Five of us are on a small yet spacious transport to Quartz Central; Traegr, Sabir, Hraken, Celeste and I. After finding them on the edges of the forest near a dirt road and a waiting transport bus, we quickly boarded to a tense silence.
It wasn’t a normal silence that randomly comes about when there is nothing to say. It was the classic Dark Gem silent treatment, which spoke volumes.
To put it into perspective, Celeste was sitting beside me on a soft black bench seat. We were side by side, thighs brushing, my hand clenching hers so tight to express my nerves. We had to stay close opposite the three Dark Gems unblinkingly staring us down, clearly a million dangerous thoughts running through their heads. The distance of five or so metres separating us from the Dark Gems in this modernised spacious transport bus was not making me feel any safer.
It was times like these that I felt so insignificant and misplaced.
Celeste belonged in their world, able to match them for power. I existed as an interest but with not even enough magic to slightly tame a Dark Gem’s desire. In fact, I hated to admit... but... I felt guilty sometimes that I was possibly the real reason Sabir was consumed with dark intent. Over the years he only became increasingly meaner and more manipulative.
Yet I was fated to be with him and nothing could change that.
The hologram timer on the ceiling suggested two more minutes’ travel time before our arrival.
“Why does this bus have no windows?” I ask, cunningly thinking that distracting them from punishing us was a good idea.
“Strategy,” Hraken chooses to answer me, smiling while doing so, “Why would we let you observe the landscape to Quartz Zone? Information can be transferred to power, you of all female Gems should know that.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I snap, glaring him down because he knew how to make me feel so vulnerable so easily.
“Do I really need to answer that? Focus your skill with empathy, Sapphire, we’re relying on you to save Kaelyn,” Hraken reaches into his pocket and brings out a black orb. Without warning he throws it at me, but I manage to catch it.
I eye the black ball, intrigued with how perfect it is. Obsidian never cut this clean, it was a brittle volcanic glass.
“Where did you find that?” Traegr growls at Hraken, and I quickly glance up to see the King looking threatened and pissed off by his top warrior.
“I’ve always had it,” Hraken explains calmly, unfazed, “Kaelyn is from the Obsidian line, perhaps touching it will calm her and help centre her magic. Don’t lose it, Sapphire.”
“You don’t happen to have a Sapphire gem in your pocket too, do you?” I ask, an eye brow raised.
“How about some Nephrite?” Celeste pipes up, “I haven’t seen my green Gem since Traegr forbid me from all my jewellery, and that’s not how you should treat a lover!” Celeste glares the King down.
“You’re just a maid, sweetheart,” Traegr is cruel with his choice of words and his tone. I instantly feel through my hand how hard Celeste cringes.
I look up at the timer – a couple of more seconds to go.
I hold the orb close as the transport comes to a gentle but speedy halt.
“We’ve arrived, get up,” Sabir stands and waits for Celeste and I to do as he commands.
“No,” I snap, “I’ll just sit here and do nothing and wait for Kaelyn to be killed by Gem authorities,” I respond quickly with intense sarcasm before I stand with Celeste.
Traegr, Hraken and Celeste ignore the banter, but Sabir does not.
Not to mention, I haven’t taken much worry to the weapons hanging above the Dark Gems on the shelf above their bench. However, I’m fully aware now as Sabir reaches up and his hand curls around a draining whip.
“Um...” I mutter, my eyes widening when he brings it down and he turns it on with a flick of his thumb, “I take it back! No more sarcasm from me, Sabir... I promise, I swear.”
Sabir tilts his head and cocks an eyebrow as he simply watches me start trembling in my leafy dress.
The others, including Celeste, quickly walk out the open door, abandoning me.
“It’s not for you, darling, it’s for Kaelyn,” Sabir speaks, joyfully, while raising his hand and twirling his finger, “Turn around, since you clearly want it.”
"What?" I’m instantly exasperated by his claim, “No!”
“Do it willingly and I’ll make it one lash, make me force you to turn around and it’ll be three,” Sabir is deadly serious as he looks me up and down, thinking of my punishment, no doubt. I bite my lip and exhale as I quickly decide to do as he says... for the moment. It is my best option.
I try to suck up my pride as I reluctantly turn around.
“Good girl...” he approves of my choice, but that doesn’t make it any easier.
He doesn’t draw it out, either. A few seconds later there is a crack and a swipe across my ass, ripping off leaves, the whip comes into contact with my bare skin.
In a tiny insignificant moment, a ripple of shock leaves my system, all my magic ripped out of me.
I embarrassingly almost collapse, but catch myself by leaning into the cold wall, breathing quickly. I glance over my shoulder and see Sabir turn off the whip and close the gap. He dwarfs me as he puts an arm around my waist, supporting me. He brings up the whip so I can see the handle turned off. Next to my other cheek is his cheek, brushing against my skin as he holds me close.
“This is a military grade draining whip, sweety, it’s designed for the most ruthless Royal female Gem magic. Hence I don’t use it on you... it’s not suitable on a weak little slave... so don’t make me use it again,” the threat is clear and he steps back, his hand going to grip my wrist, “Let’s catch up, you have work to do.”
He pulls me along, smirking back at me as I stumble in tow. I was still strong physically but I felt void of magic.
Any small re-emergence of power and he’d just drain it through his hand instantly, re-enforcing the punishment.
It left me feeling utterly hopeless.
So I take in Quartz Zone instead as we exit, trying to avoid his cruel, humoured gaze. The whole city was as I knew, everything made of the mineral Quartz, coloured with dyes. The footpath is clear quartz, smooth and hard and almost unbreakable as we step down onto it. In front, we come face to face with a huge police department building, coloured metallic black. Everyone is waiting by the entrance for us, and Sabir and I take a few steps to close the distance.
“Sore ass, princess?” Traegr mocks. I just blush and avoid his gaze as well.
No more words are spoken once Sabir moves me back with Celeste, I grab her hand again for support.
“You okay?” she whispers to me as we’re led inside.
“I have no magic but I’m fine,” I try to sound light hearted.
Celeste just smiles sympathetically.
As we walk down different hall ways, eventually my ears quickly catch onto a female cry as we all turn down into a wide corridor with multiple cells.
It was Kaelyn’s cry. In fact, everyone realises because we all pick up the pace.
Traegr stops by a steel door with no bars, just a peep hole. He opens it, standing back to allow Celeste and I to enter.
It is an empty cell with quartz walls and Kaelyn in the middle. She is on her knees, her wrists forced behind her back by light restraints.
She gasps in relief when she sees Celeste and I enter. I then notice someone near the door, Kaelyn is focused on the woman with worried eyes.
She is a nurse of some sort, holding a clip board and a pen, wearing her hair high in a bun.
“We’ve been waiting for her friends to arrive. Perhaps you can calm her,” the woman nods at us, “I’ll leave you both to it, just know that she is denying her actions. Until she admits to her wave of destruction, she’s got a bleak outcome. Honesty is the first step to a better solution, in line with the laws–”
“I am the law, darling, now get out,” Traegr steps in, growling at the now very frazzled woman when she notices the Dark Gems dramatic entrance. She drops her clip board in fright and has to pick it back up and stumble her way out. After being so professional she squeaks when Traegr slaps her ass to hurry her up.
I expect Kaelyn to laugh at such a funny sight, but I turn to see her continue to cry.
This was not good.
“Shhh...” Celeste sits by her and puts an arm around her waist while I try to catch her gaze, hoping she’ll steady her breathing. The Dark Gems shut the door, holding back but watching on to let us calm her.
“It isn’t like you to cry. Why are you so upset, what happened? Tell us everything,” I ask quietly and she instantly starts shaking her head.
“I didn’t,” Kaelyn gasps out, “I d-didn’t do a thing. I woke up in the middle of a street, feeling... my magic coming in... strong bursts, almost escaping my hands uncontrollable. B-but then it went away. It’s gone. It’s all gone. I didn’t do anything. I didn’t kill anyone! They’re liars!” she screams the last part at the Dark Gems, spitting at their feet, “You’re trying to drive me crazy? Well it worked, lunatics... now I’m fucked...!”
“We don’t understand. Can you start from the beginning?” I ask, slowly and clearly, hoping she calms down even a little bit and makes this more understandable for us. She sounded completely hysterical and as she spoke her eyes were fading and then darkening in colour, over and over. It’s like a turmoil was going on inside her brain.
“I didn’t do it,” she whispers, “Believe me. I didn’t. I didn’t do it –”
“Maybe this will help,” I show her the Obsidian orb I’m holding and she jerks backwards, out of Celeste’s grasp. Falling over, she crawls away awkwardly with the restraints still on her while her cheek drags along the floor.
“No,” she shakes her head, closing her eyes, coming to a halt, “No, no, no... no,” she repeats the word over and over, like she has a broken soul. It was as if her link to reality is missing.
She curls into a foetal positon, still muttering to herself.
“She is trying to say she didn’t kill anyone, she didn’t start the fire in the city,” Hraken speaks up.
“But why is she crazy? If she didn’t do it...” I whisper, so confused.
“It doesn’t make sense, darling,” Sabir shakes his head, “The fire was Obsidian fire, yellow and black, she is the only Obsidian Royal Gem in Quartz Zone. It had to be her.”
I slowly look at Celeste with knowing eyes.
She returns my gaze with a gulp.
Kaelyn wasn’t the only Obsidian Royal in Quartz Zone.
“How did you end up in Quartz Zone? Where were you this whole time?” Celeste speaks up, crawling towards Kaelyn, she runs a hand through her hair to help calm her, “Take your time to answer... I can feel your mind is tortured,” Celeste whispers the last part.
“I don’t want... I can’t... I’ll try to tell... It’s... that magic s-scientist,” Kaelyn cries harder and breaks down completely as she gasps out, “He... h-his name...Lapis...Lazuli!”
There is a pause and then Traegr speaks up.
“Jared Richards Lapis Lazuli? Magic and gene professor... he went rogue again?” Traegr growls, “Fucking hell!”
“Who is he?” I ask, knowing the name sounded familiar.
Then it hits me.
I suddenly picture the name in the letter I found in Traegr’s draw. It was the one concerning the disappearance of Pharis from the laboratory... and it was signed by that same scientist!
“He is insubordinate, obviously,” Traegr is glaring at Kaelyn, thinking hard to himself, “She’s probably better off dead. You can’t heal her.”
“Why not?” Celeste speaks up, completely shocked by Traegr’s new level of ruthlessness.
“He’s brilliant, but multiple times he has gone rogue on unsuspecting female Gems, experimenting. They’ve all gone insane... and all committed suicide. You’ll have no luck healing her... her time here is done, it’s best you let her go, Celeste... existing is nothing but torture for her.”
Kaelyn stops sobbing and instead completely goes silent at Traeger’s words. She is holding her knees to her chest, stilling. Celeste keeps her hand in Kaelyn’s hair. I can see Celeste is trying to heal any physical wounds, to force Kaelyn to relax, to help try and change this.
The new silence is brief as we watch on, because Kaelyn is suddenly responsive again.
She snaps out her arm, breaking free of a light restraint, her wrist is bleeding as she grabs Celeste’s throat and shoves her away violently.
“Stop!” I call out, coming forward. But Kaelyn just looks at me with tortured eyes as I get closer and I know she is going to attack.
“I want to die,” Kaelyn whispers, “...but she won’t let me,” she shakes her head, closing her eyes in silent acceptance.
“Celeste?” I ask, confused. Kaelyn shakes her head quickly now, “Then who won’t let you?”
Kaelyn won’t answer me and suddenly there is an intense change in the atmosphere.
Intense heat radiates through the room, suffocating the air as the door groans, bends and alights in yellow and black flame. It disintegrates before our very eyes as we all watch in amazement at the unexpected entrance of another familiar face.
Seraphine. How the hell did she find us?
Her focus is solely on Kaelyn – that is who she heads for.
I lean back on my hands as I watch Seraphine drop to her knees and put her palm on Kaelyn’s cheek.
“Stay still, poor girl...” Seraphine orders and then quickly spins on her heel, jumping to her feet to face the Dark Gems, “Leave us all! Now! Before you become universal ash like the rest of everything my fire touches.”
“I wouldn’t recommend that,” Hraken speaks up, smirking, “You can’t kill me and that’d automatically place me in charge of the whole planet, Seraphine, and you know you can’t reign with me in charge. I’m the only one who can dominate you.”
“Planning to rule are we, Hraken?” Traegr interupts, suddenly enraged by a member of his Dark Gems supposedly betraying him in words.
“No... my King, I am merely stating the consequences of her desire to burn you all to universal ash,” as Hraken slyly replies, Seraphine is quickly triggered by the wink he throws her way.
She holds out her arm and my eyes widen at what I see happen next.
An ethereal golden tinted sword starts transforming in the palm of her hand. This was really rare.
"Sabir,” Traegr growls his name and before she can lunge at Hraken, Sabir turns on the whip and lashes it out in a graceful arch just as she lunges forward. It slithers around her arm, clutching tightly and holding her back.
It then instantly takes effect.
Her magic that had solidified into a sword, disintegrates as she falls to her knees, slowly collapsing onto the floor completely.
“Don’t take too much magic!” I yell at Sabir and crawl to her side, making sure her eyes are open.
“Holy hell she is loaded,” Sabir exclaims, turning off the whip, he willingly drops it as if it scorches, “It was fragmented, though, small and large pulses, something’s wrong with her power source.”
“Interesting...” Traegr comments, and then quickly adds, “Get a nurse in here to make an end to this,” Traegr orders Hraken. Next, Sabir and Traegr engage in deep conversation about Seraphine.
And Seraphine’s eyes suddenly meet mine.
She holds my gaze so intensely as her finger taps her pants pocket. I see a paper protruding and I quickly grab the edge of it. I glance at Celeste to see her focused on trying to heal Kaelyn.
No one was watching me.
I slip out the paper from Seraphine’s pocket and scrunch it slowly so it’s smaller and I pretend to itch my chest as I hide it in the top of the dress, under the leaves. Seraphine smiles at me, the light in her eyes fading and darkening like Kaelyn’s, before she passes out completely.
I check to make sure her pulse is still there and it is.
I breathe a sigh of relief until I realise what is about to happen when I hear Celeste sobbing over Kaelyn.
“I can’t fix it,” she says, looking at me, shaking her head, “I tried, I tried.”
“Take Seraphine,” Trager commands Sabir, and I watch as the King then glances down at Celeste and I solemnly, “You girls follow me, now, or I’m dragging you out.”
Celeste glares back instantly, her tears still running fast.
"Drag me then,” she hisses at him. I just feel numb as Sabir comes close and picks up Seraphine in his arms, pulling her away from me as I watch the nurse from before pop up in the empty door frame, with Hraken by her side.
“She’ll do it,” Hraken mutters to Traegr who nods and then quickly comes to me.
“Get up,” he snaps, and I jump to my feet, conflicted on what to do.
Celeste is better at reacting, far more responsive than my numb weak limbs. I watch as she struggles to her feet, hitting Traegr’s chest as he pulls her away from Kaelyn.
I glance at Kaelyn once, but it’s probably one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. A tear escapes my eye but I have no idea what to say or do.
I had never seen someone so broken.
She was still curled on the floor but now she was trembling and muttering again to herself.
The next moment, however, I’m shocked when there is a hot grip on my arm and I jerk around to see Hraken has decided to lead me out.
“You don’t want to see this,” he murmurs, “We’ve seen this before with the idiot professor. He finds a way to break a mind permanently. She’s gone, princess... I’m sorry.”
I have no words to say back to him.
Hraken leads me out of the room, while in front I see Celeste pulling hard on Trager’s grip on her arm, trying to stop this.
I meet her gaze and I feel so helpless.
Traegr had just sentenced Kaelyn to die.
And there was nothing we could do about it.