The next day Seraphine sets off to go to Quartz Zone with Lilo and three other girls. Celeste insists on staying in the camp with me and I know why. She desired the off chance she’d have another safe encounter with Traegr.
Call her naïve but our situation was complex. She was love-sick but also weary. We couldn’t bargain until we had something to bargain with.
I lean back against a thick tree trunk as I wait for Pharis to show up in our training area. It was a small patch in the forest not filled with overgrown foliage. A small patch of space to move and practice fighting. Seraphine wanted me to help Pharis learn more about his unique abilities. He could harness magic on his own but drain as well. A true hybrid. Now he had to learn to refine each one of his powers.
I may be an average run of the mill Gem, but I had fine, graceful control of water. I could manipulate it with precision that was rare in most Royal Gems. It’s why I use to dance with it, it helped me learn how to control it. As I wait for him I cross my arms over my chest and look up at the sky, breathing out a frustrated sigh.
I was on edge because just as Seraphine had left, not too long after, one of the girls scouting early this morning had reported a sighting of a lone Dark Gem wondering near the area.
I was stressed because Seraphine had given me complete control of the camp.
I was her fill-in. I didn’t know why she wanted to give me the damn reigns. Someone like Kaelyn would have been more comfortable in the job but still, she wasn’t here so we couldn’t count on her.
So far I had just told the girls to continue whatever duties Seraphine had assigned them and to stay in the camp. We’d work out a distraction later, about the same time Seraphine would arrive in the city.
In case she made a big entrance, we needed to be the Dark Gem’s priority. Not her.
I knew if Sabir was focused on me, but had orders to chase down Seraphine – he would have to abandon me for the bigger threat. I was just his play thing and I knew he paid particular attention to me because he was in charge of punishing me. However, Celeste’s tears last night had reminded me of the deeper moments I had had with Sabir in the past.
Memories I didn’t want to think about.
“Dudette!” Pharis finally arrives, grinning as he heads into the area wearing vines strapped around his shoulders, smooth wooden sticks on his back, sitting in the hold of the vines, “Why do you look so stressed this fine morning?”
“I’m reminiscing,” I admit, “About long times past with... well, you know –”
“I overheard everything,” Pharis puts up a hand and smiles guiltily, “Between you and Celeste? Last night? I admit, I was eavesdropping but only because I wanted to know what had upset her. There’s just one thing I can say...” Pharis slowly steps forward, ignoring my pissed off glare, ”Are you guys nuts?"
“What do you mean?” I snap back while he just rolls his eyes.
“You just escaped from them,” Pharis is talking about the Dark Gems, “You all rant about how hard it was to finally get away from them – and Celeste just happened to bump into the King last night? I know she misses him, why are you starting to reflect on good memories? I thought there were none. You’re all here now, and you want to go back?”
“I know it’s confusing, it’s... the complexities of Gems are different to humans. We’re not as logical. Especially when Traegr proclaims instincts rule. Most of us here run on feeling,” I want to explain, but there is just so much to make clear and it’s hard to know where to start. Pharis clearly had lots of questions.
“Humans feel too. A damn lot. So what, you’re another race? Stop being so stupid,” Pharis pulls out one of his wooden sticks, twirling it around in his hand he gives me a raised brow, “You’re going to get pulled back in. Then you’re going to wonder why you got hurt. Then you’ll try to escape again – and the cycle will repeat itself.”
“That’s not it, it might seem like that but you don’t understand why everyone is so volatile,” I try to reason with him and he glances over his shoulder to see Celeste watching us, almost invisible because she blends in with the trees so well.
She doesn’t look impressed by Pharis’ words. She wasn’t one for confrontation but I can see a fire in her eyes, a fire I don’t see often.
“You have no idea! Imagine having a hunger that can never be satisfied,” Celeste speaks up, and as she talks the ground at her feet slowly loses its green colour and vibrancy, reaching all the way to Pharis. She never did this, reversing her power to suck out the life from plants, but she was making a point, “There’s a part of the Dark Gems, always missing, a hole inside their systems that demands magic. It might sound like something that is easily quenched but it never goes away. On the other hand, Female Royal Gems are full of excessive magic, born under a certain Gemstone, if we do not release the power that we are gifted with, we also become increasingly unstable. There is a balance in our world that is almost impossible to find but we must find it,” she squats down, her eyes narrowing in on the grass as she feeds it back the life she just took, “The Dark Gems are not evil, they are just tormented. They take too much magic, they take on an obsession – like a drug addict. If they take too little, they lose the ability to emphasize or care about anything other than their own need to drain. If they just take enough, the hunger is satisfied and the females themselves also become more stable. Never have we found that balance in a long term solution. The memories Sapphire is reminiscing about are those brief moments in time where peace had been possible.”
“That peace she speaks of, is rare, perhaps two or three times I’ve felt it,” I add in, “We’re not barbaric, we’re just all cursed with either too much magic, or none at all.”
“So you’re all like toddlers that are learning to share?” Pharis suggests, trying to be funny.
“Don’t you ever crave magic?” Celeste asks, storming her way so we’re all closer, “To crave to touch a female’s skin and drain her?”
“N-Never,” Pharis answers nervously, skipping away from Celeste, he turns so he can face both of us, “I think you’ve made your point. It’s complicated. I get it. But can we have some fun today? I want to get out from these diamond soils, I need... danger.”
“Danger?” I ask quizzically.
“I may or may not know why there was a Dark Gem patrolling the area this morning,” Pharis winks, looking mischievous.
“Have you left these diamond boundaries?” Celeste asks, suspicious as she comes to stand by me, giving me a knowing look, “Pharis?”
“Like you can talk, Celeste. I’ve been collecting their traps in the forest,” excitement fills his gaze, “Smoke screens, cameras, trigger lasers, magic detectors –”
“So you have been outside the diamond fields, against Seraphine’s orders,” I point out, “Seriously Phairs, you could have been killed!”
“Calm down, Princess, I’m trying to help,” Pharis starts to look offended. And okay, I can’t blame him, he was going on adventures because he was the type to explore. His personality was outgoing and bubbly, he loved to talk to everyone in the camp. However, he didn’t understand the full picture, he couldn’t, he hadn’t been here long enough. Celeste had tried to explain but he didn’t understand the magnitude of what she had said.
“So... where is this cache of gadgets?” Celeste asks, now more curious and impressed than anything else.
“Follow me, Princess, Earth Fairy, I’ll show you the way,” Pharis is super excited again as he points his stick towards the right direction, “This way!”
“Why are you so happy today, Pharis?” I ask, grinning at his magnificent smile.
“Why wouldn’t I be happy? I’m a Hybrid Gem, a human consumed with magical awesomeness. I’m surrounded by pretty ladies and a gorgeous princess. They’re all my friends! You all love me! And last but not least, it’s my birthday today!”
“How have you been counting the days? The sun and days are different here. Time itself is different here,” I point out, trying not to laugh at his contagious enthusiasm.
“I don’t know, I just feel it in my bones?” he continues on his way, boyish youth and laughter filling the air.
“The Dark Gems would love him,” I mutter to Celeste.
“He might actually teach them to lighten up!” Celeste grins and Pharis turns around, walking backwards now, a sly smile on his lips.
“I’d never leave you girls, you’re my family now,” Pharis abruptly stops and points his stick into the air, “Up there!”
We both look up, a net filled with gadgets hangs from a narrow branch near the top of the tree.
“Clever hiding spot,” I mutter and watch as Pharis raises a hand and the net disconnects from the branch, gliding down to our feet with the help of his ability to also control inanimate objects.
As the bag settles on the ground, he gets down on his knees and spreads his palms.
“Behold, your treasure trove, your collection of laughs, giggles, smiles and many delights.”
“What’s this for?” Celeste asks.
“Are you kidding me? ′What’s this for‘, pssh, isn’t it obvious?” Pharis’ eyes continue to shine with mischief, “Today, these are our distractions for our lovely enemies back at the Golden Palace!”
“They’re so close, I can feel it,” Sabir says quietly, glaring out over the forest from his private balcony, before he curiously looks at me and questions, “What would you do if you lived in the forest?”
“If I lived out in the forest, I’d build a Palace from the ground up and live in it and rule it,” I snap back, annoyed because my thoughts were solely on one girl. Celeste, “I’d enslave all the disrespectful females on this planet and I’d teach every one of them a lesson or two about my hand.”
“I’d join you. What about you, Hraken?” Sabir questions the other man with us, the one of few words.
He is leaning on the balcony, silently thinking about many things. I knew he thought about strategies, fighting, Seraphine, his training, his odd way of disciplining his own abilities. Yet he spoke little of his ways, if at all.
The only two reasons I let him reside here were obvious, he never lost a fight and he ‘willingly’ submitted to my reign.
I wasn’t stupid, he was a threat to my rule. It’s why I kept him close, he’d be far too dangerous if I didn’t keep him on a tight leash.
“I’d live with warriors and teach them to control their power, until they master their impulses and instead act with reason,” Hraken says this honestly, and it grates at my nerves.
“Typical,” I try not to roll my eyes and instead focus my gaze solely on him, “I will never understand your ways, Hraken, instincts rule.”
“I’ve been taught differently,” Hraken looks away from me over to the forest, ignoring both Sabir and I as we do not understand him.
“Where do you come from?” Sabir asks, “You’ve never spoken of your upbringing.”
“It’s certainly irrelevant since our goal is in essence, the same,” Hraken answers smoothly, unfazed.
“What is our goal, that is ‘in essence’ the same?” I ask him, curious for his take on it but also irritated by his easy arrogance around me.
“You all seek pleasure, to rule, happiness... I seek a higher level to all that. You can’t enjoy the sight of a woman on her knees, quite as much as you can when you’re self-aware of your own authority,” Hraken pauses, considering his own words, confidence and certainty in his tone and his eyes.
“We’re quite aware of our authority,” I drawl out, slowly blinking up at the man who never talked this much – ever.
“Oh, but are you?” Hraken now managers to sound condescending, “There is a difference between arrogance and recognising one’s own true authority. It all starts with mastering one-self...” Hraken again pauses, he knows he is slowly crossing the line, “...the one thing you teach is to ignore all restraint –”
“Don’t forget who you’re talking to,” I stand up, stalking towards him. He also straightens his back, fearlessly meeting my gaze. We are almost the same height as we come nose to nose, “I’m not the King for nothing, don’t forget your place in this hierarchy. You might be near the top, but you’re not in my place.
“Self-awareness is my goal, nothing more nothing less, Traegr,” Hraken answers honestly once more.
I smile, dangerously.
I turn around to meet Sabir’s gaze, to see his reaction in all that was being said.
He is fiddling with a little knife, the size of his palm. He plays with it around his fingers, twirling it expertly, his eyes were simply calculating.
“You know what you want,” he nods to me and then glances at Hraken, “You clearly know what you want... as for me, well, I’m utterly unique – or perhaps you could call me more simple in what I want.”
“What do you desire?” Hraken seems curious for Sabir to explain, “You by far are the one most consumed by darkness and longing. From what we all see, you drown yourself in it, Sabir.”
“Mmmhmm. I do. Sapphire is going to pay for it,” Sabir smirks, “She is use to some pain, but she won’t be prepared for utter defeat. Seeing her squirm... it’s truly my only goal.”
“...dark,” Hraken manages to sound amused and I clap a hand on his shoulder.
“I like you, Sabir,” I grin.
There is a vibration that breaks into the conversation, it comes from my back pocket.
I take out my phone and a chuckle escapes my throat.
“About time,” I see the notification, which names three names and a location, “Our boy has pulled through.”
There were benefits to being a King, owning endless amount of gems, gold, or being in control of all the humans enslaved in mining camps. It all equalled bargaining power.
And young boys, were drawn to power.
One chance encounter with me in the forest and let’s just say I knew how to reward loyalty.
The Hybrid Gem was in the palm of my hand.