The Story of Gladianima (Part IX)

The 23rd day at sea in the 56th year of the reign of King Brieuc of House Erdos.

“It’s been nearly one month since I snuck aboard Thyra’s boat. As much as I cannot stand her, I realized that I couldn’t let her go on this adventure alone. She was extremely unhappy when she discovered what I had done, but there is nothing she can do to change it now. I’m sure my father is either angry that I’ve gone or impressed that I finally did something unexpected. That’s the thing about my father, I follow the rules and he rarely does. He always said I get that from my mother.

That lead me to my other thought and reason for this journal. This is very unlike me. I felt possessed as I grabbed my things and my sword and stowed away. I couldn’t let Thyra get away. It was some urge, deep in my gut, that grabbed tightly around my heart. I couldn’t be at peace until I knew that I was going to wherever it is she thinks she must go.

I understand what she means when she speaks of feeling compelled. If this thing that we’re chasing is so powerful it can compel anyone to do anything, should we even be searching for it?

Thyra has brought Doran’s journal. I knew she had taken it from the library several days before her departure, but I never said anything. I think if we will be successful, it will only be because of Doran’s words. I haven’t asked what else she has seen, and truthfully, I’m terrified to know. I don’t sleep well at night. It’s not because of the noise of the waves or the rocking and creaking of the boat either.

My body is so exhausted, but my mind is so tumultuous that I cannot calm myself. My heart is constantly racing at the thought of what is waiting for us. It feels like some darkness on the edge of the horizon, and it haunts my dreams when I do manage to fall asleep. In my dreams all I see are pain and teeth and death. I hope this is not what we sail toward.

Thyra barely looks at me, let alone speaks to me. I can tell it is a combination of irritation at my presence and absentmindedness because of her knowledge. Something she has seen in that journal keeps her trapped in her own mind. Or maybe it’s the call of this thing that we’re chasing, constantly whispering to her like it did Doran. I wish I knew more. I will record our adventures here. It helps me to remember where we’ve been and how long we’ve been gone, but more importantly it keeps me sane. I plan to speak to Thyra tonight at dinner. I hope we can try to come to some sort of amity.”

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The Story of Gladianima (Part VIII)

“The twelfth day of winter, the 236th year Post-Priorae. I saw it today. The voice drew me out into the middle of the cold night. I was barefoot, awakened from my sleep, coerced into the darkness with no heed for my safety. I couldn’t resist the soft voice, following it as it drew me into the trees. I didn’t regain control of my body until I realized I was standing in a field, shivering.”

Thyra glanced up at Kegan, seeing him watching her carefully, his brow furrowed. She drew a slow breath before continuing.

“That’s when it appeared. It looked like a ghost, moving in through the trees. It had a long body, thin legs, and a long nose. Its tail was like that of cat, with a tuft of hair from the end. It came closer, passing through the branches without touching them. I could see the blue of its eyes as it came within arm’s reach. When it spoke, or thought, its voice was loud and clear, no longer the soft whisper.”

Thyra could feel her stomach turning in knots as she turned the page.

“I’m glad you have finally come to me, it said, stepping closer. I could feel the heat of its body and I knew I should have felt fear. But instead, my mind was warm, as if comforted by the creature’s presence. I asked, through my thoughts, why it had been calling me. That’s when it brought its face to mine, its breath hot on my skin. You are special, Doran, it said. I will give you the power to do great things.

I was confused as I stared at it. Why would I have a need to do great things? That’s when the beast lowered its head, pressing an ivory horn against my forehead. A sudden onslaught of images filled my mind, starting with a tall figure standing in a hall. I knew, without knowing, that the figure was one of the Priorae. He was a big man, bigger than even the Inerse standing around him, wielding a broad sword. And there was something about the sword, something I knew again without knowing.

It is an anima, the beast told me, answering my unasked question. It will be my gift to you, and through me, you will lead your people to a greatness never before imagined.”

Thyra felt breathless as she looked up to Kegan. “Is that the weapon?” she whispered. “The anima?”

Kegan shook his head, looking as confused as she felt. “I don’t know,” he said.

They both jumped when a knock sounded on the library door, a servant appearing. “Dinner is ready,” the man said, bowing at the waist.

Kegan nodded, dismissing the man. He turned to look back to Thyra. “Meet me here after the last candle,” he said quietly. “We need to know more about this anima.”

The Story of Gladianima (Part VI)

The first day of winter, the 236th year Post-Priorae.

“The winds seem particularly cold this year. I can’t put my finger on it, but there is a chill in the air that lingers long after the gale stops howling. I can feel it stirring something in my bones.

I’ve decided to keep this record, as my mind seems to slip more as time goes by…It has been more than two hundred years since I saw the last of them, but even now I still feel as if there is something watching me. I ventured beyond the manor walls yesterday to hunt with my brothers. We picked up the trail of game and soon became separated chasing it through the brush. Somehow, I ended up alone, creeping upon a clearing that I failed to recognize. I hunt these woods often with my kin, so this left me feeling out of sorts. It was the first time I felt the chill.

The clearing was not what I expected. It was empty of the snows that should have been knee-deep, and the sun was shining down through the branches. Strange flowers were blooming as if it was a spring day, the scent of Mother’s bathing salts and spices filling the air. I was lured into the clearing, dumbstruck by the sight of it. I couldn’t make sense of what I was seeing, but then I realized I was being watched. I knew I should have been fearful, but I couldn’t feel anything as glittering eyes peered at me beyond the stretch of the trees. I could see the length of a figure moving silently in the shadows, a feat that seemed impossible, if my eyes weren’t deceiving me.

I thought perhaps I was dreaming. I was merely a young child when my father and my mother raised the last of the monokeros for the Monarchy. I don’t remember much of the collapse, except that one day our stables were full, and the next the beasts were gone, along with the powerful magic that the Priorae brought to our world. My parents referred to it as the Collapse. I was too young to comprehend what was happening, but it amounted to mass genocide, which I learned when I was older. I don’t know why I’m including this, as these words may never be seen by any eyes other than my own, but I have to assure myself that I’m not mad. What I saw was real.

The creature never stepped from the shadows, but I felt it watching me as I fled the clearing to find my brothers. Even now, inside the walls of our home, I can feel its presence. It isn’t oppressive, per se, but it is invasive in a way I’m not familiar with. As if something is tickling the corners of my mind, asking to be let in and privy to my thoughts. I don’t understand how this can be. I know this is why I must keep this record. I must document my descent into insanity, or whatever this may be.

The feeling has persisted and feels as if it will only worsen as time passes.

 

The fourth day of winter, the 236th year Post-Priorae.

The watching persists. I feel it as a buzz pressing against my skull like the humming of bees inside a nest. I dream of eyes, watching me, following my every movement, begging to see to my thoughts. I don’t know how much longer I can resist whatever this call is.

My brothers think I am gripped with madness, confining me to my room and my books. They’ve sent for a mage, but there is nothing that can be done now. I know that the only way to stop this is to submit to it. But I can’t know if that is what I should do. Should I allow this invading force into my being?

It tries to tell me to accept it, that it means no harm. But how can I know that when this foreign presence refuses to reveal itself to me?

It tells me that I cannot experience its glory until I accept it into myself. As if it is a bogeyman that cannot have life until I believe it exists.

I don’t know how long I can fight against it. I don’t know why it has chosen me. I feel there is a purpose it has in mind for me, and I am afraid.

*****

It is dark out, and the darkness presses upon my mind like a sucking void, trying to consume me. I can feel it now, so close to its goal. My hands tremble as I write this and sweat drips from my brow with my effort to remain strong.

I can hear a whisper in my mind, telling me everything will be fine. I only need to accept it. It doesn’t desire to consume me, but I can’t…

The voice grows increasingly louder, clearer with each pleading request. It sounds like the waves on the lake in the summer time…the smell of salts and spices fills my nostrils now. It has finally come. I can see it now, its eyes shining brightly in the darkness. I feel no fear now. I understand why it has come. I understand why it needs me. Yes, please come in. Join me.”

The Story of Gladianima (Part V)

Thyra drew a slow breath as she sat down at a desk. Her heart was racing in her chest as Kegan sat a thick book in front of her. The leather-bound cover was caked in dust, clearly having been hidden on a shelf somewhere and forgotten. Thyra ran her hand over the cover, smoothing away the dust. Beneath the layer a monokero was pressed into the leather.

Thyra looked up slowly at Kegan. “Have you opened it?” she asked softly.

Kegan shook his head, his eyes apprehensive.

Thyra looked back down at the book, feeling a knot forming in her gut. Doran Estrella was either a genius or a madman. No one could ever prove which. He was her four-times-great grandfather, and he’d claimed to possess a connection with the last monokero that had lived in Gexalatia.

No one had ever seen the beast, but Doran had a way of knowing things he shouldn’t have, or couldn’t have known. It was also said that he possessed a weapon that was forged in the blood of his enemies, a magical thing that never dulled and never failed to kill. There was much debate about what that weapon was, whether a sword or spear or something else, but the story was always the same. And the story always ended with the same warning, that the weapon would do its master’s bidding, but it would always demand the wielder’s soul as payment. Everyone, including Doran, when the weapon finally left their hands, succumbed to a weariness that they could never recover from.

“Well?” Kegan prompted.

Thyra looked back at him from the book, blinking away her thoughts. “I don’t know if I should,” she said quietly.

Kegan arched a brow. “Why?” he asked.

“I’m not sure I want to know the truth about Doran,” she said shortly.

Kegan grinned slightly. “What’s so bad about knowing the truth?” he asked. “And what could be so bad about Doran?” He looked down at the book. “Maybe he can shed some light on what you’re feeling.”

Thyra frowned at him. She hadn’t said much else about the voice in her head, but he hadn’t seemed surprised when she’d mentioned it. She wondered at that. What did Kegan know that he wasn’t saying still?

“Why are you helping me?” she asked suddenly.

Kegan drew a slow breath. “There is talk in the texts about a gift that select people can possess,” he said. “It typically runs through a bloodline, and there are reasons to think that the Estrella line is the one that is chosen.”

Thyra suddenly leveled a look at him. “You’re talking about that prophecy.”

Kegan arched a brow, surprised by her monotone.

“You know that’s just a story told to children,” Thyra continued. “There’s no such thing.”

Kegan shrugged then. “Maybe there is, and maybe there isn’t,” he said lightly. “But you can’t deny that there are things that have happened in your life and in your family history that can’t be explained any other way.”

Thyra sighed, looking down at Doran’s journal. “I need some time to read this,” she said softly.

Kegan nodded. “I’ll leave you,” he said, straightening. “I’ll be back later.”

Thyra nodded, grateful for the silence when he was finally gone. Her mind was spinning. She’d heard about the prophecy, but she hadn’t wanted to believe it. It talked about a person who could wield the sword that Doran supposedly once held and not succumb to it. Both stories seemed ridiculous to her, but now she was feeling a tickle of doubt in her mind.

She drew a slow breath as she cracked the spine on the old leather book. She didn’t know what she would find inside.

The Story of Gladianima (Part IV)

Kegan sat in the library, thumbing quickly through a book. His mind was tumultuous with his discovery. Before him was a crumpled, faded page, showing the same beast he’d seen on Thyra’s armor.

It was tall, with four legs and hooved feet. It had a long face, with a tail like a cat’s and a tuft of hair on the end. The horn was protruding from the top of its forehead, thick hair falling across its face and down its long neck.

He’d had to send for his former teacher, who told him it was a monokero. It was a beast that had been alive in the time of the Priorae, but was now extinct, having fled through the Limen when the portal was formed. Apparently it was something that was lost to legend now, but in the time of the forefathers, these creatures had been more than just pack animals. The Priorae could form bonds with these beasts, so much so that the rider and animal formed a psychic link, knowing the others thoughts. According to his teacher, it was the reason the monokeros left Gexalatia; with the Priorae gone they could no longer connect with anyone else.

At first it hadn’t made any sense. What was an ancient beast doing on this girl’s family crest? But the more Kegan looked, the more things began to unfold before him. And the more he learned, the more unsettled he became. Was it possible that Thyra was the last of her descendants?

Kegan had to know.

It had been several days since the feast and ball in her honor, and it was customary to offer guests lodging for quite some time. But Thyra seemed eager to leave the palace, and Dirvo. She often expressed her desire to cross the seas, and Kegan’s father had promised her a boat. As it was, she was land-bound for a little while longer while the boat was built, just for her.

And that was perfect for Kegan. It gave him plenty of opportunity to study her. But now he needed to speak with her. He needed to know the truth, and he needed to know about her mission.

He was halfway down the hallway to her chambers when the door before him opened. His footsteps slowed as she stepped into the hallway, her lavender eyes surprised when she looked up at him.

“Your Highness,” she said quickly, bowing to him. “I was not expecting you.”

Kegan frowned at her as he came closer. “We need to talk.” He watched as she frowned lightly, gathering a handful of her skirt into her hand.

“What is it that we need to talk about?” she asked evenly.

Kegan felt his jaw clench. “I know your secret.”

Thyra’s eyes narrowed. She turned back to her door, opening it. “Please, let’s speak in private.”

Kegan stepped inside, feeling victorious as he turned to face her. “Your father was Airell Estrella,” he blurted. “You are the last of the Estrella line.”

Thyra’s face was void of emotion as she held his gaze. She didn’t say anything as she watched him, waiting for what else he had discovered about her.

“You’re a noblewoman,” Kegan continued. His face scrunched in confusion. “Why do you wish to leave the kingdoms?”

Thyra looked away, sighing. “I can’t expect you to understand,” she said softly. “I have to go.”

Kegan shook his head. “That’s not a good enough answer,” he said shortly. “You’ve been hiding everything about yourself for too long.” He turned and walked deeper into the room. “My father is building you a fine clipper. You owe us the truth.”

“I don’t owe anyone anything,” Thyra snapped. She stepped toward him when he turned to face her. “I know you don’t like me, but I don’t have to give you answers.” She wasn’t sure she had any answers, anyway. She didn’t have a reason to cross the waters, she just knew she needed to go. Something inside her, down to the fibers of her being, was telling her that she had to get on a boat. She wasn’t even really sure where the boat needed to go.

Kegan scowled. “I could tell my father to keep you here, you know,” he said. His eyes darkened. “He will believe anything I tell him about you.”

Thyra crossed her arms tightly, bristling at his threat. “Fine,” she snapped. “I’ll tell you whatever you want to know.” She stepped toward him. “But you have to swear to me that you won’t stand in my way.”

Kegan straightened slightly. “I swear it.” He searched her face. “But only so long as what you say aren’t lies.”

Thyra nodded. “Very well.” She moved toward the sitting area, drawing a slow breath as she eased onto the edge of a chair.

Kegan followed her lead, sitting across from her.

“Ask your questions,” Thyra said softly.

“Why do you need a boat?” Kegan asked. “Where are you going?”

Thyra shook her head. “I don’t know where I’m going,” she said. “I just know that I have to cross the water.”

Kegan scowled. “That doesn’t make sense.”

Thyra looked down at her hands, which she folded across her lap. “I know. It’s just this feeling I have.” She looked up at him. “For many years, there has been a small voice in my head saying that’s what I have to do.”

Kegan leaned back in his chair. He could tell from her face that she wasn’t lying. “Where did you learn to fight?” he asked, his ire easing some.

“I had a teacher,” Thyra said evenly. “A man with no name. He took me in when I ran away from the convent my father banished me to. He taught me how to survive and how to protect myself.”

Kegan frowned lightly. “You ran away from a convent?”

Thyra nodded. “I told you that long before he died, my father was dead to me,” she said softly. “Before he sent me to live there, he’d become cold and cruel.” There was no trace of sadness on her face as she spoke. “I think he always loathed me because I was not a son, and I couldn’t replace my brother after his death.”

Kegan drew a slow breath, suddenly feeling taken back. “I didn’t realize.”

Thyra offered a grim smile. “I don’t like to tell anyone about my life.”

Kegan produced a folded paper from his pocket, offering it to her. “I’ve been reading about your family and the origins of the crest,” he said.

Thyra unfolded the paper, recognizing the monokero. “And what have you discovered?”

“This beast, the monokero, why did your ancestors choose this as their sigil?”

Thyra shrugged, her eyes on the image. “My mother used to tell us stories as children of how our ancestors tamed the monokero,” she said. “She used to say that we were blessed with a link to these creatures, even though they are gone from Gexalatia.”

“Have you ever seen one?” Kegan asked softly.

Thyra looked up at him, mild surprise making her laugh gently. “The monokero hasn’t walked Gexalatia in millennia,” she said. “I’m not even sure they ever existed.”

Kegan nodded mutely. “What else do you know about your ancestors?”

Thyra shrugged. “I suppose they were like most of the families that lived near the plains,” she said. “They were warriors and survivors.”

“But they tamed the monokero?” Kegan asked again.

Thyra narrowed her eyes at him. “Why are you so interested in this?” she asked, a sneaking suspicion coming over her. He knew something he wasn’t saying.

Kegan looked as if he wouldn’t divulge anything more, but then he drew a slow breath, looking down at the floor. “I found a journal,” he said slowly. “It’s written in the Old Language, but the author is someone you may be familiar with.”

Thyra frowned at him. “Who is it?” she asked.

“Doran Estrella.”