Chapter I

The cold ground felt the impact of tiring feet. Having walked for days Rissa saw no change, just a stretch of desert. No life, no food and no water. Regular gusts of wind uprooted the crystalised sand to slash the glowing tanned skin. Rissa’s face was covered in scratches some healed and some still leaking ruby red blood. They were her battlescars surfacing from her fight within.

Worn trainers led the way as if they possessed a mind of their own. She wasn’t thinking about walking, it became automated. Suddenly, the sun was banished and the moon greeted the sand. The dessert lit up; emitting thin rays of light. Unable to focus on the path as the beauty of her view mesmerized her. She came to a halt. Looking up at the blanket of the night sky, Rissa noticed a few sparkles – one in particular.

Slow uneasy whispers crept into the deepest corners of Rissa’s mind. Sourcing the voice would require a dig through dusty long forgotten things.

“Can you see it?”

“See what?”

“Everything I taught you”

“Guidance when you least expect it?”

“My dear what if your guide is already here”

A star. So faint but so bright, highlighted in the red sea dust – frozen in time and space. Her body yearned to walk towards it. But it was late; sleep and rest was needed. Rissa marked the ground with near by pebbles in the direction of the star and prepared to settle down, whilst finally feeling progression. With careful positioning, as if to be sleeping on a bed of nails, she laid down. Murky green eyes stared into the flask to see only a few drops of water. Raising her hand above the flask, water drew up to her dainty fingers. The water was caressed, then forced into her palm to be squeezed, whilst the other hand remained firmly on the ground. Water treackled down from the palm to the fingers and into the flask, leaving her hand to glisten in the moonlight. Half of the flask was filled, when a rush of tingles ran through her body, leaving her lighted headed and faint. She collapsed.

“Never again”

“Control is what you need”

A cluttered room full of forgetten things, hidden things, demons and ghosts. The centre of the room held a wooden table of stable frame, covered in a thin layer of snow and two chairs from childhood past. Behind one of the chairs a tall womanly figure stood. Her hair pulled into a bun which was once neat. Loose strands of soft golden brown hair were touching the collar of a green lacey dress. The dress was covered in stones and sequins almost shining in the dark and split in the middle to reveal a cream silky material sealed to her skin.

With a nod of her head she signalled Rissa to take a seat. Staggering forward and clinging on to as many inanimate objects as possible she managed to get to the chair and finally rest her aching body. The woman bent down, placed both hands on the table and said “I remember when you were born. The doctor said you was dead.”

“I am alive” uttered Rissa.

“He said he couldn’t find a heartbeat. Unfortunately you started to cry”

” You mean fortunately.”

“I am aware of what I meant and said. I didn’t want you. It disgusted me that I, Catherine Santechez gave birth to something so vile.”

Rissa stared blankly at the woman.

“I’ve always wanted a daughter, then I had one that I couldn’t love. The nurses asked me to feed you and clean you, but why should I give you more, when you had taken enough-” Catherine exclaimed.

In a nonchalant tone Rissa replied, “Greed is human nature. So is a mother’s love. But neither exists here.”

“-and how am I suppose to love something that my body instinctively repels”

Catherine removed her hands from the table and turned away from Rissa. Her shoulders were push back so her shoulder blades protruded out of her back and she said “Leave”

“As you wish”

Feeling rejuvenated and full of life she proceeded to rise from her chair. A moment of silence passed and as Rissa took a step forward, Catherine darted forward. Menacingly she whispered “You think I would let you leave so easily?”

“I warned you never to go too deep” A voiced echoed throughout the room which seem to make Catherine distort.

“Am leaving” Rissa firmly stated whilst looking into Catherine’s translucent blue-green eyes. She had one last glance back at the table and noticed there was no handprints. As Rissa started to walk away Catherine shed her colours and morphed into a incoherent black shadow. The Shadow grabbed Rissa’s shoulder, burning the first layer of her skin. She squealed.

A rush of clarity to her brain – she woke from her slumber.

A crisp blue blanket smothering the above. Every so often there is a tear and the white candy floss fluff comes pouring out, seemingly trying to devour itself. Vision becomes clearer, breathing becomes regular and feelings return to every inch of the body. Pain relief has worn off. The burning slowly intensifies.

Rissa started questioning herself, “It is impossible, no? How can a subconscious wound transfer to reality, or was that a reality that could not be addressed?”

She removes her top but is reluctant to look. Her body urges then commands her to address her wound with an acknowledgement. She looks at her left shoulder.

Smouldering grey coats the burn, a few places have cracked revealing red orange lava blood. The grey seems to contain the fluids underneath ready to escape and drip out of her shoulder. Rissa blows her scar with the hope of cooling it down, but no amount of cold air will help. With each wind and breath the wound shrieks and pleads for mercy. The Shadow has left it’s mark. A spidery smokey mark.

Slowly Rissa puts her top back on. Clenching her teeth whenever she receives a shooting pain down her arm. Her top gathers at the top of her neck, she goes to pull it down and begins to feels the indentations on her back. Her whole back was covered in black art sealed deep into her skin – a ancient ring containing a swirl of letters to form the code:

‘I here by promise to honour and protect you foremost. I shall put you first before all other allies and colleagues. My ties to others outside of you are no longer of priority. My death prior to yours is desired, as my heart is linked to yours whilst yours is detached. I place myself on the line willing. I am ready to embrace death, in remembrance of the oath I took. Till my last breath is drawn I will forsaken all other duties and protect you. I will not take and love what is not mine. I promise to never run away but always charge forward. I was chosen, let me be worthy.’

Rissa muttered the words and pondered how much of the seal she abided  by. She stood up and shook off the sand she had become buried under. Slowly turning around to look for the stones she had placed on the ground. Nothing. She turned once again, in the hope her vision was deceiving her. Then thrice. All she saw was sand and no stones.

“Where are they?” Rissa kept muttering in the hope it was a form of magical chanting to reveal the stones. A sudden thud to the ground and her knees collided with the sand below. The pain of falling seem to subside with the thought of disappointment in the loss of direction. Rissa started to dig around her. The cold was still prominent, tingling her every bone and curling her flesh. As her hands were shoved into the sand, she felt the grains tear into her skin. Tear within a tear within a tear. The sand seem to fill her wounds and intensify the burning. Unable to continue she withdrew her hands. Something burned inside her which made her frantic and unstable. She began to dig again.

The day was darkening and the race against the light seeping out of the world was on. A cool drop rolled down her cheek and dampened her collar bone. Instinctively, the hands raised to her eyes to wipe away excess tears. But there was none. Completely dry.  Fiery red eyes transgressed back to the murky green iris as they watched the sun burn up the ground releasing red, pink, purple and orange toxins into the air. A shiver of cooling energy swept through her body and sweat from her forehead started to drip extensively. She dug from morning to dusk and did not realise time was collapsing.

“Another lost day” Rissa murmered as she pulled her hands out of the sand. Cuts, blood and bruises danced up her arm whilst being kindly dusted by residual sand. The sand around her had barely any indentations and seem to have been left untouched. No matter how much was dug it tumbled over it’s self and filled in the hole. Suddenly a gust of wind smacked Rissa’s face. Grains where up rooted from the ground creating a yellow mist, which danced and climbed in an attempt to reach the sky. Rissa laid on her side and curled up into a ball and attempted to protect her face. Regularly she squinted to see the progress of the storm. The storm was becoming more dense and ferocious. She could feel sharp shards ripping into her.  As she attempted to reach for her bag she noticed something shiny and jaggered on the ground. With resilience she crawled towards it and started to dust the excess sand away. There it was – the stones. Making note of the direction she was heading, she collected her bag and wrapped a black and white handkerchief around her month. On the right hand corner of the handkerchief was golden lettering – ‘CofS’.

Each leg was lifted higher then usual, as it tried to cut the mist of sand and wind to propel the body forward in determination to get past the storm. Rissa took a deep breath as she realised the extent of the pain she was in, but continued to walk regardless. A few moments later she stopped feeling any fresh wounds and the pain remained steady. The sand had stopped scratching at her but the winds were still roaring. Opening her eyes fully she noticed the storm seemed to repel her. In a state of unbelief, Rissa put her arm out to feel the grains of sand but noticed the grains fleeing from her to leave a thin space of air between her skin and the sand mist. She knew she lacked time to question her fortune and needed to continue before time ran out, so she resumed walking.

The force of the sand mist reduced as Rissa collapsed on her self. Slowly walking became crawling until movement ceased. A tinge of blue ran across the bottom of the sky leaking into the black blanket of the night. Only two hours left before sunrise. The remainder of her mental and physical strength propped her up straight and she began to walk again. A glance up but there was no guide tonight.

The winds were a sign of winter approaching. Rissa could not remember when she entered the desert but she knew she had get to Capitalè before the start of winter in a few day.

A lump full of thoughts formed in her throat, almost suffocating her. It had been months but the pain was the same. Nothing could fill the echoing dark void within. She wanted to cry with the hope to pour it out of her system but her mind conspired against her body. Without the sadness materialising it made the void grow larger. Left with a numb feeling in her heart she wondered what will come of him.

“Why did you do it?” She whispered to herself and closed her eyes.

——————————*** ——————————

Shallow waters pulsated along the river bed; feeding the trunks of an elder tree embedded in it.

Entwined in the branches of the tree a little girl sat arranging flowers in to small bouquets. Using some ribbon she tied them to the bare branches of the tree.

“What are you doing up there Rissa?” Bellowed a young man from across the river. “More importantly how did you cross the river?”

“I don’t know, I can’t remember. I was right where you are then am here.” She signalled her speech with hand movements as she spoke. “This tree never grows flowers, it never blossoms. The other trees do. It feels so sad, can’t you feel it Zen? I have to help it.”

The boy’s long lean legs proceeded to take steps forward to the riverbank. He was wearing a white vest tucked into light khaki green shorts, which stopped just above his knees. Zen had a golden complexion much like Rissa. It was very strange for a boy of his background to have a skin tone pigmented in gold dust. Small chubby hands whom were not use to hard labour lifted the shoes off his heel and chucked them aside. With perfect form he jumped straight into the river and swam to the elder tree.

“Zen, no! The water isn’t safe”.

Half way along the river, his body collapsed and withdrew into the water. Rissa screamed his name in the bleak hope that her voice alone could save him. For several minutes she searched the waters for his body.

Suddenly she noticed something at the bottom of the tree. A body. She jumped through the branches and bent her knees as she prepared herself to free fall to the bottom of the tree. Upon impact with the ground she felt a sharp pain shoot up her legs. A limp body laid aimlessly across the roots with his head smothered into the ground. Almost lifeless. Small dainty hands attempted to apply pressure on his back just like their father did when he tried to wake them up. A lumped formed in her throat which she tried hard to swallow but it remained persistent.Tears flew out of her eyes creating their own stream. She began to shake him and beg for him to wake up. No response.

As she turned him over:

“Boo!” shouted Zen

His voice seeped into her bloodstream and she felt warm again. Emotions knocked her backwards and she squealed,

“What’s wrong with you? That’s not funny, I was really scared. I thought I lost you.” With the last words her body capsized into her arms. Zen let out a laugh and placed his dripping arm around Rissa and kissed her on the forehead.

“You can never lose me, we are one but the same. Am sorry. It was funny seeing your face crumple up. At least I know you care about me.” She nudged him with her elbow and tried to squirm her way out from under his arm. With a warm look, he said “Let me help you decorate this tree you are so fond of.”

Rissa rubbed her face in an attempt to remove all traces of tears and smiled.

Purple engulfed the night sky with specks of luminous lights. The moon shone brightly on the colourful elder tree. Some of the petals gracefully fell from the tree like confetti, gifting Rissa and Zen with a beautiful sight.

“How does it feel now?” Zen asked Rissa.

“Much better,” she responded as she held his hand and swung it back and forth.

“Come on hop on my back. Let’s get you home.” Zen bent down and placed his arms behind him in anticipation of her climbing aboard. She placed her arms around his neck and rested her face on his back. As he walked into the river he realised he couldn’t feel the water and it was not necessary for him to swim. Once he reached the other side completely dry, he felt Rissa fall asleep and become slightly cold.

“It’s nearly time.”

Path lite up by crushed crystals of hope to ease the burden of the traveller, led up to a white house which seemed to fold around imaginary corners. Each window human sized. In one, a distinct silhouette of a man extended out and created a shadow of a greater man on the front porch. 

Air drawn up from the deepest corners of the lungs excluded from thin lips surrounded by hedge of uniformed hair with specs of ginger hair. 

“I’ll make you some tea” said Catherine. A tall slender woman with piercing aqua eyes stood in the corner of the room shuffling her feet and took brief moments to look up and gaze at her husband. He let out an incoherent murmer, which Catherine took as a yes. As she turned away towards the door, a lifeless voice bounced around the room, “Cat, settle the boys down,” he said. 

Thin long fingers reached into the top right pocket of a checkered green blazer and pulled out a crumpled piece of paper. 

For a length of time his emerald eyes stared at the parchment, awaiting for it to become blank. 

“The seventh son of mixed blood will become the property of the state and swear allegiance to the white king.”

Repetitive recitation of these words forced them to become lodged in his oesophagus. Suddenly in the distance a figure emerged from the dark forest. 

Automated response kicked in, his mouth dried up and patches under his arm became moist as he ran down three flights of stairs. “Why do we have so many steps, highly unnecessary?!” He exclaimed as he reached the last few steps. 

The doors flung open as he tried to regain control of his breathing. A young boy ran towards him. The boy seemed to be carrying something on his back. 

“Dad! Are you alright?” Shouted the boy from halfway across the patio. 

“Not as young as I use to be. Zen where have you…” Before he could finish his sentence Zen had arrived and wrapped his arm around his father’s back and attempted to prop him up. 

“Am fine Zen. You don’t need to do anything. Where’s your sister?” 

“Right here dad,” Zen pointed to his back. “She’s sleeping”

Zen’s father gently stroked her forehead several times before he asked Zen, “do you want to give her to me?”. He passed Rissa to his father like fragile glass, she almost willingly went to him. 

“You could have linked me.” said Zen’s father. 

“It’s not safe, remember.”

“Regardless, I was worried, why was you out so late. You could’ve bought her home earlier.” 

“At least I bought her home”

His father glared at him and Zen tried to soften his father mood, “I promised to protect her, you will have to learn to trust me.”

“Right. Off to bed for you. Don’t wake your brothers.” 

Before Zen entered the house he removed his shoes at the door step and proceeded to run inside and up the marble stairs. 

“It’s not particularly cold out tonight, so why is she so cold?” His father muttered to himself and called after his son “Zen! Zen, why is she so cold?” But it was too late Zen had disappeared out of ear shot. 

The moon shone on Rissa’s glowing skin, and highlighted the high points on her face. Beautiful. A youthful plump face. Her father hugged her tight and took her in doors. He took his shoes off on the porch and carried them in, neatly aligning them on the shoe rack, he placed Rissa’s muddy shoes in the basket which contained Zen’s equally dirty shoes. Carefully he climbed the stairs as he reached the top of the first flight of stairs, he heard the rustling of a tray. Catherine stood very still with the tray in her arm. 

“So they came back safely?” She said sheepishly. 

“Yes. Would you like to put Rissa to bed?” He asked her with hesitancy. 

The tray was placed down on the cabinet and she took a few slow steps towards her husband and Rissa. Each blonde hair on her body erected, rising away from her greyish white skin. The purplish blue vein in her neck was noticeably throbbing. Two hands reached out to take Rissa, but they were shaking considerably. As Rissa was about to be passed to Catherine she retracted her arms, and she stared blankly at her husband. 

“Maybe next time,” he said too easily and before she could fully get her arms back by her side. How often would he have to go through this?

Catherine fell into her body, as she lost all posture and composure. She rubbed her arms in an attempt to console herself. 

“I… I …”

Her husband, walked towards her and kissed her on her cheek. A slight jump and a smile later, she walked away. 

Crystal door knob creaked as it was turned. The transition from hard wood floor to soft carpet upon which ones feet sink in and absorb its comfort and softness was one of the many reasons why Rissa’s father loved her room. Carefully he placed her down on her bed and changed her clothes. Neatly folded in the corner of the bed was a blue quilted blanket, he unfolded and laid it across Rissa – this revealed gold embroidery. Two lions danced on a shield, both entwined by ivy, a ribbon overlapped the shield with the wordings “ Malum quidem nullum esse sine aliquo bono” 

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