Chapter 19: Serenade The Night
The first thing Helio becomes aware of is the pounding in his head. He forces his eyes open; his vision blurry and unfocused. He blinks rapidly until the world clears. Stone. He looks around. He’s some sort of stone structure with a single window. Helio stands up, trying to ignore the pulsing pain in his head.
Vladire betrayed him. He should’ve seen it coming. He shouldn’t known better than to turn his back on anyone in the Quvanian court. It’s as good as signing a death warrant.
Another fractured image flashes through his mind.
Who was the man wearing the Sowhait crest?
When did Terdar ally himself with Sowhait? He hates Griffins. He’s been the one pushing his parents to declare war for years.
Helio needs to get out of here before he can try getting answers. He starts towards the window only to be pulled back. Something cold brushes up against his ankle, burning the flesh. He cries out. Wrapped around his ankle is a gold chain anchored to the center of the floor just long enough to keep the window from his reach. He unbuckles his cape from his shoulders and carefully tucks it between the chain and his ankle.
Helio has no idea where he is or who has him. Terdar is responsible; that he does know. Ra’venna should have sensed his distress by now. But she’s in Etrien.
She never said how long she would be gone for. She could be gone for weeks. By then he will be dead. He’s going to have to save himself.
The door opens with an ear-splitting screech. Helio whirls around, assuming a fighting stance. His hands fall to his sides.
General Seaton of Sowhait.
Helio recognizes him from a council his parents held with the Queens of Sowhait-one that nearly ended in war. He’s as legendary as Helio’s parents, as legendary as Ra’venna. The Thunderbird General. Legends say he demolished entire battlefields with a single beat of his wings; that one of his thunderbolts can kill eight dozen soldiers.
He’s a large man with wide shoulders and muscled arms. He has orange hair that is beginning to thin at the top and glaring, silver eyes. He’s clothed in all black armor-a signature of Sowhait-with the crest of Sowhait plastered on the front. Falling down his back is a cape of black feathers.
Helio stiffens. This is no simple minded noble or blindly loyal soldier. This is the General of Sowhait’s forces. He could’ve killed Helio back in Quvania, but he didn’t.
“What do you want from me?” Helio demands.
“I am protecting my Queens.” He replies. Helio’s face contorts with confusion.
“What do I have to do with your Queens?” Helio asks. Lightning flashes through the General’s eyes.
“Do not pretend.” The General roars. “I know of your plan to have the Nether Fairy assassinate my Queens.” He growls. Terdar. He should’ve known. What better way to eliminate the both of them and ensure the start of a war then to thrust them both into the hands of the General of Sowhait.
“I’m not planning to harm the Queens. I’m trying to stop my family. My brother is behind all this. He’s trying to start a war.” Helio explains.
“Lies will not save you now.” The General replies calmly. Helio forms fists with his hands.
“I’m not lying!” He bellows. Seaton ignores him.
“When the Dark Duchess comes for you, you will both meet your ends.” He says. He slams the door behind him, leaving Helio to shout his innocence at the walls.
Ra’venna notes the number of guards scattered across the palace grounds as she descends the stairs of the ship. The number is at least triple what is usually present. They stop every creature entering and exiting the palace: servants, slaves, pages, even fellow guards.
Something has happened.
Two guards await her at the palace gates. She glares at them. They gulp, but don’t back down. “Their Imperial Majesties have requested your presence upon arrival.” One of the guards recites.
Ra’venna narrows her eyes at him. “Lead the way.” Her escorts are allowed to slip past unchallenged.
Ra’venna counts the number of guards and compares it with her mental map of the palace. She may need to make a quick escape. She will not be taken prisoner.
The flesh of pain she felt in her ankle earlier comes to mind. Helio. Where is Helio? He should have come out to greet her. She realizes she can’t sense his presence. Have they been exposed? Has Terdar?
There are twice the number of guards outside the throne room. The doors open to reveal two lines of guards. Immediately Ra’venna notes Terdar and Helio’s absence. Her footsteps echo through the dead silence of the room.
“You summoned me?” She does her best to sound neutral. Her heart skips a beat. She’s...afraid. Not for herself, but for Helio. She has never feared for another.
“Helioson has been kidnapped.” Solus states. Behind the blunt sternness Ra’venna can hear terror.
“Kidnapped?” Ra’venna gasps. The pain, the flurry of emotions. They were Helio’s. Guilt swells up within her; while she talking with K’marie Helio was being kidnapped. Terdar is somehow behind it. She just knows it, but she can’t tell Solus or Apollonis this.
“Are you responsible? If you are I will subject you to tortures that have not yet been invented.” He snarls. Goosebumps arise along her skin and a chill runs through her wings.
“No. I am not.” Ra’venna defends through gritted teeth. She can tell right away he doesn’t believe her. Ra’venna glimpses at the guards around her, preparing herself for an escape.
“I believe her.” Apollonis says after a tense moment. The Emperor looks at her with wide eyes and Ra’venna is just as surprised as he is. The last creature she expected to come to her defense is the Empress. She rises from her throne and descends the stairs. Ra’venna’s power jumps in her veins.
“Look at me, mercenary.” Apollonis barks, the demand of an Empress. The guards in the room stand in attention. Ra’venna meets her eyes from beneath her violet hood. “You promised to take care of my son. Will you uphold your promise? Will you get him back?” She asks. Ra’venna’s stare doesn’t waver.
“I will find Helio and punish those who have taken him.” She vows. “And I am not merciful.” Finally, a smirk takes its place on the Empress’s face. It’s a shame the mercenary is a Fairy. She would make a wonderful Dragon.
“That is all I ask. You’ll be provided with everything you require.” She tells her.
“I only need to know what and where it happened?”
“Helioson and Lord Vladire went for a walk in the palace gardens and were attacked. Helio was kidnapped and Lord Vladire was injured. He has since made a full recovery and returned home.” Solus informs her. Lord Vladire is vaguely familiar. He’s from an old Quvanian family deeply trusted by the Shalquims. Judging by the Emperor’s tone he is not a suspect. She will need to speak with him first. Terdar was able to convert Haemir, it’s not unbelievable to think he could have turned Vladire against Helio.
She leaves the throne room. The two guards follow her to her chambers. Upon entering she immediately notices slight changes-including the shifting of the desk and changing screen. Of course her room was searched-probably right after Helio’s disappearance was confirmed. It doesn’t matter she brought nothing of importance with her to Quvania. She would never be so foolish.
Ra’venna needs to find Helio before he’s killed. Neither of them know what the repercussions of his death could be. She doesn’t want to die. At least not until she kills Terdar.
She changes into fresh clothing, rearms herself, and slips her cloak back on. The first thing she needs to do is locate Lord Vladire. She opens the door. “Guard,” both turn their attention to her. “Where does Lord Vladire live?” They glance at each other-not wanting to answer, but Ra’venna’s glare compels them. They fear her perhaps more than the Emperor and Empress.
“Navarus,” one of them replies, his voice trembling. She knows of the city. She spent years studying maps of Quvania until she could recite its cities, nobility, and resources in her sleep.
It’s a prosperous city overseen by Lord Vladire’s family. It’s a five day ride from Kleypolis. She slams the door shut and stalks over to the window wall.
She doesn’t have five days. Helio could be dead in five days. If she’s lucky she has one day, two at the most. She needs to find a quick way to Navarus. It’ll take at least two days by ship and she doesn’t trust any of the guards to ‘escort’ her there. There’s one creature whose word she can trust. She leaves her chambers.
The guards follow her through the palace. She’s tempted to hurl them out a window, but restrains herself. The guards have been ordered to spy on her under the guise of ‘protecting’ her. Solus’s orders no doubt.
“Stay.” She orders as they reach the infirmary door.
Nlea is seated at the counter labeling a repulsive green concoction. “Nlea,” Ra’venna says. The healer jumps, nearly dropping the vial. She whirls around and glares at the mercenary.
“Can you knock or at least make noise when you walk?” She hisses. Ra’venna ignores the comment.
“I’m sure you’ve heard of what’s happened to Helio.” She starts. Nlea nods while staring at the reflective floor.
“The Prince is a good creature. I hope he’s recovered soon.” Ra’venna rolls her eyes.
“That’s why I’m here. The Emperor and Empress have charged me with finding him. I need to get to Navarus. Is there a quick way to get there?”
Nlea grabs ahold of the Fairy’s arm. She tries to jerk away, but Nlea’s hold is firm. She places a finger to her lips. Nlea drags her to the back of the room before the empty space between the filled shelves. “The Emperor and Empress must never find out I know of this.”
“I won’t utter a word.” Ra’venna promises. The Royal Healer’s love for her Prince outweighs any hesitation she may have.
Nlea runs her hands along the stone; searching, feeling. Her hand stops over a stone set just a further out than the others and pushes it in. The wall opens to reveal a swirling, red mass of magic.
“I discovered it by accident. I suspect the palace may have been built around it, but I’m not quite sure why they would chose to hide it in the infirmary.” She wonders aloud.
“Because no one would suspect it.” She grunts. “Clever.”
“The portal’s ancient.”
Portal are powerful vortexes of energy, scattered around the world. Most often portals are formed in places where the barrier between dimensions is weak, combined with building or outbursts of magic causes a rift to open.
The red light swallows their figures. The portal is essentially an oval of continuously swirling energy. Ra’venna can taste the power radiating off of it.
“Do you know how to use a portal?” Nlea questions. Ra’venna nods.
She steps in front of the portal. The wind inflates her cloak. She runs her hand along the surface of the portal. The magic shoots up her arm and directly to her core. It’s fiery, like her bond with Helio. She retracts her hand.
“Tell no one of this.” Ra’venna instructs.
Ra’venna recalls K’marie’s training. Focus on the place you wish to go. If not the imagery, than the name. Names are powerful things. Clear your mind of everything, but that. You must remain perfectly calm or you could end up stuck in between.
Ra’venna shuts her eyes and focuses on the name Navarus. She clears her mind of all other thoughts. Her emotions however prove harder to tame because it isn’t only hers, but Helio’s as well. She imagines a small light surrounded by darkness. She pours her emotions into it, the light expands. She images tendrils of Nether coming from the shadows and devouring the light. It swallows it whole, leaving only darkness, emptiness. The darkness can’t feel. The darkness is free of contradiction.
Ra’venna opens her eyes and steps into the portals. The heat engulfs her to the point she feels as if she’s being burned alive. She sees nothing but red as she is jerked through the rift.
The portal spits her out on the grounds of a grand, white castle. Ra’venna glances around. There seem to be more guards than necessary outside. Vladire is scared. Perhaps he is smart after all. The guards are stationed outside the doors and around the perimeter, but the windows have been left unguarded. How foolish of them.
She turns her attention to the closest, unguarded window. The nearest guards are around the corner outside the servant’s entrance.
Ra’venna makes sure no one is around before launching herself into the air, using a small burst of her dark power. She latches onto the window’s ledge and pulls herself up.
She’s in a study of some sort. Against the far wall is an antique desk covered in scrolls, books, half-empty ink vials, and used quills. Across from it is an unlit fireplace with a portrait handing above and a chair in front. Hanging along the walls are a few weapons, a shield, and a painting.
She doesn’t have time to sift through the desk. She doubts Vladire would leave incriminating information lying around, if this is even his study.
She silently slips out of the room and into the hall. She needs to find his chambers. She presses herself against the wall and peers around the corner. There’re six guards outside a door down the hall. Lord Vladire’s room.
She needs to eliminate the guards and slip into Vladire’s room before the alarm can be raised. If her runs she loses her chance at ever finding Helio.
Ra’venna frees her power from the bonds of her body. The Nether engulfs her hands. She hides in the shadow of the hall and watches as the Nether slithers across the floor. It wraps around the feet of the guards and travel’s upwards, following it’s mistress’s wishes. The smoky, purple power dives down their throats before they can scream or cry out. It devours them from the inside out, feasting on not only their bodies but armor and weaponry as well. When it is done there is no trace of life in the hall.
Ra’venna opens the door. “I said I wanted no interruptions.” Lord Vladire barks, not bothering to turn around. In his hand is a silver chalice, half-filled with wine. He reeks of it.
“I would have requested an audience, but I’m in a hurry I’m afraid.” Ra’venna remarks, smirking. Vladire whirls around, the chalice falls from his hand. The wine spills onto the floor, like blood. “I need answers and I believe you have them.”
He stumbles backwards, falling against the stained glass windows. His eyes dart across the room, searching for an escape. Ra’venna draws her sai and hurls it. It lodges itself in his left thigh. Vladire cries out; one hand immediately going to the wound, the other grabs ahold of the window ledge.
“Where is Helio?” She questions, twirling her other sai.
“Go to Hunay.” He snarls. Ra’venna smirks.
“That is no way to speak to one who holds your life in their hands.” She replies. He grits his teeth and glares at her.
“I know nothing and when I tell the Emperor and Empress what you’ve done they’ll have you killed.” He spats. Ra’venna laughs, sinisterly.
“The Emperor and Empress have charged me with finding Helio. I intend to do so and I think you would be the one executed if your treason was ever made known.” The color drains from his face. If the Quvanian rulers ever found out he would be subjected to the worst tortures.
“I know nothing.” He lies again. Ra’venna sighs, feigning sorrow.
“I was hoping you would be forthcoming. It seems I will have to do this the hard way.”
She strides across the floor and crouches before Lord Vladire. She rests her index finger on the top of the sai’s handle. Vladire’s breath hitches and he scoots back as she runs her finger down its blade. The movement sends a fresh surge of pain down his leg. Ra’venna wraps her hand around the handle and in one swift, brutal action twists it. Vladire screams. He tries to spit at her. Ra’venna snatches his chin and slides a finger up his cheek, releasing an inkling of her power. It eats at the skin of her cheek.
“Do that again and I will cut your tongue from your head.” She hisses. She releases him. “Now, where do I find Helio?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
She presses her other sai to his neck, allowing him to feel the sharpness of the cold steel. She increases the pressure. Two droplets of blood run down the blade. She pulls it away and he lets out a audible sigh of relief. Before he can blink she plunges the sai into his forearm. He lets out a strangled scream. “Tell me where Helio is and this ends. Before you lie be warned: there are plenty of places I can stab you.”
“I will not betray my Prince.” He chokes out, beads of sweat rolling down his brow.
“Terdar. I had figured as much, but thank you for the confirmation.” Her lips curl into a malicious smirk. Valdire’s eyes widen. “Helio’s location. Now.” She demands.
Tired of his games, she yanks the sai from his forearm and drives it into his upper arm, using her strength to drive it through the bone. His screams are muffled by Ra’venna’s hand. They are beginning to become a nuisance. “If I have to ask again, you will begin losing limbs. Keep in mind Lord I do not make empty threats.” He gulps.
“Okay. Okay.” Vladire exclaims. “General Seaton has him.” Ra’venna eyes widen. She digs the sai further into his arm, bringing a cry to his lips.
“Terdar wants a war and what better way to incite one then to have Helio, the beloved Silver Prince murdered by the villainous General of Sowhait.” A weak smile spreads across Vladire’s face.
Ra’venna twists the blade and pain replaces it. “I sent a message to Seaton that said Helio hired a mercenary to assassinate the queens. It was surprisingly easy. The Thunderbird is so blindly loyal to his dear queens and desperate to avoid war. I promised to lure Helio into the wooded area of the gardens. I didn’t even have to convince him.” A dark chuckle slips from his lips. “Helio was harder. He was suspicious, but a lighthearted conversation about childhood memories and he followed me like a dog.” Ra’venna drags the blade up his arm, eliciting another scream from Vladire.
“Where are they?”
“A tower...in Sowhait...along the border.” He says, between pants. “It used to be a prison. It’s been abandoned for years. Seaton took him there. He’s waiting for you. He’s going to kill you both.” Ra’venna smirks.
“Many have tried and none have succeeded.”
“Yes, we will.” She draws her hand back and lashes out. Her fists collides with Vladire’s nose and he slumps to the ground, unconscious.
She unlatches the window and removes her cloak. She flaps her wings, soaring out of the castle into the forest. She lands somewhere in the sea of trees, where it would take hours if not days to find her. She throws her cloak back over her shoulders.
Ra’venna pulls K’marie’s gift from her pocket. She didn’t leave it behind in case the Emperor and Empress had her room searched again. It’s a Hyddstone. K’marie has always had an uncanny ability to predict the future. The glowing, lavender stone is a rare stone with the ability to teleport the holder to someone they share a deep connection to. It’s commonly referred to as the ‘Love Stone’. For that reason it is often exchanged at noble and royal Fairy weddings.
Ra’venna closes her hand around the stone.
She needs to focus on Helio, their bond. Hopefully, it’s strong enough to bring her to him. She closes her eyes. She reaches into her soul and pulls at their bond, the invisible thread between them. Ra’venna in-tunes herself to his emotions: the fear, uncertainty, and worry. Her emotions rise to the surface, melding with Helio’s.
Heat blossoms in her chest and spreads throughout her body. A new wave of magic washes over her, the Hyddstone’s magic. It fades. Ra’venna opens her eyes. She finds herself standing before a stone tower, cloaked by a surrounding forest. From outside Ra’venna can hear Helio screaming and another creature yelling back.