Flight of the Five Swans

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Fear Chapter 9

Callia

Though Cliodne seemed convinced that Lord Soran would soon summon the sisters, hours passed before the bedchamber door was finally opened. The princesses had been taking it in shifts to get some sleep, with two of the girls sharing the wide four-poster bed, and a third nodding off in a rather cushy armchair. The remaining three princesses forced themselves to remain awake, talking to each other in low voices. As they rotated positions every hour, none felt truly rested when the knock at their door signaled that someone was about to enter.

Callia jerked upright at the sound. She had been dozing in the armchair, and a quick look at the darkness outside the window told her that it was still night, or possibly very early in the morning. She and her sisters were hurried out of the room by no less than ten Deturian guards, who led them down a long, opulent corridor. Portraits were hung on the walls to either side, featuring faces from the Deturian royal line. At the end of the hall, they descended a wide staircase made entirely of white marble. They were ushered through a door at the very bottom, and found themselves in the middle of the Deturian royal throne room.

The hall was immense but sparse, with a single stained glass window set into the wall behind the throne. Aside from the throne itself, the only furniture to be seen were tall, lit candelabras leading up and down the hall. On a raised platform directly in front of them was the royal throne, which was made from a dark wood that Callia guessed to be mahogany. Strange symbols and writing had been carved on every visible surface. Had she not been so terrified, she would have admired the workmanship.

Lord Soran stood waiting for them at the edge of the dais. In his hands he held a book of the deepest red Callia had ever seen. She noticed Cliodne’s eyes fix on the volume immediately, her face filled with fear and dread.

Soran held up one hand and the guards escorting the princesses stopped, forcing the women to come to a halt as well. At another gesture from Soran, the men dispersed, taking positions all along the perimeter of the hall, hidden in the shadows. The princesses were left standing alone in front of the dais. Lord Soran smiled down at them, an easy, charming smile that was just slightly crooked. In that moment, Callia understood how he had managed to fool Cliodne so easily—not to mention King Einor. The man’s cheerful face seemed guileless and trustworthy. Had she not already known his true nature, Callia might have fallen for the act herself.

“I feel I should apologize for that…distressing scene you witnessed at your arrival, your Highnesses.” Soran said easily. “I assure you, that was not the way I had planned for that to go. I had hoped for our first meeting to be more…amicable.”

Callia saw Thaleia’s jaw drop in outrage out of the corner of her eye, and she stepped lightly on her sister’s foot in an attempt to prevent her from responding. They would not give him any satisfaction in that respect.

Soran did not seem bothered by their silence in the slightest. He patted the cover of the ominous red book, and a strange gleam came into his eyes.

“Tell me, your Highnesses,” he said, “have you ever encountered mention of the Faerie realm?”

Callia could not prevent the gasp of comprehension that escaped her at his question. She understood now—at least partly—the interest that Soran had in her sisters and herself.

“So you have heard of them!” he crowed, eyes fixing on her, and his smile widening in delight. His gaze shifted to each of the other princesses in turn, and he mused, “But not all of you, I think.”

Callia clenched her jaw, refusing to answer. Her sisters did the same.

“Well,” Soran said, his voice full of relish, “the Faerie realm is rumored to be the home of the most ancient and powerful of magics. It is separated from the mortal world by a Veil that is not easily pierced. In fact, many believe the Faerie realm to be a myth invented by storytellers.

“But those of us,” he said, “who’ve studied the magic arts know differently. We recognize Faerie to be the source of all things magical. One does not—one cannot—possess magic in this world without having first touched Faerie.”

Callia swallowed, her thoughts racing. In her mind, she pictured the mysterious sanctum that had nearly trapped the princesses several years before. She had researched the phenomenon for months following their narrow escape, and had long ago guessed that the tunnel into which they had ventured had led them into a pocket of Faerie. Still, this theory had never been confirmed

Soran once again caressed the cover of the blood-red book. “For years I’ve been searching for a way into that realm, to possess some of this power for myself. I sensed hidden magic for the first time only three years ago, at your sister’s wedding. Remnants of Faerie magic was coming from you—all seven of you. You might remember this as being not long after your father announced a challenge—a challenge to solve the mystery of where his daughters disappeared to every night.”

Soran looked down at them, his smile more crooked than ever.

“Shall I tell you my guess as to where you were going?”

Eurielle seemed suddenly unable to contain herself. “You won’t get in! The door’s closed, and it won’t open again for years!”

Her sisters attempted to silence her, but Soran’s smile only widened. He waved one hand in dismissal at her words.

“Oh, I no longer want to get into Faerie. After all, getting trapped is a distinct risk when travelling between the realms. No, I’ve found a new way—a better way—to get what I need, without any danger—to myself, at least.”

The dread among the sisters was palpable. Callia didn’t feel that she could have brought herself to speak even if she had wished to.

“I’ll simply take the magic from you,” Soran explained. “I’ve found a combination of spells that work perfectly, though it is a pity your eldest sister is not yet here. We’ll have to fix that. I could take the remnant magic from each of you individually, of course, but then it could only be used against the person from whom it’s been drained. I’ve already experimented a little with that—to great success.”

He gestured with a hand towards Cliodne, and Callia saw that her sister’s face was stricken. The swan transformation. Soran had cursed Cliodne using some of her own Faerie magic—magic she hadn’t realized she had.

“But draining you all together along with lucky sister seven,” Soran sang playfully, “will strengthen the magic sevenfold. I could use it without limitations. Anytime, and anywhere. I could use it against anyone.”

Callia’s fists clenched at her sides. “And what makes you think Eralie will fall for anything you would try to get her here?” she barked at him. Thaleia trod on her foot this time, far less gentle than Callia had done.

Soren opened his arms wide, gesturing to all six women standing before him.

“My dear princess, now that I have all of her sisters, it’s only a matter of time before the seventh flies to meet us.”

He swung around to look at the stained glass window set into the wall behind the throne. The colored panes sparkled as light filtered through them from outside. “And what perfect timing! Dawn approaches!”

Cliodne let out a low moan, burying her face in her hands in despair. Suddenly, Callia felt an unpleasant tingling sensation throughout her entire body, as though white-hot needles were piercing her skin. Then came an agonizing tearing feeling deep in her bones. And though Callia told herself that she would not scream, that she would not give Soran that satisfaction, the pain proved too much for her to bear.

She screamed.

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