He was at the edge of the familiar and the unknown. The gift he had been learning, using, without thought as one uses a hand to reach for something, was awkward here. Uncomfortable. He stood at the precipice of the Spirit of Blessing and Decay. The Point of Rending.
It was not what he thought. He had wrongly assumed the light would overtake the darkness here, like day overtakes the night. Assumed light would reveal all that was within the darkness, shed clarity and purpose to the world, his life, and his thoughts. A well worn path of what was noble and good. It was what he expected. It was what he desperately wanted. His greatest desire was to see the light expand beyond all shadow and shine a beacon on the one thing that could render ReAnne conscious and whole. Healed.
Though night turned to day with his gift, where what was lurking in shadow could be seen. Here, in this space that settled between reality and dreams, all he found was dark. Black. The air stale with the lack of life. Like a candle in a dark hall lights only the space where it was pointed, his eyes could only see where they looked. Whatever his eyes rested on was what he could see. The rest, even if he had just glanced at it, was left in darkness. It felt like Belda’s tunnel of light and dark, but there were no vex to be found.
He kept his eyes on the dark abyss to his left. Like a canyon of rock, dropping off right below his feet, the bottom not able to be seen. His heart raced, beating fast against his chest. Something was beckoning him, drawing him to it. Beckoning him to fall.
To turn his gaze from the canyon of black was to potentially fall into it; the heavy weight of despair pushing him down, begging him to jump off the cliff and plummet into nothingness. An opposing force, hope maybe, begged of him to look away, to search the darkness for light.
He felt alone. He wasn’t. Belda stood next to him. She was there, but not present. He could feel her, but not touch her. Her breathing was deep and slow. He paid attention to it. The longer he listened, the more the sound of her breathing became hypnotic, familiar. Like the feeling of home. He could rely on it, in a time and space where there was nothing more than the dark.
One step, Edward. That is all it would take. Your pressures would be gone. The great weight of the kingdom would no longer rest on you.
Was that Belda speaking to him? Or was it some unknown force, taunting him to lose himself within the black void? Even worse, was it his own thoughts, his own deep rooted desires surfacing?
He knew he couldn’t stay where he was or he would give in. He walked slowly, careful to keep the ledge a safe distance from his steps, risking what might be in front of him.
For a while, there was nothing but the darkness and Belda’s breathing. Then a crack, like a small stalk, sounded in front of him. It threw him off; he swung his gaze towards it, forgetting to keep his eyes on the abyss.
And there she was.
Grey cloak, brown dress. A mere flicker as she ran across his tunnel vision, just as she was that night in the fields, when his sight was not betraying his thoughts. When he desperately needed to find her, to save her. When he was sure of his gift and it did not fail him. In the tall corn stalks that faded away with his sight, he had found her. He had saved her once. Could he do it again?
He turned as she went past him, following her. An outgoing tide of weight left from him and the dimness of his sight grew brighter. The cloak fell away. Her satchel fell with it. She ran, both arms bound in front of her by a thick white substance, like a spider-spun restriction.
ReAnne! He cried out, but no sound would escape from his lips. She turned to look at him; one side of her face bound by the same substance, the other eye glowing with the same bright orange as a Vex, penetrating the darkness. He tried again to call to her, but his voice would not make a sound. He shook his head, blinking. And then, she was nowhere.
You missed her this time. Failure.
No. No, not failure. Please.
His head swung back, searching once again for the hole without measurable depth. Where did it go?
Breathing. Light and consistant. Belda? Where are you?
He refused to step, afraid one in the wrong direction would fling his body over the edge. He tracked his feet; the muted sight of his eyes ensuring him that encircled around him was indeed solid ground. He listened again for Belda’s breathing, the only thing reminding him of the world beyond his sight, but was met with silence.
How do I find what I need? How do I find her again?
He let his sight wander out in front of him, only as far as he dared. The hem of a skirt, white and flowing in a breeze he could not feel, waved through the soft glow. As his eyes lifted, they settled on slim figure, the face encompassed by masses of chestnut locks arranged with buoyant curls. She smiled at him, her brown eyes filled with deep sorrow. There was something about her, something altogether mournful. He watched, as though a spectator to a play, as her hand reached out. Instead of reaching to darkness, a bedroom materialized around her. He kept his eyes steady on her so as not to lose her, but he could still see the four posters, massive and made from red wood, the Mirias crest carved into the head board. Her pale, ghostlike hand stretched to the figure that lay between thick sheets, the head resting upon embroidered pillows. ReAnne. Who is this woman with ReAnne?
But as the woman’s hand neared, the face of the figure was clearer to his vision. It was not ReAnne. White hair and a crooked crown filled his view. The king. The Great King. He slowly moved his eyes from her hand to her face, careful to not close them and lose his sight. Though her hand rested upon the face of the king, she was looking at him, a singular tear falling down her cheek. Without thinking of what he was doing, he tried to comfort her, protect her. He stepped forward, unable to resist the urge to touch her. If he could reach her, he could help her. He did not know how he knew this, but he did, all the same.
She ran, this vision that flitted before him, and the bed with his father on it dissolved. Like a painter had wiped a paintbrush with black paint across it, erasing it into thin air. His eyes forgot to follow her, and she was gone, lost to the darkness and no longer seen in his faint sight. He muttered under his breath until beyond her, an arch appeared…a gateway, white like marble and glowing like moonlight. He forgot the woman and the vision of his father. His desire to move towards it mirrored his desire towards the chasm.
Here, Edward. Come this way and escape the night.
The chasm was still close, he knew, though he had not checked the surety of his feet since the woman in white appeared. He found himself more than willing to take a step towards the arch without pause or worry. What he needed was beyond it, he knew, and he had to get to it. He felt his legs begin to run with no thought to a cliff or a deep pit of darkness when something hit against his leg with brute force, sending him backwards, almost throwing him into the chasm he was so desperate to avoid.
“No!” His voice was shrill in his own ears. A hand gripped his shoulder tight.
Ottelo shoved Belda away from Edward, landing him against a tree trunk. Edward’s arms and legs fought against him and Ottelo suffered a blow to the jaw.
“Pitney, help me.” Ottelo had managed Edward’s arms, but his feet were connecting with Ottelo’s side. The lack of nourishment they had suffered showed in his inability to hold Edward down.
“He is fine. He just believes he is falling. He will recover soon enough.” Belda answered, smoothing her dress and long braid.
Ottelo looked at Pitney but Pitney stood still. “She said he was fine.”
“Watch her, then. She is likely to make a run for it.”
Pitney stood next to his mother but made no move to constrain her.
It did not matter, Pitney’s lack of help. Edward was already coming back to the light, keeping his eyes closed for short periods of time to acclimate them from the darkness. He searched for a chasm he could no longer see. His legs found a resting place against tree roots, his hands gripping the dirt around him.
“I saw…I saw ReAnne,” he said to Belda, breathless.
She raised an eyebrow and nodded to him. She stepped closer, eyeing both Ottelo and Edward. The small lines that had subtly hinted at her age settled into hard creases with her frown. “The Point of Rending can leave you haunted by things you see.”
“She was…she was bound…and one side of her face…one eye was…”
“It is the chrysalis of the Vex. Time is closing in on her condition. Soon, she will be one with them. As Aoife was.”
“No!” Edward stood suddenly. “She was nothing more than a vision. What is there that could possibly help her?”
“A vision? Yes. But more than a vision, as well. Her soul is being drawn by Decay. She has been left to become one with the darkness.”
“So, it’s her…spirit?” Ottelo asked.
Belda did not move her steel gaze from Edward as she answered Ottelo’s question. “Edward sees those in turmoil. It is a rare extension of his gift, obtained by a limited few. While a person might be seen there, they are not actually before you. You saw ReAnne because her condition puts her very soul in jeopardy. Decay forces her vision there and you must draw her out. There is much that can happen. Much that can be done…or undone.”
“So…he can see if people are…evil?”
“I suppose that is the juvenile way to describe it. I am surprised…you went with such little coaxing. Brave, young prince. Very brave. Why, even the Provider, as great as he is remembered, refused to risk it.”
Edward felt the need to come to the Provider’s defense. “He was not given the information until it was too late. If he had known-”
“Are you so sure of that? The stories written in your histories, even the ones the Elders and Order wish to not be told…are they all as they seem? Are you so quick to believe what you are told?” Belda circled him, touching his shoulder, trailing her hand along his back to the other shoulder until her fingertip touched his cheek. She drew her mouth close to his ear and whispered. “The chasm called to you. Darkness. She cannot overcome it. But perhaps you could, little prince?” For all her previous desire to get away from them, she seemed to be enjoying herself now.
“I do not wish to fall into it.” Edward mumbled under his breath, speaking to himself more than to Belda. How did Belda know about the chasm? Why had Mayavin not prepared them for this? Surely, he had known about the Point of Rending and the dangers that lurked there. If he had known and did not tell him, it was a form of betrayal. Still, if he had known, if he had anticipated what was to come, Edward was reluctant to admit that he might have been less willing to go there. Even if it would help ReAnne.
“It would require a sacrifice, yes. But who is to say that one would not find something more powerful in the darkness than can be seen in the light?”
“Light shines in the darkness and uncovers what is hidden there,” Ottelo said.
Belda took a long sigh and finally shifted her gaze to look disdainfully at Ottelo. “Will you rule your kingdom believing the darkness has no place? Would the light shine if darkness did not offer its contrast?”
“There can be things that are all good.”
“Like love?” Belda snickered. “Would you know so much of love if you had not experienced its opposite? Surely, you can understand even love comes with its own helping of heartache. I know your mother does. Perhaps even your father.”
“That is enough, witch.” Ottelo made a move to grab her, but Pitney stepped between them.
“This not why we came here.” Immediately, Ottelo pictured ReAnne and nodded his withdrawal to Pitney.
“What of good in the Point of Rending, Belda? Surely, there is good there as well?” Edward thought of his father as he had seen him there, sick in bed, nursed by a vision in white. He was noble, good, and tried to do the right thing…surely his soul was not in turmoil. “There was another vision…of my father and a woman…he was ill in bed…and she was…sad.”
“There are more things to be seen and to be known. The Great King…you say? Interesting.” She twirled her braid and looked to the sky, deep in thought. “Interesting, indeed.”
“What?” Edward asked, but Belda ignored him as she continued to pace around him.
“Did you see anything else?”
He thought of the glowing, marble archway, but couldn’t bring himself to tell her. He shook his head.
“Who was the woman…do you know?”
“I had not seen her before.”
“But you were drawn to her, yes? Inexplicably?”
Edward turned his head and stared at her from the corner of his eye, not sure he wanted to hear what else she had to say. He wanted to ask her why he could not see Belda there, if she knew about the chasm, but the words wouldn’t form. He let out a slow, unsure, “Yes.”
“Loved ones often take on a form we will not recognize with the Point of Rending. It is a protection for them.”
“But I saw ReAnne clearly. And my father,” Edward protested.
“Wrong sort of love, foolish prince. Did she touch him?”
Again Edward fought the urge to tell her no more and ask why loved ones would need protection in the Point of Rending, but he still found himself answering her questions. “Yes.”
She flicked her hand into the air and let out a throaty chuckle before sighing heavily.
“Well, then…you all seem to be doing well on your own. I will leave you with a thought. Perhaps it will provoke you to greater things. One might question if the chasm is not an end…but a beginning. Hhmm?” Belda flicked the bottom of his ear with her forefinger and then stepped away from him. “I will make my leave now. Pitney, will you be coming?”
“Wait, you cannot leave!” Ottelo called out to her. “You are a prisoner of the Providence Kingdom. Edward?”
Pitney made a move for his sword to stop her, but fell short of being able to draw it on his own mother. Ottelo’s face turned red with anger, but Edward was no longer interested in keeping her as a prisoner. He wanted, needed, to be rid of her. “What do I have to do? How did I come out of it? My gift was so powerful…but it was almost out of my control…”
“It was out of your control,” Belda clicked her tongue at him. “If I had not used Hindering Touch, you would have been lost to it.”
Ottelo raised an eyebrow. “Lost to what? Why did you let him leave?”
Belda narrowed her eyes as she stared at Edward. “One can lose themselves there. I am sure you have heard of it? As for not leaving him there…I guess curiosity has me intrigued.” She tilted her head to size him up from a different angle. “There are things I wish to see from him.”
“Who are you, Belda?” Edward took a step towards her. Both Ottelo and even Pitney followed suit, putting their hands on the hilts of their swords; three swords ready to do battle.
But she did not answer. She walked to Pitney and grabbed the hand threatening to draw his sword. She squeezed it gently. “Until I see you again.”
“What is that supposed to-“ But before Pitney could finish his sentence, she was gone from their sight.
“What just happened?” Ottelo was the first to speak.
Edward shook his head.
“How did she disappear?” He asked, but Edward did not care that she was gone.
“I think I know what I have to do, Ot. I have to go back.”
“But you heard what Belda said…the only reason you came out was because she had Hindering Touch. Edward, what if you get stuck there?”
“He is right,” Pitney added, “You are no good to us stuck somewhere neither of us can reach you. We watched you flounder around, but we could not see what you saw. Did you even know we were still here?”
Edward had only known of Belda being close to him. Was that because she was there, with him? Or because she had somehow opened a doorway for him to find it? He had no recollection of either one of them. Just the knowledge that Belda was beside him, breathing. She must not have been able to see what he saw, otherwise, she would not have been surprised at the vision of the Great King. Then what prompted her to use Hindering Touch on him? What had he done to make her know he was in trouble there?
“Do you even know how to get there in the first place?” Ottelo asked.
“I don’t. But I think I know someone who does.” Edward gave a knowing smile before they had a chance to ask who.
“You are right. He would know.”
“And we would gladly leave with you, but Benjamin…” Pitney said.
Edward stopped dead in his tracks on his way to mount Regal. He had forgotten that Benjamin was missing.
“You do still wish to find him…” Pitney started.
“Of course, I do. He is my brother,” Edward snapped back. “I just…where do we start? If you were so concerned about him, you could have asked your mother.”
“You never did.”
“I was a little busy-“
“Trying to save the world, I know.”
“I would think, you of all people, would be concerned about ReAnne.”
“What are implying, Prince?”
Pitney and Edward were too caught up with each other to notice that Ottelo was walking slowly backwards from the mass of trees that encased their camp.
“What?” They shouted together to Ottelo, but kept their stares solely for each other.
“Maybe…somehow…Benjamin could find…us?”
They both turned to see Benjamin walking into the clearing, but Edward was the only one who saw the vex walking beside him.
“Kaelah!” Dennis screamed as he held ReAnne’s wretching body over the edge of the bed. Her chest heaved as though in waves.
“Oh no, what happened?” Maurlee rushed through the door and threw a basket next to the bed in an attempt to catch ReAnne’s vomit. It had been a hard night. Lady Kaelah and Prince Dennis had put their suspicions of what the Great King was looking for in Maurlee aside while they shuffled between the two rooms all night. ReAnne had spent most of it thrashing about it in her sleep, moaning, and making guttural sounds. Between ReAnne and the still lethargic state of the king, no one had gotten any rest.
“Look.” Dennis gestured to her hands, now crossed over her chest, held down by a white substance like spider web, but thicker and stronger.
“No, no…I thought we were keeping it at bay…I was hoping to, at least…” Maurlee let her voice trail off. Dennis held ReAnne over the side of the bed until her vomiting subsided.
“Where is Lady Kaelah? Pammy?” He demanded. He wanted to spend as little time with her as possible. The Great King was wary enough of Maurlee to risk his own life finding a secret from her. Even to the point of using a gift that was not his to use. Because of her, he now risked losing his father and Mirias, their king.
“I—I do…I dunno.” Maurlee shook her head, unwilling to look anywhere but at the wrapped substance threatening to overtake ReAnne’s body. Subconsciously, her hand drifted to the inside pocket of her apron she had tied around her waist until her fingers felt the lock of hair she kept hidden.
“Well, why are you still standing there? Go get her.”
Maurlee started at the harshness in his voice but turned to obey him.
Lady Kaelah took what seemed like forever to get to her rooms. She was in her white dressing gown, clearly ready to turn in for the night after her finished vigil by the Great King’s bedside. By the time she was in the room, Prince Dennis had already settled ReAnne back onto her pillows and was wiping her brow with a wet cloth.
“It was bad this time,” he said without turning to her. “She was vomiting, not just heaving.”
He felt a hand set gently on his shoulder and the weight of his world came crashing in on him as he sobbed, splaying himself across ReAnne’s body. For all the growing up he had done in the last few months, he was in many ways, still a boy.
“I’m sorry, Deet. There is nothing I know now to do.” A catch in her own throat was caught just in time.
Dennis reached a hand over and placed it upon Kaelah’s. “Is Pammy with Father? Has there been any change with him?”
She shook her head, grasping his hand, unable to stop the flow of tears. “Yes, she stayed after prayers. Nothing has changed. I have tried everything…for both of them. Maurlee had also done all she knows to do and she is skilled in ways I am not. If only there was someone who might know more…”
“I might know someone. I mean…I was thinkin’….” Maurlee had snuck in silently behind Lady Kaelah, but now four eyes were looking at her.
Maurlee’s own eyes grew wide. “Look!” She pointed to ReAnne as she rushed to her side.
Lady Kaelah took in a sharp breath when she saw what Maurlee was pointing to. ReAnne’s eyes were opened and they were no longer hazel.
They were orange and they were staring at Maurlee.