25 Years Past
“There is no other choice," Gwen whispered to herself as she stood in the shadowed depths. “I have to do this. I can do this.” she took a bracing breath, straightened her spine, her shoulders back then took the first step down.
Eight in all, the steps framed the large square room, their opaque crystalline depths radiating individual color. The first two, gold and grey for the eastern kingdom then red and metallic white for the south followed by blue and silver for the western kingdom, lastly green and metallic black for the northern kingdom.
Her family had spent eons balancing the the kingdoms, and even the decorations showed that, she shivered at the turn that promise had taken. What that decision, and hers, would set in motion.
She had entered through the northern doorway, a large portal ten paces from the base of a winding staircase leading to the upper storeys. The stairs were obsidian, polished until each step was a depthless pool. With a loving hand, she had traced the luminescent green etchings in the ebony railing, that seemed so alive with tree sap flowing through it.
A mini corridor led from the base to the door, paneled in the same dark wood etched in green. It depicted scenes and animals from the north, a collage of strength, grace and raw beauty against a mountainous background.
To her, the north represented the depth of night, the darkest hour and the hope that was ever there for a new day. It was the depth of winter, harsh in its beauty and yet cradling life. At this time of day and their hour of need it was the ideal starting point, she had thought. Looking around, she smiled at how right her decision had been, gaining confidence with each step she took.
The door was fifteen feet high and ten wide, framed in the same style as the railing and panel. One way Andaiian mirrors walled all four sides, with a doorway at the center leading to and from the cardinal points. The other three were identical to the northern one in style, but different in color schemes and etchings.
The southern door had fiery red etchings on white wood, west had blue on silver wood and the east grey on golden wood. The other doors though, were closed and looked like arcs styled into a single mirrored panel. Once again balance had to be maintained, and there was no greater balancing act that what was before her.
Behind the mirrors, people from across the kingdoms had come to watch, watch proceedings unlike anything seen in centuries, in the room itself though, the ceremonies were reflected ad infinitum. Something that her ancestors had thought would reflect the nature of magic. Gwen could not help but feel a deep reverence for the simple, profound air the room held. Only those necessary for the ceremony were present, four eight year olds and her.
She descended the rest of steps, touching the shoulder of the young boy standing at the bottom of the stairs, as she passed him, Anrai, prince of the northern kingdom. He stood before the door of his people as did the other three, vessels for all the power in their kingdoms, the only hope. She winced at how far their people had fallen. Four with near equal power were required for the ceremonies and these children all had equal power, more equal than any quartet that had ever stood here. They had none.
That was what had forced her to do this, the most dangerous of ceremonies, ancient it was more myth than anything she had ever encountered. Obscure, she could only guess at its true results but it suited their needs more than any other. The price for it was terrible, as were the consequences of failure. Yet they had no choice, their magics were failing and in one generation they could be no more.
Feigning composure she did not feel, she walked to the center of the room. After all, she was the heart of their realm, if she showed her fear and despair then they would all be lost sooner than she foresaw.
At the precise center of the room was an amethyst, a foot in diameter it was encircled by a four feet radius circle, big enough for four to stand. Gwen had not asked any of her siblings to attend; she alone would pay the price for this. So she went to stand on the amethyst facing the boy at the northern door.
“Guardian of the north,” she addressed him formally. “Do you come of your free will?”
Assuming a stiff military stance the boy inclined his head. “Yes.” he acknowledged in a piping but firm voice.
Her heart broke at the affirmation, the child had no idea what he was agreeing to, no one had, this was more than a normal ceremony and she quaked at that knowledge. “Take up your sword and accept your duty.”
Head held high he walked the few paces to where an obsidian sword lay, its dark pommel crowned by an emerald. Taking it two handed he struggled to lift it then slot it into a slit in the floor. When he released it, it slid noiseless in, until only the handle could be seen, the stone glowing upon it. From the bottom of the stairs a third of the white marble floor became veined with green, as if the emerald bled into it, yet it remained just as bright. The boy swallowed as he watched, this was the first ceremony any of them had attended and they were at the heart of it. It had to be a scary experience.
Turning to her right, Gwen met the uncertain icy blue gaze of the boy before her; Adran prince of the east, he wore a golden tunic edged in ice grey over dark grey trousers, with gold ropes down the sides. He stood at military attention, so no one but her saw his ambivalence and only because she had looked into his eyes.
“Guardian of the east, do you come of your free will?”
“Yes.” his childish voice was firm as he inclined his head in acceptance.
“Take up your sword and accept your duty.” she commanded resisting the urge to check her pocket chronometer.
The sword before him was pure gold, again in the same style as the other with a grey diamond at the pommel. The child stumbled when it came to sliding the sword into the floor, managing it just in time. She breathed a sigh of relief as the grey diamond veined a third of the room from the east.
On the north-eastern corner the green and grey interspaced and fed into each other until they glowed more than where they were singular. The tower bell chimed the midnight hour and she couldn’t help the smile that split her face. She had been afraid the two would not make the midnight mark, the timing was tight, as it was they had a limited window to utilize.
The boy to the south seemed to be having trouble standing still. Shuffling his feet, his hands periodically rearranged his clothes. Prince Kadír, was one of those children who had too much energy.
Biting her smile back she addressed him with the required formality. “Guardian of the south, do you come of your free will?”
He stood straighter, trying to emulate the stance of the others, his head rising with pride before he gave her a regal nod. There was no mistaking his excitement when he spoke. “Yes.”
“Take up your sword and accept your duty.”
He had no trouble lifting the white iridium sword, though he too had to use both hands. It was evident he was used to handling the heavy sword as he effortlessly slid it into its slot. The ruby jewel flared then ignited a third of the floor meeting the diamond at the south-east corner.
Meeting the serene golden eyes of the last boy, Merrick, prince of the waters of the west, she repeated the ritual asking the necessary question. There was something casual and assured about him, as if he expected life to go his way and would be surprised if it didn’t. Confidence beyond a child’s belief in their world and invincibility in it. He had a touch of a smile as he accepted the duty before him, even when he fumbled a bit with the silver sword he had that air of offhand competence
As the sapphire veins joined with the ruby on one end and emerald on the other the room was divided into nine equal squares of different colors, with the middle square retaining its white nature, only now it was a painful white glow. Energy pulsed in the room, power that caressed her skin, awakened the age old instinct, reveling in all that was their nature, the culmination of their power.
The magic had never been like this, a lover sated but yearning for more, giving more. It caressed her, filled her, soothed the hopelessness she had been experiencing. She wanted to wallow in it, savor power like she had never touched before, embrace the depth of what she had been born to, born for. Yet she knew she had to channel it. She had to complete the ritual, the demand the land commanded.
“Time undone, Time unwoven,
What was set before has done
Come and gone and yet again
The clock that was is no more
But one who stands
Yet again time is rewoven.
Power hidden, Power revealed,
Born without nonetheless with all
Unknown til set ablaze
With need an hour so late
Shall the state abide
To end or save all in time.”
She had no idea what the verse meant, simple as it was the riddle had long puzzled her. Though sure it was the only choice, she had no idea what the outcome would be, all she could do was hope it was something they could all live with.
The north-east box swirled, a cloud she knew would be flower scented with a hint of musky earth. To the north nothing seemed to have changed but Gwen knew the atmosphere would be raw with power, heavy like being underground with the weight of mountains overhead. Each square had a different element or mixture of two with the middle one free of any. It was the realm representing spirit. The fifth element dependent on human ingenuity and strength.
Though they were not elementals, none had ever existed, they radiated with elemental power because of the ceremony. She was awed by it, stunned by the unforeseen depths. Never had she imagined it would be like this. It gave her hope, that maybe all would be well, that their people could be saved after all. Her heart rose as the power in the room rose to astronomical levels before it burst through and was gone.