The Chronicles of Shard

Cover of The Chronicles of Shard

The Chronicles of Shard

 

Never a Name Spoken

 

by Charles Patton











Table of Contents


Chapter 1: Dawn of Fear


Chapter 2: Fleeing Fate

 

Chapter 3: Breaking Rules

 

Chapter 4: A Witch’s Legacy

 

Chapter 5: Discovering Love

 

Chapter 6: Bloody Shores

 

Chapter 7: Dreaming of the End

 

Chapter 8: Darkness Descends

 

Chapter 9: Unquenchable Tears

 

Chapter 10: Ever a Name Broken

 

Chapter 11: Children Beyond the Veil

 

Chapter 12: A Witch’s Tears

 

Chapter 13: Struggle for Hope

 

Chapter 14: Sacrifice

 

Chapter 15: A New Dawn











Chapter 1: Dawn of Fear




The expanse was a map of repeating blue. The deluge had swamped the world. There was no one left who remembered how things were before. There was no one left who cared. What was was, and had been since before memory. The inhabitants had more important things to concern themselves with. Survival was a task never neglected.

The fears were endless, yet what the rogues feared most was the witch, and then the war. Here a bitter rivalry lay of which all had forgotten the cause. This war raged from horizon to horizon for it was one of many. Woe be to this blue planet; woe be to this blue marble called Shard.

# # #

 

Mrageden looked out across the expanse of Mother Sea, to whom all rogues held sway. It seemed he possessed the eyes of an eagle; always wary of danger, a never-ending threat. Yet he didn't need such unparalleled vision to notice the seas golden trim, whisking over the surface in perfect rhythm with its host, Mother's flood. The sparkle gave off a deceitfully blithe, temperate ambiance. The calm water was not equally warm and was soon to tighten its clammy grip as the last of the twin suns bid their final farewells.

He too said goodbye to the day and headed down below into the all-encompassing waves. The tear-hut defied the laws of physics with its warmth. The unusual mix of tribal build long since ceased to surprise him. In truth, it never had. Was it not wise to adopt all manner of an enemy’s craft when it bests their own? He'd spent the better part of his life growing up in tear-huts. The wooden frame was sleek and, of course, shaped as a tear with its base spread wide and a narrow neck leading to a portal on top, bobbing atop the ever-present waves. The tear-hut was weighted to just the right degree to be mostly underwater and nearly invisible to preying eyes. The housing was covered inside and out with native hides atop a layer of waxed tar. Whether or not the structure was waterproof on its own wasn’t a question asked . . . it simply was. Yet his certainty was encouraged, as this one was of his own design. Mrageden had to admit, why take the chance on any other?

There was no railing or mast of any sort to make them visible to the more modern vessels, or anybody else for that matter. With no defenses to speak of this was a matter of stealth. The thin, blue crust of wood banded around the vessel's midsection was also a personal addition--as with everything else its purpose was to keep the tear-hut afloat by maintaining a balance and it had, at least in calmer seas such as this. The tear-hut was expansive, revealing a single room with enough space to support a rather cramped family of five.Yet it proved quite comfortable for the only two present.

"Mrageden, it hurts." After the hatch had closed, Mrageden looked down from the supporting rungs. His wife, Raef, suffered the implant. The Council had given it to her, as was their purview. They existed as the ruling body of all Lagoon, the island that was once their home. They were men, every one, and pardoned as such to linger as shepherds to a wayward flock. In this time of war they remained as few men could . . . safely at home. This injustice was compounded by the very fact that justice was theirs to dole out indiscriminately. None existed to judge the judges. So they'd had the authority to inflict upon her the implant. Still, that didn't make it right.

"Bear it down, my sweet."

"I try. But . . . it hurts so."

"I'll find the serum." Mrageden spoke as the tear-hut shuddered equal to his sudden movement.

"No . . . I must learn this pain, and our serum is short-lived."

After finding the treasured item he turned to his ailing wife, "I'll not be long. The water will increase it."

"Mrageden . . ." Raef spoke in a moment of clarity. "You know it's no good. This would be the fifth time. With each time the effect grows shorter. I must learn this pain. Somehow. Someway.How else can I bear your child?"

The infant’s cry existed only in Mrageden's head, though it seemed as real. With a twitch of his brow and some reluctance he spoke what his heart felt. "Raef, my sweet, forget the pain. Forget the child. You are too important . . . I can't risk both to gain another."

"The child screams, my love. The implant tells me so. I hear another part of me going in another direction. The child is me, and I . . . I am the child."

"You are too important."

"No, my love.The child is."

Mrageden knew it was the truth. He could not speak and the fear crept over him like a nightmare. His gray, sagging garment seemed to tell the tale his face so valiantly tried to hide.

"Do not worry, my love. I will learn this pain."

How could she? He heard the fairy tales of implant births, but knew of none in this life. The thought sunk him down to the grave, where he was sure he’d soon find her.

"It's always painful, this birth. I know not from experience, but I've seen it. I've heard the cries. I know I live this pain too soon. This implant is a curse."

He knew. He too heard the cries from the past ringing through his thoughts. Those cries all stopped too soon. The pain came on too fierce and sudden, whisking their last breath away; that of mother and child. Wicked as it was, this was by design; a form of punishment.

"Do not fear, my love. I've a secret. It torments me that I've withheld it, but there is no better time to tell than now. I, my love, am an implant birth. My mother bore me to the eternal sea. You know her. You've seen her . . . and still she breathes."

Mrageden fell back onto the concave floor, upon which balance was a gift unto itself. But this . . . how could such a thing be? He could not believe his own ears. The joy that should have flooded his soul was tempered with doubt. How could this be? He'd never known of anything like this, beyond a tale to bring both terror and delight to children. Yet, equally, he'd never known Raef to tell a lie.

"It's the truth, my love. It was hidden and sworn to me to hide. Her protection depended on it. The rogues would surely have sought both her and I had they known. When they had they would finish us." A pause stood time still. "To have the implant is not a cause of concern, to survive it is."

This much he knew, but he'd never known anyone to survive it. The rogues ruled Lagoon. Permeated with secrets, the Council knew more than the villagers on all things;they still do. The implants were an accursed thing, preventing the birth of all who stood against them, justified or not. The end result was the death of both mother and child.

"You know it's the truth. We are here because you so loved me, but it goes deeper still."

Deeper? How much deeper could banishment go? Or to flee death, which proved equal punishment. This indeed was Mrageden'scrime, for he too was raised a warrior. All boys were, of which every last one knew the day would eventually come when war called them forth. It called Mrageden not so very long ago and he was bred to heed the call, but he hadn't. Raef was under orders of exile and he'd not see her gone in such a way. So he chose another path; one in which his farewell would be in tandem with hers.

"Lagoon has brought us to exile that I dare oppose the Council's ban against implant pregnancy. My very existence does so. Survival is a chance they must not have, because I fear, they know what may be possible. Their hold must appear absolute lest other attempts are spawned by my example. To this death would surely claim the army they have created of us.I am of the cursed. Our lot is deemed useless. All men are bred for battle, yet we who cannot cultivate our own, we are put on the front lines of battle as fodder,while those free of implant birth the tribe. This much you know. Those who know of me have kept their watchful eye on me. Mother Sea ought damn them, every one! It is I to whom they should embrace! And you also.You, as with I, have been marked for death. And why! Because you dared to love me.You dared to embrace the implant. Do not worry, my love, you will have your child."

"I . . . I want more than the child. I . . . I want you."

"And me you shall have. I will learn this pain! Perhaps I am the only one who could!"

 

# # #

 

The bells rang true of Lagoon's pride, the conquering tribe. It revealed a joyous clang to a bitter one; joyous for the honor of the conqueror and his clan, and bitter for the burial of the same. An olden voice resounded through the empty trees, amplified within each villager by the power of the mind. Yet telepathy couldn't save this brave soul, not in life and certainly not now. Many a twin sun had set since the wayward soul had begun his endless journey. It was only perchance the husk that had housed him returned home one last time, bearing a mark, a hand carved charm that struck a chord of memory. So a eulogy of ancient origin, a rite of final honor, was arranged and given a voice. It was an honor to be that voice and Shion knew well that it was so. Though he was requested, who else would it be? It was he who presided over the whole of the Council, a man in yellow to represent the twin suns, and thusly represent the Fathers of all.

"From the sea, born are we, and to her embrace we shall return. Water is our eternal mother, the twin sun our father. To these, our kin, our blood, we, all of us, shall one day merge; the greater of the two to the lesser. Of that which one begins, naught but the other shall finish. A lad, Jerret was, only a lad, yet a brave one. He was old enough, as the rite so said, so upon our Mother's fury a challenge was raised. As all know, ease holds no honor, nor could manhood be earned by anything less than wrath. So for pride's sake and our own, Jerret chose his path upon our Mother's blackened tide. So it was, so it is, to our misfortune and to her glory that she claimed him for herself. Yet he lasts, a soul upon the calm. So many years swept away, but from the moment of his loss his memory remained, and will sail past our own end. More than memory, a sister remained, Acissey, young, but now grown with offspring to call her own, four fold. We bless our Mother, matriarch of the eternal sea, thankful, as she saw fit this day to return Jerret, our would-be warrior, to our humble shores."

The often turbulent skies gave sway to the calm as a blessing from above as Jerret was returned to where he was claimed, but this time tied well upon a raft so Father Suns could join Mother Sea and child in pride. A volley of tears replaced the rains as Acissey's youngest son looked on with a disillusioned wonderment. Ciroc's eyes were wide and curious.

At twelve he didn't fully understand the nature of the gathering. He suspected from other wandering glances that he wasn't alone. He'd never been to one of these, what was it his mother said, ritual something or other. Not long before the event she’d taken him aside, saying he’d soon experience something new. That hadn't happened so very often, not anymore. Adulthood was earned young in this war torn world. Not that he'd achieved that lofty goal, but soon. “New” was exciting at first, but his mother's sullen look and barely controlled tears had tempered his skittish reaction. She’d told him it was new for her too, and that those claimed at sea rarely ever returned. She said it was a . . . a special occasion.

Ciroc couldn't see. He wanted to ask his mother to hoist him up, but she'd told him on countless occasions he'd grown too big for such things. It wouldn't have mattered; when he looked up he saw her tears were no longer restrained. Then in utter amazement he saw that what men remained also cried. Most men had been tested and sent forth into battle. Even his father, Esrin, was gone and had been for some time now. Ciroc, himself was still too young, but would surely join him soon enough.

He was, however, man enough to know this wasn't the time for such things. He would have cried too, simply because of the sorrowful atmosphere, had he not seen his friend Diote sheltered among the sea of women. His normally attentive mother was unusually occupied at the moment, as was Diote's. All minds here were distraught, but not theirs. He saw this as a perfect opportunity to sneak away. As soon as he stealthily made his way to Diote he grabbed her hand in his and took off into the darkening, yet welcoming forest.

It wasn't long before the trees enveloped them both like a blanket. It was dusk before the confusing ceremony began, but now firelight was the only means to see. Every now and then the stars peeked through the dense foliage. They were illuminated as brightly as ever, but did not return the gesture. An occasional giggle of a childhood waning escaped their youthful mouths and without a word they ran until they reached a secret place where the trees broke into a beautiful meadow. The area was known and made use of in other rites, but special only to Diote and himself. Why? They didn't know. It was where they came and played, alone. That had to be it . . . alone.

Sometimes he didn't like being called rogue and being expected to grow up to be a great warrior, like his father. He just wanted to be called Ciroc and live with the trees, and Diote, of course. Though his parents loved him,sometimes it seemed too much, or for the wrong reasons, or whatever. Sometimes it just wasn't enough. Diote felt the same, but then she would. Upon Lagoon all had a part to play and moments like this were fading away into the nothingness. Obligation and duty were forgotten when they were alone. It was why they were friends, strange as that was in itself. To this day his mother still worried for him. "Why?" she once said. "Why linger with Diote every spare second? She's a girl. Boys of your years ought not do such." Then with a hypocritical pause. "A softness follows."

Ciroc and Diote cared little that their friendship was such a problem, but now wasn't the time to think. Far from it . . . now was the time to play. And play they did, until the noises came. Ciroc heard it first well within the confines of his mind and then their special place was flooded with familiar voices screaming their names; Acissey leading the parade.





Chapter 2: Fleeing Fate

 

Beyond the rim of sunlit shores the north beckoned freedom. The multi-nation archipelago wrapped up in the name Kittamur represented asylum insomuch as they weren't at war with Raef and Mrageden's banishers, the deceptively named Lagoon. That didn't mean they weren't at war, however.

It seemed the whole of their azure world was at war. It seemed so back since memory first; since before even. All that changed, all that ever changed, was who fought who. Alliances shattered and reformed anew as the enemy of my enemy is my friend. Who could say what began it all? Mrageden knew blood sullied the waters, even as he wondered such things.

Yet, if legend was to be believed, and Mrageden wasn't so sure it could, these wars hadn’t birthed through animal warfare, such as it was now. Everywhere it seemed, back in that day men and women weren’t the ever-present telepaths. Even Mrageden possessed the gift, though in lesser form. Apparently yesteryear was fought with sticks and stones held by human hands . . . unbelievable.

This was not so utterly strange, though. Not everyone could bend the mind and lesser armies were formed for those who could not or could not as well; a fitting place for such as he. In the ancient past, however, none had the gift and for it the animals that made up this blue marble were actually free.

This day and all that memory lent were bathed in the blood of the subjugated armies of all animal life. They were constantly recruited, as they were of weaker minds seethed in little other than instinct. Even the most vicious animals fellprey to the mind. Wasn't that changing? Hadn't this all been happening far too long not to? Surely, whatever animals managed to evade extinction would've learned something by now; a hint of the mind. Right? It was a hope though a feeble one.

War or no war, animal and telepath notwithstanding, all seemed so very calm. Mrageden's tear-hut bobbed gently upon the waves, which violent or not never ended. Had the ocean ever known true stillness and peace? He couldn't know, but somehow doubted it. If ever it had, it must've been long before man had come along to defile it. That, at the moment, was of little importance.

In the proper direction, being southeast, Lagoon could be seen in the distance, but then so too could the drop of land aptly named Gabriel's Tear. The distance between the two was minor, with the smaller being the further and only visible via the monstrous, seemingly unscalable cliffs that surrounded the tiny island like a hellish halo.It was a forbidding place. All knew of it and its terror . . . the witch and her unrelenting pride of abominations. The island was a fitting prison. It stood as one of the few decisions the Council had made of which he could whole heartedly agree with.

None went near the place for fear of death. The witch was well known as a telepath, but more. If it was to be believed, history had never seen her equal. She existed as the apex of telepathic brilliance and could command whole armies on her own. For it though she was depraved with power and subjected animals to unheard of experiments. This comingling resulted in the unholy birth of the wraith, a wretched thing never before known upon the whole of Shard. Even so, it was not put down, but rather propagated, and they were thusly, in the end, exiled with her, that she may suffer their rage alone. That was not to be. She'd mastered their simple minds and they were made to be her ghastly children, the only she'd ever bear for the implant. This too, he'd agreed with, as the only proper use of such a horrible thing.

Fear surrounded Gabriel's Tear like a curse. If any had ever lived upon the rock prior they most certainly didn’t now. The witch had probably devoured them. Was that not what witches did? The tales said so and there were a few of such in those olden stories, but none so powerful as the evil they knew. She'd put them all to shame with her wickedness.

Fortunately, that terror was avoided as they ever so slowly sailed toward the drooping suns upon the northern horizon and with it, hopefully, sanctuary.

 

# # #

 

Penciled in among the trees the wraiths bellowed in rage. They were painted against the backdrop, a silhouette, and sung a tribute to the dying of the day. The sullen night favored their cry, a mosaic of unearthly shrieks, with the last waves of heat from the second solar Sun. The beasts sung an ovation to the first, still a sliver upon the horizon. Upon the second death they slunk off into the unknown with a caution only ghosts can know.

The eerie melodies, though only memories of echoes, cut like a knife. Shirell blushed crimson, concealing an ashen shade of fear as she flitted off through the narrow ivy and dying breeze. Blindly, she wandered among her world, where the mind ruled. The world where she learned to talk without speech, feel without touch and see without eyes.Though not blind, her nights shone as vivid as day.

It was how she survived the island's dangers. It was how she survived the rogues, though she was one of them. Her implant screamed and she ran faster and farther. It was her curse, though no child rolled around within her. She was kept in check by the all-seeing eye. She ran, but for what reason she couldn’t guess. They knew where she was and there was nowhere to run to, even if they hadn't. Her island, Gabriel's Tear, was justly named as the water level rose with all of hers.

The island seemed smaller than the back of her hand and the sheer cliffs surrounded all; a barrier against the water's rage. She knew she could fly. Not just in her mind or her fanciful dreams, but in reality. She already had, many times. It required all of her concentration. The slightest doubt or disturbance would wane her concentration and send her spiraling into the waves below. The implant was more than enough to prevent this form of escape. Yet even if this was a gift she’d mastered, and could do away with the dreaded implant where . . . where would she go? The eternal sea would ultimately be her grave, her final resting place. She would cultivate the sea life, perhaps granting sharks the ability to breach the waters with wings of the mind.

The northern island of Lagoon bade her curse a mere seven miles beyond her shores. Lagoon, the home of rogue.There would be no sanctuary there, only curse triple-fold for they were the cause of her exile. To them she existed as different, thus an outcast, and to soothe their egos her very name evolved into a word to frighten children. Lies, all of them.Yet, even without them and her implant, the untimely typhoons which racked the island were unwelcome monsters. Truly so and ones to which her power could not compare.

Her thoughts wandered to purpose and found none. Why she was here, alone, or here at all was a mystery to her advanced mind. It should have been a simple enough equation. Her powers were a threat, one with reason enough to destroy, be it not for the desire to cultivate them. This much was a good guess, but there had to be more. She tortured herself, day and night, to find it.

What she had to fear was confined to the contents of her mind. The wildlife were her friends if only she made them be. Being a telepath wasn’t such a curse. Here, on this deserted island, she commanded a small army. Her powers even reached to the sea, and sharks bid her welcome to the day.

Yet all was not well with this system. If these creatures were her army then they must also be her children and they must be tended to. To steal a creature's purpose was to tame it and a tame creature couldn’t tend to its own survival. The daily sacrifice of a lesser child to feed a larger was a pain greater than an implant could ever bestow.

The guppies were a food to many, plentiful and overflowing. Their small minds registered little pain to them, but great to her as she coaxed them into range of their feeders. Yet on land the task was worse. The locals were privy to the delight of the crab. The shells, being a hindrance, were cracked open by her mind, but not before they were essentially lobotomized to a more painless end.

Though the birth of such was a constant delight as she knew they had no implant to contend with. She envied them. A real child would bring her the comfort she could only imagine. Soon sleep took her as she dreamed of such comforting oblivions.

Though it was mother they loved, some creatures still bellowed in delight at their release.

 

# # #

 

"Why?" asked Ciroc, newly past being berated for his wandering, though it was well within his nature to do so, and hardly a surprise.

He was greeted with silence, a stillness that seemed to make nervous the very leaves.

So again he asked, "Why, mother? Why did Uncle Jerrett wander?"

It was the tale told him. It was handpicked to relate a fear. It was the idea that death could claim those who went too far. This, however, was no tale and Acissey's terrorshone through, granting life to the silence that remained. Never before had it been so real. For a life such as hers nothing could be further from the truth and yet this was the worst he'd seen of his mother. A solitary tear fell. How could she talk of her brother's fate? Not now, but would there ever exist another time, much less a better one? Still the silence held sway because whether she wanted to or not, the words . . . they just wouldn't come.

His mother's sorrow was noticed, but not much else. Ciroc wasn't so very selfish for a boy his age, but this was something never spoken of. He doubted it was taboo and he was curious. He’d not yet learned all the ways his tribe vowed sacrosanct, but in this time of sadness perhaps the ways were learning him. The quiet could not but listen to the only voice brave enough to utter a word.

"What had he done for the witch to claim him?"

For that was the end and the all of it. The ceremony was as true and solid as the sands. This was the truth and all knew it. Even if Mother Sea should claim a soul, it was always the witch that caused the storm. The fault for such things was always hers.

"Why did Sh . . ."

"STOP!!!" Acissey screamed with urgency.

"NEVER A NAME SPOKEN!!!" Her stare bore through her stricken child twice this night. "HARDLY WITCH! MUCH, MUCH LESS THE OTHER!"

The fear Ciroc should’ve felt at the wake now enveloped him. Acissey couldn’t but notice and for it spoke her next words a bit softer.

"If not but this, if not but our ways, this . . . this much should you know and know well."

After a pause to let the fear burrow deeper still. She loathed frightening her child, but how else was he to know better? As well she knew; every layer of fear feels the worst until its rendered void by something more profound. Always was this the case for the young. They had to learn. "It is a curse laid low upon us. Have we not enough sorrow, little one? Do not speak it. It . . . it will devour us."

Silence remained the order of the night, but now in reverse. Ciroc remained stricken.

"She . . . She took him . . . Uncle. Her way is such. She just does. Wickedness runs through her veins as water within a stream. All reason is beyond her. She just does. Do not let her in. Never a name spoken. Please, little one. Never again."

The unspoken question was answered with a sudden halting nod. Fear did now run through Ciroc's veins, but that of past events and that of the truth. This hadn’t been the first time; far from it. For him it was a game. For him none of it was ever so real as now. Shirell was the evil witch and it was fun to pretend to defeat her. The very fact that he shouldn't, which he well knew, made it all the more fun to say her name, Shirell. Not that he would ever again.

Yet this fear that now crippled him was a growing guilt. Forgiveness could never be gained. Absolution be damned for he would never, ever tell. Now he was sure, so utterly sure, that he and his loosened tongue had doomed his uncle. He'd barely known him, but then was this not how curses began, smallish?

It would advance. This would not be, could not be, the end of it. The end . .. the end would be with himself . . . the witch would come to claim him for herself. That was what she did. She just did. Beyond this he feared less for himself. His mother be damned, as she likely would be for his sins, the source of his worry lay with his only friend, Diote.

Ciroc was not the only one who dared speak the witch's name.





 

Chapter 3: Breaking Rules

 

Shirell woke to a darkness, screaming a fate remembered. Repressed memories etched through with bits of the new. There were these times when life crashed into her . . . her old one. The one she'd had before . . . with Ciroc, her son. Not that he knew. Not that she'd ever truly given birth to him or any other, but she may as well have. She'd done all else.

Fear had always existed, yet there was a brief time of acceptance. No. Never such a thing.That was folly and delusion. Even so, there had been a time upon Lagoon when she'd been tolerated and, well, used to further the tribe's ends.

Cirocwas one such time. And they wondered why the hatred flowed.

Why indeed! Was it not her duty to tend to the tribe?! Was it not her duty to live and die at a whim?! Why else would they have cursed her with the implant? Only a few years into her miserable life she'd shown signs of a strangenessbeyond all reason. Not that any truly knew why, but hers was a mind worth cultivating. Even so, a very real danger existed and must be reined in. How better than with the implant? And why not?! What was a little girl but a plaything to mold into a tool; a weapon to deliver the blackest of death?

She knew their thoughts. Slipping behind the fear and loathing, Shirell knew all too well the tribe, nearly as a whole, believed she should’ve showered them all with gratitude thatthey'd allowed her to continue her existence. Such was not the case and it was almost funny they actually seemed to believe the lie

they’d so masterfully woven.

In time fear trumped usefulness. They could've killed herand

would've. She wasn

’t so invincible. She could die and they’d certainly tried, only not in the right ways. Shirellwas new. None had ever seen her like. Mistakes were inevitable. Should another of her kind pollute this plane of existence they'd not fail

again.

But what of Ciroc?! What of her baby?! He was damn well hers, too! Oh, birth was such a tricky thing. As was pregnancy, for she was there for that too. Upon the command of the Council she'd used her mind to isolate the fledgling sperm, the dawning of Ciroc, and guide him well within Acissey'swomb. From there she'd protected him from all that would end him, and there was much that could. There was much that tried.

All manner of ill would've extinguished his very existenceif not for her intervention. No one doubted that

Cirocwas a miracle baby. Doubt simply arose as to whose.

Where was the question?! Why had it even arisen?! Had she not also pulled him through every second of his birth?! Had she not gone to war with the microscopic organisms that tried time and time again to claim his fragile little life moments after he'd seen his first daylight?! Did they know of her fight? Of course! She'd told them as much, not that belief followed. Surely, not even the abomination, called witch-maid instead of nursemaid, could do such things. The only explanation their limited minds could conjure up was miracle upon miracle, but never a one was. Truly not, unless she, herself, was seen as one . . . but THAT would surely require a miracle of unequaled precedence.

Ciroc, HER son, never knew these things. Never a doubt existed the tribe would bury the secret, but then she did as well. She had no need to be near him to reveal herself to his fledgling mind, but she hadn’t. In the beginning she actually trusted the edicts the Councillaid down. Even once that faded

to black, she still believed this act of benevolence could and would win her back the hearts of Lagoon; that she’d be raised up as savior to ensure the future of the tribe. How utterly naïve of her.

Salvation?

Savior?

Where was the chance of that? Really, where? Yet she had faith. They did not.

Still Shirell held her tongue, even after reality slammed her to the ground and rippedher very breath away. The wiser mind prevailed. What would it accomplish? What could it possibly accomplish? Such devilish truth could not but condemn

Cirocto her fate. She could not have that. It was within her power to grant her son the

rare treasure she'd never had . . . acceptance.

Time passed as time does and her son grew apart from her. The pain of it bled her soul to nothing, even as she continued helping the tribe. Though how was it to be viewed as benevolence when simply obeying commands, as if she were some animal to be whipped otherwise? It all came to a head once demanded to repeat the whole process. That she could not do, not with such results as the last, which were assured. In their haughty minds nothing had changed. Was one truly not enough? The searing agony of another would shatter whateverremained of her. So

in a bid for innocent mercy she did quite the opposite. She'd guided the new fetus to a quick death.

It was seen as a crime beyond all laws. How seemed utterly unimportant. In her rational mind, condemnation required acknowledgement of her ability. Was that not the way of things? Hand over all her glory, but retain all her indignity, so the Councilremained unblemished. Yet in this,

Shirellcouldn’t but agree. Mere moments after the heinous act, she’d seen the error of her ways . . . this was murder.

In this, if nothing else throughout their ragged history, they'd found truth.It was begrudgingly plain. How was she to avoid it, when it was her own suffering she sought to avoid? The

Council’s complicity, be damned; she was the guilty one and admitted to the crime.

For it all she was banished. That was truly the belief, but no longer did they possess such power over her. The simple reality was the guilt ate away at her, so she allowed it to happen. Past all this she could no longer bear to be near Ciroc without being a part of him.Be it her sacrifice or not, as he grew she could no longer deny how much she loved him . . . and needed him.

Shirell had actually believed this would bring an end to her agony. She'd convinced herself Gabriel's Tear was far enough from Lagoon that she'd no longer feel his presence. She couldn't have been more wrong. If at one time it could've been true, her powers seemed to have done little other than expand. None of it was tolerable. Especially not now that she'd sought solitary atonement for her sins. She'd single handedly caused all life on and around Gabriel's Tear to flourish. More than this, so much more, through genetic experimentation she'd given birth to the Wraiths, her own children. These were an indescribable horror, but that wasn’t their fault. She loved every last one of them and they loved her.

Cirocwas loved as well. That had never died. That had grown beyond itself into something blooming within her. For it, how could she not intervene? Not that she could escape her prison. The nature of the place imprisoned her. That, however, didn

’t mean she'd lost the power to form a connection with her son. Her mind threw open the door of possibilities.

She refused to shred his sanity by simply introducing herself, and much less as his true mother, but something subtle existed in the minds of everyone who drew breath. Telepathy was not a concept begun with her. No. She'd just broken all the barriers. The reading and controlling of minds had long since become a natural thing to society all over Shard.

Getting to know her son was never a doubt, but now she'd decided to turn a corner. Now she'd take that first awkward step to letting him get to know her. No taboo could keep her away any longer. How could it? Shirell, herself, was the incarnation of taboo. Her one misdeed had evolved into a curse laid low upon all children. Yet, she was near the end of sacrifice and suffering. She’d a simple choice; move beyond it or move below it, which meant death. She'd made the fateful decision to reclaim her son and in so doing turn the tables on all of society.

 

# # #

 

Cirocsaw it as no strange thing that other minds shared the space within his head. He was often lauded and admonished without a single word spoken aloud. Not that speaking was any less common, particularly since not all could read minds. It was something of a hodge-podge mix of the two and it had become more normal than anything else he'd ever known.

Nor was it unusual for him to return the favor, which was exactly what he now did. Mind to mind a warning was sent, but that was child's play. So was it to call the warning anything so mundane. It was relayed with an urgencyand though it remained solely a thing of the mind, it was not so much spoken.

Far from it.It was screamed.

Night had long since drawn its curtain to a close and when the call came Diote was torn from a freshly discovereddream. It wasn't a pleasant thing, her dream. The day hadn't called for anything so sweet. Sure, she'd found joy in her escape with

Ciroc, but something of the beachside scene remained. It hadn't simply been boring for her. She hadn't simply wanted to play. She'd wanted to run. This was the house of fear and it was creeping in. Her own older brother, Tion, was set to brave the same sea in little less than a week. Was this to be his fate? A bloated, incomprehensible thing washed ashore as if so much refuse?

Not that Ciroc'sscream served to ease her troubled mind, but it gave her pause for a new escape. He was good at that and it was nearly always needed. It was why they were friends. It was why she was so open to all he had to say. The message was so simple for its urgency.

"NEVER A NAME SPOKEN!!!SHE'S FOUND US!!! THE WITCH, SHE'S FOUND US OUT!!!"

Here silence reigned. Cirocwaited for a response, any response, but none would come. Not tonight anyway. Not unless he went to her. Then a brief moment of sense reminded him

. . . Diote

had not the gift. She was

mind-mute, as most called “lesser”. Naturally she could still hear him. He knew that she could, but she was impotent to reply.

Of this, he'd never cared. All others seemed to. Lessershad their place in this society, but mostly as labor, and the men as fodder to war, as if they were all so utterly stupid. Being mind

-mute did not make them brain dead. Itwas so incredibly obvious this was the true reason his mother, Acissey, disapproved of his friendship with Diote

. Any other girl with the gift would do just fine, but Cirocsaw nothing wrong with her as she was. Moreover, he was brave enough to say as much. His mother chose to call it naivety and was avidly working on teaching him better even though there was nothing to fix.

So Diotecouldn't answer. Unfortunately this wouldn't spare her from being cursed right along with him. Something had to be done, not that he knew exactly what, but the first step was actually being able to communicate. That meant now. Who could know when the witch would strike next?

"Meet me."

It was all he said. It was all that was needed. They both knew now and they both knew where. Not that anything was ever so easy. The power of the mind notwithstanding, it was trust that allowed them to do untrustworthy things; that and sleep with a clear conscience. All thought they'd learned their lesson. In essence they had, but there was no recourse. Breaking the rules was necessary to find a way to never again have to. Breaking the rules was necessary to find a way to save them all.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 4: Witch’s Legacy

 

Though no physical bond existed between Shirell and Cirocthere remained a distinct connection. Yet this wasn

’t by chance. Upon Acissey'sconception, deep within her, genes had been altered on a level more minute than thought possible. Had she done this as perhaps some sort of experiment? She doubted it, though really, she couldn't be certain. Her memory of the event was not what it once was.

If she mustventure a guess she'd say nothing in this life was free. There was always give and take. Just as a blind man's hearing become

s more acute, she supposed her memory was the price her advanced abilities demanded. Naturally she chose to believe she'd never do such a thing. She'd already murdered one fetus. Had she really experimented on another?

She chose to tell herself it was for his betterment . . . to advance him. Already at that early point she'd felt something for him. "Him", she'd known, not it. She was the only one who could really know the gender of the fetus and chose not to share that bit of information. Nor was she ever asked as all believed such a thing unfeasible. She'd wished a better life for him. Simply put, that meant gifted. Not to her caliber, and equally shunned for it, but neither devoid of abilities.

That was the concern, after all. Acissey already had three children. The firsttwo were boys, neither of which possessed any

thing special within their minds. The third, a girl, had an inkling. Regardless of ability, it was believed those who could carry a child to term should, but even this was flawed and applied only to the elite. The elite were those of influence, to whom nary a one was denied the gift and in full measure.

Acissey and her husband both possessed it, but that was no guarantee of passing it on, as it obviously hadn't been. Their position within the tribe commanded deference and for it they were awarded the leniency to continue trying. Of course, that only expanded to permission, not ability, which for whatever reason had waned. So it was that Shirell was tasked to assure pregnancy.

Even so the odds were against Acissey'ssomehow flawed genes at actually giving birth to a child with the gift. This was, after all, the whole point of the endeavor. A gifted child would ensure the parent's position within the tribe well past their usefulness. The

fact that lovefor the child blossomed was purely secondary and hinged directly upon what the child was capable of. Not that

Acissey and her husband hadn't loved their other three children, but after Ciroc'sbirth all could see the favoritism. Though ever given a judging eye by the lesser class, none in power really cared because that was normal and expected.

This was what Shirellhad accomplished. It was not asked of her. None believed she could do such a thing, nor was sh

e even sure. Regardless of need, if such had been known it would've been commanded that she NOT do such a thing. Knowledge of it would've labeled Cirocan abomination. So it was that

Shirell was not acknowledged nor awarded for her success; the claim of a natural gift aided only in the most mundane fashion.

Shirell was labeled little more than a nursemaid.

The proof of Acissey'slineage could not be denied as her other children existed as evidence to the fact. Still it was denied. It was believed that since her third child showed some signs of the gift that it w

as only natural her fourth would show even more. Thiswas always the hope even though past generations had generally proven otherwise. It was still easier to believe in luck than invasive genetic alteration.

Whatever the case, Cirocnow lived and with the gift. With him all apprehension for his parent's future vanished. With him jealousy among his siblings was born. This was true even though he was partial to those without, as could be seen by his friendship with

Diote. It was in fact his other sibling's lack of abilities that led Cirocto believe not being gifted was perfectly normal. Strange that. For their abuse he should've loathed the lesser class, regardless of bloodline.

His parents, however, weren’t so utterly dismissive and cruel. They'd taught him to be tolerant. They'd taught him to show pity the likes of which completely ability laden families knew nothing of. Be this as it may, pity could not but inspire hatred in most, especially within a family that was elite in every other way. The three children may have lined the bottom of the upper class, but at the same time heralded their status above all others of their kind.

They existed above pity and treated it as an insult. That was only the expectation. Cirocnever pitied his older siblings. Rather he accepted them just the same as he'd accepted

Diote. That acceptance was simply misinterpreted as pity. Really, what else could be believed?

This change could've been a side effect of his genetic alteration. Who could say? Not even Shirellcould be certain of that. How could she be? At the time she wasn't even sure her tampering wouldn't kill him instead of advance him. Such was the guilt at having tried

, as well as the relief at having succeeded. Though, it was a doubleedged sword. Her success resulted in

Ciroc being drawn deeper within the tribe's fold and further away from the likes of her.

Even so, the connection remained and for years she'd been using it. In the beginning it was for little other than monitoring. If he was well, so too would she be well, regardless of her unjust imprisonment. Over time that expanded to subconscious communication. Everyone seemed to have that little voice in the back of their heads telling them what was right and what waswrong, but unlike all others, Ciroc's little voice wasn’t his own.

Shirell chose to believe Cirochad naturally accepted his lesser brethren, but perhaps it helped that she'd continually suggested he do so. Regardless of her advanced mind, it was natural for

Shirellto have an affinity for the oppressed. Not that those without had been much kinder to her. In fact, if nothing else, their lack of defense had multiplied their fear, but that didn

’t mean she couldn’t relate to their plight. Their fear was her own. Before she'd realized her true power, she'd been convinced of theirs and feared all their retribution. How was it any different?

If Shirell had to pick a side, it would be with the lessers, and so too had Ciroc. His advanced state existed only for acceptance's sake. It was designed to make his life easier and it had. As a lesser he wouldn’t have possessedthe power to change anything.

Had she designed that to be his purpose? Maybe to cause revolution to the point where Shirellcould return to Lagoon? Who knew?

All she knew for certain was that she wanted to know her son. So over the years she'd acted as his conscious in all things, but she'd done more than just that. She'd changed him. That change took many forms. The likes of which would eventually lead him to her own fate, that of alienation. That which was different was never accepted on Lagoon.

The most obvious of these changes wasn’t his unorthodox acceptance of the lesser class, but rather his voice. Not that it was any different in sound, but it was worlds away in how he spoke. The tongue of Lagoon couldn’t be considered cryptic. It’s simply the way things were and as such, normal. Anything else was considered cryptic.

Shirellspoke what she'd considered an unbroken tongue. She'd heard such things on occasion, as had all on Lagoon. Some traders from afar spoke in such a manner, forever setting them apart.

Shirell found it invigorating;

a change worthy of an advanced mind. Yet putting that change in motion didn’t in any way help her situation. It in fact helped only to widen the gap. The whole of Lagoon soon believed exactly what they'd wanted all along . . . she didn't belong and never truly had.

Regardless, she'd only ever wanted acceptance for her son. Bestowing upon him her unbroken tongue was nothing other than an accident. It was simply how she now spoke, whether aloud or not, and he'd naturally picked up on it. By the time she was aware of it too much time had passed. Cirochad adopted her unbroken tongue. Never

before had they shared a trait so intimate, but never before had he been in so great a danger because of it.

As of now he received suspicious looks. Naturally this was nothing new. His acceptance of lessershad already earned him that and he simply attributed it to the same cause, but this was something else entirely. This was enough to get some people thinking. Those that remembered the truth behind the witch, rather than the legend, could see the similarities. They knew his birth had been helped along in every way by

Shirell. After her banishment hope remained that little Cirocwould remain untainted by her involvement. Certainly that little secret was kept from him as well as all others who weren't in the know, but now their worst fears seemed to be taking root.

Cirocwas forever changed.

Cirocwas the birthing of the witch anew. Without

words the Council decided steps must be taken and from it a decision was made.

 

# # #

 

Mrageden had long since set sail for the Isles of Kittamur. The guidance of such a thing was tricky indeed, since tear-hut's sported no sails. It would seem so much to bob upon the eternal ocean completely as the mercy of the tides, but such was not the case. There was a way about it that only the skilled knew.

This was more an intimate knowledge of the sea itself than the actual vessel. If the waves were seen as the many fingers of a vast and changing hand then the mind could make slight alterations to them. Water was ever a nearly impossible thing to control. Solid objects were the forte of the gifted, but as such the debris within the waters could be directed to splash upon the hull in just the right way.

Objects such as the tear-hut itself were too lofty a prize for most to move with the mind. Control was the gift and allowed for the manipulation of other minds, weaker minds, but to actually move a dead thing with the same required a great deal more concentration, that and years of training. This was the craft of Mragedenand if none else, he knew its deepest subtleties. For it he could ever so slightly guide their tear-hut so that the waves, big or small, crashed into them from just the right direction to propel them northward.

However skilled he was, it didn't seem enough. A storm was on the horizon. Not that it should hinder, as stronger waves provided more momentum, not less. Yet concentration was needed for such alterations and his attention was elsewhere at the moment. Naturally Raefstill suffered the implant. That was hard enough, but this was something unexpectedly new.

Without warning her pain seemed to ease and she spoke as he'd heard a few times prior not with someone else's voice, but with someone else's intent. Her mind had been overtaken as had her very speech.

"Mrageden, you must divert. We must go back. There is a task I need performed."

At this anger began to boil within his veins.

"Undo this hold! I demand it! Far, we've sailed beyond you and all the scheming of that vile place! You need naught for what little is ours! Release her, whoever you may be!"

That did not happen.

"You are no fool. Not that I ever took you for one, but this is necessary as much for me as for you. I need this done and who else better than you? You need Raefto actually survive. That is something I can help with."

It was a strange thing to hear his wife speak of herself as if she wasn’t even present, but such was the way of this practice. It was a violation generally outlawed. It was a privilege reserved for the elite. Even so it was usually only practiced during wartime, of which this generally was, but only upon the enemy. Not that banishment branded them as anything else, but after the decree had fallen and was willingly obeyed no other punishment should've arisen. After all, banishment was Lagoon's kindest death sentence. No one expected them to survive, but who else had the best chance? Intrusion beyond this would surely damn them. Pain or no, how was death not a worse fate?

"Damnation you bring, it would END US ALL! Banishment! A crime fell from what?! A child she bears! And I . . . I alone stood against the tide arisen to claim her! Who else but I?! I would not, shall not ever, see her gone unaided to a fate so ghastly! Her death was naught but hers alone! A death it was but for two, and so it is, and too much and surely enough. NO MORE! I'll NOT sway!"

For this a pause ensued. "I am not the Counciland do not speak for them. If nothing else I join you in your rage, for it is just. But I have no recourse other than you. There is someone I need saved, though they do not know it. My influence does not spread so far, nor could secrecy, which is of utmost need. No other could have any hope in aiding you."

A sudden fear washed the sanity clean from Mrageden'sveins. He KNEW who this was. He'd believed they were beyond her influence.

The witch.

Sh. . . but NO! He mustn't even think it. No aid could come from her, though there was little doubt that she had the power to lend it. If the stories were true, those whose mind she touched were marked for death. No hope remained.

Kittamur was a dream unraveled.

He wanted to speak something, anything, in his wife's defense, but no words would come. That, however, was never necessary. The witch knew his thoughts as if they were her own. Of this he knew. He tried in vain to stifle his fear; all the while knowing the time for such things had well passed. Then she spoke again through Raef and though it was no different than before, every word now seemed to drip with acid.

"I am not to be feared, Mrageden. Believe the lie for it is not a lie. If nothing else trust in the only thing you know to be true . . . I can help Raef. Help or no, I'll not destroy you, but you already believe yourself damned. So, I'll let you go. I'll return your wife to you. You can be on your way and then maybe you'll see. Secrecy may be paramount, but time . . . time remains. Time is all I've ever had."

This was a lie . . . something of one, anyhow. Shirell wasn’t omnipotent. Nor was the range of her influence infinite. It was in fact waning to reach out to Raef. Should they continue too far north it wouldn't be long before she could no longer affect their fate, good or bad, but no other way remained. She wasn’t the evil thing all believed. She wouldn’t punish them or kill them. She certainly wouldn't eat them or feed them to her wraiths as she knew Mrageden believed.

It was true that even now at this distance she was straining herself to overtake Raef. She had in fact needed to travel as far north as her tiny island would allow. She had no power to alter the direction of the tear-hut. This was forever voluntary. She would've told Mrageden this, but decided it was necessary to limit the things she knew he wouldn't believe.

This was the only way. Revealing herself as the witch or Shirellwould not be believed. He had to guess it. No help could be given without that knowledge. Also no trust could be gained unless the perceived threat had a chance to be dispelled. It would take time

; time she wasn't at all certain she could spare.

The clock was ticking down. Without some sort of intervention, her son would soon be condemned to suffer her own fate, if not worse. She hadn’t the power to sway every mind upon the whole of Lagoon in his favor. What other recourse remained to her? He must be exiled as was she.

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 5: Discovering Love

 

Terror enveloped Diote'snight.

"NEVER A NAME SPOKEN!"It filled her every thought, waking or otherwise, though the fear of it resonated as a living thing when deep behind closed eyes. Purely through imagination it possessed the capacity to transform into the vilest of things and she had well enough to fear already. Beyond the simplicity of

Tion's upcoming ritual, life awaited and that rarely garnered any happy thoughts for her lot.

She and her family were lessers and to that there was no escape. To be a lesser was to be oppressed all moments of this fleeting life. They were the workforce and designated disposable army of the tribe. What couldn’t be done with the mind must be done through brute force. Men or women made no difference and lesser children such as her had only to the age of twelve to learn of the world before becoming hopelessly immersed within it. The recent coming of the breath of new life, when all of Lagoon bloomed green once again, that marked her eleventh year. Nary a birth 'day' was ever truly known, but the seasons covered the day well enough. Hers fell between the green and the storms yet to come. She was born in a time of new hope and yet nothing of her life resembled it.

Diotealready knew much of Lagoon and its society. Mostly she'd been made well aware of her place in it.

Lessersby any other name were middle class. Circling the bottom of the barrel were the cursed and their finite lives revealed hers to be positively regal, but what of it? Was it really better to live longer as a slave? That was the truth of

it. Though, this decision and so many others weren’t hers to decide. Year eleven earned her nothing other than a countdown, as ever her life had been. Now though, so close to damnation, every day was of crushing import.

At least Diotehad this final year. The countdown for the cursed began the moment of implant, which depending on the circumstances could begin as early as age six, but anything before twelve was quite rare. The cursed were criminals by any other name and the implant was their sentence. Few children committed crimes serious enough to be so forever damned. Even so, in most cases of this caliber their parents were held responsible and suffered the implant in their stead. To spare their children, some parents even begged for it.

Diote was also taught that the cursed were criminals, but everyone knew this also loosely encompassed any who fell out of favor with the Council, the ruling class of Lagoon. Justification was neverneeded, nor a trial of any sort. There were tribal elders that were simply not to be trifled with. There were no prisons upon Lagoon. The implant was the only punishment that existed aside from the occasional warnings. Nothing else was

required. Beyond that they had death, which wasn’t so very different and often less painful.

All children learned the implant was, well, alive. This was no figure of speech. It was a parasite, but one that was bred with specific genetic alterations. It was called the implant for obvious reasons, but its core species was named the chicata. Fortunately they were rare in the wild, but it wouldn't have mattered. They could do little in their native form.

Altered, however, they were let to burrow within someone where they attached to various sexual organs depending upon gender. All this happened while the person was both awake and aware. It was not a pleasant process. Unholy screams made clear the pain that etched across their face until the creature settled in. That could take up to an hour. Needless to say not everyone survived the insertion, though anyone under 15 was rendered unconscious; a bit of mercy. Even so, it was truly a horror to watch and all must regardless of age. The insertion was and had forever been a public event. It served as a warning to all others.

Blood was the chicata'sprimary food source, yet it never took much. It couldn

’t kill in such a way unless the blood loss from an unrelated accident was already severe. However, within women the chicatawould also feed upon . . . other things, during pregnancy. This prevented procreation by assaulting the body of a pregnant woman with countless tendrils of pain. This suffering would subside after a time, but always return in force. This eventually brought death to all who dared bear children.

Within men the implant acted much the same, aside from the death knell. Sex of any kind became an impossibility of epic proportions. Simply put arousal brought debilitating pain. Freedom from death aside, the loss of ever again being able to achieve sexual stimulation resulted in more suicides than all the combined deaths of women. They could, after all, still enjoy sex without pain or death, so long as they managed to avoid pregnancy, which in the height of emotions was not always so easily avoided. This was deemed a tragic mistake since no method existed for preempting the pregnancy other than miscarriage or death.

It was a saddening thing to watch . . . a tear streamed woman purposefully falling from a height just low enough not to kill. That is not to kill her. Emotional turmoil aside, the ultimate goal was to end the child . . . before they’d both be torn asunder in agony until death set them free. Never was there hope for the baby; such a poor state of affair. The mother knew as much and would be overtaken with unbearable sorrow before, during and after the horrific event, provided they found success.

Any attempt at implant removal also resulted in excruciating agony. That and success was a crime punishable only by death. Naturally any attempts to violate any of these laws were nearly impossible to avoid with the telepaths periodically rummaging their heads as if they'd lost something deep inside.

Some believed it nothing less than barbaric for children to know of such things, but the Council demanded obedience and wholeheartedly believed this was the best way to achieve it. It would seem history had proven them right, but who could say? Perhaps some adults sought revenge for the utter destruction of their childhood; adults who otherwise may have become productive members of society. Regardless, this had become normal to the point of tradition. Even the tribal elders had forgotten when it all began. Who could choose when nothing else was known?

All knew the cursed were mostly comprised of lessers, yet a few of the ruling class managed to commit unforgivable slights. These fell into a similar plight being summarily outcast from the privileges of their previous rank. Even so, they held sway over the lesser cursed since there remained no known way to undo their innate abilities.

So what of it? Little Diote was the only one of her siblings to be born a lesser, or a mind-muteas some called it. There existed no specific genetic formula for it. Some were and some weren't. Sometimes entire families were gifted and on the same note some were entirely damned.

Naturally, lessersborn within a family of gifted had a better life, but only if they weren't thrown to the masses of their own kind. Even then they weren't always rescued and thusly death of the cruelest sort would claim them.

Diotehad been lucky enough to be born to more sympathetic parents and so was kept. That improved her life only slightly as it had reduced the status of her heritage. She existed as a stain upon the family name. Namely, though the

Councilsaw them as overly generous they were no longer purely gifted. In such cases as hers persecution reigned supreme and many parents, to the best of their ability, withheld their love of a newborn until they knew for sure. Either way their life was never an easy one. Kept by a gifted family or not, they were only protected until the ominous age of twelve. From there they must fall into the work of their ilk.

It truly was a horror to behold. Her damnation was nigh, and though her mother was saddened, her other siblings rejoiced. Her father was gone to war as were most men, aside from that of the Council, yet he'd never been so fond of her. The moment she fell to her own kind the family would once again be made pure. Yet it was so much more than just this. The twelve year sacrifice was little other than an investment. Upon her exit, the family's status would not only be restored, but for their “sacrifice”, be elevated to a level they'd never otherwise be able to achieve. Such was the nature of her family's tolerance and she was supposed to consider it an honor; a means, the only means, in which she could return the favor of having been kept.

By law, Ciroc’solder two siblings, Trion and Scion, faded into the mist years ago. He mourned them both, she knew. It was part of what drew them to one another. What gifted gave a damn,

whounlike her parents, had no need to? She’d no clue what became of his brothers . . . until he told her. Being gifted, he possessed the ability to “watch” them from afar. Once gone, most never bothered, but

Cirocwasn’t like the others of his ilk. He truly cared. Trion soon fell prey to the sorrow and was no more. Scion lived to this very day, but was only just now earning a degree of respect. Oh, how

Diote wished she were as pathetic as most saw his final sibling, a sister named Emiod, with just barely enough ability to not be thrown away.

Diote had alsobeen kept, but was that truly best? She often wondered between shudders. When of age, she would not simply go to work. No. She would be taken away. She would be thrust into the life of the

lessers. Here history foretold she could expect further persecution for having lived the “good life”while others of her kind suffered. In other words she'd have to earn her place at the bottom to garner any respect and that meant working twice as hard to make up for her absence the last twelve years. Many children hadn't survived it. Could she? Would it truly not have been better for her to have grown up that way? She

’d lose all ties to her family, as was the way of things. This final year was marked as a time for goodbyes for those who cared and celebration for those who hadn't because everything, absolutely everything, was about to change.

Atop all that, the witch now sought her and Cirocboth! Why had they to slight her?! She knew, they both knew, somewhere beyond the myth, past every wicked tale, that a truth lay dormant. It only lay in wait. Oh, would the horrors never end?! How could any soul such as hers ever gather this was a life worth breath?! Surely the witch would descend upon the whole of both their families before the year was out! Her very life was to end before the life of the lesser could finish her. Suddenly and for the very first time she longed for the servitude that was her lot.

Still, she remained, as the sweat poured down rivulets. In the moonlight she shivered. Was this simply fearor had she already been visited between the shadows? Was she already dying? Truly, was this how it happened? The stories, every one, lent fright to the simplest things. Yet, until

Cirocbelieved, she had not. He'd been her very anchor. Yet he'd been wrong, so very wrong.

Until this solitarymoment she'd had every intention of meeting him, but something within her changed. To play such deathly games, that had been his idea. She'd followed his lead and would now continue to do so till death stole them both away. This . . . this had to END! She'd follow not a step further! Anyway, why? Was it not all somehow a dream?! To be so accepted by a gifted was no gift! It was a lure! It was a tease! It marked a way in which she might be all the more unprepared and persecuted for what must come, should the witch not do so first. It would ALL END tonight and forevermore!

 

# # #

 

Cirocran as though the wisp of branches that carved him were so much smoke to aid the expanding morning mist. It seemed to have descended before he'd even began. The curse had fallen in this form and existed, he was by now certain, to hide nefarious intent. The witch was nigh.

It was not as though any pace he set could free him, but he held out hope to at least embrace Dioteone final time. He knew now, as though he'd never before dared to guess, that his feelings for her ran truer than mere friends. Was this love? Was that even possible? Was his heart big enough to hold the full measure of fear and love in the same moment? Should love be his a moment before death stole away his very soul? Gifted or not, he'd never felt more so than now. How could he not? No other time existed for him . . . nor would it ever again.

Still he ran. It was all he had left. In his mind to hers he spoke two words. "Find me." Then three more slipped out. "I am lost." Then a flood."You are all that remains in my shattered life. Find me before the witch takes me."

No response issued forth. He knew it wouldn't because it couldn't. For it he was lost and utterly so. He'd known this path so well, but all was now in shadow and shades of death. Then, without warning, he was falling. Water met him half way to the grave. He'd reached the shoreline. A sudden gasp and sputtering told him so. The witch had twisted him and his purpose. All hope faded.

He screamed louder than he knew possible. "SHIRELL!!!"

No recourse existed. She was to take him now. Not a sliver of mercy remained, so why not shout her name to Mother Sea! All he had left was that he'd found her before the witch. He’d meet Mother Sea in true form; just as his uncle had so long ago. He'd give himself to her so that Shirell could not.

Every step sunk him deeper as wave after wave crashed against his waist and then chest. Then with further pause he gave one last farewell. "Diote, my love, I am lost. Forever lost. Mother will take me home. Goodbye." At this he plunged beneath the moonlit tide.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 6: Bloody Shores

 

A scream echoed forth. Like no other before it, the whole of the world awoke, or seemed to. It was a mind shear ripped forth from an undone soul. Every creature, every wraith, upon the plateau of Gabriel's Tear howled their stricken dirges to the night, for death was nigh.

Like a wave unfettered, Shirell's tortured soul tore through the minds of every man, woman, child and beast that still drew breathupon the face of Lagoon. On this fear could stake no claim and bowed in reverence to the witch and to the solitary name she bellowed.

"CIROC!!!"

 

# # #

 

Nothing remained of night but the blackness and the moon that pierced it. Not a soul slept. Not anymore. The night was alive with a start. A multitude of decidedly quieter screams paired with earth shattering gasps that seemed to give every heart pause. Diote'sown gifted or not, resonated within her brain as if to tear it in two. Yet that was a danger from another.

A moment earlier her anger was silenced by the revelation of a confession. Love.Had it never before existed? At that crucial moment she'd never experienced anything that could compare. "

Ciroc", was this scream her own? Death had claimed Ciroc and at that very moment, that tearful farewell, she'd screamed his name into the night. Yet this power was not hers. This came from another and with it a familiar form of terror swept in.

The witch screamed. Shirellscreamed. No other could

to such a degree

. Mother Sea claimed Cirocand was forever lost to the witch. His soul was free. In death the witch wa

s defeated. It was, shefinally realized, the only way to win.

 

# # #

 

Fear tore through the island like a plague, but not to be undone those that followed Cirocpushed on. They knew from whence the cry had come. How could they not? They were the ones who'd banished

Shirellso long ago. Through much combined effort they were the ones who'd brought down the sudden fog. They were the ones who knew from whence

Cirochad come. They were the ones who'd told so many lies as gospel. They were the

Council and they'd come for the witch's progeny.

In much the same way as his mother, they’d not wished death upon him. He was . . . useful. Though, he couldn’t be in death. They were already fast upon his heels. Here there existed little coincidence. He was meant to be taken this night. The coincidence was that they were in the right place and time to save him; an unlikely and equally unwanted savior.

From here he was to be thrust into a life of servitude, experimentation and eventual banishment, if not death. Once the threat was studied it must be disposed of, lest death claim them all. He would become the warlock to his mother's witch, should he live, but they'd learned their lesson the first time around, so that was unlikely.

For now he'd live, much to his agony. For the Councilhad known the truth.

Shirell hadn't cried out at his would be death, but rather at a life subjected.Each member of the

Council knew freedom was all she’d ever wished for Ciroc, so taking him would pull the final string, unraveling their greatest threat and with it . . . victory.

 

# # #

 

From the blackness of the tide Cirocwas drawn . . . violently. Only one thought came past the scream that tore through his mind. The witch,

Shirell, she'd caught him. Mother Sea hadn't taken him. No. NO! This could not be. As hell would have it, it was not. A moment before opening his eyes he spoke.

"Mother . . .?"

She hadn't answered, yet another did in her stead.

"She'll not have you this night, boy. But . . . be ever patient."

"Shirell . . .?"

A pause ensued. The void was filled with suddenness. Who from, Ciroc couldn't guess, but his head had wrenched to the right and he'd reentered Mother Sea's eternal realm.

"NEVER A NAME SPOKEN, BOY!!! Little learned and such a loss! You'll not speak it! You'll never speak again for it! Undo the whelp's tongue!"

A shudder of fear overcame Cirocas Mother Sea once again released him. Two shaky words followed. "I . . . I'll . . . I'll NOT SPEAK IT!"

"Surely not!CUT IT FREE!!!"

A bony blade emerged from tanned hide, and with intent to bleed. It, along with its owner was given reason to pause. A word tore through . . . a name.

"ALION!!!"

Indeed it was Alion that bore the blade, though it wasn’t he who’d given the command. No. That was Shion, the elder who’d spoken so eloquently at Jerret'srite. Who even then

, planned this night's specifics to perfection.His name, too, soon followed for all to hear.

"SHION!!!"

A certain dread swept down and upon this wave Alionlet fall his knife. It wasn

’t enough. The moonlight revealed Shionsmiling wickedly. Then he spoke, but not to anyone present.

"Ah, witch! Yours is a fear that tears free! Yours is a power that wanes! Here is a place you hold no sway! He is mine! He is mine! HE IS MINE!!!"

To prove it Shion pulled free his own blade and brought it down upon Ciroc. The intent was death. The possibility remained that was his intent from the moment he knew what the boy was to her. A hand jerked up in defense and within a moment the blade had slipped inside it, buried to the hilt through Ciroc's palm.

Ciroc'sscream outpaced the pain in the expectancy of it. Even so it was to be worse, death notwithstanding; this marked the origin of his pain, not the end. The knife began to drag down to split his wrist in two, but that was a chance never given.

Shion stood a moment, though he was already dead.

All heard the whine echo forth, muffled as it was. Yet it was so muted for a reason. It had concentrated elsewhere. . . within the mind of a high elder named Shion

. Here he heard one word louder than comprehensible; beyond all he'd ever known. Fitting that, it would be his last. It was such a simple word. Die.

In that moment Shioncould literally feel his synapses shredding and nerves splitting. He was experiencing his very own lobotomy as his brain near to

imploded. Then as his eyes rolled back into his head, he fell, knees first into his own Mother Sea. He'd returned to her.

His hands spasmeda moment prior to falling limp, fingers sliding loose from the blade one by one as if, even in death, he meant to finish what he'd begun.

Shion's knife remained embedded as Ciroc'shand began to tremble violently with the growing pain. For it

Shion was all but forgotten.

A fear they'd never known washed over the four elders that remained. They stood dumfounded with each mouth agape. No sound uttered forth, but then none was needed. The deed was done. The example had been raised. The message was sent. It was so simple.

"Do NOT lay a hand on MY SON!"

All obeyed, though they couldn't know they didn't need to. Shionwas right.

Shirell'spowers were finally spent in the effort she'd not even known she possessed. Nothing remained and she couldn't even be certain one iota of it would return to her. She was beyond speaking even. Still, they didn't kno

w that and soon they were gone; all of them, blending into the night.

From Ciroc's mind one word was uttered into the black.

"HELP!!!"

This time Diote would heed the call.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 7: Dreaming of the End

 

Dawn was waking. The shadows grew long as a smallish light bathed the village with a dullish light. The first of Shard's suns had yet to peek out beyond the horizon, but something of its light washed over nonetheless. Through this, as if in a dream of uncertain nature, Dioteran. She couldn't truly know if this was still yet a dream, and if it was could it be a nightmare or something akin to salvation? Terror sat on the edge of her tongue, but it hadn't frozen her in place as before. Nightmares nearly always had that effect on her. So then what could this be?

There was a reason why she ran, or at least as quickly as this, without as much as a care. Pieces of all that had occurred fit into the puzzle that scattered her mind. Something had happened out there in the blackness, something lesserscould only hint at. The one thing she knew, though, was love. She'd felt it without knowing as if a gift unrevealed. This brought life to her bones and the sudden movement that followed.

This love connected wholly to guilt. How could she not have seen it? How could she not have believed it? The anger that had arisen within her had drained away utterly. Her love had needed her and she had not come. Given a second chance, nothing beyond death could restrain her.

Her speed increased via pain. Not hers though the branches did scratch. Though, Cirocshook with it, a voice trembling in fear. He hadn

’t been alone. He'd been under attack, but past all this, where was the witch? Her defeated scream had echoed through every mind she was now sure. At it, everyone within sight had awoken; parents, siblings and neighbors alike. Yet it was Ciroc'sdeath that ended her threat to him. Now that his life was returned should she really trust that all was forgiven?

Where was the witch now? Would she devour him before she could arrive? Would it even matter? Had she not a vendetta against them both? How could she not see her timely arrival as a gift; a hunt ended early, before dawn could burn her evil away. There was nothing for it. She would stand by her love this time, for how was this not the last time; her very last chance to return a love freely given.She knew well enough she couldn’t stand against the witch. Her purpose wasn’t to save

Ciroc, but rather to join him in oblivion, hand in hand.

Though where was he? Earlier in the night, with the words “Meet me” she’d known exactly where to go . . . their open field. There could've been no other place, but now that he was lost there was so little to go on. All she could know was he’d arrivedat the shoreline. He'd met the water and in so doing Mother Sea. She

’d turned away his sacrifice. As fleeting as this second chance surely was, Diote couldn’t be more grateful. Even so, time failed to slow, whether or not it seemed to.

Then self-loathing assaulted her. Aside from the guilt this wasn’t a question of what she had or hadn't done, but rather of what she was, namely a lesser. She hadn’t the power to read his mind as he could hers. As such she may never find him; certainly not before the witch could. Not that she wouldn't try to. If anything her feet moved all the faster.

Regardless, how anyone of her caliber could be found worthy in the eyes of a gifted, she couldn't know. She may live with them, a family full of them even, but they were worlds apart. At times, more than she dared recall, they'd cared for her near to as a pet. Her mother, who loved her best, would find herself catering to her every last whim as if she simply could not do so on her own. How were they not right to? What was she that she deserved any better than her lot? How dared she even dream it?!

Yet she did not slow. How could any of that matter when death was so close at their heels? She edged the shoreline the moment she'd reached it and would've circled the vastness of Lagoon a hundred fold to find her love. Luck would have it that wasn't required of her.

Her eyes soon fell upon him, but what she saw ushered in the nightmares once more. Ciroc lay back within the grasp of Mother Sea and all around him a crimson redness was spreading, shattering her momentary relief.

 

# # #

 

Despite the rage a stillness overcame Shirell. Really how could it not? It was born of weakness and mental exhaustion. She'd already collapsed to the meet the earth laden rock. There she’d stay for some time. Until she rose, if she rose, wrath of any sort could not but wait; it came at too high a price. Even so, she hadn’t lost consciousness. The chicata she bore failed to affect her mind, butwhat remained of it was reserved for observation alone. Knowledge was power and faith

remained that she'd one day make good on it.

Shirell could delve well inside her son’s mind. She could since the beginning, but more than this she could somehow feel something of what he felt. Their link, of which not even she fully understood, made such things possible. Ever had this been true, however until these last few years she'd not known it. She’d noticed it only a few years prior, as until then Ciroc hadn’t suffered much mentally or otherwise, not really. Whatever cuts, scrapes, joys, nightmares or other terrors he'd suffered in his early years had been partially related to her, but attributed to any number of things she'd deemed more likely.

Shirell had come tosee the truth some time ago, round about when he’d discovered his brother’s untimely demise. Despite the fact none could blame him for an all-enveloping loathing, he’d cared for Trion and Scion both. It derived from a devotion to understand their plight, not a pity. His sympathetic nature prompted him to keep a mental tab on their whereabouts when most others had forsaken the very memory of the lesser once gone, as was custom. An unfamiliar mourning poured forth from

Cirocfor the abuse both boys suffered at the hand of their ilk. He’d felt it keenly, particularly upon Trion’s suicide. The shock tore through his little frame, but so too did it resonate within

Shirell. Little else but a connection could explain it, for she’d no love lost for anyone who’d abuse her son, even teasingly. Now, should any doubt remain, with such trauma as was his, nothing of the sort could be denied.

Shirell knew Ciroc's pain, not that she'd ever been injured in such a way, but Shion'sknife dug through her all the same. Tendrils of pain arched all through h

er right hand. Despite the severity easedand devoid a single drop of blood

, her hand was just as useless. This was of little consequence. With a mind such as hers, she really had no need of it. Even so, it would heal in time with Ciroc'swound. Really, it was

her son’s mental anguish that crippled her.

As such, Shirell shared a portion of Ciroc's fear; a feeling she swore would never again plagueher mind. Surprisingly, it was something of a relief. So many things that once tethered her to humanity were falling away. Were it not for

Ciroc she believed something primal would emerge, and that would benefit no one. Especially not now . . . her gifts were blossoming into something arcane.

Namely, she could bring death with her mind alone. It did drain her and stillshe remained in that state, but

in time she’d rejuvenate. Of course, never having been so debilitated, this was something she could merely guess at, yet she'd always recovered from minor events. Why not this? She'd no clue how long it might take. She'd done so much.

As such, a sobering thought weaved itself through her overly burdened mind. What horrors would she unleash should she lose all restraint? Would the whole of Lagoon perish for their crimes? She shuddered to think what that would mean for the children, because gifted or not, they represented innocence no less pure than her own son. Would her rage strand them or . . . Mother Sea forbid, destroy them?

Shirell couldn’t think on that. After all, through their genetic link what would become of her should Cirochave passed, regardless of the cause? Never had she felt the full weight of his trials, but she could see how his death might end

her own;

if not through pain then sorrow. So weakened could the pain alone not be enough? She'd already felt her lungs fill with water as all breath temporarily left her and she remained high above the shoreline. Could she have survived that had Cirocnot been pulled free? Who could know?

Perhaps she'd soon find out . . . because it was happening yet again.

 

# # #

 

Shionlay well within reach. The knife remained, having been thrust through his palm like a stone slipping twixt the waves. Somewhere between the mounting terror and the birthing pain,

Cirocbore witness to the blade. With his hand arisen in defense and the force of

Shion'sthrust, it seemed to stop only an inch from his eye. Death, which wanted him so terribly this ominous night, had failed yet again.

Though had it truly? Death's defeat was a thought envisioned both before the pain tore through him and Shionfell. How was this agony so impotent? How

was itdeath couldn't yet find him through it? Was death not a more welcome fate? Personally, over his short years, he'd witnessed the loss of life from simpler wounds, as disease crept in adjoining the pain with sweats, panic and delirium


and yes, finally death. So, he wondered with increasing alarm, was this how that all began?

For it, part of him wished he hadn’t protected himself. Shion'sblade would've met his eye and the end would come . . . suddenly he hoped. Would it not have benefited his family to have once again stolen this victory away from the witch? In this there existed a sliver of belief, even before he offered himself to Mother Sea, that this

would suffice. Death was death, he hoped, and would appease Shirellto spare his family. After all, as the tales went, was she not supposed to take him last in order to multiply his suffering?

She hadn’t come for them, but nor had she come for Diote, that he knew of. Of course, in sorrow, he knew her life wasn’t one to be spared. Her crime was equal to his own, but only because he swayed her to it, believing it all an elaborate fairy tale. Now he knew so much better and prayed to the witch a prayer all believed she was deaf to. He prayed Shirell would take him and him alone for Diote's crimes.

That wouldn’t happen. Not now. Not after he'd fled his own punishment and attempted to deny her justice. That too was a crime in her eyes, so he'd heard. In the tales all was made so much worse because of it, but at the time tales were all they were to him and he hadn't taken it to heart. So what then? Should he give himself to her? Would that make it all better somehow? Would he even have the chance?

Shion remained, not that Cirocknew why, but he'd no reason to believe the high elder's intent was only to wound. What chance would he have to

offer his life to the witch if the high elder finished what he’d began? In her wickedness, Shirell wouldn’t take into account this death was beyond his control. She’d just punish and punish some more. Perhaps she'd even punish Shionfor stealing her kill. That, however, was a small hope

. . . until somehow it happened.

Inexplicably the highelder ceased his assault with a gasp and a series of jerks and twitches. His eyes rolled white and then he collapsed into Mother Sea with a splash.

Lastly, his fingers fell with small tug on the hilt of his knife, accentuating the tendrils of pain that werealready carving into his hand and spreading up his arm. To balance this,

Ciroclet his hand fall, but that too was a mistake as the weight of the knife jerked with the sudden motion, widening the already gaping wound. Then his mouth opened to scream, but in shock no sound emerged.

All who’d accompanied Shion quickly backed away and eventually vanished from whence they'd come, but Cirochad barely noticed. His knees were already buckling with the severity of

the wound.A weakness seemed to flow out of him in tandem with the blood.

Then he too crashed into the lapping waves; the final companion to the high elder who'd killed him.

However death had yet to claim him. Thepain alone couldn’

t end him so quickly. The sliver of him that remained sane wished it could. There was one thing that worked in a more timely fashion. . .

Mother Sea. That he'd already tried, but voluntary or not he was attempting it again. The cold morning water seeped back into his lungs as he gulped and gasped. Instinctively he raised his head to escape it, but not high enough and a solitary wave swept in instead of the air he so longed for. So then instinct sought to push him higher. That required both his arms and both his hands pressing into the wet sand below.

Within a moment the blade tore free, having jerked at such an angle to finish the slice and sever his hand in two, lengthwise and now connected only at his wrist. The utter torture of it won out and shock took him, but not death. . . not yet.

There he laid, face down, unconscious and dreaming of the end. Then unbeknownst to him Diote finally arrived, a horror etching into her youthful face.

 

Chapter 8: Darkness Descends

 

Raef wasn’t the same, though the pain had indeed returned in force. Should the tales be true no one for whom the witch possessed, no matter how briefly, ever emerged as they once were.Naturally dread set in.

Mragedenassumed she'd not known what occurred, but that was a falsehood. Never was she not present, she'd just lost all control. She'd watched helplessly shackled somewhere deep within herself. That wasn

’t an experience she'd ever manage to escape no matter how long she drew breath. Not that her husband was much better off.

A new horror arose from this for her unborn child. Should the chicatafail to murder them both, would the infant also be so scarred? Was th

e witch’s unwelcome intrusion something the poor, helpless child inside herwitnessed as well? If an adult couldn

’t find a way to cope how could a child? Would this solitary event end them all? Was death to be their fate even if they somehow found success in all else?

Now, after such a traumatic event they were supposed to trust in the witch?! They were supposed to reroute back to the place that damned them to help her what? Save someone? Since when did such a thing ever interest the witch? How was this not a lie? It was all a game to her! It was well within her nature to toy with lives for a time and then when she tired of it, devour their very souls. She fed upon pain like the accursed chicata sated itself in blood.

Was it not more likely they were to spread her horror among the village? So they too could feed her with every involuntary shudder? How was it the two of them wouldn't be feared in kind for merely having been touched by her? Would the rogues not kill them on the spot for such an unforgivable affront? Regardless of what was to bebelieved, Raef knew they’d both do no less

had the roles been reversed. The witch and what was he

rs were not to be trifled with and now they all belonged to her.

In all reality, they now knew escape wouldn't be a freedom of any sort. Kittamur, even should they be so kind, would prove powerless to undo such acurse. It would follow them. It will f

ollow them. No matter what path theychose the damage was done. They were forever damned.

The best they could hope for was to limit the damage by sailing away from her influence, but how far mustthey go?

Who could say how far her corrupted mind could reach? It was natural to assume the witch was lying in her mock benevolence, so how great her fury should they continue northbound?Supposedly that wouldn't matter if they could but sail far enough and fast enough, but tear-huts

weren’t designed tosail. The speed of one occurred only in dreams and storms. One was well on its way, but to navigate within the torrent was near to impossible

even for her husband, a master of his craft,

without the complications they now bore. What escape could they hope for? Even so, how was it possible for their fate to be any brighter by cooperating with something so evil?

Was it not better to attempt escape and for it,die outright? That, however, was not the way of the witch. The tales told horrors of long drawn out courtships where all one loved f

ell away piece by piece before the end beckoned nigh. With little else to live for one would beg for the end, bestowing the witch with untold delight. A quicker death would provemore feasible from the rogues of Lagoon, but death was still death. How did one choose between them?

Even as the stress broke her, the clouds drew a presumptuous close on the light of day, accentuating all that was ominous and dire. In the end fear won out with one word and even that was shadowed in whisper, in the futile hope the witch would fail to learn ofit.

Raef shivered with agony as she barely uttered, "Flee."

 

# # #

 

The first of the twin suns peeked from beyond the horizon giving a vibrantly new, but heart wrenching shade to the blood formed in a haphazard halo around Diote'sfallen love. It seemed

mere moments later she was at his side. His blood seeping into her threadbare garment failed togive her pause. In her panic she'd wished to jerk him from Mother Sea. Though she hadn't known it that's precisely what

Alion had done at Shion'sorder not so very long ago. It didn’t matter.

Diotewas only 11. She couldn

’t find the strength to move as quickly as she felt necessary.

She worried of it and blamed herself for Ciroc’s death while dragging himback toward land by his feet.

She couldn't but see Shionfloating nearby. It stood out a shock, but a muted one. He was certainly dead but it wouldn't have ma

ttered if he weren't. Ciroc remained her priority and doubted she'd have the strength to pull free a fully grown man, much less the both of them.

Upon a solitary thought, the panic that stretched across her face deepened at seeing the high elder. Had Cirockilled him? Could he really have done such a thing? Even if it was possible why would he?

Shion held the tribal Council's loftiest rank and presided over the final say in all matters. How could there have been a greater sin? How could death not be ample punishment for such a crime? Even if innocent, how was it either of them could escape both ridicule and blame? Did any of it matter?

If recent events were to be believed the witch would surely seek them out long before any punishment could be laid down by the Council. That was assuming Ciroc lived, which was the only outcome she was as yet willing to accept.

So Diotepulled again and again, resting only moments between each effort. It seemed eons had passed in the interim, but as near to shore as they were less than five minutes. He'd been face down, but somewhere within that time she'd used the buoyancy of the water to turn him onto his back. It was only as

Cirocwas pulled free from the greedy waters that she'd first caught sight of his grisly wound. Blood trailed from his right hand like a fountain.

Her love was pale with death and she feared it was already within him. Not that she'd accepted such a thing.

Adrenalin flowed and steadied her nerves so long as some form of action was taken. Avidly, it was. She knew well what to do. Being born a child ofMother Sea, who of her age did not? Upon the Isle of Lagoon and she correctly assumed most everywhere else, drowning was the primary cause of death. So too were methods devised to counter such an imminent demise, but only should action be taken within time. For

Ciroc time remained, despite the fact he did not move.

Though all were interned to Mother Sea, from the one of flesh and blood who bore her, she’d learned aform of mouth to mouth and was now put into practice.

Despite being only eleven, Diote was skilled at the craft and this hadn’t been her first attempt or success. Be that as it may, nothing was happening. She did not stop. By now Ciroc'sblood had soaked the sand with the ebb and flow of the tide. The weight of her knees had formed divots within it that were now seeped full and shown in the sunlight of bright crimson. She hadn't even noticed.

Time seemed not to pass, or at least slow in everything beyond the two children. When Cirocfinally came about even his guttural coughing seemed submerged. It may as well have been

,for the blessings of Mother Sea were what poured forth from his pale lips. In the beginning it was something of a geyser. Then

Ciroc instinctively turned his head to the side and retched up a waterfall.

He knew little to nothing in those first few moments and his body told him it was best to turn onto his stomach to empty into the sands the water that remained seeped within him. The tentative effort that was made towards this end suddenly reminded him that something terrible had happened to his hand. The pain had returned in force and his newly opened eyes widened. The agony muted the glorious dream of Diote hovering above him; her smile so angelic.

This was surely the afterlife, but if so how was it he could've brought this pain with him? If all was unfettered in paradise and Diotewas present, had not the witch claimed her as well. He

hadn’t

liked to think of her as dead, but he knew the curse made such a thing inevitable. He reveled that at least they were as one once again. But this

pain! It marred all things and blurred the sight of his love. He hardly even heard her though she was obviously speaking to him.

All things slowed. The pain radiating up his right arm stung wickedly with the slightest of movements. His mouth opened sluggishly as if so much a yawn, and then regardless of Diote'snearness, a scream echoed forth. There was only this one, but for a time it took on a life all its own. Then the blackness came over him, claiming him yet again.

 

# # #

 

Shirellstood as silent witness to these events, yet she did not stand. She could not stand. She could barely even remain conscious though the sensation o

f drowning had passed once more. So great was the suffering of her son. For it she could do nothing to ease either pain, though tending to the one would cure the other.

Not that an ounce of blood escaped her body, but still she grew pale as if something within the life sustaining substance had shriveled within her. Her lungs burned with the seawater that wasn’t present and her right arm was utterly useless, though no wound could be seen.

She'd been brought low by the event that should’ve merely stunned her. Never did she feel the full affront of Ciroc'swoes, but her mental exhaustion had weakened the barrier that protected her. She wondered if she were dying. Would she pass even if her

son did not? Throughout the event this marked the first time she'd felt any fear of her own, and not a watered down version emanating from her son. It didn’t last. As Ciroc fell unconscious once more, she did too for the first time, no longer able to remain tethered to the horrors befell them both.

Her final sight was of dark shapes descending upon her.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 9: Unquenchable Tears

 

A sinking feeling flooded the tribal Council upon Shion's end, but then the whole island wasstricken with terror at the witch's mind shear. It was a living breathing thing. Ever was it the

Council’s design to mold truth from the lies they told of Shirell, but they, themselves, were supposed to rise above such things. They were supposed to stand as the tribe's hope against the wickedness they’d conjured. It seemed such an easy thing in the beginning. Create an enemy of which they already knew how to contain. In so doing they stood as the saviors of Lagoon and for it remained forever in power.

This, however, wasn’t the entire truth either. The fear of Shirell wasn’t a falsehood. Nor was the imminent threat she represented unreal. Many years prior, when she'd actually lived among them, she was kept in check via her naivety. As her knowledge grew so too did her powers, and with it the threat of her. This, as it turned out, was only contained by the guilt that infectedher for the murder of a fetus. Because of it she, herself, f

elt a punishment was deserved and she'd agreed exile was a fitting fate.

The Councilhad jumped at the chance to tame this power. Odds were she wouldn't have agreed t

o embracedeath, but they hadn't wanted that of her anyway. This was regardless of the fact every other villager to commit such a heinous crime, a

lways met their end, rare as it was. Had Shirelltruly deserved any special recompense? No, of course not, but the

Councilhad ulterior motives. Namely, they still had hopes of finding

a way to harness her powers for their own. They soon found thiswas no longer possible while she remained on Lagoon.

Beyond this crime, she refused to participate in any further experiments and had evolved enough to back her demand. Even prior the murder, she’d becomeunruly and only obeyed their commands after much dispute. Things were rapidly unraveling. So Gabriel's Tear was the solution and it was a good one

. Banishment may well have stood as the only decision they’d ever mutually agreed upon, bar one thing. How exactly were they to experiment on her while in exile?

They'd discovered a few long range tests they could perform and found her telepathic range was limited. The general safety of Lagoon was assured as Shirellcould affect nothing wider than five miles beyond the tiny borders of Gabriel's Tear. The distance between the two islands was and remained seven miles. So all they had to do, all they could do really, was invent stor

ies to keep the villagers on or near to the island.

Why not? Two miles still allowed for plenty of fishing and the open ocean was free in any direction other than Gabriel's Tear, which lay to the southwest. In the ensuing years Lagoon thrived, aside from the war in which warrior telepaths were sent forth into battleupon each new harvest

. Even so, the bloodshed had yet to touch Lagoon soil, so remained at peace.

To the Council's surprise, shortly after Shirell'sexile, the horrors they'd invented about her spread and contorted in ways their limited minds could never have dreamed up. It was in fact not the

Council who'd conjured the idea that Shirellwas a witch, but still they'd embraced the concept. In so doing the

Council and all its elders gained the unique ability not only to keep the villagers in check through fear, but also blame all negative things upon her wickedness.

However, the Council had invented the chant, "Never a name spoken!", and struck the name of the witch from record to the point where eventually, many didn’t even know it to speak it. This turned Shirellinto more of a thing or a force, for she was never actually seen. The key benefit of this was the death of sympathy for the person

Shirellactually was. This

ruse was imperative because some people did actually remember her short stay on Lagoon, and sympathized with her plight.

Those the Council failed to silence with rumor and invented taboo were dealt with in other,more direct ways. This included a few

Council members, but for this no special accommodation could be given and they met with mysterious accidents that were attributed to the vengeance of the witch, naturally. When it was done the Council's place in society was secured and their power assured. The sky was the limit. Then everything changed.

They could only assume her powers had grown over the years. Obviously, her influence hadexpanded well past the borders of Lagoon. Now there would be hell to pay. No one on the

Councilwas safe and perhaps not a single villager, for they ALL feared her, but some less than others. Knowledge of what she really was expounded the fear in most, but for a few, such as

Shion, the unraveling of the mystery behind the witch empowered them with the belief it might actually be possible to defeat her. Yet, at what cost. . . a war with the witch?

Who would remain after the dust had settled? With her murder of that fetus so many years ago they couldn't even be certain she'd spare the children.They’d molded her into one who devoured them, but

never, NEVER desired their lies to be made flesh.

This terror expanded outward like a plague. It was meant to be contained through silence, but fear had a way warping one's intentions. Even so, how exactly were they to explain Shion'sdeath?

They couldn't pin it on the witch, as the Councilplayed savior and thus, well beyond her reach. So, they’d

place the blame on young Ciroc, the witch's prodigy. It would be simple enough seeing how with a wound such as Shion inflicted the boy wouldcertainly bleed out. Death would prevent him from being able to defend himself.

That wouldn't be the end of it, though. What of belief? Who’d believe a ten year old could essentially lobotomize their chief elder? Naturally they'd dispose of Shion'sbody, saying it washed out to sea. In this way they could disguise how he'd died and invent something plausible, but what?

What indeed? Then a plan formed in the minds of most, but one held out, choosing a different path entirely.

 

# # #

 

With tears rolling down, Acissey remained helpless and utterly hopeless. This . . . this was sorrow upon sorrow and unthinkably sosoon after Jerret's

rite. Even as bloated and horrific a sight as that was, still, there was no blood. Mother Sea had taken

it within her, every drop. So now also was her burden, yet she'd only just begun, giving way from the crystalline horizon to lap the shore with a scarlet stain. Upon the first sight a panic burrowed, but now . . . now realization set in and she'd added to the all-encompassing redness something uncomely, but equally uncontrollable, as her stomach emptiedupon the sand.

With no rhyme or reason, the beach soon teemed with villagers, as if so many ants waiting in vain for a purpose that never came. Even after Diote sought help none dared move Ciroc. Few were willing even to lay a finger upon him in help, sorrow or even condemnation. Nary aone witnessed a wound so grievous as his in countless years and at such times ever had death claimed their tortured souls.

Little remained under the guise of hope, though Diote's efforts were applauded, insomuch as she’d well performed her duty to a gifted.In words far cruder, most expected nothing less and some still laid accusations upon her for not having acted in a quicker manner or blamed her outright for the crime.

To this no ease gave way to their sneers for the fact that High Elder Shion'sbody was evident for all to see. Not that

Dioteknew why or how he'd been brought so low, but this too was held against her, and seemingly would forever be.

Yet, she hadn't really cared. The events of the recent night had propelled her well past such concerns. Cirocwas all that mattered. Beyond their blatant lack of action they could all be damned for watching

so smugly as he lay dying.

Even in a fledgling and admittedly limited mind such as hers the truth rang free. Regardless of age or standing, the living ought always to command priority over those dead and gone. Yet that wasn’t the case. Her intermittent glances told the undeniable story. Most who'd arrived in the vein of “help” doted over Shion'scorpse as if it were holier even than Mother Sea. It was a fact, once past all shock, these sheep, gifted and pampered so, would feel utterly lost in the void of his guiding mind. The moment she'd given them seemed an ocean apart from her love and the guilt of it rose upon every bloody wave. Still a silent prayer echoed forth from her impotent mind to Mother Sea, who heard all things regardless. She wished them gone; every one swept away and not to return as

Jerret had.

Acissey, however, had cared, as every tear formed to a flood, but duty or not, most lessershuddled forth within groups or simply trailed off in every direction that defined away. Still, though not too far, lest they end all possibility for future gossip. These were clearly well beyond a place of comfo

rt or simply and ever gratefulboth an elder and a gifted youth suffered in their stead at least this once. All manner of hardship fell near to entirely within their lot, minus the death, which was a rare case indeed, so sheltered from the battlefront as they'd been since memory past.

Still, this time marked the most shocking incarnation of “NOW” as Cirocwas indeed dying.

Diote must act on his behalf, but how? She shuddered with the word for the impossible burden it represented. How exactly was this to happen? Herbal remedies and other simple amenities were available, but naught a thing for wounds as severe as his. In cases such as rare as this, the rule of thumb seemed to have forever been nothing less than death, with the focus falling squarely upon the aftermath of mourning. Be this as it may, under decidedly less dire circumstances cauterization was a viable option to cease the loss of blood, but the sheer agony of it was excruciatingly painful and required someone who, regardless of injury, possessed a great deal more strength than remained within Ciroc'sfrail body. In such a state, and at an age so very young, he'd not manage to survive it.

For Diote, despite her effort and success at resuscitating him, no level of disgrace existed that she'd considered anything near deep enough. The shame of it was both self-evident and self-inflicted, but regardless hardly a sympathetic tear was shed among her kin or otherwise. Not that she'd accepted the few sorrowful glances cast her way or even noticed them as such, but most onlookers heartily approved of her suffering. These had weighed it a sentence fitting failure and smugly put. Upon the thought, whether from gifted, lesser or even cursed, Diote could not but agree this view was fact.

If only she'd possessed legs of swifter resolve, if only she'd a mind unshackled. Yet naught could've happened. As of then to now, she'd gone well beyond the best any lesser could strive for. Then she thought with pause, and not for the first time, what if lesser hadn't been her fate, but no . . . how could she consider thoughts so pointless? Still she did. All this ended with the utmost sin. If only she'd paid heed his first call. For this her sorrow knew no bounds. Had she not so angrily snubbed the option, all of this, every last iota, could've been avoided.

Had she indeed, events would've splintered into realms none could presume true with any degree of accuracy. Namely, all could've ended exponentially worse, a darker fate she knew not, but still. Had not the Council already marked Ciroca threat? Had not

Shion, in secret confines, already intended the boy's bloody end regardless of compliance to law? Despite all else, had not tragedy been well on its way? It seemed a force unstoppable, yet still regret surged forth as relentless as a wave, and overtook her. For what then did her tears fall? Odds were a trade would've occurred; her soul for that of High Elder Shion, as such a grievous offense ought naught be witnessed to taint his “holy” name beyond the purview of the Council he overshadowed with a heavy hand.

Yet this solitary sorrow wasn’t to be hers alone, nor the torture streaming from it. All reason dictated the full force of Acissey's spite should fall squarely upon Diote'stender shoulders, an unbearable burden atop all else. Was it not

Diotewho'd led her son astray? Was it not

Diote who’d fouled his mouth with the unspeakable name? No. As it was, the reverse was truth, but this seemed a forbidden and unconvincing knowledge. Beyond this, Diote'sacute suffering, in the right light of wisdom, shone a delicate innocence and an undeniable aura of something called love. If one truly had eyes to see, it could naught but be plainer

. . . Diote loved Ciroc

, and deeply so. For it Ciroc's mother, who'd ever chastised the girl, fell in line aside her, upon her knees in the blood soaked sands.

More remained however. A reason held secret deep within the bottomless pit of Acissey's tormented soul. Elder Shionas she'd known him in yesteryear, High Elder now, held for her nary a hint of trust. So enlightened was she to glimpse past the façade, to discover a vile, loathsome thing dwelled within him and had ove

r the span of Ciroc's short years, to utterly corrupt the sanctity of the Council she'd once held in reverence.

The source of this fear spawned with the witch . . . who'd all but, and she could barely think on it now, MADE her son. For the likes of her not a drop of pity remained, but once, so very long ago, Acissey'ssorrow overflowed for the innocent woman, now so forever twisted within the iron grasp of power. Yet, the once poor, and rather frail thing all would one day call witch, was fashioned so by the callousness of power starved men, particularly one freshly anointed elder named

Shion.

This was a forbidden knowledge, though, and to speak of it would end her days upon Lagoon. No taint could remain upon the man who'd so deftly arosein eminence. Many upon the island knew an evil lurked amidst their paradise, yet the loosened tongues of a few taught, in no uncertain terms, a deafening silence was well in order. Even so, none knew much

; just a hint, an uneasy feeling. Proof was naught to be had by any who'd not gone forth to greet Mother Sea. Perhaps, Acissey surmised over the ensuing years, a piece remained within the possession of many; a riddle bursting with cracks to a scene that would never, could never again be whole.

Now it stood as a mystery forever lost to a blinded people hopelessly stuck within the mire the wickedness the Councilhad conjured. The witch, she'd too been turned, and an evil oozed from her pores. Of this

Acisseyheld nary a doubt. For the likes of her no pity or mercy remained, but what of all who were left? Could Mother Sea truly forgive such a terrible and prolonged affront? This was a malevolence poured forth from the

Council, she well knew, but how could it not be that hiding evil was in truth protecting evil? Was not every last villager, status notwithstanding, who'd repressed such knowledge deeply to blame? Would not Mother Sea, in her own eternal time, judge every last one?

Then a fear fell for which existed no recourse. So in shame equal, if indeed not surpassed for Diote's purity, Accisseywept tears unquenchable. Each and every one ran crimson in the sands

; forever tainted, forever damned.

 

 

 

Chapter 10: Ever a Name Broken

 

Nothing of a soul remained. Seemingly, power had consumed what little of humanity dully glinted within the Council. Not to be undone, there was something of respect, if not reverence, to the charity that sparked the once hallowed organization, yet that too existed only as a façade, for how indeed were the multitudes to trust anything less? So Shion fabricated this front, this crude interpretation of a thing called “caring”. It failed toconvince. N

or was it questioned.

In recent years, this was strictly a matter of fear. Not so in the beginning. This lack of concern was once hailed simply enough as the rugged authority of studious men whose time couldn’t be wasted. Naturally this urgent business was ever for the betterment of all who lived and breathed upon the whole of Lagoon . . . even the lessersand cursed, so they would have their flock believe. Some still thought so, but these


were either deluded or saw a wickedness for which they yet held out hope. Today such optimists were few and far between because redemption, rarely if ever, seemed something no member of the Council felt necessary, much less desirable.

To Rethon, of whom existed a humanity beaten and marred, all seemed lost in Shion'spassing, and yet the part of him that still sought the light of day, well . . . rejoiced. For how indeed was the death of fear not at hand? Could the whole of the

Councilnow come clean and maybe actually be forgiven for their many grievous crimes? Of that, for the slightest of moments he couldn’t know, well aside from the deepest of

knowledge that Mother Sea would not forgive, could not, even if every villager had, down to the most wretched of the cursed.

None of it mattered. The moment Achon arose Rethonknew beyond all doubt forgiveness was, and had perhaps ever been, as the mist on a frosty morn, intangible and fleeting.

Achon, a leech, had utterly attached himself to Shion in ways none other deemed sane. The wickedness of the Council aside, degrees of wretchedness remained, of which Rethon attained the holiest tier, whether he knew it or not. Rethon believed Shion'ssoul lay rotting at the putrid core of this bottomless pit long before death claimed him, but no.

Achon, even from early on, had burrowed beneath Shion and even now, especially now, shone as the sludge lining the bottom of the barrel. For to think on it, had not Shion begun relatively worthy, aside fromambitions Mother Sea could never condone?

Achon couldn’t claim such and was utterly proud to claim otherwise.

Achonhad been present that night. He'd heard

Shirell's cry, but then really who hadn’t? He'd witnessed the witch's wrath upon that of Shionand the moment he'd fallen within the confines of Mother Sea a smile etched across his vile face. He'd known well what this meant. This was his chance and from here he'd murder every last

Councilmember to find ultimate power, but only if any resisted. Ah, but some had. Power, like wickedness, was an infectious thing and attached with a vice grip the

chicata never dreamed possible.

Four had risen, but no, was it five? No, six had risen to claim Shion'splace and why not? Not a tear was shed for the High

est of Elders, at least not within the confines of the Council. Of these six, of which Rethon wasn’t among, two fell in short order. These at Achon's hand, who called a thing mercy to wait a solitary moment for the other four to recant . . . they had, every one. Even Alionhad recanted. Yet this was the depth of

Achon's mercy, for though Shion, as evil as he was, valued appearance because an undeniable part of him longed to be loved. Achoncared not for such trivialities. His evil would be shown, lauded and praised, lest Lagoon be bathed in blood. So it was that

Shion's death utterly failed to prove a relief to the island, but rather opened wide the floodgates to a depravity that couldn’t otherwise escape.

The two deaths and the slightest of debate marked as the only reprieve the island would know. Then, with Achonleading, they'd proceeded to march upon the beach. He'd cared not for who may find

Shionor what anyone might assume as to how he'd perished. A moment he'd given in thanks to his new nemesis,

Shirell, for his passing, for he'd been nothing other than conflicted regarding the late High Elder. Ever had Shionhad been his mentor. To kill

him somehow seemed wrong and he'd been held in check by that last tendril of morality these last few years, but the shackles had fallen away, all thanks to the witch.

Now was a time for action and Cirocmust be proven dead.

Justice couldn’t touch on his motives, even though the boy had indeed committed the unspeakable crime of not dying when prompted. Because Achoncared not for appearances he'd also not given a damn what the witch was called. To him she was and had ever been

Shirell, his newest and final threat and the way to tear her apart was through her child.

It seemed a haughty thing indeed, this belief he could accomplish something Shioncould not, but then that was the crux of it. He had to. He had to prove to the

Council, the tribe and yes, even Mother Sea that his ascendency was comprised of more than mere threats . . . he deserved to be here. He must prove he, and he alone, could accomplish what Shion could not . . . the destruction of Shirell, for aside from all else, Achon was green with envy. He so longed to exist as the island's new fear. High Elder bedamned, he'd rise well above such limited ideals, to be crowned ruler, king and warlord all wrapped into one. He'd even held out tentative aspirations to utterly annihilate Mother Sea, herself, though he knew no

t how. But first things first . . . Ciroc must die.

 

# # #

 

A tempest of unnatural design descended. It was what both Mrageden and Raef feared . . . the witch. She was bent well upon their destruction and for no redemptionremained

. It wasn’t as if Mrageden, a sailor of considerable skill, hadn't seen the signs. When had Mother Sea remained silent for long? Hers was a calm gained only through venting. Even so, this was something newentirely

. How exactly, he couldn't rightly know, but the witch, she'd somehow overtaken even the likes of Mother Sea.For such a feat, a deeper fear set in.

Each wave grew exponentially, not that it mattered in the beginning. Tear-huts were designed for deeper watersand as such were well prepared for the occasional submersion, though little could be done as far as direction within a storm.

Mrageden’s finely built craft was designedto last, but tossed about like a plaything when Mother Sea grew angry. Indeed, it was pure insanity to take a vessel such as this so far

out to sea and so alone, though a fleet of tear-huts would not, could not, have fared any better.

When had choice ever been something they'd been inpossession of? From the beginning they'd been ruled and often mercilessly. How could they have expected anything different now that the trio of the witch, Mother Sea and death had found them out?

There would be no surviving this. It was the only thing of which he could be sure.

 

# # #

 

The very sands, blood stained or not, seemed a tremble. Something was coming, something somehow very, very wrong. Both Diote's and Acissey'stears fell strangely, as if no longer certain of their purpose. They seemed to angle towards Mother Sea as if

fleeing a fate worse than the storm brewing on the horizon.

Ciroc laya solitary figure, not yet passed from this plane, but never again to wake. Among the living, he and he alone failed to notice the brigade of elders breaking from beyond the tree line; ironic that, since he possessed the most to fear, for he was why they'd come. Nine of the twelve appeared, the whole of what remained within the

Council; every one gifted and skilled in their trade. Each was garbed in thinly veiled robes of yellow, a flaxen shade marking more than authority, but justice and the fair sovereignty of Father Sun, a lesser deity, but ever had it been a crime to feign the colors of Mother Sea. She'd always stood alone, a testament now more than ever, since a deep stain blemished the good name of Father Sun and had for decades. It was no wonder so many villagers paid sole homage to Mother Sea for she remained forever pure.

Each footfall echoed tragedy, as if death lay in their wake, and it had. Fear trailed them always, a disease riddled of woe. Here and now a force of minds combined to spread a terror, utterly new. What could resist them? Who dared try? Closer they came and closer still, till the grass was ravaged and the sand kicked up in protest. Every eye foundthem, but nary a one possessed power enough to hold them at bay. They hadn't needed to. As quickly as they'd come, they ceased their advance.

A voice without a voice rang through every mind, singular yet amplified by the minds of the Council. It was that of Achon, but he was not Shion. He'd paid no mind to the peons, scattered like so many ants, churning up the normally pristine sands. Even the gifted failed to garner his attention. They were nothing to him, with his own Councilmembers being little more so. No. He cared only to address his nemesis, the only one to whom he considered worthy of his time.

"SHIRELL!!!"

At this a shock resonated betwixt widened eyes, as every mind silently screamed. Never a name spoken! Achoncared not for such useless traditions. They were, after all, based entirely upon lies.

Achon wished to rip the veil asunder to show forth the purity of an evil unblemished by deceit.

"SHIRELL!!!A CERTAIN DEATH LAY AS FATE!!! A SON!!! A WITCH'S SON!!! CIROC!!! HE IS NAUGHT BUT UNDONE!!! I SWEAR TO SEE IT FINISHED!!! ALL OF HIM SHALL BLEED DEATH!!! AND THEN . . . SHALL I EVER USURP YOU . . . A THRONE CRACKED AND CRAWLING OF DECAY!!! DEATH . . . DEATH SHALL

BECOME YOU!!! EVER A NAME BROKEN!!! AND I . . . A TRUE EVIL REALIZED AND UNDERSTOOD!!!"

Nary an idle threat, all instinctively knew peace, if it had ever truly existed, was at an end. Lest the witch cast Achon down here and now, but that didn’t happen.With the fate of

Shion, of which none could know, but surely holy and shining in comparison, all were incredulous the witch failed to act. Shock and sorrow mixed, for all now knew who'd succeeded Shion, an unworthy heir and one they'd sooner see meet a similar fate.

A distinctive pause gave these thoughts a moment to cultivate fear . . . a new fear, but not by design. Achontruly cared not for what peons thought of him or anything else. In all reality, he'd waited this moment as a dare. If

Shirell could he'd give her this solitary chance to strike him down for his “blasphemy”. She did not. For it he began to laugh heartily.

Confusion reigned over the haphazard crowd. How was it the witch hadn’t sought vengeance? Little doubt remained for the way in which she ought to have reacted. Lore clearly stated something history had affirmed; though the witch was easily provoked she'd always sought revenge in stages. She slowly, methodically tore a life asunder by inflicting all manner of woe upon those loved by the one who'd dared to speak her name, or in any other way insult her.

For this they were taught to believe naught but a curse should befall at the dawning of the crime, yet two things gave this truth pause. Though no proof could be had, all could see that Shion had fallen, but being unblemished of body none could blame either Ciroc or Diote. Truly none had, even if it were a belief centered wholly upon the inability of mere children to perpetrate such a vile crime. Be this as it may, naught was spoken on the subject for a dread fell down. Shion had fallen, yes, but all heard the witch's cry not so very long ago. With no signs of injury how could this not have been her work? And yet, if so, how could this not be interpreted as an immediate reaction from the witch?

More than this, Achon hadn’t simply spoken her name, but shouted it purposely within the presence of many. Even when spoken, it was often in a whisper or otherwise accidental and certainly never in the presence others, much less a multitude. Yet beyond all this, Achonhad laid down a direct and grievous threat. NO ONE EVER DID THIS. Within the threat was the blasphemous accusation that

Cirocwas what?

The witch's son?!Such was not possible! All knew well who'd bore him unto Shard,

Acissey, and she sat hunched over him even now.

His father, Esrin, was naught to be seen, nor likely ever would be again, though all knew he'd never much cared for his son. Really, whocould blame him? For the . . . and then the realization struck

. . .

the witch had a hand in his birth. She had, if lore was to be believed, made it all possible. How exactly had she done such a thing? All knew well the name she'd called out only two hours prior,

Ciroc. All assumed the witch had marked him for death, but what of it? She'd marked countless others and never once cried out their names. Not until now. Did it . . . could it mean something? Was the accusation true?

Even if it were, would not she have reacted to the imminent threat quicker, not slower? What could it all mean? Doubts on all things began to flood their brains. Achoncould've explained so very much, but why? He cared for nary a one

, nor their thoughts on any matter. His mind slipped free, however, that toying with them was invigorating. So he continued.

"Oh, such little nothings, harboring minds of rot!So little you know! The lot of you

. . .

deceived! What of a place as this, that truth wholly passed over! Naught but you know it! Reality . . . a myth of unequaled measure! Oh, what tingling joy being so free! Naught but to be so damned! Shionwas but a creature of lies! I shall damn you, every one! But naught a lie shall escape these lips! I swear it true!"

A great gasp let forth. The haphazard community that remained upon the beach, no matter what their purpose, began to shudder in earnest. None would move to stop him, however. Most couldn’t care less for little Cirocand fear of his connection to the witch, though never known or inquired only fed their derision. For it they wished him gone, permanently gone, and some had silently vowed to finish the task if

Achon should somehow fail as had Shion. Of those who gave a damn, something deep had seemingly stricken them down and they moved nary a muscle.

After Achonaddressed the crowd he took a step further and then another. His purpose may lie in the boy's death, but naught needed doing had

Ciroc’send already come nigh. That and he cared not for spectacle. He required no show of force. He simply wished the task complete,

no matter the means. Those whoremained of the Council couldn’t but agree, but for a wholly different reason . . .

fear. Achon, for what incredulous cause seemingly didn’t know fear, but they . . . they knew it well, far too well. Theirs was not to anger the witch, but rather to end the threat. This could do that . . . maybe. Or it could enrage her. Either way, dying would fail to achieve either goal and that was what awaited them in opposing Achon, but still, as a whole, fear gave them pause.

Achon needed not the Counciland as such was not a forgiving man, yet bloody examples did seem to motivate. Without more than a glance backward one of those garbed in yellow gave forth a guttural cry and was then silent, falling forward, lifeless. The gasps from the crowd seemed endless with revelation, and yet at this

surprise claimed the remaining seven as well.

Achonhad well expected them to fall in line, yet that didn't happen, not so much anyway. A select few had indeed shuffled forward rather quickly, but others remained petrified, moved back a step or broke into full retreat. Why? It was simply because none could know from whence this death had come. Already knowing, or at the least suspecting,

Shion had fallen at the witch's mind, how could this not be her yet again? After all, nary a one knew Achon possessed such a power, for he'd hidden it well.

To Achon, himself, it couldn’t have been any simpler. Of such a mind, Shirell had not been the first, nor he assumedwould she be the last. Yet he was more than one of her ilk. Far from it, or rather quite nearer, he was her brother. By this same math

Cirocwas his nephew, not that he'd given a damn. Ah but he had. He couldn

’t have an upstart with the potential to usurp his throne, whether now or years from now. That and the relation meant nothing to him, for all he shared with Shirell was a mother and years of separation, aside from wonders of the mind.

Achonwas the younger of the two by a decade. Over the ensuing years, their mother

Jinessa, had well seen the horrors wrought upon her daughter and would have no more of it, but then neither would the Council. They'd proved as much by instilling her with the implant. A threat, Shirellhad become to them, and they'd not tolerate any more abominations. Yet, for the likes of her, the

chicatacould not overcome. None knew she'd even been pregnant, as

she'd been banished, and in truth she'd never returned, but she'd wished a better life for her little Achon.

As a child of only five, Achon arrived within a tear-hut, upon a secluded part of the island. His mother taught him what she could of Lagoon and even Shirell. Many times she'd admonished him to keep quiet that which she'd already known stirred within him. She'd gone on elsewhere. Achonnever knew where or even if she still lived. Not that it mattered. He knew well who was to blame

. . . everyone; even the lesser bastards that secretly raised him as their own

. For all their “benevolence” they'd seen something far too familiar about him and treated him accordingly.

Down through the many years that followed, he'd paid heed his mother's wishes and kept silent the extent of what he could do, though proudly proclaimed himself ability laden. H

e'd practiced upon the hapless creatures of the island. He'd honed his abilities and rose well within the ranks of the gifted and finally gained entry into the hallowed Council. There Shion tookhim under his wing, knowing of his potential for hidden things. Not that he'd ever suspected just where

Achon originated, but within the young man a hatred brewed and Shion recognized it as something he could mold into a successor.

Shion had indeed known things of value and taught so very much, but despite it all kept Achonat arm's length with secrets unrevealed. The pupil

possessed something resembling respect for the highelder, but that faded with a growing anger. Though

Shion was well practiced in the art of blocking all unwanted mental intrusions, he'd never seen anyone of Achon'sability. As the pupil began to p

ry open his mind for these secrets, Shion’s limitations were revealed, but being far from inept, the master knewfrom whence the intrusion began. For

it a certain curiosity spawned; something of de je vu.

Despite this, Shion never rejected Achon, and yet he may as well have. With the lie that his training was complete he'd distanced himself from the younger man. It was rejection of an exacting nature. It could not be anything else. Yet Achonwas kept in check by a sliver of guilt; a feeling of betrayal upon his master. Even so, it

couldn’t last and eventually he'd begun again to search Shion's mind for the deepest of secrets. It wasn’t so very long ago he'd discovered everything of Shirelland her mother. It wasn

’t a far stretch to put two and two together. He'd learned of her exile and who'd given that order . . . Shion.

Revenge was well in order and Achon wasn’t too powerless to exact it. Regardless of all he’d learned from Shion, near to a father figure, he had to fall, both from powerand that of life. It was

a coincidence of the highest caliber his sister beat him to it. Regardless, there was no gratitude, but rather a deepening hatred. . . Shirell

had stolen away his kill. Now, though, now a distinct form of revenge had presented itself in

Ciroc. He would die and then his mother after him. Then he'd bend Lagoon and all its inhabitants to his twisted will.

So his entourage ran, he'd no need of them, but an example must be made. One by one more men in yellow fell; starting with the one's who'd attempted to retreat. In all four more had fallen, a total of five, and all that remained of the Council, not including Achon himself, were three. These had stepped forward instead of away and Rethon was amongstthem, for he'd not sought freedom from escape, but rather facing and ending the threat at hand.

Achonworried not of such things, but neither did he possess knowledge of such intent. So little was his respect for a one of them he'd not considered their minds worth the effort of rummaging through. Even so, there was naught that

Rethon could do against such odds.

Seemingly the crowd gave forth a gasp anew with every death. At the events, some even soiled themselves, though they barely took notice. For it many remained petrified, but some had the nerve to run, thinking this was ever the witch and she was only ending those whom had ill intent towards her son. How that wasn’t them, they failed to guess, but they'd not marched in with that purpose and would not, especially now, even imagine laying a hand upon Ciroc. Their only hope was that he’d die without further assistance.

In a rage, Achonbegan to drop these fleeing villagers as well, and yet only two fell before a sudden and undeniable weakness overtook him.

Little doubt remained his prowess in the art of death surpassed that ofhis sister, but neither was he unshakable. Training or not, his mind was overwrought and he found himself falling to his knees, drained nearly to his core. It was a crucial error he'd never

experienced, norconsidered. Truly, he'd thought himself invincible. He was not.

Little passed by as time was generally known. Every minute, every second, slowed indefinitely, but only for Achon. A rather unfamiliar ache spawned from the recesses of his mind and slithered out to paralyze his very bones. He was indeed falling, and uncontrollably so, but he'd never wholly reached the sand, not intact anyway. Somehow he found his head went missing and of that he no longer cared as the light of the twin suns quickly dimmed to nothing.

Rethon stood over Achon, with sword in hand, a relic from the temple, but no less effective for its age. Ever had it been the practice of the Councilto accomplish all things via the mind, but in the urgency of the moment he'd slipped the dusty treasure away and hidden it within layers of his robe. None thought to peruse his mind for such an item, but then none thought to

peruse his mind for anything. Rarely was he the focus of anyone, especially not Achon, and that was his downfall.

As such all stood stunned, witnessing yet another expanding patch of crimson; one which none could now say they regretted. Yet they did. Until a moment ago some believed Achonto be their savior, at least from that of the witch. Others still thought this was her work, as was the practice for all blame, regardless of source, to fall squarely upon her ghostly shoulders, and that they were now forever damned. None would be able to convince them otherwise. Those yet to choose a side hardly noticed and paid no more heed to the dying boy.

A select few, however, never took their eyes off him, nor had their tears ceased to fall. Not that was, till now. Incredulously, the ragged flesh of Ciroc's hand had begun to knit itself back together.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 11: Children Beyond the Veil

 

Panic seemed the order of things as darkness descended upon Shirell, but nothing could be further from the truth. She'd no doubt others would've been shaken to their very core, but these . . . these were her children. No lessloved than of Ciroc; perhaps differently, as a pet, but no less

. Regardless, they'd be considered unadulterated horrors to all upon Lagoon, but they knew little to nothing of malevolence. Ever are such things are learned behaviors, dredged up from an environment utterly devoid of love. Such was not the case here. Rather, they were benevolent; wholly and utterlydevoted to mother. The wraiths hadn

’t come to harm, but rather to heal.

Seemingly deformed, each limb contorted with purpose. Hair, wiry, sharp and seemingly knitted from the deepest of shadowcovered near to every surface and yet was feared by none who laid eyes upon them. These were devoid of

the ability to speak beyond howls, but that wasn’t a deficiency. Their power was that of the mind, which was how Shirelldesigned them. Though not even she could've

surmised, through the power of a collective or not, that they possessed the gift of healing.

Not that any effort of such magnitude was a quick affair, but Shirellwas ever so slowly gaining strength. Beyond this

, her ability to see through the minds of all upon Ciroc'sisland had never faltered. She'd witnessed everything and shuddered for how helpless she was to protect her son. That was changing, but not fast enough.

She'd sworn Ciroc would perish at the mind of Achon, though equally elated and horrified at the revelation. She needed to know what he knew. She needed to search for a possible way in which she might be able to reason with the man. There, within the damaged confines of his mind, she found far more than she'd bargained for. She'd a brother. Unbelievably, she'd a brother! Half-brother or not couldn’t matter less!

What she'd discovered most would’ve considered a connection, for who else did shereally have?

Ciroc, certainly, but ever did he remainher son, not her equal. Never had she known anyone existed of her caliber, much less of relation. A deep part of her wanted to . . . know him. She'd wanted beyond all reason to heal him, thinking now, with her wraiths well at work, such a thing may truly be possible. Yet would this be

before or after her brother murdered her son?

This was an unforgivable crime and yet should Cirocdie who else would she have but him? Oh, but these thoughts were beyond all measure. The sheer loneliness had

devoured her mindthese many years. She'd had

Ciroc to thank for her sanity and no love lost to her beloved wraiths and other creatures she'd considered herself mother to, but only to Ciroc did hope lay in anything close to real communication.

Shirell had so wanted, no needed, Ciroc and Achonboth, and the healing was the only way, but naught could be done. Regardless her heart ached for the

m both, knowing full well a kinder world would’ve bred a less malignant kin. She shuddered the thought that Achon's end might be a task thrust upon her, for how could losing them both not utterly damn her very soul?

Then Achonbegan to show more than a hint of wickedness. He began to

slaughter in earnest that of his own kind, just as she may well be forced to do to protect her treasured son. Had he no soul? Was he truly beyond all hope? But no.She'd refused to accept

that despite the fact every death, even of those she'd despised, struck her down like a knife. She could see her beloved wraiths struggling to contain it, for this wasn

’t a physical wound but mental anguish they were attempting to quell.

Of course, she knew well the endgame. Her brother, like herself, would fall and soon. Beyond imagination, he proved able to withstand so much more than herself. He pretended not to slow and she knew not if he could tell, but she could. Every effort took a little longer to perform. This stretched beyond all reasoning long before he'd turned his mind towards the villagers. They would be the end of him.

Shirell screamed a mind shear to beg him to stop, but to no avail. She remained in far too weak a state. She'd no certainty of anything beyond death and such proved incurable, even to the likes of her wraiths. Yet, Ciroc endured and amazingly so.He was such a strong boy. How could she not be strong for him in return? How could she . . . how could she . . . how could she.

The doubts rolled in like the waves for all she'd done. Of them all, her murder of the fetus reigned supreme. Oh, the anger of memory unfettered. Oh, the torture and the shame unblemished. The years could not withstand a mind such as hers! She was lost! And had forever been! How could she, indeed?! How could she withstand it all?

Then from the blackness in which she fell, more gangly shapes emerged . . . more and more and more. The wraiths formed a wall around her, claw to claw to claw to flesh. It was a sight to behold. By the power of their minds they'd no need to be so close, but they'd found the connection of flesh boosted, well . . . everything. It was as if life had come full circle and the mind now found that sheer power of touch simply lay dormant, a force to be reckoned with. Indeed such a force would be needed, for Achon had just fallen.

Instantaneously, each and every wraith was thrust backwards, some even falling to their deaths from the cliffs because of it. Still more came from the depths of the forest, which seemed a far bit larger than ever before. Not a one could let mother die. In this was an instinct, bred in or not, that told them implicitly, if mother dies, so do we. None could know if this was truly the case, but the wraiths would certainly be devoid of purpose, which many would consider no better.

With Achon's death Shirell fell unconscious, but then that wasn’t the omen it appeared. It marked an irrefutable end to her suffering and for it her healing accelerated three fold. Each second seemed to slow as if the mind, in large enough numbers, truly had mastery over the eternal passage of time. How, indeed, could things move so slowly and quickly at once? It was a mystery beyond all reasoning and certainly beyond all understanding of the wraiths that'd crossed the barrier.

But time had slowed. It was no illusion. The threshold of time had indeed been broken to form a new magic never againto

be witnessed, much less harnessed. Such was the collective force of every wraith in existence. Sadly devoid of the traditional power of language,

Shirell, nor anyone else would ever know it.

Within moments Shirell'smind was being re-knitted with surprising speed as time both reversed and then replayed itself over and over again. Reality was a thing of the past. Within a minute of time everywhere else in the universe,

Shirelland her wraiths had experienced an entire hour. Then two had passed for time no longer had any measure. The

wraith'swere avidly manipulating it without even knowing how. It was simply instinct.

Then suddenly the job was done. Shirell'seyes shot open with no knowledge of more than a minute passing. Memory notwithstanding, what lay before her caused a deep sorrow. Many, so very many of her precious wraiths lay dead. Still some remained, though only a fraction of what once was. What she hadn't known, what she couldn't have known, was that the immense effort had killed every last one of them at least once and multiple times for most. They'd been brought back by others through the continued reversal of time, but apparently a creature could only die so many times. Unbeknownst to them, each death served to weaken future lives, repeated or not. Only those that

perished the least now remained.

As the wraiths died so too did their efforts diminish and the healing slowed. Such was why so much time was needed. Beyond the crucial damage already inflicted they'd had to re-repair certain synapses numerous times. It was a harrowing thing with death permanently claiming the wraiths one by one. Still success was theirs. Truly it was, but more could've been done. They'd only stopped because they could literally do no more. The collective had been so reduced as to no longer be effective as a collective. So had they persevered and died to heal “mother”. It was indeed a miracle any of them survived, yet those that had would never again be the same.

This took a new massive toll upon Shirell, but things weren't as they once were. Yes, she was essentially healed, but her beloved wraiths had unknowingly bestowed upon her a new gift. . .

their gift. Shirellnow possessed the ability to heal. In the deepest recesses of her mind it was known, but it was, of all things, instinct that brought it about within her. For it she'd weathered this newest of storms.

With a power now building instead of draining, her mind searched and found an anchor from which to launch all manner of wonder. She was indeed the one who'd begun healing Ciroc'shand, but she'd done so much more. Deep within his veins she'd prompted his blood cells to duplicate. If he wasn't already dead nothing on this planet could make him so. Beyond even this, her power extended simultaneously to the few wraiths that remained, for though they lived, they were dying. No more. Never again, she'd silently promised

. She’d not abide another of her children, or any for that matter, to pass beyond the veil.

 

# # #

 

All looked on in amazement. A solitary gasp spawned a flood of the same. The fallen seemed to writhe in the turmoil of death and yet within it an ounce of life was birthing and for a moment the terror of it all waned as the dark clouds lifted. Not only was Cirocnot among the dead, but he was being lifted from it. All who'd gathered near could see the tendons within his hand reforming. Among the throng of onlookers stood an incredulous

Rethon, bloody sword in hand, and the other two of the Council who still drew breath. Naught was forgiven and likely never would be, but in this moment such trivial things were utterly forgotten.

Though life was filling him anew, Ciroc hadn’t awoken from his black slumber. One could assume, his nightmares, if not completely dispelled now shone with asilver lining of hope. Hope . . . it was such a fleeting thing. Hope could be seen in the eyes of those that watched on and yet not all had. Curiosity

failed to arouse the most malignant hatred. Even those with a hint of brightness wouldn’t last, but rather fade to black. Such was the nature of things and the horror of recent events. After all, was not the witch still a threat to them all?

Some knew better. Some, such as Acissey and Diote, began to wonder in their awe. This was the longest of moments, but when it had fully passed they'd all be presented with the question of not only how was such a thing done, but by whom? Those who still epitomized Shirellas the source of all things evil would not, could not, consider her capable of even the desire to do such a thing, much less possess the ability to heal. For when had evil ever done a righteous deed? Even if she

’d done so in the past, what could compel her to now?

Her son, of course, but how was that not a lie told by someone saturated withwickedness?

Achon made clear that, though death betheirs, he'd not lie about it, but how could that be believed? How could anyone believe someone who'd just murdered so very many? Then, was that truly his handiwork? Who else could've done such a thing but the witch? Oh so many questions and nary an answer. Yet for it all, hatred reigned in the hearts of some and within such darkened places no forgiveness could be found.

Some of these simply walked away, abandoning the scene of the crime, all the while admitting their role in the event to further something they so dearly loved called gossip. Some had good cause to mourn. The two villagers who'd fallen weren’t unknown to all. They'd had family of their own and Ciroc wasn’t the only one for whom tears oughtfall. After all,

Council members or not, corrupted or not, the fallen in yellow weren’t pariahs, but rather loved by families who'd cheered them forward in their dreams since youth. Some of these siblings, mothers, daughters, a scant few fathers and sons stood even now upon the beach. For all the hope sparked through Ciroc's healing, the tears rained down in what seemed an endless, hopeless flood.

Few if any knew how they'd died or who'd done such a thing, but one thing they knew for certain . . . a price must be paid. Who better than Cirocto pay it? After all, if not for him none would've

gathered this bloody morn. Even if not for that,how was it exactly he deserved this healing? How was it he deserved to escape death when so many others had fallen in his name? Was he so holy? Was he to be worshiped? Was he now on equal standing with Mother Sea?

No, was the definitive answer. Still apprehension remained. The one thing nary a one could deny was the witch did indeed possess a connection to Ciroc. How else could it be explained that not so very long ago his voice was screamed deepwithin every mind upon the whole of Lagoon

? Seemingly, none other than Achonwas willing to interfere with whatever that might be. Son or no, it wasn

’t theirs to interfere with one the witch marked. That never ended well. Achon'sheadless corpse was proof enough of that. Even though he'd not been claimed by the witch herself,

Rethon may very well have been her tool to do so.

Even had he acted on his own, what of him? What of Rethon and the other two of the Council? Had they not stepped forward upon Achon'scommand? Perhaps with his bloody blade

Rethon could be discounted, but how had the trio not been so devoted to Achon'snefarious ideals? Had they been along for the ride and now set free? What if they weren't? Those that cared not for

Cirocassumed they'd soon find out.

Achonhad meant the boy's end. If too were his cronies, then he'd die or they would. Either way something would happen if they still meant him ill and were bent on acting

upon it. Somehow, though, they figured the deaths of most of their ilk rendered them and their rage sterile with a terror they were wholly unaccustomed to.

Those who stood apart were looking at the larger picture; what then of the Council? What then of the future of the ruling body of Lagoon and of themselves? Oh, but this was so much more than the wayward flock imagined. Had not war ever been upon the horizon? Even now this war raged upon the open seas. True, Lagoon had been spared this bloodshed, apart from the many able bodied and able minded men who'd gone forth in their hallowed name, but should they fail . . . what then? Who was to protect them when the blood-tide washed upon their humble shores? The Councilstood as the core protection in such a grievous event. So, they once again thought, what now?

Even should Cirocbe so holy, what would protect him and his followers, should he gain them, from such an onslaught? What really was his life worth? Was there some point in saving it, whoever had done so? His life was certainly a trade. All could see that. Could he now do what the

Councilhad been designed to do? For the trade he'd be expected to. The burden was now his and nearly his alone. What indeed could a boy and three

Council members do against an army?

Naturally none could speak of it, though so many were thinking it. To even think on such things was to consider loss. Now more than ever they all must have faith in the ultimate victory of their own army so far from home. None must doubt it or all would be lost. All would soon see this and their newfound hope would fade back to doubt. When that happened, their choice not to align themselves with the cursed boy would be justified. That was ultimately their hope, for what part of him should be considered so holy? Would he truly be some sort of savior? Would they then be damned. . .

every last one of them? Would that mean a new death regardless of how their army fared on the high seas?

A bloody mix of doubt and fear reigned here. Within minds so easily manipulated such a comingling had always bested hope and forever would. These few took all that weighed so heavily upon them and walked an uneasy step off the beach, unable to look on a moment more.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 12: A Witch’s Tears

 

Neither Acissey nor Diote found they could look away. How was this not a miracle? How could this not have been a prayer answered? Largely, it seemed, they gave their eternal thanks to Mother Sea, to whom they summarily thanked for all good things. Thisbelief remained true, though never had

she acknowledged any such thing. She'd never spoken word one. She'd never been seen, much less touched. She seemed so much a deity conjured. Oh, but that was blasphemy. It was a crime worthy of being banished to, well . . . Mother Sea.

This was at least the irony Shirellhad taken from such things. How else was she to take it? She'd once worshiped Mother Sea too. She'd once bowed down and bestowed all manner of glory upon her. What of it though? No blessings had come. No a ray of sunshine or even much of a silver lining. Quite the opposite, she'd been damned. Why?

Because she was born different.That was the large and small of it, she now knew.

Whatever she'd done with her life only accentuated the belief she was somehow tainted, for which no good deed could account. Also for which no mistake could find the distant light of redemption. She'd been damned simply for being born. How . . . How could she?! What in Mother's name could she have been thinking to have actually emerged from thewomb? Even so, had she crawled back within its warm embrace the

Council wouldn’t have found an ounce of forgiveness.

Many mourned the loss of the Council. Shirellhad not. Family or not, a tangible loss existed within some for what they'd considered the end of the future. Alternately,

Shirellsaw such things as the birthing of hope. Tears had fallen like so much rain, but

Shirell could only smile inwardly, near to psychotically, for who could find an ounce of joy surrounded by so much death.Yet, sometimes the slate must be wiped clean for hope to birth anew.

The wraiths lay accosted by death itself and all in her name. She wasn’t so sadistic as to not pay heed to such an indescribably selfless sacrifice. Seemingly, Ciroccommanded her whole attention, but he had not. Part of her remained forever attached to those that remained of her

“other” children, of which only eight now remained. These she'd huddled near, or rather they'd huddled near to her, for she'd yet to move. She was not so much paralyzed, but ever was proximity an important factor in the art of the mind. She'd needed to be as near as possible to Lagoon as her limited confines would allow. There she'd begun and there she'd end, even should the effort kill her.

Her poor, poor wraiths staggered forward to be by her side. This was in no small part owed to how spent they'd become to heal her, but it hadn't helped their short journey or her deluge of tears that to come so near they'd literally tripped over their fallen brothers and sisters. Here was a place only sorrow could reign. All she was doing, all she'd ever done, was pick up the pieces of a life shattered. From the beginning her only hope was to recover what little remained of her sanity and pray to the Mother she'd once worshipped that it would be enough to keep her going until a new dawnemerged. Such never seemed to come.

Then Mother Sea fell away as her belief in her perished. How could it not? She'd done no good thing, now or ever, for she'd never truly existed. She was conjured from the nothingness and even now stole away the miracle she'd bestowed upon her own son. Shirell could not now or ever forgive such a slight, but to whom could she laythis blame? Mother Sea did not exist.

It seemed the world failed to turn before Shirell, herself, was crowned as all things evil, and subjugated to the lot of opposing Mother Sea. As such she was blamed for all bad things. This lie, beyond all else, had ever taken the greatest toll. She'd near to wholly separated herself from the goings on of that now accursed place, but she'd not managed to find a way to extricate herself from the life of her son. For that she'd harbored no regrets. Without ever being aware of it, time and again he'd helped her hold back the rising tide of insanity that always seemed to bubble up to the surface. For him it never boiled over.

Not that she'd no gratitude for her other children, but how were they not well loved and well cared for “pets”? She'd never found a way to communicate with them in any way not rudimentary. To them she could and had on countless occasions laid bare her soul and cried every burdensome tear, but ever had they stared on blankly. Not that they hadn't known sorrow or otherwise how to feel, but they'd lacked the means to communicate it. That was something she could no longer say. Those that lay dead at her feet were proof enough of that.

She'd bury ever last one of them with the highest honor a witch could bestow. Her wraiths were so far removed from the lies. They were tender and mindful creatures. Much like her, they'd no control over the circumstances of their birth. It had never been their fault they'd appeared so gruesome. Had it been hers? Of that she couldn't say. It existed as yet another burden. Not that she'd ever minded how they'd looked. To her they were simply her children and every last one loved equally.

To Lagoon they'd existed as her minions and were sent forth upon the silent waves to curse all the beautiful children. Sometimes they'd even steal them away and as the tales inevitably went, devour them. Apparently the babies of Lagoon were a primary food source. She'd think it so utterly ludicrous had it not brought so much sorrow, as it was whole heartedly believed. This proved a simple thing with such a superstitious and inherently fearful lot.

Naturally, none upon Lagoon had ever laid eyes upon a wraith because they couldn’t cross the watery distance any more than could Shirellherself, but this was attested to a ghostly swiftness. All upon the Isle knew they'd existed,

as propagated by the Council. Well beyond sight, her children's nightly howls sometimes rose to a din loud enough for wanderers upon the shores to hear plainly. What they heard was a deep sadness as each of her children had the gift and acutely felt her own sorrow. However, those that heard them attested an endless malevolence and a deep desire to cause all manner of harm. And why?Because much

like her, they were something the villagers didn’t understand and couldn’t accept in any other manner.

The tightly bound confines of their religion failed to allow for such leaps of faith and the Council only served to bind them all the tighter, so no, she'd felt no sorrow attheir passing. No matter who or what was awarded praise for her miracle, she'd looked past the sea of sorrow to find a glimmer of hope in their demise. And yes, she'd read a few minds to know well about their war, but how could that not but help? How else

could the island be saved if not for slicing away the chunks that were cancerous? Yet, all the while, Shirell knew such things fell within her purview and for every last ounce of it she'd cull the blame.

She found she could hold it. She could survive her own damnation and all the uproariously high waves of insanity whichhad always accosted her. She could weather any tempestuous storm should she have her son, whether or not he knew her as anything other than evil incarnate.

 

# # #

 

Acissey, Diote and so many others huddled about in mouthwatering anticipation as the last stitch of Ciroc'sragged flesh was made whole. Ever had the blood remained a moat about the boy, but all wondered in earnest w

hat would become of the him once he awoke, because now healed, how could he not?

Nothing was so simple. Cirochad nearly died not from pain, but from blood loss. More than any other,

Diotehad guessed this and soon enough her theory was confirmed. As the blood drained from his wracked body he'd grown steadily paler and gaunt; a terrifying apparition in someone so loved. She'd barely been able to watch, but how could she not? He wasn

’t dead and she couldn't find it within herself to accept that he would die until he actually had, and perhaps not even then, but that wasn’t something she'd allowed passage in her damning thoughts. Had she done so, she'd not manage to cope.

Already she was on the brink. It wasn’t only that her love was falling away from this world, but she'd heaped the guilt of it so high upon herself as tobarely see beyond it. Yet a brighter horizon prevailed

; all her prayers to Mother Sea had been heard!

Ciroc, her love, was going to live! He was going to thrive! For it all, their life together would be epic, his family, her family, the Council, the war and all other things be damned!

Yet this wasn’t to happenso suddenly. With each wave that

rose the tide, Mother Sea taught them all good things take time. This she now knew as a lesson well learned and now possessed the fortitude to wait. For Ciroc she could wait a millennium. It feltshe already had, but she could wait another if that's what it took.

Unbelievably a hint of color slowly returned to his features. He couldn't die now. How could that even be possible? Yet, still he hadn't awoken. At this a fear crept in; a very real one. She'd heard tales of people who'd survived grievous wounds before and some who'd lost too much blood and never returnedwhole as if Mother Sea had forever taken a part of them within herself as penance. These were never again able to fit into society as anything close to useful. They were as children, but grown old.

As such, loved or not, devoid of a meaningful future, they’d often find tragedy through unexplainable deaths, with suicide not being the least of them. It was as if Mother Sea had given them only time enough to bid their final farewells and would then return to claim their souls. None doubted Mother Sea took them and not the witch, but still they were taken and usually long before their time.

Was this to be Ciroc'sfate? The tears flowed anew. She couldn't think on this, but in no way could she not, for this too would fall squarely upon her as something she

could've prevented. With it the guilt finally overcame the last hint of light on the horizon and thrust her into a blackness she'd never before believed existed.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 13: Struggle for Hope

 

Cirocwas damaged from deep within. The blood loss to his brain had severed something. It felt like falling without landing

; never a thing within grasp and never a bottom to the pit in which to end his pain. He peered deep into the blackness, hoping in vain to see a glimmer of anything. There was nothing to see, as if the light of the twin suns revealed themselves a void in the endless emptiness.

Even so, something changed, but no. Nothing changed. Something that once was . . . was again. A nothingness he'd already experienced was felt yet again. He'd no idea how he could know such a thing since all here was forever the same, but still he knew. Somehow he knew because somehow, something deep inside him had told him so. It was a voice not his own, but then it couldn't be . . . it was that of a woman.

Regardless of gender, this wasn’t so utterly strange to him. In a world of telepaths it wasn’t uncommon to have voices not your own within your head, but this was different. He couldn't know that. He'd no room for comparison, but had others known they'd label him a freak. Some had already done so. He hadn't cared. This woman had always told him such things weren't important. She'd told him what was and had guided him to choices mostly wizened beyond his years. It was her that he felt now, a presence as much as a voice, guiding him backwards through the nothing.

Werenot backwards and forwards one and the same? Were they not all parts of the same whole? Were they not a mystery forever unraveling? The woman told him that. It wasn’t something he'd think on his own, b

ut then something told him she hadn't understood it any more than he. It was either so much babble for babble's sake, or these were thoughts well beyond imagining and led to a place where only vast, unfathomable knowledge existed and all things strange were commonplace.

Even so, he'd not feared it, the utter strangeness northe voice. Why would he? Both had always been with him since memory first. They were a pair. The closest he could come to describing it, and never had he done so o

ut loud, was that of a conscience, but it was so more than that. This woman was a guiding force from outside him. He'd thought to attribute it to Mother Sea, for whoelse? Though, not even that was right. She'd told him as much, but then she'd told him so many things that none could rightly know. She'd guided him past all dangers. Well, obviously not all dangers, but most. For better or worse he trusted her. He always had.

For it all he felt something he'd never been able to describe. This was something he'd rarely felt in any other form. The woman called it “love”. Not that his mother hadn't shown him this, but ever was there something impeding hers. For the briefest of moments he'd felt something equally as deep, but somehow different, whenever he now thought of Diote. Much the same, he'd felt love from the voice in a manner which never judged and always forgave, as well a mother should. If he knew nothing else he knew this was right and this was deep, far deeper than anything else he'd ever known. This was deeper than the pit in which he now fell and that seemed endless.

The woman told him going backwards wasn’t so strange, but rather good, healthy and necessary. Somehow he knew this. Well, beyond the nothingness he felt a difference between the two. The present was filled to overflowing with loss, while the past was unchained. It seemed in that past all manner of things were possible. The woman told himit could only do so much, that he must reach for the past and pull it towards him. This was something he believed, but he hadn't known how.

Incredulously he was told in orderto grasp at the past he needed to let go. It made so little sense, but at the same time it made all the sense in the world. She told him all that held him back was himself and to let go of it all . . . life, death, worry, shame, blame, hatred and yes, even love. He was to utterly empty himself and then the path would become clear.

It felt so impossible and indescribably easy all at once. Things began to fall away one by one. With each, he felt more and more free and slowly all things seemed possible. More fell away and a path began to emerge from the blackness. More still and stairs became apparent beneath him. He had only to climb them and he did. Then something changed.

When finally it came time to let go of love he found something he'd not been able to free himself of. That would be doubt. The doubt was simple. If love was to fall away, would he ever be able to get it back? Even if lost only temporarily he didn't think that was something he'd ever be able to survive losing. Nothing existed here to assure him he'd ever manage to regain anything he'd lost, but none of that had mattered till now. He could forever do without all other things, but love? For that he'd rather be eternally damned. For the loss of love not even Mother Sea's embrace could comfort him.

The stairs began to fade. He was falling away back into the nothingness. With it fear and panic returned. Worry and dread weren’t far behind. As they returned, the stairs shattered into blackness one by one. Ciroc screamed within the pit and his soul seemed to die. A single word he'd screamed; a loss he'd never survive. He screamed for Diote.

 

# # #

 

Diote's mind seemed to explode, or was it implode? She didn't know, but then she couldn't. She had no mind left with which to ponder the question. Not that recent eventshad put her in any state worthy of sanity. As such, she fell away. She'd not fallen down. She remained where she kneeled, hovering ever above her love. Yet it was a trance that had overtaken every ounce of her fragile, ungifted mind.

She knew from whence the cry had come. Where else possible? Something told her so; a voice, a woman's voice. She told herthe voice she'd heard hadn’

t come from the witch, as some sort of devious ploy. Neither had it originated from the depths of Mother Sea or any of the remaining Councilmembers. This was

Ciroc. He was reaching out to her, for he was falling too.

The woman, for which she'd never before known, but somehow trusted implicitly, told her that she'd need to be his tether. No one else would suffice. It was as before. A chance had presented itself, but she'd tossed it away in frustration and anger. Now she hadanother and should she fail this time, all would be lost.

Here and now, she vowed, she'd save her love or perish in the attempt. What was life without love? What was love if not with Ciroc? It was a crucial need. It was a binding need. It was all she had, but that was alright because nothing other than love had any chance of success.

Suddenly something within her fragile mind awoke and she'd never felt more free. She'd reached within every mind that gave a damn about Ciroc, every mind that felt an ounce of love for him, and there firmly set an anchor designed tohold past death. From there she'd launched herself into a dark place.

 

# # #

 

Every last stair vanished and once again Cirocresumed his fall, but this time all hope fell away with them. Now he fell faster. All light was dispelled as he too began to fade. What was he within the nothingness? If nothing could exist in the blackness how was he not the last of the light? How could the nothingness remain so without

utterly extinguishing him as well?

So it had tried. It had tried before, he was now well aware, but the love within him wouldn’t allow it. Now he couldn't do anything to stop it. Neither could the voice within him, though she'd not gone. He knew now she never would, or rather she’d fade alongside him into blackness. There he felt a sorrow for the first time. She could do no more and so cast her hope elsewhere.

Something new emerged. Not the stairs, but equally benevolent. It was faint at first, but it became clearer as it fell, and it fell faster than him, as if it were more urgent than he to meet utter damnation. Yet, for its speed it managed to catch up to him. It became apparent as all became so clear. A rope had fallen.

Immediately he grasped at it. It was so near to him, but he was fading fast now and fingers that should've been present were now gone. A war was being fought for his soul. Ever was death so greedy. Ironically his body had been made whole, the voice made known to him, but now he was losing more than he'd lost before. Frantically he thrust forth hands that were no more than phantoms, nearer to wisps of smoke than actual limbs. No pain crippled him, but a certain breed of hopelessness made up for it.

He bit at the rope. On the third attempt he succeeded, but tore free. This fight was losing him and literally so. Yet he still had a head and a mouth with which to scream and he did. Once again Diote's name echoed forth, shattering the nothingness with a sound that reached all corners of a place that had none.

Then from nowhere he heard his own name reverberating in what remained of his mind. She was here. She was the rope. She was hope . . . the last of it. Not that there was anything for it. He'd exhausted all he could do. Yet something changed within him. With the hope of Diote, fear fell away and with it all its cohorts. Parts of him began to reemerge. His fingers regained a cohesion of which only ghosts could dream.

The moment they reappeared was the moment he knew to strive once again. He did and his grasp landed well upon the rope. For the first time in what seemed a millennium of falling he knew hope . . . real hope. Yet a weakness took him. His grasp held, but was slipping. He'd expended far too much, though the voice told him it was far more than any anticipated. He wasn’t to be undone by the weakness of a boy, but the weakness of a man. This was of little comfort, but love remained.

As he grew weaker Diote'slove grew stronger. They were as one upon a scale. As the one fell the other would rise. So it was that the

rope upon which Ciroccould not hold, held him. It extended to wrap about his waist and firmly tie there. At that

Ciroclet go of all but a scrap of life. Upon the rope he lay limp now with only strength enough to smile weakly, but smile nonetheless.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 14: Sacrifice

 

The connection between Shirell and her son was never lost and she vowed that it never would be, but now a new bond had been formed with Diote. It seemed the link between both Ciroc and Diotehad existed since they'd met and perhaps destiny laid it in store since before time began. This was meant to be. She knew that. It seemed a hidden part of her always had. N

ow something new had been born . . . a connection between herself and Diote.

Amazingly it was ever the same as she'd had with her son. Diote'smind had been opened. She was now a gifted made, not born. She was something utterly new. Never before was that possible, but something within the girl had changed.

Shirell knew she'd played a part in it, but that part and much of what she'd done for Cirocseemed to be playing itself. Not that she hadn't cared, she'd always cared, but as much as she existed as their guide, she had a hope of her own that defied explanation. It had guided her as she guided them.

Then she knew. Oh so suddenly she knew . . . her wraiths! It was so obvious to her now! This was how they'd communicated. They were often silent, but this was always how they'd done it when they'd spoken. It was the only way they knew how. Now, she knew implicitly and with unequaled sorrow that her lack of understanding matched that of Ciroc and now Diote.

Ever had she felt this sadness, and endlessly berated herself for having done no better for her other children. These, who’d fought so valiantly for her and paid the ultimate price that she might “connect”, truly connect, with someone else, for whom they knew no better than to assume she'd loved more than them.

This sacrifice was utterly staggering and for the first time in eons she fell free from her eternal watch on Cirocand saw, truly saw the eight creatures that remained. They'd not, nor ever had, possessed the means to smile beyond that of their reddish eyes, but these now shone forth with something that couldn't be described as anything other than love. She'd always considered them such simple beasts, though more advanced than any other wildlife on the island. They were so much more. And because of them so was she.

 

# # #

 

Diote’sface strained with the effort of pulling the rope upwards, or rather outwards. The tears that had fallen so freely now stained her youthful face to something far older and wiser. All onlookers thought her under the irrepressible weight of sorrow and certainly she was,

but this was something more. The only one who knew better was Acissey.

The older woman hadn't known much, but something had changed. She in fact hadn't known it. Her focus was on her son, but she'd felt it. There was a reverberation within her. She felt pulled upon as if a strain upon her very heart and it did ache for him, but it had relaxed with his unexplainable healing. Not now. Not anymore. It felt as if he was dying all over again.

Nothing could define this, but the girl who knelt beside her in the bloody sand. Momentarily, she broke away with a sudden attention trained upon the girl she could tell loved her son. Here she saw so much more than a girl. Here she saw a woman bound with grief equal to her own. More than this, though, she saw something impossible. She saw the unmistakable strain of a focused mind. This was not something little Diote had the power to do; she was not of the gifted. How was she to do such a thing?

Then she considered; did it matter? How had her son healed? How had so many around her fallen dead by the power of the mind? For that's obviously what it was.How had

Ciroc bested Shion, if indeed he had? How was it the witch struck so quickly? That was not her way. There were so many unexplainable events occurring in the here and now. What was one more?

This, though unbelievable, served as little more than a distraction. Her son occupied nearly all of her attention, as was needed, but something else wore upon her. It was something she'd chosen to deny, but the continued sequence of unexplainable events made it nearly impossible to ignore. Was what Achonsaid true? Was it even possible for HER son to really be the witch's son?

Well, HER son was NOT evil! The witch could NOT have him! She remembered her, though still she wouldn't say her name. She had been needed. Her help had made her son possible, but she'd denied all that for so many years. For he was a good boy! How was itanyone so pure of heart could've had anything to do with the witch? She'd convinced herself that though the witch was present, she'd managed to weave the lie that her help was never truly necessary.

Acissey, for all these years, had actually believed she'd given birth to another child all on her own and he just happened to be gifted. It was unquestionably luck, but luck all the same.

Now, Achon shattered that simple vision. He'd died for it, which was all well and good, but what now? After all, he hadn't really died for revealing the truth. No. He'd died for trying to murder her son. No. He'd died for trying to murder the witch's son. With that truth a fear seized her. Her rage, notwithstanding, the two waged a bloody war. There was a toll, a price to pay for it all, and a part of her knew it was ultimately Ciroc who'd pay it, but she couldn't seem to break herself away.

Suddenly the pull upon her heart snapped free and a deepening sorrow overtook her.

 

# # #

 

Cirocfell, but not so far. A strain undeniable, but not one that sent him spiraling back into the nothing. Yet he hadn't simply jerked. Something snapped free from his heart and he gasped at the loss of it. He'd not much left to lose and without even knowing it attached that lost bit of rope to

Diote.

 

# # #

 

Dioteshuddered with the strain of a loss not her own, but a loss still. Her heart pulled all the tighter for it and she no longer knew if she could contain it all. Part of her knew just exactly where

Cirochung from. That same part of her felt at peace there, so long as she remained with her love, for no matter how dark a chasm, together they'd always have a light.

She felt herself falling into the blackness long before she actually did. It all seemed so utterly hopeless, but that was somehow alright. She found that she didn't want to stay if she had to do so alone. And so she let go.

 

# # #

 

Shirellturned in horror, a bloody shriek emanating from her mind. It was no less than her previous mind shear and emanated forth with equal abandon.

But no.This was so much more and how could it not be? She, herself, was so

much more than she'd previously been, but then she'd never been here before so couldn't know the cost of it. Though she did know and felt her wraiths come to her aid.

 

# # #

 

A new cry echoed forth, lodging deep within every mind of every creature in and around both islands. This was a mind shear unbound. This was devastating. This cry tore free life from this plane of existence and sent forth many souls to the blackness they once believed harbored Mother Sea's eternal embrace.

Many suddenly fell as had with Achon, but something here was different. This was no simple death knell, this was a trade. The life force of all who loathed Ciroc, and so many had, left them and was hence transferred to all those who loved him. Whether one was to live or die depended directly on how deep their hatred was or wasn’t. Those who simply couldn't care less lived, but fell as if half their heart had burnt away.

Because of it all an unequaled amount of energy, now malleable in its raw form, transferred to Diote and in turn Ciroc. There was a sudden unmistakable pull on Diote'sheart, keeping her from entering the void. She tore free from all such thoughts and transferred every ounce of this energy to her rope moments before the sheer power of it all destroyed her fragile heart. She was just a girl, gifted now or not, she

was not built to be a conduit . . . or was she?

Cirocwas ripped free of the blackness with a sudden inhalation of breath. The guttural gasps that

followed came in spasms andthreatened to push him back under, but here he remained, for better or worse. Yet his resurrection came at too high a cost; so m

any had died to bring him back . . . so very many.

 

# # #

 

The witch laid her head down after her earth shattering cry. It was the likes of which none had ever before witnessed, norwould ever again.

Shirellwas dying. She couldn't have known the cost of it and yet she

’d known this much. Beyond all else this much was needed. This much was necessary. All of it, even the cost, was worth it. Giving her life for her child, was that not the way it should be?

Yet from now on he’d be on his own. There were a world of decisions to make as the future dimmed in the face of so much death, but she had faith. She'd been gifted with the rare opportunity to reset her world and this time the right decisions would be made. There were no longer any wraiths to save her. All eight of them lay dead, time notwithstanding. They were beautiful, every last one, and the world would never again see their equal. A mix of sorrow and joy flitted across her face one last time before she went to join her children in an eternal embrace.

Then the witch was gone, banished forever to the nothingness. Seemingly every animal in and around Gabriel's Tear howled, growled, chittered or sang of her past glory to the twin suns that now rose well into the Summer sky. It was a new dawn.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 15: A New Dawn

 

Acissey'sheart burned with a fury. She'd fallen, curled up and cramped into the same fetal position in which her son had once been, back when innocence seemed eternal and ignorance was truly bliss. She'd not known what happened and in her tiny

, limited view of theworld she'd believed this was the witch's punishment. She wasn

’t so very wrong and yet she'd believed she was the only one who'd suffered.

Naught was she so sorry for how she'd felt, but she'd learned now to give the witch her due. Ciroc was indeed a child born to twin mothers, no less than if eachfound a way to bring him about all on their own. Never had she thought the witch possessed a drop of mercy or love, but she was alive and that could not but be a mercy. She still breathed because of love, her love and the witch's.

All the world was a blur of pain but within it she could see a new miracle being birthed; Cirochad indeed been pulled from death's door. Though his panic and pain seemed no less than

her ownhe was now conscious. He curled into his own ball of agony as well he should. He'd been reborn and that was never a pleasant process as she well knew.

She wished ever for her focus to remain upon her son, but the world was in a panic. All around her she saw death and pain as if far more than her son had been reborn. Death and painnever ra

ng to the tone of anything good. Yet they didnow

. This was far from her own thought; that much she knew. This much she'd been told assumingly by the witch who, though she knew not how, had orchestrated this most recent of events and likely most everything else.

As it had always been known when something strange happened it was attested to the witch. This was always in reference to something bad, or otherwise evil, but now she knew better. The witch knew well how to love and only good things could come from love. So she wasn’t a being of pure wickedness, but there was little to convince Acissey evil hadn't consumed nearlyall of her. It was a simple formula

. . .

one good thing had the power to change all else. Take that away and a demon was born.

Cirochad forever been an integral part of the witch.

Acissey had simply refused to see it till now. Sharing him wasn’t only mandatory, but it could help to bring about a new era, for none knew better than her how utterly corruptible the Councilhad become. As had everyone who valued life, she'd simply kept quiet about all such things. Not now though. Not ever again.

The Councilwas finished. Indeed,

Acisseycould see two more of the customary yellow robed men lying dead. That direction of the beach was positively littered with them. The burning wrenched her atten

tion back and forth among them; so many, and yet she couldn't bring herself to focus on a single one, much less count them to be sure. Where was the last of them? Where was Rethon, the man who had ever so temporarily saved them all?

She knew Rethon. She knew them all. She hadn't been much more than cordial to any of them. She knew something of what they hid and suspected they'd far deeper,darker secrets that were best kept that way. Suffice to say she knew what they were

capable of. Out of them all, down to the last, Rethonwas the most honorable. She wasn't exactly sure that was saying much in such company, but there it was and she was grateful that she couldn't find him.

Naturally, that didn't mean much. Through the squinting pain and the agonizing screams emanating from all over the beach all she could really make out were the robes. Face down or not, at this distance she'd not been able to make out a single face. Nor, being curled deeper and deeper within the blood soaked sand, had she the proper vantage point to even count them all. Still! She must focus! Lest the pain best her and drag her down to the depths, SHE MUST FOCUS!

Saying it did not make it so. She didn’t know why she'd not simply focused on her son. Why wouldn't she? Suddenly she knew . . . guilt. It was devouring her. She knew so much of this was her fault. She'd known the moment she'd seen Cirocdragged up on the beach by a little girl. The blood was everywhere even then. If that was so, how could there

be more now? Still there was

and it covered her. It was in essence a reversal. When he was first born there was a great pain and her blood had covered him. Now it seemed it was her turn for both, though the pain, that was hers on both occasions.

As then to now she did so suffer. Even as she silently mouthed the word”'Sorry” the tears found new passages past wrinkles that seemed to protrude from her face only moments earlier. Her mouth grimaced at the realization. A solitary hair had fallen across her battered face and then another. Then her eyes swam with the multitude of them. They were all, every last one, white.

 

# # #

 

What of the end of it all? A new dawn for Lagoon?Was such a thing even possible? Was change possible? The moment

Rethon's blade had sliced through Achon'sneck he'd felt paralyzed by fear. This was already a creeping thing. With every yellow robe that fell a nail was thrust through his temple and yet, one was also removed.

At the joining a bond was formed, amental bond. It

connected them all. It hadn

’t made everything known. In a house of endless secrets such a thing was never allowed, but it did let all know when one was in danger and certainly when one had died. It was not a pleasant thing, but itwas a freeing thing . . . at least for the likes of hi

m. As a Council member there’d always been responsibility and high expectations, however, the constant murmurings and other such secrets piled high a burden after only a few months. He'd not been privy to these things for his low status within the ranking, but even down through the years he was seen for what he was. . .

a man of morals. Such men weren’t to be trusted within the Council.

Since the beginning he'd only ever wanted what was best for the people of Lagoon. This was burdensome enough when the warriors came forth to be chosen for battle. Each Councilmember chose a man in turn. Who exactly was he supposed to pick? Who was the best warrior? Who was the best telepath? Who did he loathe the most? Who was the vilest of men? Who beat their wives and treated their children like dogs? Who indeed? These criteria were just as valid as anything else, for he was most

assuredly sending each and every one to their deaths far from home. To date he'd not witnessed a single one return and he'd done this twice; tearing men from their families.

Beyond this he felt he was the only one who’dwanted what was best for anyone other than himself, or perhaps his family. As such he was ostracized and detested. An eye, mental or otherwise, was always upon him. The law, as if they'd ever cared, stated that he'd broken no decree and so could not be justly punished. However, outside the law, which was where all other

Councilmembers flourished, he'd considered himself lucky to survive each day. After all, they'd taken him under the

ir wings upon the simple pretense that they could change him. They’d yet to do that and would now never get another chance.

Rethon had seen the last two Councilmembers fall as he was falling. He'd believed himself as dead as they, but such was not the case. He writhed in pain, while they hadn't moved a muscle. They were gone and he was the last. The beach was filled with turmoil. Others had fallen. He felt each as a personal loss. It was his job to look after them. He'd failed on so many counts, but what exactly could he have done against such odds? The mind shear had culled the heard and in so doing brought low the pride of Lagoon.

Who remained to carry on? He did. Unbelievably he did. So though his brain felt riddled with each lost “brother” and his heart burnt to a cinder, he forced himself up. He must help those whoremained. At the first step he fell again and this time

he knew better than to try. He

seemed stricken by the same curse that befe

ll them all. They must now help themselves.

 

# # #

 

Days seemed to pass in this moment of joy. Though a thousand years of guilt had crippled Diote, she remained the only living person on the whole of Lagoon who'd not been either killed or stricken with a debilitating pain. This was bar Ciroc himself, but he'd been burdened with his own pain and likely wouldn’t have survived more. Yet he lived! He breathed! He spoke! And . . . he suffered so.

Dioteswore from that moment on ever to heed his call. Though all manner of turmoil surrounded them both, they were all each other saw. In a world filled with blood and pain they were all that mattered. Time remained for all the rest. This was a moment all their own and would ever be. Then pain or no,

Diote leaned forward and embraced her love and kissed him for the first time and deeply so.

 

# # #

 

Ciroc'swas a pain forgotten. It ebbed and throbbed, but he bore it down. His lungs seemed to burn with the death that was nearly his, but he bade it wait.

Diote was upon him and that was all that mattered in a world filled with death.

They seemed to remain there for eons. An embrace so sweet, only Mother Sea could know. As the world collided with chaos they eventually let through a solitary voice. They'd both looked down to see his mother. Had she always been there, lying and trembling? Had her hair ever been so pristinely white? Something new had happened here, but something new was happening everywhere. This didn’t seem so utterly shocking. From her, barely audible, a word seemed to reverberate within both their minds . . . help.

Their eyes followed hers to an unsteadyfinger pointed at the eternal tide. It shook wide with pain and at times seemed to peak at the lowest of the twin

suns, but past the pain ridden shore, out upon the empty horizon something neared. It was not so small anymore and bobbed upon the tide with waves that grew exponentially. The clouds now bore a grayish tint and swelled as they joined one another. The winds had picked up and then they knew . . . atop all the chaos, all hell was about to break loose.

 

# # #

 

The winds had nearly forced Mragedenfree of the tear-hut. Past his wife's screams and the thunder that bore down upon them they'd reached land, yet a drenched and battered sort as the rains beat down all the eye could see. Still, they'd come home. A deepening sorrow overtook them, but there was nothing for it. The tempest held sway over them and that had been sent by the witch. They now must do her bidding as escape was no longer in sight.

Neither heard another word within their minds. Raef wasn’t gifted and Mrageden wasn’t gifted to any degree that should matter. Still, the din nearly rose above that of the storm once they were thrust upon the beach. The first sight gave bid to chaos, but beyond this two children stood before them, rain ridden and wind torn. An utter solitude overcame them both as if naught a hint of evil had ever touched them. These seemed immune to the tempest and the damnation that had befallen all of Lagoon.

The girl held forth a hand and said, "Welcome home."