The Search Within

The world is a dark place, and those who live here must learn how to endure. 

When the world is dark, all lights flicker, but only the most vigorous burn. Catching the light and enduring even the waters of hell, not held back by the storms that rage. Darkness is all-consuming. It destroys the visible good, and it eats the world that we know. But out of the night comes light, and that light, that is where a story begins. 

A king can only rule a country two ways. Either he is its protector and the guardian of all, or he is the poison that destroys it inwards out.  When a king no longer cares to rule as a guardian, war is unleashed and a new one must take control. However, what happens when a king gives up power and darkness itself comes. What should people do, when a curse is laid, when evil wins. Should they be consumed in the evening.

This is the place for legend. When a woman’s words should be headed. Instead, they are often forgotten in a time of darkness and dismissed as they diminish into myth and fable. Only to be revived from books when heroes are all but lost in the dark.

CHAPTER 1


I was born in darkness.
I was born cold-hearted.
I am told I am to be feared.
I am told that my name is only whispered in dark rooms in hushed conversations.
I am told the goddess of death is even afraid of me.
I am not afraid.
I am a Volur: a child raised in the dark arts, a councillor to lords and ladies, a mighty woman married to her craft.
I am the carrier of spirits.
I am one of the six.

I stare across the room as my hair is being brushed. I have known this view since I was seven years old: the high towers, the raging winds, the soaring mountains with the unknown beyond. I have never left the fortress. My hair is gathered, the waves flowing along my back—a single braid falling behind my ear. Dressed in black; titanium wraps around my bodice, tightening around my waist and neck. I look at my bare arm; in only a few hours, I will become one with the goddess, the insignia burned into my flesh. These girls have all been raised together as one. We will take the place of those before us. Too frail to carry the spirits, they will pass to their new life, guardians of the gates to hell.
Today is the awakening.
As we link arms to descend the marble staircase, I see the court is waiting for us. Tonight, we take up the mantle we have been training for and receive our gift. We shall sacrifice to the gods and then be rewarded for our dedication. The other six stand together, forming a circle, their hands are linked together in shackles, and their heads look upwards to the goddess. Each girl is dressed in ivory robes, and black iron crowns sit rest on their chairs. The six of us take our own seats, each throne carved with blessings in our honour. The elder stands. He speaks, but I do not hear the words. While I know these women are honouring us and achieving the pinnacle of life, I pity them. Other elders walk around the girls singing chants, praising the gods for life. Then we go over, take our place and join hands facing the willing victims of the sacrifice. The mother takes the embers and brings them into individual symbols; she is an Elementalist. The insignias are then burned into our forearms. Where once one might have felt pain, I experience none. When finished, we tear the garments from the girl’s bodies before us, leaving them unclad for the gods. Then we hold the cup to their lips.
They drink the poison.
We step back.
They are set on fire.

CHAPTER 2


“It has been announced, the united tribes will gather at dusk.” I hear the voice but barely register the words. “Priidik! Did you hear me?” Calls Maura’s voice much louder, this time breaking my concentration.
“Yes,” I say weakly, “I suppose I am obliged to attend this assembly?” my voice registers as dull and flat.
“You really think the prince of The Sieghild and rightful ruler of Xanchior, will not be expected to attend?” Maura is mocking me. I turn back to my book. “I’ll see you later, your highness.” She hollers as she exits the library.
I look up at the walls of books surrounding me, full of tales, some might consider these to be the most dangerous weapons imaginable. Books speak to me; I hear them call, and the void of darkness that I am shrouded in fades away. Unlike me, these characters govern their own story and solve the problems set before them. But I am a puppet, a young man trapped in revolving the door of women as they are forced upon me, that I might finally marry and come to the throne. But it is my throne, I was to inherit, yet I do not desire to be king. Leaving my place of comfort, I walk out to the cold hall and through the golden arched doors, leading out across the colonnade. As I sit on the edge of the stone walkway, I can see the lords and ladies of the clans gathering.

CHAPTER 3


I cross the courtyard and enter the great hall. It is nearly dusk, and all the members of the court are assembled. At the center, a map sprawls out on a large oak table. Beyond it sits the king’s chair with two stone wolves and a bear encircling it. It has been vacant for fifteen years. I join Maura at another table further back. She winks at me and draws close, whispering in my ear.
“I wager thee!”
“What stake do they lay?” I respond sneakily. Maura glances over her shoulders; looking back at me, she smiles.
“I say thee will utter five words; what do you say, Braeden?”
“It is not my place to speculate against his highness,” responds my tutor. He winks at Maura and then stands up to get mead. As he does, Maura leans back over to me.
“They say the legend is true; the women have been rereleased upon Xanchior. One of the girls is spoken to as a naturalist.”
I look at her quizzically. “We have not had a naturalist in”…,
“Nineteen years,” interjects Maura before I can finish. I look into her dark hazel eyes, studying the seriousness of what she says, and trace the worry to her brow and back to her shaking hands.
“The Lords will decide what is right for the kingdom; I have no power over our kinsfolk. They do as they wish.” I am tired of sitting through hours of battle plans. Maura was raised as a warrior; she knows her ways around a sword and the politics of the clans. I have no care for blood or revenge. I wish only for the life that I was not born into. I would like to be a simple man with my book and the forest. Maura shoots me a look of disdain and turns to face the crowds, her back leaning against me. The warmth of her skin on my arm.
“I do wish they would listen to the legends, ” she cries, and courtiers turn to hush her, “still so many do not care for the books that teach of the old ways. They are foolish in their wisdom.” Maura has long relinquished her freedom to speak at court but always attends, dreaming of the day a woman’s voice is heard in and amongst the blood-thirsty men. Our places should have been different, she was born to lead, yet her gender robs her of all opportunities. But circumstances lead to her silence with an overbearing man. Where mine leads to rule an empire of which I do not belong.
“I want to slam my dagger right into that table and demand to be heard!” hollers Maura as she turns around back to the pork laid before her. Her knife slices cleanly through the meat, but the steam off her brow could cook it through again.
“You are… are…” The words get lost within my lips.
“Beautiful, astute, immensely talented,” she rattles on as she brushes her nut blond hair over her shoulder.
“Dangerous,” I spit out. I look at Maura, the quizzical look on her brow.
“That’s a new one,” she says in a slight undertone. I sense the mood shifting, and I look back at her and see a tear delicately balancing on her eyelashes. She leans into me, nestling her head into my hair. I hold her close. My arms wrapped around her frame, wishing to ease the pain that she suffers from. As much as Maura is loved by me like family, she is also not blood. We have been through everything together. Her struggle is also mine. I feel the rise and lowering of her chest as she calms herself. Her mother has always advised her, to be strong is to be a woman. Of course, it is a lie, yet I am still the only one Maura opens her heart to.
Ah-hem!” The Viceroy lifts his glass. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” he announces. “On this day, we congregate. My Prince! Come forth!” I look to Maura and then to those around me. “Son! Come forth!” I walk up the aisles, past the lords who glare.
“Willmar, this is not my place.” I articulate.
“Speak, ungrateful child.” I turn to face the gathering; the evening light breaks through the windows illuminating me.
“Welcome!” I lower my head and look at where I stand, each stair leads somewhere, and yet, in my twenty years of living trapped within the walls of Raveryn, I have never been led to the throne but away. To my left I see Maura; she holds out her hand beckoning me to her. She leads me past all the councils, helping with my retreat. In the dark and quiet of the night, I seek solitude.

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