(Edited 2022 © Kylie R. Trask)
One of the most gorgeous seasons in The Unseen is Fall. Death and Life are in a constant dance of vibrancy and deathly opaques. Leaves flutter down from the treetops, a steady rain of ash, gold, and red. The soil reaches up with its foliage to devour them and create a new life in its depths. As Earth Fae, we consider all life and death to be a gift. That there is a time for those of us to live. . . and a time when all of us must die.
My mother had journeyed into her death after giving life to her last child, our baby sister Eden. That was a month ago and we had yet to meet our sibling. Our father, The King Apollo of Tierra’capri had sent her with a protector to an unknown location but we did not know why. My thick brows furrowed thinking about the poor babe being cared for by strangers, but I pushed the thought away knowing my father had his reasons. Lifting my eyes from studying the way my feet moved through the fallen leaves I looked at my brother walking beside me.
“Zion. . . do you know why the leaves crunch and dwindle beneath our feet? It is their last breath, releasing the magic of life back into the air so that when spring comes again new life can begin.” I repeated the wisdom our father had recited since the day mother had died. I knew that he wanted us to know that her death had brought life, and that was a gift. She had been a strong and fierce woman in her days. A true queen, respected and loved by her subjects. Still, there were small shrines with flowers and weepy candles displayed all over Tierra’capri. My eyes brimmed with tears because I missed her. Looking to Zion who stared solemnly ahead, the wind tousling the mahogany waves in his hair, his dark freckles that resembled mine stood out as the evening light turned golden.
“Do you understand?” I asked.
His eyes, like orbs of spring itself, shifted, regarding me with sincerity, “Yes, I understand. . .”
And I knew he did as he folded his hands at his back. His quiet strength was often mocked by the rowdier boys in his knight training squad, but I knew he would make a wise, gentle King. He did not need brute strength to run a kingdom.
Letting my head bob in a slow I turn to study the path ahead, “She would be proud of the man you are becoming, Zion, and the King you will be.”
His head fell forward with a shudder of emotion that rippled into his magic sending it out like tremors from a quake. The earth beneath us vibrated with power and the plant life rose as if to reach their green little fingers to him. The hair on my arms stood on end. Like any faerie, our magic is tied to our emotions. As children, we learn to control and use our emotions as a conduit. Zion struggled, and when our parents took him to see the Dryad Elder they were told that Zion possessed a magic aura that had not been seen in centuries. The weight of it was heavy for him, and the expectation was even more of a burden as false prophets began to spread prophecy of his impending powerful reign.
“Thank you, sister. . . her confidence in me was what steadied me. My day as King is still far off.”
The tremor in his strong voice made me wrap my cloak around my shoulders. We nodded at the many faeries we passed, most uttering their condolences or a breathy “long live the king”.
“Not as far as it might seem, little brother,” I comment, knowing that my father would never grant me the title of Queen. Zion would rule, and that had been set in stone since the day they went to see the Elder. Birth order be damned. My eyes caught a pair of familiar star-flecked eyes burning in the shadows of a nearby building and I turned to Zion. “I think father mentioned he had an important issue to discuss with you. Go to him and see about it.”
His dark brows furrowed, “Of course. Where will you go? You know he doesn’t like it when I leave you alone.”
I give a tight smile as I glance over my shoulder, seeing the shadowy form move down in the direction of the city tombs. Looking back at Zion I squeeze his shoulder. “I shall be in the tombs.”
“Alright.” He says, his eyes glazing over as he nods. I knew he hated that I went down there so often, but he did not understand the connection I had with my mother there. Faeries of every faction are born with the magic their parents have, but each Faery had sensitivities and talents regarding their magic as unique as their personality. Zion had his deep connection to life and the vibrant life around him, and I had always been more connected to the beauty of death and the depths of the earth where the tree’s roots entangled in secret conversations.
“See you tonight, Ginny.” He says, bowing. I returned his bow and with that, he turns on his heel and walks back toward the castle.
Turning excitedly, I held up the hem of my black, floral embroidered gown and tread softly over the thick cobblestones of the street until I came to the back pathway into the city tombs. The thick, chocolate-colored curls escaped my hood and bounced around my face as I descended the steps to the courtyard. The silence is deafening, and I feel that the Whispering Willow tree knows I am back again. The voices of the trees float through the air around me, the taste of nature’s death lingering around the grounds like a thick fog. I held my breath as it began to overwhelm my senses. It was not always pleasant to be an Earth Faery with an affinity for sensing death. The willow’s branches sway and coil around the headstones like tentacles of protection, the whispers louder in my ears making me want to scratch at them. I kept my hands at my sides and walked purposefully away from the courtyard and down into the crypts, not wishing to anger the willow or the dryads.
Sliding my hood from my head as I make my way down the stairs, my heart beating faster with anticipation. I paused at the bottom of the stairwell, my heart hammering out of time and my cheeks flushing.
“Prince Orion?” I whisper, biting my lip. The Dark Prince was always making my heart race, but it had gotten worse. Not only did it race, but my entire body seemed to fill with butterflies when I saw him.
From the same corner as always, his silky voice echoes around the damp underground tomb. “Princess, what an honor to be in your presence again. I feared you would not return after our last visit. . .I thought maybe I had frightened you.” His body seemed to shimmer into sight as he stepped out into the dim light, his obsidian eyes with their burning flecks felt like they burned right through me.
I swallowed, staring him straight in the eyes for a moment before averting my gaze to the floor. My cheeks burned. “You could never scare me away, M’Lord.”
A humored, but sad chuckle dances in the air between us, “How many times must I insist that you call me by my name? We are friends, aren’t we, Genesis? You must learn to call me simply Orion.” I hear him take a few steps closer, like a jaguar stalking its prey. The fact that he could make me feel butterflies and like a cornered animal at the same moment was probably more thrilling to me than it should have been. Swallowing some of my fear I look up into his intense gaze.
“We are. . . I’m sorry.” My freckled face reddened even further, “Sometimes it just feels like you are above me because you are Prince of the Dark Fae.” My voice quiets and I look away again. The Dark Fae are not one of the friendliest factions and were known to keep well to themselves or for the mass slaughters of Orion’s mother. My father had drilled into me that they were to be feared. I chew my bottom lip waiting for him to laugh at me.
“There are so many perks to being feared I sometimes forget the downsides.” I hear the smile in his words, “Please, at least try?”
I smile back, lifting my chin, “Okay, M- Orion.” Oh, Hel my cheeks were on fire.
The grin that spreads across his deathly handsome face makes me smile.
“Good that’s a start.”
“Good,” I repeat.
He ran his fingers through his hair as he hopped up to sit on one of the stone caskets. I sucked in a breath as I felt the wave of protest come from the spirits, praying they did not unleash their wrath on him. Though something told me he could handle himself when it came to a fight.
“So, tell me what is going on in that pretty head, Genesis?”
A lighter feeling settles over me remembering how we would talk as children when the council of Faery would assemble before the wars.
“Nothing. . . and everything.” I tease, but sober quickly because I needed to confess to him how I felt about him. I might have been naïve for thinking it, but I sometimes felt there was something between us and I wanted it to happen more than anything. Especially knowing that I could never be the queen of my realm. I even dared to think that maybe a union between us could bring about a peace treaty or an alliance.
“Your brother’s coronation?” He asked.
I nodded and then shook my head, giggling. “Yes. . . and no.”
His eyebrows raised, “Why are ladies so keen to play games?”
I shrugged, smiling at the playful glint in his eyes. I twirl my finger in the dust collecting at the foot of a giant statue.
“There is someone who seems to rule my thoughts while I lay awake at night.”
He stands, a concerned look casting a shadow over his face, “A man?”
I swallow and chance a glance at him, my heart thundering. “Yes. . . I― ”
Before I can conjure an explanation, his gaze darkens, “A human man?”
My eyes widen at the mention of treason. Faeries were not allowed to be with humans unless they were exiled. I swallow, my throat feeling dry and wondering if I should have even brought this up. My mind began to backpedal because we were probably better off as friends. That’s what he had called us a moment ago, so maybe I was reaching when I thought he might feel the same.
“No, no! I do not . . . I would never.” I took a breath and pushed forward bravely though my voice was quiet as I continued. “A faery man. . . he has been a masterful thief with my heart, and I don’t know that he realizes it.”
His eyes look almost like they are dead to my words, but there is a flicker of some emotion there. . . remorse? Grief. . . My heart twisted, fearing I had hit a nerve I did not know about in his heart.
“You’re in love.”
The flat way he stated it made me blink as we stared at each other. My voice was caught in my throat, so I simply nodded in answer.
His voice changes, singed with regret as he steps toward me, “I do not have much experience with love and when I did, it never worked out. My advice? Do not let that feeling grow. You must suffocate it and bury it deep before it ruins you.”
His hollow words slammed into my heart and tears are shocked from my eyes. The pain I felt was the death of his emotions. I blinked rapidly and my chest shuddered.
“It is not possible. I already love you.”
My heart aches as I admit it, knowing at that moment he would never feel love for another person after whatever it was that had happened to his first love. I held a hand over my heart, wishing I could shut off my gift for this moment because it was tearing me apart inside. I wondered if this is how it felt in his soul every day and more tears fell.
He pulled back, surprised. I watched as he understood that he was the faery man I spoke of and it hurt. His eyes blackened, his fists clenching at his sides. His voice is harsh. “You don’t know what you speak of.”
I took a step toward him now, desperate to reach him through the dark wall he was putting between us. “No, I do!” I reached out to touch him, clinging to the wild theory in my heart that if I could just use my life magic I could give him back what he lost. He flinched away, his hand shooting up between us to roughly grip my wrist. I froze.
“You do not!” He hissed, his black eyes swirling. “Love is an illusion, Genesis, and you better realize it soon or your naivety is going to gain you the reputation of a romantic idiot.”
He let me go and I stumbled back, my heart breaking at his coldness. My mind reeled with how to fix this when I remembered how the Dark Fae can steal the emotions of others. I shuddered at the memory of my father’s tales of how they would find grey, lifeless bodies drained of their souls and void of color. There were rumors that some survived the attacks, and it might be the answer to stopping the pain.
“Take them from me.”
He turned his head to look at me over his shoulder, “What?”
I stood, still trembling but a hardness crept into my voice. “Take my emotions as the Dark Faery are known to do.”
The pause between us felt ominous as if deciding my fate. He turned away from me again. “And what do I get out of this? Using my magic against a friend.” Though his voice was hard, it lifted some of the weight from crushing my heart to hear him call me a friend.
My voice was soft, pleading. “I will pay you. Please.”
The muscles under his tunic tensed and he turned to face me, his brows drawn in a hard line. “You of all people know that money is of no interest to me.”
“Then it will be a debt of service. My kingdom is in no need of me.” I replied flatly.
He studied me for an uncomfortable amount of time and my resolve began to waver, wondering if it was a wise choice. Seeing the pity in his eyes, I shoved it down and leveled him with my best glare.
“Are you sure this is what you want?”
“Yes.” I did not miss a beat, unwilling to show him that I was scared.
The lines of his jaw tighten, “Alright. As you wish . . . my apologies, Princess.”