It was daylight out when we walked out of the Dragon’s cave, followed by Sucrose and Glucose. Sucrose handed me the book back, “Stay safe on your journey.”
I smiled to him, “Worry not about me. We will free your clan.”
Glucose grinned, “We know. You are Fire and Ice and may the skies embrace you.” We hopped on our horses and followed Erick as he attempted to find the fastest way to the sea.
The trail we were on was wide enough for two horses to walk side by side. Hiku and Erick were ahead of Lumin and I. I knew they were talking about me, but after telling them about Oblivion Dreams, they had started to turn away from me. I looked down at the Stallion’s mane, feeling the heart sickness from before. Lumin spoke up to me, “What do you know of Oblivion Dreams?”
“One day, I was out alone, a pilgrimage through the Nevarra Desert. I was too young to have supposed to make it, but I wanted to be seen as an adult. I became lost as the sunset and without bringing adequate supplies, I knew I was going to die. I walked through the desert that night, the dunes shifting their sands with every step. During the day, I rested, using my jacket as a way to block the harsh sunlight. For several nights, I walked towards something that called to me. It was not a taint or a corruption that pulled most Nevarrians towards awaiting Akiti.”
I looked up towards the tree line and realized the two Princes were listening to me as well. “I followed the winding calling from the dunes to the hardened dirt of the outer most of the Desert. I knew I was near the Akiti Caverns, but this pull kept me moving. One night, out of water and food, I knew I was going to die. I refused to stop moving as the sun rose and for two days, I refused to stop. If I was going to die, it was going to be from exhaustion.”
I looked back on the memory, remembering every detail. “One of those nights, I collapsed. I heard Akiti passing me by, but I did not care. I was going to die and there was nothing I could do about it. I remember closing my eyes and gave one last prayer to Kitarr. When I woke up, I was no longer in the Desert. I was in a lavish bedroom with silk sheets and gauze draping down the top of the four poster bed. I was propped up on a bunch of pillows. Some of the softest ones I ever felt, but something told me that I needed to get up. I climbed out the bed and knew that I was clad in nothing but air, though I felt no shame.”
“You died?” Erick asked softly.
“I thought I did. I walked through a door and down a hallway. I found a glass door leading outside. Someone was kneeling before a natural looking fountain. I stepped through the glass and onto the soft grass. I looked at the fountain, lilies and green plants floating on the water in a large pool. Water trickled through cracks in the rock, feeding the pool with the calming sound of water hitting stone. I reached for the water, but the kneeling person grabbed my hand. He stood up and I was looking into a blank face, no eyes, no nose nor lips. The mask hid the features of the face.”
“Without speaking, the person led me away from the pool and into a sand garden. Rocks dotted the carefully raked sand and the person walked into the sand. I stepped into the sand, the warmth of it, the gritty feel of it, reminded me of the Desert. As the person pulled me through the sand, I noticed that only one set of footprints disturbed the carefully circles. The person who pulled me left no trace of their passing.”
“We reached a door of stone and pressed my body against it. I fell through it and found myself in a large cavern. Whispers and soft music glided through the cavern to my ears. I looked back and discovered that I was alone in the cavern. An followed the whispers and snippets of music through the dark cave. I found an altar sitting in the center of the cavern with a small wooden box sitting on top of the obsidian. I wanted to open the box, but something told me not to. I heard a male voice vibrate through the cavern. ‘Remember this place.’ The voice told me, ‘Remember this place.’ I told the voice I would never forget it, then I found myself back in the Desert, in an oasis. I rested there and gathered my strength before finding my way back to the palace. It was then when Estein caught me.”
I did not realize we had stopped moving. All of them were looking at me, as I looked around the small meadow we were in. Lumin cleared his throat, “Enough about this. I think the Princes and I will need to talk alone for a while. Do you mind if we set up camp here?”
“How far away are we from the sea?” I asked Erick, trying not to feel hurt for them excluding me.
“Another full day’s ride. If we wake up early enough, we will reach town and be able to find an inn and replenish our supplies.” Erick answered me.
I hopped off the horse and found a small stream to let him take a drink. I walked out of the meadow, letting the males discuss whatever they wanted without me being there. I stepped over roots and ducked under branches, “Why should I care if they want to talk alone?” I tramped through dead leaves, “They finally realize that I am nothing like them. Nothing like my people, nothing like their royals… Nothing. Like. Them.” I stomped on hard wood, before tripping over a rock. I hit the ground hard enough to jar my chin and rattle my brain. I leaned against the tall tree, between a few of the roots.
I felt some tears fall from my eyes, “This stupid heart sickness…” I heard an odd sound not far from me. I kept quiet, but the sound did not stop. It was a crashing sound, but nothing I would have heard in a forest. I stood up and followed the noise until I reached the end of the forest. I stared out into the unending sea and felt my temper flare. “Erick knew and he lied to me…” I grabbed a rock and flung it out off the cliff into crashing waves below. I laid down on a large rock that faced the sea. I listened to the waves crash into the side of the cliff.
I stared up at the sky, puffy white clouds drifted slowly across the clear blue. I felt tears well up in my eyes, “Maybe it would be better if I had died…” The puffy clouds looked entirely too happy for me, so I turned onto my side and faced the ocean. “Estein would know I died and kill off everything. Maybe I can convince the males to leave and never come back. I would not keep feeling this heart pain if they would just leave me alone.”
I heard shouts and saw a flash of fire from where the camp was. “They are probably just looking for me.” I closed my eyes, “Let them fret for a while. It is their fault for wanting to exclude me from whatever they were talking about.”
Something grabbed my hands and feet, jerking me off the rock. I opened my eyes to see a bag being placed over my head. I fought against the people holding me, but they were efficient in tying my arms and ankles. Someone flipped me onto their shoulder and I slammed my elbow into the side of his head. I felt my elbow bash into their temple.
They dropped me onto the ground and I used my ears to listen for my attackers. One was on the ground, where my well placed elbow dazed them. I heard another person shuffling to my left. My flipped my head forward, then back, whipping off the bag. I glared to the male on my left.
“Dante.” I growled.
The male stood up straight, “Solaria?”
“Get these damned ropes off of me, Dante.” I watched him walk over to me and untie my wrists and feet.
“I thought you were one of the pirates that stole those three males in that campsite.” He pointed towards where my camp was.
“Why in the seven hells would I be laying here with my eyes closed if I-” I then understood his words. “Pirates? Stole?” The color drained from my face. “Dante, what happened?”
Dante sat next to me and I could see that his arms and legs were a deep tan, accenting the white of his chest where his shirt made a ‘v’ between his pectoral muscles. His red hair glinted like fire, as he ran his large hand through it. Dante was Desu, one of the few Nevarrians who left the Desert in search of other places. Dante used to send me letters of his adventures until Estein took the palace.
“We were following pirates, when we watched them kidnap three males who were setting up camp in the forest. Most pirates do not come this far up the coast, because there is nowhere for their ships to dock.”
“Then why were they here?” I asked him.
“On the seaways, there is rumor that the Akiti are searching for you and three others… Are they your companions?”
I nodded to him, “Yes. They followed me from Histrek.”
“Then you must understand. If they get to the Akiti, they will either use them as bait or kill them.” Dante pulled out a paper from his pocket. He unfolded it and I saw a crude sketch of me, but it was not my exact likeness.
“Dead, they have no use. But I agree. We have to stop them from reaching the Akiti.”
“How do you propose that?”
I smiled, and I watched Dante shudder, as he remembered the last time I smiled like this.
“I cannot believe I let you talk me into this.” Dante mumbled as he led the way into his ship, the Siren’s Kiss. The ship was simple, a rose wood that gleamed in the sunlight. The gray sails matched the lightly overcast skies. The figurehead was a beautiful woman, her hair whipped around her face, with various seashells adorning her hair and body. She was nude from the stomach up, the look of waves covering her lower half.
“It is because I am your Princess and you love me.” I smiled to him as I waved to some of the other Desu. “Is your ship a Desu one?”
“Yes. Your parents financed our travels only if we used Desu.” He looked at my clothes, “If you want this to work, you will have to give up your clothing custom until you get your friends back.”
I looked at the other Desu and realized he was right. Most Desu wore clothes that were more in tuned with sea life. “I understand, but I will wear black.” I looked to the causal tunics and leggings of the Desu, noting their different blue hues. I wanted to stand out when we caught up to the pirates.
Dante bowed, “Yes, milady.”
I whacked him in the chest when he stood up, “You never bow to me, Dante. Friends do not bow to each other.”
He just smiled, “I am just glad to know that you have not changed much since I left.” His face sobered up as he stood on the bow of the ship. His crew members gathered around and I counted about thirty Desu as they all looked at me in my traditional clothes. “As you all can guess, this she is not a Desu. We are going on a mission and if we succeed, we will destroy the Bloodied Shadow.” I heard a collective gasp followed by excited murmurs. Dante raised his hand and his ship mates quieted. “We will set sail as soon as possible.” He looked to his first mate, “Can you please get her some black clothes?”
The shorter, but scruffier male replied, “Black?”
Dante nodded. “Yes. You have permission to leave the ship to retrieve them.”
The first mate looked at me, “Will she be accompanying me?”
Dante shook his head, “She is not to leave the ship. We move fast and when Sedi returns, we will depart.” He stepped away from them, indicating that they were to begin their tasks. He looked to me, “Follow me.” I followed him down to the stern of the ship and into the captain’s quarters.
“They know who I am.” I told him, after seeing the recognition in the Desus’ eyes.
“Yes, but they will keep their tongues still until we leave shore. Tell me about your friends.” He leaned against his desk.
“This goes no farther than you and I. I trust you, but I do not know these Desu on a personal level.” He nodded in agreement. “One of them is my cousin.”
He looked a little shocked, then thoughtful, “We all wondered whether or not your uncle had more than one child. The way he visited ladies, I would think there is more than one.”
I did not think about that. “Do you think you could send a message to the ladies he bedded to find out?”
“How would I know who he bedded?” Dante looked embarrassed.
I just looked at him until he started to squirm, “Dante, you cannot hide it from me. I know my uncle sent to letters from the various places and I know that he gave you names. My uncle was smart, even when he was drunk. He knew that there was a chance he would procreate. As a Desu, you would not have to tell my parents, but he knew that you would if needed.” I looked down at the ground, “Dante, I do not know if Lumin or I will survive this. I want to know if there are others who could continue to lead the Nevarrians.”
Dante hugged me close, “I will send the letters.” He pulled away, “Now who are the other two?” His gaze made me squirm.
“Princes. One is the Foriner heir and the other is the Nakaran prince.”
He gave me a look that could chill blood, while boiling blood. “You left two princes alone, in a forest, without knowing if they could defend themselves.”
“I did not mean to. Look, Dante, they wanted a private chat alone, so I left. I did not hear fighting. I heard shouts and thought that they were looking for me. I was pissed off and wanted them to fuss and fret over finding me. I had no idea they were attacked until you grabbed me.”
There was a knock at the door. Dante opened it and the first mate walked in with a bundle in his arms. “Here are the clothes. We are ready to set sail, Dante.”
Dante handed the clothes to me, “Change and do not come out until we hit the open sea.” I nodded to him, deferring to his wisdom. He walked passed the first mate and the first mate’s eyes lingered on me longer than was comfortable. He turned and shut the door behind him.
I removed my jacket, but kept my face mask on. I looked into the mirror as I removed my shirt and leggings. I saw a knife sitting on Dante’s desk, before thinking of an idea. I bound my hair, before placing the blade against the knot. I closed my eyes and cut through my long hair. I opened my eyes and smiled in the mask as my short hair hit my shoulders. I looked at the long hair in my hand. “It is for the best.” I threw it in the trash, before using the knife to cut my hair shorter, allowing it to hug my face.
After I was satisfied with that, I look one look at the bra I wore and pulled out the long sash I previously used to bind my breasts. I set the fabric down on the desk, before pressing my chest on the fabric. I squished them as much as I could, before using the sash to tightly hold them against my body. After wrapping the sash around me a few times, I felt better about how I looked. I put the new shirt and baggy leggings on, before looking in the mirror again. I looked the same, but entirely different. “This will work.” I tried to convince myself.
I looked out the large window and saw the coast well behind us. I kept my face mask on and my feet bound, before opening the door. I walked up the stairs to the helm of the ship, where Dante stood. He glanced at me, before he realized what I had done, “Sori!” He let go of the helm and lightly touched my short hair. “You… cut it.”
I nodded, “I had to. I cannot allow the pirates to realize who I am.” I stepped back so he could see everything.
“You look male.” He acknowledged, finally realizing my intentions. He shook his head, “Some males keep their hair long.”
“I cannot be recognizable, Dante. This was the only sure way, without scarring myself.”
He grabbed onto the helm and continued to steer the ship. “Then I guess I understand. At least it will grow back. If you scarred yourself, you would be stuck with it the rest of your life.” He looked at my feet, “You can keep the bindings, but remove the mask.” This was the hardest part about being Nevarrian. I reached back to untie the mask, but Dante stopped me. “You are shaking.”
“This is the last piece of my traditions.” I admitted, hoping he would understand.
“I know.” He was fast in pulling the mask off of my face. I stood there, feeling bare and naked to the world. “You will get it back after we stop the pirates.” He tied it to the helm.
“Do you know how to find them?” I asked Dante, trying not to look at the mask.
“Not a clue.” He grinned to me, “However… you will be able to find them if you stand right there.” He pointed bow of the ship. “Where the Siren’s head is, there is a symbol in the wood. Stand there and think of your men. The Siren will hear your wants and needs to lead us to them.”
I looked to the thin piece of wood extending above the figurehead. “What if I fall off?”
Dante just smiled, “The Siren will not allow that. Trust in Her as you have in Kitarr.” He shooed me towards the bow and went back to steering the ship.
Trust Her as I do Kitarr? Kitarr is my God… She is just a figurehead… I did as Dante asked, trusting that he would be correct and I would not fall. I looked at the foot wide board extending before the ship. I took a step out onto the thin piece of wood and realized my footing was steady. I took another step, then another and another, until my toes were in line with the tip of the ship. Between my insteps was a single symbol, a music note and I knew I was in the right spot.
I took a deep breath and closed my eyes. I grabbed onto the silver medallion the Elves gave me. I felt the sea moving under my feet as the ship rocked in the waves. Behind me, I heard silence, listening to the wave breaking on the prow. The sound was soothing, allowing my mind to blank to everything around me.
I thought of Lumin and used my kinship ties with him to start the search. I felt the wind pick up as it spiraled away from me, reaching further and further. I remembered the day that I met the Princes, when they both put my shoes on my feet. Reaching further and further, the wind picking up more. Lumin when he told me about my uncle. The wind sped up, whipping what was left of my hair around. Erick when he attempted to dance with me to the Elven songs. Musical notes drifted around me as the wind’s search spread farther and farther. Hiku using his life to heal me, even after I told him not to. Voices drifted up from the sea. The looks they gave me when I told them of Oblivion Dreams. I felt the draw of the sea, the dance of the waves against the ships.
The chorus of wind, voices, and the dance called to me as I let my feelings continue to surge. There. The wind called back to me. They are there. The voices singing, loud and bright, excitedly pointed the way. Follow us… The waves whispered. Follow us… The chorus spoke in unison. I opened my eyes and turned to face where the chorus was leading us.
“How far, My Lady?” I asked the Siren, tears streaming down my cheeks.
Not far… Follow us! I heard wind whip the sails, pulling the Siren’s Kiss faster towards my target.
“Are they moving, My Lady?”
The wind kicked up more, the waves pulling us along faster and faster. Not moving… Hurry… Follow us…
I did not turn around until I saw the other ship in my sight. I saw the black wood ship with its blood red sails. I stayed on the music note, not sure if stepping off would stop the magick. I looked back to Dante and his crew and they all stared at me, their eyes wide. “There it is!” I shouted back.
Dante recovered first, “Prepare for battle! Clear for action!”
I turned away from the chaotic mess behind me, keeping my eyes on the Bloodied Shadow. My mind raced trying to figure out how to save my friends and destroy the pirate ship.
I then noticed something odd about the ship. There was no one above the deck. “Dante!” I noticed the grappling hooks first. “Dante! Get down!”
It took him a second too long to understand me. I heard the sword being drawn before Dante’s chest was pierced from behind by a saber. I felt sick as the pirates overtook the Siren’s Kiss.
I yelled as I ran from the spot I was standing on. The magick stopped, jerking the Siren’s Kiss to a stop. I flung myself onto the deck as the magick died. I watched the pirates fall as they tried to regain their balance.
The Desu fought against the pirates, but my mind narrowed down to the man cleaning the blood off of his saber. I drew my shortened twin blades, as Sedi stepped towards me. He was able to make it through the fighting without a single scratch.
He lifted his bloodied blade in front of his face, before licking Dante’s blood near the hilt. I felt the deadly part of me start to rise, as he swung the sword back to the ground, a couple drops of blood hitting me. “You are the pirate’s captain.” I growled. “You are Desu! How could you betray your people!?” I screamed as I ignored everything but the traitor in front of me.
“I should have been captain. The only reason your friend was able to have the ship was because he knew you. So when Estein offered me my own ship, I took it.” He sounded as if it was not his fault that his men were killing the other Desu.
“You are not Desu.” I watched the air shimmer around him as he became Akiti.
“Very good, little one.” The Akiti spoke, his deformed mouth forming words. He was pure black, nothing distinguishing him from the night. His lips pulled back, revealing a sharp set of teeth, as his red eyes narrowed. “My king will be glad for me to bring you to him.”
I looked to the other ship, “Where are my friends?”
Sedi just laughed, “Why worry about them? You should worry about yourself.” He made a grand gesture with his arms, bringing my attention to the fighting around us. Akiti overwhelmed the Desu, though the Desu were fierce fighters and dwindled their numbers. There were maybe five Akiti standing with Sedi and only one Desu left. The other Desu bodies vanished from sight, the illusion gone.
I felt the cold hatred rise in me, as a ball of water erupted from the sea. The water hit the deck around the Akiti and Desu. I heard singing, calling the ocean to battle. The Desu just laughed, before moving towards the water. The singing became louder and I knew what it was. I moved towards the figurehead, the Desu, following my steps towards the starboard side of the ship.
The Desu caught my eye and I saw a flicker of magick as the Desu changed to Dante. He nodded to me, as he knew what my plan was. He climbed up onto the banister of the side of the ship. The voices grew as I stepped closer to the symbol.
The Akiti lunged at Dante, but in a flourish, he dived into the water below. I watched as the Akiti turned towards me, their new prey. Sedi held up his clawed hand, “No one touches her but me.”
The Akiti growled, but followed his command. I felt my heels hit air, as I reached the tip of the bow. The singing was loud in my ears, but I did not let it affect me. I gave one last thought to my friends, before I screamed in rage. I thought of Estein and everything he had done to my people, my friends and my life. I felt the Siren awaken, as her brethren danced below. Now… Follow us… The sirens below called to me.
I closed my eyes and sheathed my short blades. I felt and heard the Akiti heading towards me. Soon, My Ladies… Soon. I answered the Sirens as their voices filled the air. I opened my eyes, not seeing the ship nor the water. I only saw my prey, the Akiti who attacked the Siren’s Kiss.
The Akiti stopped, confused by the music they heard around them. I remembered something from an old book I read. The Akiti cannot swim!
The Sirens must have heard me, because they turned their voices away from me and towards the Akiti. Follow us… Come to us… We know what you desire… Follow us… The Akiti tried to fight the singing, but their bodies started to move towards the sides of the ship.
Sedi slammed his saber into the deck, holding onto it with everything he was. “Nevarrians cannot do magick!”
I smiled to him as I watched the other Akiti jump into the darkened depths below. The Sirens’ songs stopped, as their sacrifice was accepted by the sea. I stole a glance at the Bloodied Shadow. I saw a blue figure climb up the ladder and onto the deck. The figure turned and waved to me, using his arms in a pattern only Dante and I knew.
Now, just have to get stall for time. I looked back to Sedi, as the symbol laid between my feet. “I am not Nevarrian.” I bluffed. I felt the wind pick up around us, as the Siren’s Kiss moved towards the Bloodied Shadow.
“Dante said that you were.” Sedi growled.
“He lied.” I felt the waves crashing against the keel. Sedi moved towards me, unaware of the ship moving. “Come to me, Sedi.” I motioned with my hands, “Come to me.”
Sedi stared at me, but he started to move. “No.” He planted his feet to the ground, but the saber was behind him. “You are Nevarrian! Estein said you were Nevarrian!”
I used the Siren’s Kiss as my point of contact. I felt the Sirens’ magick below me start to swell, as their power used my voice to draw Sedi to me. “Come to me… Come to me…” I whispered, letting the Sirens use me as their instrument.
Sedi’s legs moved forward, slowly. One at a time, he took a step. I saw the rage and hatred on his face mix with terror. “What are you?!”
The Sirens’ magick lashed out at him, pulling him towards me. He dug his heels into the wood, scratching the deck with his back claws. Follow us… Come to me… Come to me… We are waiting for you… Come to me… The Sirens called to him through me.
I stepped off of the symbol, feeling the Siren’s Kiss glide on the water towards the Bloodied Shadow. I heard male voices from the other ship, Please, Kitarr, do not let them hesitate. I stepped in front of Sedi as the Sirens’ songs stopped pulling him. I looked up into his red eyes. Buy time. I have to buy time. I ran my hand down the front of Sedi’s chest, “Good, pet.”
He asked through gritted teeth, “What are you?”
I smiled as I heard the canons move into position on the other ship, “I am Death.”
The deck exploded in a globe of fire and wood. I hit the ground as the next canon shot off a chained ball, tearing through the hull of the Siren’s Kiss. Sedi grabbed me as a barball tore through his legs. I watched him reach for a knife at his hip, but he held me tight. His claws dug into my skin, trying to keep a hold of me, as another canon ball ripped through the ship. I heard cracks and wood breaking under the canon fire.
I watched as a giant circle carved itself out of the wood, and I knew that Hiku was using his magick. The wood splintered and broke under Sedi’s weight. He stopped trying to get at the dagger on his hip, as the Siren’s Kiss started to sink.
I heard the Sirens call to both of us, Follow us… Come to us… We are waiting… I tried to block their voices out, but as the wood shattered under Sedi, he gripped my arm harder with his claws. I screamed out in pain as his claws hooked into my flesh. I looked below him to see the Sirens gathering around in the hole at the bottom of the ship.
Come to us… Follow us… Let go… The Sirens sang to the two of us.
Sedi’s weight dragged me closer to the hole. I felt my body slipping as the water filled the hull of the ship. I tried to grab onto his saber, but could not get a hold of it. The ship split in half as the Sirens used their water magick to rip the ship apart.
We are here for you… Come to us… Follow us… To the depths of the ocean… I fell into the water as the two ship halves became vertical under the pressure. Sedi and I hit the water, jarring us both. He finally let go of my wrist, as the water pulled him under. I felt something grab onto my leg and start to pull me under.
“No!” I gulped down water as both sides were sucked down into the sea.
Follow us… The voices sang. I could not hear Sedi, as he was pulled under by the Sirens. Come to us… You are our offering…
“Dant-” I fell under the water line, as the Sirens pulled me under.
I could hear their voices louder in the sea, Offering… You belong to the sea…
I fought against them, but they pulled me down. The Akiti were nowhere in sight, already offered to the sea. No! I shouted through my mind.
Someone grabbed my hand and pulled me towards the surface of the water, kicking the Sirens away from me. Darkness bordered my vision, as the sunlight blocked my view of who my savior was. She is ours! I heard the Sirens scream, before I felt an eruption of heat under the water. I tried to see the Sirens but my head pounded, demanding oxygen.
We hit the surface, but I could not breathe fast enough. I took one breath and water hit my lungs. I coughed before taking another. I actually breathed in air the second time. I took another breath, before the darkness finally took me over.