Chapter Five – The Darkness in Lyr
This was awkward.
A car was summoned to take them both into the city, and Jhase sat in the backseat next to Lyra.
He willed himself to relax and stretched his neck back and forth. But it was as if all his nerve endings were magnetized to her presence, his skin buzzing from her. The worst part? She was just as tense beside him, her spine stiff and straight, her hands tucked between her knees.
What was he supposed to do with a Spirit? He’d been alone his whole life. Survived on his own. He remembered watching Pairs in the House, particularly Ember and Cerys, and watching the connection they had with each other. The same, but different, representatives of the same being in two different forms. The way they spoke, moved, breathed… all in compliment to each other, if not in complete sync. He remembered hating himself for the envy that he felt for them, that they at least always had each other. Never alone.
Even now, in mixture with the tension, he could feel his body synchronizing with Lyra’s. Their breathing, the way they both shifted under the tension, the way they were both actively trying to remain calm…
“Driver,” she spoke, “Would you mind if I afforded us a moment of privacy?”
“Not at all, your grace.”
She waved her hand and a barrier of light appeared between the front and back seats, shimmering, reflecting light like a mirror. Without being prompted, Jhase drew a rune for silence and placed it in the barrier, effectively soundproofing them.
Lyra turned to him and held out her hands. He placed his hands in hers.
The connection between them was instant and intimate. He could feel her light, her energy, her life, and it seeped through him, charging his blood, flooding his mind. He tried to sort out where she ended and he began, but it was impossible, for they were one and the same. He knew her; and not in such trivial ways as what her favorite food was, or what books she liked to read. He knew her energy, her soul, her feelings, her fears, her emotions, for she was him and he was her.
“You have felt it too,” she told him, “That… I am not sure what to call it, but that feeling as though someone is calling your name without actually being certain you heard it.”
“The itch,” he replied, “Like you can feel someone’s eyes on you and the back of your neck tingles.”
“Yes…” she breathed, “That. I must admit, I had thought I was crazy.”
“Do you suppose it has always been that way?” she asked, “Our beings calling out to each other?”
Jhase racked his brain, trying to remember the first time he might’ve felt that itch, that lack of connection to something. He couldn’t though… it seemed like it was always just something he felt on occasion.
“What now?” he asked, “I don’t exactly know how to be an Anchor or anything…”
She rolled her eyes at him, “An Anchor is not something to be, it is something you are. You are an Anchor, I am a Spirit.”
“Easy enough for you to say. I don’t exactly think about myself as an Anchor.”
“Well, you must start, because you are.”
She released his hands and waved her own, dissipating the barrier between them and the driver. Lyra leaned forward, “Driver, please take us to the Waterfront District.”
“As you wish, your grace.”
Out on the streets, he found himself lagging behind her a few steps and watching. She was grace and energy, skipping and floating down the streets, the whiteness of her dress and the lightness of her hair making even the cleanest streets dull and dusty by comparison.
She filled him in on the subtleties of castle life, and pointed out the famous points of the city, places of history. She asked him about his Hunter’s life, about the House, about his family.
People stepped out of her way when she passed, and she stopped to speak to everyone. There was a warmth around her, an energy that called the people to her. They bowed to her, shook her hands and she clasped them, holding them, consuming them for just a few moments as she asked after their well-being, their shops, their families. Some folks she even greeted by name. She kneeled down with the children and created spectacular light shows in her palms for them while they laughed and squealed. She insisted to the elderly that she would be by to see them soon.
He learned more about her in the moments she didn’t speak. When she would caress her favorite fabrics from the vendors, or thoughtfully hand pick fruits and breads to send to the Order-run orphanages. He watched her in the moments when she reveled in the attention of the public, and watched her in the moments when she didn’t, those moments where she’d scoop her hair into her scarf and wrap it around her head and tuck her tiara into her pocket.
It was like that they entered a coffee shop nestled along the coast, with a balcony overlooking the steel-gray ocean.
“This is one of my favorite places to be,” she told him, her hands wrapped around a white ceramic mug, “It feels as though I can escape the pressures of royalty for but a few precious moments.”
“It’s too much sometimes?” he asked.
She shrugged and stirred her tea, “It is akin to wearing a mask, I should think. I cannot describe it. I have been a princess my whole life, I know no different. However….” her voice drifted off into a wistful sigh, “Truthfully…. it narrows down to this; I have been told all my life that I am destined for greatness. And I have lived with the knowledge forever and it has made me ponder over this notion that perhaps I was born into the wrong set of circumstances. That I should have been born into something else. Sometimes I feel as though I do not love being a princess as much as Xael and Oliver seem to love it. It holds no passion for me.”
“So you gotta fake it sometimes.”
“Indeed. And it can be tiresome.”
He appreciated her candor; it gave him a taste of who she was. And honestly, he would’ve been a little confused if the Goddess had decided his Spirit companion was to be someone who thrived in all the ritz of royalty and nobility. Would’ve seemed… odd? Eh, probably more cruel than anything else, seeing as he had no inklings at all for a fancy life.
A little smirk quipped over her lips, “You are satisfied with my answer,” it wasn’t a question.
Jhase shrugged and sipped his coffee, “Just thinking you’re a girl after my own heart, that’s all.”
“Do you think I would enjoy a Hunter’s life moreso than this one?”
He thought about it for a moment, “Maybe? I dunno. It’s got more noise, more work, but it’s definitely a simpler life, for sure. And just as much drama and politics at times, I’d bet.”
“More sweat, blood, and tears, if that’s what you mean by passion.”
“Perhaps a day here soon, I shall find out.”
Jhase paused in the middle of a sip and regarded her. Her face was bright, but serious. And it occurred to him in that moment; what were they going to do about their lives? They couldn’t be more different – he a Hunter and she a Princess. The ultimate dichotomy of rigid responsibility and nomadic freedom. What kind of sacrifices were they going to have to make for each other’s lifestyle? What kind of compromises?
“We shall make it work,” she assured him, reading his mind, “We are not the first Hunter/Royalty Pair, and we will not be the last,” she gently placed her empty mug on the table, “For now, my Master Hunter, we must go. We have business to attend to and the day grows later. And Czar will murder me if I do not have you at the Royal Guard academy this evening.”
Jhase gave her a look, “He will not.”
Lyra matched his expression, slender eyebrow cocked, “You have not yet been subjected to the stare of Czar. Those blue eyes will pierce you and burn you alive with guilt. Trust me when I say, my mother and father? They were not the disciplinarians of my household. Czar has an iron will to match his iron fist.”
And for a hot moment, Jhase saw it in his mind. Blue eyes staring him down, cold as ice yet hot as white fire burning him alive. And a little shot of anxiety flooded down his spine, “Alright, I’ll believe you.”
They were on their way through the University district when he felt the rumble deep in his bones before he heard it with his ears and even then, he heard the people around him more than he heard the deep, echoing vibrations. Gasps, questions, high pitched frantic noises. Jhase locked eyes with Lyra and she grabbed his arm.
“Something is wrong in the castle…” she said as the road under their feet began to tremble, “I feel…”
She didn’t have to say how she felt; he could feel it too. His gut instincts were telling him that something dangerous, something threatening, was happening.
“We have to go back!” she exclaimed in a frantic whisper, “Here…” she didn’t let go of his arm and her body began to dissolve into little orbs of light.
His eyes widened, “Lyra…” he hedged, slight alarm in his voice as he himself began to also dissolve into little orbs of light, “Lyraaaaa….”
It felt as though his whole body had gone numb and then the blood started to pump back through it, giving him this pins-and-needles sensation, coupled with being scorched by heat as if he’d just opened an oven. It was blinding bright for a heartbeat, a wave of hot, and then suddenly, his boots were planted in the foyer of the castle. He didn’t have time to orient himself before Lyra was dragging him by the hand down the hallway. His mind was quick though; the people in the castle were panicking, the very walls trembling, the Royal Guards were trying to organize an evacuation.
She stopped one of the guards, “My mother?” she inquired.
“She headed to the Gardens with your siblings,” the guard answered, “We tried to evacuate… my Queen ordered us to tend to everyone else first…”
Lyra nodded curtly and gave Jhase’s hand a tug, “Come, Jhase!” Damn, she was spry for a little wisp of a thing, her feet barely touching the ground as she sprinted down hallways, through doors, down stairs. The shaking grew more urgent, dust and little pieces of stone falling from the ceiling. He kept his eyes peeled, his body tight and ready to pull her to a halt or push her out of the way should one of those big ass building stones fall.
“Do not be like that,” she read his mind, “I am a Spirit, remember? Just run!” another door, down some more stairs. He didn’t fail to notice that the further and further down they went, the more desolate and decrepit the castle walls looked. No flourish of tapestries, no stained glass, just cold, damp stone walls, as if she were leading him straight down into the dungeon bowels of the castle.
“Can’t we just light travel?” he said, pushing his body faster to keep up with her.
“I can only travel where there is light,” she reminded him, and the glance over her shoulder at him was haunted, “There is no light where we are going…”
They ended up in a long hall with large double doors at the end. She let go of him and together, they pushed open the large doors.
Light poured out, blinding him, spilling over the cold stone floors. He blinked, his eyes adjusting.
They were at the top of a short set of stone stairs. In front of them lay the most beautiful garden that Jhase had ever seen. Wild with greenery, popping with color, quaint stone paths with intermingled glass that caught every ray of sun and sparkled. In the center was a ornate fountain, a depiction of the Goddess Lyria, holding a stone basin in her arms. Water cascaded over the basin and landed in a pool at her feet.
Lyra wasted no time admiring this spectacle and instead jumped down the stairs and raced across the garden.
“Admire later!” she called to him, “We must go!”
He raced after her, ground trembling under his feet. They skidded to a halt in front of more doors. More doors… he swore in his head and he went to reach for the handle only to see that the doors were already cracked open.
“They are open…” Lyra gasped and he saw that her already light facade was downright pale now, “Come!”
She pushed open the door and he felt it. Something… frightening and heavy inside his chest. He felt his heart rate elevate, his adrenal gland spike. Every fiber in his being demanded that he turn tail and run, flee this place and never return.
Beside him, Lyra gasped, “Do you feel that?” she whispered. Her hand was pressed against her chest.
“Ya…” he replied, glancing at her for an answer.
“These doors have been sealed for many, many years,” she told him, “Only those with the Truth may open them… my Mother is here already.”
“The Truth?” he asked.
She didn’t answer him.
They were standing in another hallway, this one long and dark and narrow. Another set of doors stood in front of them, covered in the same rune designs and script. They too, had been opened. Beyond them, more doors that had been opened.
“Lyra…” he prompted, watching her pale face, her champagne eyes wide with fright.
“This… this is the resting place of Evil,” she whispered.
A violent tremor shook them and she reached out to grab him, to stabilize each other. Once they had their bearing, he followed her through each of the doors. Goosebumps erupted over his skin, his hair standing on end. He’d heard the stories, the fairy tales he’d been told as a young White back at the House, that he told himself to the new young Whites. That Evil had been born through war with other lands, that the Goddess herself had enlisted the help of the Four Masters to help vanquish Evil. That the Houses of Hunters existed to protect the people and the Royal Family from Evil, that if little Whites did not train hard and do their chores, Evil would come find them in their dreams and haunt them. Some of it was true myth, if such a thing existed, and some of it was old wives tales.
As the feeling settled heavier in his chest, he knew that this was no myth he was running headlong into. What waited at the end of this series of magicked doors was true.
They pushed open the last door and found themselves in another large chamber. It was circular in design, and though brightly lit, had the distinct feeling of being underground and oppressed. The floor was made of dirt, rock, and dying grass. A thick wave hit them both – Jhase grit his teeth against it and beside him, a little sound of dismay escape Lyra and she backed one step. There were other people in this room; Adelaide, Czar, Xael, Oliver, Isla, Nico.
In the very center of the room was an intricate iron stake and surrounding it a complex and equally intricate rune design, nothing like Jhase had ever seen before. The design appeared to be wearing in some places. The stake in the center was bleeding shadows and evil darkness; it was slowly seeping out of the ground, but appeared to be mostly contained by the magic of the rune circle. The shadows pushed harder against the places where the magic was wearing away.
“It has begun!” the Queen addressed them, her voice carrying even over the sound of rumbling. She and her daughters and the Light Spirits were seated near the rune circle, magic glowing from their hands, “Lyra, love, we need your light to contain the Evil. Just a little longer so that we may repair the circle!” Lyra rushed over to help as the Queen’s eyes locked with Jhase, “Master Hunter… prepare your sword for the worst.”
No sooner though, than did he reach behind his back for his steel, a tremor rent the ground, knocking everyone to the ground. Haunting laughter echoed through the chamber.
“You have returned, warrior.”
That voice. It crawled over his skin, inside him, turning his flesh to ice. All eyes turned to Jhase as he sat up and stared at the stake. Shadows crawled up it, shadows of hands reaching, desperate to escape.
“You have returned to try your blade against me again? You will fail. My containment has only increased my strength. You will not succeed this time.” a shadow hand burst through the rune circle, straight for Jhase, and wrapped around his throat. He lifted his hands, grasping at the shadows as they lifted him effortlessly, dangling him in the air. He contorted his body, reaching for his sword…
A blast of light magic withered the shadow hand and Jhase fell to the ground. He sucked in a couple of deep breaths as Lyra appeared at his side. He assured her quickly that he was fine and drew his sword. She stretched out her hand and created a light barrier of some kind between them and the shadows.
“I see that the Goddess has revived your Spirit,” Evil spoke again, a touch of laughter surrounding its voice, “No matter. I shall break her again.”
His brain slowed down, processing the words. The Evil shadows came towards them again, this time, in greater force. Jhase reached out for Lyra, his non-sword hand grabbed her shoulder as the shadows penetrated the light barrier as easily as if it wasn’t even there. He meant to pull her away, meant to pull his body in front of her, something lurking in the recesses of his mind that he would lose her. He couldn’t lose her to the Evil, not again.
He was not fast enough.
The shadows clipped her as he pulled her away, catching her in the temple where they would’ve caught her in the heart. She barely let out of scream, thrown backwards across the chamber, where she lay unmoving.
Somehow, in that moment, he comprehended that he’d never felt such crippling panic in all his 20 years. Every organ in his body froze; his breath, his blood, his lungs. His eyes saw her, registered her prone figure, her platinum hair fanned out in complete disarray, limbs crumpled. He didn’t move, no, he couldn’t move. He couldn’t even think, shock rendering him completely immobile. By the grace of the Goddess, he somehow gripped his sword tighter in his hands. Feeling began to resurface – anger, denial, panic – and he willed his body to move towards her, scrambling to catch the ground under his hands and feet, to push himself vertical.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the shadows move again, racing towards her once more. Deep inside him, he knew he would not let her be touched a second time. He sheathed his sword in a swift motion and drew runes with his hands, threading together some magic. What, exactly, he wove together, he wasn’t entirely sure. He wasn’t thinking, he was just doing.
He pushed the magic out, firing it at the stake in the center of the room. It glowed blinding bright, ethereal bluish white. Shadows dissolved in its path and it struck the stake. The magic raced down it, piercing into the ground, glowing the rune circle and all the shadows sucked back into the earth.
Jhase didn’t care to watch anymore and stumbled over to Lyra. He flipped her over gently, pushing her hair out of her face. Her White Kiss was darkening slowly. He picked it up, threading the strands between his fingers as the white slowly rinsed to black.
“Damn you, boy!” the voice shouted angrily. Jhase whipped his head up, grasping his sword on reflex, “You have seen the Truth! This is not the end. I will have your Spirit. I will crush you. I will break free. I will see the Truth and end the Reign of the Goddess. This land will be destroyed. Mark my words. This is not done.”
The shadows disappeared. The tremors quieted. Jhase dared not breathe, it seemed as though no one dared to breathe. Was it over? He turned his attention back to Lyra. Her Goddess stripe was completely dark now. What did that mean?
“Lyra,” he shook her shoulder gently, “Lyra.” she was breathing, he could see her chest rising and falling.
Adelaide, Xael, and Isla joined him, their Spirits hovering nearby.
“What’s happening?” Jhase demanded, “I thought Spirits can’t be hurt! How is she hurt?”
The Queen touched the strip of darkened hair and shook her head, “I cannot be certain,” she replied, “But I assure you that I will do everything in my power to heal her.” She nodded her head and Czar came forward and laid a hand on Lyra’s forehead. Within moments, her form had dissolved into nothing but a bundle of light orbs, and within that, there was a single orb of deep purple. The Light Spirit scooped up all the orbs and held them out for Jhase. He cupped his hands and accepted them.
“What did you do to her?” he asked, studying the little lights. He knew that this was not harmful to her.
“I reverted her to her pure form,” Czar told him gently, “Spirits heal best in this way. Elementals also need exposure to their own nature to promote the healing process.”
Adelaide nodded, “She will need a strong, natural source of light to heal. I think the Skyview Solarium with suffice. Come, Master Hunter.”
Jhase cradled the pulsing orbs of light in his palms as he followed the Royal Family up many flights of stairs to the very top of the tallest tower within the castle. He could feel a deep ache in the center of his chest for Lyra. The feeling of her in his hands, her fate uncertain, filled him with such heaviness. Her fate was his.
“Come,” Adelaide beckoned him into a beautiful room gleaming with sunlight. It danced and glittered off the walls, reflecting through remarkable panes of glass that circled the entire space. Through the windows to the south, he could see all the way down to Lyr City and beyond. To the northwest, the ocean. It was gorgeous.
The Queen gestured for him to place Lyra on a chaise that Czar dragged right into the middle of the room. Gently, he did as he was instructed and the Queen and her Spirit immediately set to work, both of them weaving magic and holding glowing hands to over Lyra’s form.
“What’s going to happen to her?” he asked.
Adelaide shook her her, her face lined with worry, “I am not sure. Tell me, child, what do you feel, inside your heart?”
Jhase stopped and considered that for a moment, “I feel…” he rubbed at the vale in his chest, “Something horrible has happened to her, something… it feels… terminal. I’m not sure. She still feels well, but not well.”
Adelaide shared a look with Czar and the Light Spirit nodded, “Perhaps she shall pull through then,” he said, “We shall do everything we can to heal her from Evil’s curse.”
Evil. That thing in the bowels of the castle.
“I want answers,” he demanded suddenly, “I wanna know what the hell is really happening here. I thought that the old myths and legends about Evil… they are just metaphors for war, ghost stories to tell children at night. Origin stories about the Goddess, cooked up by the Order a long time ago. And now I find out it’s actually true. What is going on? I feel like I’m missing something here.”
He watched as Adelaide and Czar once again had a private conversation and Jhase felt tendrils of frustration and anger creep through his chest, “You know something, your majesty. That thing sleeps in the dungeons of your castle. Tell me what you know. Please,” he tacked on, remembering who he was speaking to.
The Queen’s shoulder rose and fell in a sigh, “Perhaps it’s better if I show you,” she said, rising to her feet, “Come with me, Master Hunter. I have something to show to you.”
Chapter Six – Coming Soon!