Beyond the old stone door it is dark, which makes the younger man hesitate.
“You have to go in first, William. Only The Second Coming can enter. Once you have passed the test, I can then follow.” The older man’s voice is encouraging.
William doesn’t look comfortable, but nods slowly. “Give me a torch; it is dark inside.”
Kiran hands his companion an unlit torch, but William frowns. “How are we to light it?”
“The Second Coming does not need a tinderbox to make fire, William. Use The Blood!”
William gestures towards a nearby bush and the torch lights. A moment later, the bush bursts into flames. William looks down and flushes. “I am sorry, Kiran; I must be nervous.”
Within the hill is a cramped chamber, probably no more than two horses square. William holds the torch up, attempting to get a better glimpse of what lies ahead, but the darkness may as well be a void. William looks behind him to the opposite side of the room, regarding the sunlight with longing.
Kiran takes hold of the arm not holding the torch. “Here lies your destiny, William. You are The Second Coming, and inside you will prove it.”
William swallows, sweating profusely. Kiran moves his hand to William’s back, gently urging him forward, and the two men walk into the darkness.
Within moments, the door closes behind them and an unlikely breeze blows out William’s torch. “Kiran! What is happening?”
Kiran’s voice wavers but remains passive. “You are prepared for this, William. Use your emotions to prove you are the Second Coming!”
William takes a step forward and suddenly there is silence.
“William?” Kiran’s voice raises an octave.
Kiran’s cry is greeted by more silence. He turns to flee, but the door will not open. Kiran bangs on the door, alone in the darkness. He screams in frustration. “William!”
Lia screamed, and involuntarily jumped to her feet. She felt what was by then a familiar surge of power. “No!”
Rastlin ran over to her, but hit an invisible barrier and fell down to one knee. “Lia! What is it?”
Lia looked down to see him on the ground in front of her. “A dream, I think. All I recall is a scream of terror.”
Rastlin got up, and dusted himself down. “Keep exactly where you are, and continue to hold the power.” He walked around her, and held his hands out. “You have created a barrier around yourself out of instinct.” He smiled at her. “And what is more impressive is that you are holding it in place effortlessly.”
When she realised what had happened, Lia felt a banging in her head. “I am not sure about effortlessly. My head is pounding.” She released her hold on the power.
“That is most likely because it was pure instinct.” He looked around them. “What did you use to channel?”
Lia realised she had no idea. “I am not sure. I didn’t plan on doing this, so I didn’t concentrate on anything.”
Rastlin chuckled. “Fortunately for me I wasn’t close enough for you to grab hold of. I believe you may have used the environment around you to grasp the power, rather than any specific object.”
Lia looked stunned. “I thought that took years of practice, and only certain people could do it?”
He smiled. “All true, but you are not certain people. You are the Second Coming.”
Lia didn’t understand. “The Second Coming? What is that?”
“It is your official title, so to speak. A prophecy told of your coming, to restore the Order.”
Lia’s laugh was sarcastic. “A prophecy? This just gets better. Not only am I descended from some ancient bloodline, but also subject of some lunatic’s ramblings. Why didn’t you tell me this before?”
Rastlin gave her a disarming look. “Because you would never have believed me; to you I have sounded insane ever since we met, and I decided to take things one step at a time. Does it change anything?”
For a moment Lia looked like a lost child. “To be honest I am not sure what anything is. I accept I have this power, and I believe you are sincere in what you say, but I struggle to accept I can be that important. Surely there are others with The Blood out there? Why me?”
“There are undoubtedly others out there, but at this stage they are not important, and their blood will have been diluted over generations. As far as I am aware you are the only one directly descended from The First Coming, which means your blood cannot be corrupted. Since the First Coming perished at the hands of Revan, my line has been bound to yours, and yours alone.”
“How long ago did the First Coming die?”
Rastlin’s expression grew dark. “Four hundred years. The Priestesses murdered him; it was the act that almost obliterated our order. Since then, there has been a constant search for you and it has taken centuries for you to arrive.”
“Four hundred years? I don’t understand; why now? Why me?”
Rastlin opened his palms. “To be honest I do not know why it took so long for The Second Coming to be born. Why you? Again, I cannot answer that; my line has searched for yours for a long time, and within that period the two lines have crossed on many occasions, but only now are we sure The Second Coming has arrived.” He smiled at her. “As to how I know you are The Second Coming, which was of course your next question, is related to the prophecy.” He reached into the folds of his cloak and pulled out a scrap of parchment, which he handed to her.
Lia read with interest:
The Second Coming will be born in the heartland of the destroyer of The First.
The Second Coming will descend directly from the lineage of The First.
Lia looked sceptical, but Rastlin continued. “As far as I know, the First Coming only had one child. Do you have brothers and sisters, Lia?”
She shook her head. “No.”
“Did your father have any siblings?”
He smiled a victorious smile. “If you trace back your line, you will see that the parent descended from The First Coming was always an only child. That is why your blood is pure, and why you are The Second Coming.”
Lia continued to look for flaws in his logic, and found one. “But if all of my ancestors with The Blood were only children, wouldn’t that mean that any of them who were born in Suria could be the Second Coming?”
Rastlin had to concede that one. “On the face of it, yes, but through the generations it has been fairly easy to tell the difference, and there haven’t been that many of your linage born in Suria. It is true that my ancestors have often crossed paths with yours, and those that were born in Suria were tested, so to speak.”
She couldn’t help herself. “So did your line always resort to murder to achieve your goals?”
He shook his head. “No. Remember I tried to approach your parents on a neutral footing. It was their decision not to allow me to talk to you.”
Lia felt he was implying her parents’ murder was her fault and flew into a rage. She channelled on instinct and didn’t flinch when the power surged through her. “My parents’ deaths are on your hands, not mine!” Her eyes flashed, and Rastlin recoiled in fear. A bolt of lightning singed into the ground three feet to Rastlin’s right, and set a bush on fire. Thunder cracked and strike upon strike of lightning crashed down around them.
Rastlin shook himself free of his fear and shouted at her. “Lia! Release the power or you will destroy yourself!”
The rush of power was incredible and Lia felt invincible. More lightning fell and the entire area became dark due to the overhead conditions. Rastlin pointed to her feet, and his voice was barely audible over the noise. “It is already happening!”
Lia looked down; the ground around her was covered in flame and her feet were on fire. The flames started flowing up her ankles, and Lia cried out as they burned her legs. Rastlin yelled again. “Let it go!”
Lia screamed and severed the link between her and the surrounding environment. As she collapsed to the floor, Rastlin removed his cloak and doused the flames. Within moments the flames were extinguished and Lia’s screams changed from those of exertion to those of pain. Rastlin pulled what remained of her shoes off, ran to his horse, and pulled two waterskins from the saddlebags. He poured the first over her feet immediately, then looked Lia in the eye. “Look at me!” he hissed. “Take this waterskin and continue to pour it over your feet. We passed a stream not far back, and I will retrieve more water.” She forced herself to meet his gaze, dumbly took the gourd, and did as he said. Rastlin ran to his horse, mounted and drove the animal back in the direction they had come from, which left Lia to contemplate what had just happened. Part of her was in agony but another part was exhilarated by the power she had just demonstrated. The feeling she had when the power was flowing through her was incredible, but she needed to learn to control it; Lia realised Rastlin was right when he said she would destroy herself if she did not.
She poured the water onto her feet slowly as she waited for him, and considered everything he had said. Was the church of Revan really to blame for the decline of The Dragon Order, or was Rastlin merely a heretic? True, he had found her, and she clearly had power, but he had not explained a great deal of what was to happen next, which led Lia to question his wisdom. Perhaps she should part ways with him, knowing she could defend herself, and travel the world? Even if the prophecy were true, there was no guarantee she was the one it spoke of, and there were holes in Rastlin’s logic that only his faith could fill; his faith, not hers. Despite the pain, Lia smiled to herself; once her injuries healed, and after he had helped her to further control her power, she would leave him; once she had more experience, he would be powerless to stop her.
Days later Carly sat in the temple library, and was despairing at the lack of progress with her research. She had learned much of The Dragon Order: the seemingly random organisation and its demise at the hands of the Priestesses, who were forced to act to prevent its leader and his army from advancing into Suria and enslaving innocents. It was also clear The Dragon Order was evil, as it drew people to abandon their faith and offered an existence with no consequences. What Carly found disturbing was what happened to the souls of those who followed: they were drawn away from His love to an eternal limbo. Even worse, the souls of those who sacrificed themselves so those with The Blood could channel power were believed to suffer eternal torment for their wrongdoing. Carly found it very difficult to comprehend why individuals would make that choice and spent many hours contemplating the notion. She prayed and hoped that the souls of those who turned their back on Him were actually saved, and that the views of those who wrote the historical texts were misguided. Surely Revan would intervene at the very end, acknowledging that those involved had been misled, or controlled by unnatural means. Carly sighed and stood to return to her room, and wondered if she would ever find what she was looking for. It was then she noticed an acolyte standing a short distance away, who was studying her intently.
Realising Carly had broken her train of thought, the acolyte approached. She was holding out a letter. “Excuse me Priestess, this arrived for you.”
Carly inclined her head and took the letter. “Thank you, acolyte.”
The acolyte nodded and left the library. Carly sat down once more and opened the letter.
I was in the wealthier district of Surian shortly after my return and I came across the charred ruins of a house. I made a discreet enquiry, and it happened to be the property of Rogen Flaun. The property had burned completely to the ground, and when I spoke to the watch they said a number of people died in the fire.
That in itself should not be worthy of a Priestesses’ attention, but the fire had clearly disturbed the watch. Apparently a number of the dead were outside the property, and there had been some kind of conflict.
I am not convinced this was arson, because the guards wouldn’t have burned to death outside the house with weapons drawn. I investigated further and discovered that a young blonde-haired woman had been seen leaving the scene shortly after the fire started.
No-one has seen the woman in the local in the area since, but the circumstances of the fire were suspicious enough for me to make enquiries of my own. I wasn’t able to find her, but a young woman matching her description was seen leaving the east gate two days later, along with an older man of Arezan descent.
I hope this is of some use to you.
May Revan bless you now and keep you with Him always.
Carly re-read the note twice, then sat back to contemplate what it meant. Lia did survive the fire, although it appeared Michael may not have. Who was the Arezan man? Was it him Carly heard talking about The Blood in her latest vision? Where were they going? Carly had assumed that Lia would return to Crossmoor, but the more she considered it she realised her friend didn’t have much left. Lia probably believed Michael and Olbane were dead, and of course so were her parents. Carly herself was dedicated to the church, so she knew Lia wouldn’t feel compelled to return to rejoin her. Despite the circumstances, it seemed odd Lia would go as far away as Areza.
Carly read the note once more, smiled to herself at Priestess Catherine’s directness, and returned to her room to pray for guidance.
Lia sat by the fire Rastlin had made, and picked at the bandages on her feet and ankles. Once the initial burning had ceased the pain was bearable, particularly as Rastlin had put a salve on the wounds. The soles of her feet had been unaffected, which meant at least she could walk, but progress by horseback was tortuous as whenever her ankles collided with the horse’s flanks the pain was considerable.
They had spent the days since the initial pain subsided refining Lia’s control of the power, which was difficult to say the least; despite knowing what it felt like to have the power, Lia struggled to grasp hold of it unless she was experiencing severe emotions, much to their frustration. For three days Lia nearly killed Rastlin on numerous occasions, and what worried Lia the most was that as the days went on she seemed to need more and more emotion to draw on the power. Rastlin was also concerned, and every time he looked at her there was an expression of doubt on his face.
As they sat by the fire Rastlin gazed at her. Lia felt a surge of resentment; he wasn’t able to help her, she knew that; whatever was happening was beyond his skill. “You cannot help me, can you.” She said the thought aloud.
He paused for a long time then shook his head. “I do not think so, no. Why you are unable to grasp the power without acute emotion is beyond my knowledge.”
“I am a danger to anyone around me.”
Rastlin nodded sadly. “I know, but that is not my concern at the moment. What concerns me is that when we reach our destination, you might not be able to get through what it is you have to do. The only comfort I have is that you are The Second Coming and I believe you will fulfil your destiny.”
Part of Lia wanted to get up, run away and never return. Another part of her dreaded the results if she did that. “You have never said what my destiny is, Rastlin.” Lia stopped and realised she hadn’t used his name before; perhaps she finally felt an equal, if not a superior.
He smiled. “You have never asked, Lia.”
She realised that was true as well.
“Once you have entered the final resting place of The First Coming and proven yourself, you will be given what is necessary to restore the balance and allow The Dragon Order to flourish once more. Only The Second Coming can gain access, so I cannot tell you more.”
“By restoring the balance, you mean something will happen to the church of Revan, don’t you?”
He nodded. “It is likely, yes, but as I said before only you will know.”
Lia wasn’t comfortable with that notion at all. “Why should I do this? Why would I want to risk upsetting a balance that works so well for the people of Suria?”
Rastlin didn’t put up any kind of logical argument. “Because it is your destiny to do so; you can neither avoid it or hide from it.”
Later that night Lia decided to leave, and she sneaked away while he slept. Her burns hadn’t completely healed but she could not wait any longer; the longer she stayed with him, the closer she was to wherever he was planning to take her. Lia picked a random direction in the dark, walked for half a mile, then broke into a run. She ignored the pain from her wounds as she did.
Lia ran until dawn, and her feet felt as if they were on fire once more. She paused on the outskirts of a wood, and noticed a stream ahead of her. She approached, removed her shoes and plunged her feet into it. After a short while she felt surprisingly good and could almost feel a glow around her feet; instinctively she focused on the glow with her mind and a moment later she felt the power enter her body. For the first time in days, however, she felt in control of it, and not at all angry or frustrated. The tingling in her feet remained and Lia immersed her burnt ankles at the same time, which also tingled. She focused the power under the water and suddenly her feet and ankles started to itch uncontrollably. Without thinking, Lia pulled them out of the water and began to scratch them. As she did, she noticed the burns had diminished somewhat. Grasping an idea Lia put her feet and ankles back in the water and re-established her connection with the power. That time she ignored the itching and within a short time it stopped. She then removed her feet from the water and was delighted to see they were completely healed. Severing the link to the power, Lia laughed out loud, and savoured the first moment of joy she had felt in what seemed an eternity.
Lia bent down and washed her face with the cool water, then paused to look at her reflection. She cried out, jumped back involuntarily, and the moment of joy was gone. She nervously moved forward again, bent down and looked at herself again: her irises were crimson; all traces of their previous colour had gone. Lia blinked and washed more water over her face, but when it drained away her eyes were still the same colour. Lia’s mind raced: was this new, or had Rastlin omitted to tell her it had happened? Was it a result of using the power? Lia sat back, brought her knees up and hugged herself. She felt like a lost child.
Lia wasn’t sure how long she sat, but after running all night, she needed rest. The faint murmur of voices jolted her from the trance-like state, and she jumped to her feet. The voices seemed to be coming from the south, but Lia didn’t wait to find out more. She ran as fast as she could north, and was oblivious to the burning sensation in her chest and the pounding in her head from lack of sleep.
Hours later, she encountered the edge of a field. A short distance ahead she could see a barn. When she reached it she tentatively opened the door, then exhaled in relief when she realised there was no-one inside. Lia entered, closed the door behind her and collapsed on the hay. She fell to sleep instantly.
“Miss?” A small voice barely registered in Lia’s mind. “Miss?”
Lia groaned, sat up, and rubbed her eyes. Disorientated after being woken from a deep sleep, she realised she was in the barn she found earlier. In front of her was a little boy, most likely Arezan. Lia suspected he was no more than six years old.
“Miss? Why are you in our barn?” The little boy looked at her intently.
“I was tired, and I needed somewhere to rest.” She said it more sharply than she intended, and the boy stepped back. Lia took a deep breath. “Is that alright? I am sorry if I shouldn’t have done that, but I didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
The boy’s brown eyes looked up at her, and he looked more comfortable. “It’s fine; I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to.” The child studied her intently. “You aren’t from round here, are you? You look different.”
Lia nodded. “I am Surian, although I don’t think the border is that far from here.”
The child looked at her in bemusement.
“I’m Lia; what is your name?”
The boy smiled. “Olver. What’s a Surian?”
It was Lia’s turn to smile. “Surian is a place a few days ride from here. I was born there.”
“It must be boring; I’ve never heard of it.”
Lia chuckled. “You’re probably right.” She strained her eyes to see through the crack in the barn door. “How late is it?” She said it at the same time her stomach rumbled.
Olver grinned. “Nearly suppertime; Mother lets me come and play here before supper.”
The thought of supper made Lia’s stomach rumble again. She realised she carried no coin. “Do you think your mother and father would mind if I worked for food? I haven’t eaten for a day.” Healing her feet through the water had made her feel extremely weak and she had been near exhausted when she arrived at the barn.
Olver paused. “I don’t know… Mother doesn’t like strangers, but you are very pretty, so Father may say yes, and Jensen definitely would.”
“Who is Jensen?”
Olver snorted. “My brother; he spends all day chasing girls.”
“Olver, I’d love to meet your family; can you take me to them?”
He nodded. “If mother shouts, it is not my fault though.”
Lia laughed. “I promise if they don’t want me to come, I will leave straight away.”
Olver laughed too. “It’s a deal.”
The farmhouse was a short walk from the barn and on the way Olver chattered about his family and what they did on the mostly arable farm. The farmhouse itself was a fair size and the smell coming from the open window made Lia’s stomach rumble once more. She thought about uttering a prayer to Revan that the family would take pity on her, but for some reason she couldn’t force the words out. Instead she did her best to look as unthreatening as she could.
Olver led her to the farmhouse door, opened it, and called out. “Mother! Father!” He stepped inside, and Lia followed. The room immediately inside was a kitchen, and the smell of supper grew stronger. Lia waited while Olver ran forward to a door, which appeared to lead into a hallway. “A girl is here!”
“A girl?” A male voice sounded out and Lia heard footsteps down a set of stairs. Moments later a tall adolescent Arezan entered the kitchen, and his eyes searched out Lia. He grinned, while his eyes took in her whole form, until they stopped on her face. The rather pathetic leer disappeared, and the young man backed into the hall. “Father!”
Olver looked up at his brother. “What’s the matter, Jensen? She is my friend!”
Jensen didn’t respond. Moments later a middle-aged man came through the door. “What is the matter, Jensen? I’ve told you not to wake me during my nap.”
Jensen looked towards Lia, who backed towards the door. The man turned his head. “Who are you?”
Lia cleared her throat. “Your son kindly offered to help me. I have been without food all day.”
Suddenly a middle-aged woman appeared. “What is going on here?” She turned and noticed Lia, and gasped. “Her eyes! What is wrong with her eyes?”
Lia interjected, and spread her hands. “I do not know. I do not know why they are red, or when they turned red.”
Jensen stepped forward. “She is a witch! I’ve heard stories of such people!”
Lia involuntarily jerked back. Unfortunately she couldn’t deny the claim; to the ignorant, what she could do may have been considered witchcraft.
The farmer reached behind a cabinet, took out a large cudgel, and moved towards Lia. “Leave, witch, or I will kill you. Leave my family alone!”
Lia forgot her hunger and ran. Once she left the farmhouse, she turned to see the farmer waiting on the threshold, with the cudgel still in his hand.
Lia ran until the farmhouse was no more than a distant building. When she felt safe, Lia slumped to the ground and despair took her. She raised her arms in the air, screamed, and tears ran down her face. She barely noticed the raging thunderstorm that followed.