Chapter 39: UNKNOWN
It was like she could see the wind, and everything in it was dark. Smoke curled around her, whipping at her clothes, tangling her hair, and swirling up into the inky night sky. She had no idea what was happening, but she knew that at one moment she was standing in the castle, and the next, even though she had not moved, she was moving. At one moment, there was a hand over her mouth, and the next, it was gone, evaporated into the wind like whatever other particles were littered throughout it. She felt like she was flying, but still felt the ground under her feet, as if her body was in two places at once, her hands, outstretched, the breeze between her fingers, her heels digging into whatever soft earth was underneath them.
The wind roared in her ears, and for a long time that was all she could hear. While it was everywhere, absolutely everywhere in the room, she felt it was also trapped inside her ear canal, ensuring that she was not going to hear anything other than it for a long time. She wondered if she was dead, if the feeling of weightlessness was going to continue forever, and maybe the solid ground under her feet was just the side of the coffin. Perhaps this was the beginning of her long death nap, and that she had, through not properly surveying her surroundings, succumbed to the same murderer that her grandmother had.
Princess Kyrstin tried to take a step, just to feel the effort it put her body in, but a step was impossible. She could not step forward because there was no forward. She couldn’t go back because that did not exist either. She could merely stand there, wherever she was, this place of nothing. Nothing but wind and thought, of solid ground and air. It was a place like none other she had ever been to or heard of.
Just as suddenly, she was out of it. Her knees buckled, and the ground that she couldn’t step forward in was suddenly rushing up to meet her face. With only a heart beat to go, Kyrstin managed to get her hands out in front of her, and stop her fall before she got seriously hurt. Instead, the palms of her hands burned, and she felt little cuts begin to bleed as tiny stones cut and embedded themselves into her skin. She looked at the ground, at the cement that was similar to her family’s castle floors, except covered in soot. Her hands were now covered in ash. She looked down, and her body was covered in the cinders that come from a great fire.
The dark wind whistled away, disappearing in every crack and crevice in the room. It vanished in wisps through the window frames, tailed out of the doorway, circled up to the ceiling and when it escaped in the shadows above, it disappeared altogether. The three ornate chandeliers that adorned the ceiling rocked back and forth, their candles broken, the wicks unlit. Banners that Kyrstin didn’t recognize also rocked back and forth on their one string nailed into the wall, balancing precariously, and all off center, leaning this way or that. The banners were red with yellow trim, and sewed onto them were just a couple of lines of gold which took the shape of a mountain. Kyrstin tried to search in her memory books of all of her teachings and couldn’t come up with who the insignia belonged to.
She thought about the three Kingdoms of Consequence. The Valley of Cherries was the exact opposite of this insignia, gold banners with red stitching in the form of a V. Baku was a dusty rose colored banner with black stitching of an arrow strung bow which resembled an uppercase B. What was Silevellen? she asked herself. Yesterday I was cursing my studies, and right now I would give anything to go back to them.
Wherever she was, it had been destroyed by a fire. She could tell she was in a Great Hall of a castle, what with the large ceilings, chandeliers, torches which stood waiting, a great runner that was burnt and barely a shadow of its former self. The two throne chairs, made out of gold, had been touched by flames as well, they had melted and hardened in various spots. The cushions remained, burnt pieces that would no longer provide comfort. Kyrstin looked at the solid gold from afar, noticing it would only take a simple polish to get them back to their previous shine and worth, regardless how destroyed they looked. They were much prettier than her parents’ chairs, she must admit. And if nobody owned this castle, she might be so inclined to take them and gift them for when the King and Queen returned.
If she wasn’t dreaming, which was still a real possibility.
There was no sound, except for her own breath.
And suddenly, outside of the castle, out in the distance of wherever, she thought that she heard Lucky the Bear roar.
She turned to the sound to hear it better, and came face to face with a man who appeared to have been staring at her for awhile, even though she knew that he had not been standing there a moment ago. But, there he stood, between her and the door, looking down at her. He was not as tall as her father, but his shoulders seemed wider, his stature seemed more pronounced. The mere fact that he stood before her without making a sound made him twice as scary as her dad who seemed to be uncomfortable with silence. This man, instead, seemed to live in it, and as he stared at Kyrstin, his hands clasped together behind his back, she immediately wished her father was there to engage this guy in conversation, for she was reverting to her socially awkward self.
When it became apparent he was not going to lead the conversation, but simply stare at her looking back at him, she made the first move.
“Where are we?”
It did not matter. The man merely watched her, taking her in for the first time. She stepped forward, looking around him at the open door. He did not make a move to stop her, but stood there, turning his head to follow her as she continued to look around the Great Hall. Every other look, she reserved for him, trying to see if he was moving or not. As far as she could tell, he was not.
“Is this your castle?”
“Is your kingdom in trouble as well?”
She wasn’t even sure if he was blinking.
“How did we get here?”
He would not speak, and she was running out patience as she was a very busy Princess, and had a lot to do. She had her grandmother’s murder to investigate, the witch’s disappearance to look into, a kingdom of skeletons to vanquish, a Fortis revolt to squander. Princess Kyrstin had an agenda, and being whisked off to nowhere land could not be tolerated. So, the fear that she felt when first seeing the man quickly subsided, and turned to annoyance. She walked past him, heading for the doorway.
“I don’t have time for this.”
She walked quickly to the door, at first watching him, but then realizing that if she were to get away, she must do it quickly. So, she focused on the door only a few feet away, and it got closer, and closer. She turned to check to make sure the man was still standing in his previous spot-
-and he was gone. Perhaps hiding behind a pillar, perhaps simply a figment of her imagination. A shiver formed in her shoulder blades and shot up to her earlobes, making her cold. She turned to escape, and ran into the man’s chest.
He had moved at impossible speed, and Kyrstin bumped off of him and fell to the ground. Now, she was angry.
“I am Princess Kyrstin Lishens of the Springborough Lishens. Oldest child of King Daniel Lishens and Queen Jenniffer of the Laurel family, sister to Prince Thomas, the new ruler of Springborough, and Prince Patrick, the first Giant of the generation, and I demand you let me go, or you will answer for your crimes of kidnapping, abduction, and assault on a member of the royal family.”
The man turned around, the first full action that Kyrstin saw him make. He grabbed the iron handles of the doors and closed them. The Great Hall doors in Springborough were so heavy it took one man for each door to perform such a task. The doors here did not look any different, but this man in front of her closed them both easily, as if they weighed nothing. She was hoping they did, because the alternative was that this man carried with him a strength she had not seen before except for her brother Patrick.
“Who are you?”
“Aes,” he rasped out, taking a moment with each syllable; Ah, a pause and then eees.
Kyrstin had heard the name before, but she knew the man by a different title, a title her grandmother had told her when she talked of the dragon eye ring.
“The warlock,” she stated, and the man looked at her and smiled.
“A warlock. Not the only one.”
“You killed my grandmother.”
The warlock looked at her, studying her, trying to decide whether or not the girl before him actually believed it. He could tell that she was actually just searching.
“Why would I do that?”
Because, you’re a warlock, Kyrstin thought to herself.
That I am, the Warlock answered her. His voice, in her mind, and she had to wonder whether she imagined it or not.
Princess Kyrstin realized that while the fact was true that this man practiced magic, it didn’t necessarily prove that he was a murderer. “Because, you wanted her ring.”
“I gave her that ring.”
The Princess knew that to be true as well. Her grandmother had told her Aes had forged for her the ring that would protect the Kingdom of Springborough. It was the removal of the ring from a royal hand that created the storm filled with evil spirits. It was when the ring was put onto her brother Thomas’ hand, that the storm clouds went away, and the spirits turned to skeletons which fell down on the Kingdom of Springborough. Kyrstin wondered to herself whether any other kingdom had seen, or been victim to, the storm, and whether all the kingdoms had a skeleton problems now, or just them.
Did other Kingdoms have protector rings made from resident warlocks?
Aes took a large breath in his nostrils, filling his lungs. He let out all the air in one short burst of breath through his mouth, lighting every wick in the room. The torches, the chandeliers, everything that could be safely lit to illuminate the room was suddenly aflame, making the details of it all much clearer. Aes’ skin was tanned, his head filled with light feathery hair, his hazel eyes encompassed large pupils that seemed to take in everything. All other features were encased in his large, deep purple cloak.
“Are you going to hurt me?” she asked.
“Not I,” the Warlock answered, and Kyrstin wondered what exactly that meant, but she knew, at face value, that it meant if she was alone with him, as she was now, that she was relatively safe.
“Everything that is happening now is the product of something that has been brewing for a long time. Everything that is happening now has been happening exactly according to plan.”
“Whose plan?” Kyrstin asked.
“The only variable to the plan, the only thing the Man has not thought of, or factored into the equation, is you. You and your brothers. If you and your brothers can better him, Springborough and all of its people might stand a chance.”
“What are you saying? That we’re doomed?”
“The plan is for Springborough to fall.”
The Warlock looked at the Princess, thinking, studying her. The girl stood before him, wishing she had her brother’s sword in her hand, just to grasp the handle tightly, to feel she had some control in this matter, some show of force.
“Have you ever heard of the Man in the Hood?”
Kyrstin had. “The man in the forest who talks to trees? Yes. The stories are that it’s you.”
“Me? False. I am not the Man in the Hood.”
“How would I know?” the Princess asked.
“Because I am not the one who took your parents.”
It was as if the black wind came back in the room, stealing all of the oxygen. Her parents’ faces rapidly flashed before her eyes, and she almost felt as if she was going to be sick from all of the emotions welling up in her. But, the last emotion was relief, because he didn’t say her parents were dead. He didn’t say her parents had been killed. Just that they were taken.
There was a chance.
At that moment, Kyrstin heard the animalistic roar in the distance. But, she knew that the roar wasn’t Lucky the Bear.
She knew it wasn’t a bear at all.