Chapter 3: Secret Ways
Maryna paced nervously within the ornate lobby of the building, her footsteps echoing repeatedly in the vast meeting all. It was mildly rankling to her that even with all the petitions, requests and favors she's called in that even now they would keep her waiting.
However, if her curiosity about things happened to be justified, it would explain a lot about the delay. She paced back and forth in front of the huge wooden doors to the only place that might hold those answers.
The libraries, even the Royal Library, seemed to be missing things, she thought. Important things. Even in the books which dealt with our history, which is supposed to be a hundred hundred years long, and contained in detail . . .it's vague.
Too vague to be an accident.
She wondered why it bothered her so, but that was one answer with no mystery to it. She was bored.
Maryna was betrothed to the Prince of the Angels, Sachiel, and he was soon in line to inherit the throne from his father, Matariel. It was all anyone seemed to want to talk about--the union of House Cyclade and the Royal Line would add undreamt-of prestige to her family and ensure the continuation of the Angels and their perfection.
Too bad no one asked me how I felt about it, she thought, looking up at the stone carvings above the door. Being born and having your life already determined for you comes with a hefty price. Namely, I was always bored.
So, to my father's chargin, I started learning all I could about everything I could, she remembered. And here I am, still looking for clues and solving mysteries.
The doors creaked open and two Angels, both clad in featureless white robes beckoned her inside but not before one of them raised his finger to his lips, reminding her she had to be silent.
She bowed her head and followed them inside. The Crystal Forever was more than a repository of knowledge, this was the place where the honored dead of the entire race were kept alive, or at least their essences and their knowledge were kept.
"Every member of the nobility of the Angels carries an Eagle Clasp," she remembered, the words from the history book she'd read running though her mind as her fingers caressed her own Clasp. "In the Clasp is a crystal, containing the knowledge and essence of the person who carries it. As is it is passed from generation to generation knowledge is added to it. When the last of the line dies, the crystal is taken to the Crystal Forever, where they live on, in a sense."
She and the two attendants walked along a narrow catwalk. Maryna slowed for a moment and looked over the side, down to the dimly glowing crystal formations below, a steadily growing mountain of crystals that trilled quietly.
Maryna walked a bit faster to catch up with the attendants, fascinated at the sights.
It had always been rumored that the Crystal Forever had something to do with how we communicated between cities, she thought. No wonder it's so hard to get into this place.
They gradually came to another receiving area, and the attendants opened the doors to the chamber beyond, again gesturing for her to be as silent as possible.
The chamber beyond was unlike anything else in the building. For one thing, where the rooms she'd passed through had had rooms of stone or wood, this was a garden, a fairly lush one, as a matter of fact. From where she stood now there was a small path, laid with carefully placed white stones. Along that path were small clearings with a stand and benches on either side of the stand.
Maryna looked around for anyone else close by. As intriguing as the riddle that brought her here was, she didn't want to upset anyone who'd come for the purpose of communing with their loved ones.
I may be bored, she thought, but I'm not inconsiderate.
She followed the path for a long time, picking a small clearing far away from anyone else and sat down, edging towards the back of the bench so she wouldnít sit on her own wings. She reached for her Eagle Clasp and pressed a hidden release. The dark blue crystal in the beak of the Eagle's head rolled into her palm and she placed it on the stand. A light shone from the stand, illuminating the blue sphere.
A brilliant column of light poured forth, coalescing into the form of someone she'd seen only in images of the past. He was, or had been, a great man, and his stance confirmed it. This was her great grandfather, Genra Cyclade.
"Genra?" She asked quietly.
The image of her great-grandfather nodded. "Maryna," his voice said, deep and booming but with a shimmering quality owing to the medium from which it came. "I'm so happy to see you've grown into such a beautiful girl."
Maryna nodded, blushing a little. "Thank you, great-grandfather."
"But why have you brought me out to speak with you?" Genra asked, taking a seat on the bench opposite her.
"I have some questions," she said tentatively. There was something about looking into the eyes of your great-grandfather and asking him what could be critical secrets that suddenly put her ill at ease.
This was a little more personal than finding it out from a book.
"I . . .wanted to know about where we live," she said. "About the Spheres?"
* * *
Liandra's eyes opened with minor annoyance at the sunbeam of dawn that struck her face. She sighed and rose from the bed, unfolding her wings and stretching them and her arms. She sighed wearily.
What time is it, she wondered. She looked around and out the window. From the brightness of the sun, it certainly seemed like the day had begun in earnest. She'd overslept.
She frowned, pouting and blowing her purple bangs from her eyes. I overslept? How could I possibly have overslept? If I were a minute late, Darken would have been along to wake me up before it got to be too late.
She sighed and got dressed. The absence of her brother and his failure to wake her up worried her somehow. On some level just below the conscious she could feel something was out of place, somehow.
And that something made her want to rush through her morning routine a little faster.
She readied herself and padded down the well-worn stone stairs of the temple to the main hall below. Just like any other morning, there was Ka'el, standing in the middle of his pile of books, idly turning pages and reading at a leisurely pace.
"I'm sorry," she called down, negotiating the steps even faster. "I overselpt. I thought Darken might wake me, but--"
Ka'el's head rose slowly at her mention of Darken's name. Something in his expression made things click in her mind.
"Where is he?"
Ka'el looked sad. "I'm afraid he has gone," he said, closing the book and setting it on one of the stacks around him. "I cannot say where. I do not know."
"I . . .donít understand," she said. "He just left? Without even saying goodbye?"
"There was no time, Liandra," Ka'el said. "If it is any comfort, his leaving was just as much a surprise to him as it was to you. Perhaps more. And if it further comforts you, I feel his absence as keenly as you do."
"You didnít know he'd have to leave?"
Ka'el shook his head.
"I thought you knew everything," she said, her lips twisting into a disappointed frown.
"I'm afraid not, child," she said.
"So he left, and you didn't know until he'd gone, and you . . .don't know when he'll be back."
"No," he said. "But you must believe he will be back, Liandra."
"That's not what bothers me, Ka'el," she said. "I'm just a little upset he didn't say goodbye, and now I have to wait for him to come back.
"We've been together as long as I can remember, and we've never been apart, at least not for so long as I had to be afraid that we might never see each other again.
"I donít know how to wait. You never taught us."
Ka'el sighed. "Nothing I could teach you would prepare you fully for this, child. I have not even been able to prepare myself for this moment."
* * *
The ten figures moved along the fine sand slowly and carefully, their great tattered cloaks billowing in the incessant stinging wind of the endless desert around them. Two of their number exchanged curt hand gestures with a third, paired off and made for the horizon. The remaining eight formed a tight circle around Kirone, who stood placidly, as if immune to the wind and the hostile sun in the sky.
"My two scouts will find the nearest settlement or sign of civilization and report back in a day's time, Lady Kirone," Vantiga said, his words slightly muffled under the special uniform he wore under his cloak. It slowed their movements and made them slightly less effective (even moreso as Vanitga's squad had never fought in the desert) but the thin cellular creatures that comprised the suit fed on the hellish sun and kept them safe from its destructive effect.
"Excellent," she said, the wind whipping her red hair around her face. She gathered her black cloak around herself and gazed around her. "While we're waiting for them to report back, you and the rest of the squad will begin digging."
"Digging, Lady Kirone?"
"Yes, Vantiga," she said. "Now, if you don't mind."
Vantiga took a step back. "My Lady, if I may--"
"You may not, Vantiga. Begin digging, and I suggest you do so with your hands, and not with your mouth, or else we may be here for some time.
He bowed curtly. "Yes, my lady."
Kirone watched the squad began clearing the fine sand away and scraping away. With ten of them a large hole took shape very quickly. Kirone smiled at the efficiency of his squad, even with two of their number setting off for parts unknown.
Vantiga was right to question me, she thought, and I'd have been happy to answer him, provided that the information that led us here had been more reliable.
She hissed quietly through her teeth. That was the trouble with myths and legends--they had a longer shelf life than facts, but tended to be vague when it came to details.
And she refused to look like a fool in front of Vantiga, her father, or anyone. So until she was certain about what was buried underneath these sands, she had no intention of explaining to Vantiga why the squad had to cross over in this barren wasteland rather than on the outskirts of a settlement.
But I have a feeling that if I'm right, she thought, explanations won't be necessary.
* * *
That was all? Darken wondered.
There'd been a ripple around him, a slight feeling of being moved and displaced and all of a sudden, here he was. Wherever that was. It seemed only to take a second, but he had traversed Spheres, and if the voice in his Eagle Clasp was to be trusted, he was the first outsider in several years to make his way to this one.
He looked around, his wings gently fanning him to offset the heat a little. The Sphere, whichever one it was was rocky, hot and mountainous, like the outer slope of a volcano. For as far as the eye could see, rough stone columns rose from the rocks like pillars supporting the thick red sky.
He blinked, the air shimmering with heat. Who could live in a place like this, he thought? There's barely any sun and I can barely move without dripping sweat. Of all the places to end up, why here?
He looked down at the Eagle Clasp and frowned, as if his interior monologue were supposed to spur it to explain more to him.
He'd felt it speak to him the moment he touched it, in a voice he'd never remembered hearing but one that was nonetheless familiar to him. It had shown him a strange map in an image of light and told him he had to go here, and assured him that there would be answers waiting for him.
Well, here I am, he thought. So far the only answer I've found is that I really hate hot weather. So mysterious voice, if you're in the mood to explain a little more to me, I'd love to hear--
The red jewel inside the Clasp began to flash and pulse with an inner light.
Well, what's that about? Darken wondered. Suddenly the heat just overhead cooled slightly and he looked up to determine the reason. The reason explained itself and suddenly told him just what Sphere he was in.
Above him were four or five dragons, their broad claw-tipped wings spread wide to catch the hot winds. From the silhouette he could pick out their long necks and longer tails. They were turning slowly around where he stood, their shadows passing over him, and from their altitude, he had a feeling it wasn't to welcome him here.
They're high enough for a power dive, he thought, looking at the clasp, which was pulsing more and more now.
That must be a danger signal, he mused. Good to know, I guess.
One of the dragons began to descend, its wings folding in and narrowing its body to increase its speed. As it came closer into view he could make out its red scaly skin and narrow yellow eyes. If the hard reptilian gaze hadnít persuaded Darken of his intent, the anger etched into his face surely would have.
The dragon's wings fanned out and he came to a light landing on his clawed feet. He pointed one clawed finger in Darken's direction.
Darken's mind breezed through everything from Ka'el's books about the race of dragons. There wasn't much--dragon's never bothered much with written history, but a few had had notes about their behavior--mostly about how they were aggressive and not disposed to talk.
If anything, that's an understatement, Darken thought.
"How dare you cross over, Angel," his voice said, sounding like volcanic glass being ground against granite. "Your contempt for our laws ensures your death!"
"But I'm not--" Darken tried to say as the dragon leapt for him. He opened his wings and quickly leapt into the air as the dragon crashed where he'd been standing. The heavy beast smashed into the rocks with the force of a bomb, then went into a crouching position and leapt into the sky after him.
"Flying wonít save you!" The dragon said, the muscles in his neck beginning to swell. Darken barrel-rolled quickly, missing the stream of fire the dragon breathed at him. Darken turned to face his attacker, blue eyes set in an angry glare.
"Look, I'm not here to fight you, and I'm not an angel," Darken said. "Just hear me out, for--"
"QUIET!" The Dragon shouted, blasting a fireball in Darken's direction to silence him. "On the sphere on Ladon, you must earn the right to speak, feathered scum!"
Darken's temper flared. He'd tried to explain, but they didn't seem to want to listen to words, and he honestly didnít feel like talking anymore.
"All right," he said, his wings flapping gently to hold him in place. "You want to fight, I'll give you one."
He thought he detected the faintest hint of a smile on his attacker's face as his wings beat him higher to face him, propelling him forward. Darken watched him carefully, studying the dragon's body language for the sign he was going into his attack.
The dragon rose faster, his body narrowing and his clawed hands reaching forward. Darken's wings stopped fluttering and he fell a few feet before they started beating and caught on an updraft, bringing him up and behind the Dragon, hidden behind his wings.
Darken thrust his leg forward, catching the dragon in the back, just between his wings. It felt like kicking solid steel, but it had the desired effect--his opponent lost control for a second, long enough to lose the air currents he was drifting on and plummet to Earth. Darken flapped his wings even harder, climbing higher, then going into his own dive.
But the dragon was ready for him this time. Darken was a little too confident and reached his falling opponent just in time for his whiplike tail to strike him in the jaw. He lost control and began to tumble, and the dragon, as if to punctuate his point, blasted him with a wide stream of fire.
Stupid, he cursed himself. Gotta remember not to dive headfirst . . .
The dragon's wings spread wide and caught the air again, floating downwards again to get another shot in on Darken.
Darken's wings beat wildly, black and red feathers floating off his wings as he fought to gain control. He felt his wings catch the air again and the wild out of control tumbled stopped abruptly as he dove again at the dragon, who belched several fireballs in his direction to force him to keep his distance.
But Darken was ready this time. He flipped and rolled away from the line of fire, all the time gaining speed. He quietly began to trill under his breath, harnessing the ability to control and direct sound that was the birthright of the angels and closed the distance in the skies between them.
The dragon was fast enough to catch his fist, but the release of the sound Darken had been concentrating couldnít be stopped and the waves of force caught the dragon by surprise, causing his grip on Darken's fist to slip slightly.
Darken drove his knees into the stomach of the Dragon, wincing and hoping the dragon got some of the pain that he was getting trying to hit him. The dragon reeled and Darken summoned the sonic waves again, this time punching him as hard as he could.
The dragon plummeted to the rocks below like a bullet. He hit the ground with such force it broke the boulders he landed on into jagged debris. He'd barely had enough time realize where he was before Darken landed on his back, driving his heels into his back and sending him down to the ground again.
The dragon snapped back, the muscles in his tail striking Darken hard enough to tear his head from his body. Darken saw it just out of the corner of his eyes and rolled with the blow, hurling him backwards as the dragon rose to his feet with rage in his eyes.
"Angel . . .I will burn and crack your bones," the dragon growled. The muscles in his neck worked as he spoke, sputtering fire as he talked.
"I've just about had it with you calling me angel," Darken said, taking a lungful of air. He planted his feet and breathed a stream of fire in the direction of his opponent, who put his arms up to protect himself. Darken caught sight of his expression and saw it was one of puzzlement and surprise.
"How many angels do you know . . .who can do that?" Darken said, trying to sound tough but coming off hoarse. Tears welled in his eyes and suddenly more than anything he wanted a drink of water. The dragon might be able to breathe fire at will, but for Darken it took supreme effort.
He suddenly became aware of the others, the other shadows that had been content to watch from the skies were surrounding them now, watching quietly. Before some of them had seemed quite entertained by the display--whatever the prejudice for Angels was rooted in, they seemed to respect Darken's resolve to fight when provoked.
I hope, he thought.
But his breathing fire on the dragon seemed to hush them in a hurry.
Why? Darken wondered. They have to know, even if I beat this one, I can't take on all of them. What do they have to look so scared about?
"RRRRGH!" The dragon before him said, slamming his fists into the rocks as he drew himself up to his feet. He didnít look scared. He also didn't look angry--the snarl he'd worn for most of the fight was gone.
In fact, if Darken had to put a word to it, he'd almost say he looked embarrassed.
"So," the dragon said with quiet anger. "It's you."
The rest of the dragons murmured quietly among themselves. Their eyes kept flitting to Darken and back to themselves. Worse yet, the red dragon was walking towards him, the around him, pacing and regarding him with equal parts irritation, disappointment, and contempt.
"Not a scale on you," he growled. "Not even a tail. Youíre more Angel than Dragon."
Darken's eyes narrowed. "If I have to fight you again I will."
"There will be no fight, whelp," the red dragon growled. "Our kind do not harm those of our own blood."
"Our own blood," Darken repeated. "You mean I'm . . ."
"I am brother to your father," the red dragon growled. "I am Calladrius Grune. And I and my clan have been waiting for this day for some time."
Darken looked at Grune with skepticism. "Funny. You don't look happy to see me."
Grune's eyes narrowed, disappointment turning to contempt.
"Believe me," he said, his voice thick with disappointment. "We are not."