Tales of Aranea: Of Sage and Mist

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Thud thud thud. “Are you awake yet?”

Cora hears it coming from somewhere far away, but she doesn’t open her eyes. She doesn’t have the strength.

Thud thud. “Adam, Coraleth, hello?”

Cora can’t form a complete thought, but smiles slightly when hearing her name paired with Adam’s. The rest of her head is a fog, with a twinge of pain registering in the back of her head. Her mouth feels dry even while it’s closed. Not enough water, is the first thought she forms.

Thud thud. Hello?

The bed shifts then, but Cora wasn’t the one to move. Finally, her eyelids flutter open. She’s facing the wall, curled on her side. Her eyes flicker up to the painting of Nequa, and how it seems to burn even her eyes. It matches the warmth in the pit of her stomach when she remembers...

Shifting, she sees Adam, clothed only from the waist down, making his way to the door. His dark hair stands in all directions. She remembers how it felt gripped between her fingers.

“What would you like, Milo?” he asks the door groggily.

“I’d like you to open the door,” comes her reply.

He opens it and there’s a heavy silence, then,

“Can I come in?”


Another silence.

“Is she in your bed?”

“No! She’s in her own bed,” Adam tells her.

“And whose bed were you in?”

“Is that any of your business? Herus, Milo, you’re not my keeper.”

The silence this time was deafening.

“Did you come to tell us something or not?” Adam asks impatiently.

“We’re going to Garnet Manor. I assume you’re not...”

“Not right now. If Coraleth wants to, we’ll go later. Is that all?”

“Yes.” Cora dives further into the blankets when she notices Milo peering around Adam.

“We’ll see you later then,” Adam says abruptly, then shuts the door in her face.

With a heavy sigh, Adam turns back toward Cora.

“My apologies,” he says once he’s next to the bed. “I don’t know what’s gotten into her.”

“What’s she so worried about?” Cora wonders, inwardly marvelling at his beautiful body.

“She’s probably worried I’ll hurt you,” he admits.

The argument between the siblings last night returns suddenly to Cora’s mind. Without thinking, she asks, “Have you ever really hurt someone?”

He blinks at her a moment, then lays down next to her and pulls the blanket over the two of them, securing it at his waist. After he’s settled, he leans on his arm and looks at her.

“I’ve hurt more people than I’d care to admit,” he finally says.

Emotionally, or physically? Judging from the gentle way he’s treated her so far, Cora can’t even imagine him being capable of real physical harm to another person. Then a scenario enters her mind and she smiles.

“I suppose you did shoot me,” she laughs.

After you shot me,” he exclaims.

She hits him playfully. “It was at the same time, and you know it.”

He laughs and reaches over to touch her face. Cora tilts her head toward the pillow and lets the blanket slide off her shoulder. His hand traces the side of her throat.

“You are,” Adam says huskily, “the most beautiful creature that has ever lived.”

His lips follow where his fingertips had traced.

“I wanted you,” It’s difficult to get words out while Adam is kissing her, but Cora goes on anyway. “From the moment I first met you in Hale. I’d never felt so...” She grips his arm, her eyes rolling back as he leans in closer, his lips marking her collarbone and moving up to her jawline. His hands pull her in. “Alive,” she finally finishes in a hoarse whisper.

He stops and hovers his face over hers. Her eyes flicker from his mouth to his eyes, waiting for him to kiss her. But instead, he just inspects her face.

“What are you thinking?” she wonders after a moment.

“We were born to meet,” he says. “Born to love. And I never knew I could love like this.”

Cora opens her hand against his cheek. The scruff prickles her palm.

“Neither did I,” she replies, and pulls his face down to hers.

“Oh Milo, isn’t this place just breath-taking? Milo?”

Rain looks over at her friend, who still stares forward, unblinking, marching very determinedly toward the entrance. How can she be so unenthusiastic? Never has their been a more beautiful palace than Garnet Manor!

Spires of mahogany soar upward, bigger around than five grown men huddled together. Between huge slabs of polished mahogany at the corners, encasing the windows, are chunks of glistening red garnets, encased in the wood and sparkling in the mid-morning sunlight. Even the windows shine a dim red in the light. Intricate towers of wood and rock rise upward, over the mansion and seeming to disappear into the mountain behind.

Finally they reach the top of the staircase leading to the Manor. Guards await them at the doors.

“State your business,” one barks.

“I have an appointment with Master Cordax,” Milo answers. “I am Milo Spruce, daughter of Kaleb Spruce, sister of Adam Spruce.”

Perhaps it was just the way refined people were to introduce themselves, but Rain thinks it odd that Milo would announce her relations. One guard then nods to the other and the carved doors of Garnet Manor are dragged open.

Eyes wide with wonder, Rain takes in Garnet Manor. The polished woods all around, set with the tiny red gemstones. Grey carpets and tapestries depicting strange and brilliant creatures. Open fires lit in coal hearths to light the wide room even up to the vaulted ceiling. There, the wonder of the place turns chilling. Swirls of red and black mosaic tiles create a fiery pattern that, though abstract in design, remind Rain of blood stains. The colour tone of the Manor inspires mystery and lurking doom.

At the end of the great hall, a guard leans over someone seated on a regal throne made entirely of the red gem. Despite the ominous nature, Rain feels unworthy of standing there. The person on the throne rises and steps forward, approaching Milo and Rain with open arms.

“Milo Spruce,” he calls out. “Wonderful to have you here.”

As he comes nearer, the details of his face come into focus, and Rain staggers, almost falling to her knees in obeisance. His features look to be carved from marble into exact and perfect shapes, from smouldering golden eyes matching pale hair flowing in waves just past his ears. His cheekbones alone are strong enough to cut, and so is the elegant line of his jaw. Truly and honestly, Rain has never seen a more beautiful man in all her life.

“And this,” the man continues, taking Rain’s hand. “Who might this be?”

“I-I’m R—”

“That’s Rain. Can we talk?” Milo cuts in, rather rudely Rain thinks.

“Milo, my dear, have patience. It can wait,” the man says, and gazes charmingly back at Rain.

“It’s n-nice to meet you,” Rain says tremulously. “Sir...?”

“Master Draven Vladamir Cordax,” the man announces grandly, then he raises his arms. “And this,” he goes on, “is Garnet Manor.”

“It’s amazing,” Rain says. “I’ve never seen a more beautiful place in my life.”

“Thank you. I wanted it so. I designed every inch of his manor,” Cordax tells her. “Would you like a tour?”

“Vladimir!” Milo interrupts again. “We have a serious issue to discuss. Please.”

Cordax sighs deeply, as if he’s running out of patience for a small child. “Very well, Milo. Let’s go to my study. Rain, if you’ll excuse us.”

Rain nods, peering uncomfortably at Milo as the two of them make their way down one hallway. What has tied together her braids? Ever since dinner last night, since her fight with Adam, she’s been uncharacteristically snappy, solemn, and secretive. And now, a mysterious visit with the ruler of Bannerford? That he somehow also seemed to know about though Milo hadn’t left Rain’s side until now?

What is going on?

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