Leda cursed as she stumbled in her high heels over the uneven grass. She’d thought it would be quicker to cut across the lawn rather then go all the way around the sidewalk. Now on all fours she reconsidered her theory as she pushed herself up from the dew soggy ground. Straightening up, she fixed her skirt and waitress apron and proceeded into her small, neat home.
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“Elpis!” she called out as she stumbled across the threshold, “Are you ready? We’re going to be late if you don’t hurry!”
Gracelessly the woman tossed her bag onto the table and scowled as it fell to the floor and, as luck would have it, into the dog’s water dish. Leaving it for now she walked into the living room and couldn’t help but smile at the sight that greeted her. Mrs. Vonglory, an elderly woman who lived next door to them, was sprawled out on the couch, covered in toys and something that looked like spaghettios. Tapping her gently the woman woke with a start and Leda let out a small chuckle.
“Mrs. Vonglory, wake up. Thank you so much for watching over Elpis for me, I hope she wasn’t too much trouble?” Leda asked cautiously, eyeing the spaghettios on the babysitter’s top.
“Oh, of course not dear! We had a little. . .mishap in the kitchen but she was a perfect little angel as always.” laughed Mrs. Vonglory.
Nodding, Leda pointed towards the kitchen, “Feel free to help yourself to some coffee and lock up before heading home. I really must be getting my daughter to school.”
“Are you alright? Ever since Tom–.”
Leda cut her off right there, not really in the mood to talk about her late husband, “I really must see her off to school.”
With a sigh the babysitter dismissed her and Leda gratefully ran up the stares to her bedroom. Quickly, she traded her work clothes for a red button-down shirt and a pair of black jeans. Looking in the mirror she noticed just how disheveled her long black hair had become working her midnight shift at the all-night diner. Splashing cold water on her face she gazed with dark chocolate eyes at her pale reflection and decided that her appearance would have to do for now.
“Elpis!” she hollered again, reemerging into the hallway and almost stumbling over her eight-year-old daughter. Her eight-year-old who was still dressed in her pajamas.
“Honey, please! Go get ready for school! We need to leave soon!” she pleaded. Sleepily the little girl complied and went to get into her government issued school uniform given to all students by The Guild.
Seeing the little girl’s sandy colored locks she’d inherited from her father made Leda’s heart pang painfully. Tom. It had been such a long time since she had even thought about him. Her neighbors had been sure of that. They included her in every community project this year, effectively keeping her busy. Tome had worked for The Guild (the government that worked quietly to keep Elvira as peaceful as it had been for the past century) at the Agency For Control of Boundaries. He’d been personally responsible for keeping Brenick Village’s boundaries strong, keeping out the evils that had long since been banned from civilization.
This had happened when the Goddess of Creation had bound the Goddess of Destruction into a deep sleep many years ago. According to legend the Goddess of Creation still resided deep in the wild in the Tower of Aldanti. Leda shook her head, Mrs. Vonglory had set her down this path of thoughts, it wasn’t like her to get so caught up in mythology. All that mattered was that the government took care of them and it was considered taboo to think about life outside the safety of the city walls. Tom had been fascinated by the world outside of the walls and look where it got him, she thought scathingly. Her husband had died pushing back the creatures from the Broken Lands, ever since then she’d avoided anything that had to do with the world outside the walls.
“Mom?” asked the little girl worriedly. Her mom seemed sad all of a sudden and Elpis couldn’t imagine why.
“Hm?” she replied without really paying attention.
“Mom!” repeated the girl, louder this time.
“Wh–oh! Are you ready? We need to hurry!” she walked briskly down the stairs and toward the door before her daughter had the chance to ask what had been on her mine. Elpis let it go and jogged to keep up, quickly calling good bye to her babysitter. The two of them made their way to the town square where the school was located.
Blushing at the sight of the many students waiting in the chilly spring air for her, Elpis ran off to take her place in line. Mrs. Tolment made her way sternly over to Leda and the woman offered her a sheepish smile. “You know Leda, if you can’t make it here on time then maybe you should leave this town and go live with the rest of the savages who can’t obey the rules.” The teacher said coldly, causing Leda’s stomach to clutch in fear even though that was an empty threat. “The rules are set in place for a reason.”
Properly chastised, Leda nodded and forced a smile. Really, she didn’t think being a little late was a huge deal but she didn’t dare bring that up. The decrepit old woman scared her almost as much as she had when she was a child and still in school. Making sure her ex-student looked shamed Mrs. Tolment turned around and began to speak to her students, “You may now proceed–.”
However, she was cut off by a sharp howling noise. It was awful. Never in her life had Leda heard such a horrid noise, like all the pain in the world put into voice. Instinctively she lifted her hands to cover her ears and saw several people around her doing the same thing. The wind had picked up and now whipped violently around, almost as if it was angry. Lightning crackled in the sky as it turned an eerie shade of green. What was going on?
As the ground began to shake furiously several of the younger students screamed of began to cry. Leda looked around for her daughter and was proud to see that the little girl was stoic, not a tear or peep out of her. As a matter of fact she tried to comfort another little girl next to her. Then with a horrible ripping noise the ground began to tear apart. Without thinking Leda ran toward Elpis with no plan except saving her baby. Like a nightmare the ground between them began to split and in what seemed like slow motion her daughter began to tumble into the crevice. With a shriek of terror Leda threw herself to the ground and managed to clumsily grab her daughter’s forearms. Fate was not in her favor though and the ground beneath her began to crumble under the weight. No, no, no, no, she chanted desperately in her head.
Before she knew it the words were falling from her lips, “No, no, no, no. Oh, Goddess, no!” Tears were trailing down her face at the thought of losing Elpis. Just like Tom, and with that thought she gripped the little girl’s wrists in an even more bruising grip.
“Mommy!” she shreiked, “Don’t let go of me!”
“Don’t worry, I’ll never let you go, sweetie.” Leda shouted over the wind, now creating dirt devils that spun wickedly around, occasionally catching someone and sending them flying to their doom. One caught a nearby car and sent it and it’s inhabitant flying into the side of a building. Leda forced her gaze away from the chaos in order to focus on her child. The trust she saw in those dark brown eyes, so much like her own caused her to let out a hopeless sob.
I won’t let you have her, she found herself thinking fiercely. To whom she did not know, death she supposed. Ever since Tom’s death she found herself thinking of death as a person who had taken from her. You’ll have to take me too, she insisted when she couldn’t pull her daughter up. Yes, that was it, slowly she allowed herself to begin to slide, warmed by the thought of being a whole family again.
“Hey lady!” shouted a man when he saw her falling. Much to her horror he grabbed her around the waist and hoisted her back to safety. The sudden jerk upwards caused her to lose her grip on her daughter. Instantaneously her and Elpis screamed and her daughter’s blunt nails scratching her as she fell.
Angry she whirled on the man and hit him in the chest. She didn’t feel any better so she hit him again. And again.
“Lady, chill, I was trying to help.” He said, putting his hands up in a placating gesture.
“Oh, go to Hell!” She screamed, overcome by grief. Once again she slammed her fist into his chest but this time he shoved her back, causing her to go sprawling.
The last thing she saw before her head hit the rock was the sky, once more a dazzling azure shade, hanging mockingly over the destruction.
Vlora wrapped her legs tightly around the horse and bent over, taking in the beautiful Fall day, not too warm and not too cold. Smoothly, she leaned forward and held the sword steady in her hand.
“Hya!” She shouted, kicking the horse and forcing it into a gallop and plunging the weapon deep into the dummy that was supposed to represent the enemy. It went straight through, causing her to turn and grin at Christopher who simply shook his head at her excitement. The light-haired man had been doing this since his early teens and by now it was pretty routine to him.
“That was great, Vlora. You do realize you will never use this? The last time Elvira fought a war was...before both our times. Before the time of anyone in this kingdom.” He said casually, leaning against a thick oak tree. The man simply endured her like a small child but she didn’t mind as long as he agreed to train her in all the things that weren’t ‘fit’ for the princess to learn.
“If it’s so unnecessary then as princess I’m forced to question why we are spending all this time and resources to train soldiers.” It was partially teasing, but she was also serious. Vlora wondered what they were needed for and what were all these secret missions he father sent them on that not even she, the future ruler of Elvira, could be made aware of. All of Elvira was at peace, right?
Suddenly, Chris went stiff and glared at her, “You know I can’t talk about this, Vlora. Do you have any idea what a risk I’m taking by even teaching you how to fight?”
Vlora looked at him imploringly, “I’m not going to be one of those queens who sits on her ass all day,” Chris blanched at her unladylike speech, “If my soldiers are out there fighting, I want to be right there with them. My husband can stay home and...take care of the horses or whatever it is that takes up so much of my mother’s time.”
Impatiently he said, “You know, someone would just end up dragging you back home if you tried to go with them.”
Delicately, she sniffed, “Yes, but see if I was queen then they could not do that. I could have them executed,” she did a grand execution gesture with her arm and smiled wickedly causing Chris to roll his eyes.
“Thank Goddess that I’ll be dead and buried by the time you take the throne.” This however, wasn’t true. Most in Elvira who did not reside in the Broken Lands were well taken care of and most lived lives that averaged at one-hundred and thirty years. That is, unless someone is doing something dangerous. She was about to slyly work this into the conversation when a voice yelled her name and she cringed. Caught.
“Miss Vlora! Miss Vlora where are you?” She hated the owner of that voice, the servant who her mother deeply cared for and had assigned what should have been a job of leisure taking care of her only daughter. However, this had proven to be a difficult task. That wasn’t the worst part though! It wouldn’t be so bad if some old crone was telling her to sit up straight and speak properly but this girl was scarcely older then she was!
“What is it, Charisse? Can’t you see I’m busy?” Chris gave her a disproving look and stepped forward to take the servants hand.
“Good evening, ma’am.” He kissed the back of her hand and Vlora sighed in annoyance.
Everyone else seemed charmed by the girl, no one saw her for the annoyance she really was! Admittedly, she was a beauty with long chestnut hair falling down in perfect curls around her shoulders. Her skin was pale and flawless, although sometimes blemished with a smudge of dirt or coal and her eyes were a dazzling emerald green. On the other hand, the future queen did not at all fulfill her role in the looks department. She’d been going through her awkward stage for about the last ten years. Vlora stood taller then most girls her age will long, gangly limbs. Her hair was also curly, but also very frizzy and a bright red color along with amber eyes and her face was far from flawless. Sometimes she felt that he mother treated Charisse like the daughter that she wished she had.
Most girls would have been flattered by Chris’ blatant advances but Charisse barely batted an eyelid, “Hello Christopher. Miss Vlora, your mother calls on you. We must get you out of those clothes at once.”
One good thing she could say was that the girl at least had the decency not to rat her out to her parents for what she had been doing behind their back for several years. In fact, Charisse in a way condoned it by helping her to cover it up for all these years. Out of the corner of her eye she saw Chris sarcastically cover his eyes in order to protect her modesty. It made her give a most unladylike snort but Charisse simply glared at him and herded her behind the trees. There she held out a horrible, frilly number that she was required to wear in order to fulfill her duties.
With only a slight sneer she began to remove the protective armor. She was down to only the oversized male shirt and trousers when they heard shouting coming from several feet away. Charisse tried to still her charge but the girl was already running off towards the screaming which was coming from the West Gate which led into the Broken Lands. Adrenaline coursed through her at the thought of an adventure away from the palace!
“Vlora! Vlora, this is a matter from the guards! You are not allowed to venture this close to the gates.” Shouted a desperate Charisse, trying to reason with the girl as she could not keep up with her in the long skirt she was wearing.
She’d expected a slight tiff between those who had been granted permission to live within the gates. If caught, she could always say that it was a perfect opportunity to test her mediation skills which she would need if she was ever to become queen. However, what she saw shocked her. It was a horrid brown beast with scabs all over it’s body which was biting fiercely into the neck of a young girl who by this point had stopped screaming and was gasping for air, choking on her own blood.
Vlora stared in horror at the scene that unfolded before her until suddenly an arrow sprang from beside her and buried itself in the heart of the beast. A green substance escaped from the wound and with a great gasp the thing shuddered and lay dead along with it’s victim.
“She’s not dead,” snapped Charisse, stepping over to the bleeding body. All of a sudden the timid servant girl was gone and in her place was a warrior. She held a pale hand over the body and began to hum a soft litany as her hand pulsated with a brilliant blue light. Suddenly, the girl’s eyes fluttered open and she stared up at her savior in shock. “You’ll be fine. Go.”
Suddenly Charisse spun on her, walked forward, and slapped her across the face. Vlora’s mouth opened and closed in shock, no one had dared lay a hand on her before. “Do you have any idea what it was like to have to play servant to you for the past two years? You have no idea how long I’ve wanted to do that for. Now, come on.”
Holding her stinging cheek she gasped, “I’m not going anywhere with you!”
With a sigh the girl rolled her neck and turned slowly to face her charge, “I am a priestess at the Tower of Aldanti, you’re familiar from your lessons I suppose?” Vlora nodded dumbly, “We need to get there, and soon. Something is going to happen and it isn’t good.” The sky was turning a menacing shade of green that made Charisse look anxious, “We need to hurry.”
Well, it looked like she was going to get her adventure after all.
Mignon was bent over her work at the lab station when her boss approached her looking extremely upset. Quickly, she wiped the blood off her hands and sat down the sharp instruments she was using to dissect a Loneslare to see the difference between the creature and the humans. Hopefully one day they would be able to alter the creature in such a way that it would fit into life outside of the Broken Lands. Respectfully, she bowed to the man before her as was expected of her as a sign of respect for the higher creature. Mignon braced herself for the barrage of insults that were bound to come from him about her work and her race.
She had been lucky enough to be captured for by the Guild in the last stages of them operating on the Almiras. So instead of being a test subject or a cadaver for observation she had actually been altered, stripped of her powers and schooled in mortal traditions. Unlike most creatures, she had satisfied them to the point where they allowed her to help the Guild. However, they didn’t realize how unwise it was for them to let an Almira who was still bitter about the destruction of her race on the inside of their powerful organization. She may be to afraid to lift a hand against him but the Dark Amiras certainly weren’t and she had seriously considered passing on information to them.
Like most elves she was extremely fair and no amount of testing could change that, although stripping her of her magic had made her lose some of her unnatural glow. Almost like an angel, she had long silver hair and dark blue eyes and skin so pale that in bright light it was almost transparent. Without her magic from the Goddess of Creation, she could not go out into the sun without being harmed. Because of this most of her time was spent inside the depths of the Tower doing research on the creatures of the Broken Lands.
Usually the man would revel in the power he had over her but now he simply waved away her bow in a dismissive manner, “Are you aware of what is happening.”
“No, sir. What is it?”
“The magic levels you stupid girl! The magic levels have gone up coming from the Goddess of Destruction’s lair. They are rising at alarming rates and if we don’t do something soon, she could wake up!”
That thought was simply to horrible to bear. On the one hand when she had been around her people had been free. Then again there had also been so much fighting between them and their cousins that their numbers had been dropping dramatically. Humans, who were now dominant had nearly become extinct because they had no magic of their own and they were too vain a race for anyone to form an alliance with them.
“Can’t you get Charisse to handle it?” She asked, referring to the high priestess who had been born and raised inside the guild.
“She could if she was here.” He snapped, “You know very well that she is currently....off doing whatever it is she does in her free time.”
“Of course, sir.” She said softly, not wanting to enrage him further.
“Mignon, I want you to go get the Healers and ask them to strengthen the wards of the towers.”
Quickly, she ran up the stairs, surprised that he trusted her with such a task when most Almiras were believed to long for the return of the Dark Goddess. He must really think her tame. Mignon was not sure whether this thought made her happy or angry. The sun was blazing overhead and she winced as she stepped into the light. There was a hissing sound and her skin bubbled angrily as she mad a run for the North Tower where the Healers resided.
“Healer Ross!” She shouted, bursting through the door and reveling in the utter peace that radiated from the tower. This was the legendary Tower of Aldanti and there was a sense of absolute goodness when you stepped into the building coming from where the Goddess resided at the very top of the tower, untouched by mortals. The Healers were mere men who used the power of the Goddess and guided it to use it for their own means.
A man with greying looked over at her when she entered and smiled. He was a kindly looking old man who had been like a father to her during her stay in the Towers. “What is it child?”
“There is an increase in magic coming from the Goddess of Destruction and we need your help to strengthen the wards.”
Looking alarmed her instantly swung into Healer mode, “Fine, go get me the ingredients for a binding spell and bring them up here.”
Nodding, she ran off the get them, ignoring the immense heat coming from the sun hanging overhead. Suddenly the ground began to shake underneath her and an unearthly wail came from the South Tower. It was the cry of every death, every pain, every sorrow and it forced Mignon to cover her ears in desperation to shut out the horrid noise. The sky above turned an acidic shade of green and the wind began to thrash about debris in the field separating all the towers.
Frightened, she called on her magic before she realized that it was locked deep inside of her. Mignon heard the lustful cry of the Dark Almiras coming from the woods and she winced, knowing what that cry meant. Their maker was returning, once again they would rise to power. Unlike their fair cousins, everything about these Almiras was dark which often gave them the appearance of being living shadows. Their skin was purely black and within the whites of their eyes lay huge pupils and the hair that covers their body is also black.
Dark Almiras do not understand human emotion the way that their light counterparts did and this made them extremely dangerous. I accept you, screamed Mignon internally, trying to get a grasp on her power. It rose in her, warm and pleasant, taking over her every sensation. The last thing she remembered doing before the world was plunged into darkness was casting a protective shield around herself