"Wars of Light and Darkness"
By: Jade Lightning, a.k.a. ReverseTheEclipse
"The 1st Interlude"
Verse Twenty-Two: “A Sacred Love”
Darkness swept over the world, seeking desperately to cut down any and all that would oppose Mukot and his rise to power. It had already zeroed in on Deannalee, taking control of her mother and lending its power to Teikaru, who accepted it graciously, all to try and keep her from having the Master of the Elements. That child, though important, was a small player, and with Deannalee being put through the grinder of Teikaru’s abuse, the darkness now sought out its next targets.
Deannalee would not be the only one old enough to bear her child for much longer.
Though the marks were hidden, the darkness quickly picked up on Thaileon, a direct descendant by blood, from father to son in an unbroken chain, all the way from Kashoku himself. Almost seventeen years old, not one, but two very important children would come from him; the all powerful Master of Time and Space, and the precious, very precious, Son of Strength. He was protected, to an extent, as all the Children of Arandor were. They could not be fully corrupted to the point where they would kill their children, or harm them, and doing such a thing would draw too much attention, attention that could give the children the opening they needed for rescue.
With Deannalee it was easy; beat her and assault her into submission until her heart gave out. If she lived, she’d be too weak to protect her children anyway, and whatever doom befell Spirit Island stood a good chance at killing them.
With Thaileon, it was all about ensuring he doomed his own people, sealing the fates of both Angel and Spirit Island. If the echidnas went down, there was a good chance the small children would go down with them, and thus, Mukot’s War would be won before it truly started.
The change that Armundae sensed in his friend was beginning to come to fruition. Unlike Armundae, who was given protection similar to the same that Durnam possessed, Thaileon was susceptible to the sway of this malevolent darkness. Though he’d never give in to it willingly as Teikaru had, like Casselina, he would suffer from the negative affects of it, putting both of them in a place where they could hardly be reached.
Dark times were coming to the echidnas, the endless night that spelled the final farewell of their golden years, now gone forever.
Sunlight filtered down through holes in the thatched roof of a small shack in the middle of the woods. They weren’t too large but were just barely enough so to let in enough moisture and cold air at unacceptable levels. She hadn’t asked him to, but while he waited for Aerealei to return from the village, Armundae had removed his cape and weapons and scaled the roof, starting to patch the holes using techniques he had learned when he was eleven or so. The thought that Aerealei might be bringing back a pack of the villagers to arrest him, interrogate him, and then torture and kill him slowly never crossed his mind, so much so he didn’t give leaving his weapons lying on the ground a second thought.
His main thoughts now were how poorly constructed this hut was compared to the more sturdy homes he was accustomed to building and living in.
When she came back with a picnic basket hanging off of her arm, Aerealei was absorbed with thoughts of her new friend. She knew if the villagers discovered him, he’d be chased down by a mob, and unspeakable things would happen if he were caught, not to mention he’d only make things worse for himself if he tried fighting back. Her own parents shared in this hatred of echidnas, one the entire village had, it seemed, except for her. Aerealei and her grandmother, who, similar to Durnam’s bloodline, had held on to old stories from the past, ones that spoke of the beauty and grace of the echidnas, and their kindness and generosity.
While Aerealei was growing up, her grandmother would tell her stories in a hushed voice, explaining to the little girl why she should give the echidnas a chance to defend themselves should she ever encounter them. Aerealei’s mother had turned away from the stories upon falling in love with Aerealei’s father, and though they were only two out of so many that did hate the echidnas, Aerealei had held on to those stories still. She kept her opinions silent, which was easy, as talk of the floating island in the distance and the echidnas living there was a taboo subject in Valordian.
Even as she walked to meet him now she could hardly believe it; she had met one. Not only were her grandmother’s stories and the old manuscripts true, but he was willing to tell her everything he knew about his people, and their history.
And quite frankly, he was rather handsome.
Aerealei felt her cheeks grow warm just at the thought of it. Tall and strong, his hair long and silky under the morning sunlight. He looked so proud; if all echidnas were like him then there was no way they could be that wicked or heartless. If he was their ambassador, if they were all like him even just a little bit, she knew they were a very special people indeed.
Yet it would take a lot to convince the people of Valordian of this; to them, Armundae was just one echidna. They’d probably think about how easy he would be to overpower and take down rather than how admirable or virtuous he looked.
This caused her to sigh, but a smile quickly chased it away. She could keep him secret, perhaps telling her grandmother but no one else. She would protect him and take care of him while he was with her, even if it was only for a few days. She wanted to spend every possible moment with him, starting with this picnic, brunch really, since it was still rather early but was a meal better suited to midday.
As the shack came into view her eyes glanced to the ground on her left, as something caught her eye. She saw Armundae’s cape folded up neatly, the two knives in their sheathes resting on top of it, one crossed over the other. Leaning near them against the tree was the long sword, still in its scabbard. She tilted her head, and then looked around, trying to find Armundae, wondering where he would go leaving his cape and weapons abandoned. Then she saw him. He was perched like a bird on the roof of this shack, silently, diligently patching the holes in the roof.
She tilted her head again, as though the altered angle would help her take in the scene better. This house was never used; it had been so long the village had forgotten it was in fact an old guard house, the last one left standing after they were abandoned with the departure of the royal family in the wake of the invasion. It was one Shadow and Arandor themselves had overseen the construction of, a last survivor of a time gone by, much like Shadow himself. Of course the roof would be worn; the walls shaky, yet coming back to find her new friend immediately drawn to shoring up the structure was surprising…and rather curious.
A giggle escaped her with a shake of her head as she walked over. “How did you get up there? Can echidnas climb walls like lizards?”
Armundae patched over another hole, glancing down. He too tilted his head in a similar fashion. He didn’t know this house was merely a relic. He made the assumption that it saw use despite its haggard appearance. If it were used then the holes in the roof presented a problem, one he could easily remedy, so it was only natural for him to climb and repair then while he waited, though he wondered why it had gone so long without mending anyway. Again, however, he was taken by her, the adorable sound of her laughter, and so he grinned.
“Any lizard has me licked in a contest of climbing my lady, but in patching holes in roofs,” he paused, glancing at the almost completed project, and then looked back, “I suppose I have no competitor in Valordian at this.”
Aerealei had laid out a blanket on the ground, removing jars and packages of food and setting them out to prepare brunch with while she listened to him speak. She glanced up, giggling once more. “Oh Armundae, that may be, for I know no one in my village that can mend a roof that quickly, nor with that much skill.” She shook her head, smiling; “That shack there is never used by anyone. It’s been around since ancient times.” She paused, pouring a glass of juice, keeping her eyes on it. “When the invasion happened the guard houses were abandoned. This is, the only one left.”
He had just finished patching the final hole when she said this. He remembered now the words Shadow said about the old alliance falling apart, and Valordian coming to hate the echidnas for it. Was this invasions she spoke of why? How come Shadow hadn’t mentioned it? It perplexed him. It begged for elaboration.
Jumping down from the roof, the sound of Aerealei’s giggles awoke him from his thoughts. He saw her smiling at him, lowering her hands from her mouth. “Quite the acrobat you are, scaling walls then jumping from rooftops.” She paused, and then offered him a glass of juice. “Here, I brought plenty of breakfast.”
Armundae grinned. Jumping from the top of a tree three times the height of that shack would have been nothing to him, yet it tickled him that his simple acts entertained her so much. Sitting down he looked over the spread of food; at least the Valordians appeared to eat as well as echidnas did, proving that the abandoned shack was probably a lone exception as far as their advancements were concerned. As he took a drink, he was reminded again of what she said, and he had to calm himself to keep from swallowing the juice too quickly.
He wiped his mouth, his eyes fixed upon her. “You spoke of an invasion my lady. What invasion was that? I’ve never heard of such a thing.”
Aerealei gasped softly, looking up from the plate she was putting food on to. She looked at him, blinking, while he stared at her curiously. She could see no deceit, complete innocence, a complete lack of knowledge. This was the first step in explaining why the echidnas had never come to their aid.
Her eyes drifted back to the plate of food, handing it to him while she spoke, taking up another for herself. “The invasion is a dark time in our history Armundae. A very long time ago we lost our gift from the echidnas, the seven chaos emeralds, to an invading force. It was given to them to spare the life of the future prince, and after this he was told to flee if his bloodline was ever threatened again. …that prince was my ancestor.” She looked at him. “About one-thousand years ago, another invading force came, this one even deadlier than the last. Half the village was wiped out, and remembering what my ancestor was told, the royal family fled the village.”
Armundae had taken the plate of food but was too stunned to eat. He had a million things rushing through his mind, but simply could not speak.
She fingered a grape rolling loosely on her plate, eyeing it as she smiled. “My ancestors also came from the royal family but…they weren’t as, special, as the ones that fled, and so they offered to stay behind, and try to retake Valordian. It was believed the echidnas would come soon. Your island had been seen in the sky for a century or two, although nobody remembered hearing why it came to be. Still there was faith in the alliance.” She paused, glancing at him. “But, nobody came. Not the echidnas, not even Shadow who it was rumored still walked the world, looking after us all. We were alone.” She looked back at the plate, picking up the grape then sighed softly. “Eventually the invasion was overcome, the outsiders banished, but not after much bloodshed and tears. …Valordian was broken.”
Aerealei closed her eyes. “Still there was no aid. No word. The royal family that fled never returned. Those that were left believed they had been forsaken not only by Shadow but by the echidnas as well, though Arandor was still highly revered. A deep hatred for the echidnas was sown in the hearts of our people. Your island became a painful thorn in our consciousness, the audacity of you flying high above the world, as if everything below had no meaning. Most people in my village would seize the opportunity to take one of you and torture you, killing you slowly and painfully as if it was a way of making you feel the pain we all endured. They are consumed by revenge and anger, not leaving an open door for pondering why and entertaining forgiveness.” She looked at him. “Nobody except my grandmother, and me.”
Armundae swallowed hard, struggling to force down the lump in his throat that had twisted tighter and larger with each word she spoke. The story was horrific, tragic, and choking it down proved difficult. He felt his eyes well up with tears, and he immediately wiped them away, not furiously out of embarrassment, but slowly, gently, as if he wanted to feel them and the pain they flushed out of his heart, pain his people were meant to be sharing with hers.
She noticed this and frowned. “Armundae? My lord, are you alright?” She blinked when in response he bent down at the waist, bowing low to her, his face to the ground. “What…what are you doing?”
“Offering Valordian my deepest apologies. I fear the tears of the entire history of my people are not enough to repay the terrible debt we have incurred in not coming to your aid.” He paused, looking up. “I apologize…this must be overly dramatic, of me, I just… …I felt so overcome, it’s like, something stirring inside of me was, so hurt, by all of this.” He wiped his eyes again.
Aerealei felt her cheek burn gently with warmth. She too felt overwhelming emotion. It was second nature to her when she reached forward and took his hand, patting it gently. “You seem so surprised by this my lord, so much I can see that my faith in your people is well placed, and that you would never abandon us.” She looked up. “Do not weep over souls that rest in eternal peace. They do not need our tears. What you can do for them is tell me what you know, and perhaps together we can mend relations between our people.”
Armundae’s heart pounded at her touch. He was feeling butterflies in his stomach, but couldn’t give them the attention they needed while he was wrapped up in all of this. Wiping his eyes with his free hand, he swallowed his drink, his eyes drawn to his large hand, enveloped by her delicate ones. He calmed himself, taking a breath. “My people, never speak about Valordian, so, I cannot guarantee you that…yours weren’t abandoned.” He glanced at her. “However…I believe it wasn’t abandonment out of malcontent, and rather, because my people too suffered a hardship. My home, Angel Island, is a sign of it. When your people saw it rise into the sky, it was in the wake of a civil war amongst my people, one hardly anyone remembers, but the families of the Guardian and the Captains of the Guardian, keep it in their tales, ones they pass on to their children with each generation.
“You see about thirteen-hundred years ago, we had two master gems. My ancestor was in the middle of this fight, his older brother being the Guardian of our Master Emerald, and the Guardian of the Master Jewel being one who shared an ancestor with them, our first king Kashoku. No one is sure how the anger and mistrust got so deep, but it divided the village. One night, the Guardian of the Master Jewel sent her daughter to kill the Master Emerald’s Guardian’s son, or so the story goes. My ancestor saved him by killing the daughter, but the other Guardian killed him in return. …She was banished, taking her gem with her and her follows, while the remaining Guardian moved his people to their new home, raising it into the sky, calling it Angel Island, in memory of my ancestor.”
He glanced at Aerealei, who held his hand gently still but gazed at him with curious eyes. Something about her caused him to smile as he shook his head. “I think, Aerealei, that after our original tribe fell apart, that, perhaps the old alliance was simply…forgotten, but not out of hatred. Even so I…I’m afraid we can’t go to your people and tell them it was all a big mistake.” He lowered his eyes. “We were irresponsible and forgot, and so your people paid the price. We have no right to be high above it all, when we have none of the valor or pride your people hold dear, since we threw any we had away.”
She gasped softly, immediately scooting closer to him, drawing his eyes to hers. This made his heart pump faster, the butterflies spreading through his chest and down his limbs. She wasn’t even too close to him and yet she had come closer than any other had without making him uncomfortable. He was too absorbed by the conversation to try to understand how he felt, though he was aware of it. The feelings tripled in intensity when her fingers brushed some loose strands of hair from his face. All he could do was stare at those beautiful eyes.
“No Armundae, no,” she said, smiling, “Knowing they didn’t abandon us simply through apathy or anger is a good start. Your people suffered too, quite terribly.” She paused, pulling her hand back, glancing at the one of his that she still held. His eyes followed, watching as she stroked it. “It’s funny, both our people endured such terrible times, yet while mine condemn yours to damnation, you make it sound like yours would be horrified and deeply hurt by what has happened. I saw those tears in your eyes. …it shows my people are wrong.” She giggled softly. “You echidnas, you do care.”
Breathing deeply Armundae’s eyes followed her fingers. “And, this is what you wanted of me, my lady?” He looked at her.
Aerealei looked up, smiling. “I wanted to make a new friend. I admit I wanted to set the record straight. My grandmother’s manuscripts say the same things I have seen in you today, and I feel so wonderful that I’ve gotten to meet you. I don’t think the two of us alone can convince the village that your people should be forgiven but, I’d still like to keep you here.”
Armundae grinned, feeling relaxed. “Keep me here eh? Kidnapping the Captain of the Guardian.”
She looked up, blinking, and immediately blushed. “Armundae don’t tease me,” she giggled, “I’m only fourteen after all.” She smiled at him, adding, “I want to know more about you, and I mean you not just the echidnas. I did promise I’d let you see Valordian after all. I’ll keep you safe here.”
It tickled his heart, this girl offering to keep him safe, when his heart had every inclination to do the same, perhaps leave Valordian to face his fate, so she would not get into trouble keeping him hidden there. Taking some fruit from his plate, he said, “I think I shouldn’t stay long. I don’t want you to be punished for hiding a criminal.”
Aerealei gasped, taking his arm. “Oh no Armundae, please stay. I promise they won’t find out I’m keeping you here. Nobody bothers with this old guardhouse. I won’t get into trouble I promise.”
He swallowed the fruit, grinning more. For a boy that felt nothing deep with a female in his village, he enjoyed teasing this girl, one he had only known for an hour or so. It tickled him, and yet that face, those eyes again, looking right into his. He had to give in. He looked thoughtful, then chuckled; “Well, if you insist Aerealei. How can I refuse?”
Aerealei smiled, feeling relief as she sat back on her heels. “Armundae you shouldn’t tease me,” she giggled, though she was sure both of them knew that this was merely an invitation for more later, and the grin that spread his lips confirmed it. “With all of that out of the way I feel much better. Now…how about we enjoy brunch and then, we can go for a walk.”
“Fair enough,” he replied with a grin. “I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend an afternoon than taking a tour of the woods with you as my guide.” He took some more to drink, looking up at the sky. How he was feeling that moment, compared to how he felt the day he was arguing with the elders, couldn’t have been more different. He felt alive; he felt free; he felt happy.
Aerealei saw this in his expression, though she didn’t completely understand how much all of this meant to the sixteen-year-old. She was still so young but very mature for her age, though the playful spirit in her was tickled with curiosity about this new boy. There was no pressure for her to marry, and yet in the village she was highly admired, and very prized, considered to be quite a catch. Boys flirted with her, and though she knew what they were doing, and appreciated it, even friendly with them, it never struck her on a deeper level.
Yet this boy, this echidna, when she looked at him, when she touched his hand, or heard his voice, she felt something stir inside of her. For as long as she could keep him there, she’d be hard pressed to look away.
“Well I’m ready.”
Aerealei blinked, waking up from her day dream. She looked and saw Armundae had finished his plate, and was cleaning up what was left of the picnic. He glanced at her, grinning. “You lose your appetite?”
She looked down, seeing half of her meal was still on it. She had managed to eat some while lost in her thoughts, but it was long enough for him to finish his, and pick at some of the rest that she had brought along too apparently. She blushed, smiling. “I’ll have a little more then the rest later,” she said, before popping some fruit chunks into her mouth.
He looked at her, his movements continuing but slower as he watched her wipe some stray juice from the corner of her lips. He had only just met her, but already she made him feel so different than any girl ever made him feel. Angel Island, the Northern Kingdom, the Elders, Valordian…all of it was chased from his thoughts. Seeing the woods became a means to stay here with her, rather than her being a means for him to see the woods. He was getting his escape, but it was turning into much more than he could have ever imagined.
And it was barely early afternoon of the first day.
“Now I’m ready,” she giggled, “I’ll just stick the plate and my leftovers in the basket. I’ll take it with us so we’ve got something for lunch.” She picked up the basket, not paying attention to him as she looked at the guardhouse. “You fixed the roof but I’ll need to bring a few things for you to have while you stay.”
Armundae got up slowly, folding the blanket while she talked. He grinned, saying, “You saw how little I traveled with Aerealei. I’m used to being able to live with very little while I travel. It’ll be fine.”
She looked at him. “Even so, I’ll be bringing some candles and a few blankets for you. It can get cold in the woods…oh,” she blinked as he extended his arm to her, the grin still curling his lips. She felt that familiar tickle of a blush return as she took his arm, smiling. “You’re quite a gentleman Armundae. I am just a girl you know,” she said, as they started to walk.
“Nonsense, fourteen or twenty-two a lady is a lady,” he said, looking at her. “Were my father alive he’d tan my hide if I treated you any differently.”
Aerealei smiled; “Even so remember, we’re friends,” she giggled, and then she paused, her smile turning sad. “Your father, he’s dead?”
“Ah…,” he moaned, shaking his head, “Yes, he has been since I was nine.” He glanced at her; “That’s part of why the elders are pressuring me so.” He looked ahead. “The other part is Thaileon’s father dying two years ago, scaring everyone, since he was the Guardian. A smaller part is me not having interest in the girls there. …Thaileon he has a woman, one he’ll marry, so, the pressure’s on me.” He looked at her, grinning big and comically; “I’m a headache and a thorn in the sides of all the elders. Their only choice was to send me away to find a woman. I’m a brat and a troublemaker,” he said in a mocking tone towards the end, before laughing.
The pang of sadness she felt was quickly chased away by Armundae’s humor, though her laughter was soft. “Oh Armundae, that sounds dreadful. I don’t see how you can make such light of it. Losing your father…then being forced to marry just to have an heir, and being punished for not wanting to have a loveless affair. Oh, oh I’d be miserable, I’d never make it.”
“I am miserable.” He looked at her, seeing her look back. Slowly he grinned at her. “Being here is the happiest I’ve been since my father died, since before everything got so complicated.” He looked ahead, “Besides I pray you never have to go through a situation like that, yet I’m almost completely sure you’d handle it with a great deal more grace than I did. I’m also sure you’ve got a heart that is much less picky about love than mine. …Me I don’t know what mine wants, besides to be free.”
She felt her heart flutter, shaking her head as she led him through the woods. “My problem isn’t a number of boys to love. I don’t know if it’s because I came from royal blood or not, but, I suppose I’m considered quite a catch. Boys seem to…go out of their way to be nice to me.” She paused, looking at him. “My heart is picky about love; otherwise I’d see their flirting as something chivalrous rather than friendly favors. I don’t complain though,” she said, looking ahead, “It’s nice having boys fall over themselves to bring me water or strawberries, or weed my garden. It saves me the trouble and I have more time for sewing and lessons.”
Armundae snorted, holding in a laugh that turned his closed grin into a toothy one. “W-Wait a moment, you’ve got boys doing you favors as they pine for your affection, and so you go along with it just so they’ll do your chores for you? …Aerealei I know nothing about love but, that’s…terrible.” He tried to go straight faced as he looked at her, just as she tried to. They stopped walking, just staring at each other, trying to keep straight faces until finally the laughter that slowly twisted them erupted into a burst, filling the surrounding woods with the sound of their joy.
“Oh my word,” Aerealei laughed, “It is terrible, isn’t it?”
Laughing hard Armundae wiped his eyes. “No joke! Imagine their faces when you choose someone who has done none of that! Ahahaha! Brilliant!”
The two continued to laugh for awhile, until the chortles fell silent, the sound of the woods returning. Their breathing relaxed as the last of the soft laughter passed their lips. Aerealei smiled, giggling once more. “Oh, the one I choose will have done plenty for me, only, none of that.” She glanced at him. “I’d only require a man to do the work of a husband, once he’s earned the love I have to give to one.”
Armundae wiped his mouth, looking at her. He grinned, then asked, “You ever going to tell them that? Otherwise they’ll never know they’re doing it wrong.”
She smiled. “That’s the point. The one I choose won’t need to be told. He’ll have it right from the beginning. All he’ll have to do is wait patiently for me to see it.”
It seemed so simple, so obvious, the conclusion she made, but it still struck Armundae. She was only fourteen and yet she was mature beyond her years. She had a much better grip on love than he did, and yet at the same time he admired it. The subject of love and a woman’s take on it was something he was very familiar with, and yet she was the first girl that didn’t make him uncomfortable discussing it.
He could tell she was going to be a wonderful friend. He wanted so much for her to be happy. He hoped one day she would find that man, and that they would have all of the happiness in the world.
A soft chuckle escaped him as he rubbed his neck. He grinned at her. “With that mindset Aerealei I believe you’re set up to be a very happy woman someday. Any man would consider himself lucky to dedicate his life to loving you,” he said.
Aerealei blushed, smiling. “I do hope so. I have a lot of love to give,” she giggled as they started walking again. She was silent for a moment then looked at him. “I’m not sure what I can give you in food or walks through the forest but, I hope I can bring you some joy Armundae, and some hope, for I do believe one day you will be made just as happy. A woman would be content with the passing of a thousand years if it meant getting to love you just for a day, and I mean real love, the kind you do deserve.”
It was Armundae’s turn to blush as he rubbed his neck, though he still grinned. “That’s probably the nicest way anyone’s ever told me to keep trying. With your kind of encouragement then, I will. I’ll keep trying, Aerealei.”
“Wonderful,” she said with a smile. She caught his gaze for several moments, another instance where neither of them could think to look away, lost in each others eyes. The sound of a creature moving amongst the trees pulled their attention ahead, though she looked back for a moment, grinning. “Now time for that tour of the woods,” she said, pulling him ahead.
In the middle of a forest festering with hatred for the echidnas spreading from the hearts of the hedgehogs living there, an ambassador from both found joy in the time they shared, bonding over many footsteps, picking out birds, and stripping bushes of berries and nuts to eat, sparing a few to toss at one another playfully before a game of tag ensued. Though they just met that morning, the teens had struck up and formed a strong friendship.
Something that starts so strong only promises to strengthen all the quicker, a light in an increasingly shadowy land.
Even with so much going wrong, there had to be joys once in awhile, such is the balance in the Wars of Light and Darkness. Days would come and go, and the more and more time Armundae and Aerealei spent together, the closer and closer they would become.
Such was the beginning of their love song, a love so sacred, it needed no words to make it into music, and tell its story.
“A sacred love,
As dear as a song,
Symbol of Light,
Which the soul doth long.
High above all,
The lovers shall fly,
The music, their wings,
Endless romance, their sky.”
Walking up the steps of the tower, Shadow rubbed his face. Things had only gotten a little easier on Angel Island. Elder Kentacon was in a much better mood, planning a wedding for his other granddaughter, Laryllia, who was to be married to Thaileon after he was crowned Guardian in a few months. Without Armundae there things seemed to be better, but this didn’t erase Shadow’s concern for the boy. There was still the matter of him finding a woman of his own.
He hadn’t heard from Kashkie in awhile. It had been several months since Baralai was born, and all was quiet, too quiet. Shadow knew Spirit Island had to be having its own troubles. All he could do was trust Kashkie. He could barely spare a moment to leave Angel Island, let alone travel to Spirit Island at a time that was acceptable for them both without being invited.
All this and he had to start his search for the Daughter of Light very soon. He could barely spare time to worry about Armundae. He was being stretched thin; Shadow rarely slept anymore. He was too consumed with nightmares of UnDark and UnLight coming to finish the echidnas off. The fact was that Mukot had been quiet for too long as well.
Shadow was a walking epitome of a nervous wreck, yet it was no amount of stress he wasn’t already accustomed to.
That’s when he came here, to the tower in Radiant Castle, where Arandor rested in state. Coming here would bring Shadow a sense of calm, being near his beloved brother. It reminded him of why he fought, of why the stress meant so very little in the grander picture. He had promised, vowed, pledged his life to taking up this struggle, protecting everything Arandor loved. He had to see it through no matter the cost to him.
Seeing Arandor’s spirit renewed his spirit enough to keep fighting.
He stepped into the room, seeing Twinkle looking into the glass casket, her eyes fixed on the golden and silver light flying into him. Without glancing back she shook her head, speaking in her tiny voice when she heard the door open. “Poor baby Arandor. This power is such a strain on Kalak. There are days he hardly gets out of bed.”
Shadow said nothing. He did not frown, nor did he smile, as he hardly felt anything anymore. Walking over he said, “Father accepted it. He knew what would happen.” He looked in the casket, seeing Arandor’s face, so peaceful, even if it was only his spirit. This finally cracked a smile on Shadow’s lips. “Boy, he looks like he’s having a good dream.” He lifted a hand to his head, sighing. “I can only imagine.”
Twinkle blushed. “Shadow you’re terrible,” she giggled, looking back. “He’s looking good today. I think he knew you were coming. Good dream or not he even smiled earlier.”
“Hmm, no, he probably smiled because he knows something I don’t. He likes to meddle in my affairs,” Shadow shook his head, and then blinked. “Oh no,” he said, looking at Arandor, knowing immediately what Arandor was thinking.
“Shadow?” Twinkle blinked.
There was nothing, and then a knowing grin curled Arandor’s lips, his face still as peaceful as ever behind it.
“Valordian,” Shadow said, slapping his hand upon his face. “Armundae went to Valordian, and Arandor no doubt encouraged him, the pieces of his soul that are inside him rather. …Arandor what am I going to do with you?”
The grin stayed there for a moment, and then faded, going back to a faintly curled smile. Shadow grumbled, trying to be as miserable as he possibly could. Twinkle glanced between them for a moment, and then giggled softly. “Oh, this is like when you were children,” she squeaked, her starlight shining. “I wouldn’t worry Shadow, Armundae will be alright with Arandor watching over him.” She giggled more. “Oh I wish Master Kalak could see this.”
Both Twinkle and Shadow looked up, seeing Kalak standing at the door, his hand against the frame. As Shadow bowed his head, Kalak shook his. “I’m here, and I have company. Somebody you might remember Shadow.”
Shadow looked up, blinking. “Remember? Another Guardian you mean?”
Kalak grinned. “Not Ratar or Lormin. There was another that came to see you, when you were young.” He glanced into the hall. “It’s been a long time so, you might not remember her, but she loved you when you were children. It’s hard to get her to visit sometimes.”
Scratching his head, Shadow sighed. “I’m old and withered Father, I cannot remember.” He glanced at the casket. “Look and see if Arandor grins again that means he remembers and it’s not just a good dream he’s having.”
Twinkle squeaked, covering her face, while Kalak chuckled. “I won’t make you guess Shadow, if you’ll only stop calling yourself old. You’re making me feel ancient, more than Beledin.” He looked in the hall, reaching for an unseen hand. “Come on dear it’s just Shadow and Twinkle.”
A white furred hand reached out and took Kalak’s hand, and as he pulled it forward, a figure completely obscured by a flowing, silken white cloak came into view. None of her features could be seen, though it was unmistakably a woman. As she stepped in, her gentle voice pieced the silence so delicately. “Oh eee,” she purred softly, “I forgot how beautiful it was, up here.”
Kalak grinned. “You should visit more often.” He looked over. “Remember yet Shadow?”
Twinkle squeaked. “Eee! It’s…it’s Lady…”
“Shh,” Kalak said, grinning still. “Arandor don’t you tell him either.”
Shadow glanced, sure enough seeing another grin on Arandor’s lips begin to relax. He looked back at the figure, blinking. Covered head to toe in a white hood guessing who she was should have been impossible…and yet…
“Oh…oh dear Kalak don’t make him guess. He was so small the last time I saw him,” her meek voice pleaded. “I-I’m nobody important, he won’t remember, it’s okay.”
“Nonsense,” Kalak chuckled, patting her shoulder. “You’re very important to all of us.” A soft hiss came from under the hood, though it was clearly not from this, apparently very shy, very humble, girl.
Shadow scratched his head, closing his eyes. The hood, the soft hissing, the demeanor, humble, meek, gentle…then he remembered. His eyes flew open, and he couldn’t bow his head or fall to his knees fast enough. He didn’t care if Arandor grinned, finding humor in it, for she deserved this respect, this utmost and reverent respect, even if she denied it in the name of humility.
“I could never forget such a beautiful soul,” he said, his eyes closed and head bowed, “Lady Agatha, Lady Agatha of Chastity.”