“Iricah, you haven’t aged a day,” said the prince. He motioned for her to sit, and she ignored him perfectly. He was dripping in gold and silver and his ridiculous gem encrusted sword hung at his side. The so-called sword of Cellinor.
“I see you have. ” She replied and turned to walk away. She wasn’t going to do this again. Face a dragon. Check. Demons. Check. The darkening. Sure. But not him. No way. He was supposed to be a world away. And now the damned fool was but a step trying to order her to sit like a parent to child.
“I must speak to you, madame archaeologist.” His eyes grew wide and he dropped some of the pretense, but only a little. Like a wolf circling his prey, he was all reservation. She hated these royal proclivities, these little traditions.
But she was no longer prey. And she was no longer his. And she knew more of the world, far more of it and enough to know the Celns cared more about how they said things than what they said sometimes. She no longer cared. “Nice sword by the way, Gen. Looks Trebian.”
“You know it isn’t Iricah. You know…”
“Oh I know Gen. I heard all about it from the tellers. You and your Lords of Alpha. You wiped out the entire Trebian force right? Saved the Cairn Lands…bla bla bla….Then, they gave you a fancy sword. I’ve heard the tale in every inn and tavern in the isles. Bested the savage Queen of the wilds. Nice work, Lord Genoran.”
“It wasn’t like that, Iricah. We had help from a group of outwilders, tabaxi in fact, we needed help. There was more than what was…”
“Damn you Genoran! Damn you to Ket, you…” Why are you not leaving Iricah?! And there it was. Shit! Doing it again Iricah. Maybe it was that smug look on his face. The trust me look. Holier than thou, the flame of triumph in his eyes. His devout righteousness. As if his mentors and sword masters had made him into something better than everyone around him. As if it was his right to tell her what she needed to do. Somehow, whatever it was, she had started to listening again and she promised herself she wouldnt.
“Iricah, a lot has changed since I last saw you. You must let the past go. Look at the position we are in. Look at what…”
She scoffed. “You may be the prince, but I am Lord of this Landing. You are dismissed, m’Lord.” She pointed her finger at the archway towards the central hall. Her eyes flashed and she held up her head as if each little freckle upon her cheeks needed to point too. Out! A few baubles fell onto the stones unceremoniously. She ignored it, far too upset to care.
“I have something for you.”
“Good, keep it. I want nothing from you.”
“It’s from your brother.”
“I have everything from him already. Remember? They brought me everything, afterwards.”
Genoran sighed. “Iricah it’s been more than 10 years. I know you hate me, but please can I…”
“Ten years feels longer for some than it does for others, m’lord.” She moved to the archway now, staring out in the direction she wished him to go. This was no act. Iricah hated his guts. At first, the sight of him hit her. The familiar. Perhaps, she hadn’t expected that. The rush of old feelings. Uncontrollable. But now, the hatred was back. The pain. The abominable searing anger. “I want you gone, Lord of Cellinor! I don’t give a Lighted shit who you are. This is my manor.”
Genoran once again opened his mouth to speak, and then, he decided smartly to close it. She wouldn’t look at him. She wasn’t going to. Relunctantly, he stepped out of the archway while she avoided his gaze, and his presence as if he carried plague. Defeated, he tried one last time. “Nevertheless, your brother left this in my possession in a round about way. It was my duty to bring it to you, even though I knew it not.” Genoran held out a parchment scroll, sealed in wax. And this time, although it took a while, Iricah looked down.
“And you are just now telling me, Gen? I am supposed to believe you have had this all this time, or maybe you just kept it from me, is that it? You son of a….” She snatched the parchment from his hands. Before she could look, her palm felt the recognizable outline of her brother’s symbol, emblazoned in the wax. Tears came to her eyes. How could he do this to her again? She fought them back, and turned back into the manor. She wasn’t going to let him see her cry ever again.
“I received it some time ago, and would have come with my father or sent it with him. But you, you had disappeared, Iricah. And I.” He paused, standing in the archway. She stood before him facing inside. She wouldn’t look at him, but she was still there. Her shoulders rose up, and down with her breath. “I had other things I had to do.”
“Other things to do,” thought Iricah aloud. Her voice welled with hidden emotion. “Well we all had things we had to do. Soon, we’ll have more. I’ve received your scroll. There is no need for you to be here as I open it. Once again, you are dismissed. You no doubt have things to do.”
Without the Cillandrial bow required formally of a Celn prince, or even a glance for that matter, Iricah walked off into the grand hall of her manor and into her suite. Nana would be there, hidden among the piles of linens, chasing her spiders, asking her a million questions. She wanted privacy, so she went into her sleeping chamber and sat at her reading desk. She laid the scroll atop it.
It hit her instantly that this may well be from Gae. Genoran was an asshole but he generally did not play tricks. She burst into tears and it took her awhile before she was ready. Of course, Iricah was a researcher. And so with her own parchment, ink and quill she began to inspect the scroll. She prepared herself to take notes, just in case the magical enchantment she hoped would be there, wasnt.
The magical seal they shared was a way that Gaelon and Iricah often sent each other messages. It was a childish carryover, but Iricah kept it up into adulthood. There were times when she worried about the order’s involvement in her research. As she looked down, and ran her fingers over the symbol, the tell tale trace of Gaelon’s magic sparked from the wax. It was indeed the work of her brother. Her fingers trembled. Her eyes welled up. What would he have written her? What was this?
She spoke the word of magic required to open the seal, and the wax broke down the middle.
Hands shaking, she unrolled the parchment and saw the handwriting she never thought she would see again.
If you are receiving this letter, than I am dead. Perhaps, I have been for some time. Know that I love you, and miss you.
Know that the contents here are of the highest priority. That you must read these words and you must BELIEVE them. I know your thinking brain won’t accept the faith of what I leave for you. But Iricah, you must.
The ark we have found, has markings. Markings that I have deciphered. I am sorry sister, but I had to do this. I had to go without you.
Iricah, we were right. The arks were meant to keep the Kasillians through the darkening. But Iricah! They are broken. They did not work for the purpose of moving the Kasillians into safety. I have discovered that although they were not used, although they were broken, they can still be used now! What the Kasillians made, can be our safety! In fact, they are connected you see, on a path of some kind. A path not of space Iricah! It is a path in time! They can keep our world safe For the Sake of All. In fact, I believe that much of what I write has already come to pass. I know I sound crazy, but you must believe me Iricah. For I have one last thing to tell you. I believe it was you who has turned the arks on. I believe it was you, you and others who are meant to use them. I believe Iricah, that you are meant to be a hero!”
And finally. In a quick post script at the bottom of the letter was:
“Trust no one Iricah. Only yourself. Gae”
She found him later on his ship. Dismissing his officers, he stood before her, waiting, knowing she would come at least one more time. And probably never again. “Where did you get this letter Genoran?”
“It came to me from a reliable source.”
“A reliable source?”
“It came to me from a dragon, Iricah. The last of his kind. He was a mentor. I told you. Much has changed in the last decade of this dying light.”
“But Borindin slew the last of that kind. Did he not?”
“I think we both know the truth of that now.”
Iricah needed nothing more. The night wind picked up her cloak and flung it backwards. Her hair whipped up. She stared at him. The man she had once loved. The man who had let her brother be Inquisitioned. Publicly.
“Your sister, Iricah, is the wife of the King’s Blacksmith, now.”
“You want thanks for that? My sister is a damn fine owner of a family tradition. She wasn’t born into it. She made her own enterprise. She wasn’t born with a silver flame up her ass. ”
“That’s harsh Iricah. I…I have…”
“Spare me your ‘I’ve been busy’ speech prince. I’ve heard the teller’s tales about you. The victories in the Inpenetrable Mountains. Ise-reisen. The Battle at Alpha. Did you enjoy wiping out the last of the Trebians, oh Celn?”
“What is happening here is bigger than the two of us. We’re talking about the…”
“End of the world as we know it. Yeah, I sort of get it Gen. And it’s not the two of us. Never will be again, so don’t you ever forget you son of a drake. It’s the three of us, Genoran. If you think a decade can distance you from your decision, you are mistaken.”
The Prince’s facade broke then. He stammered at her, “Don’t you know why my father was here? Don’t you know why Garondin was here?”
“Your regal affairs have never concerned me. I seek what matters.” Iricah was the master now. She had dreamed of this, although she hated admitting it. She could see the look in his eyes. She no longer needed him. His trappings and achievements meant nothing to her. And he knew it.
“We are on the offensive, Iricah. We are here to end the Sasser threat. But there is more.”
She waited. A gale whipped the sails around her, but the night was clear.
“Much has happened while you were away. There have been… discoveries. Two traitors have been awakened. One, defeated Iricah! Can you not see what leads the Sasser forces? Can you not tell what is at stake? You have grown powerful. We can both see that. I need your help on the offensive. Cellinor needs you. You and your friends. I think, I think you are destined for something great. Something important.”
Iricah looked away and laughed out loud. “Well, well!!!! I’m important too he tells me!”
Genoran though, continued somberly. “You chose not to aid my brother, I heard.”
“Your brother waded into battle, he was a soldier, not a boy. Not a scientist. Just a commoner, doing MY work!”
“Is. Iricah. My brother is. He is alive. And I intend to find him. I intend to stop this threat, and to follow the signs that lead us to the citadel. I can’t bring back your brother. I can’t change the past.”
“Well it must be nice to know he’s alive,” she spat. “What is the citadel Genoran? If you are leading us without clear purpose, I will know. I am not the babe I once was.”
He knew better than to respond to her threat. Instead, he answered her question. “We do not know.” He placed a card on the table.
“Great, another card carrying lunatic,” she hissed and picked up the card. This card, known as the “Fortress” was a floating castle, around which stars shone. Seven stars in fact. “Is that why the Lords of Alpha are here Genoran? Are they the heroes, risen anew?”
“I believe they are.”
“And you will take them to this so called citadel.”
“Yes, yes I will. Some of them. Others choose to fight the Sasser invasion head on. My mentor, Tiresias, told me it would be so.”
“Then why are you making your face? You can’t fool me Gen.”
He paused. Then, he tried to move closer to her, but she took a step back.
“About a year ago, the signs changed. The path that the heroes must take, the path of their enlightenment is broken. But it changed. I know not why. My father says that you entered the Heroes Chamber. Is that true?”
“Perhaps, the heroes are not one group of mighty warriors. Perhaps, they are many. Perhaps, Iricah, they are you and your comrades.”
“My brother thought I was the hero Gen. He gave his life to discover he was wrong. I am not a hero. I am just a seeker. The heroes are no more. It is up to us to stop what is coming. Your ancient lore can’t save us now.” Iricah climbed over the rail and onto the rope ladder. As Thrak had taught her to do, she let her feet guide her along the sides and slid down onto the docks. She found her footing on the platform and strode back to the city.
Genoran crept to the rail and stared at her familiar form walking away from him. Just as she had when her brother had been found guilty of blasphemy. A world away and her anger was resolute. He called after her. “No, Iricah, your brother was right! You are a hero! And I need you now. We all need you. Whether you want me to need you or not is irrelevant.”
Later that night…while Iricah slept, the same fitful dream came to her.
She was there again, watching him burn at the stake in the hero’s square. The night insects wailed, the spectactors laughed and squealed as if delighted. The smell of his flesh burning. It was all there again. Before his agonized form, while he twisted and tore at his bindings, the keepers of the Flame: Brohm, Re-alis, and Glorian. Righteous. Devout. Happy.
She rushed to the fore, past the others who tried to push and pull her away, angry at having their space invaded. They had waited all day for their spot! She had tried to be there earlier. She had tried.
“Iricah??!!!!” He cried out gasping in the smoke, and the heat. “Iricaaaaah where are you??!!!!”
“Gae! Gae!!!! Look at me, Gae. I am with you!” She cried back. She had made it, too late. He had been alone.
“Gae!” She called again, hoping he would see, hoping he still could hear her, to at least have that one last comfort she had come. “Gae, I am with you!”
The flames rose higher, his face was now blackened flesh, his hair and lips and eyelids melted away. How could he still be alive? “No, Iricah! Iricah! Look at me. LOOK AT ME!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”
The image was permanently implanted in her mind even as she slept. She saw every detail. Smelled his flesh burning. Heard his scream, and watched his body twist and pull out like a bowstring, unable to escape the pure nightmare, the burning. But now, here in her sleep, for the first time she saw what she couldn’t bring herself to see before. It was as if she stood outside her own body, in the blazing heat, in the night at her brother’s execution. She stood, staring at herself, staring at him. Watched her miserable form sink to the ground, trampled by the crowd around her, laughing and shouting at his torture. She watched as she, the other Iricah, stared up into his face. While his skin crackled, and his flesh melted, Gaelon had held his gaze, but not at her. He had held it fixed at the wall where shadows danced from the inferno around him. But she hadn’t followed that gaze, she had only watched him. His suffering. His agony. For her. Because it should have been her.
For the first time since that night, Iricah stared into the memory that had haunted her, that had driven her. The memory that had consumed her like a fire. She at last stared not at her brother’s dying, his agonizing last moments. Instead, this time, she LOOKED at where he was looking. The thought never once occurring to her. And when she did so, she saw an image in shadow. The form was undeniable. In her dream, years and oceans removed, she saw what she could not see that night.
There on the wall, in shadow. A lanthorn.
Iricah had awoken then, sweating. Her research ever at the fore, she knew the shadowed lanthorn was an urban legend. The dark lanterns of Borindin were said to be a secret society, a secret group, meant to work under the authority of the Flame.
LOOK at me, Iricah.
She sat up, drenched in her own sweat as her breath returned to her. It filled her lungs and she brought it all in, as if she hadn’t taken a breath in ages.
“I see you, Gaelon. By the Light, I see you now!!!!”