opened her eyes to darkness. She could
smell the rain outside, even hear the pitter-patter of raindrops as they splashed
against the glass door. She was in bed, dressed
in something silky, comfortable beneath a layer of downy covers. Her head wasn’t propped up by a pillow but
supported by a sturdy thigh. A familiar
touch traced her jawbone, curving around her ear and then back to the tip of
her chin. The action was repeated as if memorized.
Despite these distractions, it was the humming
that captured her wakening attention—a deep, clear, soft voice mixed with the
periodic mumbling of lyrics. She
recognized the tune as from Earth, a comforting melody Derian had sung to her
“Abide with me fast falls the eventide.”
The muttered line was followed by humming…
…until he reached the end.
“Help of the helpless, O abide with me.”
The words seemed written specifically for
her. The helpless. That’s who she was. That’s who they all were—mortals:
destructible, weak, and helpless.
Her breathing quavered audibly, and the
Derian leaned over her, checking for open
eyes. She squeezed them shut, aware that
her movement against his leg probably gave her away. His hand covered her cheek, warming it while
a thumb tenderly brushed her skin. She
knew this move. Derian, her promised
one, frequently used it to calm her. She
succumbed to his carress, permitting herself to relax at his magic touch.
“Go to sleep,” he whispered, “It’s still
Without effort she slipped back into her
dreams, but they were no longer carefree and happy. Ian—her protector both in the real world and inside
her dreams—was missing.
The crooked trees of Lacsar Forest were fascinating
and yet eerie the way they twisted into likenesses of deformed creatures with
outreaching claws. Most often they resembled
still monsters, patiently awaiting the approach of an unsuspecting victim. When a breeze blew through the treetops,
those warped branches bent as though stretching to grasp at prey. The congestion of the woods didn’t help much,
making it difficult to see far ahead. In
this place it was easy for Eena’s imagination to run wild.
She ambled aimlessly along a hint of a dirt trail. The silent night was unfortunately not
peaceful. Now that the spell from the
dragon’s kiss had worn off—a temporary spell used to replace sorrowful memories
with sweet dreams—her recollection of the recent tragedy returned.
was dead—drowned while alone at the river.
controlled Eena’s thoughts now. She was
concerned for Ian who had only recently been reunited with the victim, a woman his
parents had promised him to in childhood.
Eena’s heart bled for Ian, dreading the upcoming funeral. She also sorrowed for his parents and Angelle’s
only surviving family, a sister named Nischeen.
She could hear her earthly father’s voice echoing a truth from her youth:
honey, life’s not fair. Get use to it.’ But this seemed to delve far beneath ‘unfair’,
mocking her present overwhelming challenges with the death of an innocent
girl. It was a cruel sucker punch.
Eena inhaled deeply, an attempt to feel
something on the inside other than the acidic, searing pain burning through her
guts. She hurt. Her head, her stomach, her heart, even the
marrow of her bones seemed to ache within every limb. Ian hurt too—horribly. She could sense it through the mental
connection they shared. There was no
remedy for a broken heart, however. None
her charmed necklace, the dragon’s soul, could offer.
She felt both helpless and useless.
Tormented by these burdens, she tried to cease
thinking altogether. Perhaps
concentrating on nothing might lessen the pain.
Her feet stopped on the dirt trail where she rested at the base of a
tree, slipping against the trunk down to the ground. Her eyes fell closed as she breathed in
through her nose, attempting to clear her mind by imagining a blank slate. Absolute nothingness. Just empty, black, miserable, lonely, grim…. Okay, that wasn’t working.
Refocusing, she went the opposite
direction. A blank slate. A clean sheet of paper. Unblemished, bright, white, a wedding dress, marriage
and babies, much too young, can’t breathe….
Crud, white wasn’t the right color to think about right now. She could hear the voice of the counsel
pressuring her to marry soon and produce an heir. No, no, what other color was there? A cheery color.
Yes, she agreed, pink was good. Pink was sweet.
Another deep breath and everything melted
into a puddle of pink. Pretty, plain
pink. Warm, cheerful, friendly, girly,
like an innocent child wrapped in a pink blanket. Gaila’s handmade baby blanket. Unan and Gaila—Ian’s parents who blamed her for
the death of their son’s sweetheart, poor Angelle….
“Ugh!” she screamed out loud. Her arms sandwiched her head as she hunkered
down against the twisted trunk. “Stop
it! Stop thinking!”
Out of the air a whisper touched her ear,
The young queen looked up. She heard her name repeated.
It was a dainty, feminine tone.
Can you help me?” the voice asked.
It sounded nearly childlike.
Eena pushed away from the tree, glancing around,
searching for the person in need of help.
Finding no one, she replied to the voice.
“Where are you?”
Eena froze when the ghostly image of Angelle materialized
“Sha Eena?” the vision spoke. Angelle’s eyes widened, as if surprised and
yet relieved at recognizing her queen.
Her hand rose, reaching out for assistance when she suddenly
Eena’s heartbeat thundered in her chest. She rubbed at her eyes, unsure and afraid. Her voice cracked as she stammered out the
name in question.
A lucent image of the late young woman reappeared—a
pleasing likeness of Ian’s promised one, more radiant than in life.
The ghostly form blurred into an unrecognizable
blob, changing shape. Youthful beauty dissolved
and reformed into a repulsive sight—that of the immortal witch, Anesidora. The apparition cackled with wicked amusement.
“Mortals,” the specter hissed. “Predictable, vulnerable……..and pathetically
Eena’s eyes dropped to the ground. She felt tears swell within her cheeks. What a heartless joke. So indicative of Ishtura and Anesidora’s
tormenting ways. Eena squeezed her
eyelids shut. This is what she would be
releasing on the universe if her actions continued to serve these awful sisters.
“You’re wasting precious time, Amora. I want the remaining pieces to Pallador’s
platform. You’ve uncovered four star
points, more than halfway there, but your job is not yet done. Now get to work and find the three remaining.”
Eena scowled, looking up at the demanding
spirit. It did no good to refuse the title,
Amora; the immortals had branded her as such.
It did no good refusing her help to these awful sisters given how her
will always seemed to bend to their bidding despite every attempt to resist. She would continue to fight nonetheless.
can’t help you. Your brother sent me
home, and unless the next star point is hidden in Harrowbeth, I’m in no
position to find it.”
Anesidora huffed disgustedly. “Your detour to Harrowbeth is because of my
brother’s pathetic weakness for you mortal females.” The ghost looked Eena up and down with distaste. “It’s hard to believe he’s affected by such
an ordinary girl.”
Eena clenched her jaw at the insult.
“Don’t stand there thinking you’re
special. So what if he submitted to your
pitiful pleas? You’re not his first conquest
and you most certainly will not be his last.”
“I really don’t care because I can’t stand him
Anesidora snorted on a burst of laughter.
“You will succumb like all the others.
No woman has ever resisted his charms for long. Eventually, he will have you.”
will never happen,” Eena vowed.
The ghost rolled her misshapen eyes at the sky,
taking the time to gloat. “And you’ll neverfind the star points for
us, and you’ll never
assist in attaining our freedom, and your useless mortal friends will never die.” She smiled an evil, twisted grin.
“I hate you.”
The witch rushed forward, her movement a
blur, until her ghastly face was positioned inches before Eena’s. “I don’t care how you feel. All I want is for you to do what you were born
Eena couldn’t keep from stumbling backwards out
of fear. She cursed herself for doing so
because any display of cowardice worked to inflate this haughty immortal’s ego. Summoning her courage, Harrowbeth’s queen
stood as tall as she could, prepared with a retort.
“I was not born to…”
But Anesidora wouldn’t allow any
backtalk. She spoke overtop the girl. “You were given our immortal gene for a
specific reason—to withstand the powers of the dragon’s soul and then use that
gift to free us! That is the only reason you exist!”
She was caught by an outstretcehed arm that pulled her in
unexpectedly. Her protector, Ian, stood
at her side. Eena sucked in a gasp, surprised
to see him return to her dreams.
“Leave her alone, you ugly hag! And get out of her dreams! You don’t belong here!”
Eena stared with incredulity at Ian. His outburst was a bold, perhaps stupid,
move. She looked to Anesidora with
concern. The specter actually backed up,
but a flicker of anger tightened her features before shifting into a sly smirk.
“When I am free,” she said, “restored to my
beautiful body and full powers, you two will pay dearly for your impudence.”
Ian didn’t hesitate with a ruthless response. “You will never be beautiful, and you will
never be free.”
The young queen was the only one to flinch at
Anesidora’s cry of anguish—a shriek that lingered when she vanished. Eena couldn’t believe the calm bravery of her
protector standing up to that witch.
Still held in his arms, she leaned against him and whispered a thank
He released her and turned away as if he too would disappear.
“Ian, please don’t go.”
He froze for a moment, refusing to look back. “I need to be alone, Eena. I wouldn’t be much good to you right now.”
“You were of great value to me just now.”
He didn’t budge or reply.
“Ian…” she began. She dreaded asking the question on her mind,
and swallowed hard before proceeding. “Are you angry with me?”
She felt his reply was curt, and wondered if it
was truthful. He vanished before she
Eena sank to the ground and cried again.
Her eyes opened at the gentle nudge of her
promised one. It was strange how waking
up felt more peaceful than sleep. It
seemed backwards. But that was probably
the case with most nightmares.
In a dry voice she replied, “Good
morning.” Her head left the warmth of his
thigh. He must have sat up in bed all
night supporting her. She wondered if
he’d dozed off at all.
He asked her first. “Did you sleep well?”
“No, not really,” she answered
truthfully. Scooting back against the
headboard beside him, she noted his tired look of concern.
“I thought the dragon’s kiss was supposed to
put you into a peaceful sleep,” he said.
“Oh, it did,” she said, “but when the spell
wore off I had nightmares. I dreamt that
Angelle was still alive, calling to me for help.”
The captain sighed sadly and lifted a hand to
Taking his fingers in her own, she tried
smiling to reassure him. “I’m alright,
He lifted their clasped hands, and motioned
to the ring on her finger; the two green stones set in a gold figure eight were
referred to as the dragon’s kiss. “Maybe
I should use that ring to put you to sleep every night so you don’t suffer from
She reclaimed her ring hand quickly. “No. I
already owe you for using it on me once.”
“I only did so to stop your suffering.” He stroked her hair, his thumb softly rubbing
against her cheekbone. “Besides, I’ve experienced
its power a few times.”
She twisted her head to look up at him with
surprise. “You have?”
“Oh yes,” he admitted. “Your mother had a ring much like that one,
only the gems were yellow. When I was a
child, she’d kiss the ring and then my forehead, usually when I was brooding
over the loss of my mother. I had no
idea what she was doing at first. It
wasn’t until the third or fourth occasion that I put the ring and the dreams
together. Never had I enjoyed such
pleasant, peaceful dreams before. Sha
Tashi pressing that ring to her lips was always the last thing I’d recall
before waking up with a smile.”
“So you knew this ring’s purpose all along?”
“Yes, but I wasn’t aware you had possession
of it when you were kissing Ian. I just assumed…”
“I know what you assumed, Derian.”
“Yes, well….anyway. I think I got your mother in trouble with
your father over the whole thing. I was
talking to Shen Laynn once, and I told him about how wonderful my dreams were
after Sha Tashi used that magic ring on me.
He insisted I explain myself, and that was the end of it all. The ring suddenly disappeared. I figured she’d lost it.”
“Oh, Derian,” Eena groaned. So that was the real reason the ‘girls’
nights out’ had come to an end. A young
Derian had spoiled her mother’s fun without realizing it.
The captain kept on talking as if lost in the
distant memory. “I remember, after your
mother put me to sleep with that gem, waking up in my own bed the next morning
having no idea how I’d come to be there.
But my slumber was peaceful, attached the most wonderful, realistic visions. I’d spend hours with my own mother—happy and at
ease. It was like having her with me
again. I could touch her skin, hear her
voice, laugh and play right along with her.
It was wonderful, and yet when I awoke and eventually realized she was
gone…….it was heartbreaking.”
Eena rubbed his arm sympathetically.
“The dreams were amazing. Utter bliss.
Always exactly what I wanted.” He
turned his distant eyes on her and asked, “What did you dream of last night?”
“Uh…” she hesitated. It wouldn’t sit well for her to admit she’d
dreamt of a day spent on the oceanfront with Ian. That would only feed Derian’s jealousy. Thinking quickly she said, “I…um….dreamt of
Earth—a day on the beach. The ocean was
beautiful. It was a weekend my parents
had taken me there.”
“That’s nice,” he smiled. “You must miss those days.”
Knowing it would do no good to venture down
that road, she inhaled deeply and focused on the day ahead. “I should get cleaned up,” she announced.
Derian threw his legs over the side of the
bed while Eena scooted herself to the edge.
That’s when she noticed her bare arms.
“What happened to my bracelet?” she asked.
“It’s with your other jewelry. Your assistant, Livette, put it away when she
“I have an assistant?”
“Of course, Eena.” The captain looked amused by her
surprise. “She hasn’t attended to your
needs because you’ve hardly been home, but I called on her to prepare you for
bed yesterday. I would’ve done it myself
had there been no witnesses...”
Eena elbowed him as he trailed off with a
“Do you know what Livette failed to find on
you?” Derian answered his own question,
arching an eyebrow. “Your new PCD.”
“Edgar took it from me.”
“I’ll get you another one then.”
Edgar will just take that one too.”
hopped out of bed, headed for the bathroom.
Derian stopped her by grabbing her hand.
He turned it over and placed a folded piece of paper in her palm.
was in your pocket. I thought you might
like to have it.”
She smiled down at the childhood letter he’d
written to her so long ago, filled with youthful sentiment. “Thank you.”
“Would you care to have Livette assist you
Eena shook her head. “No, I’ll be fine.” She felt guilty, knowing the position had
been intended for Angelle. It didn’t
seem right to have someone else step into it.
“As you wish, my queen.” Derian bowed grandly. He lifted his eyes, adding a playful
Eena managed a weak smile in return, aware he
was trying to be cheery for her sake. It
was sweet of him.
The therapeutic effects of a hot shower
detained the young queen awhile. Massaging
ionic liquids seemed to wash away not only a layer of grime but a build up of
physical aches and pains. Too bad it
couldn’t do the same for melancholy. Eena
wished for a magic shower charmed with dragon stones that could wash away
despair and anguish and all sorrowful emotions.
She daydreamed of such a thing, where a pass beneath this enchanted
waterfall would relieve a person’s misery.
The tragedies of life would evaporate leaving only pleasant
memories. No pain. No suffering.
course, that wouldn’t bring Angelle back.
It was a ridiculous notion. Life handed out both good and bad. That’s the way it was meant to be—opposites
in all things. But lately, the bad
seemed heavy on the scales.
Eena recalled her frightful experience in the
cold river of the Semmian Rainforest where she had nearly drowned. Had she not touched the star point in time, her
life would’ve ended beneath those icy waters while Ian stood on the shoreline
unable to save her. It may be he
couldn’t have saved Angelle either had he been with her.
Eena stopped her trail of thought immediately,
afraid of Ian reading her mind. The idea
would only make him feel worse. She sensed
his mental presence, but he didn’t react to her thoughts. Most likely, he was absorbed in his own.
Outside the shower Eena noticed a change of
clothing. She smiled, touched by Derian’s
constant consideration of her needs. The
gown hanging on the bathroom door resembled one Derian had picked out for their
first breakfast in the Kemeniroc’s commissary—a tawny colored, chiffon
skirt with billowy shoulders. It took
her back to his ship and their first days together when his brother, Gemdorin,
had been their worst enemy. His memory
seemed less foreboding now—mortal, destructible, able to die like the rest of
them—not like her present adversaries.
Gemdorin and his Ghengats had been near impossible to overcome back
then, but a way had existed. He was dead
now. If only a mortal enemy were her greatest
challenge, she might feel they stood a chance.
Eena dressed herself, fretting over such
thoughts. They ruminated until she’d
worried herself into a bitter dead end. There
was no way to stop an immortal. No tactic
or trickery existed to prevent Anesidora and Ishtura from forcing her to do
their bidding. They would trap her, fool
her, force her into it—just as they had up to this point. And in the end, when her services were no
longer needed, Edgar’s horrible sisters would finish her off, making her pay
for her insolence as promised.
Ascultone’s portended vision only supported this truth. Unless…..she agreed to Edgar’s proposal.
Derian responded to the sound of muted sobbing immediately. He tapped lightly on the door.
Are you alright?” The captain
waited, but hearing no response he tapped once more before announcing, “I’m
Slowly the door creaked open, allowing time
for her to object. When Derian stepped inside,
he found his queen on the edge of the tub crying quietly into her hands. He tried to urge her up.
“Come with me, Eena. Let’s go sit in the other room.”
“Why?” she sobbed. “What does it matter whether I sit here or
there or in the middle of some frozen, forsaken island? My fate will be the same. I can’t stop them, Derian. I can’t stop them. They’ve won.”
He took a seat beside his weeping sweetheart
and brushed aside the hairs that fell forward in her face. “The game is not over, Eena.”
She let her hands fall to turn her glistening
eyes on him. “Yes it is, Derian.”
“So that’s it; you’re just going to give
up? Just sit here and forfeit?”
“They’ve already won, don’t you see?” She stared earnestly at him, her expression heavy
with despair. “Anesidora controls the
necklace—I don’t. She controls whether I
come or go. She can trick me into
finding those stupid star points. She even
controls Naga against his…”
Eena stopped in mid-sentence. Her mind had been so plagued with tragedy,
she’d forgotten how her ring was set with Naga’s gems. Naga’s dragon stones were in her ring. She controlled the ring! Her eyes focused on the band adorning her
finger before she suddenly jumped to her feet. She pulled her captain along behind her.
“Come on, Derian, you have to take me somewhere.”
They rushed down the back steps of Lacsar
Castle, headed for a shuttle. The
captain seated himself in the pilot’s chair while Eena fell into the seat
She whispered only two words. “Gemdorin’s treasure.” That was all she dared say, uncertain of
whether or not Edgar was eavesdropping.
Derian nodded. Five minutes later he set the shuttle down
outside a long, fenced-off warehouse guarded by Harrowbethian patrols on all
fronts. As head of security, Kahm Derian
had no trouble getting them inside.
Eena first glanced up at a high ceiling that stretched
on forever, disappearing into a dark, indiscernible void. Her eyes dropped and followed a long row of tall
shelving into the same gloomy shadows.
There were numerous rows of shelving stacked with boxes marked by sequences
of bold-typed numerals. The contents
associated with each number-code were, no doubt, kept on file somewhere.
Eena headed to the left of the building,
determined to find what she needed. But
Derian grabbed her arm and pulled her in the opposite direction. He didn’t slow down until they’d hustled
clear across the floor. Stopping
midsection, they faced the furthest row of shelves.
“Gemdorin’s things are all here,” he said. “They’re organized according to origin, then
by function, at least as far as initial observation suggests.”
Eena stared at her captain’s brown eyes for a
moment, wishing she could talk to him telepathically the way she could with Ian. But Edgar’s possible presence kept her from
voicing much out loud. She didn’t want
to risk the immortal’s intrusion. He
would certainly make an appearance sooner or later; she was hoping for later.
Derian grabbed a small box from off the shelf
as if he would search its contents, even without knowing what they were looking
for. Eena spit out a sudden
warning. “If you come across a small
container with what looks like a beetle inside, don’t touch it. It’s deadly.”
He dropped the box in hand as if it were
suddenly toxic. “Criminy, Eena,” he
grumbled. “That’s good to know.”
The captain watched as she passed up every carton
without bothering to check for contents.
Eena scanned the bottom shelves first, moving quickly from one box to
the next. Catching how she peered for
just a moment inside the larger crates, Derian made a quick assumption—she was
searching for something big. He hustled
to the very end of the row to where a line of high crates stood, too tall to
sit on the shelves.
“Eena,” he called, waving her over. “How about these?”
He caught her grin when she let the lid fall
from the skinniest package. Her hand
reached over the edge in a circular waving motion. Derian peered inside, crinkling his forehead at
what appeared to be nothing more than a flat-topped podium etched with circles
within circles. He gasped when a ray of
light shot up from the very center. His
eyes followed the beam to where a transparent, three-dimensional replica of
their galaxy hung overhead—planets, stars, moons, and other celestial bodies floating
within a spiral-shaped galaxy.
“What is this?” he asked.
Eena kept on task. “Show me the Alaheron system,” she ordered
They were instantly staring at an exact
replica of their own solar system.
Derian reached up to touch the fourth aqua-blue sphere orbiting a bright
yellow sun. His fingers slipped through
the tiny planet as it rotated slowly on its axis.
“Moccobatra,” he whispered.
“Yes,” Eena agreed.
Now that she had responded to him, Derian
turned his attention to her. “How did
you make this thing work? It hasn’t
responded to anyone, not even me.”
“It’s an immortal navigational device. It only works for them.”
“You’re not immortal, Eena.” His brow worried substantially.
“I know,” she agreed, “but I have their gene,
Of course.” That made sense.
She explained further. “I discovered this on Gemdorin’s ship. He couldn’t make it work either. I never told him I could. I figured out that it’s actually a comprehensive
map of the entire universe. I believe
only the immortals could’ve put such a thing together; no one else would have
Concerned for time, she turned to the back
wall of the building, eyeing the available space between the last bit of
shelving and the stone wall. There was
an open area, and the ceiling seemed high enough. She hoped it would suffice.
Drawing in a breath, she declared aloud,
“Naga! Dragon, show yourself!”
To her delight and the captain’s
astonishment, the open space filled up with the presence of a large, scaly
beast. The dragon’s long neck was too
high for the elevated ceiling, so it crooked forward. His mismatched eyes stared down at the woman
who’d summoned him.
“You came!” Eena squealed. Then she sobered immediately. “I have your ring.” She showed him. “This means you must answer to me.”
Naga nodded once in response.
“Talk to me then,” she commanded.
The great beast closed his eyes as his head
swung back and forth.
“But I command you to!” Eena argued. “You must do it!”
Like a slithering snake, the dragon’s head
slid through the air toward the captain.
Derian’s eyes widened as he took a step back at the approaching snout.
“Eena?” he questioned with obvious concern.
“Naga, I have your ring! You must do…”
Derian lifted up a halting palm as the creature
faced him eye to eye. Eena watched them
stare at one another.
“Naga?” she uttered.
“He says he can’t speak to you because
Anesidora forbids it. He’s obligated to
keep her command because she gave it first.”
“He’s talking to you?” Eena blurted out the question, voicing it with
a tint of envy.
“Yes,” Derian nodded, “in my head. It’s….unreal!”
“Can he contact Pallador?” Eena asked the
captain. Her focus shifted to Naga. “Can you tell him I’m in trouble?”
Derian answered for the dragon. “He can’t,”
“What about Wennergren or any of the other
He can’t do that either. He’s
forbidden to contact any of the immortals concerning you.”
She was disappointed but had considered this
might be the case. “Will you at least
tell me this….what solar system and planet does Pallador reside in? Where can I find him myself?”
Her anxious eyes searched Naga as he focused
on the captain. Like most immortals, his
expression was difficult to read. After
what felt like forever, Derian answered.
“He says their planet is called Laradine. It’s in the Dranobbi system, located on the
edge of our galaxy.”
That was so far away.
Turning back to the podium she ordered the
navigator, “Show me Laradine in the Dranobbi system.”
Three-dimensional images zoomed in on one arm
of the spiraled galaxy, clear to the tip of its finger. There, a solar system with only three planets
came into focus. The trio orbited an
enormous white star. The furthest planet
from the sun was a giant compared to the other two and seemed to shine above
the others as if singled out. Coils of
misty gases circled this red marble, giving it the illusion of a cloak of
golden rings. Eena stared at Pallador’s
then it disappeared.
For a second she thought the device had shut
off, but the white star continued to shine with two tiny planets orbiting it
closely. Only Laradine was missing.
“What happened?” she asked,
still scanning the display for the immortals’ homeworld.
Before Derian could answer in Naga’s behalf,
the red marble reappeared.
“It’s back,” Eena whispered. She gasped when all of the Dranobbi system vanished. This time it had been shut off. Her eyes lowered to find the culprit. Edgar stood beside the podium, his blue gaze
focused only on her. His look was
“Have you lost your mind entirely,
Amora?” He seemed more annoyed than angry,
leaning against the skinny crate with a hand on his hips.
She wished he’d remained gone a little longer,
certain he would now interfere with any further questioning of the dragon.
As soon as Edgar spoke, Naga raised his neck
up as high as the building would allow.
A snort of gray smoke traveled along the ceiling. The overgrown lizard retreated to the rear
wall and waited with a rumble in his gut.
Edgar continued scolding the young
queen. “Do you have some sort of death
wish? Is that it?”
“No,” she said, wide-eyed. “In fact, quite the opposite.”
The immortal huffed indignantly before approaching
her. “Amora, I can only protect you from
so much. Anesidora won’t like what
you’ve done here.”
“I’ve done nothing,” she defended.
“You’ve discovered Pallador’s home!”
I can do nothing about it,” she argued.
His eyebrow lifted above a stern regard. “And neither can any of your friends.” Edgar shot a glance at the captain as he
announced, “There will be no communications or ships leaving this planet until
Amora has completed her work. Is that
Derian turned his silent attention on the
Edgar went on, threatening further. “If any attempt is made to contact Pallador,
my dear captain, there will be deadly consequences. Is that
Edgar raised his voice at no immediate answer
and repeated the question loudly. “Is
The captain lifted his eyes, scrunched tight
with suppressed anger. “Yes.”
Eena stepped in between them. “Leave him alone, Edgar.”
The immortal softened his demeanor as he
tried to catch her eye. She blinked,
avoiding direct eye contact. Like a
sudden gust, Edgar’s hand moved to brush over her silky red hair.
“My sweet Amora,” he cooed.
Derian reacted instantly to the intrusive
touch. “Get away from…!” He appeared to halt in mid-sentence,
immobilized. It was as with Muhra Aing
when Edgar had sped up time for only Eena and himself. She glanced at Naga to see if he too appeared
frozen, but the dragon’s eyes blinked and she knew only Derian had been left to
stall in real time.
Edgar stroked her cheek. She swatted at him.
“Stop touching me,” she growled. “And stop tormenting Derian.”
Edgar gaped; his look of innocence was obviously false.
“And what about you? When are you going to stop tormenting
him?” Edgar stepped past the young queen
on his way to the motionless captain. He
circled the man like he was checking out a marble statue on display
“I’m not tormenting him; why would you say
“You have the poor guy believing that you actually
intend to marry him.” Edgar stopped to
fix the captain’s collar, raising it up high around his neck.
“I do intend to marry him,” Eena
insisted. She followed her immortal
watchdog and folded down the captain’s collar as it had been.
“Oh please,” Edgar groaned. “You’ve had two opportunities to do so and on
both accassions you turned him down.”
Edgar lifted up the captain’s elbow into an awkward position, adjusting
him like a mannequin. “The council expressed
a desire for you to marry and you nearly hyperventilated over the
suggestion. Then, just recently due to
his own paranoia, Derian all but begged you to marry him. Your refusal couldn’t have been more swift or
Eena pushed the captain’s elbow back down to
his side as she retorted, “I’m only seventeen, Edgar! I have no desire to marry anyone right
now. But when I am ready, Derian will
be my husband.”
Edgar took Derian’s outreaching arm and
shoved it forcefully down. “He will not.”
“He will so!”
Eena raised the arm back to where it had been and warned her rival,
“Don’t touch him anymore, Edgarmetheus!”
“Fine, fine,” the immortal ceded. Then with a smug grin he added, “If this had
been Ian, you’d never have let me touch him in the first place.”
“That is not true! I know what you’re doing, Edgar, and I’m onto
He laughed out loud, “You’re onto me? Oh, Amora, if you’d like to climb onto me I’d
be most accommodating.”
simply trying to help.”
who? Your sordid self?”
Amora. I’m trying to help you—to make you
face the truth about your own feelings.”
“The truth is I love Derian!” she
exclaimed. “I’m not in love with Ian,
and I wish you’d quit insinuating that I am!”
She pointed to the captain. “Derian
is my love.” She pointed outward. “Ian is my best friend.” She pointed a final stern finger in Edgar’s
face. “And you—you are a filthy jerk!”
He shook his head disappointedly, pushing her finger aside. “Why do they always insult the messenger?”
“Maybe because the messenger’s always a
His countenance suddenly turned serious. “Let me warn you, Amora, if you continue to
defy Anesidora so blatantly, you won’t live long enough to marry anyone.”
“I’ve done nothing wrong.” She looked a little worried.
“You summoned Naga. Had he been able to, you would’ve sent him
“It’s no secret that I don’t want your
“And it’s no secret they have warned you of
consequences for defying them.”
She dared to meet his gaze straight on. “Don’t tell them. They only know what you tell them.”
Edgar grinned impishly. He stepped up to her, drawing her in. He had her caught in his stare. “You think you have it all figured out. You think I care so much for you that I would
keep secrets from my sisters.” His fingers
lifted, gently resting against her face as she continued to drown deeper into
his liquid eyes.
“No,” she managed to utter, “I…I don’t know…”
Her breathing quickened when he pulled her
into his arms. “Kiss me, Amora, and I
He blinked and she lowered her head, forcing
her gaze away. With her head bowed, hair
hiding her face, she carefully lifted the ring to her lips, pressing it against
her mouth before looking up at Edgar again.
“Okay,” she agreed. “Just one kiss, though.”
He beamed like the sun.
She took hold of his chin and turned his
face, letting him know her intention was merely a peck on the cheek, but when
she went to kiss him, he turned at the last second to meet her lips. He took advantage of her, his hands on either
side of her face, keeping their lips pressed together. She squealed in her throat, a strong
objection. When he pulled away, his
mischievous grin met a look of outrage.
Then he fell to the ground.
“I hate you!” she hissed, angry that he was now
passed out and not awake for her to smack.
She kicked him instead, good and hard in the ribs.
“Ouch!” he exclaimed. His eyes opened wide with incredulity. “Why did you do that?”
“You’re not asleep?” Eena screeched.
She readied to kick him again. Edgar moved out of reach within a blink. She knew it was pointless to try and take her
anger out on him now. His blinding
swiftness would make him impossible to catch, so she yelled at him instead.
“The dragon’s kiss doesn’t even work on you!”
He grinned impishly. “Of course not, Amora. The rings were made to effect mortals only.”
“Who would do that?” she demanded.
“Your sister made these rings,” she groaned. How just her luck.
Edgar seemed amused by her disappointment.
“How many of these stupid charmed trinkets
did your sisters make?”
Edgar shrugged. “A few.
Others have made use of the dragon stones as well. Pallador created his platform and the prison
that holds my sisters captive.
Wennergren formed the bracelets.
Eurodite created the charmed earrings.
I created a belt.”
“You made a belt?” Eena asked. “What kind of belt?”
Edgar grinned at her sudden curiosity. “A magical one.” He waved his fingers in the air for dramatic
“And I’m sure it only works on us poor,
pathetic mortals,” she grumbled.
“Actually, no. I created it specifically to work on
immortals, but it does fool mortals as well.”
“Fools mortals? What exactly does it do?” Eena asked.
“Something entirely amazing,” he crowed.
Edgar folded his arms over his chest as he
declared, “I’m not going to tell you.”
“Where is it then?” she asked.
“I’m not going to tell you that either,
unless—” He uncrossed his arms, leaning
forward cautiously in case she had some inclination to hit him, “—unless you
agree to come with me.”
Her lip curled up unattractively. “Never.”
“Then I shall never tell you,” he huffed. His arms crossed defiantly over his chest again.
Her arms did likewise. “I don’t want to know anyway. It’s probably something stupid.”
“No it’s not.”
“I hope someday I find a dragon stone. Then I’ll make a charmed jewel that will give
me the power to quiet all you annoying immortals.”
“You wouldn’t be able to,” Edgar announced,
his nose lifting in the air with offense.
“And why not?”
“Because Pallador and the governing body put
an end to creating anything else with the dragon stones. All the eggs, and the gems inside them, have
been confiscated and are under strict guard.
Any new dragon egg, once discovered, is likewise locked away. If an immortal were caught attempting to
create a charmed device with a dragon stone, he or she would be tried and
sentenced quite severely.”
Eena narrowed her eyes before reminding him,
“Technically I’m not immortal, so that rule doesn’t apply to me.”
“Then technically you don’t have the power to
create a charmed trinket in the first place.
Only immortals can do such a thing.”
She glared for a long moment at his smug
expression. Finally she muttered, “I
He grinned with amusement. “I know.
Hate…love—” His hands shifted in
the air resembling the balancing of the two emotions. “—they are so closely related.”
“Will you just go away?” She stepped up beside Derian who was still
stuck in a statuesque pose. “Leave us
Edgar twisted his head and looked up at the
dragon who’d been watching silently from above.
“You heard her, Naga, go away.”
“Not him!” Eena hollered. She kinked her neck to look toward her
dragon. “Naga, come to me if I call for
The great beast nodded, snorting a small
release of smoke.
“Oh, and one more thing,” she added,
flickering a sly glance at her immortal watchdog. “Bite Edgar’s butt for me.”
There was another nod by Naga, this one much
deeper and complemented by a seething growl.
Edgar’s eyeballs widened and then suddenly
narrowed. He vanished only a second
before his scaley pursuer, but not before exclaiming, “How dare you!”
Eena laughed, feeling somewhat vindicated as
she turned back to her captain. He lurched
forward, reanimated. She stopped his
heated steps with a flat hand against his chest.
“Edgar’s gone,” she said.
Derian looked around, feeling confused and
out of sync. “What just happened?”
She didn’t get the chance to answer his
question, for her hand was no longer pressed against his chest but raised in
the air, beaten by a hot evening breeze.
She was looking out over a large body of water where far off on
the horizon a red sun appeared to be sinking into the choppy sea. As her eyes lowered, she realized her toes
were curling over the brink of a cliff.
Far below, shards of rock and debris spiked up threateningly toward
her. She immediately backed away from
The air felt especially sweltering in stark contrast
to the cold warehouse Eena had been standing in a second ago. This was a new land, untouched by its healer. A quick glance at her surroundings revealed an
accumulation of dead leaves and branches spread across flat terrain. A scarcity of trees pointed skyward across
the scene, bare like toothpicks.
Eena dropped to the ground and pressed both
hands against a knot of needle-thin twigs sticking out of the soil. On contact, she sensed the weakness of the
flora as well as sadness for those plants that had died in her long absence. She called on the necklace attached below her
chin—an heirloom referred to as the dragon’s soul—to shine and transfer healing
energy to the dying plant life. Her arms
warmed in the process; the heat spread to her fingers.
of rich greens and browns bled outward from where her touch met the terrain, expanding
and intensifying every passing moment.
Exotic bushes thickened at the stalks, plump with gold and burgundy
veins. Colorful fronds as delicate as
silk threads pushed up from the tips of low-lying scrub. And scrawny trees climbed to new heights,
swelling at their trunks while branches with curled leaves resembling kale
jutted from every side.
The healer stopped short when she heard her
She winced at the scolding manner in which it
“You do know that Naga is duty-bound to carry
out your requests.”
Eena turned to her protector and grinned. She bit her lip when he frowned critically in
“Yes, I know,” she shrugged with nonchalance. Standing to meet his critical scrutiny, she
defended her actions. “It’s not like
Edgar doesn’t deserve it. The jerk deserves
“Aren’t you worried even the tiniest bit about
repercussions?” Ian asked, his brow line arching.
“No, I’m not.” She was being honest. Edgar had already proven he had too much of a
crush on her to retaliate in any harmful manner. He wouldn’t want her to hate him for all
eternity, would he?
Ian sighed at her thoughts. “You know, you’re not much good at making
friends of enemies.”
Her toes kicked at a pebble that soared out over the cliff’s edge. She watched it fall for the longest time
before losing sight of it.
“So you seem to be too good at making
“I never claimed to be Imorih’s pupil.”
But it wouldn’t hurt for you to reread the book.”
Eena shoved playfully at her criticizer,
making him stagger a few steps backwards.
“Hey, I said you should make friends of
enemies, not enemies of friends!”
He acted overly upset, so she laughed. Her response caused him to laugh as well, yet
with sadness behind his smile. Eena noticed and apologized for an entirely different matter.
“I’m really sorry you were called away with
Ian stepped along the cliff’s shelf as it
curved inward. His best friend walked
beside him, keeping a sauntering pace.
“Don’t be sorry; I was expecting it. Besides, it’s better than listening to
Nischeen cry all day.”
Eena sighed, feeling bad for him.
stop it, will you?)
She was stung by his curtness. Her eyes turned up in question, catching a
deepening frown as Ian explained himself telepathically.
just sick of people feeling sorry for me,) he
complained. (Everyone feels such enormous pity.....that’s not what I want. I hate it.)
not everyone,) Eena suggested.
Ian’s eyes grew big, emphasizing his certainty.
everyone! I can read minds,
remember? The whole darn city pities
me. I don’t need it. I don’t want it, so stop it! Just stop it!)
grew defensive and struck back. (If you hate it so much, quit reading our minds! We never asked you to intrude on our personal
right, Eena.) Ian’s head hung as he apologized. (
bit offended, she grumbled a reminder. (You’re the one who said you wouldn’t judge me for my
thoughts, remember? Getting angry because
I feel for you, because I care—that’s judging me, Ian. )
(I know, I know. You have a right to think and feel whatever
you want to. I guess I should be glad
that you care.) He didn’t sound all that convincing.
Eena thought for a moment. (You
would pity me. I know you would, if I
were to lose Derian.)
He didn’t comment.
I would probably hate your pity too,) she
mumbled, trying to understand his feelings.
Ian snickered in her mind. Her eyebrows lowered instantly.
know you better than that, Queenie. You
would love how sorry I felt for you. In
fact, you would cry your eyes out balled up in my arms, soaking up every bit of
sympathy I could manage for your loss.) He quickly added, (Not
that I want anything to happen to Derian.
I mean….you know….Derian’s not the one I’m worried about.)
(You worry for me?)
Nothing can happen to you; I can’t lose you too.)
won’t.) It was an empty promise. She
reached for his hand, and he accepted, squeezing once on her fingers before
They walked along the cliff’s rim in silence,
lost in mingled thoughts. The wind blew
constant against their faces. It was
more than a light breeze, yet it offered relief from the heat. The sky grew darker each moment as a sinking
sun slowly disappeared off to their side.
The sunset was beautiful—a rich, striking crimson.
you have any idea where we are?”) Eena eventually
wondered, noticing how the cliff seemed as endless as the rough waters
don’t,) Ian admitted.
She imagined it didn’t really matter to him,
especially with the dismal thoughts occupying his mind. It occurred to her that his parents might miss him again. Surely Gaila would be
livid over what she'd perceive as Eena’s selfish consuming of her son’s
time. Perhaps Edgar could be convinced
to send him home.
don’t want to go back,) Ian said. (My
parents won’t miss me for a while. I told
them I was taking a walk around Lacsar Grounds.
They’ll expect me to be gone for hours.)
(When they find you missing, your mother
(I’ll explain it all to her eventually. She’ll get over it.) Ian
addressed the real worry on Eena’s mind. (She
doesn’t hate you. Mom’s just
hurting. She doesn’t know who to blame,
so she’s lashing out at you in behalf of Angelle.)
(In behalf of her?)
Mom’s been thinking a lot lately about how she was left alone while
Father spent his days at Sha Tashi’s side.
It was okay when I was young, but after you were born, I started
accompanying my father. Mom felt
abandoned. She envied Sha Tashi for
seeing more of us than she did. It
bothers her that Angelle died alone while I was off with you—another Sha. Mom’s reacting personally to it, standing up
for Angelle in a way she never did for herself.)
(I guess I can understand how she must
feel. I would probably be envious
too. I know I would want my husband’s
time and attention.)
you’ll have it,) Ian informed her. (Derian
thinks of almost nothing else but you.)
(I doubt that,) Eena disagreed. (He
spends the majority of his time with the council.)
(Not these days. He’s been trying his best to avoid Jorban so
he doesn’t have to explain your situation.)
Eena was confused by this news. (But
I thought he was determined to tell the council everything. He told me he was going to ask for their
help. He’s already informed Jerin and
(Yes, but Edgar threatened him since then.)
(Edgar told Derian that he’d never see you
again if he breathed a word of what he knew to the council. He basically warned the captain to keep his
mouth shut or else. The threat was
enough to scare him.)
(Is that why Derian came seeking me back in
Gabert Forest? Is that why he’s so
paranoid of losing me?)
(It’s got a lot to do with it, yes,) Ian nodded.
Eena balled her hands into tight fists. (That
dirty little twit! That jerk! I’ll kill him!)
(Hey, hey, Eena, clam down.) Ian held
up a halting palm. (This is exactly why I don’t tell you things. You go spouting off prematurely before
thinking things through.) He shook his finger at her as he warned, (You can’t breathe a word of this to Edgar, or Derian will
end out paying for it.)
Eena slouched—deflated and defeated. Still strolling with her friend, she sighed, (You think I’m reckless, don’t you.)
impetuous, that I know—which is the reason Naga’s chasing after Edgar’s
derriere right now.)
She tried not to laugh at the thought.
(Eena, most of the time it’s no big
deal. But sometimes the wellbeing of
others is at stake. You have to consider
the potential consequences—think it completely through—before you act.)
She believed he sounded just like Derian.
sometimes Derian is right.)
(Okay, okay, I see your point,) she gave in,
(but Edgar really does deserve a good, solid bite on the butt.)
Ian couldn’t keep from grinning. (Perhaps. However, it would serve you much better to
stay on his good side. I know he’ll forgive
you for what you’ve done; I read it in his thoughts. He’s infatuated with you, and I hate it.) Ian
grimaced distastefully. (And
yet…..it’s probably good in a way. He’s
determined to protect you from Anesidora’s wicked temper, despite your own attempts
at getting yourself in trouble. He won’t
tell his sisters about your recent discussion with Naga. He’s decided that.)
Ian stopped walking and turned to face his queen. His voice lowered to a more serious tone and
his countenance sobered to match.
all honesty, Edgar may prove to be the one person who manages to keep you alive
through all this. I’d like to think it
would be me…) He trailed off, shaking his head at his own unvoiced
just hope, for all our sakes, Edgar stands up to his sisters if it comes down
Eena knew Ian was aware of the immortal’s
offer, and she reminded him, (He would
take the necklace from me now if I agreed to his terms.)
Ian objected, perhaps too emphatically. (No,
Eena! I don’t mean for him to help you
like that; you can’t leave us. What I
mean is, if we don’t find some other way out of this and you’re forced to free
his sisters, I hope he steps in and protects you.)
She couldn’t help but conjure up Ascultone’s fatal
prediction. Neither said a word about
“It’s getting dark,” Ian finally announced
aloud. “The moon isn’t up yet, which
means its gong to be impossible to see anything soon.”
Eena glanced beyond the waters at a slivered
crescent of crimson sun, the only bit of daylight still showing. It wouldn’t take long for the sea to swallow
“Maybe we should start a fire.”
The pair gathered armloads of wood—dead twigs
and branches that had accumulated over the years. This natural compost seemed to cover the
landscape fairly thickly. Eena imagined
the powerful ocean winds had torn these brittle limbs off the wilting trees.
“Over here!” Ian called. “We can camp here tonight.”
The young protector had found a small cluster
of timbers grown tightly together. It
would act as a decent wind break and good back support.
Ian cleared a wide area of all but the soiled
ground. Then he broke apart some of
their collected firewood and piled it into a nice, high mound. Eena took over from there, using her powers
to create enough spark to start a small campfire. The air cooled quickly with the setting sun,
and both companions were grateful not only for the light of the fire but for its
They sat in silence beside one another,
staring at a circle of dancing flames. The
periodic spit of sparks wasn’t enough to break their trance. They were absorbed in thought, although Eena was
aware Ian could hear hers. She wished
their mind link worked both ways so she could listen in on his concerns as
well. It didn’t seem fair.
What a stupid thing to think—that life should
Inhaling a breath of smoke-scented air, Eena
pulled her knees in close and laid her chin on crossed arms. Her head inclined just enough to watch Ian stare
at a billion stars above. To her they
were unfamiliar constellations.
Wondering what was on his mind, she wasn’t
surprised to hear him respond to her curious thoughts. In a faraway voice, he asked a question.
“Where is she, Eena? I mean, where do the good spirits go when
they’re done here?”
She sighed solemnly before answering, hoping
he didn’t take it as a sign of pity. “I
don’t know, Ian. Some say our spirits go
to a paradise where all good people live together. Others say we just dissipate—cease to exist
It was quiet again as Ian continued to stare
up at the night. A sudden popping from
the campfire blew up a bright puff of orange sparkles. The light reflected off of Ian’s face,
highlighting shimmering streaks along his cheeks. Eena realized her best friend was
crying. She lifted her head and scooted
close enough to slide her arm around his.
Not knowing what to do or say, she laid her head on his shoulder.
Ian didn’t react to her closeness. She kept her cheek warm against his arm until
he uttered another heartbreaking question.
“Why did she have to die?”
Eena offered her best answer. “All I know is everyone dies at some point. It’s unavoidable. It’s a part of life we have to pass through.”
“No, that’s not true,” he disagreed, shifting
his weepy eyes to look down at her. “Your
stupid immortal friends will never die.
They just keep living on and on and on……screwing up the lives of those
with terribly limited days. And the
worst part is, they don’t even appreciate what they have. To never suffer the loss of a loved one. To never have to hurt this way.”
“They don’t appreciate it, Ian, because they can’t
possibly understand it. It’s outside their
experience.” She reached for his
trembling hand, sandwiching it between her own.
“In a way, I think it makes us far better people than they are.”
“Why do you say that?” he asked. He watched the way her hands gently caressed
his own. Tears continued to glide
silently down his cheeks.
“Well, the fact is, we can appreciate all
life has to give because we know how fleeting it is. It makes us grateful and more compassionate,
kinder and wiser.”
“Wiser,” he groaned.
“Yes, Ian,” she said, squeezing his hand
tenderly, “because we’re able to learn from tragedy and the consequences that
stem from it.”
“So, what exactly have I learned from losing
Angelle?” His eyes squinted at the
“You’ve learned to never take love for
granted, but to appreciate every moment you have with the ones you love.”
“That’s great,” he exclaimed
sarcastically. His hand pulled away from
hers and he wiped the wetness from his cheeks.
“And what good does it do me now?
To learn this powerful lesson and not be able to make use of it? She’s gone, Eena! She’s gone forever!” The intensity of grief in his voice made her
want to cry right along with him, but she swallowed back the tears.
That’s the sad irony of life.
Once you finally get it……it’s over.”
“So what good is it then? What good is living if you lose everything in
“I know, Ian, it doesn’t make any
sense.” She grabbed onto his arm,
pushing it to make him look at her. She
understood how desperate he was for answers.
“That’s why I can’t believe death is truly the end for us. Everything we’ve learned here, all we’ve
become, all we’ve accomplished……it must serve a purpose somehow,
somewhere. I can’t believe life truly
ceases once we die. Angelle is still out
there; I know it. I’m sure of it.”
“Then I want to go with her, Eena,” he
cried. “Let me go with her.”
She rose to her knees and took
her best friend in her arms, hugging him as securely as she could. He grabbed onto her like he would never let
“I don’t want you to leave, Ian. I still need you here.”
“You have Derian.”
She felt the guilt stab at her. “I know,” she whispered. She thought it sounded far too much like an
Ian held on, silently crying within her
embrace. Eena stroked his dusty hair as
quiet tears wet her face. When he pushed
himself away, quickly wiping his cheeks and focusing back on the night’s sky,
she tried not to be offended at the feeling of rejection that lingered. She knew this was hard for him to deal
with. It was hard for her too, but her
arms found their own comfort wrapping themselves snugly around bent legs. She rested her head sideways on her knees to
watch her best friend. His somber voice
broke the silence again.
“It’s bad enough that she’s dead, that I’ve
lost her for good. It’s even worse that
I wasn’t there with her when it happened.
I should’ve been there.” His head
shook, tremulously. “But what really
eats at me is the fact that I didn’t even have a clue she was in trouble. I didn’t sense anything, not even the slightest
twinge of uneasiness. How the hell could
I not have known she was in trouble?”
all of a sudden fastened onto Eena with surprising intensity. She lifted her head, but all she could do was
shake it uselessly back and forth until he looked away. He went on talking, anger heightening in his
I was living it up, laughing along with the Grotts, while Angelle was all
alone, drowning. How could I have not
sensed it? How could I have not known
that my promised one was in trouble? How
could someone I love be suffering—dying—and I not feel anything?”
“I was with the Grotts too, Ian. I didn’t know she was in trouble either.”
He shook his head, dismissing her attempt to
ease his burden of guilt. “It’s not the
same,” he argued. “You weren’t in love
Ian interrupted, stopping Eena mid-sentence. His eyes squinted as they turned on her
again. “I would’ve known if it had been
They stared at each other for the longest
Her utterance broke their trance. “Not necessarily.”
Ian’s brow furrowed, questioning her comment.
“You were asleep when Ascultone almost killed
The way his countenance fell rueful made her
sorry she’d reminded him of the incident.
She apologized. “I didn’t mean
anything, Ian, just that, well, you can’t be aware of every bit of suffering
another person goes through, no matter how much you love them.”
“I would know if you were dying,” he
insisted. “I would know.”
She exhaled heavily. “Only because we’re connected. Normal people aren’t that way. Derian would never know.”
“No, he wouldn’t,” Ian agreed.
“But if something ever did happen to me, he’d
feel guilty—just like you, Ian. It’s
She watched her best friend draw in a deep
breath and exhale. “Yeah, he would,” Ian
The conversation ended. All was silent excepting the far-off sound of
waves crashing against jagged rocks at the bottom of the cliff. It was growing chillier by the hour. Ian rose and tossed an armful of wood on the
fire. It only took seconds for the
flames to swell high and wild, greedily eating up the added fuel. He stood above the blaze, across from his
queen. The heat seemed to reach up at
him, threatening to burn his arms which were folded across his chest.
“You ought to get some sleep,” he said.
“I can’t sleep. I just woke up a few hours ago,” she reminded
She coiled her hair around a finger, watching
her protector. His face looked angry
illuminated by the orange firelight, but she blamed it on dark shadows that
blackened every dint in his features.
“If I went to sleep, I’d just have nightmares
anyway,” Eena said.
Ian’s eyes flickered at her for a second before
returning to the fire. “It shocked me to
see Angelle in your dream,” he admitted.
“She looked beautiful.”
“Yes, she did. I don’t know how Anesidora managed that. You’d think if she could create such
illusions she’d make herself look better.”
Ian actually chuckled. It was unexpected, and Eena glanced up as though
checking to see if her ears had deceived her.
She smiled, finding a softer look on his face.
“She is one ugly ghost, isn’t she?” Ian said.
“Frightfully ugly,” Eena agreed.
Quiet prevailed again. Eena hugged her knees as she stared blankly
at the fire. Ian had planted his feet
very close to the flames, viewing them from above. The predominate sound, a background murmur of
sea water, captured Eena’s ears and she found herself thinking about her dream
of the Oregon Coast. It had felt so real,
as if she and Ian had been transported back to Earth—just two, good, high
school friends, carefree and happy. Their
problems had vanished for the hours they’d dreamt together. It had been lovely.
The young queen looked up again, checking on
her best friend. His feet were still
planted before the fire. One arm remained
across his chest, but the other had lifted to cover his face with a guarding
hand. Eena straightened up, watching him
closely. She noticed how his hand
trembled while at the same time his back seemed to shudder. She was certain he was crying.
Eena skirted the campfire in seconds. Not knowing if he would accept or reject her
comfort, she wrapped her arms around his waist from behind, pressing a cheek
I’m so sorry,” she breathed.
It took a moment, but at last he turned
around. His arms encircled her as she
buried her head beneath his chin. The
young protector broke down, sobbing much like he had at the morgue. She cried with him.
It was painful to experience the extent of
his broken heart—the way he secured himself to her, gasping for breaths while
mourning over his loss. All she could do
was hold onto him as desperately as he held onto her. She wished for more options, for another way
to ease the grief or heal his broken heart entirely. There was no easy fix……but there was a source of relief.
Eena pulled her hand in, pressing Naga’s ring
against her lips. Her actions were too
slow this time. Ian reacted immediately,
snatching her by the wrist and stepping outside of reach. He held her hand up in the air between them
as he objected staunchly.
No, you’re not doing that to me again!”
He wiped the blinding tears from his eyes with a free hand while
protesting. “I understand why you did it
the first time…..I lost control then.
But you’re not putting me to sleep with that thing again.”
She pled with him, whining his name, asking
him to surrender to sweet dreams.
Don’t you dare kiss me! Sleeping
isn’t going to solve anything. It won’t
bring Angelle back, and it will leave you alone here without a protector.”
His eyes were moist but alert, keeping tabs
on Eena’s every move. He wasn’t going to
let those loaded lips near any part of him.
She tried to explain her motives. “I didn’t use the ring last time because you
lost control but because you were hurting so badly. It’s hard for me to watch and feel how you suffer. This ring will offer some relief from
She took a step forward, but Ian yanked on her
arm, forcing her to the side and away from the fire. She squealed at the unexpected twist of her wrist. Her eyes grew more incredulous when she
realized Ian had sneakily pulled the ring up to his lips during the
shuffle. He was armed with a sleeping
kiss now too.
“Don’t you dare touch me with those lips!”
Ian challenged her as he declared, “If you
try and kiss me, I swear I’ll kiss you first.”
She attempted a good, hard tug on her wrist,
but he kept a firm grip. Then his eyes
brightened with a notion.
“You know, I think the dragon’s kiss would be
put to better use on you anyway. If I
can keep the powerful Sha Eena asleep under its spell, those wicked, immortal
sisters won’t get their hands on the remaining star points.” He pointed at her with his free hand. “You’re the one who needs a good, looooong nap.”
Afraid that he might actually attempt
something, she used the dragon’s soul to send a mild electric shock to his
gripping hand. He let go, shaking his
fingers wildly in the air.
“Criminy, Eena, that smarted!”
“Just stay away from me,” she warned.
“Likewise,” he retorted.
They stood face to face, both folding their
arms squarely across their chests.
“All I was trying to do was help you,” Eena
Ian repeated the same declaration. “And all I’m trying to do is help you.”
She rolled her eyes. “If you would just sleep, you’d feel
better. Didn’t you have pleasant dreams
Ian shifted his weight onto one foot. “Yes, but that’s beside the point. You’re trying to make reality go away, but it
won’t work. Angelle’s not coming back
and I have to face it. I can’t hide from
the real world.”
“I know, but…” she stepped toward him.
He retreated with a backwards scuttle. “Stay back,” he warned.
His actions just managed to peeve her, and
she defiantly took two giant steps forward.
Circling to the opposite side of the fire he
told her, “I’m faster than you are, Queenie.
You better knock it off or my lips will be on your cheek before you know
what hit you.”
The threat did nothing but provoke her
competitiveness. “You are not faster
than me; I always beat you in every race we ever had on Earth. I was the first one to school, the first one
home, and the first one to the top of the hill every night.”
“That’s only because I was being a
gentleman,” he contended.
“Oh, convenient excuse,” she groaned. “I’d have beaten you anyway.”
He laughed once. “Never!”
With that, she took off after him, rounding
the fire as he did. When she stopped, he
stood across from her with a smug grin on his face. Her eyes narrowed as she doggedly tried the other
direction, halting abruptly to twist and reverse course. Ian copied her moves perfectly, keeping
himself lined up across the fire at every step.
Eena reacted to an idea the very second it struck,
not allowing her competitor a chance to counteract. His leg was bound and secured by a nearby
tree root before he could growl.
Eena was standing before him in a flash. The root released its hold as they wrestled,
struggling to keep the other person’s lips away from any area of exposed skin. When Eena’s mouth reached for the hand
securing her wrist, Ian pulled both their arms down forcefully, taking the
opportunity to lean in. His lips pressed
against his queen’s forehead. There was a
split second of sheer surprise when he felt her lips touch the side of his chin
at the very same instant. They fell to
the ground mingled in a dead sleep.
It seemed as if they were forgetting
“Did you remember to do your homework?”
Sevenah asked her best friend. It was
the most likely thing to have forgotten.
Standing outside the white gate to her front
yard, she rummaged through her backpack to find her physics assignment
completed and tucked away in a green folder.
Satisfied, she handed her backpack over to Ian. He slung it across his shoulder, careful not
to mess up his place in the paperback book his fingers had propped open.
“What homework?” Ian said, a culpable grin on
“I don’t know why you even bother going to
school,” she grumbled. “You should put
down those sci-fi stories and pay attention to the real world now and
then. How do you ever expect to get into
I’ll try to do better, I swear.”
Ian held his free hand up—a mocking vow.
He chuckled when she rolled her eyes.
Side by side they stepped down the dirt road
that led to Royal City’s high school. It
was Friday. Sevenah loved Fridays
because her parents relaxed on curfew and she could spend more time with Ian
and her other friends. She was excited
to get past the day’s big test and on to the football game they’d be attending
Ian’s voice pulled her from her thoughts. “I’ll race you to school. I’ll even give you a head start this time,”
“Like I need a head start against your skinny
legs,” she teased.
The next thing he knew she was tearing down
the dirt road, kicking up a trail of dust behind her.
“You cheater!” he called out. Ian smiled big, allowing a sizeable gap
before stepping into a run himself.
He caught up with her five minutes to the
school, and they raced side by side until the familiar gold-brick building drew
Then both runners took off in a deadlock
sprint. Sevenah barely won…..again.