Chapter 1: She Who Expels the Light

 

~She Who Expels the Light~

 

“I wish I could capture the wild beauty of the open sky with pastels and paint. My mind a bare canvas hungry for the wispy mists of dawn, the unapologetic beaming rays of midday, the fluttering skirts of dusk: indigo, red, the traces of pink, and the still, cruelty of night. My obsession with the open sky must be foretelling; maybe I was meant to posses wings instead of leaden limbs”–Anayissa  

It is tradition for the citizens of Ghyria to revel the nightlife.

The night sky a smudge of indigo and midnight blue, the city of Ghyria becomes alive in the nighttime. A city structured to diffuse the desert heat that threats even the most veteran caravan family, many cities in Rhageon has followed in Ghyria’s suit in regards to architecture. Rhageon’s ancestors were smart in concern of location, settling near the prosperous and temperate (Kyn)thia River, its namesake in honor of the two-spirited god of agriculture. The ancestors learned how to use the river to their advantage; setting up aqueducts that would flow towards their crops and smartly using the river to better their trade. The buildings are not high and statuesque in Ghyria, namely because heat rises so the buildings and homes are a sweep of rows of low tan, taupe, and russet buildings with circle, flat-top roofs, and shingles ranging from shades of the deepest of crimson to teak.

Gyrating, sun-darkened bodies slick with sweat and faces decorated with silvery-white paint, the Rhageon citizens mill throughout the streets, sheer euphoria glowing bright and shining through like beams of moonlight. Torien can hear the clink of quick brown hands exchange goods with silver coins barring the moon goddess’s imperial image. One would wonder how the people could such enthusiasm and liveliness at this time of night but in Ghyria, there is the tradition of the Great Sleep. In honor of Shamala, the god of Sleep, the citizens of Rhageon will depart from their place of work and come home, pausing to eat and catch up with family before taking a nap. The tradition has occurred since the dawn of the Rhageons existence, even before they were called Rhageons. Also, it is due to the desert heat that requires the citizens to nestle into the safety of their homes to prevent fatigue and sun-sickness. Night markets with lanterns strung up on strings, lamplights flickering loyally among the streets, and the staggering beauty of the moonstone surrounds the extreme brilliance of Castle Luñana Meskka. Ordinary, manmade creations like candles dull compare to the pure, unadulterated beauty of the stone, the natural light putting the candlewicks to shame. A fantastical sight that still dazzles each and every citizen, it is impossible not to pause and sigh at the majesty of the moonstone. The citizens of Ghyria weave through the illuminated streets, some pausing to look up at the night sky and watch the twinkling stars and moon that rival the beauty of the moonstone, while others stride with confidence through the busy streets, well aware that their king and warlord is inspecting every possible threat from his tower, protecting them with his divine right. A blanket of stars that befuddles even the shrewdest mind, the citizens of Ghyria are proud to be able to religiously witness and marvel the beauty of their kingdom.

The Warlord of Rhageon, Torien Ethelwolf Aldrake M’atheian perches from his tower, the cool wind kissing the back of his neck, and behind him, the backdrop of the night sky sanctioning his silver eyes to glow dangerously like a predator. With his heightened senses, Torien can hear the waves of joy, laughter, and cries below, witness a pair of couples holding hands proudly as they walk down the busy streets, taste the roasting spiced meats, freshly baked flatbreads, the earthy, clean scent of herbs like thyme, sage, and rosemary being sold by eager-faced vendors, taste the bitter tang of fear, the heavy, dryness of melancholy and sadness, and the citrus burst of happiness. Quietly, Torien looks down at his hands. Soon his hands will be slick with sticky blood, a stain that will never truly wash away. Soon he will end countless lives with these hands–his claws easily ripping into flesh like rippling silk. Soon he will close his eyes as his victim pleads for mercy, his hands swiftly twisting the man’s neck, his ears deaf to the sickening crack.

After receiving the news of the upcoming war with the Myceans, Torien had transformed into his other form–the Wolf. A massive wolf with white fur and moon-touched silver eyes, Torien ran east, his fury speeding his steps until he reached the coast of Massiet within an hour. Throwing his head back and howling, Torien had snarled as both Hyrisis and Fatima appeared before him. The god of warfare and bravery had been donned in his gleaming armor the marvelous, mesmerizing shades of dawn and the goddess of wisdom and strategy was similarly dressed in armor, hers less ostentatious in show and her dark brown hair pulled back into neat locs. Deaf to the language of the gods, Torien had snarled at the sibling gods, their appearance conformation of the trials ahead. The two gods stared silently at him, their appearance an acknowledgment of their decision to aid Torien in the upcoming war. With the support of bravery and wisdom, Torien does not see failure as an option. With both gods, victory is imminent. With support from one and not the other–the lack of balance can gravely affect how the battles with play. Bravery without wisdom will be a pathetic display of lack of tactile and wisdom without bravery is knowing how to win the battle yet fear prevents you from picking up the sword.

Clenching his fists, Torien looks back to his city. There is no gate on the balcony erecting from his living quarters–the veranda is structured as a sphere, meaning, there is no boundary between him and the promise of death. Stepping closer to the edge, Torien experiences vertigo as he directly looks down into the darkness below. One reckless step and Torien will fall to the earth, the wind whistling goodbye until his body splats on the ground. Bones shattering and protruding, his once handsome features will be ruined by the impact, and his blood, a flag of splattered crimson will be that all that remains. The goddess of death, Bemarisse would then welcome Torien to the Underworld, his body covered in chains as the goddess madly danced around his prone form. The Great Ones, Abyss and Rift will eagerly wait their turn to feed on his screams, the ancient gods already sentencing him to a hellish eternity for his cowardice. The stunning goddess Bemarisse will dance around him, howling a horribly beautiful tune that will trigger his ears to bleed and her dress of freshly skinned cowards will cause Torien to retch.

After retching, Bemarisse will mock Torien’s weakness, taunting him, “Cowards get no sympathy.”

After skinning him with her favorite jardee, Torien will wander the Underworld, his skinless wraith haunting the afterlife until he joins the many others in the night sky. Maybe his body will shatter into a constellation resembling a wolf–that would seem like the goddess’s humor to do so.

Even without the promise of eternal damnation, Torien steps away from the edge, his love for his people, friends, goddess, his Wolf, family, and himself, a beating tattoo across his heart.

Looking up at the night sky, Torien prays to his goddess, Lyceria. “My goddess, even with these powers you bequeathed to me, will I never true joy? Will my nights follow me through the brightest of days?”

Her answer is to engulf him in a brush of shimmery moonlight that almost appears like a caress.

At the cock’s call as the gray sky is penetrated by the persistent rays of pink-gold dawn, Ana rouses in terror. Her body locking in the throes of a nightmare, Ana shoots up from bed, vertigo slamming into her as her vision shutters. Nausea curdling her stomach, Ana desperately grabs for her comforter as her knees collapse. Her vision darkening, Ana gasps for breath as she comes to the realization that she is now safe.

Pressing her hot, sweat-slick skin on the cool sheets, the buzzing sound in Ana’s ears begins to irritate her. Taking a few more measured deep breaths, Ana rises on shaky legs, pushing her wealth of hair back from her face.

Rubbing her eyes, Ana scans the room for lingering horrors. Finding none, Ana plops back onto the bed gracelessly.

Turning on her side, Ana protectively clutches her stomach as she stares out towards her bedroom window, hearing the chorus of groans and sighs as the workers in Castle Bastille awaken. Stomping out their fires, stretching and scratching, the rustle of cloth smoothing over skin, the quick, rushed chomps and swallows of breaking fast, and the heavy, determined stomps as the castle workers begin their day, Ana is the audience to their daily toils.

Accustomed to the quiet cacophony of sounds in the morning, Ana closes her eyes as she narrates the life of the staff. The Cook will be helping her underlings knead and work the dough for the morning pastries, her quick, cautious hands handling the knife as she chops and slices vegetables and fruits. The laundress with her tired, wrinkled hands will be sorting through the washing, her hands expertly expunging the stains and smudges, and the maids will be sneaking quietly into the rooms as they stroke the fires, Ana’s own maid, Matilda–a young girl of thirteen–has already hastily entered and exited Ana’s room with expert care, unaware that her mistress is beyond sleep. Laura will be all but dragging Julia out of bed by now, the latter pleading as she clings to her pillow. Soon, the pair of girls will make their way from the servant’s wing to Ana’s apartments in the highest tower.

The monotony of the day stretches promisingly endless before Ana. Each day is like the last; a scripted play with her as the secondary character that follows along with the playwrights demands.

At ten, she will break her fast; following a quick touring of the gardens at eleven, at noon sharp, Ana will share a quick tea with the Queen. One-thirty, Ana and her cousins will be tutored, three is Ana’s reprieve to do what she ever wants to do in a regal, respected manner, five will be most likely a formal supper with Lord Hangard from Jumb’e and his horrid son Ahmed-Malik, after supper, Ana and the other ladies will be expected to depart to the parlor room while the men drink Frysessa imported brandy and smoke cigars, and after Ana suffers through polite, poison-laced conversations, Ana will escape to the safe haven on her rooms. To break away from the dreariness, maybe Laura and Julia will surprise Ana and sneak her up pastries from the kitchen. But with certainty that rings dreadfully true, Ana is absolutely sure that when she falls back to sleep tonight, it will be a restless one where her heart aches as if she has had her heart torn into two. Unsure of the source of the feeling, Ana realizes that she has no escape from suffering whether it is reality of the realms of sleep.

Hearing a polite knock on her door, Ana fixes her face into a pleasant smile that will only wear off in the dark tendrils of midnight.

Cursing the slow, tortuous pace of life, Ana watches as time trickles on the clock, seconds turning into hours as the big hand taunts her. Wishing she could obtain the power to speed time, Ana imagines herself leaning forward, taking her hand to wind the big hand forward until the world spins.

The hushed room in the library contains a still, stifling air. The aged books stacked high and proud on the bookshelf, leaves an odor that tickles Ana’s throat whenever she breathes too deeply.

Ana is a lover of books, taking great pains to make a dent in the innumerous books in the cavernous Grand Library. Here, many scholars and academics crawled out of their man-made hovels to immerse themselves in the dimmed candlelight, their hunched backs and squinty eyes glowing beatifically as they observe such a cerebral splendor. Familiar with the confines of the library, there is a part of Ana that remains unimpressed. There must be more in life, she wants to plead, more to life than the stories in these books. In her youth, Ana had read countless stories with pages filled with adventures and star-crossed romance. Dashing men in shining armor battling dragons and winsome women using their indomitable wits to save the love of their lives form the wicked, magic-welding Fey. Much to the King’s dismay, Ana continues to read the fantastical stories but as she has grown older and the promise of her duties slowly approaches, Ana has read the fantasy books less for fun but more for to escape her reality.

An impossible being with an even more impossibly tedious voice, Ana’s tutor is distinguished man who constantly reminds how trifling it is to educate a girl like Ana, especially with his revered education from University. As one can imagine, each session tests Ana’s finite patience.

The esteemed Master Gregory Franklidge, top student of his class at Prestige University in Keys, likes to hear the sound of his own nasally voice. An effeminate man dressed dapperly expect for the weight of the many rings on his fingers, Master Gregory currently reads from a dusty anthology of writings from the great Mycean philosophers. His thin fingers skimming the surface like a familiar lover, Ana resists the urge to rip the text form his delicate hands and bludgeon him over the head with it.

Despite the man being dreadfully supercilious and ridiculous in his assumptions of her, Ana does value his lessons. Her mind hungry for knowledge, moments like these, Ana wishes she could have been born male. Beyond tempted to chop off her hair, bind her breasts, and fashion herself in men’s clothing, Ana has fantasized about attending University in Keys, maybe even learning along side striving academics like her tutor.

Not alone in her hatred, Ana’s cousins Madeline and Melanie, twins who share russet red hair and hazel eyes, glare beatifically at the slight man. It is no surprise that Ana’s cousin Caleb is absent, heir to the crown, Ana’s papiee thinks it prudent to teach Caleb separate from the females, believing his education will suffer in the audience of Ana and his sisters.

Normally, Ana is fascinated and invested in her studies. Interested in subjects like literature and history, Ana has found no interest to hear the half-mad ramblings of long-dead self-righteous philosophers. Master Gregory’s voice drones on until he finally catches Ana’s interest.

“Cristobel Agadel was an aspiring Mycean philosopher, who shined with promise before he befell to madness. His research and theories once so astoundingly cohesive and profound with levels of intellectual soundness, declined so rapidly in his advanced age. Such a shame for the academic world.”

Startling herself, Ana raises her hand as she inquires, “Why was his findings considered madness?”

Refusing to show how much of Ana’s participation has shocked him, Ana’s cousins do not follow suit, both turning their identical heads to stare at Ana.

Putting down the text, Master Gregory’s many rings glints. Continuing after a beat, he states, “He battled the constitutions and foundations of our country, narrowing his inane gaze on the aristocracy. Agadel claimed that we should dismantle the aristocracy, which would then directly impact our form of government. The government is corrupt, he once wrote, declaring that it solely benefits the wealthy and prestigious and stifles the ordinary folks. We should resort to the ancient beliefs, he wrote, the pagans may have had it right. He also brought up this absurd concept of a republic government to mind. Such a sick, sick man Agadel was,” Master Gregory emphasizes this by shaking his head, as if mourning the philosopher’s once keen sanity.

Ana dares to ask her next question. “Is the government flawed?” Ana wants to shout from the rooftops, “The government is flawed” like a madwoman, like Agadel. The philosopher must have seen the truth once he peeled back the layer of truth. A man beyond his time, Agadel was met with scorn and disbelief instead of applause and gratitude.

No longer hiding his shock, Gregory huffs out a laugh that Ana’s cousin soon join in. “Ha! Human nature is a trifling thing. How can we give the right of power to the peasants who have never studied at the knee of a tutor, read the classics, or studied the academics at the esteemed Universities in Keys? To understand politics, one must reach the right caliber of learning. To claim that the populace can ever truly comprehend, is ludicrous.”

“But if we take the time to educate the public–”

“Education is a weapon; a raw material that can be sculpted and hewn into a weapon in the wrong hands. It has the unfortunate potential to unravel the natural order of our world.”

“Seriously, Ana?” Madeline scorns, Melanie’s swift input follows along with her twin’s, “Have you gone mad like Agadel too?” The twin’s look to one another before releasing a vexing chorus of giggles.

Her face burning with humiliation, Ana does not raise her head when Master Gregory continues.

Looking down into her text, Ana’s heated eyes catches Agadel’s writing written in a fine, meticulous script:

 

When we limit the public, we silence the whole. When we quiet the words of the suffering, we lose the ability to understand true pain. When we turn away from the weak, we disregard where we started.

            From the prowling tiger to the single, swaying blade of grass, many will claim and make the mistake that the predator is in power. Yes, in the animal kingdom, the dangerously beautiful cat is amongst the strongest and stealthiest, yet it is the blade of grass that grows in abundance. For every tiger roaming the wilds of Frysessa, there are a million blades of grass known to this world. To silence the voices of the grass, is to silence the majority, which is preposterous indeed.

            The peasants and commoners wake each morning to the shrill call of a cock, their need for providing for their families pushing them to get out of beds and to work. Toiling the fields, the mills, the streets, the sea, threads, the peasants and commoners are the backbone of society, supporting the useless fat of the aristocracy. Immersing themselves in their own laziness, the wealthy sit back as the silenced, powerless poor work to make them richer.

            Do my words not strike disgust into your heart?

Was Agadel truly a madman or was he a gift from the heavens that we spurned and debased?

Looking down at her plate, Ana grimaces as she ignores her dinner companion.

The stretch of the dinning table seems to go on forever. From her peripheral, Ana can see Lord Hangard, her Papiee, and a few other important courtiers intent on their conversation as they sliced through the tender pheasant with ease. Lord Hangard, golden skinned with ice-blue eyes, laughs suddenly, the fleshy meat caught in his trimmed goatee nauseating Ana.

Ana’s plate is modestly full but she cannot find the urge to eat. Like a canvas, the meal has been measured and portioned for oral appreciation as well as aesthetic. Lying diagonally and wrapped snuggly in salty bacon, is four strips of pheasant, adjacent to it is the cranberry glaze with a hint of red wine and a dollop of honey, and a boutique of seasoned vegetables. A fine meal, her dinner companion, Lord Ahmed-Malik had stated while sharing a smile with the king. Turning his gray eyes toward her, the heir had begun to converse with Ana, smiling charmingly at her.

Ana must admit the Lord has many redeeming qualities, especially with the way his light eyes shine against the darkness of his skin but Ana can only blush and look down at her plate. The new dinning set is something to admire; simple in its craft, the new plates are not artless in design. Some bare small, looping whirls, splashes of vivid colors licking up the edge, the cutlery matches the artistic designs, the handles of the forks, knifes, and spoons, crafted intimately with their own designs and images imprinted.The new plates are imported from Frysessa, where intricate designs and peaceful symbols have begun to take over the market with the new trend. The demand for Frysessa’s luxurious goods have skyrocketed, the peculiarity of the country adds a level of taboo to the goods they export.

“Princess?”

Breaking her staring contest with the plates, Ana blushes once more, “Pardon me. It has been a long day.” Not an exaggeration. Her lessons earlier drained her. “Once more, Lord Ahmed-Malik?”

Taking a sip from his goblet, the Lord licks the spare wine droplet from his lips before replying, “I said, are you excited about the Betrixoa Ball? Through the grapevine, I have been informed that the festival is one of your favorites?”

“Yes,” Smiling in earnest, Ana replies, “The season of Betrixoa is always lovely but in company with the ball, it is truly a magical time.”

“I agree. You should the season in Jumb ‘e. The sight is…breathtaking.” The Lord looks forward, his eyes distant as if he can imagine the sight he speaks of.

“Oh, yes.” Jumb’e is the lumber capitol of Mycea. Lord Ahmed-Malik has doubtlessly has seen the season of Betroxia in full splendor. “I have not visited Jumb’e in years, I can imagine how amazing the sight of the trees must be during the season.”

“Yes, for a spell.”

“A spell?”

Finishing his next bite, the Lord gracefully wipes his mouth with his serviette. “Did you ever think of the origins of the table you are sitting at? The seat where you sit? The desk where you write your letters?” The Lord takes his gloved hand and places it on the table. The dark wood looks black underneath the pristine white of his glove. Running his finger down the surface, Ana can hear the scrape of his nails. “Where there is great beauty, there must also be ugliness,” he continues, “To have one without the other, there would be madness. A balance is always needed. To have the beauty of the great Betrixoa leaves, we must also know how it feels to be bereft of its beauty. That is why we must strip the trees bare and cut the trees down at the end of the season. To be a lumberjack, to be a Jumb’e citizen, the season of Betrixoa is bittersweet because as we marvel at the beauty, we also know what we need to do to sustain it.”

Ana sits in silence as the remaining time of supper dwindles, the Lord’s final words to her lingering in her head.

“Snow cub?”

Ana turns her head at her mother’s voice and with a shock, notes that the men have already left to sit in the study and drink brandy. The scent of tobacco confirms that they have already begun to smoke their Frysessa imported cigars.

“Snow cub? Are you joining us?” A touch of worry touches the Queen’s voice.

Yi, Naimee.” Ana answers her in her Naimee’s tongue.

The Queen is cool and regal in her emerald gown. Baring the weight of an Aestha diamond at her neck, the Queen wears no other jewelry, notwithstanding the tiara on her crown. Her white-blonde hair braided intricately down her back, Suzette touches her daughter’s cheek. “Are you sure, snow cub? You look pale.”

Gently pushing her mother’s hand from her cheek, Ana touches the swelling middle poking trough the Queen’s dress. “Do not worry about me, Namieé. I am fine. Worry about you and the baby.”

Suzette growls, her lip revealing the hint of very white and sharp incisors. “Do not tell me what to do, Ana. I am the adult.”

Wanting to roll her eyes, Ana takes away her hand. Aware that her mother is in one of her famous moods, Ana smiles reassuringly, “I know, Namieé. I am only concerned. I had heard you had a migraine the other day.”

Her growls halting, the Queen did not loose the wild, animalistic intentness in her eyes as she glared at her daughter. “Sophia needs to mind her own business.”

“She is only doing her job, Namieé.”

“Changing my sheets and stoking my fire is her only job.”

Namieé!”

“Queen Suzette! Princess Anayissa!” They both turn their heads at the petite women calling from the doorway. “Will you be joining us in the parlor room?” Lady Herphosa is a stunning blonde with chestnut brown eyes and if looks could kill, she would be dead and bleeding in the Queen’s jowls with the way Suzette is glaring at her.

Answering for the Queen, Ana rushes with a quick response. “Yes, we shall be in there shortly. Thank you!”

Oblivious to the rising tension, the noblewoman grins and walks back out the doorway.

Swinging her attention back to mother, Ana throws up her hands in frustration. “What is the matter with you? You could have scared Lady Herphosa.”

Looking unimpressed, the Queen licks her sharp tooth. “She needs a have a good scare. The poor child is as dim as a doorknob.”

“You are truly insufferable, Namieé.”

Sighing, the Queen looks back at her daughter. “Do not worry about me, Ana. The job of a parent is to worry for their child, not the other way around.”

“How can I not,” Ana frowns. “You know I always worry.” Her eyes down, Ana looks down at her mother’s middle once more.

“Like I said, do not worry about me, snow cub.” Her voice reminding her of iron, the Queen leans down to place a kiss on Ana’s forehead. “Go upstairs. Rest and recover from your day. I will have a servant send you some tea and biscuits.”

Without further discussion, the Queen turns and walks away from her daughter. Heading to the doorway, Ana cannot help but notice that the Queen’s braid looks like a wild cat’s tail.

 

Chapter 2: Visions From Madman

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