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Read the first three Chapters of Child of Intention !

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Chid of Intention

November 29, 2021

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Sometime in the distant past ...

The crack in the marble steps had been left for many centuries. Inlaid into the white marble, were blooms of soft pink and yellow. This one tile still displayed a crack, made by one of her son’s god-strengthened knees falling into the stone. The dent was tiny, his infant knee leaving a mark no bigger than an orange, and the gold in the stone sparkled in the radiating cracks.

He had been so rosy-cheeked and happy then, always fighting with his twin brother, a constant swirling riot of wings and laughter. Now he was grown with his own love, his own power—though she still felt she could choose better for him. Her glacier blue eyes were gazing at the stone, recalling the memory of the beautiful little Fae queen that had helped him learn to fly.

It had been a joy to realize that her son had something that none of the other godly children could boast on: beautiful crisp white-feathered wings. Of course, any of them could fashion themselves a pair, but not of the same beauty or with the same gracious movement. She had loved watching him wake and seeing him stretch the long feathers to their furthest limit, loved feeling the tips flick across her face during the dark nights when he snuck into her bed.

But what so few knew of him was that for the first tender years of his existence, Eros had not been able to get himself even an inch off the ground. Only after some negotiation had the little queen of the Oahesa agreed to teach him in the same way that they taught their young how to fly. She did not trust the rest of her own Pantheon to nurture him as he deserved.

In fact, she enjoyed the company of the Beluvial Fae more than most of the other living things in the two worlds. She was after all, a daughter born of the elements, just as they had been. Her origins always cast her out from all the others, the others who came from the Titanomachy. She suspected that she did not come from these people at all. Somehow, she had stepped out of these waters with no memory of anything before the bubbling water.

The goddess pulled a trim and muscled golden leg up, bending her knee as she leaned against one of the great pillars holding up the roof of her Olympian temple. She had chosen a temple with several fruit gardens, laden with apples, grapes and mangoes. Several small turquoise bathing lakes chequered the mountain, private alcoves hidden from celestial eyes. From here, there was a rare portal straight from her world to the ocean depths of the sister world, Beluvial—a collision of dimensions that led to a molecules-thin layer of separation between the worlds. Last night Lir had risen up from the depths of one of those pools. He was a beautiful sight, with his broad chest and long dark green hair. She had paid dearly for the portal, but every time she saw him, it had been worth the thumbnail of ambrosia spirited off of Olympus.

Through the valleys of Olympus she had a clear view of the world below, the human world. She had wanted to be able to look down towards them at all times. Her great canopied bed sat in the middle of the open room that was surrounded by decorated pillars, gossamer cotton streams swaying on the soft, floral-scented breeze. The soft blue sky could be seen through the decorated archways, bright sunlight pouring in. A sleeping man stirred in deep blue sheets on the heavy carved wooden bed. She always chose this colour for him, this indigo that the humans derived from the molluscs of their sea. He always looked so beautiful in it with his light blue skin and dark green hair. Lir was one of them—one of the Fae. She was still married, and in order to keep her husband from scandal and to keep herself in the good graces of Zeus and Ares, she always hid him.

She often wondered why he never questioned the secrecy. He came every seven years and spent only a few days with her. To a god that was a tragically brief time. But she knew that Lir had his own sons, his own wife. He had been kind, loyal, and honest with her and wanted nothing from her but to enjoy her company and please her as much as she pleased him. It was something she seldom got living amongst the petty gods in this Pantheon. She was the goddess of love, and she knew love in all its forms, knew its many manifestations. What made her think of the Fae so much on this crisp morning was that soon Lir would construct one of the greatest structures conceived by any of the pantheons.

She pictured that sweet Oahesa queen. They had been smaller once, only large enough to be able to sit comfortably in palm of her hand. But the little queen understood the magic that allowed them to fly. She helped patiently through every trip and fall her beautiful blonde boy endured, every time his wings got under him and he stumbled from the air. It was not something she ever remembered doing, stumbling. Just a silken ascent from the warm water onto the sands of the island, a beautiful gold and pink sky and the smell of sea salt.

It was different for her children. With the blood of the Pantheon coursing through them, they all shone and coalesced into this world. As they achieved their godhood, even they began to treat her differently, see her differently. Although Athena and Hera and Demeter all whispered about her, about how many of her children had been born with wings, at least her winged children seemed to thrive here.

She didn’t know why she was angry with Lir. She was uneasy, but the Veil would change things. It had been decided for over a hundred years that the Fae would leave Earth. Peace had been bargained for before they destroyed everything, and all the pantheons had agreed to the separation of the worlds, for their own survival. Zeus could not be happier. With the Fae gods and their power and kin leaving, the pantheons left on earth were soon to be some of the most powerful beings on this world. But she was going to be terribly lonely.

No one else had been able to fashion a spell of this kind. It ensured peace. The Fae wanted their world protected from the humans. The humans were scared of their powers. Now that the wars were over the other pantheons were no longer caught in the middle, no longer picking sides. He had delivered on his promise that all creatures both sentient and fae from the smallest to the largest, were innocent of the actions of the high Fae and would not be barred from the magic of either world.

But the gods of this Pantheon would not be allowed to cross, an agreement reached so that the Fae gods would also leave this world. Their gods so often liked to walk amongst them, they even granted the Fae powers in sacred spots. It was a practice she had always feared. Humans were barely above the beasts that roamed the earth; how could they be trusted with fashioning this universe? Sure, a powerful object or a wish granted here or there was amusing. But real power?

When Lir was awake, she would ask him, just as she had asked a hundred times what he thought of this choice. She smiled, knowing they would argue and debate and then enjoy even more passion when they decided to reconcile their differences. She stared at the dent in the marble tile. She would never see any of them again: not Lir, not the pretty Oahesa or the Pes maids and their beautiful tails.

‘I can’t come with you,’ Aphrodite whispered to herself, still watching the sleeping Fae god half naked and draped in indigo sheets.

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Chapter 1

She wasn’t his favourite human, but he had to admit after many years, he found it comforting to watch her crazy habits. Amara was running around her apartment trying to get organised enough to leave. She was a creature of almost neurotic habit, though she fought the label; her life choices had to fit a yet unseen order.

Ribben had been watching her for hours already, saying she had been splashing around in the tide pools on the coast. At least today, she hadn’t slipped and fallen in. Keirin had seen it happen once and laughed uncontrollably until he could barely pull air into his lungs. To achieve that was quite a feat for little Amara. He, of course, was a Lord of Air.

Not-so-little Amara, he thought, smiling as he admired the stretch of jeans and how they hugged her hips. He had seen her grow up into such a peculiar woman.

Next to him a small blue creature started to shuffle on the end of the tree branch. The spindly stretch of wood should not have supported both their weights, but then he wasn’t sure if Ribben weighed anything at all. He had seen the small blue form walk over snow and not leave any footprints.

‘She’s about to Awaken, Keirin. I knows it.’

‘She is too young and too human.’ He pulled his knee against his chest and rested his chin against his leg. He peered through her window, waiting for her to gather her things and get organized enough to leave the house. Seven trips back and forth, and she still had the textbooks everywhere and her wallet was missing in one of her reusable environmentally friendly shopping bags.

Ribben shivered as his skin rippled. It looked moist, though Keirin knew that, touching pixie skin, you would only find a warm velvety texture. Dark blue dots faded and ebbed under his skin. Keirin, with only his thoughts, stretched the space that he was using to stay warm. Around him he churned the air in the sphere of invisible space. The more the thought and effort, the more the molecules moved. It was instinct, and with their constant motion they warmed and caressed his skin. Ribben relaxed and sighed as the warmth enveloped him.

‘Thanks, KK.’ Ribben slid further towards the thin tip of the tree branch, balancing impossibly.

‘She’s lost the keys as well,’ Keirin said, sitting back down and getting comfortable. He knew that it would be at least another fifteen minutes before Amara left the house for the pub.

‘Ribben, this is the coldest time of the year in this country. Why are we here? She’s human and only in her twenties. She’s probably never going to Awaken. That girl is going to live a long, simple life tracing minerals in fish populations and recycling.’

At a triumphant shout from inside the house, the corner of Keirin’s mouth quirked up as he recognized her victory cry. She didn’t even know she had one, except she made the same noise every time she had succeeded in even the smallest of tasks. He had never figured out whether it was cute or sounded diabolical.

‘Let’s go. You’ve proven me wrong enough times that I can’t ignore you pestering me about her. You owe me big though. I had to beg for special permission to come over so soon after my last visit. She’s not the only reason I’m supposed to be on this side of the Veil. In fact, most of the Mehsari would love for me to forget about her altogether.’

‘You never forget about her, KK, nots ever.’

‘Not with you around I won’t.’ Keirin jumped deftly to the ground, landing with a small thud as cold air wrapped around him. The smell of damp grass and woodland air surrounded him as he inhaled deeply. He glanced up, tilting his head and making an exasperated noise to goad his companion into moving. Ribben shuffled on the branch and sniffed, not hesitating to jump down without making a sound.

‘Race you? Even though I know nixing is easier for you on this side of the Veil.’

‘High praise from big Fae.’ Ribben took his hand, smiling. One second later, the tall exotic man and his blue companion vanished.

It was the first time that she had seen him, he sat stretched out like a predator in the booth across from her usual seat. It was impossible not to notice him; he was like a wolf among sheep. Also, he was handsome and young, when everyone else in her local pub on a Tuesday night was upwards of fifty. She was in here because she needed to work and never got anything done at home.

Amara shuffled into her usual booth, tossing the too-heavy set of textbooks and a duffle bag on the seat. Her beige coat was still beaded with water but warm as she went to the bar to make her normal order.

‘Sam, I need a mulled cider. It’s November and freezing. I expect mulled cider for me to nurse my wounds; bring a girl some seasonal cheer.’

‘Haven’t got any,’ he said blandly, staring steely-eyed at her. She had pestered him with this question every year since she had moved to the coast.

Grey eyes beamed back her best stare. For moments, they cooled the air with their coy game, but Sam’s lips finally cracked into a smirk. ‘Negotiations? You can have scampi and chips with no mushy peas, but mash and cider for regular people.’

‘Chilled cider? The customer is always right, Sam.’

‘That or starve.’

‘Throw in a brownie, and I won’t start a riot.’ Leaning against the bar, she rose to her tiptoes and winked at what was her favourite bartender in town. He was also the only bartender in town.

Sam chortled and walked away, his beer belly almost shaking over his belt buckle, the plaid button shirt barely covering his stomach. He had been her first friend in this town. A familiar face, with his crow’s feet—the cost of years of smiling—with dirty blonde hair that was thinning on top.

The pub was traditional to a fault, with low ceilings and gold railings that lined a dark mahogany bar. Long wooden tables and booths screamed the theme of old-world farmer. Hunter plaid and brown were patched everywhere. Even the carpets were an ancient 1970s green. It was like time travel, but it had grown on her. The windows held characteristic swirls in the glass, evidence of how they traditionally spun out glass windows in England. She was staring at a favourite swirl over the head of Mr Wolf, she realized. She turned around and leaned against the bar as she waited for Sam to bring her drink.

Beautiful. That was all she could think when she saw him. Well-cut grey slacks covered long legs; elegant loafers made him look well-dressed. Running her eyes up his body she couldn’t understand the change to a cream-coloured cotton shirt topped with a black hoodie. A hoodie? With those too-expensive loafers? She rolled her eyes. Why did some men dress like they weren’t even trying these days? They needed to spend money to look sloppy in her opinion. She continued to walk up his body with her eyes until she slammed into a set of deep brown eyes looking right back at her. The returning stare was as penetrating as her own. She was being evaluated as well. Poor him.

Amara was not a British rose. She had pale brown skin from her mother and steel grey eyes from her father. Most of her peers were taller; she was not leggy or lithe in appearance. She was petite but with generous hips. Curvy was what she called herself now. Chubby was what she was called in school. It had taken her years to understand that she was never going to look like her friends because of her heritage. The turning point had been when she realized that everyone wanted to be something else, look like something else. ‘If you can’t please everybody,’ her mother always said, ‘then own pink things and dance like a lunatic.’

She nervously tucked her pin-straight shoulder-length hair behind her ear. Knocking her knee-high leather boots, she kicked off the bar to slide back into the booth. She tugged at her jeans and pink sweater, and then she pulled off the jacket and caressed the water beading on the outside of it like glittering jewels. She stole a glance at the wolf; he was staring at her now with something of a startled expression, with raised eyebrows under short dark hair revealed as his hoodie fell backward. He leaned forward gripping the wooden edge of the table. Gods, what was a man this handsome doing here? His profile was practically chiselled with the five o’clock shadow he was sporting.

Sure, fine, she thought. Stare away at the only other not Caucasian person in the pub. She pulled out the textbooks and let them thud on the wooden table. Studying again at her age wasn’t as easy as it used to be. She was trying to complete her PhD, and the field work was amazing. Her days were spent looking at life in tidal pools and the impact of pollution on fish populations. She was being paid, poorly, to do what she loved. Today consisted of obsessively collecting samples from several run-off sites.

She was yanking out an toxicology textbook, to give her some guidance on analysing her latest test samples, when a cider was plunked down in front of her. Sam flashed a rare smile as he winked at her. ‘Looks like you have a fan. You cheating on me, A?’

Her glare was all the answer he needed to have him bellowing in laughter as he walked away. A cold draft hit her as she looked up to see Micheal walk in to start the late shift, giving her his typical grin. She had been swooning over that grin for two years since he’d moved back to his hometown. Looking for ‘the slow life’ he had said, ‘to settle down’.

She’d never seen any man move faster from woman to woman. His mother had been Scandinavian and given him blonde hair, blue eyes, and good looks. He was the guy every girl in town wanted to be with. Staring at the table in earnest, Amara started flicking her pen as she tried to focus on the page in front of her. Give her a lecture room full of people and she was a lioness of confidence. Put her in Micheal’s gaze and she was a bumbling schoolgirl.

‘You have to be joking,’ someone scoffed.

Amara turned to see the wolf muttering to himself. He couldn’t know; her pining couldn’t be that obvious, could it? She stared at the table again and picked up her cider for a sip. The moment it hit her lips, she slumped into her seat and sighed, ran a hand through her black hair, and leaned her head back against the booth.

‘Long day, hon? You look like something washed in from sea. Sam said you were waiting for this, so I thought I’d run it out to you.’ Micheal leaned in to place the hot, steaming bowl of food in front of her as she nervously moved her paperwork and books out of the way.

She pulled herself together and gave him a smile. ‘Thanks, lovely. You know what they say, no rest for the wicked.’ Micheal chuckled, and she watched him leave, quite happy with her view.

‘This is not happening. I refuse, Ribben. She’s not even good at flirting. I am going home, and we won’t pursue this any further.’ Amara glanced back to see the wolf getting up from his empty table. He was like a storm moving towards the door. He was rolling past her table when she sensed a tickle of wind playing with her hair. The stranger came to a dead halt a few feet from her. She flipped to another page, shovelling some mashed potatoes into her mouth. As she watched from the corner of her eye, his hands clenched and unclenched, and the wolf turned on his heel. Then she was smacked into her chair by a smile that was beautiful. If only it went to his eyes.

‘Hi, I’m Keirin. Fae Boron.’ Her head twitched as she flinched from a buzzing in her ears, and he seemed to agree with someone as he shuffled towards the table.

‘Um ... ah Aahra,’ she managed to mumble with potatoes still in her mouth. She got a look saying that she could do better, so she swallowed quickly. ‘Oh, sorry. I’m Amara.’ The buzzing happened again, and she could have sworn it was a whisper that sounded a lot like a snicker. She really was letting sanity go today.

‘Could I sit, ma’am? I need to speak with you urgently.’

Who was he calling ma’am? ‘Yeah, the seat’s free. I’m sorry, are you … from the university? If you’re a student looking for help on a dissertation, I’m not an adviser; I’m finishing my own degree.’

‘No, my student days are long since done. I just wanted … your name—uh, to get your name. Did your father ever tell you where you came from?’

‘Listen, my dad’s lived in our family cottage for his whole life, and his whole family is from England. If you’re referring to my heritage on my mother’s side … what does it matter to you that she’s Indian? Is there something I can do for you?’

Large hands were clasped again, and Amara could almost hear his teeth grinding together in frustration. His eyes darted to the space right next to her. She followed his gaze, wondering for a moment if she could see a shape outlined as well. She blinked several times, but the space appeared empty.

‘I apologise for making you uncomfortable. I won’t be bothering you again.’ Keirin got up, and as he stormed towards the door, she could almost feel whiplash.

‘Damn, A,’ Micheal said from behind the bar. ‘You didn’t tell us that you were seeing someone. But that fellow is a bit moody, isn’t he? Or is it some lover’s spat?’

Amara sat there absorbing what he’d said. Why did it have to be in front of Micheal? she fumed. She closed her eyes and breathed out. Dear god, it was in front of Micheal. ‘I don’t know him,’ she said with a big sigh and pulled the books closer to her, letting the food sit on the side. She let embarrassment wash over her.

Amara spent a couple more hours looking over some statistics and feeding the data into graphing software. After jotting[A2]  some final notes on a napkin, she motioned to the bar that she wanted to pay her tab and gathered up her things to go home. The parking lot was empty, and her weathered car looked lonely as she piled her things into the passenger seat in an unsteady heap, ready to head home. The flat was no more than ten minutes away, but it might as well have been a universe away, as she felt like a pile of walking lead.

Micheal chose this particular moment to come out of the kitchen back door. Holding the night’s garbage, he waved at Amara with a friendly grin. As she tried to wave back, the arm of her jacket got caught on the handbrake; one awkward jerk and an overpowered grin were her only defences. Micheal mouthed, ‘Are you OK?’ Amara nodded furiously in answer. When he finally walked back inside, Amara stared through the windscreen and whined, ‘Perfect. Just perfect.’ Her now freed hands were at the two and ten positions of the pink fur-covered steering wheel. She lifted her gaze to the ceiling of the car and took a deep breath before reversing out.

It had been years since she had been with anyone—three to be exact. She was twenty-eight, and she had started seeking something different in life. Her mother’s side of the family found her old and entirely too independent. They were forever disappointed that she had not made every effort to get married and start a family. It was not that she didn’t want those things for herself but that it didn’t seem to happen. There was no connection when she met men; words were hollowed out before the first casual drink was done, and she was checked out and daydreaming.

She shifted the car into gear and started weaving her way through the lit streets. Amara loved the town for how green, lush, and quiet it was. Especially on winter nights. The streetlights lit the dense trees from underneath, and from these pools of warm yellow ambiance flowed an ocean of green shadows. She would visit the nearest city to see a show or visit a museum, but her heart lay at the coastline and the seashore. Tonight there was a full moon, and the ocean could be seen rippling under the moonlight. The stunning view was why she had rented this place. She liked the freedom of having a high vantage point to look out over the trees and the ocean, only a few miles away. She stood for a minute at the railing to take it in again as if saying goodnight. The wind ruffled her hair into her eyes.

She unlocked the door and welcomed the warmth of her simple flat, a sofa, a TV and a kitchen in one room and a clean bedroom. She started to strip her clothes off in the hallway and strolled naked towards the bathroom. Never again would she be able to go back to sharing a house with people again. She was uncivilised and loved it. The small bathroom was clean and lined with shells and turquoise accents, and she hopped into the shower turned the water on full. She purred under the water pressure. Hot water may be the best invention ever. She let the water ripple over her and leaned against the tiled wall of the shower.

From a distance she heard her phone buzzing. She rolled her eyes, annoyed at anything that penetrated this bubble of water and warmth. Minutes passed that she wasn’t counting. She got out of the shower and wrapped herself in a pink bathrobe with white polka dots, fell into bed, and curled up under the baby pink duvet. Things were sparse in her flat. Her bedroom contained a single dresser and some paintings on the walls that were there from the landlord—scenes of British dairy cows in oil paints. The dresser and cupboard were full to the brim with clothes, but she made sure it couldn’t be seen.

Along the dresser and through each room were photos of her parents. Her mother was second generation Indian, and her father was English. She’d tried once to go through his family tree but was lost in the tangle of Irish, English, and Polish. Amara didn’t look hugely Indian anymore except for the dark hair of her mother and a cream brown to her skin. She had moved out of her family home years ago, but their love had always come with her. Missing her mother’s food on tired nights stung the most. Her appearance was deceptive; she could eat a mountain of Indian food.

She looked up momentarily at the windows of her room. Had she seen something? This happened to her so consistently, she thought she was a little mad. She was sure she’d seen a light or a shape out of the corner of her eye, but by the time she looked back, nothing was there. She chalked it up to a trick of the brain. Like when you learn that everyone has a blind spot that your brain fills in for you. Surely her brain was just overactive. The trees moved in the breeze, illuminated by the tree light. She watched the branches sway, hypnotised by them for a while. The deadline for her dissertation was looming in front of her, and she needed sleep. She walked away from the windows and picked up her phone.

Jess was messaging for the third time to ask about plans for getaway weekend. Having just broken up with her boyfriend, for the fourth time, she needed time away from her regular haunts. Why she kept going back to that mess of a man, Amara couldn’t understand. Well, that was a lie; she could. Maybe she hadn’t done it four times, but she had stumbled down that self-loathing path before. She breathed a sigh, telling herself to be a good friend and wrung out some empathy for her friend. Amara pushed the dial button and called back while falling comfortably into her abundant duvet.

After one ring, Jess snapped straight into conversation. ‘Thank god; I need to book the tickets. What is taking you so long to get your crap together? It’s a good deal, B&B for two days and one night, and there’s a sauna. A Sauna. Please? I just don’t want to be the lonely old spinster alone, all on my lonesome.’

‘Jess, I’m not sure I can afford it. Can you book it for us, and I will pay you back next month when I’ve got the money? If that’s the only thing, I can definitely do it. Been ages since I’ve seen you anyway. And you will not believe what happened tonight. I was a twelve-year-old girl in front of Micheal.’

‘What? Micheal? That hunk of man? Please tell me you finally jumped on that bartender. Why aren’t you naked and rolling around in the proverbial hay with him. What did he say? I’m trying not to explode with processing this. Breathe, woman, breathe.’

‘I am breathing.’

‘Me, not you.’ Of course.

‘No, not Micheal.’ Why would she be thinking of him? ‘There was this other weird guy. He sort of had a go at me in the pub. I didn’t even know him, but he came up to me wanting to … I can’t remember now; help with something? I’ve never seen him before. Actually he was more gorgeous than Micheal. There was something so solid about him. Broad shoulders and a giant.’

‘Well, that’s it, you’re screwed.’

‘Excuse me? Just because I see a guy whose body is mouth-watering doesn’t mean I lose all control. Not anymore anyway. I will have you know I blew him off and went home.’ Amara’s eyebrows pulled together. Why was she bragging about coming home alone? This may have been a miscalculation. ‘But not before getting my arm caught in my handbrake and Micheal clearly thinks I’ve got a learning disability.’ This was an emotional facepalm moment, even by phone; her skill clearly was finding ways to avoid attractive men.

‘No. I mean as soon as you’re talking about a guy’s back, you are totally on the hook, bait eaten, line being drawn in. Also, how do you even attach yourself to your handbrake?’ Jess began snickering. ‘How would I do that on purpose? God, that man—if I didn’t live so far away, I would be there every night.’

‘That is not true. I like all kinds of men, of all kinds of shapes and sizes.’

‘So true. This is exactly how it started with the other one.’

‘Yeah, him.’ She sighed and stretched her legs under the duvet. ‘He did have me on a hook.’

There were a few moments of silence as Jess realized she shouldn’t have brought him up. Amara’s ex was the reason she hadn’t been with anyone for three years. She had been burned, deeply. For a while, she struggled to just learn to live with the heartache. ‘I’m not surprised about Micheal. He wouldn’t suit anyway, Ams. You need a deep pool of a man.’

Amara thought about it on the phone. She had been brazen in her early twenties with men. But she did hold back now. Maybe she was looking for something deeper?

‘Well, it’s no problem for me to book the tickets,’ said Jess. ‘The firm has been taking on lots of new work lately, so I’ve got a Christmas bonus coming up. In fact, don’t worry about paying it back. It’s girl time for us.’

There was a tap on the window. Amara glanced up; instinct forced her to stare again at the trees swaying outside. Nothing was there. A shiver went through her.

She turned towards the dresser and saw a small round pale blue stone. When had she bought that? She got out of bed and picked up the stone and felt it heavy in her hand. It was the size of a large coin, not smooth but rough and comforting to the touch.

Had she brought this here? Maybe it was something she found but she forgot? That must be it. She did like the stone. The heavy weight was somehow comforting; it was as if she was sinking downward and being anchored.

She set the stone down and drifted back to listen to the end of Jess’s update. ‘I’m never going back. I know he didn’t cheat on me, and he’s not horrible, but how could he just chip away at me because I earn more than he does? Every time he tells me it’s not an issue, and every time it is.’

‘I think it’s complicated being a man in this century. They haven’t figured out how to be the knight in shining armour without offending us, and I think they don’t want to. But society hasn’t given them a better way to show they care except to provide.’

‘So you don’t think he’s an ass?’

‘I’m not saying that, Jess, I’m saying you can’t keep asking him to be someone else. And yes, the way he blew up screaming at you in the middle of dinner and stormed out makes him an ass. He’s lucky it wasn’t me. I would have thrown the wine bottle after him.’

‘O.M.G., that time in London when you tackled a man who grabbed your ass. I will never forget it. So glad I got to see that.’

Amara chuckled and then told herself, Surely I’m a much older and wiser girl than I was then. Mostly. She had taken boxing in school and archery. She didn’t consider herself an athlete these days, but there was a time when she had seen herself as fit. Height was always her downfall. Taller people could overpower her in the ring, so she had learned to be quick and never end up in that position.

‘I’m calling it a night, Jess. You going to be OK?’

‘I’m always OK after talking to you. Thanks, and so excited about this weekend coming up. I’m going to email you all the details.’

Amara hung up the phone and curled into the sheets. Her eyelids grew heavy, and it didn’t take long for sleep to find her. She stretched out, feeling as if she was pulsing from the inside. For a moment, she again glanced out the window and almost expected to see a flash again. Her head sinking comfortably into the pillows, she drifted off to sleep listening to the wind.

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Chapter 2

Mehkar gave a deep sigh, as he looked down on the council floor. The Mehsari were meeting for the second time in two months, which was wildly unusual. They had been called so quickly that half of the nocturnal Fae members could not attend. Judging by the scene of a smug Vitar smirking at a yelling winged Oahesa, it was not going well. He stood alone in the circular viewing gallery that overlooked the chamber, hearing the echoing voices rise up.

It was lost to memory when the Belaphoros Temple came into existence, or even if it was made or simply found. Like the Sithens of the old world, it seemed to have a life force all its own. Sometimes people would wake to find the colour of the Temple had changed, or domes had rearranged themselves. When a new member of the Mehsari was elected by their people, rooms would be resized and rearranged. The changes to the interior were even more frequent, with hallways and rooms shifting position.

Made out of the very stone of the mountains, the pillars framed white and black window and door frames, as round gold domes erupted out of the crevices of the mountains. Huge stone doorways opened up into an intricate underground labyrinth of rooms; some were large enough to hold the Henta beasts of the north, and other small dark spaces could house even the smallest winged Fae that favoured this region of Beluvial. Mehkar used to have rooms in these halls, before his position had been handed over to his successor.

Some had theories that the Evandrus line must have shifted the stones of the mountain, moulding the granite as if it was liquid. Mineral deposits over several millennia shimmered in the warm white Turine lights that lined the floor of the grand room, made of smooth pink and orange stones. The walls began as rough and uneven but would soften to a smooth shiny stone. From the floor there was a defined line where the stone began to smooth and curve into a spiralling ripple, like water rushing towards the ceiling instead of towards the ground. In the centre of the curved dome was a perfect humble open circle that allowed the bright sunshine of the outside sky to pour into the dark room, in a single bright golden beam. The beam currently held a very angry flying Oahesa, one of the small folk.

The small creature only reached the height of Mehkar’s knees and looked like a porcelain doll with white skin and jet-black hair. Her wings were pulsing back and forth, which Mehkar recognized as true distress. Reflecting the sunlight, the iridescent purple that was hidden in the black feathers reflected onto the chamber walls. Surrounding her in a circle of chairs and altars were the creatures that represented the Fae life in Beluvial. Mehkar took in a deep breath, smelling the dry earth, trying to steel himself for the performance that he was sure to witness.

‘We are being hunted.’ The statement reverberated through the open air.

‘Peeva, we are all aware of the losses, the missing. But if you have no proof that the Vitar, that any nation is responsible … what would you have the council do?’

‘All of the missing are from the same border, from the Vitar’s border where the lands nurtured by the small folk begin. Seven flocks have vanished. Is my queen’s court to believe that they left everything they owned, left meals on their tables uneaten, left children alone without anyone? The young were left! We demand a response from the Vitar, demand explanation!’

 The Vitar, generally secretive shapeshifters, were always the quietest on the council floor. Quiet usually signalled an individual who was trying to construct a clever way to lie through the spell of intention. The Fae had too many languages for any translator to learn, and some of their number did not even speak in words.

Her solid dark eyes drilled across the room, and her wings rustled back and forth, ruffling the simple grey floor-length dress made of rippling taffeta material. The uncontrolled twitch to her wings revealed the depth of the rage that she was containing. The focus of her attention was a tall languid figure, lounging on the stone seats granted to council members. His head rested on his fist, giving him a bored demeanour, but his barely concealed toothy smirk let everyone in the room know he was amused. Blonde curls on the Vitar’s head seemed to stay impossibly still as he slowly stood up, something unusual as it was not the custom to speak unless you were on the arena floor.

Mabon cleared his throat, a loud and uncomfortable sound. Speaking within these chambers was an intricate dance of diplomacy. Long ago through old magic, a simple spell was created, the Spell of Intention. Though a form of common magic, it was found to have a useful side effect. Fae of different languages could understand each other. Subsequently, all words that were spoken or telepathic thoughts could be understood, in any language. The wonderful nuance of the spell was that if you tried to lie, all in the room would hear only your true intentions. All eyes rested on Mabon, as the shapeshifter stood ready to choose his words wisely. Of all the creatures in Beluvial, those who shifted between two forms were the least trusted.

‘Lady Peeva. The Vitar express our deepest sympathies over the loss of your kin. Let me state with perfect clarity. No Vitar are known to be involved in the disappearance of any of the small folk at the Red border.’

Damn. Mehkar gripped the sandstone railing. The response was more evidence of his immaturity. In fact, both the Vitar and Oahesa had not been on the council for more than fifty years. It was almost infancy. Mehkar shook his head and was looking to the ground in frustration when he heard a screeching cry echo through the chamber. He looked up to see that an enraged Oahesa was inches away from the Vitar, Her powerful wings were beating in arching strokes to keep her against an invisible barrier, her fists beating against it so that each strike reverberated around the domed room. Each blow created vivid bioluminescent blue lights radiating out as they hit a shield over and over and she growled out her frustration. Mabon stood his ground but was wide-eyed. After a particularly hard strike he released a hiss and there was an almost imperceptible change in the shape of his pupils. In his fear they had morphed to vertical splits. Now Mehkar smiled. Serpent. How long had the Vitar tried to hide that secret? And the irony was lost on all of them. They didn’t know the human story, of the snake in the garden that led the human children to ruin.

‘I think I speak for us all when I ask you to control yourself, Peeva. Mabon does not know what has happened to your kin. Without proof of his people hunting yours, you are only a feather’s breadth away from breaking ancient treaties and inciting war. I may be Pes, but we are all Fae. Your loss is my loss. I do not want war for your people.’ The source of the gentle voice was walking into the room, another beautiful dark-haired woman. Her skin was a soft golden brown, unusual for her often milky-pale kind, and her dark hair reflected the dark blues of the ocean just miles away. Against her dark hair, her pale turquoise eyes shown with power, a legacy of her Pes heritage.

Ursuna was the source of the shield currently separating Mabon and Peeva. Only Fae that were aligned with water could produce a resistant shield. The only evidence of her exertion was the fist tightly clenched at her side. She was one of the few Pes that had been invited to the Temple for an Awakening. The fact that she could use the water droplets in the air to form a shield, when she was miles from the coast, spoke to the depth of her power.

‘Peeva, please.’ The Djinn sitting next to Mabon implored, looking both bored and frustrated. She turned her vaporous form towards Ursuna as she took her seat.

‘Your reflexes put us to shame.’ Of all the members sitting on the council, the Djinn were the most exclusionary, wanting to keep themselves as separate from the Fae as possible. But Mehkar had always found Nikka fair, even if she seemed as emotionless as a corpse. Nikka billowed in the room, and the misty outlines of her being appeared turbulent. She wore a deep purple dress of a pleated cloth, trimmed in a coppery metal that was favoured by her kind. Her skin was so dark it had an almost midnight blue tinge to it.

Peeva finally sat on the arena floor just feet from the huffing Mabon, who was trying to control his own response to the assault. While she appeared to be out of control, not even the smallest hint of electricity was trickling around the room. Peeva was one of the most gifted of her kind in making storms, particularly damaging lightning storms. Mabon sat back down, trying to appear unfazed, but his eyes remained serpentine. Wars had been started for less among Fae kind. He was displaying a deep sympathy for her position, allowing the breach in protocols in the face of her grief.

‘Seven flocks have vanished.’ Peeva gave the ragged admission. ‘They have gone without a word, without any message to their loved ones. Food was on the tables, homes left untouched. So many are missing, and so many are without answers. We demand justice,’ she intoned, ‘My queen demands answers.’

The Djinn looked at Peeva, turning her head to the side and pinning her with a birdlike gaze. ‘Peeva, you have made it clear that the losses are personal to you.’ The Djinn always saw what you did not want them to.

Peeva flinched, closing her eyes in hopes that they wouldn’t witness the truth, that her favourite cousin was among the missing. As she knelt on the ground, her dark hair fell across her face as her wings beat gently. She stood gracefully with a few strong wingbeats, stepping backwards towards her seat to leave the floor open for another speaker.

Pelidren was nervously tugging at his formal attire; the purple cloth around his neck was itchy and stiff. He felt covered from head to foot in material when he was accustomed to wearing the loose clothes of his work space. But today he was going to represent the Orchidru; he had a chance to build a bridge for his people.

‘Are you ready? Now is the best time to speak. They will hear you out.’

‘Mehkar, why do you always make it sound so easy?’ Pelidren flashed a grin and his spring green eyes while getting the blue disc in his hand ready.

‘Living is easy. Dying is the painful part.’ Mehkar chuckled as he pulled the much taller man’s hands from his picking at his clothes and held them still. He told Mehkar with a look to breathe, to be still.

‘They need to hear what you have discovered. I am grateful that you trusted my house to bring you here. Why didn’t you speak to Chandara? She would have been the ideal choice? Or the Evandrus?’

‘You are quite famous for your … sympathies to those who do not belong.’

‘Ah. My human life.’ Mehkar stared up into the sun pouring through the skylight. He saw swirling glistening particles and thought briefly of a different sun.

‘What I have to say shouldn’t wait any longer. Announce me?’

With a curt nod Mehkar started to walk down the stairs lining the walls, descending in line with the curve of the room. Everyone looked up, and a few gasped as they finally noticed the being that followed him from the observatory. The Orchidru were almost never seen on the ground, their people had long since decided to move their kingdoms into the skies. The floating cities were often seen in this part of Beluvial; the magnetic intercies helped keep them powered and floating. Many believed it was the same reason so many of the Air and winged Fae chose this corner of the world as home.

‘Friends and esteemed nations, I present to you Pelidren Obarak, Prince of the Seventh house of Ordison, Noble among the Orchidru.’

‘That title, while acknowledged, will grant him little power here,’ came a voice from the lower door.

Mehkar cursed under his breath as he had hoped that Chandara would have been delayed. It was impossible to get good help these days. You used to be able to trust that when you paid off a messenger Spraxa, they would gorge themselves on pollen and not deliver important messages.

Chandara was physically a beautiful match for the Orchidru. They both had pale white hair down to the small of the back and a tall, slim build. Where she differed from the Orchidru was that for a reason Mehkar could not understand, that vapid and spiteful creature had been blessed by the gods and given impressive powers.

 ‘We will discuss later why the Orchidru decided to approach you first.’ As she addressed Mehkar, her purple eyes pinned Pelidren to the floor, and he clutched the blue disc more firmly. She was wearing a white suit, cut at sharp angles. She spun and looked out across the room to see who else was in attendance. Then she sat down sharply. ‘Speak, Prince. We have never banned your kind from joining us here in the dregs of the hallowed earth.’

Pelidren licked his lips. This was only the third time in a hundred years that he had set foot on the soil of Beluvial. He took a deep breath and walked straight into the centre of the arena and threw the disc into the air. The disc rotated several times and spun, floating just inches from his head. Instantly a topographical map of the Bhandi region of Beluvial appeared, covering the oceans to the south where the majority of the Pes thrived and the mountain region where the winged Folk live. The map extended up the coast of the continent to the plains inhabited by the Chivane and Henta beasts. They could even see the forests where the Vitar and Atriva lived. Bordering those forests was a deep canyon that ran hundreds of miles through the continent. It was here, at the border of these lands, that the Oahesa had gone missing. It was at the border on this map that Pelidren pointed.

‘The Orchidru have for several decades made great strides in understanding the source of Fae power. The power that is granted to you in awakening ceremonies.’

There was a silent begrudging acknowledgement from all of the beings seated in the room. While they were all aware of the Princes interests, the results of his investigations were only rumours. Many doubted that this young prince would unlock the inner workings of Awakening. There was a time when it would have been considered heresy, but now all the races were losing their hold on the precious commodity that was god-given power.

‘I have been scanning the Fae life trying to detect what we know now is a unique spectrum of light and energy that is emitted by all living things. The Orchidru call it Elsivir in the old tongue. I believe you call it Ka, Mehkar?’

Mehkar raised an eyebrow at the mention of a human belief system. What exactly did this prince know?

‘As agreed in the Brightening treaty, the Orchidru routinely scan for this energy. It is how we identify which of your young are likely to be chosen by the gods for the awakening ceremony and allows us to … learn why none of my people are ever chosen.’

‘Could we move on from the history lesson? We are all aware of what you do in that floating rock,’ the Djinn said with unusual impatience. Pelidren turned to the Djinn speaker; he would have loved to test a sample of her vapourous form. The word Daemon now had negative connotations, but long ago they had been greatly respected by the Orchidru—or enslaved, depending on who told the stories. He wanted to know more about a creature made of gases that moved like smoke through this world. But the Djinn were difficult to catch.

‘Days ago this section of the map was bright with Elsivir energy. We were tracking a young one that would have been put forward to you as a potential. That light, and a dozen others, vanished. I scanned three times thinking there was a fault in the machines. I reset the sensitivities; I changed countless crystals in an attempt to find those lights again. The more I scanned, the less I saw.’

‘Do you mean … Do you know that they are dead?’ Peeva asked with a shaking voice.

‘When a Fae leaves this world, their Elsivir energy takes many long years to disseminate. We are all singular and unique events in the universe, held against the scale of time and matter. What you are will never be again, and that presence and existence lingers in this world. That is what we have seen on my floating rock in the sky,’ Pelidren explained with some bite to his words.

‘There is a pure absence. They didn’t fade. They are gone. And not just the Oahesa villages. The Beherna in those woods are vanishing too. At the time of the scans there were no Vitar who had left their Densions. Now some of those Vitar can no longer be seen as of yesterday.’

At this the Vitar visibly took in a relieved breath. Mabon knew that the predatory streak of his people was strong. He turned quickly to Peeva, whose sharp dark eyes met his. Her hands came forward, clasped in front of her, and she bowed her head to him. Mabon looked at her and turned away, remembering her fury only inches from him. But now he knew that some of his people had vanished without a trace. The Vitar were not used to being hunted. He turned his yellow eyes to her and realized that they were joined in their grief. Dozens of lives that would not be replaced for hundreds of years. He nodded at her, accepting her wordless apology for now.

 ‘And where have all of these Fae gone?’ Chandara asked.

Pelidren looked up at the glowing map, orange, blue, violet, and white lights scattered across the many lands of the continent. And at the centre of the image was a dark empty section of map. ‘I do not know.’

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