Chapter One: The Bitter End
The moon appeared as its usual self: white, round, and majestic. But on this night the light it emitted was brighter and stronger than ever before. The moon’s brightness focused in on one spot, Mount Vedo, a place located in the far north.
Vedo, a mountainous forest full of trees, wild animals, reptiles, and strange insects, was eerily quiet on this night. Thick snow blanketed the ground and the grass that laid beneath was frozen solid, poking through the snow like porcupine needles. Tall, thin, barren trees stood shivering from their frozen bases on up to their powdered white branches. There were no visible signs of life except for the grass and trees themselves. So Vedo, for the most part, appeared to be abandoned.
A sharp and distinct whistle, pierced through the quietness of the forest. The trees became deathly still and a powerful gust of wind came barreling through from the south. It was a vengeful spirit tearing through the trees with reckless abandon. One by one, the trees gave in until they were stripped naked underneath the moonlight, their bark laying on the ground in a star pattern before them.
The wind had a thunderous presence. The sound it made as it hit the bark of the trees drew the normally prevalent creatures of the forest out of their tucked-away homes. Life had finally emerged from the depths. The wind had a strange hold over the creatures. It was as if it had them under a trance. The insects, reptiles, and smaller animals took hold of the larger animals’ bodies. Together they chased after the wind. When the wind zigzagged right, they too zigzagged right. The faster it went, the faster they tried to go. It soon became quite clear that this was no normal wind that they were following. It had a mind of its own. The longer the larger animals journeyed the more difficult it was for the insects and reptiles to stay on them. Snakes tightened their grips on the animals’ necks, making them lift their heads in discomfort. The animals’ pleading eyes said, “not so tight.” The snakes loosened their death grips, but only a little.
They were traveling to a part of the forest they’d never before been in. The wind had led them to a cavern hidden amongst the higher region of the forest. The larger animals stopped dead in their tracks. A fox had beaten them there; its body appeared to be an extension of the snow itself. The reptiles slid and climbed off the larger animals’ backs. The insects followed suit, but instead of sliding and climbing, they crawled and hopped down. While the smaller animals simply jumped off the larger animals.
A green snake slowly slithered its way underneath a rather large deer.
“Let’s watch what it does,” the snake said with several tongue flicks to the rest.
The white fox didn’t notice the others. It licked at its nose and panted. Its ears rose and twitched as its eyes peered into the darkness of the cavern. A small gasp escaped the lips of the fox. Remnants of magic, a magic the humans called divine, filled the air inside the cave. The walls and ceiling, though singed, were smooth. Not a lump or rocky deformity could be seen underneath the blackness. Camouflaged in the darkness of the walls and ceiling were streaks of blue. The fox looked down to the ground, eyes wide. Its mind was reeling with thoughts.
“What’s it doing?” a grasshopper asked in a single chirp.
A yellow lizard crawled near it.
“I think it’s sad,” it spat with its leaf-shaped tongue.
The grasshopper nodded its head.
“I wonder why?” the snake said with several curious tongue flicks.
Back inside the cave a great mound shook on the floor. The sound of a fading heartbeat echoed throughout the darkness like a drum. The fox looked back up, searching for the source of the noise. Streaks of salty water fell to the ground like a waterfall, joining the red sea that was the cave floor.
“Airma,” a voice cried out.
The fox took one step forward. The sound of the drumming heart no longer caused an echo, but instead caused ripples in the red sea.
“Airma,” the voice cried out once more.
The fox remained quiet at the entrance, its eyes narrowing in on the thing laying on the floor. It was gigantic and barely moving. The fox took a few steps forward—never truly leaving the entrance. The harder the fox strained its eyes the more it could make out the giant mound. Limbs started to reveal themselves one by one. The left hand, then the right, appeared from underneath the mass of red. The fox took another step forward. The legs came into view, as did the torso and ultimately the head. The fox widened its eyes in horror. The mound wasn’t a mound, but a god.
“King Ra’feur!” the fox howled.
Ra’feur remained very still and silent as if he hadn’t heard the fox at all. A serene smile formed on Ra’feur’s face as he closed his eyes. The fox wailed again, and just like before, Ra’feur remained silent, unmoved, and completely oblivious to the fox’s presence. The fox slapped its paw against the ground, vying for the attention of Ra’feur. Still Ra’feur didn’t respond. The fox sighed in crushing defeat then watched as the serene smile left Ra’feur’s face. It was as if Ra’feur was bothered by something. He shifted his neck around on the ground, appearing to be aroused by something the fox couldn’t quite see. Then it happened. Ra’feur spoke. His words had been said so low, they were inaudible to the fox, but the fox was aware that something had been said. And what Ra’feur did next threw the fox for a loop. The fox watched as Ra’feur craned his neck to one side and twitched his ear just like an animal would when on alert. Unbeknownst to the fox however, Ra’feur focused his attention on the sound of his visitor’s footsteps.
Ra’feur stiffened, only briefly, as the visitor settled their feet just above his head. Warmth caressed Ra’feur’s forehead, as did a gentle hand and a loving kiss. Ra’feur’s eyes rapidly shifted underneath his eyelids. He opened his mouth to speak, but no words came out at first. In between hacking coughs filled with phlegm and bloody spit-ups he eventually found relief to be able to truly speak.
“I can’t die yet…” Ra’feur uttered.
The fox’s ears perked up. Despite the fact that Ra’feur’s voice had been shaky and his breathing labored, power still remained within it.
“I can’t leave them. They need me…” Ra’feur pleaded.
Whom Ra’feur was pleading with, the fox had no clue, but the desperation in Ra’feur’s voice was heartfelt and heartbreaking. Ra’feur fell silent after a while, trying his hardest to focus on the “they,” his wife and an unborn child he’d only caught glimpses of through his dreams. But even the image of his family wouldn’t stay intact for long. His mind would wander to random things and when it returned onto them, their image was like a blackened mirror slowly breaking before his mind’s eye. Ra’feur tried in vain one last time to re-envision his family, but they were distorted. His mind had become so sluggish and drained that it had fused their perfect image with his worst nightmare. But before Ra’feur completely slipped away, a heaviness fell upon him. One he couldn’t fight off. It wasn’t anger, sadness, regret, hopelessness, or hatred. All of which, he knew he should be feeling. It was something different. Something positive. It was something that sent warmth through his body, comforting him, letting him know it would be okay. Was it hope, he was suddenly feeling? Ra’feur hadn’t imagined his final moments being based on hope of all things, and yet, here the moment was. With the last remaining bits of strength left in him, Ra’feur inhaled then spoke to his special visitor.
The fox crept forward, toward Ra’feur, but it was too late. Ra’feur was dead. Just as the fox began to wail over his body, out of Ra’feur’s open mouth appeared a red raven. The fox focused its teary eyes on the raven. It wasn’t tangible but transparent like the wind and yet, the fox could see it. The visitor seeming to be a mere figment of Ra’feur’s imagination, vanished into thin air after his passing. The fox remained transfixed on the raven as it spread its wings and sprang up into the air. The raven levitated over Ra’feur’s body for several minutes, completely suspended in time, then with a thunderous squawk that shook the fox, flew out of the cavern.
Chapter Two: Revelations
An old beaten and battered sign hung down from the middle of a stone archway. I could barely make out the word carved into the dank, splintered, and chipped sign.
“Fedlock,” I said, knowing the word written on the sign had to be Vedlock. I squinted my eyes. The word was Vedlock. I shook my head in protest. What can I say, I’m prejudiced toward the Southern pronunciation of the word. Plus, Fedlock just sounded better to my old ears.
The sign swung forward and backward. The way the hinges whined and screeched, sent a chill down my spine or maybe it was just the cold weather. Either way the sound was both ominous and telling. I walked under the archway, my bare blistered feet squashing through thick mushy mud. I made my way toward a row of gray stone houses. Each house was crammed against the other. I laughed at the sight. The makers of the houses truly believed in using every bit of space available.
I gave the long staff within my right hand a tight squeeze as a cool breeze blew through the little hair I had left on my head. I knew I should have worn my winter clothes. The scraps I wore now barely passed as clothing at all. At least—and I mean at the very least—they covered my rear and front.
Across from the houses, under thatched roofs, iron hooks, steel claws, and tongs, jingled and rattled on black hooks nailed into stone walls. That noise meant only two things. Business for the craftsmen of the village was slow and less work, more family time, had replaced the latter in importance. From the looks of things, business had been slow for some time. A dusty outline encircled each tool and rust had begun to corrode the iron hooks, steel claws, and tongs.
I stopped before the first three houses. My eyes glanced over the ancestral markings carved above each door.
“No. Nope. Definitely not,” I said to the first three houses.
I moved on to the next three. Still no luck.
“Where is it?” I muttered to myself.
That familiar marking. A door creaked open and a warm orange light spilled out through the door. A young woman emerged from it, frowning as if she’d never known happiness.
Looks like I found the door.
“Thua, it’s been too long,” I said as I walked toward her arms outstretched. She didn’t respond right away. In fact, she stood before me with her arms crossed and an incredulous look upon her face. I could almost hear her thoughts. Just look at you. You call those clothes. You’re walking around in dirty white scraps that barely cover your torso and legs. They’re hanging off your body. Her eyes focused in on my ribcage. Your bones are bulging through your skin. And your beard. Really, it’s braided and down to your collarbone. Then her eyes zeroed in on my feet. Unkempt like the rest of you.
“Really, Grandpa Kaze, I don’t know what I’m going to do with you,” she finally said, breaking her silence.
“You can start by inviting me in.”
I reached out and engulfed her in a hug. Thua sighed. Her calloused hands tightened around my protruding back ribs.
“You haven’t been eating again,” she accused.
I smiled. When did she become so serious and motherly?
“Maybe you can feed me something,” I said as I walked into the house.
“What brings you here? You only come when something bad has happened.”
The hairs on the back of my neck stood up. She sounded just like her grandmother.
I spun around and watched her close the door and slide a metallic plank across it.
“So what bad thing has happened now?”
It was really warm and cozy inside the house. Much better than outside. A fire was lit in the fireplace and a small table sat before it. I walked over to the small table and sat down, leaning my staff against the edge of the table. The ruby eyes of the black mosquito handle sparkled in the firelight. I watched Thua retrieve an old gourd bottle and fill it with wine. Blood wine, I hoped.
“Here,” Thua said, handing me the bottle.
She looked down at the ground. A line of muddy footprints led to the door.
“Just what I needed,” I said before taking a long swig.
I leaned back in my chair and let my legs stretch out. I hadn’t consumed anything in a long time. I could already feel my vitality returning. Thua slumped down into a chair before me. She impatiently tapped her fingers against the table top. I let my feet rock back and forth freely as I popped my toes. A sharp sting shot through my right foot, but I ignored it, opting instead to study Thua’s appearance. She truly did look like a human. Her clothes especially. I’d never thought I’d see one of us in human farm clothes, but then again, there’re a lot of things I thought I’d never see.
“Ra’feur is dead,” I said, taking another sip of wine.
“The vision came true.”
Thua leaned back in her chair and sighed.
“What are we going to do?” she said. “We must warn the others.”
“Some things you just don’t want to believe are possible,” I said. “Even when you know the things you see always come to pass. This is one of those things.”
A thud sounded from the next room.
“Who’s that?” I asked, gripping my staff.
“Alobien. I’m watching him while his father is away.”
Alobien emerged moments later. He waddled up to our table and Thua lifted him into her arms. So he’s the reason for her motherly nature. I took another long swig of wine. Wine drizzled down my chin and into my white beard, dyeing it blood red.
“You spilled on yourself,” Alobien said.
I laughed as my beard visibly shrunk and my body filled out. I’d be back in order in no time. Alobien’s eyes went wide.
“You’re just like Thua,” he said.
Thua pulled him in tighter to her chest. What is it about this human that she finds so amusing? Why this village of all the human villages? And why this house? I gaze around the room searching for my answer. There were no signs that a male ever lived here, let alone a human male. The room was filled with only her things and the boy’s. She lied to me, but why?
I stared down at the boy. His body was pudgy and his cheeks were chubby little balls. And his eyes, his eyes were big and wide. He didn’t seem to possess any special qualities. I just didn’t get it. Alobien slid down out her lap and ducked under the table. He emerged seconds later with a toy bird in his hand. So that’s what was poking my foot.
“A red raven,” I said, studying the toy.
I reached out and scraped off a bit of mud from the toy’s wings.
“You have the same tattoo as Thua,” said Alobien as he pointed at my forearm.
I looked down at my tattooed forearm. The black mosquito tattoo frightened most children but this one seemed amused by it. I stared at Thua. She’d always kept her tattoo covered under long sleeves. So why and how did Alobien know about it? Did she trust this human that much? Or was it love? Did she play the role of mother to this human?
“We need to leave now,” I said, rising to my feet.
Thua looked down at the boy.
“I can’t leave him,” she said.
It was then. She loved the boy.
“He’ll be fine. It’s us that won’t be,” I lied.
I placed a hand on top of Alobien’s head in an effort to reassure her.
“I won’t leave him,” Thua repeated more sternly.
“He’s recruiting…plans to take over the world. Do you really want to involve this boy in godly affairs,” I said, raising my voice.
Thua’s stance did not change. Instead she stood toe to toe with me. She truly was the spitting image of her grandmother. I placed a hand on her shoulder.
“Look, the boy will only slow us down,” I said.
Thua slapped my hand aside, knocking me into my staff. The staff fell to the floor before the boy. He screamed as a ray of light emerged out of the mosquito’s ruby eyes and struck him in the middle of his head. Thua knelt down on the ground and swept the boy into her arms. He was deathly still. She leaned close to his ear and whispered a phrase I could not make out. The boy’s chest jolted upward. He was still alive.
“Impossible, only a…”
Thua silenced me with her look. She rose to her feet with the boy still in her hands and headed for the door. The metallic plank slid across and crashed to the floor.
“I am led to go, where I am led to go. Just as you Grandfather, are led to go, where you are led to go. This has long been the way of the seer’s life.”
“What is your vision concerning this orphaned boy?” I asked.
Thua creaked open the door. A red blur glided past the door and a loud cry filled the air. I took another swig of wine and grabbed my staff. Thua turned around, mouth wide open.
“This boy must live in order for the other to save us all.”
Chapter Three: A King is Born
It was quiet inside the main chapel or Oma Tu as the Usar Omarians named it, or the Place of Ascension as the humans called it. Tall double doors gave way to the chapel. Twin sycamore trees were entwined and engraved onto each door. Beyond the doors, the floor was white granite and cut into large triangles. The walls were made of gold and diamonds. Long white pillars were lined up in a row along them. They extended high above into the air and appeared to be never-ending. There was a black granite cylinder filled with fire in the middle of the room. It burned a white flame that extended high into the air. The flame combined with the gold and diamond walls made the room look like the sun’s twin.
Deeper into the chapel was an area where large thrones and seven open windows resided. The thrones were plush and vibrant. One was red, another was green, and a few were blue and purple. In total there were seven thrones and each belonged to a high divinity of Zarna. Beyond the thrones and through a white door was a square-shaped pool of dark water. Its purpose was to help humans ascend from being a mortal to a Chaelin.
Though the chapel itself was serene, the people within it were restless.
“I’m sure the king will walk through these doors any minute now,” a man wearing Umartan regalia said.
He had on a long white robe that went down to his ankles. Around his neck, arm cuffs, and lower hem was gray fur. Gray fur that was just about as gray as his eyes. The man smiled calmly though he was clearly frazzled. He looked around and fiddled with the brown belt strapped around his waist. In doing so, the brown strap that went across his left shoulder tightened. The man grumbled, then sputtered out inaudible obscenities as he loosened his belt.
“Ah! Finally free,” the man said as he ran his hands down the silver and onyx crescent moons on his now wrinkled belt.
A woman cleared her throat beside him. The man shifted his feet around on the ground, which were adorned in white boots with gray war dogs painted on them. He nervously looked over at her.
“What?” the man said.
The woman shooed him off, but not before rolling her darkly painted eyes at him. The man smiled weakly.
“Excuse me for my vulgarities,” the man said, knowing that’s what she wanted him to say.
The corners of the woman’s mouth slightly rose. She was satisfied, for now.
The man turned his attention to the other woman within the chapel. His eve, who sat on the green throne. She appeared as a woman in her mid-twenties, though she was immortal and well beyond the double digit ages. She had long dark curly hair, which she currently played with, and luminous copper skin. Her distracted eyes were a deep brown and her lips full like her mother’s.
“You alright?” the man asked.
The woman didn’t answer, she instead went from playing with her hair, to caressing her stomach, which protruded noticeably through the emerald dress she wore. The man waved his hands before her eyes, but it was of no use. Her eyes were glued to a nearby window and her thoughts were clearly elsewhere.
“Leave her be,” interjected the other woman.
The man rolled his eyes but did as he was instructed to do. He hesitantly went back to staring at the doors, while Airma gazed onward at the window.
“It will be any minute now,” the man said, knowing full well no one was listening.
Airma’s lips suddenly moved but no audible words came out, as if she were absentmindedly speaking her thoughts aloud where only she could hear them. The man and other woman gazed at Airma from out the corner of their eyes as her lips moved once more.
Send me a message so I know you’re still here, Airma urged within her mind, or at least she hoped it had been within her mind. Airma’s hands tightened around the arms of her throne. The last thing she wanted was for the others to worry about her. Because one thing would surely lead to another, and the other always involved much probing and unnecessary talking. The latter of which, Airma really didn’t want to do at the moment. Airma kept her eyes focused on the window and stayed as still as she could. Eventually, the man and woman’s probing eyes averted themselves away from Airma’s direction. Airma loosened her grip on the throne’s arms and quietly sighed in relief and made sure she kept her gaze ahead on the window.
A few uneventful moments passed by after that, with the occasional heavy breath escaping either of the three within the chapel, then, suddenly, something strange happened. A red raven landed on the very window sill Airma was staring at. Its transparent body hadn’t made a sound when it landed.
“The king’s chariot is here!” yelled a guard stationed at the front entrance gate to the inner palace.
His message reverberated off a line of water leading into the palace’s main chapel.
The two seated next to Airma immediately perked up.
“Told you he was almost here,” said the man with a proud look upon his face.
Airma however wasn’t as enthused. Her eyes were wide and still planted on the window. And her lips were pressed into a stern line. One that wasn’t going to change anytime soon, mostly, because the raven before her eyes was her sign, and it wasn’t a good one.
The raven’s dark eyes locked with Airma’s. In a weird way it was like they were one. When the raven twisted its head right, Airma did the same. When the raven blinked, so too did Airma. The raven fluttered its wings then readjusted itself on the window sill. With its eyes still locked on Airma, it proceeded to move its mouth.
“Airma,” the red raven said telepathically.
A jolt of fear and panic instantly ran through Airma’s body as the tiny hairs on her arms stood on end. The raven had the same voice as her husband and a strange alluring power was behind it. Power that would bring any man, god or human, down to their knees. Before the raven continued, Airma’s body stiffened as if readying for a blow.
“My essence,” the raven began, “will be absorbed into our unborn pal, so that the world shall never fall into the hands of my brother.”
The words took a while to sink in, but once they did, Airma’s shoulders hunched over with grief and her mind reeled with horrible thoughts. A tremendous task was now hers to bear. Sensing Airma’s grief and hesitation, the raven glided from the window sill and onto Airma’s throne.
“Airma, we don’t have much time,” said the raven.
Airma slowly brought her hands up and used them to cover her ears. Not only was the raven’s voice within her head and unable to be silenced, but so too was the sound of two very determined feet. Those heavy feet pounded their way down the long corridor which led to the chapel. The loud clunking they made gave away many things. For one, the owner of those plodding feet wore thick heels. And the person had no sense of rhythm. Every step was offbeat, hurried, and annoying. Annoying mostly because Airma knew who those feet belonged to. And judging by the squirminess of the other two occupants within the chapel, they two could hear the same annoying feet. But it was obvious Airma’s father was unaware of who they belonged to.
Airma glanced up at the door, forcing the raven and the owner of those heavy feet out of her mind. Her self-inflicted distraction didn’t last more than a minute before the raven sprang up into the air and hovered before her eyes. No matter how hard Airma tried, she couldn’t look beyond it, through it, or around it. And she sure couldn’t shoo it away. Not that she hadn’t thought of it.
“Airma trust me,” the raven pleaded.
On the other side of the chapel doors, the owner of the plodding, off beat feet stopped.
“Open the doors for you new king,” said Ba’el to the young doorman who’d been quietly standing outside the doors, since earlier this morning.
“New king, my lord? Has the great one passed?” the young doorman asked.
Ba’el looked the doorman up and down before speaking.
“Do I talk in riddles? I said new king,” quipped Ba’el.
The doorman’s thick brows lowered and a stray strand of coiled hair fell in front of his brown eyes. Ba’el’s presence always caused a lump to develop in the doorman’s stomach. But that lump was quickly turning into a tight knot. One filled with anger and disgust. Oh, how he hated this descendant of Usar. The doorman’s eyes did a once-over of the vesture of Ba’el. It was disheveled, like he’d been in a great battle. Ba’el cleared his throat. The doorman’s eyes snapped up and focused in on Ba’el’s content disposition. He seemed happy with the fact that his brother was dead.
“My lord,” the doorman said, staring Ba’el the Blue Crocodile dead in his eyes.
“Get the doors, Bastian,” Ba’el demanded, holding back the smile trying to creep its way to the surface.
The doorman blew the stray strand of hair from in front of his eyes, then forced a smile as he reached for one of the doors.
“Sure, Ba’el,” he said as he turned the iron handle.
Ba’el seized control over the doorman’s head and within seconds sent it slamming into the doors. The sharp stinging pain didn’t register until it was over. Ba’el had the young doorman’s head jammed up against the doors, his nose smashed flat.
“You meant to say King Ba’el or My Lord, didn’t you?” Ba’el said as he wiggled the doorman’s head against the doors.
Blood trickled down the face of the doorman and splashed onto the stone floor below.
“Yes,” the doorman gargled out.
“Good dog,” Ba’el said as he released the egg-shaped head of the doorman from his large dark hand.
The loud horn-like sound of the doorman drawing in a breath made Ba’el smile big. His white teeth gleamed and his tongue snaked out of his mouth at the sight of the doorman’s blood.
“Open the door,” Ba’el hissed.
The doorman grabbed at his now flat and throbbing nose. He cut his eyes at Ba’el, who stood there with his nose in the air breathing in deeply, making loud crackling noises through his mouth, mocking the doorman.
“Imacanu,” the doorman cursed under his breath.
With gritted teeth he opened the doors for his new king. Just as Ba’el appeared in the door way, the raven swooped down and plunged into Airma’s womb. Ra’feur’s nature and that of his son’s becoming one. Airma inhaled sharply, it felt as if her breath had been stolen from her body. Not because of the raven and its actions, but because of Ba’el. The very fact that he was standing there and not her husband made the raven’s words ring truer.
Airma’s eyes met with the cold, calculating stare of Ba’el. He strutted through the doors like he owned the place, while behind him, Malik the young doorman held his battered nose with shaky hands. Airma’s eyes narrowed as a smile formed on Ba’el’s lips. Encasing that devilish smile was a well-trimmed mustache and a clean-cut beard. It always surprised Airma how Ba’el the brute had so much time to keep up a clean appearance, or why he felt it necessary.
The woman sitting beside Airma squinted her eyes.
“Where is King Ra’feur?” she asked, placing a warm hand on Airma’s left shoulder. “Airma is due to give birth any minute now.”
“Ah! Veta, nice to see you as well. You’re looking lovely,” said Ba’el. “And you Samos. Have you lost weight?”
Samos sputtered in his seat then motioned toward Veta indicating he wanted his wife’s question answered immediately. Ba’el flashed a smile as he continued walking forward, never taking his eyes off Airma.
“Where are my manors,” Ba’el began, “the King is dead!”
Ba’el had announced such tragic news with a cheery pep in his voice.
“I barely managed to escape,” he added.
He motioned to his tattered clothing. The robe he wore went down and around his waist and stopped just above his loose-fitting black pants that were cinched at the bottom. The front of his blue robe, which he fondly ran his hand down, was stained with blood and riddled with scorched holes. Ba’el spun around on the balls of his feet showing his back to the three onlookers. The ruffled blue and golden embroidered cape attached to his back went from the tops of his shoulders down to the floor below. The bottom of his cape zigzagged like the ends of a frayed rope. In the middle of the cape was the seal of Usar, a crocodile.
Airma narrowed her eyes even further. The cape looked as if it had never been used. Like it was just a prop and nothing more. For starters, the seal of Usar looked freshly stitched. While the material used to make the cape wasn’t weather-worn as it should have been, especially if it truly had travelled to the north. But the most alarming detail was the fraying at the bottom, it looked intentional, not like it had naturally happened. It was as if someone had taken a knife and went to work, slicing and slashing at the material there.
Airma’s suspecting eyes darted even further down, down to Ba’el’s boots when he clicked his heels together. The boots unlike the cape had been used in a confrontation. A rough and tumble one, judging by how much the boots were covered in blood and a curious mix of mud.
Ba’el suddenly spun around startling his three onlookers. It wasn’t until Ba’el cleared his throat that the three seated noticed that around his neck, fastening his layered robe together, was a golden clip with a pearl-colored seashell in the middle.
“That’s Ra’feur’s, isn’t it?” Samos said, pointing to the circular clip.
“Yes,” Ba’el answered.
“I gave it to Ra’feur during our wedding ceremony,” Airma added in a quiet voice.
Veta scooted closer to the end of her throne.
“What are you doing with that?” she asked as her gray eyes squinted and focused in on the clip.
“Ra’feur handed it to me just before—” Ba’el pressed the clip against his heart. “It’s all I have left to remember my brother by.”
“Just before…?” Samos said.
Airma sighed, then rolled her eyes indignantly. She cocked her head to the side and looked up at Ba’el, waiting for his next act of grievance to start.
“Before he died,” Ba’el said, closing his eyes and pinching the bridge of his nose.
This time Veta rolled her eyes. It was no secret that Ba’el envied his brother. And Ba’el was never one to outwardly show his emotion, especially when someone or something died.
“I don’t put murder past him,” Veta whispered into to Airma’s ear.
Airma glanced at her mother, then back to Ba’el.
“Who was foolish enough to kill the King of Zarna?” Samos asked.
Ba’el’s eyes snapped open, as did his mouth.
“Gods from the North, East, and West,” he said in a rush.
Veta squeezed Airma’s shoulder and Samos’ nostrils flared.
“That doesn’t sound like something a Western Omarian would do,” Veta said.
Samos’ cut his eyes at her, “Why would Ba’el lie? We’ve been away for years, maybe they would. They didn’t exactly agree with Airma being married to Ra’feur.”
“Samos, listen to reason,” Veta pleaded.
Samos sighed heavily, then looked up at Ba’el.
“They will not get away with this!” he yelled, fists clenched.
Ba’el smiled. Samos was always easy to anger and even easier to control when angry. A sound kick inside Airma’s stomach brought her back to the present. She was ready to give birth; the ground beneath her showing this to be true.
“The baby is coming,” Ba’el said with gleaming eyes.
“No time to grieve, it seems,” Veta said as she rose from her seat.
Her red dress was long and furry. Samos stood to her help with Airma, but when he reached out to touch her, Veta retreated from his touch. Veta gently hoisted Airma to her feet.