoken thing between them as if Anna and her siblings no longer existed in the moment. “We made a promise a long time ago, to ourselves and to you children.” They held hands, not breaking eye contact. Dad stroked her mother’s face. “It’s okay Ellen. We may have to tell them, even with renters to offset the costs.”

Caitlyn said, “You’re not making any sense.”

“It started before I was born,” Mom whispered. Her lip trembled and she caught Caitlyn’s intense gaze.

Light played underneath her sister’s skin, a faint glow. Strange how she had never noticed or at least seen these manifestations in Mom or Caitlyn.

Mom said, “My family, your dad’s relatives, the Bryces down the street; we’re hereditary members of an order and—.”

Flora barged into the room; her Welsh accent flowed musical and frantic. Her grey eyes sparked urgency. “I didn’t realize you’d be home so soon. Never mind. You must see this Ellen, Charles.” She departed from the room without waiting to see if they followed. Maybe she wanted to show them the letter from the neighbor, Margot Bryce.

Mom and Dad streamed after Flora without hesitation. They appeared relieved to get away from the barrage of questions from Caitlyn. Anna rushed after them. They ambled awkwardly down the hall. Flora moved remarkably fast for a woman in her seventies or eighties. “You have to do something.” Flora hollered as she bee lined it for the kitchen. She entered the sunny room. Light caught the copper pots dangling above the center island.

From the counter she picked up an envelope. “I took liberties all things considered.” She showed the torn edge of the envelope and retrieved the letter. “Margot Bryce came by today and handed me this.” Flora turned to face Mom and Dad.

Anna watched, remaining frozen and silent. So far, no one had told them to leave the room, and she didn’t want to miss a chance at finding out the truth. They had them in their sights now. Her siblings seemed to agree, because neither one moved. Caitlyn pressed her lips tight.

Flora leaned towards their dad and handed the letter to them. “Read it. All of it,” Flora said. She clicked her tongue to the roof of her mouth and crossed her arms.

Mom took the letter and scanned the page, eyes roving top to bottom and repeating. Dad crossed his arms and read alongside Mom. His blue eyes darkened. Anna strained for a peek at the missive. Something had upset Flora in those words and she wanted to know about it. It might help them figure out the truth about their family and the house.

Shaking, Mom dropped the letter. Caitlyn swept in and snatched it off the floor. “I think it’s time we learned the truth around here,” she said. Brow arched, she huddled between Anna and Mark to read. The letter seemed quite official with letterhead and fancy language:

The Cosmic and Divine Order of the Lion’s Roar

“Against the silence we sing, and in the darkness we shine.”

To: Dame Ellen Aberdeen Henly and Sir Charles Arthur Henly

Mrs. And Mr. Ellen Henly are hereby summoned to the headquarters for The Cosmic and Divine Order of the Lion’s Roar in Merthyr Tydfil, Wales at 14:00 local time on 12 March 2007, to answer for the following crimes:

Failure to guard Earth portal sixteen.
Failure to report suspicious activity at Earth portal sixteen.
Failure to maintain blood oaths to the Celestial Watch and to the Lion’s Roar. 
Failure to ensure the education and training of your hereditary successors in the Song.
Failure to satisfy the terms of your oaths and duties, and refusal to answer this summons, may result in the permanent seizure of all Henly assets and permanent expulsion from the Lion’s Roar in perpetuity. May Berehan sing His judgment upon you.

Sincerely,

Sir Takahashi Kaito, Commander of the Rising Sun
Dame Aoibheann Ligach, Commander of Derrycarne Wood

           

So many undefined and difficult terms crossed the page. Anna mouthed the words Merthyr Tydfil and Aoibheann Ligach. How did one even pronounce them? The first name rang a bell.

 Caitlyn held the document out of their dad’s reach to skim it again. Dad reached over her shoulder once more, Caitlyn shoved away and Dad came around the other side, nudging Mark out of the way. He caught the letter in one hand and the page ripped.

   “Great. Just great. It’s ruined.” Mom threw up  her hands and took the pieces from Dad. She said, “Our business isn’t yours you know.” She glared at Caitlyn and then spread the ire to Mark and Anna.

     “According to that summons it is our business or did you miss the part where it says, failure to ensure the education and training of your hereditary successors in the Song?” Caitlyn tapped her foot and crossed her arms, wide eyed. She gazed from Mom to Dad and back.

            At some point, Flora had left the room, likely to leave the Henlys to discuss the matter, though she had been so concerned before and had read the letter too. Anna wasn’t sure how much the housekeeper knew or Roger. There were times when the two of them behaved as if they knew a few things about the Henlys and then other times when they insisted they were nothing more than employees in a strange house with no agency.

   A few things stood out in the letter. The name of the order sparked interest. It was quite long, but it supported Mark’s claim about their family having a legacy and an oath to keep. The list of crimes supported Anna and her siblings’ need for honesty in their parents. What else could hereditary successor mean? And the Henly assets would be permanently seized, which meant their financial problems were directly tied to the crimes outlined in the letter. Anna’s stomach churned like a boiling pot of water. She clenched her teeth, biting back the rising bile inside. Their lives were a lie and the poverty entirely avoidable.

  Mom and Dad ignored Caitlyn’s question. Dad said, “We’re not discussing this now. We have potential renters coming to look at the rooms we’ll let.”

            “That’s right. It’s why we’re home early. We can earn our own money and break free of the Lion’s Roar, once and for all,” Mom said. She took Dad’s hand and squeezed. “We decided when you were small to leave the order. Flora and Roger have tried to help us and then again,” Mom paused.

            “It’s complicated for them.” Dad turned to face the children. “Roger and Flora have their own oaths. They’re not household staff, though they’ve posed so long under the titles it’s hard to remember. They’re knights in the Lion’s Roar, sworn to protect our family. They took oaths for the Order and then to us, to give us time.”

            “Time for what? You’re leaving the order. What else is there?” Caitlyn’s word came sharp. She stared daggers at them.

            Anna didn’t know what to say. The words wouldn’t come. She had questions and anger. The lies and hiding had hurt. As soon as Gabriel passed his licensing exam she was out of Henly House and off to Wales. There was no reason for her to stay. She’d have to figure out a way to pay, but she’d find one.

            “Time enough for us to find a reliable replacement and pass the power from our family to theirs.” Dad splayed his beefy hands. “We’ve had no luck these past many years.” Fatigue deepened the lines of his face.

            “Told you.” Mark grumbled, fidgeting with the wooden sword he so often carried. “It wasn’t my imagination and you lied.” Tears shined in his eyes. “You made me sound stupid.” He wiped his face with the back of his sleeve. “Ephraim told me everything he knows.”

            “Which isn’t much. Ephraim and Trenton Bryce have only gone so far in their training. They do not know the whole truth, not yet,” said Mom. She seemed stronger. Less shaky, almost confident, standing straighter. The truth was out, at least part of it. Perhaps the weight of heavy lies had carried her down, for she no longer seemed so wan and weak. Tawny color flooded her features, hale and shiny, as if suntanned in a tropical place.

            “True,” Dad spoke. “Ephraim and Trenton receive regular training on firearms, the sword and hand-to-hand combat. Considering his age, Trenton might be learning how to drive cosmic ships, at least on simulators.”

            Mom sighed. “Let’s all wash up for dinner, get settled for the evening. I have to cancel the renter visit and then we can sit down and talk as a family. We’ll tell you everything about our family and why we’re leaving the Lion’s Roar.”

            More delays. The agitation in Anna grew. Caitlyn needed help, so did she. Their lives were turned upside down and the phasing was dangerous, but a little more time and they’d have the truth. Anna marched out of the room and up the back stairs to prepare for dinner. Goosebumps ran the length of her arms. Did soldiers feel like this on the way to battle? Her stomach flipped, clenched and saliva flooded her mouth. No more hiding, and no more lies. Caitlyn and Mark trudged after Anna in a line. Fairy eyes followed them staring from paintings on the wall and from the corner of Anna’s eye, a winged horse flapped its wings. Imagination my ass. It seemed their parents had forgotten the old saying, the truth will out.

Chapter 11
Wrin Florbith

“An oath given in the Song fuses with the life’s tone. Blood, oath and soul exist as one. Unbreakable.”

Dame Perla Boucher
The Lion’s Roar, Saint Paul, MN

Earth, February 2007

Smoky blue and grey walls in the formal dining room appeared darker without windows to let in natural light. A funny detail to fixate on, Anna noted as she rounded a long cherry wood table to sit next to Caitlyn and Mark. Silver gilt added to the shine the crystal chandelier cast in the center of the ceiling. A series of related paintings lined the wall opposite the large wooden door.

    There were three oil paintings each by Minersa Shan. They depicted some kind of ancient city with clean white buildings and tall crystalline spires that jutted high into the air as they rose above the crashing waves below.  The city sat on an unfamiliar series of islands with connecting walkways, and on the middle largest island sat a set of columns with spires that rose higher than any other structure. 

  “Time for truth,” Caitlyn muttered. Their parents strolled into the dining room through a large wooden doorway. Dad shoved the wood, which slid on a track to make the opening wider.

   They gained a larger view of the torn hallway wallpaper. Mom sat at the head of the table and Dad opposite Anna and her siblings. She crossed her hands on the table in front of her, waiting. Mom’s big brown eyes darted around the room, focusing on the hutch and the serving station near the kitchen entry just over her left shoulder. She watched for Flora or more likely an escape from having to speak. Decades of secrets pooled behind her frightened façade.

  Anna stiffened, hands flat on the table. Well, they deserved the truth no matter how uncomfortable it made their mom and dad. Mark set a figurine on the table in front of him and his wooden sword. He glared at Mom and Dad, taking each of them in turn. Neither one dared meet his piercing stare. He had every reason to feel angry. They’d called him a liar, a kid playing all this time.

  Just as impatient, Caitlyn drummed her fingers on the table. An element of coiled rage lingered in her sister, cold radiated from the elder sibling. Anna shivered. Yes, she had reason to feel rage. The phasing was dangerous and deserved the attention and intervention of their parents, especially since they seemed to have answers.

            Flora entered from the kitchen, a silver platter in her hands. Steam billowed from the edges as she set it down and then joined them. Roger entered just behind her, ready for the revelation. He shot Anna a quick smile, though she detected a tinge of sadness in his green eyes. He wore Armani. Anna recognized his favorite wool blend suit in black. She smiled. Ever the fashionista, no matter how much it dug into his wages.

            They dished up cuts of roast beef, potatoes, green beans and a side of Anna’s favorite delicacy, lilac blossoms. She spooned two scoops onto her plate and munched.

            Mom placed a round metal disc on the table in front of them and pushed a button. A beam of light rushed upward from the device and widened like a screen in front of them. An image appeared and Anna gasped. The paintings, the three behind her of the island city with the white buildings emerged. The walkways looked exactly like the ones in the oil paintings.

            “It started thousands of years ago,” said Mom. “This shows the origin of our order and why we formed.”

            Anna’s gaze remained locked on the screen, which could be viewed from all sides. A 3D movie screen, she reached out to touch the light and Caitlyn stayed her hand. “No. Watch.”

            Caitlyn was right of course. Anna dropped her hand in her lap and sat mesmerized as events unfolded before them. Sound emerged and more,
Anna understood the thoughts and feelings of the woman who materialized on the screen, as if she was the woman.

#

            On an island, miles from the mainland, Wrin Florbith floated in a cocoon of pure love and power. Disconnected from her body, oblivious of her surroundings her tone cast from her body into the deeps of space and back. She called upon the First Singer, Berehan in order to feel and hear His unparalleled presence. She sang thanks in ancient Aulein mog’ wi sgen 🎝Berehan. Praise soared from her lips. His spirit merged with hers, first as a faint note and then it grew, louder than the bells in the city’s temple.

Her tone clanged as an insignificant flea next to the great Singer. As quickly as Berehan merged, He vanished, whipping Wrin back into her seated form, in the temple’s central prayer room.

            Her eyes popped open surveying the room she felt a change.  What was wrong?  Her insides shook feeling hollow and queasy as pressure in the air made her swoon. Flames flickered and cast shadows to dance along the walls as a pillar of candles fell, rolled across the floor and extinguished. Warmth fled the small chamber. Wrin rubbed her shoulders, the thin fabric of her dress failed to retain heat.

Bells chimed with loud booms and she knew that the watchers raised the alarm.  Her people were sure to respond out there; she had to get to her family.  She stuck her slender hands out to support her weight as the room shifted.

            Thunderous noise rang from the bells with a reverberation that shocked her physical being.  She clapped her hands to cover her ears in an attempt to squash the sound.  Tendrils of shadow crawled down the wall, a vaporous, ooze gathered in the corner. Wrin fumbled to secure her footing. She fell, bruised her knees as a sob escaped her. Fear struck her, paralyzed her limbs. The tendrils of inky black reached the floor.

            The walls quavered. Wrin crawled to the door. Marble tiles underneath her rippled from an unseen force and sped ahead of her. Shouts outside rose above the shaking temple. A terrified wail, like the sound of a scared mewling kitten erupted distinct from the cacophony. Her boy! She pushed the door open as the walls bucked, shifting with each ripple of energy. Wrin pushed the door open and exited the room. She closed the door, seeing the darkness pool in the center, reaching out once more. What was it?

            Wrin pressed her body against the wall, using it to support her advance down the hall towards the sound of her son, Fryrn. His screams shot pain in the depths of her heart. Her hand, slick with blood, when had that happened? She stumbled dazed. Her hand slid against a mosaic of her people worshipping the Twelve Singers. Berehan pounded his drum in the center of the assembled gods and goddesses. Colored tiles fell to the floor. The walls shook.

            Around the bend, Fryrn sat emitting small screams from his trembling lips. He rocked back and forth with the sway of the building. Where was Alomar? He had taken Fryrn earlier when she went to pray. They were supposed to visit the dolphins before the midday meal.

            “Mama,” Fryrn cried. His tiny fingers stretched out to her and his body quivered. Tears ran down his bright purple cheeks in rivulets.

            She inched closer. “I’m here.” Her near translucent hands touched his darkened, tearstained face. She pulled him to her as she dragged them both forward away from the epicenter. “We have to get out of here.” She wanted to locate Alomar, her mate had to be near. “Where’s your father?”

            Fryrn tucked himself under her chin and sobbed. His wails carried, mingling with the sounds of crashing stone. The building continued to shake and ripple as if tossed around by an unseen hand. The stairs seemed like they were leagues away, her every step slow and excruciating. Blood seeped from her bare feet. The toes appeared battered and somehow the pain felt distant.

            She descended the stairs, Fryrn now protected under her shawl. They stumbled and Wrin caught them on the rail, stabilizing her movement. They reached the bottom and she ran towards the door. At the entry, she encountered Gmolth and his mate Renth. Their bodies stood statue still, eyes vacant. No, a darkness moved within the once crystalline depths. Tendrils of inky black ran down the Gmolth’s face. Wrin back away. “Where’s Alomar?” She shouted at them. The lovers gave no response. She strained through the Song. His tone flickered, faintly as if he had traveled a vast distance. She had no idea in which direction he’d gone.

            A nightmare raged beyond the courtyard. Waves dashed upon the rocks of Atlantis. Hungry sprays of water rose up out of the sea, gulping her people and their homes. Bedraggled citizens shouted and clamored for safety in the ruins of the lower city. Light radiated from the highest tower, the island chains central power point. The buildings shimmered in the sunshine as the tumultuous waters churned below.

            The pillars of Berehan rose from the water. The crystals given to the Earth from Berehan to power the city of Atlantis for the Cosmic Score. The Earth’s sound in the Song. Wrin fought her way down the cliffs, rushing across the island’s footbridge to the hover platform. There had to be a ship. Her heart called to Berehan and her tone sang. Save my son. An answer manifest. Other Atlanteans swarmed the remaining vessels bound for the Euradian and off world. There was no room for them aboard these ships.

            A bright orb descended from the sky, nearly as blinding as the sun. The sphere landed and the hatch popped open. Two winged creatures, twin faeries of Sidras emerged. Their mossy wings drooped with grief and fatigue dimmed their yellow eyes. Wrin felt them, their tones. One of the faeries pulsed with strength and the other, Wrin jolted, a healer! Bless Berehan, He had sent a healer. His spirit resonated with hers. Wrin handed Fryrn to the stronger fae and then she followed the healer onto their ship.

            “I’m Worden and this is my brother, Verden.” Worden’s leaned back in his seat and buckled in. “We can’t take you far. There is much work to repair the damage caused across the whole of Aulei.”

            “What happened?” Wrin hugged Fryrn closer and smoothed his hair. He had the skin of his father and her silver hair. Pain pierced her tone. She felt Alomar leave the Song; her harmonic partner had grown silent. She could not hear him anymore. Had the darkness taken him, the waters of the Euradian near the pillars? Was he alone?

            “Creation collided with another plenum and became infected. Worlds have died from this disease and we dare not risk infection traveling the Euradian Sea from world to world. We’re tasked to stop the current. Will you help?” Worden asked.

            Wrin gazed at the remnants of Atlantis. The pillars cracked and fragmented against the sunny sky. The water washing over the islands. The footbridges disappearing beneath the waves. Her whole life gone in minutes.

            “All is not lost. The Euradian will remain closed, except for those chosen to command its flow.” Verden flew the starship across the ocean in the direction of a distant shore. “Even now, some of your people, those who survived, are gathering,” he said.

            “What do you need of me?” Wrin continued to cling to Fryrn. Behind them, Atlantis disappeared under the ocean’s waves. The Pillars of Berehan were gone. Its light darkened.

#

            The 3D screen vanished. Anna blinked and rubbed her arms. Chills ran down her back and an ache settled in her heart. She had been Wrin. Caitlyn shuddered next to her and Mark sniffled on her other side. Mom and Dad had seen this before, and by the look of them, so had Flora and Roger. “What does this mean?” she said.

            Mom cleared her throat. “Thousands of years ago, Earth was part of an intergalactic community. When the universe collided with another creation, an infection spread among the worlds, traveling fast through the Euradian Sea, it’s what we call the current between the worlds. Berehan sang the current for the people of His worlds to travel the stars, to live and trade in harmony.

The cataclysm ended that. The celestials, Berehan’s guardians for Aulei, closed the Euradian and left behind portals for each world as an emergency escape should any other cataclysmic event occur. Wrin as you just saw, was the first to take the oath as an Earth guardian. She founded the order to which we belong and to which we will now depart,” Mom explained.

            Mark jumped up from the table, his face screwed up, blue eyes raging. “This doesn’t explain why you never told us and why you treated me like a child playing games,” he shouted.

            Mom flinched as if struck across the face. “No,” she whispered. “It doesn’t mean much to say I’m sorry, but I am. This duty, the oaths Wrin took are dangerous to uphold. They’re life threatening and I just can’t let anything happen to you three.” She spread her hands on the table. “I can’t lose you too.”

            “Are you saying we’re related to Wrin?” Caitlyn sat forward.

            Dad answered with a nod. “Everyone in the order has some relation to Wrin or one of the other Atlanteans who escaped. The survivors took the oath to defend the portal guardians or to serve as a portal guardian. Flora and Roger are knights in the order, as am I. Your mother took oath as a portal guardian. It’s hereditary.”

            “And the Bryces?” Caitlyn continued to question them.

            “The Bryces are also knights and the students at Winding Heights and the faculty,” Mom said. She turned to Anna. “Your dance instructor as well.”

            None of the information surprised Anna. A life time of lies finally lifted brought relief, except for something her mom said. The danger and the loss, had she lost relatives? Had Dad? They didn’t have extended family; no grandparents, cousins, aunts or uncles. They still needed to explain the shine, the vortex and the music during the vortex.

            “Why are you leaving the order?” Mark asked. He still glared, clutching one of his favorite knights from the game, A Celestial Knight’s Quest, Dame Sarayu the Light. She wore yellow armor and rode a thunderbird. A tiny ring adorned a finger on her left hand. It had magical properties according to the game rules. “Why do we have to leave?”

            Mark longed to join the order. For at least two years he’d talked about little else. His time with Ephraim involved the game and their future training. Now Mom and Dad wanted to leave the order. Before they could answer, the phone rang. The family froze, unmoving.

            Anna jumped up. “I’ll get it.” The landline rarely rang. She entered the kitchen. An old phone hung on the wall near the back window rang again. She placed her hand on the rim of the kitchen sink and answered. “Hello, Henly residence.”

            “Hello Ellen. It’s been a long time, too long.” A man’s voice filtered through the murky connection, someone from Japan she thought by the sound of his accent.

            “Excuse me?”

            “Don’t pretend with me,” he said. “Haven’t you noticed the activities along the Strait of Gibraltar or the Jagged Peaks in the southern hemisphere? What of the Cambrian volcanic activity?” He paused. “You feel the slightest imbalance. The other guardians are gathering and it’s time you joined. Keep your oath.”

            Oh damn. It was clear to Anna he’d had this argument with her mother in the past. “Ellen’s my mom.” The hairs on Anna’s arms stood on end. Waves of energy flooded the room around her and the light in her birthmark glowed as bright as the receding evening sun. 

            “What?” Another long pause passed. “Of course. Then you know.”

            An urgent, insistent musical undertone boomed through the phone. So strange. The sensation reminded Anna of the entity, the one she danced with that night during the weather report and the music, the song Mark and Caitlyn had heard during the vortex. The power swelled across the phone line and Anna shrank, her light dimmed. “Mom’s explaining the legacy to us. We didn’t know,” she stammered.

            “Great. It would be like Ellen to bungle this.” The man paused once more. “Tell her Sir Takahashi Kaito waits for no reluctant guardian. Tell her to stand ready for my arrival and for Dame Margot Bryce, Dame Aoibheann Ligach and Sir Enan Mede. We shall ensure the safety of the Earth and adhere to the oaths.”

            Anna trembled like a leaf in the wind. “I shall let her know.” They phone line disconnected. She replaced the phone on the receiver, letting the energy and sound dissipate.

The atmosphere returned to the usual peaceful quiet in Henly House. She returned to the dining room. “A man was on the phone, named Takahashi Kaito.” She recognized him from the letter earlier. Margot stood out of course as did the other women named, the one with the name she couldn’t pronounce. It sounded kind of like he had said avian when she said her name, but the spelling made it seem like it would sound different on the tongue. “He had a message. He’s coming here along with other members of the order.”

            Roger said, “I know what you will say Ellen. You cannot simply relinquish the guardianship. It’s hereditary. No one in the order has ever escaped it.” His fingers drummed the table.

            Dad grumbled. “We may have found a way to sever the power from the family line.”

            “What?” Flora snapped, sitting forward in her chair. “How? How could you even think of it?” She clutched the arms of the chair. “Roger and I gave you extra time to figure out a way to keep your oaths and reduce the danger. That was it. You made us promises.”

            “It won’t affect you and Roger. You’ll still serve as knights in the order, to the new guardian I assume and you’ll still have your accounts,” he said. “We’ll just no longer be connected. The Henlys will be out.”

            “There go all of your assets.” Roger continued to drum the table. He had on the finest clothes in the room and apparently didn’t even have to worry about money, if what their dad said was any indication.

            “We’ve been living without the money all this time.” Mom piped up.

            “You’ll have to leave Henly House. The portal anchor is here and the new guardian will take over.” Flora glanced at each Henly. “The children will have to get used to new schools and a new home.”

            “And we’ll have ordinary safe lives.” Mom smiled. She actually smiled. It was the happiest Anna had ever seen her. “I will write and Charles will run the construction business.”

            “No we won’t.” Caitlyn broke in. Her hands appeared translucent. She faded from the material, vanishing from the room before them and rematerialized just as fast. “We won’t ever be safe.” Caitlyn continued, though she struggled to remain intact. “Whether we’re guardians or not, the portals were made for a reason…and the storm. It lurks on the horizon.”

            A current of energy rippled through the room. Anna’s hair lifted. Her body glowed. The crown of her mother’s head lit up and Caitlyn vanished once more. They waited for her return. Moments turned into minutes and she still didn’t show.

            “How will we get her back if you lose the power Ellen?” Roger asked.

            “You’ll see,” Dad said. “We have a plan.”

            Mom touched Dad’s hand and grew quiet. “We’ve found a way to sever the oath from our tones. When Caitlyn returns,” Mom paused. She took a few deep and slow breaths, biting her lip. She wiped her eye with the back of her hand. “When Caitlyn returns, we’ll sever the connection from our tones and from our blood. It will be gone and Caitlyn will be safe. Anna and Mark will face no dangers.” Another smile flashed across her face.

            “Where is Caitlyn?” Anna asked.

            No one responded for a moment and then Flora answered. “Well, when a portal guardian starts to manifest the power, they usually receive training.” She flashed their mom an irritated glance. “Usually a guardian receives training, carefully overseen by their assigned tonal guards, the knights in the Celestial Watch.” She pointed at Roger and Dad. “They’re knights like me. We help anchor the guardian, provide a focal point for home and guard them when the need arises to use the portals.”

            “We have no idea where Caitlyn teleported,” Roger said. Anger flared in his sharp features as hot as his fiery hair.

            “So your insistence on leaving the order may also prove dangerous.” Anna tapped the table. “You don’t even know if your effort will work and who will take over after you Mom?”

            “I told you we needed to train.” Mark shifted in his chair. “We’re supposed to train. That will save us.”

            Dad took Mom’s hand. “I understand what you’re feeling kiddo. I had the same enthusiasm at your age, but you don’t know the danger and the loss. If we can help it you never will.”

            Thunder roiled overhead. Powerful booms disrupted the conversation. “This is no typical winter storm,” said Flora. She cast her grey eyes heavenward. “No typical storm at all.” She clicked her tongue and stood. She stretched her arms out to clear plates.

            Anna jumped to help her and Mark followed. “Do you know if Caitlyn will be okay?”

            Flora frowned. “I’d love to say she’ll return and be just fine, but I’d be lying and I think you’ve listened to enough deception in your lifetime. What Caitlyn is experiencing has never happened before.” She paused at the door to the kitchen. “We’ll clean up here and see what we can about rescuing her. Perhaps giving up the guardianship is safest for your family. I don’t know.”

            Anna heard Roger arguing with Mom and Dad about the guardianship and their oaths to Berehan. She didn’t understand anything. The images of Wrin, her people and the loss of Atlantis. She didn’t understand who or what Berehan was, except as a mythical figure in artwork around the house. Worse, she didn’t have Caitlyn here to explain everything. Anna threw herself into cleaning up and trying to digest what she had learned all the while worried. Where was she? Caitlyn had to come back. She always had before, but this was taking a lot more time—she thought. She exchanged worried glances with Mark. At least they were able to confront their parents and get some truth out of them, and they’d seen Caitlyn phase this time. They couldn’t ignore it anymore. Anna fumbled through prayers in her mind, prayers for her sister’s safe return.

Chapter 12
Citadel at Ent Carn

“By the bells they live. Bells to ring the hours and the lessons and the living.”

Observations of Fat Ornunk ∞
Memorializer 432, Eastern Pool Six, Fa Xin

Althea, Maestro’s Moon 5691 AY

            On the planet Althea, bells clanged from the towers in the Caeruleum Palace, and from the center of Ent Carn in The Citadel of Sages, and from the heights around the Healer’s Chateau. The bells rang the hours, calling Altheans to the next tasks on their daily schedules. Princess Iris Azure followed Lantana Diverton, her personal schedule attendant through the palace. The two marched by throngs of palace staff and dignitaries alike.

Ministers hustled through the flow, scrolls in hand and heavy teylwt torcs around their necks. The shiny metal smuggled from Ev Irwan, adorned the ministers necks in twists; the number of twists equal to their station. Iris avoided their notice, keeping to the wall, just steps behind Lantana. She didn’t need a lecture, not today. So what, she skipped the hour of prayer the night before and the hour of morning song.

The attendant’s sharp features seemed awkward, gangly in the folds of her festooned gown. Blue embroidery, silver thread and tiny bells lined the length of her skirts from waist to toe. She moved like a stalking stork from the marshlands around Ent Carn. Her thick tresses resembled the bird’s white plumes. Lantana ignored Iris’ scrutiny, instead she chattered about the day’s schedule. The tour of the citadel and the healer’s chateau. She angled knobby kneed between the Master of the Chamber and a palace librarian. While she only had a few years on Iris, the attendant behaved as rigid as a wizened minister.

Iris drifted in her thoughts, letting Lantana’s words wash over her. A litany of dos and don’ts. The daily barrage on proper behavior for an orderly princess. A life of duty, determined for her since birth. She bristled, itching the skin where the threads of her gown chafed. The hours dictated by her station. If her mother and father knew her thoughts, they’d shut her in the citadel until she learned the value of an orderly life. If Berehan wanted unpredictability in the song, he would have sang discord. Mother and Father enjoyed reminders like those when she fretted about her lot in life.

 Not that the sages in the citadel had consensus on the nature of Berehan and the cosmic score. The Order of Rests had it right as far as Iris was concerned. To all sounds, there was an equal and opposite. Of course, Berehan orated chance into Aulei. He made the faeries, hadn’t he? The goddess Emria existed for Song’s sake!

A sharp pain suddenly snatched Iris from her thoughts. “Owa, Lantana.” She rubbed her arm where the woman pinched her.

“You were not listening.” She raked her feathery hair and scowled. Lantana didn’t even apologize. She just kept marching for the grand staircase. The people needed to see their princess attending her duties each day and the bells were ringing the hour. Part of Iris wanted to hike up her dress and run. She refrained. She was not a small child anymore.

“The king and queen charged me with the duty of escorting you to every scheduled event today and each day hereafter.”

“Yes and every day before this one too, for my whole life long.” She sighed and grumbled, “An orderly life we must all lead.”

“Exactly,” Lantana stopped, turned to Iris and gave a swift nod before she turned back around for the stairs. “Now, why will we tour the chateau and the citadel?”

“To build relationships with healers and sages.” Honestly, as if Iris didn’t know what the monarchy expected of her, she studied diligently. Was it a crime she wanted a little adventure in life? Yes. Now her mind was responding to her own musings. She scratched at her neck. The gown she wore itched incessantly no matter the linen chemise underneath or the layers of spun silk. The brocade threads poked and the corset seized her lungs in a vice. She longed to toss the garment into a bonfire. To see it burn. Her mouth salivated anticipation.

She imagined the Wild Hunt with An Lyr Min in the lead, playing his lyre. The people referred to An Lyr Min as the God of Preternatural Music, but the sages in the Order of Rests knew him as the God of Feral Melodies. Whatever order in the citadel had it correct; Iris prayed for a chance to choose her own path. To lose the restrictive garments and compulsory tasks. The stars called, distant worlds beckoned. She knew of the Ishanian shapeshifters and the pointed-ears of the Irwanese, the way their elements manifest during heightened moods. Just one excursion to another world, a holiday. Altheans did not go on holidays and did not partake in revelries. They observed religious traditions in the most solemn manner, by the Aulein universal calendar and by the hours. She flicked a tapestry.

The hallway emptied as residents and staff found their hour’s task. Iris was late and Lantana chided. Still she dragged her feet, dreading the scheduled tours. At least she didn’t have to explore the ministry’s legal binders and their private hall in the palace, dedicated to the laws passed by her parents. Supposedly passed by the king and queen. Not yet. Her education on Althean law was coming, scheduled for day fourteen of the Harvest Moon, 5693 AY.

Invisible power gathered in Lantana’s path and Iris stopped short to keep from running into her back. “Owa.” She stubbed her toe against the wall. An Lyr Min the fox-faced god strummed his lyre from a mural seemed to stare at her, a slight grin on his untamed features.

 A wheel of endless dark appeared before them, hovering near the wall, partially concealing the tapestry she’d just flicked. Lantana stopped speaking mid-sentence. The wheel spun, grew wider, more oval and then it split into a dark void. Flashes of energy erupted and Iris scurried backward. Light flashed from the hole. A portal! A figure fell from the opening, landing in a heap on the floor. In all her years, Iris had only read about portals and the guardians who controlled them.

This must be one. The girl who had come through, she assumed the being was a girl not far off in age from Iris, wore the strangest clothes. The girl wore pants. Like men! Envy flared inside. The girl had dark hair and eyes, tawny skin, Iris’ opposite in coloring. Iris clutched the silver and brocade folds of her skirt and opened her mouth to speak.

“Who are you?” snapped Lantana. She strode to the visitor unafraid, despite the girl’s obvious height. The alien was tall by at least half a hand span. “Who are you? Why have you broken Divine Law to portal here?”

Typical of the attendant to worry about the law at a time like this. Technically traveling by portal was an infraction against Berehan’s Will. Portals were limited safeguards, not a means to travel the cosmos. The visitor gazed at each of them, moving her mouth, silently. She didn’t understand their language. Iris hastened to her side and helped her up. “Are you alright?”

In an alien tongue, the girl spoke. At least sound came from her lush mouth with words Iris didn’t understand. “I’m Caitlyn Henly. I come in peace.”

Iris had no idea what the girl meant. She spoke Aulein and Althean, not the garbled language coming from the alien. How to respond? A moment later, the hole reappeared under the girl and snapped her away. It closed leaving Iris with her mouth open, shock rendering her motionless.

“The ministers will hear of this, your uncle.” Lantana whirled around and stormed down the hall towards the south wing where her parents had rooms. Iris moved to follow and Lantana halted. “Oh no, you’ll continue on your schedule.” She slapped the binder in her hands and pressed it to Iris. “Disruptions to my schedule are a bearable sacrifice. I’ve signed up for such an unpleasant life. You however, cannot falter in your duties to the people and to order, as is Berehan’s Will.”

Iris didn’t move. She set her jaw and planted her feet. Preparing to lead, she had the right, the duty to report the visitor’s appearance to the Caeruleum Court personally. Her eyes watered, betraying emotion. Lantana tsked. Iris didn’t care; she pursed her lips, crossed her arms and stood blocking the way. “I shall report.”

Lantana studied her and turned to a servant in the palace’s white and azure livery. “Find a guard, now.”

Moments ticked past and a young woman in armor approached, the Light of Berehan emblazoned upon her chest plate. The guard didn’t look at Iris, she directed her full attention upon Lantana. It was a stupid custom. The lowers didn’t look at or speak to the superiors. Not directly. Another ridiculous tradition in Althea. “You called Attendant.”

“I’m right here. You can address me,” said Iris. Lantana scowled, the guard averted her eyes. Iris regretted speaking. When she tried to engage anyone below her station, the people refused to acknowledge her. The tradition felt like a slight. It was downright lonely and when Iris had power, she’d…she’d travel the stars, visit other worlds and meet new people. Sane people who spoke to one another like equals.

“Find the Supreme Minister. Bring him to escort Princess Iris on the scheduled tours today. She’s late.” Lantana turned to Iris. “If you will not cooperate with me, perhaps your uncle will have better luck.”

Groaning, Iris stomped her foot and waited next to Lantana until the guard returned with Supreme Minister Keshen Azure Bohm in tow. The man wore an elaborate suite with layers of fabric in teal and silver. A stole pinned to his collar with the burst of Berehan’s Fire on the edge gleamed under the daystar’s light. Althea had a bright sun, thank Berehan, Singer of All.

The minister never acknowledged Lantana. The woman slipped out of sight as did the guard. The air grew cooler and the palace staff dispersed, fleeing before the typhoon known as Uncle Keshen Bohm. His gaze narrowed upon her, an elawk in flight, searching for prey. Instead of iridescent wings of green and blue and horns like the elawk bird, Uncle wore the stole of a minister. The Ministers of Althea’s Celestial Choir rivalled the sages and her parents in power. Their words felt like law to most Altheans. Millions belonged to their ministry.

Uncle Keshen Bohm scrutinized Iris, holding her gaze with his piercing brown eyes, so much like her own. He waved a silver, gilt binder in her face.  “I have your schedule from now until festival moon.” He scratched his blond beard. “Let’s get to it Iris.”

Glum, she shuffled after Uncle Keshen. They made their way down the palace lawns. Labourers wheeled carts to and from the palace. A steady stream of workers came from the city center, each donning the Flame of Berehan on their coats or smocks. Iris studied the paved walkways between puddles and ponds dotting the Althean landscape.

The Vaulburg waters coursed through the province by the same name. Her gown’s hem grew damp despite her best effort to keep the fabric off the ground. Her uncle glided with each step, crossing the bridge to the citadel. Bells rang from the tower. Their sound vibrated throughout the city. Citizens hustled from one task to the next. Healers appeared around the bend, the streams of the chateau joined ponds and rivulets running to the swamps in the north and the river to the west where the Euradian Sea flowed.

Iris huffed for breath outside the edifice of the citadel. The vast stone structure towered above her, higher than the palace. Students in the citadel gaped at her, one boy tripped on the floor and went sprawling. Scrolls bounced from his hands and a wizened sage cuffed him on the back before helping him to his feet. “The wisdom of the universe exists within the walls of this fortress and you’re gawking at a pair of doe eyed boys far beneath your station.” The pair retrieved the scrolls and hurried down another hall in the circular entry.

“Through here.” Uncle Keshen entered an audience chamber, unwilling to speak to the sages or the staff employed by the citadel. Even the students were far beneath his respect, no matter how often they peered into the room and asked if they desired refreshment. Uncle didn’t say a word and Iris was too nervous to speak. Her throat felt dryer than the desert on Rariny. Historians claimed the Rarin had named the land The Boiling Waste, but according to her instructor, the place had nothing left to boil.

The audience room radiated warmth and light, sound and elemental activity played on the walls with scenes of autumn and winter, summer and spring. The sages wielded magic, unlike the ministers, yet both organizations served the First Singer. They had equal standing in Althean society, except where her uncle was concerned. He refused niceties. When she was queen, she’d work to change the customs keeping her people locked in stagnation. Other inhabited worlds didn’t live like this.

Two people entered. A third followed, quickly announced Iris and her uncle before exiting. The oldest man Iris had ever seen shuffled on the arm of a stern eyed Althean healer. Thick robes, much warmer than necessary for the day’s heat, drowned the man and dragged across the floor’s tiles. Barely a wisp remained of his hair and age markings covered his face and hands. His fingers boasted rings cast with elemental runes and stones, and a large necklace with the flame of Berehan dangled from his thin neck.

His younger companion had voluminous, curls that cascaded down her back like spun gold and eyes green as the sea. She was older than Iris, but not as old as the sage or her uncle. She dressed in green, gold vines ran the length of her hem; the plant represented the healers. The gold signified her years of service. Gold meant a minimum of 10 years at the chateau, 10 years of success healing citizens and the rare visitor from off world who had exhausted all hope of healing elsewhere.

Uncle Keshen took a chair upon their entry and motioned for Iris to do the same. She sat on his left, across from the healer. Naturally, her uncle kept his attention upon his equivalent in the citadel, awaiting the man’s welcome. He stiffened, unwilling to speak first.

Iris sighed, watched the healer and froze. The woman’s hair flashed midnight in color, similar to the black of space on a moonless night. Her eyes became distinctly blue, bluer than the Azure house colors. She tilted her head, closed her eyes and snapped them open. The gold and green returned and Iris sighed once more. How strange to shift in appearance. It reminded Iris of stories about the planet A’ Ishan. The Ishanian shapeshifters had the power to wield many forms, animals, inanimate objects. The best could produce grand illusions and wear the faces of strangers. But an Ishanian shapeshifter had no power to heal in the stories. Had her uncle seen the temporary transformation?

The healer grimaced. “Princess, Minister, I am Everalda Closson and assigned to Master Motelto Stelner the Air.” She gestured with her elbow. “I provide daily healing.” The healer jerked in her chair, tilted her head at an odd angle and then grumbled. “Forgive me, the working keeps me drained of energy and I find regeneration difficult.

Perhaps the fatigue explained the odd transformation. Iris hadn’t heard of the phenomena before, but she also hadn’t spent a lot of time with the healers. Perhaps the tour was for the best after all. She gave a polite nod. “I understand.” Iris watched the woman for signs of physical shifts while her uncle discussed the citadel’s activities and the chateau’s recent recruits.

A hole whirled open above a marsh and dropped Caitlyn Henly in the middle. Water soaked her jeans and sweater instantly, mud stained the fabric, and she gasped as moisture invaded her mouth and nose. Vertigo gripped her and she heaved, retching into the puddle. She wiped her mouth and glanced upward, realizing people who resembled humans were watching her. Men and women dressed in green tunics with a vine similar to ivy embroidered along the hemline. Some had gold thread, others silver or white.

One moment she was in the dining room at home learning her parents’ secret and then somehow she phased, pulled to one world briefly and now another.

Pain twisted Caitlyn’s muscles and she fell to her side and stuck fast in the muck. Phasing hurt. Marshland surrounded her. A man rushed to help her and she reached a hand out to clasp his. Exhaustion took hold and the splice in space and time warped the air around her, widened and sucked her through before the man caught her. Time rushed to meet her and space, the vortex ripped at her existence and whipped her from head to toe in all directions. The portal enervated Caitlyn. It was a portal, however impossible by Earth’s science. She thought of home and the space warped once more, opening and dumping her on the back lawn of Henly House.

Water poured from the fountain of a giant, black beast with fangs and horns, wide leathery wings and a tail. King Nysrog loomed larger than life as water poured from his hand into the fountain’s basin at the bottom. Caitlyn collapsed, drool dribbled down her cheek and quenched the grass. She stared at the blue sky above and wondered to what world she’d just traveled. Feeling groggy, she tried to pull herself up on her knees, to find Anna and tell her what just happened. Caitlyn slumped to the side. Darkness took hold of her vision and then sleep dragged her into unconscious dreaming.

            Caitlyn woke and crawled from behind an alien tree, no longer in the yard behind her family home. The tree had green conical shaped leaves dangling from twisted vines. Rain pummeled her hair and back as she hunched in the undergrowth of what appeared to be a vast forest. Critters resembling squirrels only with spiked needle-like fur rushed the branches and hopped overhead. An oval shaped food, probably a type of nut dropped into Caitlyn’s lap. She picked it up and examined the mottled shell. The spiky squirrel chittered angrily in her direction before darting away to follow the pack. She shook the nut free from her pants.

            Brush dusted her face as she pushed through and stepped over root and stone. The forest’s many features mirrored Earth enough she identified rock from leaf, animal from plant. The air felt buoyant, lighter than Earth’s atmosphere, yet she didn’t find it difficult to breathe. This forest appeared different from the trees from one of the other worlds she’d visited before, none of the wide trunked trees appeared with their fat leaves among the flora. Birds with long tails and beaks flew above, their wings resembled a dragonfly’s but feathered in bright purples and blues.

            For a time she traveled in one direction, wishing she had shoes or clothes other than pajamas. She didn’t have her field journal or a pen to make notes or draw her observations. Sadly. For all the phasing, as Anna liked to title it, Caitlyn found few opportunities to document her experience. Scientists recorded their observations and attempted to repeat them to prove a hypothesis. She didn’t know enough about the worlds or why she specifically kept phasing, but at least she had some answers about her family. Mom and Dad had a lot of explaining to do once she got back home—if she ever made it home. She definitely had a list of questions starting with why they felt a need to leave Anna, Mark and her exposed to unknown dangers and physical transformations unheard of on Earth. How was that protecting them?

            In the distance, the planet’s star reflected from an enormous dome, far larger than the stadium in downtown Minneapolis judging from her distance. It spread across the horizon, nestled among the foliage like a beacon. Caitlyn continued on a direct path. Trees thinned, shrubs changed and the animals as she drew closer to the dome poked curious snouts from between the leaves and flower petals. She attempted to stroke a furry, pig-like creature and thought twice when she noticed the sharp horns on its cute round head.

            She stepped around the animal gingerly and after what seemed like hours, approached the wall of the dome. Towering skyscrapers, futuristic in appearance barely reached the halfway point of the dome; vast fields worked by bipedal human-like people grew crops of all sorts, colorful and varied in shapes and sizes. Her stomach gurgled.

            Hand pressed against the surface, she tapped and gesticulated, hopeful the farmers would look in her direction. She searched for an entry point and then in the distance, over the city an aircraft flew from among the buildings in her direction. Caitlyn understood. The people must know of her arrival.

            The oblong craft hovered above the fields, whipping the crops in all directions, purple leaves and plumed fruits scattered. The farmers removed themselves, not entirely afraid, caution plain on their faces, they huddled on the opposite side and watched the vessel door open. A platform emerged and then stairs unfolded down to the ground.

            Astonished, Caitlyn roved the finely constructed garments, gold thread cuffs on wide trousers and shirt arms. Material resembling a blend of linen and canvas in cream clothed the people. Their eyes, similar to Earthlings, stretched a bit wider, more pronounced. Their irises and sclera blended in color appearing uniform. Their noses featured a single ridge down the center. Unlike the farmers, the occupants of the aircraft were clean and dignified. Clean-shaven faces, well-groomed hair in an array of colors appeared natural in green, yellow and white. She marked the more delicate members as male based on how their clothing hugged their figures and the taller, broader members as female. Admittedly, she had no knowledge on how they classified gender, sex or reproduction. Their physiques, so similar to Homo sapiens and not confounded her. She slapped the side of her legs. Too bad she didn’t have a camera or journal. 

            Seven denizens approached the wall of the dome and observed her. One opened a satchel and removed a tablet, tapped one side and punched the surface with deft fingers, again so similar to Earthlings though their skin appeared smoother, devoid of prints. A woman of an extreme stature with skin the color of dusk. Another, a male with broader shoulders touched the dome’s material, running his fingers in a sequence against the transparent barrier. Light flashed at each point he touched and then the surface extended within the space, large and slid to the side, creating an opening large enough for Caitlyn to walk through.

            She entered and watched the dome reseal behind her.

            A woman to the rear of the group, approached, her white hair wrapped in a gold scarf, her dark skin glistened under the daystar’s light. She searched Caitlyn from head to toe and motioned for the delegate with the tablet. Insects buzzed from the field around them, a bird alighted on the ground nearby, undisturbed by the group. It thrust beak first into the dirt and scratched with talons in search of sustenance.

            The person wielding the tablet handed the slim, translucent device to the leader. The white-haired leader had opalescent orbs, a bit more luminescent than the other greeters had. She stared Caitlyn in the eyes, quirked her lips in a half smile showing even teeth.

            The device, held in the woman’s hand upward towards Caitlyn whirred, vibrating sound and flashing light. The machine tittered and stilled. “Earthling, portal guardian. We’re saved.” The woman in the gold scarf, the leader sighed. “Welcome to Kintar. I’m Alien Ambassador Walzilda, this is my entourage.” She gestured to the six other greeters. “You heard our distress signal across the Song thank Berehan.”

            “What?” Caitlyn shuddered. Soil and plants moistened her bare feet, chilling her to her bone. Despite the sun, well their star’s light; she shivered—cold.

            “You’re untrained, a youth.” The leader didn’t ask, she stated the truth. Her companions whispered, a soft flurry of words like bird wings flapping. None of them exactly exhibited shock. “No matter, you will learn and take us from Kintar to Earth or another planet able to support life.”

            Oh no. Compared to her family, Caitlyn carried the brains; intelligent didn’t begin to describe her. She wasn’t boasting, just admitting a truth. School came easy and her interest in neurology promised a solid career, perhaps at the Mayo or John Hopkins if she earned a residency at John Hopkins or another prestigious institution. Caitlyn understood human biology and planned to study the brain, neurology specifically, she had no inkling about interstellar travel or portals. These things didn’t exist. She could not help them, though she could see the distress in their expressions. Furrowed brows here looked just as worried as they did back on Earth.

            “Please, come with us. We’ll explain all you need to know or at least the basics. You’ve come so far, materialized from nothing, so inherently your tone understands the way between the worlds. Come, our experts will explain the process.” Ambassador Walzilda handed the device to her companion and the seven of them climbed the stairs to the craft.

            Caitlyn took a step, paused and searched for a way home. Her skin as material and solid as the dirt beneath her feet refused to phase. She continued after the ambassador. Nerves burned inside, acid reflux threatened to singe her esophagus. Her palms sweated as she sat near the ambassador, surrounded by her entourage across the aisle in seats facing one another. The broader man sat next to her and grinned, he had darker eyes, orbs solid in color like the sky.

            The ambassador pointed to the man. “This is my companion Niculzor. He’ll act as your personal guide and guard while you learn.” Her voice cracked. She whispered in another language and breathed, deep and slowly, before speaking again. “My apologies, your language feels rough in my throat.”

            “How can you speak like me?”

            Ambassador Walzilda pointed at the device held by her companion’s spindly hands, a woman with longer legs and a wide mouth. She reminded Caitlyn of a thuja, tall and narrow. “This device scans alien sentient beings for identification purposes and then transposes your language, down to the specific dialect; into the portion of our minds your species might call neural receptors.” She coughed and breathed steadily. It explained the silence in her companions, though the device hadn’t quite captured the Minnesotan dialect. Barely.

            The aircraft glided above fields and trees before meeting the buildings in the heart of the dome’s central complex. She estimated the apex at approximately three miles higher than the tallest buildings. The metal and glass formed the towering structures, gleamed a golden green in the light of day. “You said you sent a distress signal for rescue.”

            The ambassador inclined her head, confirmation. The long-legged woman next to her took a sharp breath, impatience written in her stormy eyes—the darkest color among the delegation, even her skin reflected thunder in its dusky hue. An impressive specimen. Caitlyn itched to study the people here and the planet as much as she wanted answers to stop the phasing. What did they call themselves? How did they view the universe and other worlds?

            “Do you not have spaceships for an escape from whatever danger you’re fleeing?”

            Clearing her throat, Walzilda, leaned towards her, flushed and perspiring. “As much as we prize innovation and advancement, my species hasn’t developed the tech required to travel Aulei. The universe is vast and the required fuel, the operations, well – we’re just not there yet.”

            “Your people have this capability?” The thuja had a voice and had identified the language and species for Caitlyn with it. She fixed Caitlyn with a thunderous stare.

            “No.” Humanity didn’t even have a device to detect and classify alien lifeforms, hadn’t even encountered alien life as far as they knew. “No, we don’t.” She whispered. Sweat rolled down her back. How embarrassing and yet, the people here did have advancements Earth lacked. The question didn’t seem so stupid.

            The vessel landed on top of the tallest building where larger crowds gathered to welcome the ambassador’s return and secure the oblong airship. The vessel functioned as she thought a flying bus might, though not the same shape. She had to start sleeping with a field guide, no a bag of tools to observe and collect specimens for study, perhaps a logbook and camera. If these phasing experiences were not a dream, she had a prime opportunity, a duty to learn.

Caitlyn wobbled after the ambassador, lurched forward, immaterial. Niculzor touched her hand for support, Caitlyn groaned and then snapped from the scene, shifting away. She disintegrated, moving through and around space and time. The experience struck instantaneously and over eons. The dizzying effect of phasing, breaking apart to her smallest physical component and then rematerializing as a whole person diminished her vitality. Caitlyn’s knees hit snow near a familiar stone fountain, black as night beckoned. King Nysrog. She was home. Another thud and the sound of retching, announced Niculzor, huddled in a ball on a mound of snow not more than two feet from where she knelt. Oh shit, Caitlyn inhaled and passed out. Her body slumped against the fountain.

Chapter 13
Nysrog the King of Punishers

“Where the sky rains bone and marrow the land bakes barren and an endless stench rises from blood sand. Trees grow as little more than soot. The air burns and the sinner chokes. Hope does not exist among the Rarin.”

Observations of Fat Ornunk ∞
Memorializer 432, Eastern Pool Six, Fa Xin

Rariny, Ice Moon 5691 AY

Bones rained from the sky. Skeletal remains stormed across the land and piled in marrow puddles. Blood clouds gathered above an obsidian mountain range off the Strait of Famoniena. Lightning crackled fissures into the firmament and wind blew through the porous stone of Verdugo Palace. Night darkened towers stood sentry against the bleak landscape. Fires raged in the distance.

Talons clicked against the arm of the Rarin Throne. King Nysrog could see music scales notated in the wood of filigree shaped doors and the visage of Berehan the Singer. Punishers filed into the great hall through the doorway and spread out in line on either side of his throne.

Queen Mestamina advanced upon the throne reserved for her next to him. The assembly preened their leathery wings and sharpened claws against jagged teeth. A nervous energy passed through them. He understood, no Punisher enjoyed the job though with Mestamina, Nysrog had found solace.

A flutter in the king’s heart brought joy to his tone, the same as the day he first met Mestamina all those millennia ago. Thorns crowned her purple hair, love swam in the depths of her black eyes. Delicate horns poked between the crown’s sides. Silvery and shining, reflecting the flames burning in giant cisterns about the room. A silver scale gown covered her alabaster figure with a slit in the back large enough to let her tail and wings through, modest enough the courtiers’ gazes didn’t linger overly long. She was the dawn to his dusk. The light to his dark. Their eyes locked and across the Song their tones thrummed in time as one.

Mestamina carried a mallet in her talons. The instrument Nysrog used to judge the condemned and mete out sentence. The assembled daemons shuffled, forked tongues flicked the air, nostrils sniffed. Talons scratched horns. Wings bristled. Through the windows of The Otla, Nysrog’s Castle, wind blew acrid air, sulfurous and torrid. Fires raged in the Boiling Bog to the south. The wind had carried the scent of flesh to the king.

“My King, I have brought the weight.” Mestamina approached the throne, regal and tall, more slender than most punishers on Rariny. She handed him the mallet and their eyes locked, fingers brushed and claws entwined.

Nysrog noted her desire. The black flames of her eyes flared, an inferno smoldered within. His tone stirred in response. “You have my eternal thanks.” He grasped the weight. It seemed a singularity resided in the small tool, a mass unparalleled in Aulei. Barely wider than his hand. Nysrog cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders. The device had grown heavier over the years. He wished to drop it into the deepest abyss and dared not. “Let judgment begin.” He leaned to the side of his throne and struck a rounded disc. It knelled and the crowd went silent.

Two hulking daemons dragged the recent fallen in through the black doors of the throne room. Prince Ayperas dragged the slack body of a Dai Ithran wizard in his arms, dragged instead of carried. The daemon refused to touch more than he had to when retrieving them from the Fallen Shores. The filth, the smell. Their sins rankled. A foul scent to eviscerate the spirit, worse than rotten carrion.

Nysrog remembered the days he had served on the front lines, under his father’s rule. Here, green Ayperas, armored in plates of rarinus toiled, dragging the guilty in one hand and holding a face guard with the other. The black metal breathed for each daemon as protection against the onslaught of putrid decay each sinner brought in them. Their tones contaminated and poisoned. The daemons only smelled fields of flowers on sunny days through the shields. Thank Berehan. Their captives saw and smelled horror, tasted the filth of their horrid deeds on their tongues. As was proper.

Prince Ayperas dropped his charge before the throne. The wizard howled. An inky mass dripped from his eyes and seeped from his bald head. His spindly fingers clicked against the stone floor, eyes wild, seeking refuge. Daemons formed a ring, not that they had to block the man’s path. The fallen had no ability to escape or move even an inch further than Nysrog cared to allow. They showed him solidarity and for that he keened gratitude to them in the Song, his tone flourished thanks.

Grand Duke Ventir with his razor sharp fangs and dark gleaming eyes followed after the prince, dragging a woman by her hand across the floor. She kicked and screamed. Her plump hands grabbed at the floor and she tried to stand. The Grand Duke ignored her. “I don’t belong here. There’s a mistake.” She wailed and thrashed all the way to the throne. Curled auburn hair plastered against her face dripped sweat. “I’m an Althean! I dance in the Song. I praise the gods.” She trembled staring wide eyed at the assembled host.

Nysrog put a hand on Mestamina. The lies. The lies cut deep. He swayed, vision blurring. She squeezed his hand and held it, tracing his tough skin. She knew how it hurt to carry this duty for the gods. Her fierce affection acted as a balm for Nysrog. “The Seers never lie. Put her in the pile over there.” A mass of offenders writhed in a circle on the floor near the windows. None of them had the power to move further than a few feet from where they cowered and whimpered. Nysrog stamped his foot and their cries became nothing more than a muffled buzz.

“Bring forth the fallen tones.” Nysrog struck the disc and the instrument knelled.

The Dai Ithran shrieked the moment Prince Ayperas hooked a claw into the wizard’s robe and dragged him closer to the base of the throne. Cloth tangled the scrawny Dai Ithran’s limbs as he struggled to break free. His head and hooked nose bounced off the rarin floor. The bony man wailed when Ayperas let go. “Your majesty, Barucho Rolavarre of Dai Ithra, stealer of tones has fallen from Berehan’s Grace.”

“No, wait! I can help stop the triune assault!” The Althean groaned the moment Barucho spoke. Nysrog examined the creature of light and saw recognition in her eyes. She knew this wizard and the triune he spoke of. “Please hear me!”

Barucho’s words cut off as soon as the weight struck the metal disc. The gong ripped sound from the fallen’s throat. The wizard’s skin dried and paled, more translucent than vellum paper. Wraith-like he scrabbled across the obsidian floor towards the pile of fallen. Barucho’s robes turned to ash, slaking away to expose the darkness inside him. A gaping void twisted in the fallen. The group cried and begged for mercy, shrinking away from Barucho.

Ayperas’ booted foot halted the wizard who wriggled under the weight. Nysrog clicked his forked tongue and scratched behind his large horns. “There is nowhere to run or hide on Rariny little Barucho. The River Crucify I think.” Nysrog flicked his claws and the prince of Rariny hauled the wraith out of the throne room.

“Mestamina, my love.” She turned to him, an angel in demonic flesh. “Take the Althean to the questioner.” His queen gave a short nod and soon had the sobbing woman out of the king’s sight. Nysrog was no fool. Barucho had information and so did the Althean. And then like all the fallen, the two had a debt to pay to Aulei for their crimes. Nysrog was nothing if not thorough in weighing out justice. He tapped the mallet against his knee and motioned for the next fallen tone. He’d suss out the details for this triune.

As the guard dragged the next deviant before him, Nysrog dematerialized. A distant disturbance rang across the Song and plucked him from his throne. A sensation he hadn’t felt in ages commanded his attention. Someone had broken the oaths and there was Rariny to pay. He folded in on himself and exploded, landing in a frozen place. He broke through the barrier and roared.

#

            The smell of vomit woke Caitlyn. She couldn’t feel her fingers. A moan escaped the mouth of someone nearby. Memory rushed back and she fumbled through the snow to find Niculzor. He lay curled in a ball on a drift. The snow shone in the moonlight, crystalline and beautiful and deadly. His breath wandered as vapor, still alive. Thank God, or perhaps she should say Berehan. If the 3D video of the ancient Wrin Florbith was any indication of reality, Berehan had created them all as a song. She giggled and her lip tore. Blood dripped from the crack and stained the snow.

            A stony hand, black as pitch, lifted Niculzor and then another pulled Caitlyn from the ground. If her father had a grizzly voice that rumbled, this creature sounded like boulders falling, deep and resonant. “Ikäs♬gän nög ♪moneph.”

He was singing! At a time like this. Caitlyn attempted to struggle, but the cold had taken her. How long had she lain in her family’s backyard? She recognized the garden wall and the statue, wait. The statue of Nysrog was missing from its pedestal. She thrashed. “Let me go.” Glancing down she noticed talons and claws. A scream erupted from her throat before rational thought reigned.

“I wouldn’t bother,” Niculzor said. “King Nysrog takes his job seriously and sees you as an oath breaker, more specifically a disruptor to the Song and will of Berehan.”

“What?” She dangled in the monster’s grip, hair matted against her face. A trickle of saliva dropped from her mouth, tinged with the flavor of bile.

“You’ve violated Berehan’s Will and a punisher from Rariny has come to mete out the Singer of All’s justice.”

“Well that’s just great.” Caitlyn sucked the frigid air, the world flipped and she found herself face to face with the demon king.

Horns grew from his head and his eyes gleamed a brilliant yellow like stars shining from blackened orbs. His fangs shined whiter than the moon and he flicked his forked tongue across thick lips, testing the air. He inhaled and Caitlyn flinched inches from his nose. “böl♭ Ikäs♬gän nög ♪moneph,” he sang.

She didn’t understand his language.

Niculzor translated. “It seems he thinks you’re not the oath breaker. Your scent doesn’t match.” The Kintari man let himself dangle in the demon’s hand. “How is it that a guardian of Aulei isn’t fluent in the language?”

Caitlyn tried to shake her head. “I don’t know.” She recognized the backdoor of her family home. It rested between the kitchen and the music room. There was no way the three of them were going to fit through the doorway. “Better use the music room.”

Nysrog ignored her.

Wood and brick ripped from the entry as Nysrog used his broad chest to blast through the door and frame. Wood and brick bowed inward. Debris smacked Caitlyn in the head and something struck her foot. She cried. The pain rushed through her appendages, the bitter cold and blunt trauma from traveling through the portal and now being smacked into things by a beast, Caitlyn lifted her head and shrieked. “Let me go, you giant douche.”

The door to the kitchen crumbled under the force of King Nysrog. Ceramic sunflower tiles fractured. Fragments bit into Caitlyn’s face. She flinched in pain, moaning. Niculzor made no sound. He dangled limp in the demon’s hand. The intrusion startled Anna, Mark and Flora. Shocked, Mark and Anna froze.

Flora raced through the dining room doors, mouth agape and working. She shouted for the Henlys and Roger. “Help! The fountain wakes! Help the punisher has come!” Sheer panic had motivated the woman she had always known as their housekeeper. How strange to find she was a knight from an ancient order. At least the truth validated Mark’s claims. Still, the lifetime of lies irked her and she was certain there was more to learn. Their parents had lied for a reason.

Nysrog’s talons busted through the kitchen tiles underfoot as he stepped into the room and tried to stretch his leathery wings. They reminded her of bats. Looking closer, he resembled the statues on old buildings, gargoyles, set to protect the dwelling.

By his actions Caitlyn surmised he had come here not to intentionally harm them, but to find this oath breaker. He was looking for her mother. Caitlyn shuddered. Her mother and father were many things, but neither one was evil and they didn’t deserve to die. “What kind of monster are you?” She beat at his hand with her fists.

He whirled, knocking copper pots from their hooks. His wing smashed Flora’s tea pot into the wall. He sniffed Caitlyn and then Niculzor. “bö ha’ ♬wl wi gorb,     thönchy wi bö  wi thömuwd.”

            Caitlyn grumbled and glared towards Niculzor. “A universal language translator would be nice right about now.”

            The Kintari grinned and tapped the pocket of his pants. “How has your world lasted so long without inventing one?” Niculzor did not seem fearful of Nysrog, despite the fact the demon had come to life from a giant statue in the backyard and stood significantly taller and wider than her own father, who on a good day appeared bearish. “Pray Berehan sings advancement to your people.”

            Caitlyn rolled her eyes. The Kintari really seemed to enjoy their technology, as if it defined their entire purpose. She remembered how the Kintari responded to her question about spaceships. They had seemed affronted or embarrassed at the time and yet compared to Earth they had built domed cities, flying vehicles and translation devices to work for any known inhabited world in the universe. “What did he say?”

            “He was telling me I am not an oath breaker and I am not guilty.” Niculzor grinned, wiping his chin length green locks out of his face. “He’ll send me back to Kintar and I would rather he left me here.” Sadness grew in the man’s expression. His dark eyes dimmed from shiny to matte in color, nearly black.

            “Nysrog, please let me down. I am not the one you seek.” Screaming wasn’t working. Caitlyn decided to try diplomacy. “Please.” Well, diplomacy with a side of pleading. She was hurt and him holding her like a rag doll wasn’t helping.

            Chuffing the demon set them both down on the kitchen floor. She scooted towards her brother and sister. Mark had his wooden sword held in both hands in front of him. Anna stood just slightly behind him, her hand firmly placed on one of his shoulders to hold him back. Mark swung the sword and strained forward, trying to break Anna’s grip.

“I’ll lop off his head,” Mark shouted.

“You will do no such thing.” Caitlyn joined them. Niculzor didn’t follow. She noticed Nysrog examining the Kintari closely. The two of them conversed in Aulein.

Mom, Dad and Roger entered the room. Dad and Roger each held swords, real ones with sharpened blades. Each had a lion standing on its hind legs, mouth agape in a roar on the pommel. Mom spread her hands out in front of her. A glow radiated brighter than Anna had ever seen, even from her own birthmarks. A white aura materialized and widened like a sphere around them. She started to sing, powerfully. Her mother sang? She had never heard her mother sing an oration before.

“ön rhilni ha ♯wl. dall böll ♬Rariny,” Mom sang. The light expanded and rushed towards the demon.

King Nysrog chuckled. The light blasted him in the face, about his body and wings. His horns reflected the light and gleamed like silver in the sun. Wind rushed through the kitchen and battered Caitlyn and her siblings. Nysrog touched Niculzor. “ön inu ♯wö böll Earth Ikäs♬gän nög.” The demon and Niculzor snapped from the room. Instead of growing translucent and dematerializing, they vanished in a snap.

The warmth of the room mixed with the wintry cold from outside set Caitlyn’s body shivering. Her teeth chattered and she rubbed her arms for warmth. Anna threw her arms around her and pulled her close.

“I will warm you,” said Anna.

“This is bad,” Roger stated. “We’ve insulted a punisher, a Rarin punisher.” He had lowered his sword. “Did he hear our tones in the Song?” He paced across the ruined floor. “We must engage the rest of the Lion’s Roar. Seek help through the nexus. The Celestial Watch will understand. Once we explain.”

Mom shook her head. “I can’t do this again. I can’t.”

Dad wrapped one arm around Mom, but kept the other hand on his sword, at the ready. “We’ll conduct the severing and never have to deal with this again.” His gaze roved Mom’s face. Love in his eyes.

Caitlyn studied the hole in the kitchen door. “We should cover that until you can fix it.”

Mom and Dad broke from their embrace. “I have materials in the garage. Once we’re done, we’ll do the severing. Roger, I can’t thank you and Flora enough for helping us this far, but I think you’ll be better off with the order from here on out. Of course, you’re free to stay, but you must know we’ll no longer be welcome once the severing is complete. We have a family in mind to carry the oath going forward,” said Dad.
            “We owe you so much,” Mom admitted. “We dare not ask more of you. We’ll call the family and see if they’ll accept the oath.”

“Running from your problems won’t help.” Caitlyn had to explain to them. Whatever happened in the past for Mom and Dad to turn their backs on the vows they made, whatever wrong wouldn’t go away simply because they decided to break a vow. They had to know it on some level. “You can’t run.”

“We’ve decided. This is what’s best for our family,” Mom didn’t shout often, but her voice cracked like a whip. Fierce and determined, she continued. “You’re our primary concern, your safety matters most to us. This is final.” She pulled Dad out into the garage, the discussion over. “Let’s get to work. We have a door to cover and phone calls to make.”

Chapter 14
Another Score

“When the clans gained power, each developed a magical specialty. Rolavarre cultivated pain, Huntorevarre poison, Anirienz defense, and Murienez the harvest. Brand the soul, harvest the tone.”

Motto of the Animavillam
Fel Lyrenth, Dai Ithra

Sidras, Ice Moon 5691 AY

The Hunter’s Moon brightened the streets of Feloria. Hover globes chased the shadows and darkness fought back, pressing in on the magic wrought light. Dai Ithran citizens hustled from shop to shop, parcel-laden arms jostling the throng. Wizards streamed among them, towards the Wizard’s Trove on the north end of the island. All wizards on Dai Ithra learned the arcane arts inside those walls. Their velvet cloaks flapped in the chill breeze and exposed layered robes, sewn with down for added warmth. Runes embroidered along their hemlines and chests noted their clans and specialties in magic.

The tower rivaled the heights where Clan Bonavirez kept their estate in the capital. Clarita slunk through the crowd, face hidden by a wide velvet hood. She pushed away from the city center, towards a rocky outcrop next to the Dia Vithra River. Ice slid under foot. She fought to stay upright with each step. The thread of her boot caught a rock, anchored her in snow and helped her climb the slope to Lyrenthia House. The seat of power for Clan Murienez didn’t stand so high as other houses, certainly not compared to Rolavarre or Bonavirez. One day perhaps, when her plans fruited.

            Her boots sloshed through the icy water of the Dia Vithra River. Its path cut from the north down to the southern marshland. In the east, the Vicero Mountains lined the river and on the western bank, the flat plains of Vion El. Its course split around Feloria, serving as a natural defense and trade route for the various clans populating the planet.

            She patted the interior pocket of her jacket with a gloved hand, reaching inside her cloak. She had another musical score, an important one, folded against two vials of protection. The potions specifically crafted for a quick escape. The game she played was a dangerous one. A black leather whip with nine barbed tails struck the side of her leg as it bounced from the belt she wore.

            Wind gusted the edges of her cape apart, exposing a black down suit embroidered with Infernua. The planet’s daystar, Infernua Izar served as her personal sigil. She gazed at the moon, smiled at the glow, proof the daystar still radiated light.

Holding her cape closed, she struggled up the last incline and cursed. The clothing did nothing to abate the cold. Her breath curled in the air, a white misty vapor, only slightly paler than her own skin. She floated like a haunt among the rocks up to a path lit by globes. Guards clad in brown leather with coiled whips secured at their waists patrolled a massive estate. Her clan’s seat of power in Feloria.

            At the door, two men stood sentry, their coats thicker and embroidered with golden whips on their shoulders. Clarita recognized both of them, they were brothers serving as clan lieutenants in the guard, Isirio and Basillo. The two had almost identical features, tree like height, blond hair, brown eyes, and copper skin. She didn’t know their family name, but the two had served for at least one hundred years in hope of elevation. They had time to earn a higher rank. One hundred years was not much to a Dai Ithran. Isirio and Basillo were younger than she by at least twenty-five years.

“A blessed true-night to you Isirio, Basillo.” Clarita nodded to the hulking trees as she passed by them and entered Lyrenthia House. She heard them return the greeting as the doors closed behind her.

Large, chandeliers warmed the foyer and illuminated life-sized statues of ancient Murienez clan members. Families who had brought fortune and fame to their members. To the left, the clan’s most famous philosopher and scientist Diandio Murienez watched an experiment in an unseen lab, he held a clipboard in his bronzed hands.

To the right, the clan’s founder Zanarti Murienez loomed like a hawk, a whip in hand poised to strike. She supposed this was the artist’s vision of what it was like for the founder to harvest that first tone, way back on the Day of Sin.

            Shivers ran down Clarita’s spine. The Day of Sin. What a stupid holiday. The clan, the whole world celebrated the day Berehan, Creator of All had cursed their light forsaken planet to eternal darkness each day. Their daystar, Infernua Izar, never felt particularly warm to the Dai Ithran people, it never showed its light though the animals and plants proved the star still existed. The moon’s glow still reflected its light each true-night.

            Clarita glared at the statue of Zanarti. Selfish, destructive. The man didn’t deserve celebration. Not that her peers agreed with her. They adored the magic and long lives his sin had granted them. Generations of Dai Ithrans lived for hundreds of years instead of 70 or so at most. They had magic like Altheans and Ishanians. Other planets had long life, magic, advanced technology. Why not Dai Ithrans? Zanarti had led the charge when the original seven clans struck down that first tone. Damning the Dai Ithran people in Berehan’s Song, striking their tones from the celestial score. Cold, pain, darkness. As if that price was worth more years and physical enhancements in life.

Rage flared within. A tempest struck the shores of her tone. Clarita shuddered, skipping up the stairs through Lyrenthia House. She passed the music room, heard someone instructing Murienez children on how to play the flute. More rooms served for clan meetings. She saw the silvery skin of her mother through a sitting room door, her glossy red hair, so odd for a Murienez, framed her face in long waves. She tapped a screen on the wall and an image of a distant city appeared. “With this glider model, we can have newly harvested tones delivered anywhere in a matter of hours. Imagine, ordering a tone on your shellophon one morning and receiving it that same day. Our gliders will reach Sarnth, Alcmene and Hypan in a matter of hours.” She tapped the screen, saw Clarita and smiled briefly before she turned back to her guests, visiting wizards from clans Cirovarre, Huntorevarre and Rolavarre.

Three of the great clans had come, her mother must have felt disappointed. Not a single Bonavirez was in attendance. No Pelinvarre, Quiorra, or Dominico. Clan Anirienz with their long military tradition hadn’t come and neither had the shipwrights, the Alessios.  One day they’d come, when they saw her mother’s invention. Gliders! Machines to fly people and goods all over the world in hours. As if an Alessios starship had that same capacity, not when they were rendered immobile by Berehan, banned from interstellar travel. Clarita moved on, smiling with pride.

The grand hall sat to the right on the first floor, a lavish room with marble and starion encrusted balconies, a large stage for musicians and entertainers. The next two floors housed lesser Murienez’ who hadn’t earned elevation. The next three floors served established families within the clan who worked in Feloria running businesses, serving as clan guards or as animavillam, the tone harvesters. The upper floors where Clarita jogged up flight after flight of stairs, housed the elevated. Elevated wizards, the High Seat Adulfo, his faction of palm lickers and sycophants.

            Clarita reached the top floor. She had a private suite, three rooms for her own use, which she had earned the day she graduated the Wizard’s Trove achieving the second height, third order in power. Now, she had a message to read, a small hope for success. She hoped to hear how the seeds had grown and ripened.

            Inside her suite, she crossed to a cabinet, retrieved a bottle of Cirovarran Plum and poured a glass. A 5429 vintage, vinted in the Huntorevarre winery. She sniffed the vintage and her muscles relaxed. With the wave of her hand, the door to her suite closed and locked. A waste of tonal energy, yet the success tonight warranted a little indulgence. She sipped the wine. The sweet, crisp flavor soothed her nerves and warmed her tone. The tempest battering her soul, the tonal note given to her in the Song, receded. Clarita sighed.

            Clan Cirovarre knew what they were doing. Their orchards yielded the best and most lush apples, plums and pears. Thorny stardrops and grapes grew in abundance there. Even though the daystar didn’t shine for the people, Cirovarre understood the changing of the seasons, the movements of animals and the best time to grow. Their trees bore the best fruit. Praying, Clarita hoped her own seeds proved just as lucrative. Just as clan Cirovarre worked with clan Huntorevarre to create the best wines, Clarita had gathered her own recruits for the coming harvest. She swirled the wine and sipped, took out the paper delivered to her in the business sector and started to smooth it out on the table. Musical notation filled the page.

            Noise outside her room introduced a visitor before the knock came. A sharp rap sounded on the wood and Clarita lifted her fingers. Green energy flashed around the door and then it unlatched, swinging open.

            The door framed Silerta Murienez, captain of the guard for Lyrenthia House. She strolled in, glanced about the room, starlight shining on her copper skin. She flipped her plaited blonde hair behind her shoulders and took a seat at the thornwood table in the center of the room and slammed a small vial down on the table. She propped up her feet and leaned back.  “Essence of Althean, just as you’ve requested.”

            With a snap of her fingers, Clarita closed the door. “Did anyone else order a flagon?” She hoped to learn who else on Dai Ithra had increased their tonal stores, someone was collecting and Clarita wanted to know who and why. It wasn’t another Murienez.

            A smile quirked across Silerta’s face. Her big amber eyes lighting up. “Now, now High One, the activities of other wizards, even our clan’s wizards are confidential.” She put her feet back down on the floor. “It’s how the whole thing works. The animavillam capture the tones, we harvest them down in the cells, and we deliver each request personally. I can’t go divulging our clientele, not even for you.”

            Snatching the vial, Clarita studied it, frowning. A pearly substance swirled inside. Tonal energy came out in different colors, it had a physical quality, not quite watery, not quite oily, or silky, or thick, or runny. It was hard to describe. The hover globes and moonlight amplified the color in the vial so that it had an opalescent sheen. This tone had power, great power. “This isn’t Althean Healer.” She wanted a healer’s tone. They had a particular regenerative quality to them unlike any other soul in Aulei.

The whole universe hadn’t produced another tone like an Althean Healer. She needed to test their Sãl—the measure of a tone. So far, the experiments to support the seeds she’d planted, to find the best worlds to harvest, had failed. Thirty years of failure smarted. Clarita kept her features smooth, refusing to show disappointment.

            Silerta pursed her lips. “No it isn’t. Althean Healers are not exactly falling from the sky. We took a merchant ship on their way to Ertlos 9, breaking Berehan’s will.” She arched her brows, driving home the point. The gestures said, the animavillam and harvesters worked hardest. “Captured a boy from the vessel. He’s down in the cells if you want to take a peek.” She pointed her elbow at the door, brushing the tone extractor at her hip, a coiled whip, the primary tool of the Murienez. “I’ll take payment now.” Silerta tapped the table.

            A boy. Not an adult.

Pain flooded Clarita. She doubled over, soul twisted and joints pinched in agony. The pain was part of the punishment. All Dai Ithrans endured just like their inability to see the daystar and the muted level of warmth they experienced. She straightened. Her plans had to succeed. Hundreds of years of agony. What insanity had infected Zanarti to trade peace and comfort for longevity and magic? Clarita would pay the price for the stolen tones, return the light of the star. No more pain, no more poisonous spores to kill the people because they could never see well enough where they stepped, and no more damnation. Berehan had to forgive if she righted their wrongs.

“Very well.” The captain deserved her thanks. Capturing any Althean was nigh impossible. The guard deserved commendation for their work and questioning. How had they gone off world? The animavillam they employed in particular deserved a boon. Clarita made a mental note to send one as she took the vial marked ‘Essence of Althean’ to her personal storage cabinet.

The cabinet with 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 a Portal Guardian L-IV tone, would welcome the Althean.

Clarita pinched two petals on a small glass rose set at the front of the case and a tiny door opened to reveal the inky rainbow called Portal Guardian L-IV tone. She set down the Essence of Althean next to the rose for a moment. Taking the Portal Guardian, she twisted off the top, dabbed a tiny drop of the tonal substance on her tongue and lifted her hand up 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 when it worked. Her own tone reached out, 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 placed the Essence of Althean between an Ishanian High Note and an Earthling Low Pitch. Chills ran down her spine.

            Music wafted from the vials in the case. Tones harmonizing in time with the Song. Berehan’s creation imbued in every single lifeform in the universe as a tone in His grand score. Clarita trembled, set the vial between a flagon of Ishanian High Note and an Earthling Low Pitch. Closing the case, she murmured, “portale guardián cerce.” The petal handles twisted, the doors closed and locked into place with a flash of energy. The tempest at sea green of her magical essence.

The musical notation found its way into Silerta’s hands as Clarita rummaged through her desk for enough coin to pay the woman. Her hand swam the depths of loose gold coins, silver, rarin stones, Zarthonian crystals called zargots, her fingers closed on a starion diamond and released it. An Althean healer was worth a starion or several, not a merchant’s son, no matter how much her tone ached for the boy’s fate. “I hadn’t marked you as a connoisseur of music Clarita. Do you play?”

Clarita grabbed three zargots and slammed them on the table in front of Silerta. “Payment” She snatched the score from the guard’s hands. “I don’t play, but I had thought to surprise my mother with a private concert if the clans invest in her gliders.”

Silerta swiped the crystals and pocketed them, rising to her feet she crossed to the door. “I won’t ruin the surprise, but you might consider some leisure activities, something carnal.” The woman ran her fingers along her thigh. “You’re a bit tightly wound Clarita.” She saluted and stalked off, a smirk on her face.

Exhaling, Clarita rushed to lock the door only to find another visitor. Maricosa Murienez, a child of 30 years. The girl wasn’t much older than she was when her father died.

“A blessed night to you High One.” Maricosa carried a tray, an envelope with Clarita’s name written the outside and sealed with Adulfo’s mark caused a flutter of alarm in her chest, though she concealed it.

Envy flashed in Clarita. How she longed for a harmonious tone. The tempest clanged and struck chords counter to the Song’s melodies. Globe light illumined the girl’s lace dress and honey hair. She had eyes of amber and bronze skin. A slender beauty to rival the murals of Placina Murienez. The famed painter might have praised Berehan Himself for such a muse as Maricosa.

“To you and yours Maricosa. Do come in.” She ushered the girl into the room and directed her to the thornwood table. This time Clarita left the door open, she didn’t have enough tonal energy left for waste and she didn’t want the girl to get comfortable.

Clarita had work to do. Sometimes she wondered about accepting Maricosa’s request. The girl’s family had petitioned Clarita for sponsorship. Every Dai Ithran who trained in the Wizard’s Trove had to earn the recommendation of a previous graduate. As a 28th degree magus, Clarita was one of the most powerful Murienez’ wizards. Sponsorship would gain Maricosa great opportunity and for Clarita, she’d have the girl’s service for the next five years. Dare she trust this one?

Maricosa set the tray down and glanced around, her amber eyes wide in amazement. Ambition struck chords in her soul.

The girl strolled through the room, eyes locked on the line of floral etched windows, the thornwood desk, chairs and table. One cabinet stored wine, the other Clarita’s private collection of tones. Some of the best harvested by the animavillam. Fire danced in the hearth at the end of the room, a sculpted mantel framed the fireplace with the figure of the room’s former occupant, Brigida Murienez. The woman had served as a clan historian and was much admired by Clarita’s mother, Eliosa. Ancestor worship the people who had come before them meant more than the creation of Berehan to the families that made up her clan. Maricosa touched the statue. “Your mother is Eliosa.”

Nonchalant, casual probing. Interesting, the girl had an angle here, likely coached by her parents. Their family might need elevation. Clarita made a note to investigate the child’s background. “She is.”

“She’s a famous inventor and stands third in line to Adulfo, the High Seat.” Now the girl was reciting her lessons. Tedious.

Clarita sipped her wine. “She is and does serve as third. What’s your game here Maricosa? I appreciate you bringing the letter. I am not ungrateful.”

Tugging on her lace dress, Maricosa cast her gaze about the room. “We had hoped to hear if you had received my…my family’s petition. Did you have time to read it?”

“I was in the city center on business. I shall peruse your missive and provide a response after I’ve fully investigated your background.” She might as well state exactly her expectations now. Should she take responsibility for the girl’s education, Clarita needed to know everything about them. Did they pose a threat to her, her mother Eliosa? Were their ambitions aligned to hers or against? She had so much to learn. “You’ll have to wait until I am ready to make a decision. Understood?” Yes, the girl had to see who was in charge. The questions were pushy, a bit desperate actually. That didn’t bode well.

“Yes, High One.” The girl bobbed a curtsey and fled the room, slamming the door behind her.

The envelope beckoned. Clarita slit the edge and took out the contents, reading. Adulfo was calling for a conclave. A full clan meeting in three nights. Clarita’s blood froze, her breath caught. Had he discovered her secret? She took the musical score and Adulfo’s summons in hand. The notes marked out parts for stringed instruments, horns, percussion and one sportolanq, a three pronged instrument that circled the player, tweeting a perfect imitation of a great-winged grawl. The green feathered birds had a wingspan wider than Clarita’s outstretched arms and were known for their heavenly songs, as if they had hatched on Yushrah before descending to the night planet.

None of the assignments mattered. The instruments represented a key and the notes corresponded to letters within each key. The whole document was a code from the Triune Alliance, a letter she had to cipher out. Trembling, Clarita went to her desk, tucked the summons in the top drawer and leaned down, her fingers felt underneath the desk for an indent in the shape of a leaf. She found it and pressed. A click and a pop revealed a tiny drawer. Inside, she had stowed four small books bound in leather. The first she removed, a blue one representing the stringed instruments. Clarita had to know. Did Adulfo know of her plans? She hadn’t told him, never received the High Seats permission to form the triune and seek the return of the star’s light.

Better to seek forgiveness after she succeeded and if she failed, better no one knew that she had tried. The whole plan was an oath between her and her father, the day he died. His life’s work had been a secret between them and in his death had become her mission. Clarita hadn’t thought to get an authorization initially and then it seemed too late. She’d gone too far, the seeds were planted.

Under the warm glow of a hover globe, she worked to reveal the cipher. One book after the other, she notated what the sharps represented, the half notes, the whole, a high C, D diminished triad. Soon the letters took shape in ancient Dai Ithran. Few spoke it anymore, even among the wizards, morirono settanta rose. Trenta sopravvissuti. Preparati per il raccolto.

Tremors shook Clarita, ice cold infused her veins. Teeth chattering she locked the keys away, the musical score she burned. Seventy percent dead and gone. She shivered. Tears trickled down the sides of her face, she didn’t notice. Wind buffeted her internal landscape, the place within her soul, the sound of her creation. It struck as lightning, Clarita slumped to the floor, Seventy percent. She touched the smooth surface of the thornwood and pulled herself standing. So many dead, oh sweet Song. Father save us all. The chances of Adulfo discovering her failures had just increased dramatically. She clutched the desk, breathing and then the door to her room opened once more.

Her mother strode in followed by a tall figure cloaked head to toe in black velvet. The door closed. “Clarita, sit down. You have much to explain.” She pulled back the hood exposing Rofallo Huntorevarre, Clarita’s partner in the Triune Alliance. Oh blessed night, they were found out. In her mind she plotted a pathway for escape as she sat down across the table from her mother, joined by Rofallo.

#

Steam wafted from a cup of tea sitting next to Seed 5837. Fog rolled in off the Mississippi River and pushed the fragrances of wisteria and begonia through the bedroom window. The spy, known as Seed 5837, sat in a chair in the sparsely furnished room. A simple desk, single bed, and a chair occupied the space with a little lamp to provide light. It had greater luminosity than the hover globes of Dai Ithra though it didn’t quite chase shadows from the corners.

            A single chest under the bed contained the spy’s personal effects, secured by a lock and the key worn around Seed’s neck. Of late, memories of home rendered the seed speechless, a drifting seed on the wind. It had come to Earth with purpose. An oath was an oath. Thoughts of the Dia Vithra River dominated most days, the scent of rain flowers in Feloria, and relatives calling the spy’s true name. How many years had passed since they had heard that word spoken from a loved one’s lips? Thirty years to this day.

            Vlamoline soothed and refreshed. One of the few comforts smuggled from Dai Ithra. They had a mission to tend in the world. Find the key. Seed 5837 had done their part over the years, setting down roots, cultivating relationships and searching, ever searching for signs of the key’s location. The effort had brought the spy to Saint Paul, Minnesota. Plans decades in the making balanced on the edge of a Bonavirez blade. The families in the Lion’s Roar had no idea who would take up the responsibility of portal guardian. The key to Earth. The waiting irked 5837. So close and yet, so far.

            When the High One scattered thousands of seeds across the cosmos of Aulei, 5837 had no way to learn if the others survived, if they were successful in harvesting the key to their respective world. They only knew of their own survival. A lonely way to serve, but soon they hoped it would come to an end, just as soon as the families chose the next guardian. The spy understood how to survive and keep an oath. Patience and care, the kind a gardener gives to their plants, a farmer to their crops.

            Wind stirred the curtains of the bedroom window and the trill of a night bird stalking prey interrupted their thoughts.

The Song forsaken planet had many similarities to Dai Ithra except somehow it smelled less vibrant and felt less lively. Perhaps not seeing the daystar so long caused Seed to appreciate the finer things, the little things of home and Earth took for granted the favor of Berehan. Most in the world didn’t even know of the gods or the Song. Disquiet ruled Seed’s minds most days now, thoughts of escape invaded their dreams. The spy sipped the tea and fluid warmed body and soul.

            The smile of Anicho during the Day of Sin festival floated up in memory and the day Fiore entered the Wizard’s Trove to learn about harnessing tones in their magical rites. Had they earned their brand or had they met their end in the final test? Tears appeared in Seed’s eyes. Was Mother alive? Thirty years didn’t seem like a long time, not to the Dai Ithran lifespan. The ache spread and burned. Seed squashed the loneliness, stuffing it deep within.

They watched the house down the road through the window. Forget the past. Seed had a new life and reality. Nothing but the oath mattered, the mission to find the key. The Triune had sent thousands of seeds to thousands of worlds for a chance at returning the light of the daystar to the Dai Ithran people. A chance at regaining the light. What Dai Ithran wouldn’t take it?

            A rumble sounded outside. Headlights sliced through the fog and rounded the corner where the road met another longer one. The car stopped in front of the house, the people called it a mansion here. Seed smiled, a mansion, nothing nearly as opulent as the Murienez compound back home even with the statues and gold gilded furnishings. Not even diamond encrusted chandeliers impressed, not when Seed had come from a planet with a starion mine. The shine of those gems surpassed the gemstones on Earth.

            Seed leaned forward and clicked the lamp to off. The room plunged into darkness and they flinched. Seed had grown accustomed to light, a bright and blinding light. The darkness ignited anxiety. A woman climbing out of the car snapped around to search for onlookers, Seed assumed. She exited the car followed by six other people, all dressed in well-tailored clothing, what the world considered couture. Their winter coats added bulk to slender figures, and more to the plump ones.

            A light on the porch flicked on and the features of the visitors amplified. Seed grabbed the chest from under the bed, unlocked it and took out a pen and paper. The doors closed on what the people here called a luxury model, though they had nothing on the gliders in Feloria. Seed acknowledged the vehicle’s sleek lines and glossy black coat. Sure it didn’t have starion encrusted ornaments or glilium accents, a precious metal that gleamed in the dimmest of light.

            The group walked up the mansion’s path to the cutout porch. Leafless frozen shrubs and statuary concealed most of their physical features, but Seed sketched as much as they saw. Faces and bodies took shape on the page. None of them seemed special or remarkable, but perhaps they had the key. At no time in Seed’s history here had the people visited like this, the seven were strangers to this house and road. Silence emanated from their tones, not that Seed had the power to feel or hear the Song.

            Decorative tiles framed bay windows of the house and stain glass hid any observer within. Turrets disappeared in the fog and a pillar on the porch concealed the person who had come out the front door to greet the guests.

            The first woman who existed the car touched the figure of Prince Nir. Seed shuddered at the sight. The statue showed off the prince of angels, his black wings and skin, the width of his wingspan and the wild mane of hair framing his chiseled face. The Twins danced under the moonlight nearby a towering thuja tree.

The woman gasped, her fingers still on the angel’s arm. Prince Nir had impressive attributes, a certain intensity gripped them each time their eyes connected with the statue. Eye on the prize, Seed used an Earth saying. Eye on the prize. Never mind the wretched companion, Berehan’s chosen. One day even the gods might return favor to Dai Ithra when they managed to return the light of their star instead of praying for mercy. Little good praying had done. The angel prince kept watch and seed shuddered. The angel represented a real life celestial. One who governed Infinite Surrender.

            Shadows moved over the road and yard. The bird trilled and cut off. The sketch showed two visitors with grey hair, one left a cigarette to dangle from their lips without a care, he had bored eyes, nearly lifeless. A sleek man dressed in a deep burgundy suit carried a briefcase. His shoes clapped on the path and gleamed black in the night, barely visible. The last person, the keen woman glanced around them as if to secure their rear. A white dress clung to her figure under an open coat in the same material. Satisfied she turned towards the house and followed her companions inside. How she stood the cold, Seed didn’t understand.

Seed opened the chest and stuck the drawing underneath a whip and the remaining vlamoline. A cheap necklace gleamed in the moon’s light inside the chest, set with a garnet cabochon in a pendant of metal inferior to vli’nath. The Dai Ithran precious metal was the choice of all jewelers back home for its durability and shine. Why this planet hadn’t traded for some baffled 5837. Better to ask why Infernua did not shine for the people of Dai Ithra than to contemplate the oddities of earthlings. Interstellar travel existed all over Aulei, yet the people here traveled no further than their moon. .

Thinking. Seed had to move this mission forward. Living and working in this house, it was clear the key did not reside there, the family had little care for oaths and ignored the signs of change about them. Now the power would change tones and Seed would have to search again for the key, after coming so close. Frustrated, Seed slammed the teacup against the desk. It shattered. Tea ran down the side of the desk.

Seed pulled out another item in the chest, a shellophon. The communication device resembled a seashell unlike any on Earth. It coiled with a wave of spikes fanned outward on all sides. A clasp hidden in a ridge, blended in to the untrained eye. Seed pressed the clasp and the device popped open.

The spy spoke into the device. “Chytùssa vachincciugnè rento.” Seed spoke in the Dai Ithran tongue. The garden blooms. A simple report, but honest and humble. Mostly honest, without embellishment. They tapped their feet on the floor and left scuff marks from dress shoes to clean later. Moments later, the device blared as deceptive as a songbird. Seed popped it open.

A voice, cold and tempestuous as a raging storm at sea whipped from the unit. “Velons shoris nost.” The voice cracked sharper than a Murienez whip. Thunder followed behind it. A chill ran down 5837’s spine. The High One’s command required instant obedience. The hunters come. Oh bless the darkness, the hunters were coming. Wind picked up outside and sent a chill over Seed’s arms. They shivered, excited and cold.

The spy tucked the shellophon back in the chest, locked it and left the room. Quickly entering the bathroom, Seed washed and prepared for sleep. Morning would come early and the spy had a lot of work to do in the household. Might as well continue with the false identity until the hunters came and then, then they’d take the key, open the portal and harvest the tones. Oh blessed Berehan, a thrill ran through the spy. Sleep came elusive.

Chapter 15
The Nexus Commander

“There is an ending to all things, the last note of a song, the last kiss goodbye and the last smile on a child’s face. And none are privileged to know when.”

A Song of Endings by Fennel Major
Cruahg, Sidras

Sidras, Ice Moon 5691 AY

            Snow surrounded Antares on the slopes of the Kala Mountains. The Hirtus shined like a beacon above him. Crystalized fractals formed the buildings and the Crystal Palace where the Voice of Berehan, Metatrine, Lady of Angels ruled. The city resonated continuous song from the Crystal Palace’s choral towers. Sentries flew above, occasionally dropping a feather. Their wings grew in different colors, more like bird wings than the kind faelings grew.

When he had flared and brought down the hall around the faeries in Sidry, Antares had fled the city, flying here without thought. As soon as he landed, the internal stellar fusion powering his tone extinguished, leaving him grounded. Generating more tonal energy seemed impossible in the Kala snow. The energy refused to filter through from the stars as if a wall had come between him and the nature rooted in his being.

            Nearby, a pile of moss grew around a tumulus at the base of the palace. Antares inched his way towards the burial mound. Spindly moss squelched between his fingers as he grabbed a piece and stifled a sob. Tendons taut, neck strained, he burst. A wail ripped from his mouth. He blubbered, pressing himself further into the earth and snow, praying for clemency. Perhaps the loss in power had come as a punishment for killing Moss Spree.

Antares moved to the rounded stone at the other end of the mound, ignoring his grime sullied wings and mud soaked arrelynian silk clothes with each movement. Moisture filtered through his pants, dirt stained. A concentrated swamp grown in honor of his lost friend, Moss Spree. Reeds grew in abundance, moss, and velvet falanie tails named after the furry animal the plant resembled.

Six months had passed since the race.

An angel with pink wings and olive skin descended and clicked their teeth. Disapproval as sharp as daggers radiated from the companion, Armaita, Angel of Truth. “Come to die?” Cold fury struck Antares. A trumpet to herald Berehan’s host. “Fae never learn.” The angel flapped their wings, gusted higher on currents of air and disappeared from sight.

Fae loved racing the Crystal Palace, defying the crystal’s poisonous edges. Creatures of Chance, born of the Goddess Emria. Their tones added foolery and chaos to the Song. The race brought some fae respects, wealth enough to rival the economic standing of the Night Palace. Still, Antares was not there to die or race. He’d already tempted Eresh, God of the Dead. No, he had tempted the Shepherd of the Night and Moss had lost. Now he mourned.

Bundles of flowers decorated the mound and a single croaking toad stood sentry. The creature, sent from the Fiandi Waters to keep a vigil on behalf of all the Spree kin, croaked a mournful song, flicked its tongue to catch a buzzing insect and swallowed.

Antares traced the letters, Moss’ burial stone. A carver inscribed the fae’s name at the top, underneath the first seedling date and the day his tone went silent in the Song—5691, Day 35, Tiger Moon. The inscription below the date read, “A fae of great daring lies here.” Moss Spree, a fae of great daring. No argument there.

Antares reached into his pocket and pulled out a brick, for a moment he traced the spotty spaces and a crack on the side, memorizing it. The first time he had seen Moss Spree was in the market of Sidry, the office buildings going up at the end of the square had attracted his attention.

Instead of trailing his mother, Queen Chriessa, and her retinue around the shops, Antares went to investigate. The buildings dwarfed the other structures along Acorn and Rowan Avenue. Builders flew from the ground to the heights, carrying brick and stone, and piles of metal. Fae sprouting moss and fern darted around, a game of tag the swamp dweller, commenced before Antares’ eyes. He was a sprout then and taught not to trust the bog fae. They’re dirty. The whole lot of them lived in unkempt spaces and didn’t know how to dress, so his tutors often said, but for the young prince, who had no friends, the game seemed like the most fun thing to do. And he had joined. The rest was history. Moss and he had become fast friends, inseparable despite their different lives.

He placed the brick next to the stone. The angels of Hirtus loathed when the fae came, to race the Crystal Palace, to tempt Eresh, God of the Dead. Antares didn’t blame them for feeling anger towards the faeries’ careless behavior concerning the Crystal Palace Race. Not anymore.

Yes, it seemed fitting for him to lose tonal energy here and fitting he couldn’t regenerate the power to fly much less flare. Thank Berehan. He had wanted to stop the metamorphic flares from destroying the city. He should feel grateful, relieved even, but the sudden loss made him feel forlorn and inept. He was supposed to lead the Celestial Watch? How?

“One might mope,” said Prince Nir.

Antares glanced up at the Angel of Infinite Surrender.

“You may feel eternal guilt for the loss of your friend, and you should.” Prince Nir landed on the snow next to him. His massive speckled wings folded behind him. “What other celestial in the Song lives so arrogantly and foolishly as do the fae?”

Antares had no rebuttal. The prince was correct.

“You continue to languish even as you’re called to lead.” Prince Nir crossed his arms. “There are disturbances in the Song and along the Euradian Sea. By your newly acquired appointment, you’re responsible for the nexus. Yet, you mope here feeling sorry for yourself, allowing guilt to weigh you down. You should have refused your friend’s challenge, but you didn’t. Moss might have raced another and died just the same.”

Antares flinched. “I’m grounded. Since I flared and destroyed the hall in the Night Palace, I’ve been unable to manifest enough power to fly or teleport.”

“Bless Berehan you still have feet and legs,” exclaimed Prince Nir. “Or are those impaired too?”

“No.”

“Leaders continue. Leaders find a way, and when they’re unable they recruit and employ those who do.” The prince flicked his wings out, ready to launch for the angel palace. “Tend the nexus, protect the Euradian. Find the way.” His gaze roved the whole of Antares’, judgment gleamed in his countenance and wisdom.

Antares considered asking the angel to accompany him, but he had his own duties to Berehan. “Might I call upon you for advice, in the future?” He coughed. The fae never asked the angels for help and then, the angels never intentionally interacted with the fae. Not really.

The angel inclined his head with a swift nod and launched into the air with one powerful thrust. He soared towards the crystal towers. The angel’s presence inspired strength in Antares, though he was unsure why his tonal energy seemed so low. He brushed the muck from his clothing as best he could, peeked at Moss’ headstone and began his descend from the Kala. A leader didn’t waste days doing nothing, not a good one. His mother would have marched down the mountain days ago.

Hours passed, the daystar declined for dusk. Antares had to clear the rest of the Kala down to its base through snow, rock and brush. To traverse the Vohshesh Hills, and cross the Fiandi Waters on foot would take weeks. Then he had to travel the coast passed the Yushrah Mountain Range south to the Proha Forest where the faeries tended the nexus. Wishing his power away hadn’t helped and he had lost days of travel for stupidly moping around in a pile of snow. What would Eridanus say?

She’d call him a bottle fobbing faeling who belonged back in the nursery, not a nearly mature vine, almost plant in the metamorphosis. She definitely wouldn’t consider him much of a leader. He was behaving like a brainless fungi licker.

Night fell. The glittering stars above radiated a comforting glow. Antares curled up for a rest among rows of helianthus at the base of the mountains. He gazed up at the Three Memorializers to the north. They appeared so distant, staring into the falesium pool. Antares closed his eyes. Did the mystics of Fa Xin actually stare into pools all day and night endlessly? He didn’t envy their purpose in the Song. By the constellation named for them, they appeared content, but Antares had his doubts.

He picked seeds from the helianthus and ate a few. He should feel tired, but a restless ache persisted in his tone. Rocks poked his wings. Grass and leaves itched his arms. Antares rolled to his side. When sleep came, a familiar brick wall and climbing roses appeared. The garden with wisteria and prohas, the path materialized. This landscape resembled Sidras and images from other worlds. The last time he’d come, the girl with the lavender glow had danced the garden path, performing the Waltz of the Stars. She was not here, and a melancholy mood set. Antares beat his wings and flew to the base of a proha to think.

This was not an ordinary dream, he had known that the first time. Though, he didn’t know why it was happening. Faeries rarely traveled through dream. Unicorns ruled the domain, none of the other celestials made invading their space a habit and yet here he was. Why?

Tendrils of frost appeared on the grass. It spread across the land. Snow fell, first as a few flakes and then a flurry. Wind picked up, forcing the leaves and branches to sway. The fire in him ignited. Starlight glowed golden. Antares shined as radiant as the stars above. His eyes snapped open and he peered into the night. He was back on Sidras, at the base of the Kala Mountains. A blizzard raged around him. The wind whipped through the flowers, dropping seeds. Icicles tinkled from trees.

Eridanus appeared on hoarfrost. “There you are.” She glided through the storm and paused next to Antares. “The whole court is worried about you, mother, father, even Humidity.”

Antares scoffed. “Worried about respects and acorns more like.” The foul mouthed sweat beast cared for few things and Antares was far from the list of food, drink and currency. “Well, you’ve found me.”

“Where are you going?”

“I was going to leave Sidras, just until the metamorphosis passed.” It sounded stupid coming from his mouth. “I destroyed the palace.” Antares stuttered. Heat roiled inside him. A golden flush ran from head to toe, sparking. He let his tone swell, casting a net for the stars. The energy sparked and dissipated, refusing to flow through him.

“No one was seriously injured. After Prince Nir and the commanders cleared the hall, palace staff cleared the damage and remade everything. The Sidras World Cup events continue even now.” Eridanus touched his shoulder. Heat and ice sizzled. Vapor streamed around them. “Your place is at home leading the Celestial Watch.”

“I’m walking there, well to the nexus. I have no desire to grace the Night Palace with my presence during the fashion competition.” He flicked his hair back. “I’m surprised you can endure it.”

“True. I prefer the quiet of the north, but I have a duty now and will learn to endure.” Her frosty gaze examined him. “What’s wrong?”

“My tone isn’t channeling my energy root from the stars. I can’t fly or spark. I was grounded in Hirtus for days.”

“Ah a valley in the metamorphosis. I’ve had them too. This will pass.”

“It’s the in between. Going from plant to vine. It’s muddy terrible,” he said.

“An experience born in Rariny I’m sure.” Eridanus cracked a smile. Her silvery features, swirled with the white and blue of ice and snow, glimmered so similar to their father and yet, in her eyes she had a hint of gold. Their mother, clear in the structure of her face and body. Not that fae necessarily resembled their parents. Most took after their tonal roots and those varied from faery to faery.

Antares returned her smile. “I need to tour the nexus. I don’t even know where to start as a commander. I wasn’t expecting to learn for ages.”

“If there is anyone who knows how you feel, it’s me Antares. I too believed we had more time.” Eridanus took his hand. “I’ll fly you to the  nexus. If you walk it will take weeks, if not months.”

With their hands tightly clasped together, Eridanus snapped them to small form and streaked the two of them over the Vohshesh Hills and the Fiandi Waters. They passed the northern extent of the Yushrah Mountains and banked towards the west to the forest and then south. Orion’s Bay glimmered in the early morning sun. Eridanus slowed from light speed to flying just above the prohas. The nexus wood glowed with millions of bulbs below. The two descended and landed on the ground outside the wood. The grove hummed with life. Birds flitted between the trees and animals thrived, scurrying through shrubs and climbing proha trunks. Flowers dotted the spaces between.

“Thank you Eridanus.”

She smiled. “You’re welcome. I must return to the palace. Berehan sing blessings upon you.”

“And to you dear sister.” Antares watched Eridanus streak from the edge of the forest towards Sidry and then turned to the trees. The forest teamed with life and energy and a steady glow shined within. The newest commander in the Celestial Watch, took a deep breath, stepped between the giant prohas and entered.

Chapter 16
Eater of Light and Sound

“The great famine traveled the cosmos infecting the living. It brought darkness and silence and an end.”

Memory of Aulei, Lady Sinee ∞
Library of Memory, Fa Xin

Sidras, Ice Moon 5691 AY

            Antares hovered at the edge of the woods, still unable to fly or ignite. He peered into the golden net of the nexus. He was far too young for the responsibility. What in Berehan’s name, had his father been thinking? Admiral Corundum Red had far more experience. He clutched his stomach to abate the constant fluttering.

            Moss had wanted to work in the nexus—needed it—like the fae’s need for Emria’s blessing. Antares kept his friend in mind, the stouter fae’s short green hair, the moss in his wings, as he took his first step into the proha wood. Commander Antares, the title felt alien in his mind. He brushed doubt away.

            The nexus floated among the prohas like the lantern ornaments on an Ice Moon Festival tree. The network glowed with the light of millions of worlds and their own daystars. The network stretched from the base of the Yushrah Mountain Range down to sandy shores of Orion’s Bay in the east. A continuous current of power thrummed through the trees while amber light flashed inside the millions of tiny bulbs.

            Triads of faeries suspended around the orbs in small form, conducted energy from within their tones to the orbs. The current flowed back out and into the next faery. Monitor fae floated above the orbs. The nearest, a sea faery, no bigger than three inches, smiled at Antares and then realized who he was. She flinched and turned back to her orb, brushing a reed from her face.

             It was her duty in the Song to monitor the world, the portals and the guardians who lived there. This was different from the job the mystics on Fa Xin performed in Berehan’s name. They memorized all things in creation, but the fae provided energy and power to the portal nexus. The fae observed.

            Guilt clung to his tone, stifling his sound in the Song. More than any of their friends, Moss had wanted the job here. Antares leaned against a proha. Its trunk had grown at least twice as wide as Antares was broad. The cool bark steadied his nerves. The energy in the wood tickled his dull wings. Without their light, he looked no more brilliant than a field moth in fog and had less vitality. An itch burned between his shoulder blades and spread down his torso. Antares twisted to scratch and froze. Crystals erupted from the ground among the trees. Cavansite.

            Antares scanned the trees for his old friend—former friend.

            “What did I tell you?” Cavansite landed in the clearing next to Antares. He reached out and smacked Antares’ arm. “Moss may be gone, but we can still work the nexus.” The crystal faery arched a brow, a slow grin spread across his face as he spread his arms and turned to take in the woods. His voice boomed, catching the attention of the other fae. The closest muttered curses at Cavansite. He ignored their complaints. “All this will be ours,” he said.

            A nexus captain walking the path on patrol sniffed. “Mudding fool,” she turned on her heel and stalked in the opposite direction of them.

            Antares refrained from spitting at Cavansite’s feet. “What stinking bog brought you here?” Qiana’s new lover in the Song—Cavansite. He had a lot of nerve speaking Moss’ name after the way he had found him with Qiana in the city center in downtown Sidry. Antares whispered a prayer along the Song to the Rarin. Oh, build a special place for betrayers in Aulei. Thinking of betrayers, the alien girl popped into his mind. The one who had opened the portal so carelessly and walked through. Antares bit his lip; he had walked through too, attracted by the power within her. The two of them were so like two orbiting stars or perhaps a singularity drawing stars in its orbit.

            The wind shifted and tugged a leaf from a nearby proha. The wide appendage floated and fell at Antares’ feet. The ground swayed and he stumbled. Darkness rushed into his mind. A starless sky rotated above him and far below a city twinkled with dull light. Suspended in the air, he cast his gaze for a way out of the situation. He’d shifted again, through another portal unbidden. Was the girl present?

In the distance a tower fashioned from matte ovission stone and vli’ nath, commanded most of the shadowy light. Dai Ithra. Antares recognized the night cursed realm. He felt the silence. The Song recoiled from the world. The black tower with its nearly indestructible metal, forged from the tones of the harvested, continued to produce wizards. Bile rose in his throat and burned.

            Far away, voices tugged at Antares. He ignored them and searched the landscape still unable to ignite or fly. Nothing but wizards moved below. He did not sense the girl, and yet there he was expecting another encounter.

Grass caressed his feet and hands suddenly had a firm grip around his arms. Antares blinked away the darkness to find the forest all around him once more. Two nexus captains flanked him.

“Commander, are you well?” The first captain, Aten the Asteroid, flicked her hair over her shoulder and faced Antares. The nexus’ emblem of a star in a circle, emblazoned on the left side of her midnight blue uniform. She was new, lacking the flashes of lightning within the star more experienced captains wore. The silver moon of House Azarin showed on the back of the uniform as it did for all members of the Celestial Watch, given the day they completed training. Definitely a newer recruit, but not as untried as others in the clearing. She remained steady.

The captain on his right side, a faery of the north with crystallized wings and frost about his face, flinched as Antares shook him off. He didn’t know this captains name, but he only wore the circle and the silver moon of his father’s house. Interesting to see Berehan Sing the youth’s position in the Song so soon. He smelled of fresh snow, and he hadn’t entered the metamorphosis yet. The youth trembled, fear frozen in his grey eyes.

“I’m well for now,” Antares said. “Though, I’m not sure why I keep teleporting to other planets unbidden.” He hadn’t willed it, not in mind or in tone. Which meant, the girl may not have either, and if that were true, the nexus had another problem, an unknown with which to contend.

He ruffled his wings, stretched them and folded them back. He itched to fly, to think. He longed for his study and instruments. The palace library had so many stones of information to research. Had the nexus gone through something like this before? He had questions for his father. As far as he knew, portal guardians didn’t travel the worlds except under their own will. The power to control the portals required concentration and will.

“Then we shall leave you to your inspection, Commander.” Aten saluted, hand to shoulder, she nodded and then snapped to small form. The northern faery followed her, mimicking the salute.

Respect. Interesting, not all the nexus captains disagreed with his appointment and even among the monitors and generators; he noted waves and salutes throughout the wood. Even as a few fae turned their backs on him, including a bulky arctos, her fur ran thick down her torso, but she sneered in his direction and flicked her wings. Can’t win them all, not instantly. Still, he felt a bit better knowing not everyone in the nexus hated him.

In the clearing, Cavansite flirted with a snyr grass faery. He turned to show off the crystals on his wings. Willowy shoots grew from her hair and wings. Reeds circled her ankles. The two were staring at one another, oblivious of Antares and his teleportation. So much for Qiana.

Antares glanced skyward. “I’m going to continue my patrol here.”

Cavansite waved his hand as if to dismiss Antares when another captain burst into large form between them.

Sun bleached sand fell from the familiar countenance of one Captain Cowrie Sand as spiny sea shells jutted from the coiled hair that grew from his head and beard. Large spirals grew from his shoulders like sentries from the ocean. He approached Cavansite from the rear and clasped him on the shoulder with a firm grip, his seven foot height in large form intimidated Antares, especially since his flare had dimmed to nothing. Thick muscles filled the captain’s uniform. Decorations, medals and cording bedecked the captain over the nexus emblem. Lightning flashed within his embroidered star.

The captain spun Cavansite around and snarled. “kve vul nyihki dum. Kve fenging, muddy legbi.” The captain’s insults in Sidran struck Cavansite. The aquatic faery quivered rage. Seashells broke from his wings and sand blanketed the forest floor. “kve vul nyihki dum.” You do not belong.

The snyr grass faery sniffed the air, snapped to small form and streaked away from them as fast as her light could carry her. Cavansite stared at his feet, wings wilted.

“You’ve made a mess of the nexus with your metamorphic bursts. Clean this up and depart at once.” Captain Cowrie’s jowls jiggled as he spoke. “You deserve no respects and no station here if your behavior is any indication of your character. We already have captains enough who shirk their duties in the Song and you think Berehan will sing you a place here.”

Cavansite gave a quick nod and started on clean up. The captain continued to stare until the mineral faery touched the first crystal. It stood so tall it had grown into the leaves of a proha. The torn leaves secreted moisture to repair the rips. Nexus faeries in small form buzzed around the apex. Anger laced their chatter. His friend struggled to get the mineral crystal to disappear. He leaned against it, closing his green eyes shut tight. His wings beat. Energy coalesced around them and finally a crystal started to shrink.

Antares’s flashed a grin and stifled laughter. It was difficult to earn the respect of the captain. Cowrie Sand had fought in the Shade Wars and defended the retreat from Zirx I when the Sýking struck the world in 5490 AY. Cavansite deserved the captain’s wrath and the loss of respect, hopefully it hadn’t plunged his accounts into the negative.

“Now, Commander, perhaps you will deal with Vasant.” Cowrie had turned on Antares, mouth turned down, his expression grim. “Come with me.”

Strange, Vasant was still on Sidras. Antares had assumed with the energy he wanted his brother wanted to flee the world and save their fellows from his own metamorphosis. It seemed a lonely and noble sacrifice, one Antares was too late to make—for now. He followed the captain to the center of the woods.

“He showed up before just before morning rotations,” said Cowrie.

The nexus monitors and generators rotated in shifts. The captains had schedules to oversee the operation with Captain Cowrie Sand and Admiral Corundum Red at the top in hierarchy, just below the commander. Vasant coming right before a rotation suggested he wanted to slip in unnoticed or minimally noticed. What in Sidry was he doing?

Antares strode after the captain, widening his gait a little to model Cowrie’s imposing height. The sea faery’s tusks, similar to a volrus, poked from his mouth, shells sparkled in the morning light. Fae all around them bowed respect at the captain.

In the trees, generators worked in triads, suspended around an assigned orb in their small forms. The triads conducted energy as strands of visible light flowing from their physical forms into their orb and back to them. Wind fae connected to woodland fae. Faeries of the seasons linked with fae rooted in stone and metal. Water faeries linked with fire.

 Their vitality thrummed through the forest with a radiance like stars. Monitors watched and reported. Their whole purpose in the nexus required them to observe the planet associated with their assigned orb, the portals rooted on the planet and the guardians for those portals. Monitors had to understand the world they served and the sentient creatures who lived there. fae with their tones rooted in tel-cryn, plasma, and thermal energies, and a few rarer fae with the phantom particle – the Vofa, an energy so powerful it made traveling the cosmos instantaneous. Here the hub thrived in the proha forest, powered by the fae and protected.

One of the most honorable professions among the fae, an honor Moss had hoped for in life. The guilt flared in Antares. Sure, he hadn’t forced Moss to race the palace, more like his friend had challenged him.

There was no time to dwell on the past, at least no time for redemption. Not now. Who monitored the world where the girl lived? Antares needed to find out more, see if the portals were broken or if the girl was mad, or worse, in league with the wizards of Dai Ithra. Was that it? Was she selling tones and luring Antares from the safety of Sidras?

The monitors gazed unblinking at portals on distant worlds undreamed of by the young prince. He imagined what the portal guardians from those planets looked like compared to the fae who watched over them. Did they have wings? Did they have long lives? Did they die in the flap of a wing with no time at all?

Breaks in the forest revealed Vasant’s spring green hair and pink peony wings. Petals fell from his brother as he darted from tree to tree in small form, a flask in hand. He touched an orb and hummed. A vibration stirred the leaves around them. The branches swayed. The light within the orb dimmed. The tree whipped as if struck by a gale. The spheres tinkled protest. The light swirled from the orb’s center. The generators huddled in small form, fighting Vasant’s power, but the Ruler of Spring triumphed.

Energy flowed into the flask, flashed brilliantly and then returned to its usual luminescence. The generators wailed protest. The monitor faery frantically peered into its darkened sphere. The planet appeared extinct, void of light and sound. Pain pierced the recesses of his tone and traveled the Song. The whole proha forest felt the violation and gathered around them. Generators, monitors and captains hovered in small form and ringed them in large, some taller than Antares.

Carduus Thistle, fluttered next to him, another flask in his hands. Their behavior made no sense, neither of them served the nexus—only the chosen of Berehan defended and kept the world watch. Vasant, who was nearer in age to a sprout, hadn’t earned the favor and trust of the Creator. Yet, the two of them ignored the guardians as they stole more light from the worlds.

Antares shouted. “What in Rariny are you doing? Are you mad?”

            “What care in Sidras have you?” Vasant snarled and preened. Pink peonies sprayed from his wings. A flutter of thistle sprang from Carduus. The two resembled kittens caught in the cream.

“All the care in Sidras now that I’m the nexus commander. We have searched far and wide for you brother. Mother and Father have entered final maturation.” Antares wings fluttered behind him, his muscles tense. Heat roiled inside. Glory to Berehan. He sang through the Song. He hadn’t felt a tonal connection to his stars for days. Oh how rage inspired him.

            For a moment, worry clouded Vasant’s countenance. A pink aura surrounded him and then he shrugged. “I assume Mother and Father have named their heirs. I have more important concerns. I don’t expect you to understand,” Vasant said. Carduus tugged on his arm, but he didn’t move. “We need all the energy.”

            Cryptic as ever. Vasant never cared what the rest of the family had going on, he was all about himself and his duty in the Song. Never mind Mother and Father would soon return to Emria—eventually in a year or two, or millions. Selfish fungi licking toad stool. His brother liked nothing more than himself and Carduus. Antares watched Vasant’s hand on Carduus’ back. He had true affection for the thistle faery. Why not his own kin?

            “I have no choice. I shall report to Father your crimes. Captain, seize the flasks, return the energy to the nexus,” Antares commanded.

            “Guardians, to me,” called Captain Cowrie. Several nexus guards approached encircling Vasant and Carduus. “Take them to the palace, the dungeon, and hold them there. Summon the king.”

            Vasant whispered to Antares. “Go on, report me.”

            Shock and fury seethed through Antares. His voice cracked like lightning. “The energy belongs to the nexus for the worlds. It’s our duty as fae, the reason we exist!” Antares was shouting and flung his arms wide. “How can you be so selfish?” A haze fell over him, waves of stellar power shot from the center of his tone.

Suddenly, Antares’ body flared and stellar fusion erupted. Chills raced the length of his body and his wings stretched to their limit, pulling muscles. His eyes widened and Antares gasped for air. He fought to control the power surge within him. Legbi Kyibve. Muddy legbi, b͡rawdo ka naws͡to. He and Vasant deserved a place in Rariny. Berehan preserve them all, they surely deserved silent tones.

Golden starlight bathed the clearing.

He trembled, unable to fight the inferno. It clawed at knee length grass surrounding his feet. It burned flowers to ash and licked the edges of the proha trees and then water fae joined by the winter faeries of the north descended from the trees.

A river flooded the space around Antares. Winter fae latched onto him, their frosty touch soaked into his bones and burrowed into his tone. His heart beat, he breathed. Another beat and he felt calmer, cooler.

A circle of ash under his feet now lay under water. The nearest proha remained intact if a bit singed. None of the nexus spheres were damaged. As expected all the faeries were no worse for the battle against his starburst. The metamorphosis had returned right in front of the entire nexus.

            In the commotion of his flare, Vasant and Carduus had escaped, the flasks gone.

Cowrie Sand bellowed. “You just had to go and flare now!” He motioned for the other nexus captains to provide assistance.

Oak and Ash, two faeries Antares recognized from the assembly his parents had called entered the clearing. More captains gathered. “You called,” stated Oak. Leaves and acorns fell from his hair and arms. Both of them shoved one another for a closer place in the clearing. How they had earned the lightning flashes in their stars, Antares was not sure. Both behaved like saplings fighting for the last slice of flǔrn cake.

Fae refrained from gathering the acorns, though even part of Antares wanted to dive on them for the currency. Lucky faery to have a tone rooted in wealth.

“Find Vasant and Carduus. Arrest them.” Captain Cowrie poked Antares. “If your metamorphosis wasn’t so volatile, I’d personally assign you to regenerate the energy loss. Your muddy brother has endangered the worlds. We can’t have your flare mucking up the system.”

Ash shoved past Oak and poked Antares in the ribs, “Maybe you’d better leave the nexus. You might do worse damage than your brother.”

“Did I not assign you with a task?” Cowrie blubbered. He watched Ash and Oak snap and dart out of sight on beams of light. “Well, you heard him. I’ll provide status reports, but it might be best you take the reports in the palace or better in Sahry—far from the cities.”

Just when he thought he might be useful, he had proven to be just as destructive as Vasant or at least just as dangerous. Fenging idiot. He never belonged in the nexus and didn’t deserve the command. Antares snapped to small form and blasted towards Sidry, the faerie capital on Sidras. He brushed ash from his clothing, cursing himself, his tone, the air he breathed.

As the young prince passed over the mountain peaks, crystalline snow sparkled under Lucidus’ light. Owls called and the trees became sparse. Down in the valley of three formations in the range the city sprawled. Tall buildings emerged, made of metal and stone. Offices and organic flats for city faeries spilled piles of vines and brush from windows and balconies. The business center of Sidry pullulated activity. South of the business sector, the market square teemed with shoppers. Fae hustled through the crowd in large form burdened with baubles, buttons, strings of gems and pearls. Spools of lace and ribbon weighed a cactus fae. The fabric caught on his spines. He twirled, tugging the ribbon loose.

Antares knew where he was headed as he landed on a cobbled street. Food vendors shouted their wares. Inns were full to bursting with visitors from out of town. A river of fae flowed from one tavern to the next. Raucous music and smoke spilled out into the fog and dissipated as three cryophyte fae stumbled out of the Golden Star, named for Queen Chriessa. Song tumbled from their mouths. The yellow-green of their skin glowed bright and slimy in the watery landscape. Poor algae. Their kind were born in ponds and swamps. The least favored among the fae. Bogs and swamps smelled. Marshlands were messy mud factories. An insult really to the finer, more delicate constitutions of many fae. One of them took a look at Antares and squirted scum in a wave onto the street.

He knew this particular cryophyte. Great.

The other two didn’t notice him and continued to sing. Their merriment infectious. Antares attempted to smile at them. The trio swayed, arms clasped, their wings smacking one another as they sang, “down in the deep of the Fiandi Waters, down where my parents lie. Waiting the sunshine of the morning.” They had nice singing voices even if most fae considered the Fiandi were gross, marsh covered lands with rivulets running from the west coast all the way inland to the Vohshesh Hills and the coast south along Orion’s Bay. The waters stank in the way swamp and marshland smelled. Decay, offal and growing things smelled. The singing fae were no different. The cryophyte recognized Antares and stopped. His friends bumped into him. Their voices faltered. “Let’s get out of here.”

When their eyes locked on Antares, they skittered away as fast as their drunken legs would carry them, stumbling and slurring. “Bottle-fobbing prince.”

“Stinks worse than a bog around here.” One of the Fiandi dipped his wing in the most offensive gesture, a half bend, full of attitude.

Their ire did not surprise Antares. He had caused the death of their near kin, Moss. Without thought, he found himself on Valley Road, a street he had often visited over the last five months. A sign over a smaller shop, dilapidated on the outside with clover growing over the wooden slats, framing the window, read Prim’s Elixirs and Spells.

Antares moved through the crowd. The closer Antares drew to other fae, they veered away. They moved like heavenly bodies attracted and repelled in constant motion, unwilling to venture near and unable to break free. Frustration painted their delicate, jagged features. Sea fae mingled with their mountainous kin. Floral saplings clung to the sides of their parents and fauna fae haggled for lower prices at a vendor’s cart laden with soft down popular for avian lovers. They side stepped away from the prince. They knew. Every one of them knew what he had done last.

Next to Prim’s place, a cosmetic shop glimmered with creams for eyes and lips, dyes for hair and skin ornaments. The ornaments caught the light and sparkled. Antares rubbed his arms where stellar nucleosynthesis threatened to overwhelm his form and the space around him.

Fur-faced faeries with pointed ears tripped over one another to get away from him even as they struggled under the weight of parcels. None of them were willing to leave a single garment, or fastener, or hat behind. Palace guards patrolled the streets of Sidry, their boots clicked against the cobbles, their swords dangled at their hips. The Sidras moon embroidered in silver and white, the colors of his father, King Comissros gleamed bright even in the dim fog. They saluted Antares, but refused to approach him or speak. Instead, they helped the crowd stay clear of him.

Bells jangled as he swung the door to Lenus Prim’s shop open and stepped inside. Careful not to knock over packets of herbs and bottled potions, Antares waited at the counter tapping his fingertips on the wooden top. He drummed a rhythm and hummed a silent prayer to Emria for help, perhaps Lenus had something to help him. Moments passed. His gaze swept the shop.

Vials of ‘Respects for the Common Fae’ and ‘Lover’s Knot’ in different sizes took up an entire stand against one of the shop’s walls. Stained glass lamps illuminated an elixir for breeding acorns and a longevity tonic near the window. Tingles ran through the veins of his wings, they warmed and began to glow in the room’s dim light. On a rotating, wooden stand, bottles labeled ‘Metamorphosis Suppressant’ beckoned.

Antares grabbed the largest bottle and then two more. Clinking together, he set them on the counter in front of him. It was worth a chance, likely it wouldn’t work, but he had to try something. When his parents departed the material world, he had to be truly ready to lead. If he was still transforming from vine to plant, he’d need all the help available to maintain control over his flare.

Moments later, a beaded curtain parted diving the front of the shop from the back. The beads clinked together as the rare primrose wings of Lenus Prim backed out into the main room. Lines of yellow divided deep blue petals. Primrose scented the air. Since Lenus shared half his tone with the primrose, his wings and skin and hair featured the coloring and growth of the wild primrose. Lucky fae.

The apothecarist carried trays of bottled potions. He turned and started as he noticed Antares. “Oh, I didn’t see you there Antares, you gave me such a fright.” He set the trays down on the counter. “With what may I help you?” Lenus was an older fae, approaching maturation and eventually his final years in the flesh. Like with all fae, once he achieved final transformation, Lenus’ tone would return to the goddess. On his day of rejoining, Sidry would mourn, but the gods would rejoice as the Lady of Fortune reclaimed Her essence. Antares prayed it was a long way off. He liked visiting Lenus’ shop. The apothecarist accepted every fae for who they were, not what they had done. He had run Prim’s often in the days after Moss Spree’s demise.

Something must have showed in Antares’ expression for empathy flickered across Lenus’ face. “I remember my metamorphosis.”

Surprised Antares didn’t say anything, just waited.

“It was difficult. Flowers appearing all over, growing from the floors and walls. One day, primrose exploded from the entire street where I lived with my father. The damage was unbelievable. Cobbles broken, plants uprooted and the houses. I cracked those foundations.” Lenus picked up the bottle of Metamorphosis Suppressant. “This may help you, but I caution, follow the directions on the label. It’s a potent mix.”

Antares understood. Of all the celestials made to serve the gods, the fae had tones rooted in nature and partially with the goddess Emria, Lady of Chance and Fortune. The half note rooted in nature varied from fae to fae. Each of their tones sounded differently in the Song of Creation, the Song Aulei. The portion not gifted from Emria belonged to the stars for Prince Antares. Fusion. Flares. He experienced the star cycle. The power was immense compared to most fae, more destructive. Lenus had destroyed a street. Antares might destroy the city. The right thing for him to do was break Divine Law and leave the planet, but he had no way off world.

“I’ll take three bottles.” Antares purchased them and tucked them in his bag. “Thank you Lenus.”

“Should you ever need help, don’t hesitate to call on me.” Antares turned to leave, but Lenus touched his arm. “It’s not your fault you know, what happened with the swamp faery. He knew the risks.”

He did not have a response, just a nod and then he was out in the street and headed back to the Night Palace. He swallowed and hummed another prayer, hoping news about his nexus visit hadn’t traveled back to the palace. The bottles clanked in the bag, but shrank as soon as Antares snapped to small form and darted over the buildings to the outskirts of the city where the Night Palace loomed. Spires and towers stabbed the sky more than five floors high on a grassy outcrop.

The golden dome of the palace library glistened in Lucidus’ light. The hum turned into a song of prayer for Emria to toss him a chance, a lifeline, anything to get out of trouble and save the city from his metamorphosis for he had a new responsibility in the nexus, Vasant to capture and a girl to find off-world. He was too busy to ruin things with his stinking flare.

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The Oath Breaker by Heather A Busse (Book Cover)

The one thing I didn’t like was how the logo looks at the bottom. I have it too dark, but I’m not experienced with format. The cover artist, Cynthia Conner did a great job in my opinion. You can find her here: https://www.facebook.com/Dracontiar

The text is my own fault. The logo, originally created by Ivy Rautio is also really nice, but again I’m not sure how to add it to the cover in a way that’s easier to see. You can find her artwork here: https://www.instagram.com/raineedazed

I will probably hire a designer I think to fix these issues, but I still wanted to share the overall look.

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The Oath Breaker 1 – 3

Artwork by Cynthia Conner https://www.facebook.com/Dracontiar/

Chapter 1
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

Saint Paul, Minnesota
Earth, 2007

One winter, cold winds shook the walls of Henly House, whistling transformation between 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. Sound struck the night with a musical quality. Fog shrouded the walled garden and the street out front, East River Boulevard. A melody of February cold cut through the old, freezing field and brush, it froze the surface of the river and formed icicles along the ridges of brick and stone. Currents of air shook the icicles. Rafters groaned and the floorboards creaked. A staccato rhythm unfolded.

Music from the family room, added to the din. Notes from Tchaikovsky’s Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy played from earbuds in Anna Henly’s ears. Her mother and father, Charles and Ellen Henly, sat snuggled on the only decent piece of furniture the family owned, a white plush couch. A crime drama blared from the television before them. The youngest Henly child, seven-year-old Mark, painted small figurines for his 3D tabletop game, A Knight’s Quest, at a small table between the couch and the fireplace. In the recliner, 17-year-old Caitlyn, the oldest, slid a highlighter over a page in her book about neuroanatomy. Each sound a note in the song of a Friday night, in Henly House.

The tone changed, though the Henlys did not notice at first notice. Energy gathered in the room and the air outside. It lay heavy and thick within the fog, a coiled lion ready to pounce on prey. Electric and potent. The small hairs on Anna’s arm lifted, the lines of her lilac birthmark glowed. She didn’t see or feel the shift along her arms and legs or torso. The glow pulsed so faintly the dim light of the family room outshined her birthmark’s radiance. She honed in on the letters printed in a book.

Anna rubbed her arms for warmth as she leaned over, “A Technical Manual for Classical Ballet in the French, Italian and Russian Traditions”. She rubbed her hands, breathed into them for heat and flipped a page, reading the instructions to perform the proper forms for brisé. She preferred to study the instructions, examine the illustrations provided in the text and read any applicable Italian and Russian variations – before practicing them. No matter how often she danced, perfection demanded more effort. She blew hot air against her fingers and rolled her shoulders. She beat her feet against the floor to keep her muscles warm.

Caitlyn arched a brow at her the moment Anna glanced in her direction, the scritch of her sister’s highlighter a sharp violation of the melody at play. A detective spoke her lines to her partner on TV and Mom yawned. Dad put his arm around Mom before the two adjusted for comfort. The day’s fatigue darkened their under eyes. Both worked harder than Anna imagined necessary for two adults trying to raise three children. Mark dipped the paintbrush in cerulean blue before applying it to a knight bedecked in silver armor. Anna turned up the volume on her earbuds and stretched her legs and back. Leaning forward she glanced about the room, holding the stretch and breathing.

Fissures broke the floral patterned wallpaper in the room. The carpet remained threadbare and stained. The old, Victorian mansion the Henlys called home needed repair. Anna shivered in the thin fabric of a leotard and tights, in the corner of the family room. Her attention moved from the weather outside and the other members of her family to ballet. Her devotion to dance burned like the winter wind. It had taken root years ago and had become a singular ache, a need. Dance promised a future and a way out of Henly House. It wasn’t natural for children to live concealed from the world, isolated from any friends one might make and Anna had a plan to leave, assuming the audition went well in a few months.

Tendrils of her orchid purple and silver hair popped the hairpins holding them in a ballerina bun and struck her in the eye. Deft fingers, from years of practice, wound her wild kinky curls back into place. She stuck the pins back in place. From the book, illustrations of ballerinas stared Anna in the face, their arms and legs positioned in various steps, heads and torsos posed gracefully, long and slender compared to her squatter figure. It took most dancers many hours of work each day to build the fine lines of a ballerina. For Anna there were not enough hours to perfect the image of a dancer, so instead she worked on technique, improving skill and strength as best she could. It was a long shot, but she had a plan to audition for a company in Wales. Anna had talent to rival a principal dancer according to her private, virtual tutor, Madame Perla Boucher. Envy burned in her heart. She hated the fact only Caitlyn had inherited their mother’s slender and tall features, tawny skin and bright brown eyes – a mix of Welsh and Indian heritage. Braids kept Caitlyn’s straight glossy brunette hair tamed over each shoulder.

Anna had none of those features. Instead of tawny, she had matte beige skin lined with a birthmark in the shape of lilacs. It sprawled over her torso and limbs. Instead of brown orbs, her eyes gleamed lavender and tan, never quite settling on a color. She had a squat figure, short and round. Her best chance at a career in ballet was perfection. Be the best dancer, the best principle. Anna breathed and stretched, and then stood to lose herself in a faraway place. A forest glade appeared in her mind, the walls of a garden, a lake to feed a swan, fairy tales and creatures from legend emerged.

The notes for “The Little Mermaid” prompted Anna’s limbs to move as an obedient marionette. The world and the family room vanished. Winter did not exist outside. She swam en pointe as a mermaid and slept in a high tower awaiting her prince. Summer reigned in the pages of the book, fantasy and fairytale united. Pointe shoes beat as rapid as a bird’s wings in time to the next song, music for Tchaikovsky’s “Nutcracker Ballet”. Anna moved into attitude à terre, knees touching and then tiny footwork for pas de bourrée couru. Her feet rose on pointe, despite the worn and thread bare carpet under her feet, Anna transformed into a weightless and ethereal spirit, a sylph in a woodland glade. Bells, strings and chimes prompted her frolic.

The carpet rendered the movement a bit awkward and she tipped to the side, catching her balance. The spell of ballet broken, Anna stopped the player and started over. A carpeted floor was not ideal, but the family room included her parents and siblings. The stage in the music room, while beautiful and large, existed in a cavernous space full of demonic haunts, effigies on the walls and wood carved pillars. The room scared her at night too much to practice there alone. Goosebumps broke out on her skin and she shivered. Music for Sleeping Beauty started, “Rose Adagio Aurora”.

Anna practiced pointe work, beating the flattened rug into the hard wood beneath. Her muscles burned, but she refused rest. The best companies holding auditions required hours of practice each day. Discipline mattered in dance. Anna lifted en pointe arabesque and turned. Freedom existed in the hammered strings of the celesta. Her spirit flew from the shackles of flesh riding violins and flutes. Anna soared, soul bursting and ready to collapse like the aftermath of a supernova. Among the stars, she floated, a dream clothed in song and music.

Voices crashed in and Anna’s eyes opened. She stared around to see Mark, Caitlyn, Mom and Dad examining her – alarmed. What did they want? She lowered her feet and arms, turned off the music.

“Your shine.” Mom’s dark eyes furrowed an owl’s disapproval clear on her face. “Time to center, relax and breathe.” Mom’s hands splayed to coach. “Dim the shine.”

A beacon of light radiated from her birthmark. The lines glowed a fierce, joyful lavender as bright as a signal fire. Purple luminescence, a starry sky. Strands of her silver and orchid hair fell about her face and down her shoulders. Curls as tight as rubber bands sprang against her skin. When this happened, her parents insisted she cease what they called the shine. As if she had control or understood this mystery. Mom and Dad didn’t understand it and they created her. Their fears and overprotective natures were stark raving mad – two lunatics running an asylum.

Anna had spent her life hidden in Henly House attending school at Winding Heights Academy of Art and Science’s virtual classroom while her brother and sister physically attended the lower and upper campuses for their respective grade levels.

She had no friends unless she counted Flora, the live-in housekeeper and cook or Roger, the household butler and driver. The two were like family, both having lived there for longer than the children were alive, but they were not Anna’s age. They didn’t understand her life. Not really. No one in the house allowed her outside except on foggy days or when the rose and lilac bushes surrounding the property were at their fullest. Her family didn’t want Anna embarrassed on YourLife videos and dubbed a sideshow attraction and no one wanted the invasion of privacy – camera crews on their lawn.

She welcomed the idea of paparazzi. The spectacle of media sprawled across the yard. A three ringed circus with Anna as the big star. Strangers coming to see her perform. She’d buy a ticket for the show. Step right up folks! See the amazing Glow Girl. No, she was not in danger of exposure on their quiet road.

East River Boulevard was discreet except for one neighbor, the Bryces. A family of two boys, a grandmother and whomever she had working over there. The youngest, Ephraim, was Mark’s best friend and as far as Anna knew, he had never revealed her oddities to a living soul, none of the Bryces squealed or took photos. A shame really.  

“Good job, kid.” Dad’s blue eyes dazzled from the depths of his bearish face. Dad was all height and blond, boxy and muscular. His arms wrapped her in a bear hug. He was a larger, adult version of Mark.

Anna wriggled free, tears in her eyes. “I never meant to shine.” The distant stars called to her, the music of Sleeping Beauty played in her soul.

Mom glared. “You keep saying this, but think of your privacy, our privacy. The Internet -.”

“I’m fine and we’re not in public.” The shine didn’t matter in the confines of their own home. Visitors didn’t come to East River Boulevard where they lived by the Mississippi River.

The bike path near the river came to a dead end down by the bridge and the service road, East Lion’s, didn’t venture any further. No one was peeping; there wasn’t a prying eye for miles or a camera to capture her glow. “I don’t suppose you found a doctor with a miraculous cure?” The sarcasm darted from her parted lips. She didn’t care. Anna arched a brow. “No, didn’t think so.” The way her parents behaved as if she had control over the shine.

Mom and Dad exchanged abashed looks. “Snip all you want. Showing your shine to the world will hurt you more than it hurts us.” Tears threatened to spill down her mother’s cheeks. Pain had her doubled over, leaning against her father. Her joints hurt most days; at least Mom claimed they ached sharp and persistent. Anna wondered. The pain came at certain times like this.

Caitlyn tapped her chin, deadpan as ever. “No one knows about Anna’s shine. Her birthmarks look like tattoos, her hair looks dyed, her eyes like contact lenses. You’re overly protective.” For as long as Anna could remember, Caitlyn had watched out for her. When she had bad dreams, she willingly crawled into bed with Anna to hum lullabies and sooth her fears, losing sleep. In some ways, she had more wisdom than their parents did.

Mark rested his hand on the wooden practice sword he kept sheathed at his side most days. His feet carried him to Anna’s side. He squared off with Mom and Dad, fingers at the ready, eyes ablaze for conflict. “Ephraim says we need to train and take the oaths.” Since Mark befriended Ephraim Bryce in preschool, the boy kept talking about training for their destiny and keeping an oath. He insisted on acting like a chivalrous knight, to defend the weak and champion just causes, exactly like the knights from his board game. Anna didn’t blame him for thinking make-believe would solve the problem. Her little brother had an unending faith and determination to help others.

Mom and Dad shushed Mark. This often happened when Mark suggested they train as knights and take their oaths. Strange, his suggestions came when the family argued, usually about Anna, but sometimes about the house and why they never moved if there was no money to renovate. “Enough. Anna it’s too risky. You must control your shine.”

“From what? The Bryces?” No. Ephraim never bothered her, neither did the older boy Trenton, he attended school with Caitlyn and as far as he was concerned the Henlys didn’t exist – much to her sister’s frustration – not that Caitlyn ever admitted it. The Bryce matriarch, their grandmother kept her own counsel. The household staff spoke with Flora and Roger from time to time, probably sharing news and camaraderie. Anna was not the type to intrude.

The employees at the Hanson & Hanson medical device factory, located a mile up East Lion’s, stayed clear of their little world. The workers clocked their eight hours and fled the parking lot as if the second coming was on their heels, traveling towards the frontage road and I-94 like a herd of panicked horses. They had no reason to come this close. Anna was unseen in the world, a total unknown. “No one will see me, ever.” The glow in her birthmark subsided and her usual beige tones appeared.

“Consider it a good thing,” Mom leaned over the ballet book and picked up the brochures Anna had tucked inside the pages. “What are these?” She held up the brochures. A folded advert with the name Fale Ffantasi Cymru in bold letters dangled from her fingers.

“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. This was Anna’s biggest dream, auditioning for The Ballet Fantasy in Wales. 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 the ballet possessed similar elements. A secure place to hide when she grew up. Her throat tightened and she swallowed the ache, letting it settle in her chest.

The talent there rivaled larger companies in places like New York, but didn’t quite have the worldwide reputation. At least Madame Perla claimed the company had great talent and a world famous benefactor; a woman named Dame Violet Aberdeen. A real dame! She willed her parents to let her go. Droplets stung at the edges of her eyes, a tear snaked down her cheek. “I planned to audition.”

“Wales is a world away. Out of the question.” Dad stepped beside Mom, 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 held her hands and for a moment, she felt lifted and understood. 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 home and the ballet offered a place. Audiences might find her shine an asset to the performance rather than a point of embarrassment.

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 signaling the water’s temperature for Flora’s evening tea and distantly, Anna heard Roger’s 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, as if it might burst through her body.

“You let us attend school.” Mark snapped. His words abated the storm to a degree. Anna’s spirit latched onto a melody and anchored. 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 as if it might fly away.

Caitlyn bristled. “What will you do when Anna’s 18th birthday comes?”

“You can’t go to Wales,” Mom snapped. A determined light took hold of her, a tension like a coiled snake ready to strike. Saliently feral, Mom’s brown eyes darkened. The tension increased and then like a storm departing, she relaxed. Behind them, the television announced the 10 o’ clock news. Dad and Mom whipped around startled and returned to the couch, “We have to see this.” Dad waved them away. Discussion over. Their rules triumphed, Anna’s desire set aside. Since she was little, Mom and Dad watched the news like religious devotees attending services, eyes glued to the station for World News, seven nights a week.

She blinked unshed tears and rubbed her face. At least they knew her plans for the future. Relief and anger streamed through Anna. Caitlyn hugged her. “That went better than we planned.” She whispered. “They have several months to adjust.” As usual, Caitlyn was right. The hard part was over.

She high-fived Mark. “Thank you both for supporting me.”

“I got you.” He slashed the air with the practice sword. Anna hadn’t noticed him unsheathe it, as if for battle – against their parents. She chuckled and ruffled his blond hair. Tension clung to her shoulders and back. Rolling her neck Anna returned her attention to the book, flyer for the ballet company in hand. She tucked it back between random pages. The motivation for practice dissipated, and while 10 was not late for a Friday night, Anna longed to sleep.

Before she had a chance to skulk out of the room, a breaking alert flashed across the screen. Mom and Dad leaned forward, stiff and alert. Caitlyn and Mark, both returned to their activities, looked over to the screen. The audible pulse grabbed their attention as the newscaster, a woman in a navy suit, faced the camera. “I am Anita Blake, coming to you live from the World News station. Storms have ravaged the European continent where our own Lance Elbert is broadcasting live off the coast of Spain.”

The camera panned to 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. It swirled and pulsed with energy. Pebbles flew into the abyss, 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.

Anna set her hand on the back of the couch and found Mark and Caitlyn next to her, mouths open. Both too stunned to speak or look away.

An odd expression of glee lit the reporters 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. It has swallowed electrical bolts and debris.” 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.

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. Her mother’s face radiated a white light. The glow 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 and fled. Power thrummed in the room. Anna swayed. Mom’s eyes popped open and she gasped body rigid as a board. Her nails dug into Dad’s beefy arms and then the glow vanished.

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 resolve problems. Caitlyn was a fixer.

Mark’s lip trembled a sure sign he was ready to cry. His little hands gripped the wooden sword, back in its sheath. His eyes darted for an enemy to slay. Mark defended the weak and helpless, only now he needed a knight. Anna shuffled next to him and gave him a nudge and a quick hug.

“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 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, it’s past time the three of you were off to bed. Please send Flora with tea if she is still awake. If not, brew some first, Caitlyn.” 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 hoped Flora was awake, though she had no expectation. Though Flora lived and worked in Henly House, paid from the trust, she was no slave. It was past her scheduled hours. Anna hesitated to lope down the hall for the back stairs. She had questions. An unnatural storm and Mom’s simultaneous seizure or convulsion, needed an explanation. Anna retrieved her book and followed Mark upstairs.

 “Did you see Mom’s eyes?” Anna made small talk.

Mark shrugged. “Did you hear the music?”

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.

He shook his head. “No, from the TV, during Lance Elbert’s report.” He smacked the wall with his sword and dashed up the next flight to the third floor. He ran passed Anna’s bedroom door down the hall and around the corner to his room.

She 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 in front of her desk.

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. She found sleep as elusive as her parents’ consent for her to audition in Wales.

A change had come to the Henlys. She felt it in her bones, completely unexpected and inexplicable. The sensations she felt during the storm never happened before and while not as scary as Mom’s illness, certainly different like a parachute opened up inside of her, caught her up at a great height and pulled her far from the shores of her spirit. Night swept Anna into dreams of a magical wood and a set of starry eyes. The sound of wings flapped and arms lifted her from the forest floor. The smell of music and summer invaded Anna’s senses and comforted.

Chapter 2
The Other Worlds

A secret hidden or suppressed surfaces whether awake or sleeping. Truth resides in the remnant of dreams.

Dream and Memory” by Harper Ritardand
The Dreamer’s Glade, Asha Keshen

Earth, 2007

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 seawater and wet wood. This was not home, nowhere near home. 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 of the sound. Permanent moisture gathered in the hollows of the streets. Seawater lapped the lower edges of the port. 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 came to this place mystified her. 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.

The light fought the dark and the dark struck back. Odd how the shadows swept 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. The oddity defied 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 next 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. 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.

Caitlyn peered between the chest and the wall, leaning forward to see through the building’s window. Three men approached, wearing garb straight from an 1880s fashion catalog, Victorian suits and long coats. Their wide hats, nothing like Victorian men’s wear, slouched to the sides of their heads and ended in points. 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 and dark. The third man 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.

“Veticco, 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 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 back away. Rofallo returned the vial to his coat pocket.

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.

“Get your goons; 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.

She held her breath, closed her eyes and thought of another place far away, safe and warm and full of light. The room tilted, Caitlyn’s stomach heaved and 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 near the seaside dock. 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? Caitlyn closed her eyes and thought of home.

*          *          *

The door to Anna’s room opened with a bang. Anna sat upright in bed, instantly awake. “What are you doing?” She tossed back her covers to greet Caitlyn. Her face was flushed, sweat streamed from her hairline. Caitlyn rarely sweated. She shuddered, mouth opened and closed. Working her jaw, she tried to speak and clutched Anna’s shoulders. “Come into the bathroom. Come now. Let’s get a drink of water.” She cooled her sister’s face and watched her drink. “What happened?”

Despite the sweat, Caitlyn’s suddenly sickly pale skin had never felt so cold. “I had this dream, well several dreams. They were so real. Maybe they weren’t dreams.” Caitlyn took the glass from Anna’s hand and gulped. “There was a place, I saw three men, but it was impossible and the floating lights. I had to hide in this storage place. Then I was ripped through a fissure in space and time.”

Anna took her hand to calm her sister’s nerves. “Slow down.” Anna rubbed her eyes, not fully awake. “What do you mean you dreamed it or maybe it wasn’t a dream?”

“You remember that weather report, the one with the hole that opened up in the storm behind the reporter?” Caitlyn’s teeth chattered, her hands shook as she sipped the water. “This dream or not dream was different than the storm, but it had a hole opening in reality. The trees sang with life, it was the most unreal part of it and I saw a flying leaf with wings. The other place was all dark and sinister, the trees with the tiny winged creature comforted me.”

The hole in the storm and in Caitlyn’s dream, Anna hadn’t found anything on YourLife about the weather report, not yet. Mark’s comment about the music didn’t seem quite as crucial as their sister’s experience. “Did you hear a song?” Might as well ask. Mark was young, but often had startling insight, at least about their family. His claim about the report felt honest.

Caitlyn started to shake her head and then paused. “Maybe.” She scrunched up her face, thinking. “I heard a melody of sorts, but I am not sure it was created by any instrument on Earth. I’m certain where I went wasn’t Earth at all.”

“Do you have any proof?” Caitlyn story rang with truth too, though incredible and unlikely. Holes didn’t appear in random spaces, opening into an endless abyss. Vortexes were not real, not on Earth. Right?

From the hall, Anna heard Roger Eyrton, the household butler and driver, calling in his Irish lilt. “Are you alright?” Footsteps padded towards Anna’s room. “I heard a shout.”

As Anna and Caitlyn left the bathroom, flame-red hair appeared first through the doorway, he had to crouch to enter. A giraffe folding in two. “I thought one of you shouted. 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. It’s his birthday.” 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. He cracked a smile, a bonfire of excitement ignited. “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. “Whoa, what happened?”

Tears trickled down Caitlyn’s face. “I’m going to be sick.” She ran into the bathroom and Anna stood next to Roger as her sister wretched. Time passed and the sounds subsided. Water turned on and then off. Caitlyn rejoined them. “Sorry, I just had the strangest dreams and then now this.” She waved her hands. “I’ll just go back to bed.”

Henly House was always weird, but with her mother’s reaction the news yesterday and now this. Anna twisted her curls with a finger. Roger and Flora had known their parents before the Henly kids were born. The two of them had known their grandparents. She watched Roger intently. The man was the kindest person, one of her only friends and yet, he had lived here a long time. He must know what happened with their grandparents and the money. Why their mother was so strange, the occurrences with Anna’s birthmarks.

Roger tended Caitlyn, helped wipe her sweat clear. In some senses he was like a second father to them. “Nonsense. Let’s drink up the rest of Flora’s tea. She left hot water on the stove.”

The three of them hobbled down the back stairs. Anna touched the painting of a small pixie hovering near the branches of a large tree. Thick leaves covered most of the branches and the wide trunk grew from a patch of silky looking grass, but the eyes of the creature drew her. The figure wore a gown of rose petals and a crown in her red hair.

The steps ended next to the backdoor, dawn was not far off and fatigue lingered in Anna’s body, down to the depths of her soul. She just wanted to sleep, but she shuffled after her sister and Roger. Caitlyn usually took care of Anna. Time to return the favor. Roger poured mugs of a lavender infusion, one of Anna’s favorites. The smell roused her spirits. They sat at the kitchen nook and Anna sipped the warm tea. Down the hall off of the garage, a light turned out. Flora had just gone to bed. Roger kept a room down there, when he was not staying at Stanley’s house.

Languid comfort seeped in and Anna felt calm. The tea returned some of her Caitlyn’s color and she spoke. She described the details of the dream from the hole opening, 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 the painting on the stairway. No wonder Caitlyn had the dream. The house was full of artwork, both fantastical and impossible. Landscapes of other worlds and mythical beasts. Much of it scared Anna.

“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.

Roger patted her hand. “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. “Perhaps write them down and date them, you may see a trend.”

Caitlyn 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 selfie. 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. Anna studied the art for a time.

*          *          *

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 appeared face up on the side of a gold coin. It clattered, scaring the hooded figure who bent down to retrieve the coin. 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. The crepuscule surrounded her once more and she skimmed the air all the way back home, to Kulnerais.

Antares

Chapter 3
In Mourning

There is an ending to all things, the last note of a song, the last kiss goodbye and the last smile on a child’s face. And none are privileged to know when.

The Mourning Song by Fennel Major
Cruahg, Sidras

Sidras, Maestro’s Moon, 5691

Piles of moss grew around a tumulus at the base of the Crystal Palace. Far above the angels flew, their faces turned to the heavens and the light of Berehan. Prince Antares Azarin knelt at the burial site, wings wilted. He collapsed, the weight in his tone dragging him down. Spindly moss squelched between his fingers as he grabbed a piece and howled. Tendons taut, neck strained, he wailed for what seemed a century. His mouth blubbered into the mound as he pressed further into the earth, praying to the Song for clemency.

A rounded stone lay at the other end, just out of sight, but Antares crawled, ignoring his grime sullied wings with each movement. Moisture filtered through his pants, dirt stained. A concentrated swamp grown in honor of his lost friend, Moss Spree. Reeds grew in abundance, moss, and velvet falanie tails named after the furry animal the plant resembled.

Six months had passed since the race. An angel with pink wings and olive skin descended and clicked their teeth. Disapproval as sharp as daggers radiated from the companion. “Come to die?” Cold fury struck Antares. A trumpet to herald Berehan’s host. “Fae never learn.” The angel flapped their wings, gusted higher on currents of air and disappeared from sight.

Fae loved racing the Crystal Palace, defying the crystal’s poisonous edges. Creatures of Chance, born of the Goddess Emria. Their tones added foolery to the Song. The race brought some fae respects, wealth enough to rival the economic standing of the Night Palace – the fae stronghold in the southwest. Still, Antares was not there to die or race. He had come to mourn.

Bundles of flowers decorated the mound and a single croaking toad stood sentry. The creature, sent from the Fiandi Waters to keep a vigil on behalf of all the Spree kin, croaked a mournful song, flicked its tongue to catch a buzzing insect and swallowed.

Antares traced the letters, Moss’ burial stone. A carver inscribed the fae’s name at the top, underneath the date of hatching and the day his tone went silent in the Song – 5690, Day 35, Harvest Moon. The inscription below the date read, “A fae of great daring lies here.” Moss Spree, a fae of great daring. No argument there.

Antares reached into his pocket and pulled out a brick, for a moment he traced the spotty spaces and a crack on the side, memorizing it. The first time he had seen Moss Spree was in the market of Sidry, the office buildings going up at the end of the square had attracted his attention.

Instead of trailing his mother, Queen Chriessa, and her retinue around the stalls, Antares went to investigate. The buildings dwarfed the other structures along Acorn and Rowan Avenue. Builders flew from the ground to the heights, carrying brick and stone and metal. Fae sprouting moss and fern darted around, a game of tag the swamp dweller, commenced before Antares’ eyes. He was a sprout then and taught not to trust the bog fae. They’re dirty and unkempt and didn’t know how to dress, so his tutors often said, but for the young prince, who had no friends, the game seemed like the most fun thing to do. And he had joined. The rest was history. Moss and he had become fast friends, inseparable despite their different lives.

He placed the brick next to the stone and drew himself up, wiped away as much mud as he could before snapping down to small form to streak back to Sidras. The angels of Hirtus loathed when the fae came, to race the Crystal Palace, to tempt Eresh, God of the Dead.

Antares didn’t blame them, not anymore.

 In a flash, he snapped to small form and streaked towards Sidry, the fae capital, he watched the landscape below change as a blur of color and movement. Before he passed over the Yushrah Pass, Antares flew further south and slightly east towards a dense forest. Another series of memories lingered there. It was a dream of Moss’ to serve in the nexus as a guardian.

Only the chosen of Berehan served and all fae knew it, still Moss had prayed through the Song each day and night. He had wanted it more than Antares, who had always known he was born to rule summer. Antares dipped towards the forest. Proha trees appeared on the horizon, their thick trunks grew wider than many houses in Sidry, their branches plentiful with thick, lush leaves shaped like large flattened pears. Antares slowed to hover over a canopy. Globes of light dangled from each tree branch. Fae in small form hovered around the orbs or flew around the trees. The nexus guardians responded to their captain’s commands.

The nexus monitored the inhabited worlds of Aulei. Berehan’s creation. The chosen fae watched and protected the worlds from cataclysmic threats. Fae served as generators, powering the nexus as threads of golden light wove together from each orb to their physical planets. A single monitor kept watch. Special fae with their tones rooted in tel-cryn, plasma, and thermal energies, and a few rarer fae with the phantom particle – the Vofa, an energy so powerful it made traveling the cosmos instantaneous. Here the hub thrived in the proha forest, powered by the fae and protected. One of the most honorable professions among the fae. Moss once desired an assignment here.

Breaks in the foliage revealed familiar spring green hair and pink peony wings. Petals fell from his brother Prince Vasant as he darted from tree to tree, held out a flask of sorts, touched an orb and hummed. The light within dimmed slightly and the flask flashed brilliantly before the orb returned to its usual luminescence. The daystar made Vasant’s coat of fur along his arms and legs shiny. His companion, Carduus Thistle, fluttered next to him, another flask in his hands. Their behavior made no sense, neither of them served the nexus – only the chosen of Berehan defended and kept the world watch. Vasant, who was nearer in age to a sprout, hadn’t earned the favor and trust of the Creator.

Antares dipped down. “What are you two doing?”

“What care in Sidras have you?” Vasant snarled and preened. Pink peonies sprayed from his wings. A flutter of thistle sprang from Carduus. The two resembled kittens caught in the cream.

“By the looks of it, I’d say you were siphoning energy from those orbs. Has the captain on duty seen your activities?” He paced in the air, arms crossed, wings a burning gold color sparked and flared. “Does Father know?” Their father, King Comissros, consort to their mother the queen, commanded the Celestial Watch. Stealing from the worlds was a heinous crime for a race created to defend them, stealing from the nexus was a betrayal of their father. Rage bubbled within Antares. The audacity! Stealing from mortals. Sparks turned to columns of flame, a gust of stellar energy whipped Vasant.

Carduus flew towards Antares, a determined gleam in his eye, ready to strike, but Vasant waylaid him. “We’re done here.” Vasant pulled Carduus by the arm, thistle rained to the forest floor. The thieves added their flasks to a cart, a whole cart loaded with a milky substance. “We’ll be off then.”

The spiny seashells of Captain Cowrie Sand appeared below. He patrolled the forest path. Shells jutted from his beard and scalp, poking from layers of curled hair. Large spirals grew from his shoulders like two sentries from the sea. Thick muscles and fat spilled over the sides of the Captain’s uniform. “Captain,” Antares called. He lumbered with the gait of a volrus; the captain had a suspicious likeness to the blubbery sea creature, sans the tusks.

Captain Cowrie turned and flew up to the brothers. “Yes?”

Antares hesitated. The captain had the respect of the nexus, the entire Night Court. He was a legend, second only to Corundum Red.

“I don’t have all day, spit it out.”

Antares gulped. He hadn’t earned the admiration of the captain. Earning respect seemed nigh impossible here. All fae coveted respect. Respect was currency, an elevation in societal opinion. It mattered more than a crown and a kingdom. It was wealth in the bank for the few fae who had it. “Well, captain, it seems Vasant and his companion, have taken energy from the nexus in those bottles.” He pointed at the cart.

Spluttering, the captain zipped around the cart. “What is the meaning of this?” He roared a cry once more similar to the tusked volrus. “Guardians, to me.” Several nexus guards approached encircling Vasant and Carduus. “Take them to the palace, the dungeon, and hold them there. Summon the king.”

“Traitor.” Vasant whispered to Antares. “You just had to go and report me.”

 Shock and fury seethed. Antares’ voice cracked like lightning. “I’d do it again! The energy belongs to the nexus, to the worlds of Aulei. It’s our duty as fae, the reason we exist!” Antares was shouting and flung his arms wide. “How can you be so selfish?” A haze fell over him, waves of stellar power shot from the center of his tone.

“You have no idea why I need this energy. We have important matters for spring to handle.” Vasant scowled and went with the guards.

Captain Cowrie took command of the bottles and barked at various fae in the forest. “Take these, return the energy back to the system.” Fae trembled and nodded, took up the vials and dashed to the trees. The nexus guardians fulfilled the captain’s bidding with aplomb and deep reverence for the captain.

A twinge of jealousy pierced Antares. The captain and Corundum Red earned reputations he had only sang through the Song to achieve. Antares greatest accomplishment was setting the great hall on fire accidentally during a flare. Cowrie and his contemporary had saved the universe twice, once during the Shadow War and once against the Sýking.

Soon orbs brightened and Antares felt safe enough to leave. He braced for the jump from stationary to light travel. “Not so fast.” The captain clapped him on the shoulder. Antares groaned. “You have our thanks for saving the orbs.” The captain wrung his hands looking at the leaves of the proha. “You’re in metamorphosis and you’re in mourning for your best friend, we understand this.”

Only friend. Antares knew where the Captain was headed.

“It’s best you didn’t return here. The unpredictable nature of fae puberty puts us all at risk.” The captain jiggled, but his eyes fastened onto Antares like fae to acorns. “I’ll have the commander testify to the king when she gets here.”

 Jaw clenched tighter than a vice, Antares gave a short nod. Dismissed. Another fae, not just another fae, but Commander Corundum Red would report in his place. “Of course.” He blasted towards the sky and arced over the mountains, gaining speed and height, in moments he touched down outside the Night Palace.

The bustle of the palace bursting at the seams with guests, kept Antares rooted to the spot. The Sidras World Cup was upon them. The fashion competition, the flamboyant and pointless competition had come to Sidry, and guests from every major house had rooms in the palace. The hotels in downtown Sidry were overflowing. Great. Just great. He thumped across the lawn and popped into large form.

Orchesite stone and wethentium metal went into the construction of the palace, providing an effect similar to stars shining. The metal pulsed, the orchesite radiated. Spires rose among the rocky side of the Yushrah Mountain Pass. Ornate columns boasting bronze figurines and geometric patterned tiles formed arches and domes. Fae flew above the palace in small form, others walked in large form in groups dotting the vast lawn. A troupe of faeries from the Eirye rehearsed scenes from a popular play called, The Windositor and Melchisedek. Antares hated it, some humorous plot about an angel that found a windositor device to cool his paramour, but another angel trades for it and entices Forniah’s interest for most of the play, plying her with gifts, until Melchisedek finally proves how worthy he is of Forniah’s love. Antares slouched on his way to the entrance. The official Sidras Cup events started with performances from fae all over the world.

The palace scheduled a month for the occasion. A whole month of this. Antares circled the lawn, gasped in horror at the groups of performers, carts of fabric and display models for the couturiers, tailors buzzed about hemming garments among sprawling gardens, fountains served as platforms and makeshift construction sites. Blessed Berehan, save us all. 

Chaos ruled inside the palace. Servants rushed in small form above hundreds of fae, jostling for a room or attention from an attendant. They took up space between pillars, leaned against tapestries and marred friezes with dings and scrapes from bolts of fabric or luggage. Antares pushed through, letting the flame along his arms spark. Golden fire sprayed and snapped out. Sighing, he continued to push through the crowd. The power never worked when he wanted it to. One day he’d grow into a full star, King of Summer, achieve his titles and have full control over his innate ability. One day. Now he struggled as much as the next fae, but his business was important. He had to find his mother and father before Vasant talked with them. Before he convinced them, he wasn’t stealing essence from the nexus.

Show, Tell and Writing Active Voice

Many writers struggle with the craft elements of scene/show, tell/exposition, and writing active or passive voice. Consider the following element descriptions, view the example and try to incorporate the same methods in your writing.

Exposition – This tells the writer information. Critique groups will say you’re telling too much or using too much exposition when they mean you’re not using enough scene.

Example: Olivia lived in a house with her brother and sister. Her brother’s name was William and her sister’s name was Elaine. Each day the three siblings attended classes at The Wild Apothecary. Mr. Everland who taught the identification of medicinal herbs, came each day to escort them to the school.  

Exposition isn’t bad, but when its large blocks it just starts reading like a giant information dump that is distant from the reader joining the story. Readers like to immerse themselves. Use exposition throughout the text to provide important information that isn’t interesting in scene.

Scene/Show – This shows the reader the story as if they’re joining the adventure and events in the story. This is where they get to travel through the experiences of your main character(s) (MCs).

Example: Wind rattled the windowpane and pulled Amelia Hanson from an awful, dreadful dream. She jerked awake and sat up. The images of hobgoblins stealing her baby sister faded from memory. She scanned the room and froze. Shadows danced in the moonlight and cast varying shades of light and dark around her. Scratching sounds scurried behind the walls. A floorboard creaked and she huddled down under her covers. Footfalls thudded down the hall towards her room and stopped outside her closed door. She shrank against the bedroom wall, glanced at the window and gasped.

Under the light, a tiny creature suctioned to the glass tapped three times. It flicked its scraggly hair over its shoulders and itched the strands draped across their chin like a beard as if it were a little man. The tiny pig-bellied beast sniffed his bulbous nose and banged his head against the glass wailing.

The thuds in the hall stopped. All was silent and then the thuds retreated, swiftly down the hall, banging against wall as it fled.  

^ This is scene or showing.  

Passive and active voice – are grammar choices in style.

Example: Active voice, the subject acts. Amelia shrank against the wall. Amelia is the subject. She shrank (acted) against is a preposition and the wall is the object.

Writers construct passive sentences when they utilize one of the “to be” verb forms and when the subject isn’t clear. Usually what completes the action isn’t well defined. The action happens to the subject instead or the subject is left out entirely.

Example: The book was read by the girl. The turkey was eaten by the dog.

Object action and then subject forms the passive form.

It can occur without the subject too. “The Book was read.” It’s not clear who read the book. It’s sort of disembodied and ambiguous.

Aulein Maps of Dai Ithra, Sidras, and Ev Irwan

The universe where my story takes place spans numerous worlds. Here are maps from three planets.

Dai Ithra, the Realm of Night. Camilla Bonavirez and Clarita Murienez work counter to the other as they both try to save their world and return the light of Infernua Izar, the day star.
Ev Irwan, Realm of Might. Twin Princes Cholistan and Levander Albantheirren must win the throne in a trial of wits and combat. To succeed, Cholistan performs a forbidden rite, one with far reaching consequence. Worlds may die when the S.
Sidras, Realm of Chaos and Order. Prince Antares witnesses a crime in the nexus wood. His brother Vasant steals power from the planet generators to win the Sidras World Cup. Even as he is punished, the nexus lights grown dim and a world falls dark. Silence stalks the land.
Earth, Realm of Sanctuary. Down by the Mississippi River, In Saint Paul, Minnesota, Anna Henly practices ballet in hopes of earning a spot in a prestigious company. When statues come to life, music plays from tapestries, and her sister disappears through a hole in the wall, it will take revealing a family secret to save themselves and the world.

George Floyd: Murdered in Minneapolis

His name was George Floyd.

He had a daughter, age six.

He came to Minnesota for work from Houston, TX and had an attitude of forward momentum in improving his life. Floyd had a troubled past, but when he paid his debt to society after committing a robbery in Texas back in 2007, he made it his mission to start fresh. By all accounts, Big Floyd, as he was known by many people where he served as a security guard at the Congo Latin Bistro, was doing just that when COVID-19 hit and Governor Walz closed down businesses across the state.

Just two days ago, Floyd walked into a store and tried to pay for goods with an alleged “counterfeit $20”. The clerk called the Minneapolis Police Department, for a possible forgery. Even so, Floyd cooperated with police as they removed him from his car, handcuffed him, led him to the side of a building and had him sit down. His hands were bound and behind his back. He was not yelling, shoving or stumbling. Surveillance video clearly shows his passengers cooperated with the police in stepping back from the scene. Surveillance video shows Floyd cooperating as police led him to the squad car. How he fell to the ground or was pushed to the ground wasn’t entirely clear. We do know how it began and how it ended.

People have made claims that cooperating with the police saves lives and the justice system will provide due process. In this case, cooperation failed. Due process failed. The entire government system, politicians, officials, lawmakers, citizens who tolerate them, and the police failed.

The police played judge, jury and executioner on the street before Floyd had a chance to defend himself in a court of law. A man lost his life without any defense on the streets of Minneapolis from the people charged to serve and protect. A man expired under the knee of a cop and no one was able to challenge it safely. A father died, calling for his own mother, “I can’t breathe,” on his lips. When do we get to ask, don’t these officers deserve the same? No due process, no judge, no jury, just executioners.

When is it time for citizens to have a right to defend themselves against violent government officials and against violent law enforcement. When is it okay to physically challenge abuse and murder without the fear of death or prison when it’s committed by lawmakers who are equally complicit in the funding, training, and hiring of police officers, in passing the many laws that local police are unable to effectively enforce? When is it okay to beat or shoot a cop in self defense?

When is it okay to challenge the public, the government, and the police who continually fail to show good judgment and restraint in how POC citizens are treated day to day in Minnesota? Citizens yell, “It’s all white supremacists, it’s all Donald Trump.” Well, as a lifelong brown woman living in Minneapolis, MN, I know racism and violence has existed here for POCs every day, all day, of our lives. The possibility of violence and death lingers as thick as August humidity no matter who holds the White House.

When is it okay to fight back?

His name was George Floyd. He couldn’t breathe. He didn’t obtain his day in court. What cop deserves the same courtesy, what politician? A change is most definitely required and only the demands of the people will achieve it.

“No justice, no peace, prosecute the police.”

“Hands up, don’t shoot.”

“I can’t breathe.”

Video from C’Monie Scott reporting live from the George Floyd Protests

A Winter Storm by Heather A Busse

All Rights Reserved

Dancers from Pixabay used under the sites “free for commercial use” pexels-2286921

Chapter 3
A Winter Storm

To a song there are short notes and rests just as there are shorter lives and deaths. For Berehan the mortal realms have a place and purpose, the short and powerful, fast and free, living and dying quickly.

Memoir of Dame Vida the Blessed; Defender of the Song
Library for the Cosmic and Divine Order of the Lion’s Roar

Earth, 2007 AY

Winter winds stole the breath from Anna Henly as she perched in the bough of the oak tree outside her bedroom window. Through gritted teeth she sucked frozen air and fought to keep from chattering. Her muscles shivered for warmth. Huddled deep inside a fuzzy pink robe and kitty slippers, she watched three shadowed figures march across the back lawn of her family’s house. Leafless branches clouded her view of them, but she noticed each had on thick winter coats, the hoods pulled up over hats to keep their ears warm. Each had mittens.

Three pairs of winter boots crunched the frozen snow. The leader swept the yard with a flashlight, seeking observers, failing to check the tree and bushes. The second person held a rectangle in their hands and the third carried a long object, a sword. Anna started at the sight of the weapon, clung to the branch for balance and heaved a sigh of relief when she didn’t fall. Snow fell free from the oak and Anna froze, flat against the tree’s trunk. The leader turned, flashed their light in the tree’s direction. She pressed tighter and held her breath. On the third floor of Henly House, the drop was far.

Heartbeats passed and the interlopers continued their trek to a giant fountain built against a row of barren lilac bushes. The base acted as a reservoir in the summer for water, which flowed from a mallet held in the hand of a beast with black leathery wings and fangs. King Nysrog the Just stood sentry, his other hand raised. Claws sharp and ready to strike. With a wide stance, talons on his feet and spread wings kept the muscular fright balanced. Ferocity stared down the uninvited visitors. An artist named Yew Arro had sculpted the demon king.

They ringed the fountain. The sword bearer tapped the mallet and a peal rang through the stormy air. Wind picked up shaking the branches, knocking icicles from the house. Vines slammed into the side of Mom’s walled garden to the left of the intruders. Rose bushes thrashed in time to the storm’s swells. The tolling of a gong beat softly and then clanged. The clamor came to a crescendo and stopped. Lightning flashed from the statue and Anna stifled a scream.

The light struck the visitors, their heads fell back, arms wide, and the leader dropped the flashlight and plunged the yard into darkness. The one with the rectangle regained their composure and opened the object. A book. Another flash of light threw sparks upward like a firecracker exploding and a woman screamed. Flora! The Henlys’ elder cook and housekeeper was terrified of thunderstorms.

Night enhanced the cold. The temperature dipped lower. Anna trembled.

The wind stung and burned. The branch swayed and shivers ran down Anna’s spine. Tears filled her eyes. Fingers and hands grew painfully cold. Frost bite was setting in and Anna had known better, but when the sounds outside woke her in the middle of the night, some kind of death wish drew her outside without thought. She had the intelligence of a gnat, worse than a gnat and still she watched.

Voices joined the snowstorm. Thunder roared overhead and flashes from the clouds entered the fray. “Iþ damaþ heivur Glotid eil. Iþ hvlig muln Falga.” The three chanted in a foreign tongue. Anna strained to understand. The words seemed familiar.

A moment passed and then the wind picked up, howling, a wraith’s lament. Lightning from the statue split the darkness once more and the three chanted thrice more. Flora shrieked again.  The intruders scattered, their prints darted in three different directions.

Another person, Roger in his long coat chased after them, sharpened stave in hand. When had he sneaked outside? The Henlys’ driver and butler chose a target and took off, his boots crunching ice. The Irish man lumbered inches taller than the trespassers. His usual calm was gone. Roger dashed like a wolf in the wild after its prey.

Anna scrabbled off the tree, almost slipped on ice and clung to her window sill. She hefted herself inside, over the desk knocking snow onto papers, pens and the floor. Moisture soaked into the carpet. Her bedroom door crashed open and her siblings piled inside.

Caitlyn strolled into the room, the flaps of her robe flared like a thick cloak over flannel pajamas. She slung an arm around their younger brother Mark. Caitlyn was the oldest Henly child, taller than Anna, smarter, prettier. She took after their mother, the combination of Welsh, Argentinian and Sardinian heritage shined in Caitlyn.

A twinge of jealousy flared in Anna before she squashed it. Anna was shorter, a bit stockier, not a tremendous beauty despite her odd lilac birthmarks that snaked over her limbs and body. She had silver and orchid colored hair that grew wild in every direction with curls tighter than Flora’s nerves in a thunderstorm.

 “There are men trying to break into the house.”

“Flora’s calling the police!” Their brother Mark chimed in. “Roger’s chasing them down with his stave. Can you believe it? Like a real knight!” he slashed the air with a wooden practice sword. Mark was seven going on knighthood. He still believed such orders existed to protect the world. None of the Henlys had the heart to set him straight. Knightly organizations had died out hundreds of years ago, as far as Anna knew. History was not her subject.

“What are you doing?” Caitlyn examined the window, her black eyes tracked the snow across Anna’s desk and the wet spot on the floor. “You were outside, in this weather.”

“Well, I heard them and went to investigate.”

Caitlyn crossed her arms. “You could have been seen or froze to death. It’s February in Minnesota!” Worry creased Caitlyn’s forehead. The wind whistled as if to taunt Anna. Negative temperatures had a nasty bite.

Anna shrugged. Her sister had an over protective streak, not like their parents who never let her leave the house, not even to attend school. She just always looked out for Anna and she appreciated it most of the time.  There was no reason to argue. “You’re right.” Her sister opened her mouth, but Anna kept speaking. “I might have been seen. I might have been killed.” She rubbed her hands together and blew on them. Anna winced as warmth returned and fiery needles plunged the depths of her flesh. Frostbite. Winter in Minnesota. “I saw what they were doing and it wasn’t breaking into the house.”

“What?” Mark slashed at Anna’s bedpost leaving a mark in the wood. She grabbed the sword from him. The house was full of dents, the walls, ancient furniture, statues the whole place had dings from that weapon. Everything except the paintings and Flora’s pots and pans in the kitchen. Mark didn’t dare touch those.

“They were standing around that statue in the backyard, the one by Mom’s walled garden and chanting something. One had a sword, the leader carried a flashlight and another one had a book. They chanted in another language. Lightning flashed from the fountain! That’s when Flora screamed.” Anna crossed her arms to keep warm. The disjointed account didn’t make sense to her own ears and confusion showed clear on both her siblings’ faces. She sighed. “It looked as if they were performing some kind of ritual in a foreign language or perhaps the wind cut off their words.”

“Still, they might have hurt you. What if you fell from that tree? What if they had a gun?” Caitlyn’s voice took on a lecturing tone. The academic loved school, wanted to become a neurosurgeon or study diseases of the brain. Caitlyn was 17 going on 50. “What will Mom and Dad say when they find out?”

Anna let her sister’s words wash over her for a moment. Mark stared at the two of them, shook his head and shouted. “I’m going to see if the police have come.” He dashed out of the room, waving his sword. His blond hair bounced with each step. It was much too late for that kind of energy.

The clock concurred. It was later than one in the morning. Touching Caitlyn’s shoulder, Anna peered into her sister’s black eyes. They glistened with light. “While I am sure you’ll captivate a whole university class one day, I never signed up for this lecture.” She smiled and darted out of the room. Caitlyn snarled, still chiding.

“You know I’m right.”

“Yes, I do. I was so stupid.”

“You’re not stupid.”

Anna stumbled at Caitlyn’s hip nudge and then turned arabesque. Anna wasn’t as smart as her sister, but she had talent of a sort for ballet. She mock plied. “Okay, I’m not. Let’s see what’s going on. Maybe Roger’s back.

The two sisters bounded down the back stairs from the third floor to the first. They passed four figurines on the wall, music box statues. Anna pranced by them, let her fingers brush against a winged male with summer in his eyes and a crown of stars. Music thrummed from the box, though she hadn’t wound the device in a long time. Anna walked on her toes flowing in ballet forms. It helped to warm her limbs. They passed the parlor and dining room, the hall leading to the front foyer.

They ignored the large sunroom and great room occupying the old Victorian mansion’s space on the right. To the left down the hall sat the kitchen, the garage, and Flora and Roger’s personal rooms. Straight ahead, the girls heard raised voices spilling from the music room. The dilapidated house badly needed restoration.  

Sconces on the wall provided light. Dust lay thick in this part of the house. Neglected by time and Flora’s deft hand. According to Flora, she had once kept the place immaculate, effortlessly for the many parties their grandparents used to host. The Henlys had wealth back then and some fame, as much as anyone in Saint Paul could expect. Not that Anna knew much about it. 1960 was ancient history.

Now cracks dominated the walls, chipped paint, and ripped wallpaper. Heavy, antique furniture needed fresh stain. Only the paintings and few sculptures here remained pristine, even if they clashed with the wreckage.

One painting showed demonic creatures, including King Nysrog, the same figure in the backyard. They linked arms with angels and fairies, dragons and scaled birds, feathered humanoids, and vaporous shapeshifters. Twin women dressed in green flowers danced around a rowan tree, their lips played carved flutes while a horned god beat a rhythm on a drum. Anna walked on her tiptoes and glided into a grand battement. She stepped into a développé and then her sister stilled her with the touch of a hand on her shoulder outside the music room.

“Listen,” she hissed.

Both girls stood out of sight from the partially open doors to the room, plaster molds of musical instruments lined the doors, trimmed in gold. Anna leaned against one.

Ellen and Charles Henly, their parents stood inside with Roger and Flora. Roger held his stave, the weapon had a ferrule and blade on the end. It was about as tall as the ruddy butler and driver. He huffed, his face flushed. “I’m not 20 anymore, no sir.” He leaned on the stave. “They lost me down by the river. I slid on the ice.” Indeed, Roger’s pajamas, Anna couldn’t remember ever seeing him in anything but a suit, were crusted in ice and melted snow. A puddle gathered around the man’s boots. His Irish lilt cracked as he spoke.

Flora held her hands to her face. The Welsh woman had her hair bound in curls, wore a long, thick nightgown. Her plump figure shivered, fear in her eyes kept her paralyzed, unspeaking. Shock filled Anna. Flora was about 70 years old and had always feared storms at least for as long as Anna remembered. Yet, terror crossed the woman’s features, more than fear resided behind those grey eyes.

Mom put an arm around the woman. “Now dear, I am sure it was nothing. Perhaps they thought to steal the fountain. Vandals sometimes do that.”

“In this weather? The entire Welsh National Football team couldn’t budge that thing an inch. No, mark me they’re intent on breaking into the house. It’s high time we call the police and report them.” Her Welsh accent thickened. It took a musical tone. “Honestly, every last Dragon couldn’t move it.” She shook her head, a sob escaped her as the wind gusted outside the music room’s double filigree door for the veranda. Snow piled against the pane. Flora flinched, eyes wild and darting.

“Let’s go make some tea. It will calm you. I’ll see you back to bed and Roger will still be nearby.”

“I shall not sleep.” Flora followed Mom out of the room. The two chatted on their way down to the kitchen. “I fear I am much too old, my nerves too frail for this excitement.”

Anna and Caitlyn stepped behind a large buffet and crouched down until Mom and Flora walked out of sight before returning to the music room’s door. The rosewood stage in the middle of the room caught her attention. The carved figures in the circular stage’s pillars. Oh how she enjoyed practice on that platform. The ceiling mesmerized. A celestial chorus sang in a circle centered above the stage. Why hadn’t the police come? She voiced the thought. “I don’t think the police are coming.”

Caitlyn shushed her.

Mark crept from a spot by the room’s ample fireplace. “I will help keep the watch.” He stabbed the air with his sword. “I am ready to swear the oaths.”

Dad groaned. Their father, a bear of a man with dark blond hair, had a jovial nature despite rough hands from years of working construction. Now, he looked spooked though hid it well. “Mark, it’s brave of you, but all young knights must get their rest. Off to bed now. Roger and I shall handle this.”

“I’m ready. Ephraim and I have trained for years.” His best friend Ephraim Bryce attended Winding Heights Academy of Art and Science with Mark, Caitlyn and his older brother Trenton. The Bryces were their only neighbors. The trespassers had come to a nearly vacant street off a mostly private road that serviced the two families and a medical device factory about a mile up. Those men hadn’t stumbled upon Henly House by chance. Anna knew it and somehow her little brother understood that. He set his jaw, determination in his brown eyes. “I keep the oaths.”

He held his hand over his heart. “I am a defender, a tone in the Song. My spirit sings upon the first measure. And I stand on the last. Tone to tone and note for note I and my brothers and sisters in the Song keep the watch. I watch the ways between the worlds. I defend the guardian, keeper of the key. I am a knight of Aulei.” His eyes gleamed in the murky light.

“Mark, it’s time for bed.” Dad took him by the hand and turned to see Roger mouthing the same words, hand across his own chest give a quick nod to the boy and then he nodded to their dad before striding for the exit. Caitlyn and Anna hurried away. Anna slowed her breathing as she climbed into bed. She pulled the covers up under her chin. The room grew dark as she reached over and switched off the lamp on the nightstand. Caitlyn was gone to her room.

Footsteps padded down the hall, Dad was whispering to Mark, his voice grumbling and low. She didn’t understand his words, but she understood her brother. “Ephraim says it’s all real and you’re a liar.” Her brother was crying, Dad tried to sooth him and then their voices and footsteps faded away. Sleep was a long time in coming. Cold seeped into her bones and fear. Fear spread to her mind and heart, confusion reigned. She didn’t understand Dad’s behavior or Mark’s. Caitlyn’s warning what if they had seen her, struck the girl in a peculiar way. She had never worried for her own safety before, not even with the shine.

As if to mock, the lines of her birthmark glowed in the late night. The storm raged fiercer than a gale outside. Anna found sleep elusive. Sunrays invaded through the window by the time her eyelids closed and her breath steadied.

World Building in Fantasy

There are many beginning writers who delve into the realm of fantasy and then have to think about the facets of building a fantasy world. What goes into it and why? Some authors become quite detailed in scope and breadth using all elements to create a detailed world that adds to the plot and character development. Some writers use fewer details and rely more on reader imagination.

Imagination goes only so far on a fantastical world. This list will help writers consider the types of things to develop for their stories and worlds. I am not claiming this is a complete list, but definitely a good start, it’s something I learned from author Emma Bull in a fantasy writing class I took. So credit goes to her. If you wish to check out her writing, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Emma-Bull/e/B000AQ71U6%3Fref=dbs_a_mng_rwt_scns_share

Sentient Races – How many sentient races does the world support? What do they look like? What sort of physical attributes and abilities do they have?

Nations – Are there countries and nations?

Political Systems – Consider the system they live in and does this system change for different nations?

Cultures – Not everyone is alike. Distance, features, resources, beliefs, systems all add to cultural development along with many more things. What are the cultures like? Consider the United States alone, there are numerous cultures throughout the nation consisting of personal interests, regions, dialects, race, religion, politics, education, language, experience and economics. These are some of the things that influence culture.

Traditions – Traditions take on many shapes and forms and come from a variety of places, family, religion, cultural, history, legends and myths.

Religions – Religions have “rules” and “traditions”. For believability, create limitations and guides for your constructs.

Holidays – These may be religious, or national, or cultural. What holidays if any does the world have?

Time – How does your world track time and it’s movement? How does time pass? Is it the same as Earth or different?

Calendars – Does the world have a calendar? If so, what?

Languages – In fantasy, languages create a level of realism to the world. However, if you’re not an accomplished conlanger or linguist, this can be a struggle for writers. Perhaps consider key phrases or words to lend authenticity without having to create a full language for each race, culture, or nation. It’s helpful to base the languages on real ones.

Commerce and Trade – How does trade work? What sort of economic system is in place?

Currency – What are the currencies of the world if any?

Education – What education systems are in place? How do they work?

Skills/Jobs – There are a number of established skills and jobs in any story, what are they in your world?

Science/Physics – Many fictional worlds have fictional sciences and physics in particular that defy the natural law we know and understand. To create fake science, it should have limitations and rules. Real science does. There are methods and practices for discovery and exploration. Real scientists have methods of testing and reasoning. Employ rules and limitations and it will become believable to the reader. It will make sense. If anything goes, there is nothing to worry about and nothing to get the reader invested in the characters.

History – Every place has history and what people know about it varies from place to place. A fantasy world should have history and lore, myths passed down, but these should be limited in scope and possibly even wrong sometimes. This may serve the story if a character must learn something from the past, but doesn’t figure it out or at least not right away.

Agriculture – How is food cultivated and distributed? Are there farms, technology to generate sustenance?

Magic – Fantasy and sci-fi do not require magic, but when it’s utilized in a story there should be limitations and rules. If anything goes, the reader has no reason to worry or become invested in the character arcs the writer presents. Create limitations and rules. Construct how the magic works.

Geography and Topography – What does the world look like? Where is everything? What sort of resources, animals and plants exist?

Technology – Does the world have technology and if so what?

I don’t consider this list a complete list on world building, but it may provide a starting point and generate questions for the writer to answer as they build their worlds.

Pixabay Image Disclaimer

All images on this blog were posted under the Pixabay License “Free for commercial
use, No attribution required”. Any misuse of images is strictly unintentional and in many cases, I have personally paid money to the Pixabay image poster for their contributions through the Pixabay “coffee” payment model with the intention of supporting the artist and with the belief the artwork was legally theirs to share.

Chapter 1 The Fallen Heather A Busse

Hark the tones wail from the twisted forms of the fallen. Have mercy Singer of All, have mercy Berehan the horned God.

“Lament for the Damned”
Chief Librarian, Rariny

Rariny, 5690 AY

Bones rained from the sky. Skeletal remains stormed across the land and piled in marrow puddles. Blood clouds gathered above an obsidian mountain range off the Strait of Famoniena. Lightning crackled fissures into the firmament and wind blew through the porous stone of Verdugo Palace. Night darkened towers stood sentry against the bleak landscape. Fires raged in the distance.

Talons clicked against the arm of the Rarin Throne watching Punishers line the great hall as they filed in from two massive doors. Filigree shapes depicted Berehan with a musical score in hand. From the far side of the room, King Nysrog could see music scales notated in the wood. Queen Mestamina advanced upon the throne reserved for her next to him. The assembly preened their leathery wings and sharpened claws against jagged teeth. A nervous energy passed through them. He understood, no Punisher enjoyed the job though with Mestamina Nysrog had found solace.

A flutter in the king’s heart brought joy to his tone, the same as the day he first met Mestamina all those millennia ago. Thorns crowned her purple hair, love swam in the depths of her silky black eyes. Delicate horns poked between the crown’s sides. Silvery and shining, reflecting the flames burning in giant cisterns about the room. A silver scale gown covered her alabaster figure with a slit in the back large enough to let her tail and wings through, modest enough the courtiers’ gazes didn’t linger overly long. She was the dawn to his dusk. The light to his dark. Their eyes locked and across the Song their tones thrummed in time as one.

Mestamina carried a mallet in her talons. The instrument Nysrog used to judge the condemned and mete out sentence. The assembled daemons shuffled, forked tongues flicked the air, nostrils sniffed. Talons scratched horns. Wings bristled. Through the windows of The Otla, Nysrog’s Castle, wind blew acrid air, sulfurous and torrid. Fires raged in the Boiling Bog to the south. The wind had carried the scent of flesh to the king.

“My King, I have brought the weight.” Mestamina approached the throne, regal and tall, more slender than most punishers on Rariny. She handed him the mallet and their eyes locked, fingers brushed and claws entwined.

Nysrog noted her desire. The black flames of her eyes flared, an inferno smoldered within. His tone stirred in response. “You have my eternal thanks.” He grasped the weight. It seemed a singularity resided in the small tool, a mass unparalleled in Aulei. Barely wider than his hand. Nysrog cracked his neck and rolled his shoulders. The device had grown heavier over the years. He wished to drop it into the deepest abyss and dared not. “Let judgment begin.” He leaned to the side of his throne and struck a rounded disc. It knelled and the crowd went silent.

Two hulking daemons dragged the recent fallen in through the black doors of the throne room. Prince Ayperas dragged the slack body of a Dai Ithran wizard in his arms, dragged instead of carried. The daemon refused to touch more than he had to when retrieving them from the Fallen Shores. The filth, the smell. Their sins rankled. A foul scent to eviscerate the spirit, worse than rotten carrion.

Nysrog remembered the days he had served on the front lines, under his father’s rule. Here, green Ayperas, armored in plates of rarinus toiled, dragging the guilty in one hand and holding a face guard with the other. The black metal breathed for each daemon as protection against the onslaught of putrid decay each sinner brought in them. Their tones contaminated and poisoned. The daemons only smelled fields of flowers on sunny days through the shields. Thank Berehan. Their captives saw and smelled horror, tasted the filth of their horrid deeds on their tongues. As was proper.

Prince Ayperas dropped his charge before the throne. The wizard howled. An inky mass dripped from his eyes and seeped from his bald head. His spindly fingers clicked against the stone floor, eyes wild, seeking refuge. Daemons formed a ring, not that they had to block the man’s path. The fallen had no ability to escape or move even an inch further than Nysrog cared to allow. They showed him solidarity and for that he keened gratitude to them in the Song, his tone flourished thanks.

Grand Duke Ventir with his razor sharp fangs and dark gleaming eyes followed after the prince, dragging a woman by her hand across the floor. She kicked and screamed. Her plump hands grabbed at the floor and tried to stand. The Grand Duke ignored her. “I don’t belong here. There’s a mistake.” She wailed and thrashed all the way to the throne. Curled auburn hair plastered against her face dripped sweat. “I’m an Althean! I dance in the Song. I praise the gods.” She trembled staring wide eyed at the assembled host.

Nysrog put a hand on Mestamina. The lies. The lies cut deep. He swayed, vision blurring. She squeezed his hand and held it, tracing his tough skin. She knew how it hurt to carry this duty for the gods. Her fierce affection acted as a balm for Nysrog. “The Seers never lie. Put her in the pile over there.” A mass of offenders writhed in a circle on the floor near the windows. None of them had the power to move further than a few feet from where they cowered and whimpered. Nysrog stamped his foot and their cries became nothing more than a muffled buzz.

“Bring forth the fallen tones.” Nysrog struck the disc and the instrument knelled.

The Dai Ithran shrieked the moment Prince Ayperas hooked a claw into the wizard’s robe and dragged him closer to the base of the throne. Cloth tangled the scrawny Dai Ithran’s limbs as he struggled to break free. His head and hooked nose bounced off the rarin floor. The bony man wailed when Ayperas let go. “Your majesty, Barucho Rolavarre of Dai Ithra, stealer of tones has fallen from Berehan’s Grace.”

“No, wait! I can help stop the triune assault!” The Althean groaned the moment Barucho spoke. Nysrog examined the creature of light and saw recognition in her eyes. She knew this wizard and the triune he spoke of. “Please hear me!”

Barucho’s words cut off as soon as the weight struck the metal disc. The gong ripped sound from the fallen’s throat. The wizard’s skin dried and paled, more translucent than vellum paper. Wraith-like he scrabbled across the obsidian floor towards the pile of fallen. Barucho’s robes turned to ash, slaking away to expose the darkness inside him. A gaping void twisted in the fallen. The group cried and begged for mercy, shrinking away from Barucho. Ayperas’ booted foot halted the wizard who wriggled under the weight. Nysrog clicked his forked tongue and scratched behind his large horns. “There is nowhere to run or hide on Rariny little Barucho. The River Crucify I think.” Nysrog flicked his claws and the prince of Rariny hauled the wraith out of the throne room.

“Mestamina, my love.” She turned to him, an angel in demonic flesh. “Take the Althean to the questioner.” His queen gave a short nod and soon had the sobbing woman out of the king’s sight. Nysrog was no fool. Barucho had information and so did the Althean. And then like all the fallen, the two had a debt to pay to Aulei for their crimes. Nysrog was nothing if not thorough in weighing out justice. He tapped the mallet against his knee and motioned for the next fallen tone. He’d suss out the details for this triune.

Disclaimer – all images on this blog were found on Pixabay.com under the Creative Commons. Any copyright violation is completely unintentional, pulled from Pixabay and for many images, I contributed money to the posting artist.

Publishing: A Beginner’s Guide by Heather A Busse

Like many writers, I am a member of several online writing groups and before I went back to school, before I ever had anything published, and before I began earning my whole income from writing and editing I too had no clue about what it takes to “make it”.

Yep, long sentence ^ and that is a darling I might one day kill. But that isn’t the point of this post. No this post is about navigating the shit that is professional writing, editing, and publishing. You see, the rules change. It depends. Grab a pen and paper, or just bookmark this information, or ignore it. It’s your choice.

If you write fiction and want to get your work out there for readers to consume, you’ve probably asked about getting published. There are options and with each option a set of criteria or guidelines to know before you spend any money or sign any documents.

Traditional Publishing

With established traditional publishers, particularly the large publishing houses, writers must query through an agent. An agent will represent your work to the publishers they think will most likely want to purchase your book. This means gaining the attention of a professional agent.

Agents and publishers have criteria for what they’re looking for in a book. Some only handle romance. Some handle children’s books. Some handle a variety. It depends on the agent and the publisher. Consider the best fit for your book. Who is representing books like yours, who is publishing books like yours? Those are the agents you’ll want to query when your manuscript is completed.

Say you get an offer? You’ve created a story from stone, written the manuscript. You had writers and readers workshop it for you and provide feedback. You revised it and hired an editor. The editor polished the stone into a gleaming diamond. You queried agents and received rejections. You revised a bit more. Finally, an agent accepts your book and starts approaching publishers. One of them has an offer.

A traditional publisher will often have a contract where they buy the rights to your work, they receive the lion’s share of the sales, they have editors, artists, designers, and will work with a printer to produce your book. They may even have some marketing prepared. *Though a writer will have to help in that too. Some publishers provide an advance against the sales. This is money that they pay the author before the book sells. The amount varies from very little, none, or quite a lot. It depends on the projected success of your book. This advance goes back to the publisher once your book starts selling. If it doesn’t sell, the publisher is most often out the money. If it sells and sells well, the publisher gets the advance back and you get royalties. Your agent gets a percentage of those royalties. Payday for everyone!

That’s the basics for traditional publishing.

A few things of note. NEVER give a publisher money up front. That’s a vanity press. They’re not earning money from selling your book, but from you paying them. Same for agents. If they don’t successfully sell the book, they don’t make the money. This is subsequently why agents and publishers are so persnickety. They often go with what sells for their specific business focus.

Self Publication

With this method of publication, it’s easy for writers to take shortcuts and produce some of the worst writing readers have ever seen in print and on eBooks. I don’t recommend it. As a writer, you’re building a brand and reputation. Eventually, you may gain enough notice that famous publishers and writers see your work. If that happens and your catalog of titles was never revised or edited, they might not work with you. At the very least, they will poke some fun. Your work may become the talk of literary critiques in print and in the media. It may sweep all of the social media readers’ groups and wow have I seen readers and writers slam poorly written and edited books.

Write your manuscript. Have readers and writers provide feedback (for free), revise it, get an editor and pay them. You’ll thank yourself later. Make payment arrangements with editors who are willing to work with you. Some few are willing, but many are not as they’ve been shorted in the past. If you find a professional willing to help, create an arrangement and pay on time.

Hire an artist for the cover and someone who can format your book. You’ll want your book formatted for print and eBook. Many platforms like Ingram Spark and Amazon have eBook and print on demand options. You’ll want a full wrap cover for print. Hire an artist. It’s worth it. You will have art especially for your book, instead of obviously slapped together cut and paste public domain stock photos. Professionals have original art. Be a professional.

Market your book. Start talking with readers and writers about it. DON’T spam it. Network! Get your name out there on social media, do readings, join groups, create a blog. Talk with others, so people will know about your book. If you can afford it, definitely do some paid advertisement, but self promotion can help. Many writers attend conventions and sell books that way too.

The big thing about self publishing is owning your rights fully and also being fully responsible for all aspects. You’re mostly in control of schedules and production. I say mostly, because artists, editors and other people you may work with along the way have their own lives and schedules too.

At any rate, I hope this helps and best of luck!

Prelude – “The Oath Breaker” by Heather A Busse

In the beginning, Berehan birthed the universe Aulei in Song. And like most newly created things, the creation grew and expanded of its own free will. Aulei turned through the seasons and in each turn The Song changed for no two seasons existed exactly alike.

“The First Law of Sidras” The Night Palace Repository

Aulei: Year 5480

Cycle: An Lyr Min

An inky mass approached the outer edges of Aulei. It had long forgotten its own name and image, but understood it had a duty. Deep inside the oily substance, a light flickered. Dark filaments sniffed out a rent in another creation known as Aulei. It flowed into it as long snakes through grass, a vaporous slither. A cosmic melody struck the visitor upon entering the new plenum. Tendrils flowed and danced from star to world to the deep black of space.

Where the inky thing lacked light and life, it drew nearer the nebulas of creation and feasted for it had purpose and reason. Hope coursed through the entity as it split into countless pieces and spread through the closest regions of Aulei.

The Song of Aulei, registered the newcomer as an interruption to the individual tones in The Song. Whole notes went silent for a time and then the cosmic symphony sprang back, its beats just as strong as before. Its harmonies struck the visitor as distant stars and planets danced their rotations. Pangs of hunger erupted within the entity. It thirsted more desperately than the most desolate wasteland. Looking internally, a swirl of light flickered, the thing worried for the living, the part it had protected for so long. Deep need and an ache spurred its movement ever faster across the vacuum of Aulei’s space and time. Playing counter to the frenzied beats of starvation, Aulei registered the visitor’s intent and named it Sýking.

Pixabay Image Disclaimer

All images on this blog were posted under the Pixabay License “Free for commercial
use, No attribution required”. Any misuse of images is strictly unintentional and in many cases, I have personally paid money to the Pixabay image poster for their contributions through the Pixabay “coffee” payment model with the intention of supporting the artist and with the belief the artwork was legally theirs to share.