Prologue: A message

I DO NOT HAVE AN EDITOR–There will be errors


Prologue: A Message

Perched atop a lone branch, a raven with feathers tipped in silver suddenly launched its body into the sky.

A black blip against the backdrop of the peach-tinted horizon, the winged messenger, banked left, the forceful breeze bending to its force. 

Keen eyes leveled skyward but body tense, as if preparing for an attack as the splendor of the desert appeared below. Following the path of the sweeping canyons and blue currents from the river, opened to the mouth Beser Desert, infamous for the beauty that was both magical and daunting.

The desert appeared limitless; a storyteller that sang of fallen cities felled by mortal war and greed. Even in the silence, there was still an echo that rang through the air like bells. A hushed breath. A tang of sadness and nostalgia for the memories of the channel and coast were towns and bustling cities. The sands remember a time when the waters rippled with silverfish, women with bright scarves and ready baskets wading through the tides, men perched on rocks with spears and white smiles. A baby cooing as butterflies kissed their cheeks, a cheeky toddler licking the honey of its fingers. But like all that settle in the desert, they are all vulnerable to the fickleness of the desert and the gods that oversee them.

The dunes overlap like waves as the wind slaps grains of sand back and forth. The quiet, forbidding music of sand sifting, churning, learning almost catches the raven in the lull. It seems that not even the raven was immune to its charm. Shooting back in the sky, the raven glares at the view below with its beady eyes. A man emerges from the shadows, his white teeth bright in his dark face.

Collic, the god of the desert, was as fickle as his domain and did not appreciate visitors in any form. Was it the gods’ eccentric tendencies that caused him to shoo away his brethren, or did he have something to hide amongst his realm of ghosts and sand? 

         The roaming stretch of grasslands stretched wide and far as the desert’s ravenous hands faltered against the stubborn vegetation. The savanna’s mesmerizing sight was littered with animals with dangerous predatory eyes, and the daunting sweeps and slopes of mountains so tall it appears to pierce the morning sky. From the lounging sycamore to the swooped necks of pink flamingos wading through the water, everything was indescribably beautiful. How can mortals doubt the work of the gods when they are constantly reminded of its splendor? 

         Playfully dipping its feathers in the weightless clouds, an ominous caw emerges from the raven’s hooked peak as it suddenly turns and dives.

         Gale winds. Sudden and harsh, the raven tightened its wings closer as it attempted to remain airborne. Breaking from the winds with a harsh spin, the raven jerked to the right, expertly avoiding the attack.

Like an omen, the raven collapsed from the dewy dawn of the morning sky. But before reaching the apex of the rocky splendor of Mount Helena, the raven snapped its powerful wings before impact and landed gracefully on its talons.

         Windswept and harried-looking, the raven shook its feathers before throwing its head back and cawing loudly in irritation.

         “Do not bark at me, so Kagura. If you did not ignore my message earlier, I would not have needed to intervene.”

         The goddess Lyceria, whose domain and powers range from the silvery, fickle face of the moon to Life, fertility, and the tides, did not appear physically at first. Her voice sifted through the air, the gentle wind coiling in a spiral of debris and sand from where her voice appeared.

         A warning in the disguise of friendly banter, the goddess, appeared from a sudden fold of time.

There were no words–mortal or immortal– to describe how the very essence of time seemed to pause and fold to welcome the goddess’s entrance.

         It was as if the world snapped in half–a fissure fracturing the air like the scent of crushed snow and ozone filled the air. Stepping from the rip in time, the blurry, fast-paced wave of spiraling, intricate lights was no other than space and time itself. For the goddess to have such a range in her powers to be able to manipulate the very essence of Time, the raven hid her pang of fear by raising her wings to shield the sheer horror in her beady eyes.

         It seems that the goddess of the moon has developed powers from her ancient mother, Time.

         The goddess may not be the loveliest among the immortals, but she was undoubtedly the most powerful.

         Compared to the ebony exquisiteness of Rebekah, the goddess of Love whose skin is smoother than any silk, softer than the most luxurious of furs, she may lack in beauty. Still, when it comes to power, the goddess of the moon has no competition.

Thrumming with omnipotent magic, the goddess’s aura shook the very essence of the earth, the air itself stilling with her grotesque entrance, and the ground shaking as if in trepidation.

         As the eldest child of the Great Ones, Abyss and Time, it was expected that Lyceria would be the one to outshine the others.

         The moon wholly shone from beneath the goddess’s flesh. Pearlescent too tame a word to describe the stretch of faultless skin, Lyceria was the moon personified, even in her present humanoid form. A voluptuous physique wrapped in a gown crafted entirely from moonlight, it was impossible to look upon the goddess without the threat of blindness. Yet, there have been many a mortal and an immortal that took the chance to brave the unspeakable brilliance of the goddess. A fine spill of silvery-white hair falls devastatingly from the regal sweep of her shoulders, analogous to eyes the exact shade of moonlight.

         An imposing female who loves her creations–the mortals–as much as she tested them, the goddess looked down with a slight tendril of frustration at the younger goddess.

         A noise that sounds like a sigh came from the raven before a sudden bright light reveals a young girl in its place.

         Adolescent in form, the goddess Kagura has stubbornly clung to her strilla dresses despite her advanced age. After Ai-Rue’s death, who died in childbirth, her daughters, Kagura and Akamae, inherited both of her powers; the youngest sister becoming the new Goddess and Mother of fauna, Kagura the Goddess and Mother of flora. Like her older sister Akamae, Kagura’s domain does not necessarily give her outstanding magic like Lyceria, but power and manipulation over the beings in her care. Akamae can destroy fields of crops with the swipe of her hand as easily breathe life into barren fields. With the snap of her fingers, Kagura can wipe out an entire herd of water buffalo, call every fowl, hoofed-beast, every fin to her command, and bless entire farmland with fowls, chicks, and steers. Not detrimental in their range of power, the twin goddesses are important to the mortals’ dynamic, yet there are times where they must heed the stronger immortals–which Kagura has currently failed to do so.

         Kneeling before Lyceria, the goddess who chooses to remain in a younger form, Kagura bows her head in submission, “A thousand apologies, Great Mother.”

         Wishing she still had her guard wolf, Apollo, who would have growled at the pathetic show of subservience, Lyceria remained unmoved by the goddess’s words of apology.

         Stepping away from the younger immortal, Lyceria turned to look across the mountaintop, her knowing eyes lovingly scanning across the city below. Catching the silvery fan of hair from her Chosen, Torin, the king of Rhageon, Lyceria surveyed as he peers down at his city from the view atop his tower.

         Wishing she could warn the king of the trials, Lyceria frowned.

         To be the Creator of this divinely complex race, Lyceria came to terms with the rules she must follow. There are mistakes she has made, which she mournfully acknowledges. Thinking of the genocide of the First Race, Lyceria grits her teeth as she admits that her unfounded adoration of the Second Race, the mortals, was her most selfish mistakes. Why could she not have been content with the First Race?

         Woefully gazing at her beloved chosen, Lyceria slightly shakes her head back and forth. Having learned that to intervene directly could lead to more travesties than ever surmised, Lyceria pushed down the regret and the doubts that have sprung. In her mission to branch away from her predecessor’s savagery, was she to blame because she created a race that relished in the same travesties that once horrified her?

         After a long moment of silence, the other goddess’s hesitantly disrupted Lyceria’s flow of thoughts. “May I inquire what you require of me, Great Mother?”

         Remembering the younger goddess’s presence, Lyceria jerked herself away from her reverie and turned back to Kagura, the hem of her dress soundless. “Yes. I have read the faces of the moon and found troubling news ahead. I need you and the others to prepare for the times to come. A shift will occur, where the hunted will become the hunters.”

         Nodding from her kneeled position, Kagura murmurs, “I understand. I will prepare. What shall I do about the others?”

         Not needing Kagura to clarify, Lyceria did not pause before stating, “Depending on the flow of events, their intervention will be necessary. Leave them for now.”

         Nodding once more, Kagura looked up at the younger goddess before transforming into a spotted eagle. The goddess took off from her proud height–her golden-brown shape disappearing into the white cluster of clouds.

         Looking back towards the yawning city, hearing the rustle and sighs as the people below wake from their beds, an unnamed emotion spreads across Lyceria’s divine face before she slipped back in the fold of time and space.

{Hell, the Realm of Abyss}

Red eyes, a conflagration of both hatred and ennui, Abyss glared upwards. With his immortal eyes, the being that was too ancient to be a god, but there was no other word to describe the undying creature, he effortlessly peered through the layers and layers of the earth’s crust.

         A snarl ripping from his chest, the ancient god, Abyss, fumed with rage that has no beginning and end as he looked upon the world above him from his realm in Hell.

         Mortals. Abyss spat at the ground. Such arrogant creatures that walk with a laughable swagger. Such arrogance was tolerated hundreds of years ago when the gods grew bored and gave the second race the key to destroying the Fey. Then, Abyss must grudgingly admit, he could tolerate the race whose lifespan was a mere blink to his unremitting existence.

         The mortals were like ants; they built their feeble houses and then destroyed them to make even more feeble houses. Building and building on top of the bones of the deceased, believing that their beliefs and ideas are singular rather than recycled musings of the long past, Abyss snarled once more as he wondered why his daughter, the mother of their race, loves them. Admires and envies them.

         Shifting his whirling form of shadows and embers, Abyss recollected the day he and his brethren came to this tiny planet, little more than a rock compared to the millions of planets they conquered, with intentions to destroy it.

         Destroying was all they knew then. All they ever could be. But his children with Time, Lyceria, Zakar, and Bemarisse, stopped them. I begged them to reconsider.

         Time had listened to them. Abyss and his brother, Rift, conceded as well. The others soon after.

         Abyss did not hate his children, but he wished he could take back his decision to mate with Time.

         His children were born before a sea of stars and whirling galaxies, rather than the loneliness, deepest of black pockets of the universe like them.

         They were born dreamers. They were born with beauty before them rather than a yawning chasm of nothingness.

         It is not surprising that Lyceria, the eldest, who always mourned the planets her family destroyed, would decide to settle on a planet and allow it to thrive. Nurture it. Tend it. 

         Centuries under the earth, the deepest of blacks and the wallows of the dead and the growls of the demons, was where he made his home. The familiarity of the bleakness of it has grudgingly grown on him.

         Down here, Abyss and his brother Rift were kings beneath the earth.

         The judge, jury, and executioner of the mortals and the rare Fey were brought down to this small pocket of Hell and tortured and executed for their crimes. Damned to be soulless, damned to taste their own wet screams over and over again for eternity, Abyss has allowed his daughter, Bemarisse, to take part in the torture as well.

         It had amused him at one time.

         But now, Abyss has begun to loathe his realm and has begun to view it as a prison.

         Glaring upwards once more, Abyss hates how the mortals laugh and romp throughout the earth so freely, with no knowledge that their lives are forfeit.

         The mortal civilizations fall and rebuild, they fuck, birth ugly babies, and then they die. But one thing Abyss must admire is their ability to survive. Like cockroaches. It is ingrained in their blood and rip-able flesh.

         Lyceria must have known that her family would do everything in their power to wipe them away, so giving them the ability, the tenacity to survive, is in their way, their superpower.

         Furious now, Abyss goes to find his brother. A new moon is coming, Abyss snarls, remembering that his daughter is at her weakest during these times.

         Deciding to pay his respects to the mortals during this time of misfortune, the ancient god finds his brother to start some trouble.

 

 

Torin

The swift majesty of the jardee blade reminded me of a fine-tune–like the one Roggae would sing to me on the way back from the training yards. Sometimes he hummed songs from his homeland.

         Sometimes he refused to talk about that same country that forsook him.

         Across the Beser Desert lies the prosperous country of Mycea.

         A country of wealth and greed, deceit and intolerance, the immense desert was the only bridge between the countries, but it was not the only element that kept the two powerhouse countries from warring. Prejudice and arrogance kept the Myceans from attacking their borders–again. The Four Kingdoms have warred with one another in the past, but it had always been the Rhageons that prevailed. The Myceans labeled us savages, but they fear us. 

Rightfully so.

They feared our “backward ways,” our culture, our language, and the desert-born strength that propels us to victory. We are sand. We are fire. If we can survive the ruthlessness of the deserts, we can survive anything.

         Roggae was not the best of singers, but he was an expert swordsman–even for Rhageon standards. Muwwe said it did not take long for the former Mycean nobleman to master the jardee. There had been pride in her eyes when she told me this–and love–as she looked at her husband practicing with another soldier. 

Unlike a typical sword, the jardee was curved like a hook. When I asked Roggae why the sword was shaped that way, he looked down at me with tired eyes. Placing his hand on the top of my head and ruffling the hair that refuses to stay down in its braids, the exiled Mycean lord replied calmly, “It makes it easier to cut off a man’s head, son.”

         He was right. But he never told me how the rush of battle and the chaos was almost beautiful in its dreadfulness. The crescendo was the electrifying moment as the blade meets flesh; the denouement the spray of blood that decorated my face like war paint. Was it not like art? It may be grotesque to some, but to me, it was a masterpiece.

 

(Ghyria, The Outskirts)

 I marveled at the rise of the sun when I heard the raven’s first call.

         “Caw!”

         Landing on one of the sole Palo Verde tree branches, the raven ruffled its feathers as it waited. I could feel its ancient eyes weighing heavy on me.

         “Not today,” I said to the yellow leaves. Lying on my back, the sand cool from the tree’s shadow, I almost found absolute peace before the messenger’s arrival.

         I watched as the orange sun leaked through the morning sky. The bruised dove gray, nothing more than a fading reminder of the night before, was soon to be swallowed up entirely by the mighty sun.

         The fiery orb in the sky burned like no other in Rhageon; I mused as I reached upwards. My fingers came back empty.

         Moments like this, it was like I was the only person alive. The beginning of the day–dawn–was like no other to me. Maybe in another life, I would be a painter. I would have woken in the middle of the night to prepare my paint and canvas in anticipation of my muse. And in this exact location, shaded by the yellow leaves of the Palo Verde tree, I would have been the sole audience of the morning sun as I painted.

         But this was not another life, and I could never live the life of a painter. Someone who was as bound to their responsibilities could not attain such luxuries as those who must put duty before oneself.

         “Caw!”

         Rising reluctantly, I shook the sand out of my bone-white hair and looked down at my knuckles. There should have been scars on my hands. Long ones. Deep to the bone. Ugly little nicks from when I was small and still learning how to hold a broadsword properly. But, there were none. And there will never be any scars on my body. I was unsure if a mortal wound can even kill me.

         The sand brushed away the noise as I stood up. For a moment, there had been the sound of my leather sandals creaking, the long braids in my hair grazing my bare chest, but the sand took it away. And now, it was quiet again.

         The hush in the air is what I desired the most. Before the city of Ghyria, my city awakens; it was my time to be my true self before I must be Nysurria–king, King, and Chosen, and before my power overwhelms to the point of madness.

         The dawn truly was pretty but is not the sole reason why I trekked out in the middle of the Outskirts to marvel at it. I could easily do so from my balcony, which oversaw the entire city. I was not even an early-riser, which even I must find those people odd and ridiculous. Those types of wicked people must be more goddess-blessed than me to be able to rise before the cock’s call with a healthy spring in their step.

         The earth never sleeps, but the people who make it their home do. Miles away from the borders of the yawning city, the groaning creaks and scratchy moans of its waking occupants, this was where I could find momentary reprieve.

         It was not my duties that spurred me away from my home; no, I would never abandon my crown or my people, but I would go insane if I do not get away from every rustling sheet, slumbering sigh, every shuffle, laugh, cough, the cracking of bones; I was a witness to it all.

         I was alone in my role as a spectator of all of humanity’s daily strife. Many call me blessed. Powerful. Special. More than human. I am indeed all of these things and more. But I was still me. Torin.

  “Caw!”

         Looking anywhere other than at the raven, I regarded the desert before me as it clung to its last traces of green. The sprawling mountains across the horizon with rippling formations echoed a moment in time before the first fall of mortal kind. 

The gods had created the world and had built it for their enjoyment. Their curiosity. Their hunger to create instead of destroying. This lonely planet had been their canvas, and the mountains, trees, and blue sky were their paint.

         The desert before me has seen many ancient cities fall. Burying the dead in its embrace, the desert knows and has witnessed all. Gritty sand sifts as a kick of gust of wind whips through. Spying a stubborn string of shrubbery littered, there was nothing that stood out other than me and the Palo Verde tree, which, I smiled sheepishly, why this became my favorite brooding spot. But under this tree, I was able to center my focus as I drowned out the unrelenting waves of senses.

         It was bad enough that I must block out the noise of humanity, but it was also the earth itself and its elements that plague me. Nature does not buzz in my ear: it bellows. The ocean was kind; it licked at my feet and brushed my cheeks with brine from over a hundred miles away. The slumbering volcanoes in Weskesa Volcano Valley itch the back of his throat, the soot staining my teeth and tongue.

         Is one man capable of possessing all of this power?

         “Caw!”

         The next gust of wind ruffled the raven’s feathers.

         I can feel the heat licking up the back of my legs. Anticipation buzzed through me as if I were drunk. A new day was here. A new challenge. A new moon.

         Finally addressing the raven, I turned my back towards my city. “I am ready for your message, Kagura, goddess, and mother of fauna.”

         Bowing, I could only see a burst of white light from my peripheral as the goddess takes her humanoid form.

         My head remained bowed until I felt slight fingers lifting my chin. Even though I was goddess-blessed and thus used to being around the gods, it did not mean I would grow comfortable in the presence of a god.

         To my knowledge, Rhageon was the only country in the four kingdoms that continued to follow the old faiths. We prayed to many gods here, but our patron goddess, who we all pray fealty to, was Lyceria.

         A moon goddess, she was the human race creator and possessed powers over Life, Time, and various other magics. But because her true form was the moon, her powers are tied to the moon’s phases. When the moon is full, she was at her most powerful, but she was at her weakest when there was a new moon. And when our goddess suffers, we all suffer. And the other gods take advantage of Lyceria’s weakened state.

         The goddess before me was thankfully not one of those gods.

         Ancient eyes in a prepubescent face, Kagura met my eyes but did not speak. Not that I could understand it. Despite being goddess-blessed, I lacked the ability to speak the language of the gods. Dressed in a simple white strilla–a girlish dress with frills and bows–the goddess and mother of fauna continued to stare at me, almost as if curious. Her touch was cold as she traced my jaw. A raven peaked its heads from the nest of dark curls atop her head. Its red beady eyes watched me as well.

         It was unsettling that the goddess chose to appear as a young girl. Every instinct within me wanted me to protect her, but common sense smothered those foolish thoughts away. She may appear to be helpless, but the goddess was anything but.

         However, the goddess was an ally of Lyceria, so I patiently waited as she took her time scrutinizing me.

         Yes, Kagura was an ally and has remained true to her alliance, especially in the times of the New Moon. When the terrors of the New Moon inflict the people, the animals have been miraculously untouched. 

         Even when receiving the news of the city-state Rhoh, the New Moon’s instrument had been plagues and droughts, yet the survivors had tolled to Ghryia’s gates with animals in tow. I will never forget the faces of the migrants who fled their ruined homes. Grief-stricken, hopeless, the parade of defeated men, barren mothers clinging onto dying or already dead children, no, I will never forget the horror the New Moon wrought.

         There had been a few protestors who had voiced their concern and displeasure of opening our gates to the migrants, but my commands swiftly silenced them. I did not hesitate to open the gates for them. Though Ghyria was where I reside, all of Rhageon was my home and the people within its borders are mine to protect. As the Nysurria of Rhageon, I will be both their sword and crown and serve them tirelessly. I was their protector, their King, but I was also their Chosen.

         I was unsure whether the goddess Lyceria chose me to be her Chosen before or after I was born; it is still a debate I have with my Muwwe. Whenever I do spark up the debate with her, she gives me a withering glare. If I were not her son, she would take it as an insult for someone to doubt the Head Priestess of the Lyceria’s Temple.

         The story of my birth always remained the same. I remember when Muwwe first told me, her ebony skin gleaming like a gem in the dimmed light as she leaned over to settle me into bed. Her black locs, spun with silver-painted strands, had tickled my cheeks as she leaned down to brush my silvery-white hair from my brow.

         Cemara, the Head Priestess, was one of the most beautiful women in Rhageon. She was So beautiful that a Mycean Lord abandoned his home, lands, and title to be with her. That was what the gossip says, but they were right about my Muwwe’s beauty.

         “Lyceria bathed you in a beam of moonlight, Romi. It engulfed you until I could barely see you betwixt my thighs. The midwife had just taken you into her hands when the light touched you. The poor woman was terrified that she had hurt you and pushed you into my arms. Laying you on my breast, you were so small, and I could barely see you through the silver light. And even then, the light only touched you.

         The temple was painted silver,” she whispered in awe. Looking out the window as if she could still picture the moment.

         “When the light eventually faded, it was as if the light never left you. Your hair was as bone white as it is now, and your eyes–your eyes were the mark of her blessing.”

         I blinked my said silver eyes then and said, “But Muwwe, was I born this way, or did the goddess change me?”

         As if already weary of the barrage of questions she knew I would have for her, the Head Priestess sighed, “Tor, I am unsure. We shall never know but what we do know is that she chose you.”

         I blushed and looked down. Fidgeting with the bedsheets, I said, “I know, Muwwe. Everyone says I am special.” As the romi of the Head Priestess and the Chosen of Lyceria, people stopped him daily and stared at him in awe. Some even wept at the sight of me and begged for my blessings. It was embarrassing. Looking back up again, I said, “I am special. I can feel it.”

         “Yes, Tor. You are different.” There was no sympathy in my Muwwe’s voice. There would be none because, as a priestess to Lyceria, she would not see these gifts as a curse or a hindrance, only a blessing.

         “You must embrace these gifts and learn how to wield them. You will become greater than any of us could ever foresee. And you will become king, I am sure of it.”

         And she was right. I did learn how to embrace my gifts, and I now know how to wield them. And because of that, I have become the king of Rhageon and am the most powerful human in the Four Kingdoms and the world.

         I was the bridge between Lyceria and her creations. There must be a balance. Though the goddess does love her children, the mortals, she was helpless to protect us from outside forces during the new moon.

         And because of the goddess before me, my people did not suffer as greatly.

         Finished with her scrutiny, the goddess took a step back and turned towards the east. Following her gaze, I looked out into the desert, and with my heightened sight, I could see past the Sycillus River, the city of Zubrel, the Beser Desert, and finally, Mycea.

         Spinning around, I could feel dread licking up his body as I ran through the possibilities of the goddess pointing towards Mycea.

         My voice was shaky when I finally mustered the ability to speak. “What does she want me to do? Fight them? Trade with them?” My lips are dry as I wait for the goddess to answer.

         But she does not speak but only points.

         “Go there? Do you want me to go there?”

         The goddess did not answer, but this time, a bright light engulfed her body, and then, a raven was once again before me.

         My heart beating so loudly, I pushed down the urge to see if it had come outside of my chest. The raven took flight once more, leaving me only with more questions than answers.

         When the raven was nothing but a black blip in the sky, I took one last look at the Palo Verde tree before heading back to my city.

 

 

Anayissa

Who were we meant to before the mantle of responsibility smothered our hopes and dreams? Do the growing pains take something from you when you reach that tender age of adolescence? My body swells, curves softening each day, and I dread it. Softness is synonymous with weak. Where are my sharp edges and ridges? Where are my defenses against a world that is determined to devastate me? – Anayissa, from her journal

I tried to recollect when I actually loved my father, but those few memories were sparse. And even the memories I did possess were from the perspective of a young, trusting child. Can I trust those memories when naivety could have effortlessly led me astray?

         Those few memories are from before I reached adolescence. 

I was an impressionable child and been desperate to please my stately father. Everything appeared to be larger than life when you are young, but I believed him to be more than human when I looked up to the king.

         So powerful, he appeared when he sat on his throne. Lounging on his golden throne-like a god, he did not flinch, and he did not cower; he took every challenge head-on.

         As a child, I was small and able to sneak into places I was not permitted. There was a room adjacent to the throne room that had an undetectable hole. Claiming that spot for spying, I would peer into the hole and watch my father hold court. He was always magnificent. Mother would sit at his side, looking cold and beautiful as always. She did not speak during the sessions, and as a child, I did not know why. I naively believed that Naimee preferred to watch father talk, who did so with a natural charisma. The richly dressed courtiers and the aristocrats gathered around would gaze at my father as if they too were spellbound with his every word.

         “A Daddy’s girl” is the term I once aspired to be called. When I passed by people throughout the castle, I strained my ears, hoping to hear the term. How would others describe the relationship I shared with my father?

         But as I grew into my womanly body, maturity, and mind, I inevitably learned that my father, my Papiee, was not a good man.

         Right until my mother, my Naimee’s, second miscarriage, I possessed more tomboyish qualities than what was recommended. In Mycea, there were regimented rules of etiquette girls expected to follow, and playing in the mud to make mud cakes and playing balls with the castle worker’s sons were unquestionably not approved of.

         Surprisingly, my father did not mind. He was indulgent of my inquisitive nature and encouraged me to play. His decision met disapproval from others, but with the news of the Queen’s pregnancy and the midwife’s conviction that she was carrying a boy, he had shown such leniency that he did not listen to their reproof.

         As I look back on that time, I believed that was the last few times I have ever seen my father truly smile.

         He was elated. His booming laughter filled the halls with mirth. And the King took his daughter riding. It was hard not to picture the King as a young man before the mantle of regency weighed heavily on his shoulders. Maybe he would be brimming with vitality. Maybe the lack of responsibility would have his light brown eyes shining with merriment once again.

         I loved my father so much that summer, but after that one night, when my mother’s blood made the floor sticky, and her tears splashed across my face like summer rain, I began to hate him. Loathe him. And inevitably, fear him. 

Something broke within me. Shattered. Jagged, sharp pieces that never truly healed but still punctured my lungs suffocated me until I could see dark spots. I had yet to recover from then fully, and I dread that I will always bear this pain. Writing had become my savior in many ways–a lifeline that I clung to when the world around me was tepid and calm like the surface of the water, but underneath, I was drowning.

 

{Tareriae, the Capital of Mycea}

It was raining outside. A violent rain that beat at my bedroom window. Each raindrop splattered across the glass, dripping down slowly, like tears. The rhythmic, soft slap of the rain almost drowned out my incessant scribbling. My journal splayed before me wantonly, and I wrote as if a fever had taken me. There was a fire in my blood, and the only cure was to write, to write away the pain that caused my head to throb and my fingers to burrow into the soft, meaty part in my palms.

         Writing allowed me to make sense of the chaos inside of my mind. Memories bled into words, words rearranged themselves into thread, and with my pen, I wove a quilt etched with stories and fantasies within my head.

         I had long forgotten the neat script of my handwriting. Pages and pages had been stained with my passionate words. The ink bled so deeply that it followed me from each page. A bruise. A mark. A reminder of what once plagued me. Spelling errors had become common and freckled within the pages. Unattractive doodles bordered the header of the pages, and I traced the tail of a toothy dragon I drew when I struggled to find a more flavorful word for “melancholy.”

         I placed my pen down as my hand began to cramp. Cracking my fingers, I rolled my neck from side to side, satisfied as I heard a satisfying crack. Peering down at the journal, I smiled in pleasure.

         “A masterpiece,” I said. Rubbing my thumb across the words, I traced the waves of emotions that protruded from the book. Raw, unfettered chunks of emotional verses that howl from the lines, I sat back and was almost alarmed that I could write so viscerally.

         A tempest had taken full effect by then. The bitter winds peeled back the bark from trees, exposing the vulnerable belly. A harbinger, the storm was a manifestation of rage, a deadly promise of what was to come. As if sensing my wandering mind, the howling storm demanded my attention. Branches curling like atrophic fingers clawed at the window, and the stray debris pelted the castle’s outer walls with a brutal force.

         But even if the world split in half and the clouds fell from the sky, I would still look down at my journal, my words, the harrowing pain transcribed, and try to find reasons to hope for better days.

         Each day became more challenging to remain optimistic. The unrelenting voices in my head have become louder and more wicked. These voices become cleverer with each failing and rejoice after every victory. I have tried to make sense of this illness inside of my head, and even as I reflect and study medical texts, I could only surmise that any chance for recovery was futile.

         I turned my head and looked out into the night sky. This time of year, the nights were a thick, dense gray that covered the moon’s radiance like a velvet cloak. Soon, far too soon, the brush of snow will spread across the landscape like a frothy paste. And when the heavy snow bowed the stems of every flower and fashioned every tree with a cap of snowflakes and drooping icicles, I will watch from my lone spire, unruffled and removed as snowflakes stylishly flutter from the opaque, formidable sky.

         Leaning closer to the window, my translucent figure greeted me. With the flickering candlelight, the auburn highlights in my hair from the summer sun stood out. My eyes were the same light brown as my father’s; almost gold, almost amber, almost special. I also shared the same famed de Cliousa golden skin. In the Hall of Portraits, rows and rows of portraits of my ancestors soberly glared at me–all of those of the de Cliousa bloodline sharing the same healthy, faultless golden-brown skin and light brown eyes. My Papiee’s bloodline originated from a country overtaken by the sea and, eventually, their own greed. Skilled fishermen who rode their small boats like magic, my ancestors were content with the surf and balmy summers that never truly left. Until the fishnets came back sparser with each haul, and the people turned on one another and denounced their many gods.

         My Naimee’s ancestors enslaved the weak and monopolized on their greed. And when their country rebelled against their mining and deforestation, they turned their sails to the unnamed Aestha, where they wreaked havoc on the natives until every child bore blue eyes and all the women’s faces were lined with defeat and resentment.

         I wish I looked more like my mother than him. I could never truly escape my father. His image chased me in every mirror, and his words invaded my sleep. Naimee’s eyes were blue like glaciers, and her hair was so blonde it appeared white. People have said that I have her stubborn jaw and too-full lips. Nonetheless, I have only retained my mother’s considered less desirable qualities.

         Frowning at my reflection, I did notice that my mother and I both share the same, schooled expression on our faces: severe politeness masking layers and layers of misery.

         “Princess? May we enter?”

         The fuzzy head of my bipolar terrier poked out from underneath my bed then. Shaking its small body, the dog trotted to the door to greet my two best friends Julia and Laura with a growl.

         “Oh, Ringa,” I sighed. True to her breed, Ringa had always been peculiarly aggressive and averse to strangers, friends, other animals, and just about everyone. Strangely, I admired her spirit. Ringa could not tame her, this ten-pound dog who stands upright and proud like a lioness. “Come in, ladies.”

         Laura entered first, giving a disgruntled glare at my dog. “When are you going to put down this beast, princess?”

         “Laura!” Julia exclaimed behind her. Standing beside Laura, Julia smiled weakly at my pet. “Ringa has personality, Laura. Don’t mind her.”

         “Humph,” Laura sneered down, “Dogs are not supposed to have personality, Jules.”

         Ringa glared back at the blonde girl, her eyes beginning to gloss over with territorial rage.

         I sighed. I can already imagine how this transaction will occur: Laura and Ringa at a standoff, Julia trying to intervene, Ringa attacking Julia, and Laura wrestling with the dog until the whole castle came in to investigate the sounds.

         “Ladies!” I beamed as I went over to greet my friends.

         My ladies-in-waiting were opposite of each other. Julia was a prim picture in her green morning dress. Dark hair curling at her ears, Julia’s summer blue eyes glowed with compassion and warmth. In contrast, Laura’s dress was wrinkled and bore a brown spot at the hem that was hopefully coffee. Her hair a halo of spun gold, it defiantly fell an inch past her collarbones.

         In Mycea, there was a silly tradition that only the royals could wear their hair long. The purpose was for the royals to be clearly discernible between them and the people–as if the jewelry and fine clothes were not their own indicator of who was royalty and who was not. Girls were allowed to grow their hair long until puberty, but after their first cycle, they were forced to cut their hair to their shoulders. Still, the aristocracy also wanted to be easily distinguished from the commoners, so they used their wealth to purchase elaborate headpieces, bejeweled nets, and frothy hats to adorn their hair. Julia and Laura both sported jeweled pieces in their hair, both a Name Day present from me.

         “Good morning, princess,” they both chimed. Giving one last glare to my dog, Laura stepped past to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. Julia followed behind.

         “Ladies, how are you both fairing this morning,” I said.

         “Starving,” Laura yawned while stretching, “I already called for food. I saw that annoying red-headed servant–what’s her name again–and told her to bring those pasties Cook has been experimenting with.”

         I laughed. “Fiercely hungry as always, Laura.” I turned to the brunette, “And you?”

         “Fine as always, princess. And you are thinking of Bernadette, Laura. Let’s go to the other room as we wait for the food.”

         “Capital idea,” I smiled at her. She was the water to Laura’s fire. Sweet as ripe pears and even-tempered, Julia was the perfect mediator between Laura and me whenever we disagreed, which was fairly often. Laura, though at times slovenly, was cunning and tenacious. Her frankness was absolutely refreshing, especially at the castle where courtiers and guests treated gossip as currency. Still, there were also times where the blonde girl’s candor borders into the side of rudeness. I myself must admit to having a wide stubborn streak and maybe a tad of high-handedness, which resulted in Laura reproaching a controversial subject. I tried in vain to sway her opinion, thus resulting in her telling me to mind my “royal arse.”

         Julia, the most sensitive of the trio, would, of course, be horrified and try to appease everyone. It always started quite comical until Laura spewed out more coarse insults.

         “Oh, right,” Laura mused as she took her seat closest to the window. I sat across from her and Julia in the middle. “Bernadette, the stonemason’s niece?”

         “Yes, I believe so,” Julia murmured before checking the contents of the porcelain teakettle.

         “I imagine the tea is still hot,” I said. “The new servant girl is quite deft at leaving the kettle without waking me.”

         “Of course. Let me pour for you.” Julia leaned over and poured the contents of the tea into my cup. Waves of heat hit my face. Peaches. Smiling, I grabbed the honey. “Thank you, Julia.”

         “And you, Laura?” Julia held the pot over the blonde’s teacup.

         But it appeared that my lady-in-waiting was still mulling over the red-haired servant. After a pointed noise from Julia, Laura nodded her head absentmindedly.

         The clink of fine china as we lifted our cups was the only sound in the room until Laura blurted, “Oh! The girl who made it with Viscount Delphine’s son! Ha! I knew the girl sounded familiar.”

         “Laura!” Julia sputtered her tea in shock. I hid my smile behind the teacup.

         A knock on the door before a small team of servants enter. A warm, buttery smell wafted through the air, and Laura sighed in relief. My stomach growled in agreement. I forced myself to sit politely and wait for the servants to set down the food instead of pouncing from my seat and ripping apart the fluffy pastries. It felt like a millennium transpired as I watched the servants hands as they also placed a woven basket of blueberry scones, thin pastries with cranberries and almonds, and a fresh kettle of tea to replace the old one with honey, sugar cubes, and sliced lemons placed meticulously on the side.

         “Thank you. That will be all,” I said to the tart.

         Laura needed no formality to begin as she loaded her plate.

         “Oh, Laura,” Julia sighed in defeat.

         “What?” She mouthed around a bite. “Oh, about Bernadette. Yes, she was caught fooling around with the aristo boy in the back gardens a few nights ago. Juicy gossip, I imagine, since all of the castles is talking about it.

         “For shame!” Laura sighed dramatically. “How dare the Viscount’s son sully himself with a mere commoner!”

         Julia and I giggled at her dramatics. “Maybe you should try out for the theater trope, Laura. You have a knack for such theatrics.”

         “They couldn’t afford me,” Laura grumbled into her eggs.

         I laughed again.

         Julia began to lecture Laura on eating etiquettes, but my wandering mind tuned out their discussion.  

         This was my favorite room in my bed-chamber–bold dashes of emerald green and cream-colored walls, fashioned with dark, wooden furniture, imposing candelabras etched with a whimsical design of birds and woodland creatures, and a handcrafted dining table bearing an arrangement of chrysanthemums flowers in a glass, transparent vase. The thick green drapes were wantonly spread, revealing the terror of the howling winds outside. When the days were less…harrowing, the picturesque scene of the manicured lawns and the musk of the flowers greeted me. Now, I could only see the devastation.

         On days like these, the girls and I will later retire to my boudoirs and nibble on Frysessan imported sweets as the storm raged on. My tutor most likely canceled lessons due to his aversion to getting wet. His words, not mine. So today, instead of dwelling on my mood and writing, I will plaster a smile on my face, eat sweet, dark candies until they melted in our mouths, and discuss the latest castle gossip.

       As a princess, it was normal for me to be close to my ladies-in-waiting. In actuality, I was expected to have more than two, a throng of lovely, social-climbing doves at my disposal. Princesses were supposed to be surrounded by their ladies-in-waiting, but I was unconventional in every way, much to my father’s constant dismay.

         Other than Julia and Laura, I was practically friendless.

Refusing to accept the invitations from any of the daughters in the nobility, I have nobly accepted my label of “snobbishness” rather than the less glamorous moniker “indifferent.” Though it was not law, many have complained that I should not keep such close company with my two ladies-in-waiting, despite Julia and Laura’s own valued statuses in society.

         I tried to keep the crushing tide of loneliness at bay. It is not that Laura and Julia are not enough; it was just that undeniable and unnamed yearning that desires more. A constant companion. A person I can bury my seeds of fears into and watch them blossom into a floweret of trust.

         My earlier mood began to overwhelm me until my heart felt heavy, and the throbbing pain reached every orifice of my body. I could never distinguish myself from any emotion I felt. I was that emotion. I was not merely happy; I was dancing in a bubble of bliss. I was not merely sad; I was so depressed I could not physically get up. It was both a curse and a blessing to be as emotional as me. I took offense quickly, and I was highly defensive, which, a dark thought was probably another reason I have such few friends.

         “Ana?” Julia’s soft voice broke my brooding.

         “She’s brooding again,” Laura warned.

         I glared at my friend. See, highly defensive. “I am not.”

         “Yes, you are. Your face is effortless to read. You are like an open book.”

         Another side effect of feeling too much; every emotion was on my face.

         My hackles going up, I retorted hotly, “No one asked you, Laura.”

         Laura smirked and glanced at her friend, “Oh, look, Julia, the princess got offended. What’s new?”

         My face was burning with anger by then. “Laura, why do you have to be such a bitch?”

         Julia looked like she was going to expire. I ignored her. So did Laura.

         Equally angry, Laura suddenly stood up and pointed to my bed. “Because it is not fucking easy watching you tear yourself apart, Ana. Do you think we cannot see the twisted sheets? That you had more nightmares and another night of no sleep. Olliah’s beard, your eyes are bruised!

         “We know you the best, Ana,” she continued passionately. Putting her hand down, she leaned across the table, “We know your smiles are fake. And we cannot pretend the scars on your arms are not there–”

         I saw red. My chest was hot with embarrassment. My mind went blank. It was too much. I could not handle it. I pushed down the panic attack that threatened to take over my body.

         A voice in my head told me to deny everything and blame her.

         “Get out!”

         Laura pushed back from her seat and turned to leave.

         Julia was crying. “Laura! How could you? Ana, I am so sorry. We just worry.”

         “Leave me,” my voice was deadpanned. I no longer felt any emotion. Only numbness. It was as if there was a film over my senses and if I was wading through a mist.

         The sudden silence was stifling. I do not know how long I sat there staring at the floor. My ass was stiff, and my back protested. They must have left because the air was heavy with accusations and hard-truths. The ominous winds continued to shriek, beating at the castle walls with the tenacity of a vindictive lover.

         I never felt more alone or so hollow.

         My mouth was dry and stale from the tea. Across the room, the fireplace was crackling, and the fire danced with my shadow. The yellow-orange flames appeared like grasping hands, returning empty-handed each time.

         I forgot Ringa’s presence until her fuzzy head butted the back of my knee. On instinct, I reached down and dug my fingers into her soft, sleek fur. The tangible act calmed me. So much so that I collapsed to the floor and dedicated both hands to the task.

         My mind still felt far away, but I felt tethered to this reality as I petted my dog. Even though Ringa can be an absolute monster, she knew when I needed her the most. When I would cry in bed, she would force herself into the crook of my arms and offer her small body for support. And that is why, despite all the bite marks and scars, I treasured her.

         I wanted to call out for help, but I did not know-how. I wanted to cry out for my Namieé, who I loved unconditionally–the love for her almost desperate and reckless in some ways–but I was aware that even Lizette could sometimes be swept up in her own pain and grief to comfort her daughter, who also suffers. If I were to bring up my worries, the misery heavy in my Namieé eyes would be staggering. For Lizette to know that her snow cub was this unhappy, she acknowledged that she has failed to protect her.

         The dark emotions had been winning more these days. Each day has become a challenge for me even to leave my bed. Laura and Julia–their names caused me to flinch–had resulted in begging me to arise to dress and eat and to perform the simplest of tasks. I know they want to help–their intentions were pure, but how can I burden them with the chaos inside of me? How can they understand that dying seems easier than living with this pain?

         If I scream, will my cries be heard? I wondered as I watched the shadows from the fire swell and expanded on the ceiling.

         I must have been crying for a while now because my cheeks were sticky and hard.

         Remembering my journal, I dragged my body to my desk. Reaching for the leather covering, as if it were a panacea, I forced my mind miles away as I escaped into the pages.

         A private beach where footsteps faded beneath the warm, turquoise waves and the full moon rests on her throne in the sky made of shades of purple and indigo–I wrote until my fingers ached and I could feel white sand crunching underneath my toes…


Rhageon and Frysessa are the only two countries in the four kingdoms that acknowledge the old faith. Some town in Mycea that are closer to the Beser Desert do still follow the old faith.

Rhageon’s patron goddess is Lyceria (moon) and Frysessa’s is her brother, Zakar (sun).

Aestha and Mycea are both monotheistic but in Aestha, those who grew up farther away from the capitol and metropolitan cities, cling to the Old Gods–the gods the natives of Aestha followed before they were conquered.

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