IT DIDN’T surprise Vivienne that the first thing they made her do at the Station was to surrender her cellphone. They told her that it wouldn’t work in Coral City anyway. Coral City was across the Anthias Sea, after all. There were two other Orlins who had been picked earlier in the month and were only summoned to the Light Station now. One was a boy of sixteen, and the other was a skinny girl of fifteen. Both were dressed formally like they were on their way to a dinner party. The boy wore a dark grey plaid suit that was frayed at the edges. The girl wore a bright blue dress which seemed to be composed entirely of ruffles. She was overly tall and slender, like a blue grasshopper. Sallen was the shortest of the lot, but she made up for it with giant platform heels. She was wearing a pink dress that reminded Vivienne of her Aunt’s party dress.
Vivienne had decided on a pair of black jeans and a clean blouse. She felt underdressed at first, but when the Orlin guides appeared they were only wearing plain black cloaks are well. Their plain attire was decorated by a thin gold chain around their wrists, and a white rose embroidered into their sleeves. The white rose was the symbol of the Princess. She was the leader of the Orlins and only she was allowed to wear a white cloak. That much Vivienne knew from the newspapers, but she suspected she wasn’t nearly as aware of the latest Orlin gossip as her peers.
There was a private car there to bring them to the dock. There were two Orlins to escort them, one male and one female. The man, who introduced himself as Simon, sat in front. The female, Madame Jyger, sat with them in the back. Her hair was done in an austere grey bun at the top of her head. Across her forehead was a thick crater of a scar and her eyebrows were burned clean away. Like the others, Vivienne found herself trying not to stare. Madame Jyger had an empty seat beside her, and since everyone else shrank away, Vivienne found herself sitting beside Madame Jyger. Sallen looked guilty at the prospect and immediately took the seat opposite to the two of them. The two others huddled together at the back of the limousine.
The car pulled out of the Station, and Madame Jyger got down to business immediately.
“As soon as you enter the city you will be taken to the Pearl Tower and given the Orlin’s Oath. You will be shown to your temporary rooms in the Pearl Tower where you will be instructed on the choosing of an Anemoi. The events of the week will culminate in the Midnight Masquerade.” Madame Jyger finally made eye contact when the car picked up speed. “Any questions?”
There was silence throughout the car. Vivienne wondered if asking whether she could go home was an option.
“Many inductees often ask what exactly is an Anemoi,” Madame Jyger finally suggested with an air of exasperation. “An Anemoi is vital to the survival of an Orlin. There is a saying among the Orlins that will soon become familiar to you - two souls one grave. Your Anemoi will become the most important person in your life, even more so than your future husband or wife.”
“Many Orlins never marry,” Simon offered from the front seat. “Some even marry their Anemois.” Simon grimaced. “I don’t think I even want to know how the mind-reading part works in a marriage.”
“Can you really read minds?” Sallen asked.
“Nothing like you probably imagine. Sometimes if you or your Anemoi are in a dire circumstance, you will catch traces of thoughts. Sometimes, only moods. Sometimes it requires touching, sometimes an exchange of energy or blood,” Simon offered with a hint of impatience as though Sallen’s question was awfully childish. Vivienne immediately decided it was better not to ask questions.
“Now, do you know the rules of being an Orlin?” Madame Jyger asked. Sallen shook her head while Vivienne just stared blankly. Her low husky voice grew even quieter as though she wanted them to lean in closer to hear. “The first rule is the most important one - bound 'till death. You never purposely do ill to your Anemoi or abandon them. The second rule - If you do catch traces of your Anemoi’s thoughts, you will not reveal them to others. And your Anemoi will swear to do the same as well with your thoughts. Third rule - One bond, one life. You will not take one more than one Anemoi in your lifetime or risk exile from the order of the Orlins.”
“Who picks your Anemoi?” the girl in the back asked. “Do they pick us?”
“It happens both ways,” Simon offered. “Sometimes, the second you meet them you just know. For some unfortunate inductees, they don’t feel that bond with anyone and in that case the Pearl Tower picks for them. You don’t want to end up in those situations. So, work hard this week to find that bond. It makes things so much easier when you actually like the person.”
The car slowed as it approached the harbor. There was a large grey boat waiting for them. It looked to Vivienne like a floating prison. The sun had come out and was shining on the Anthias Sea. The water was a crystal blue, but Vivienne knew that the next time they saw the ocean, in Coral City, it would be gold. Coral City, in Ignias they call it the city of sin and glory. Vivienne was reminded of the last time she saw the Anthias sea. She was only nine years old. It was the day Blake died. She had gone to the beach with her mother and Janun. Vivienne caught a crab, and she brought it home in a bucket to show her friend. Vivienne remembered being worried that her father would try to cook it for dinner. Maybe she could ask Blake to sneak it into his family’s extravagant fish tank.
Madame Jyger clapped her hands together.
“That’s it for now. Once you are on the ship, you will be shown to your rooms. You will wait there alone until we reach the city. You will have some time to nap or meditate. If you are wise, you will use the time to think about the qualities you seek in your Anemoi. A week will pass faster than you can imagine and it is a decision that will impact the rest of your life.”
As Simon led her to her room, he left her with instructions to be respectful of the ship. It was an enchanted place where many Orlins before her had received signs of their Anemois to be. The walls were painted blue and lightly decorated with mosaics made of shell fragments. It seemed as though it was meant to invoke feelings of the exotic and calm. Vivienne’s room was in the shape of a square with a mat to one side for sleeping. There were no windows. At the center of the room was a table with violet-scented incense.
“This is Madame Jyger’s favorite room. Legend has it that the face of her Anemoi came to her in the smoke of a lit wick of incense.” Simon smiled proudly. “She used to be an amazing Orlin before Lord Chaning was executed. The two of them have known no parallel.”
“Why was he executed?” Vivienne asked. She thought that the first rule of being an Orlin that is one never leaves their Anemoi to die. It looked like even Madame Jyger bent the rules.
“Treason,” Simon replied and grimaced. “You’re a quiet one. I noticed you didn’t ask any questions, but I sense that you are mighty inquisitive.”
“All right, here’s one - why do Anemois need us?” Vivienne asked. “You say that they’re powerful leaders and royalty. So why us?”
Simon chuckled. “We’re Orlins, descended from the holy people of the past. They need us to save their souls.” He paused and studied her. Although he was young and could pass for handsome, his beady eyes easily turned mean. “You’re not as smart as you look.”
“Looks can be deceiving,” Vivienne replied sarcastically. She took a step into the room hoping that would prompt him to leave, but he caught her by the arm.
“Wait,” he snapped. “You don’t do anything before I tell you to.”
Vivienne turned to face him. She gave him a wide-eyed look, letting him know that she was awaiting further instruction. She decided she was beginning to hate the Orlins even more. Simon produced a velvet sachet from the leather case he was carrying under his arm. He opened the sachet and pulled out a thin silver chain. He motioned for her to hold out her wrist.
“When the bond is complete you have a gold chain. For now, in its virgin form, it will help guild you to your destiny.” He snapped the silver chain shut around her wrist and motioned to the room. “Now go in. See you when we’re in a much better place.”
Vivienne sat by the desk on one of the violet cushions and tried not to think about how homesick she was. She finally produced a slip of paper from her backpack and a pen from her school pencil case. She tried to imagine a face in the twirls of smoke, but her resultant drawing only looked like a mess of scribbles. She finally gave up on the vision part and simply attempted to draw a face. The resultant image resembled more of a monkey than a man.
Vivienne crumpled up the portrait and shoved it back into her bag. She wondered how terrible of an Orlin would she have to be in order to be fired and sent home. Maybe she’ll wear her underwear on her head and advise her Anemoi to jump off of a cliff. She smiled to herself at the thought.
She laid down on the mat and thought about Allison. Vivienne wondered which of the Anemois truly had a dark, murderous secret to hide. From their paparazzi pictures the night before they all looked suspicious, especially the ugly ones. There was one with an especially big nose that she found detestable. Vivienne sleepily wondered if having large ogreish features was a sign of a vampire. If anything, it was the one with the flaming red hair. That one had a piercing glare as though he could rip out a throat with his eyes alone.
The dream started in the attic of the Thorne Manor. Vivienne found herself among the charred remains of porcelain dolls. These dolls, they were where she had met Blake for the first time when he had caught her playing with his ancestors’ dolls.
“Viv,” a voice whispered from the darkness. She looked up and caught the sight of two burning eyes peering at her from the shadows. He stepped forward into the light. His blond hair was dusty, as though he had been sitting in the attic for ages along with the dolls. Blake stared down at the torso of a blackened porcelain ballerina. “They burned them, you know. The vampires.”
Blake reached out with one hand. She took it in hers, but his skin felt icecold to her. He wasn’t alive. She wrapped her hands around his and tried futilely to warm his slender fingers. He shook his head. It was no good.
“Did the vampires kill Allison?”
“You’ll know soon enough, Vivy. They’re coming for you.” He tilted his head up, and she saw two large bloody incisor wounds in his pale neck. She suddenly remembered that Blake had died. The memories came back to her in a terrifying flood. They told her the gardener had found him in the abandoned arena. He carried Blake back to the Thorne Family manor where Lady Thorne held him until he died. Lady Thorne said that he stopped breathing before they were able to call for a doctor. She never even got a chance to see him one last time.
“Do you remember the last thing you said to me?” Blake’s ghost asked.
“I said I would keep the locket for you until you came back,” Vivienne said. “But I never saw you again. I wasn’t even allowed at your funeral.”
Blake stared back at her, the dark circles under his eyes looked like holes into his skull. He was a ghost, but she still felt comforted in his presence. He was the only one who understood, who believed in the vampires. He was Blake Thorne; he feared nothing. When she was with him, she was powerful too. She could take on the Orlins.
“You’re one of them now.”
“I won’t help them. I promise!” Vivienne exclaimed. “I’ll find out the truth. I won’t forget what the vampires did to you.”
“They killed my father, you know.” Blake mused sadly. His green eyes lingered on her before he turned to leave. “I never even found out what really happened to him.”
“Blake!” Vivienne cried out. “Don’t leave me.”
The dream ended. She woke up abruptly to the shocking eggplant-colored room. It wasn’t her room! Then she remembered with dismay that she was on the Orlins’ ship, on her way to the dreaded Pearl Tower.
The incense had burned out. The rocking of the ship had knocked her paper and pencil from the table. As she collected them, she noticed that the chain of the cameo necklace was hanging out of her jean pocket. She pulled it out and momentarily glimpsed the carving of a moon which formed the cameo. Vivienne remembered the doll whose neck the necklace came from.
It was the last day of summer when her father was invited to Thorne Manor to tutor Lady Thorne’s son. The Thornes were tremendously secretive, and although her father desperately wanted to boast to everyone who would listen that his newest employers were the Thornes, he was contractually obligated to secrecy. Vivienne didn’t know anything about the Thornes except what her father told her. He said that Blake Thorne was an ill-tempered boy who quickly wore out his tutors.
Her father was preoccupied in preparing for his lessons, and Janun was busy running around Coral City with her new girlfriends from school. Vivienne was left alone to wander. Somehow, in her boredom, she ended up following a cat into the attic. There, she found an array of the most gorgeous porcelain dolls she had ever seen. There were ballerinas with little pink tutus, maids with lace aprons and miniature feather dusters, harem girls with veils and embroidered slippers and Victorian ladies with parasols and spectacles. There was a lady in a deep purple dress sitting on a wolf. She wore a cameo necklace around her neck and a crescent-shaped circlet over her head.
Vivienne picked her up and was enchanted by her smile. She looked like she had a dark secret. There was a magnificent dollhouse under a muslin sheet. Inside, there was a table all set for tea complete with miniature silverware and candlesticks. Vivienne posed her doll at the head of the table. She picked up the ballerina and posed her in the seat opposite from her. Vivienne picked up the miniature teapot and served the two dolls. Then she passed out tiny cookies and sandwiches.
Delighted in the game, Vivienne quickly decided that the tea party was going to take a dark turn. The Ballerina had betrayed the Wolf Queen by consorting with her enemy, the Moon King. The Wolf Queen had poisoned the tea, and she intended to feed the Ballerina to her pack of ravenous wolves who had been starved in the darkness of her cellar for three weeks.
As Vivienne was posed to lower the Ballerina to her doom, she was interrupted by the sound of a creaking floorboard. The Ballerina fell from her grasp and smashed into the floor, breaking in two at the torso. To make matters worse, as she turned, there was a boy standing behind her.
“Who are you?” he demanded. “And what are you doing here?”
“I’m Vivienne Salome, the Professor’s daughter,” Vivienne replied, hastily. “I’m so sorry. I know I don’t belong here. Please don’t tell the Thornes.”
The boy stepped into the light. He had a scowl on his face. He held a cane in his left hand which he leaned on to walk. She decided that for being such an angry, irritable boy, she didn’t feel sorry for him at all.
“What’s going on here?” he asked and pointed at the ballerina. “Why is she dead?”
“Why did she fall?” he asked.
“She slipped out of my hands,” Vivienne replied sheepishly. “Are you going to tell?”
“No,” he replied curtly. “I meant the real reason why she fell.”
He didn’t seem concerned about telling on her, so she breathed a sigh of relief.
“She betrayed her friend by plotting with the Moon King,” Vivienne replied. “She was going to be fed to the wolves.”
“That sounds brutal,” the boy replied as he eased himself into a kneeling position beside her. He gingerly set his cane aside. “How many wolves are there?”
“Almost twenty!” Vivienne replied gleefully. “They’re starving. The evil Wolf Queens is going to lower her feet first so she could hear her scream.”
The boy smiled. “Slowly, I would hope.”
“Yes,” Vivienne hesitated and then picked up a Harem girl and continued. “But before she reaches the wolves, her friend the Rose Princess will save her. The wolves won’t actually harm her.”
The boy nodded. “Of course, we’ll save the really gory stuff for the Moon King and not for his minions.”
Vivienne smiled. “Yup.” She looked out the window and saw that the sun was setting and her mother would be back from the gardens soon. “I have to go. We’ll play again tomorrow?”
“Very well. Vivienne,” he replied. Although his face was beautiful and calm, there was a glimmer in his eyes of a calculating intelligence. His curly blond hair shone beautifully in the sunlight, but his pale skin belied a boy who didn’t often go into the sun. “My name is Blake.”
“Do your parents work for the Thornes too?” Vivienne picked up the broken ballerina doll. “I’m going to take this back and glue it together before anyone notices.”
“Don’t bother,” he said. He took the broken doll from her and tossed it out the window.
“What? That was expensive!” Vivienne exclaimed. He delicately pushed himself into a standing position with his cane. She noticed he had a mild limp on his left side.
“It’s useless, and it belonged to one of my equally useless ancestors.” He wiped his dusty hand against his dark blazer and it out for her to shake. “I’m Blake Thorne.”
Vivienne felt the ship came to a jarring stop. A knock came at her door and then before Vivienne could answer, it was opened. It was Madame Jyger. She was holding a baggy black cloak trimmed in green.
“Put this on, Vivienne,” she said. “There are vultures who are looking for a glimpse of the new Orlins. Your appearances must be kept secret from the press until the Golden Masquerade. Cover your face well.”
Vivienne took the cloak and draped it around herself. It was thick and heavy around her shoulders. The hood went over her face and shrouded her in mystery. However, it still wasn’t enough for Madame Jyger. She entered and adjusted the cloak about a dozen times before she deemed it fitting.
“Over your shoulder is the sign of a green fox. That will be your name when you are in the Pearl Tower. This will preserve your anonymity.” Madame Jyger motioned for her to follow. “Come with me. Your fellow inductees are already outside.”
Vivienne followed her outside. She caught a glimpse of the shining Anthias sea, now a river of gold in the sun. She felt a pang of nostalgia. Once upon a time she had run through these beaches happy and free. Now she was returning as a prisoner. Sallen was waiting for her at the end of the line. Over Sallen’s shoulder was a silver phoenix. The other girl had a blue dragon, and the boy had a white tiger.
Vivienne knew that legend had it that the symbol they were assigned represented a quality inside themselves. Usually, it was chosen by the Auguard who had first selected them to join the Order. Dragons, tigers, birds were common, that usually meant that the Auguard didn’t know what to pick. Foxes, however, that was an unusual choice. Vivienne didn’t know what to make of it.
“Move in a row please,” Simon ordered as he followed along. She noticed now that they were walking in the sunlight that Simon’s cloak had designs embroidered in gold over his collar. Over his shoulder was a very ornate orange rooster. It seemed fitting that he was given the sign of a cocky but harmless animal. Underneath the cloak, he was wearing combat boots. When he noticed her staring he pulled out a dagger from his boot. “Are you admiring my silverware?” he asked.“If my Orlin powers fail, I can back it up with a cold steel dagger in the heart.”
“Have you ever used that?” Madame Jyger demanded in alarm. It made Vivienne almost chuckled to Simon squirm. She was sure throwing daggers broke one of Madame Jyger’s Orlin rules.
“Of course not,” Simon replied. “But it’s for protection. This cloak sends out a signal to every pickpocket and royalty hater in the city.”
“You need to stop wandering the red-light district in the wee hours of the morning,” Madame Jyger admonished. “Imagine an Orlin with Syphilis. That’s going to make us all look great.”
“I’m careful,” Simon replied. Simon winked at Vivienne as he shoved the blade back into his boots. “Hey Pretty-Eyes, either find yourself an Anemoi with bull-sized muscles or get yourself a decent set of throwing knives too.”