31 – Selere
With the passage of a few days, some amount of calm came back to Eternia City. Only some, though. After all, Kevyn and her entourage had disappeared like shadows melting in light. Aislin was nowhere to be found. Marcus, bedridden. And now, rumors whispered of hunters prowling in the night. Princess Selere believed them – she’d seen these hunters outside the high windows. Almost always cloaked, their facial features remained invisible, but she could see them slithering about in the alleys below. The thought of their nightly creeping made her skin crawl. She could swear she felt their reptilian eyes peeping into the room sometimes.
She had a fair bit of explanation from Sealiah, who, after noticing the night-time hunters, began regularly keeping vigil, switching off with Tristan as the hours passed. The princess at first laughed at Sealiah’s conjecture: draconians. Then Sealiah guided Selere to the parapets and pointed to a winged creature in the sky, descending to the plaza. When the wings, tail, horns, and scales dissolved into a cloaked human on the ground, Selere’s amusement sharply veered into terror.
Understandably, the citizens of Eternia City kept off the streets and barred and locked their doors for those few days. Selere vowed to stay inside as well. After all, if the draconians’ existences were real, then their fabled violence must also be real, correct? She was content with staying at her dear Wind Sage’s side as he tossed and turned through fitful rest and fever, though she soon became uncertain of her ability to keep praying for Marcus’s well-being.
All in all, the circumstances were bad. The plans she had carefully concocted were now ashes in the wind, and she didn’t have a backup plan in mind. What more, her status as Princess Onaperse and Marcus’s position as Wind Sage wound them, Sealiah, and Tristan under the hospitality of General Pellsi. At least Selere wasn’t the only one who blanched at the idea – Tristan assumed an uncharacteristic cold civility in his mannerisms, keeping to the Mageknights’ code of conduct when in the general’s presence. Sealiah too, said few words to the general.
Selere, however, had no escape. Marcus, after four days, had finally stilled in his rest, when the general allowed himself into the chambers. Citing a need for Selere’s presence in deciding the council’s approach to the “fiendish creatures” in the capital, he gave the princess no choice in the matter. She had to follow him. Nodding once to Sealiah, Selere forced a smile. “Do make sure Marcus continues that peaceful rest of his. He sorely needs it.” She had no chance to see Sealiah’s response – General Pellsi quickly escorted Selere out.
The Voice Catcher’s Sanctuary, at its lower levels, reminded Selere of the castle back in Onaperse City. Massive tapestries draped the pale sandstone walls, along with framed paintings of past Apostles and their families. Immaculate wall sconces carried orbs of Light magic instead of fire, giving the corridors and high ceilings an eerie gleam. Selere only half-listened to the general prattling on about installing royal carpets to dim the echo of footsteps, and the possibility of recruiting servants to manage the halls; he couldn’t imagine how past Apostles managed the place with themselves and their families, did they really soil their own divine hands and do their own cooking and cleaning, how blasphemous.
Selere frowned and looked away from a tapestry, depicting a caricature of the Priestess of Light receiving a shining egg from a golden dragon, to the back of General Pellsi’s head. “I think it noble of the Apostle and her family to do their own housework,” said Selere. “Considering their beliefs of equality, at any rate, I don’t believe they would think themselves above the tasks everyone else undertakes. Sei knows I wish I could learn how to do my own menial work.”
The general stopped and turned to Selere, confusion knitting his brow. “Why would you wish to be the same as all else, when you clearly are meant for higher places? Take yourself, for instance. You were born as a princess to a neutral kingdom, and your lady mother was an exalted Archsage. Rumors say you are beginning to learn Spirit magic, as though you follow in Regina’s footsteps. What is to stop you from becoming both Archsage and Queen?”
“The duties of both positions clash. I know this firsthand.” Selere crossed her arms and curled her lip in reproach. “And you would do well to address my mother by her proper title, rather than her name. You were in no friendly affiliation with her, or my family, as far as I remember.”
Arlu bowed his head in apology. “A thousand pardons, Your Grace. I do remember the Queen though; she was very well-loved.”
“As a queen or as an Archsage?” Selere denied Arlu the chance to reply, with a wave of her hand. “No matter; I don’t really care for epitaphs at the moment. Your ideas of ambition unnerve me.”
“Ambition?” The general shook his head. “I only seek what is due to me.”
Selere raised a brow. “My father defines that as ambition, and I imagine your resolve has something to do with your name? Pellsi was the surname of the last Priestess of Light.”
“I am by no means a direct descendant. At most, she is a far-gone distant cousin.” The general turned and stalked off, prompting Selere to follow again. “The woman had no children of her own, after all.”
Before Selere could inquire into the hostile tone, another golden-armored knight approached and gave a short salute before handing the general a folded piece of parchment. As Arlu quickly scanned the note, Selere concocted her inquiries and rebuttal: Why the harsh tone? Do you not cite pride in your lineage? Is that not why you aim to crush the Silver Vixen, because she sullies your name with her image? The pieces were starting to come together, and looking at the opulent decorations to the Sanctuary, no doubt installed by Arlu, Selere became more and more certain of her assumptions: something foul clouded the Pellsi family.
She never got the chance to voice her arguments, however, as Arlu said, “It seems the matter of the draconians in the capital has been resolved.”
There was no hiding the surprise in Selere’s wide eyes. “That quickly? We haven’t even reached the council chambers!”
“I will have to tie up the last few loose ends,” the general replied, pocketing the note, “but your assistance, Princess, is no longer necessary.” He gave an apologetic bow. “A thousand pardons for wasting your time, but I aim to secure the city as soon as possible. If you will excuse me, I can have someone else escort you back to Master Seylo.”
Selere curled her lip again. “That will be unnecessary, thank you.”
After a muttered “By your leave,” the general turned on his heel and glided off, leaving Selere pouting angrily by herself. The matter was decided too suddenly, she thought. And that hostility toward Priestess Azariah – very curious, and very alarming for someone supposedly in charge of Luxakari. Why, Azariah Pellsi may as well be a goddess, particularly in this area she was fabled to have protected! To regard her as just a “woman”…There had to be something behind the general’s attitude. Perhaps he lied about his lineage. True, Azariah had no recorded children of her own – Selere knew that from the archives back in Onaperse – but someone could have easily tampered with that information, especially if they were someone as high in power as General Pellsi.
She wondered whether the Luxakari archives described Azariah and her life any differently. The premier person to ask for this information would have been Kevyn, since she inherited Azariah’s title, but she was nowhere nearby. Selere’s next possible course of action, then, came easily to her: “I suppose I shall have to investigate this myself!” Saying it out loud made her hold her head proudly. Somehow, independence made her feel like a queen.
But where to start? She knew nothing about the layout of the Sanctuary, and she didn’t want to ask around, in case people questioned her poking about. Fortunately there was little to no bustle in the Sanctuary, so after a glance around, Selere made her decision: it was time to explore the Voice Catcher’s Sanctuary.
Selere’s explorations took her along not only the grand reception hall, but also around the west and east wings of the Sanctuary. The sights remained the same all around: tall crystal windows, paled sandstone bricks, and the occasional tapestry depicting segments of Luxakari’s history. The guest chambers were up the slab steps of the west wing, Selere realized, as she circled back to the reception hall again. She considered the interior plain, yes, but she remained interested all the same. Everywhere she looked, after all, she discovered something new. An arched buttress here, a hidden bird’s nest there; a new tapestry here, a mouse hole there.
She still had no idea where the council chambers were located – east wing, she surmised – but her attention fell on a door in the reception hall. Unlike the rest of the oak-and-iron doors she had seen so far, this mahogany door bore gold inlays.
And it easily pushed open.
For a door of such high craftsmanship, Selere inwardly huffed, it was certainly willing to show what it hid. Beyond it, however, was only a long corridor, lit only by magic sconces hanging from the arched ceiling. Light shined at the end, and as Selere marched toward it, a breeze whispered by. From outside? She sped her steps as curiosity goaded her forward.
A gasp of wonder escaped Selere’s voice as she emerged from the corridor to a courtyard dyed with autumn colors. Truly a sanctuary, she thought, as she took careful steps through the overgrown grass. All around, leaves fell in a gentle shower, covering a small amphitheater’s terraced seats and stage, and blanketed the surface of a pond. Hedges lined the perimeter of the courtyard, blocking the entire wall save for the entrance Selere came through, and another across the yard. Even a small orchard of cherry and apple trees bloomed along the far wall, and a marble bench in the midst of the trees finished the scene.
Selere clasped her hands together as she walked along the stepping stone path to the pond. Kneeling at its bank, she dipped a finger into the water and pushed fallen leaves aside. Murky water, she glumly saw. She stood up and glanced toward the orchard, old apples and cherries littering the ground. Selere shook her head at the sight, and turned to the other entrance. A spire stretched high from this door – the main Sanctuary, discernible from the crystal windows at the very top. As far as Selere understood, that was the room the Apostle retreated to in order to receive the voice of Sei.
What did a god’s voice sound like? Selere crossed her arms as she pondered the sensation. Sei must not sound too different from a human, considering the Apostle’s ability to hear His voice. But the Apostle was a manakete, so maybe Sei spoke like a dragon. In that case, what would bar the dragons from descending and assuming the role of Apostle?
A movement from the amphitheater brought Selere out of her reverie. Not one to refuse new discoveries, she scampered to the terraced seats and gazed down at the stage. There was the movement again, on the stage. A puff of wind seemed to blow up from the stage floor, disturbing some leaves on top. After stumbling once or twice down the steps, Selere approached the stage and brushed aside the leaves, to find a hatch open ajar.
A stage prop? Bemusement made Selere purse her lips as she edged her fingers under the hatch lid. Throwing open the hidden door, she found herself staring down a deep hole, with metal rungs on its side stretching all the way down. She thought she could see a smooth cobblestone floor at the bottom, but a strange jade light made the view hard to discern.
Selere’s thoughts jumped back to her conversation with Arlu. The man obviously had some qualms about his connection to Priestess Azariah. His quick denial of direct descendence, and his tone in speaking about the last Priestess…There was something there. And maybe that something laid at the bottom of this hole. With no time to run back to Marcus, Sealiah, or Tristan, Selere resolved to figure this out herself. She swung herself over the edge and onto the first rung, then the second, and further.
The light from the courtyard above grew smaller and smaller the lower Selere descended down the hole. When her foot finally touched the floor and she looked back up, a small coin could have easily covered the entrance. Uneasy feelings crept into Selere then, but instead of reflecting on them, she shook herself and turned her back to the ladder.
The descent had wound the princess in a wide arching corridor, lit by the same magic sconces she saw before. A sickly jade light glowed in the sconces, however, and did not change no matter which way down the hall Selere looked. Where to go from here? She pressed her right hand against the wall. Deep breath. Right it was.
There was no quieting the clicks of her heels against the floor. Sometimes Selere proceeded on her toes, but this became too exhausting after a while, and she went back to hearing the echoes of her steps again. The corridor went on straight for a long time, long enough that when Selere turned around, she couldn’t find the entrance she came from. All she could do was press ahead.
After a while, the corridor made a sharp turn to the left, and descended even further. It soon became clear to Selere, however, that she wasn’t the only one in this dank passageway. Voices alerted her to back to her toes, as she inched to the open doorway she saw before her.
This was just like listening in on her father’s private conversations. All she needed to do was press herself against the doorpane, and turn her ear toward the conversation, while keeping her breath quiet. A little difficult to do now, what with her heart trembling in her chest.
“I need the draconians off the premises of the capital at once, my Lord Zerenas.” Selere knew that pompous voice: Arlu. “Their stalking about in the city has forced the Silver Vixen into hiding! I could have ended her tomorrow, at the very latest!”
Lord Zerenas? Selere had no face to match the name. Even peeking around the corner availed Selere nothing but Arlu’s back. He seemed to be staring down at something though.
“You could have ended her today.” A woman’s voice. She sounded strangely serpentine. “But what did you do instead? Stood on top of your soap box and picked your ass while screaming nonsense. And don’t try to deny it. I had eyes there in the capital even before the Dark Ranger showed.”
“Your snide remarks have no backing, Lord Eurami,” said Arlu. “Why did you not stop the Dark Ranger when he attacked?”
“Because I didn’t have an entire platoon there?” Eurami’s voice also sounded muffled, as though she were speaking through a pane of glass. “I’m not stupid, Pellsi. It takes more than one or two Lessers to have a chance against Mailera. I must admit, he’s put on some power to his magic. Might even need to send an Elite after him.”
“That doesn’t excuse your ilk from terrorizing my city! Get them out of Luxakari!”
“If you had executed the Vixen, I could have easily done that. But of course, you fucked it up again. What is this, your second time letting that little human run off on you? At least I can keep my claws around my prey.”
Arlu huffed and slammed his fist down. “You haven’t even left Rathnevia for the past 20 years! The Cataclys is as good as dead if you can’t find it!”
“Dead? Arlu, tend to those little golden baubles you call your armor before you insinuate I don’t know my own little sister! She’s alive out there in Isaiis somewhere, I know it.”
Another voice, a male’s inarguably younger voice, echoed through. “Eurami, you say you are sure of your sister’s survival?”
“Now why would I lie to you, Zerenas? Besides that, you of all people should know she’s alive.”
“Yes…but I have never seen her.”
Selere, though deafened by her own heartbeat with each second she lingered and listened to this conversation, thought she heard a twinge of sadness in this Zerenas’s voice. Did he have some kind of connection to the Eurami character’s younger sister? What was it? Why did he sound so sad? Before Selere could think on it further, however, she dismissed her ponderings to listen in again.
“You won’t have to see her at all,” Eurami said. “You want her dead, don’t you remember?”
“I never gave any command of the sort. If I want anyone dead, it’s Order Arcana. They stopped me once before, and I can’t have them intervening again. Especially the Priestess…
“As far as your sister is concerned,” Zerenas added, “I would prefer to see her at least once, and I would much rather she remain alive. She is a twin to me before a sibling to you, after all.”
Eurami groaned audibly. “Look, you’ve been alive for, what, a couple millennia? Those Archsages have been supporting you well, but you’re not up with the times, Zerenas. You’re senile.”
Arlu immediately cut in: “Curb your tongue, Eurami! How dare you even insinuate…”
“I’m making a point, human, so don’t get your feathers in a knot. I’m saying that my dear little sister shares the same capabilities as our Regnant Archsage here.”
Selere pressed her hands over her mouth at this conjecture. Zerenas, the Regnant Archsage? But His Regnancy sounded nothing like the young man speaking to Arlu and Eurami! And what was this about the Archsages supporting him? Selere tried to recall her mother’s words: something about His Regnancy being involved in the Archsages’ deaths…How did it connect? And the sister – who was this sister that shared Zerenas’s qualities? Selere’s mind reeled and swerved as she struggled to piece the information together, but nothing seemed to fit correctly.
Zerenas spoke again, after a small sigh. “I see what you mean, Eurami. You may be correct. But my wish still stands – I wish to see my twin before you do anything to her. I wish to meet her on the battlefield at least once.”
“Ha! That mewling fledgling stands no chance against you. I would be surprised if she could even fight.”
“Even still, withhold your judgment of her.”
Arlu opened his mouth. “What shall we do in the meantime then, Lord Zerenas?”
“Taking into account your failure to finish the Silver Vixen,” Zerenas began, “you will carry on as planned. Amalgam must be finished as soon as possible, as the Silver Vixen will not fall into your hands again. I daresay she will completely Ascend by the next time you see her. Use Amalgam against her.”
“As you wish.”
“Eurami.” Zerenas paused, prompting Selere to hold her breath. He continued with his soft tone, however. “Continue tracking my sister. I beg you to keep your claws off her until she starts to show signs of hindering our plans. I…I would like to show her mercy.”
Eurami sighed and answered in a sing-song tone, “It’ll be easier to kill her.”
“It would cause me much grief.”
“Whatever you say then. You don’t mind that I peel apart her guardian’s neck with my teeth, do you?”
“I don’t care about her guardian.”
“I knew we could come to an agreement somewhere.”
As Selere began slowly inching away, Arlu spoke up one last time. “What of the efforts in the other lands? Will the others need help?”
“You speak with the same compassion Azariah spoke with,” Zerenas replied with an amused snort. “The others are moving on my command, so we have nothing to fear. Time will finish off Archsage Seylo, and then once the 14th Order Arcana has been dealt with, we can continue on to the next phase.
“Take care, my friends. We cannot afford mishaps any longer.”
Keeping her steps light and her breath silent had never been so difficult for Selere. While she didn’t understand the majority of the conversation, she knew one thing for certain: Marcus had to leave the area, right away.
Posted on May 4, 2013, in Arcana Chapters and tagged Arcana, Arcana chapters, chapter 31, creative writing, fantasy, fiction, long reads, prose, Selere, weekly chapters, weekly series, writing. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.