“Imagine that,” Cyrus said behind Reeon. “Effulgence Point was Kevyn’s childhood home. But of course, you knew that, right?”
“Surprisingly, no,” Reeon replied. “Her childhood wasn’t something she liked to mention often, and we didn’t see each other much to have that conversation. I guess by the time she and I met, she’d been training in Eternia City long enough to call it her home.”
“But you knew to come here. Why?”
Reeon shrugged. “It’s the closest clerical settlement to Kioma, so naturally, I figured it was more convenient for you and Almira. Besides that, this is where the best healers and Light mages gather for their studies. The Light temple’s here, after all.”
From their places high up on the escarpments, Reeon and Cyrus could see the golden sandstone sheen of the Lighthouse below them. Massive in circumference as a castle spire, the Lighthouse stood proudly despite its darkened beacon. As far as Reeon recalled from his travels, the Lighthouse’s glory shined brightest, like a sun, at night. Ships veered from the spinning light, lest they crashed into the escarpments of the northwestern corners of Luxakari. In return, grateful captains sent contributions for restoration projects, keeping the Lighthouse standing and functioning.
Reeon admired the community efforts around the ancient relic. People lately appeared to forget the importance of such historical legacies, after all. Yet he had another worry keeping him preoccupied – a worry that rested in the grassy hillocks a distance behind the village, to the south.
Cyrus looked about uncertainly. “Ree, I know you like all sorts of melancholy, but hanging out in a cemetery’s a bit much, don’t you think? Not as bad as others I’ve seen by a long shot, but, there’s dead people here, you know.”
“Look, it’s not recreation for me either,” said Reeon. “I see and hear every little dark secret the dead have to offer.”
“Then come on, the silence of this place is really giving me the creeps. Kevyn might be up, after all!”
“What, and then have her yell at me for using my magic? Cy, I don’t mind if you take off and check on her yourself, but I’ll take the dead people over getting scolded by Kevyn any day.”
Cyrus crossed his arms. “Now what right does Kev have to get on your case? You did what you needed to do to get her out of there; you saved her life.”
“After nearly trading my own.” On cue, Reeon doubled over under a fit of coughs, hacking up a hot metallic taste that curled up in his throat and flooded his mouth. He thought to swallow it down, until he caught Cyrus’s concerned look. Get it out, Reeon told himself, and turned away to spit out a gob of blood into a small rag he pulled from his pocket.
“Sometimes I forget you two are attached to each other at the hip,” said Cyrus. “Secretly,” he quickly added at Reeon’s disapproving look. “You don’t much like to admit it, but knowing you two long enough made that clear.” He nodded to the crumpled rag in Reeon’s hand. “So yeah, I understand. She would get on your case about that, huh?”
“Get on my case? That’s on a good day. She’d force a fistful of Light magic down my throat today.”
Cyrus snorted and shrugged. “Almira did say your magic wouldn’t be a good idea, but using it was your choice.” He waved his hand to indicate their surroundings, dotted with stone markers. “So you’re not here for fun, but for a reason. What is it?”
Reeon pointed down to the eastern side of the village, a dilapidated section of smoldered and ruined houses. From his eyes and ears, a gritty gray fog seared the area, and shrieking cries punctured the air. “You see that? The shadows there come and go from this cemetery.” He nodded to the two placards closest to himself and Cyrus. “I’d seen those shadows before, Cy. On Kevyn.”
“Kevyn?” Cyrus glanced from the placards to the ruined village, then back. “Ree, the girl’s a Light mage. Why would she be associated with something from your field?”
“Her being a Light mage has nothing to do with the fact she has secrets she won’t tell even me. Same goes for you and Almira.” At Cyrus’s wary expression, Reeon smiled a little. Regardless of close relationships, a dark niche or two always lurked in people. It was no news to a Dark mage like Reeon, but as he understood, no one liked acknowledging their own darkness. It was a sore subject for many folks, and accepting its existence meant admitting to a flaw. Rather than risk drawing attention to personal sores, people turned blind eyes instead. As a person aware of his own limitations, Reeon had to admit, he liked making people examine their flaws, even for a moment. But, “I don’t pry, Cyrus, don’t worry. I don’t believe it my business, Dark Ranger or not, to know everyone’s dark little secrets. I think I’d be downright terrified to know some of them. Like Almira’s, for instance.”
Cyrus shrugged. “You can at least tell she’s been through a lot. I’ve been hanging around her for Sei knows how long, and she still won’t open up to me. So no offense, but I’d push you off this cliff if you somehow knew what was on Almira’s mind.” He breathed and waved the subject aside. “But why Kev? She’d open up to you sooner or later.”
Reeon shook his head. “Knowing her, it would be later, and later for her is too late for everyone else. Regulus needs her to come to terms with her issues, and asked me to help. And the only way I can help is by knowing what happened.” He sat down in the grass in front of the placards. “Effulgence Point is Kevyn’s childhood home. According to the villagers, Kevyn was here when that eastern side came down. And these…” Reeon brushed aside old ashes, dirt, and dried grass, revealing the names at the bottom of the markers. “These people, I think, are a big part of Kevyn’s concerns.”
Cyrus leaned in closer to read the letters. “Derek Sailon, loved father, husband, and professor of Sei’s divine light. Mara Sailon, beloved mother, wife, and the light of our lives. May she continue to dance under the Phoenix’s wing…” He blinked, shook his head, and rubbed his eyes. “Sailon,” he echoed. “Wait, so these people are…!”
“Kevyn’s and her sister’s parents,” Reeon finished. “I knew Kevyn received tutelage and support from the late Archsage of Light, but she never mentioned her parents were dead. I never assumed anything good had happened to them, considering how tight-lipped Kev was about them, but this…This is beyond anything I could have assumed.” As a person whose parents still breathed – at least, when he last saw them ten years ago – imagining the lack of their earthly presence disturbed Reeon into agitated silence. Losing his brother had been too much for him already. He couldn’t stomach the thought of losing his parents as well.
Cyrus continued Reeon’s theory. “You said the things you see between here and the ruins are the same,” he started. “So you think whatever happened down there killed Kev’s parents at the same time?”
Before Reeon expressed his agreement, a slow rustle sounded behind him and Cyrus, followed by Kevyn’s voice: “Don’t think it. Believe it.”
As Reeon stood from his seat, and Cyrus turned to meet Kevyn’s eye, she went on. “I had to ask around to find you,” she said. She really was in no condition to be walking around; Reeon recognized the tired glaze in her eyes, as well as the lethargic drag in her steps. The bandages visible under the collar of her robes reminded Reeon of the deep red trenches scored down her back. She had to have been in so much pain. “You know I’m not happy with you two scouting around like this.”
“You wouldn’t have told me yourself, Kev. It was either I figure this out on my own, or I just wouldn’t be able to help.”
She sighed, clearly too exhausted to argue. Ambling to the markers where her parents lied, she scanned the village below. “You can see the entire picture here, huh?”
“Most of it.”
“Entire,” Kevyn corrected. She nodded first to the ruins. “I used to live there. Attended the Lighthouse for school and the basics of Light magic. Dad taught most of my lessons. Then the main market areas to the west there – that’s where Mami worked. She sold herbs and plants, and books she made and wrote. Little guidebooks on the legacy of the Priestess of Light. Sis and I had our own copies Mami would read to us at night.”
She swallowed and shifted uncomfortably. “Mami also had the birthmark on her back. The rising phoenix? That thing marked her for eligibility as the next Priestess. Azariah rejected her though. From early on, our last Priestess wanted me as her vessel. Mami kept it secret though, for my sake.”
“But everyone knew Mara had the capability,” said Reeon.
“Everyone,” Kevyn agreed. “Including Eternia City.”
Cyrus voiced his and Reeon’s immediate conjecture: “Please don’t tell me the Luxakarian nobility had anything to do with this.”
Kevyn scoffed. “Nobility? If they can call themselves nobility, then I should be allowed burn down the Temple of Sei and install myself as an idol.” She sighed and hugged herself, shuddering. “But they knew.” Her voice quieted, trembling. “They knew, alright. They knew everything they needed to know about my mother. And you know what they said?
“They said they needed a purge. Azariah’s rejection of my mother meant Effulgence Point had lost its sanctity. They ‘didn’t know’ why, but they had to ‘cleanse’ the area of my mother’s taint.”
A purge? It was the same excuse Reeon had heard 16 years ago in Sephone, when they came for the acolytes of Penumbra Spire. He’d heard it again when they next went for the Sephonese. And then a third time, when they came for him, when they pinned his brother to a tree with too many lances and nails to count. A purge.
“Seven Mageknights came.” Kevyn stared at the ground, probably to stop herself from breaking down, but Reeon could see her shoulders shaking. “What could a bunch of peace-loving, affable clerics have done against seven of the best Light Mageknights? What could my mother have done against a General?”
She paused again to gather herself. “Nothing,” she finally said. “Except push me and my sister out the house, and scream at us to run for the Lighthouse. All the while choking on her own blood and a halberd through her back.”
Kevyn said this seemingly dry-eyed, but Reeon’s senses picked up on those shadows again. The more Kevyn related this story, the higher the shadows screamed and swirled around her. Pitch boiled and bubbled from the point Reeon believed was Kevyn’s heart, and if not for the one pinprick of light that fought to keep shining, he knew she would have been totally consumed.
Though Kevyn spoke no more on the issue, Reeon had enough information to piece together the remaining story. “Master Arden must have told you becoming Priestess would allow you to reap justice on Arlu. So you took up the Light Sage’s tutelage to take vengeance for your parents.”
Cyrus had a grim look. “Kev, believe me when I say you’re completely justified in wanting to make Arlu pay, but you’re supposed to the Priestess of Light. I don’t know the whole story of Order Arcana, but I do remember Almira saying if you act out of line, that’s it for you. You won’t be able to Ascend. So you don’t plan on killing Pellsi, do you?”
Kevyn glared at Cyrus with such a fierce hatred that both he and Reeon unwittingly took a step back. “Maybe I do, maybe I don’t,” she said. “But considering what that pig did to my family and everyone else who lived in that district, considering what he does now to tarnish Azariah’s name, he owes more than his life! He owes me a debt beyond anything his little cockroach heart’s worth, but I plan to make him pay back every last drop of blood he spilled that day!”
A tense silence fell over the three. Even Reeon, as affectionate of Kevyn as he was, couldn’t bring himself to approach her, as she turned back to her parents’ graves. She finally breathed deeply, and glanced over her shoulder at him. Her voice threatened to break into sobs. “Come on Reeon,” she said, “Don’t look at me like that. I know, I probably deserve it, but, you can’t blame me, can you? I’m not a monster; I know what I’m doing! So please…don’t look at me like that.”
“Let me be honest, though,” Reeon replied, “You’ve really made it clear to me why Regulus is so afraid to teach you his Artes.” The task of guiding Kevyn out of the shadows suddenly felt like lead against his shoulders. He was going to have to do this one step at a time. “But I’m going to trust you.” The words alone lightened the air around her. “I’ll help you, Kevyn, but you have to promise you won’t soil your pedigree by acting on your impulse. It’ll cost us too much.”
“I know,” said Kevyn, “I know that, Reeon. I know if I mess up, Order Arcana—”
“I’m not as concerned about the Order as you think. I’m talking about us, Kevyn. Dying isn’t the only way I can lose you.”
Cyrus nodded in agreement. “It’s a bit of a difficult discussion, but there are people who think losing yourself is worse than dying. And Reeon wouldn’t be the only one who’d be messed up if anything happened to you.”
Kevyn forced a tired smile. “What, you and Almira would be concerned?”
“Hey, we’re pals, right? Even though Almira won’t ever admit it, there’s a reason why she calls you a close friend.” Cyrus breathed once, as though he regained a second wind. “That said, you won’t mind if I tell Almira what you just told us, right? She deserves to know, not only as the Shaman of Aura, but also as your friend.”
Light steps padded through the grass behind Reeon and Cyrus, followed by Almira’s voice. “I’m curious about this information I deserve to know,” she started, “but before that, we have a problem.” Reeon turned to Almira as she went on. “Draconians,” she said. “At the Lighthouse. They’re here as part of their reconnaissance, and they’re harassing the people here for their hospitality. I would have dispatched them on my own, but there are too many people in the area, and we’re dealing with a bronze.”
A Primal Drake, Reeon mentally rephrased. Next to the black draconians, the bronzes were one of the worst to contend with. “That bronze’s partner,” he started, “and their tiers—”
“Pearl,” Almira replied without missing a beat. “The bronze is an Elite, the pearl’s a high-end Lesser. The clerics bend to their will now, but the drakes are starved for action. They’ll start killing at any moment.”
Violet lightning crackled at Cyrus’s hand, and materialized into his favorite poleax. “Then we’ll have to chase them out of here. Reeon, you can hold your lance at least?”
“Of course.” He turned to Kevyn. “Kev, you’ll stay back, right?”
“Are you kidding me?” Kevyn snapped back. “You’re telling me to step back and watch my neighbors bleed under draconian claws? Not likely!” She suddenly stopped however, and looked over her shoulder to the top of the Lighthouse. Something else had seized her attention, and judging from Kevyn’s bewildered expression, Reeon had an idea what prompted her next words. “I’ll follow you guys later. I have something to do before I go.”
“So be it,” said Almira. “But know that the longer you take, the more time the drakes have to do as they please.”
As Reeon, Cyrus, and Almira raced away and descended the cemetery steps and slopes, leaving Kevyn with her parents’ graves, Cyrus spoke again. “Reeon! What got into Kev all of a sudden?”
“You saw how confused she looked,” replied Reeon. Shadows congealed in his hand to form the diluted Shadowreave, his favorite lance. “Regulus wants to have a chat with her.”