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From Wind to Water-Chapter 1

Chapter One

The water stretched deep under her feet, descending in purple shades down to the abyss she couldn’t see but knew was there. There was silence, there was always pitch-dark, perfect silence. Death has no voice. Nothing moved; birds anchored to the sky, strangled in mid-flight. The air settled into a suffocating frame and the water cut her feet. The sky was once fire, but now it had turned into blood.

 

Only her lips shaped into forms of soundless whisper. Her mind screamed in a thousand echoes; she wanted to move her body, but there was nothing to move; the pain lowered to her toes, she barely saw them through the night; the pain rose to her head, the scenery pressed heavy upon her, a thin thought cut her mind and then it was all over. She woke up every time at this point but the burden of the constant nightmares devoured her little by little until she knew, one day, nothing would be left of her or the surrounding world.

 

 

There was a dark circle under the moon the night it happened. The only one who had not felt it was the queen, and the reason she didn’t find out in days to come was that no one had dared tell her about it. Death was not to be spoken about around her majesty and this had been the case for over a decade now. The certainty that she would die one day had long slipped the queen’s mind, a small mistake that can happen to anyone who has witnessed so many days and nights pass by.

 

She was sitting in her favorite spot, on the terrace above the rose garden, letting the sun lightly touch her pale skin. Her young features, always shaped to hide any negative emotion, still had the power to assure anyone who laid eyes on her of the perfect balance that bloomed in her. From that high spot she looked down at the garden that was being arranged and decorated for the annual ball celebrating her birthday. This night she would count 350 years.

 

A tall bottle sat on the table and she reached for it every now and then to take a sip of the odorless liquid. The breakfast plate in front of her was untouched. Someone coughed to get her attention and she looked at her personal guard.

 

“They are all coming, Your Majesty,” the man said. “And your commander has asked to see you the moment she arrives.”

 

The queen remained silent and, for a short moment, she unwillingly contained her smile.

 

“She doesn’t need my permission to come and see me and you know that very well.” The queen shifted her eyes back to the bustle in the garden. Her hand that played with the bottle displayed a light, displeased tremble. “When is she coming?”

 

“Any minute now…I guess.”

 

“Why are the others coming? We had an arrangement…”

 

“You had an arrangement with their predecessors not with them. Besides, it would not be the first time…”

 

“Not all at one time, Contego!” she placed the bottle down on the table and stood up. “I don’t need my rulers here all at the same time.”

 

“It’s a big celebration.”

 

 

A long shadow darkened the midday sun as the massive horse descended from the sky. It nickered when it landed and the stable boy grabbed the reins.

 

“Easy, boy,” the woman’s husky voice calmed the animal. She jumped down and looked at the boy who was shaking as he held the horse.

 

“Never seen a wind horse before?” she asked, utterly amused.

 

“No, ma’am. I mean, yes, ma’am. But just from afar. Ma’am! Princess!” the boy stuttered.

 

“Commander,” the woman corrected him and winked. “Take care of him, you’ll be best friends in no time.”

 

The boy blushed and hid his eyes. She walked away, recognizing a greeting party that was approaching her.

 

“I’ll be damned,” the woman swore, taking off her gloves. She blew short, sandy strands out of her eyes and waited for Contego and three other guards to approach. Her slender hands went into the pockets of her deep gray trousers and she moved a little on her heels and toes, making her black boots creak on the gravel. Her long, lissome body stiffened as she felt the familiar heavy burden that consumed her every time she set foot in the kingdom’s main realm. Her sleek, charming smile took over her lips as the men finally approached.

 

“Welcome,” Contego spoke.

 

“You greet me with guards now, Contego?” she asked as the two walked on together.

 

“Just a formality. It’s a big day and we want to have everything by the book.”

 

“Only that I am the book when it comes to guards.”

 

“She wants to see you right away,” Contego faked a smile and changed the subject. He stopped in the middle of the meadow and looked at the tall woman. “Listen, Ventus. Everyone is coming and by that I mean also Ignis and Morgayne.”

 

Ventus stared at Contego, her right eyebrow arched slightly.

 

“You knew,” Contego said.

 

“Escort me to her if you think I’ve forgotten my way to the queen’s chamber.”

 

 

Ventus remained standing after she greeted the queen. She held her arms behind her back and watched the woman play with the empty bottle.

 

“What is this? Why have all the rulers, all of a sudden, decided to pay me a visit?”

 

“Your birthday, maybe?” the commander suggested.

 

“Don’t taunt me, Ventus. What are you hiding from me?”

 

“I am not hiding anything. You chose to cover your ears and shut your eyes.”

 

The woman stared at her commander and held her chin in her palm. For a short moment the innocent air of a child passed across her face. Only her eyes betrayed her real age and Ventus felt a strange pity. Her proud shoulders dropped as she sighed and approached her queen.

 

“Serendipity, look,” she began in a whisper while leaning close, her hands on both sides of the queen’s chair. “We have been at peace for a long time now. The kingdoms have stopped arguing, rebels have practically vanished, and no other land has tried attacking in years. Time has eventually healed all wounds. It’s good that everyone wants to attend your celebration. And if something should come up, you can trust me to deal with it. You trust me, don’t you?”

 

The queen looked deep into the steely gaze of her commander, inspecting her whole face for any trace of a lie. Ventus’s strong lips were held in a straight line, not a single tremble passed them. The queen’s gaze dropped to the woman’s neck, to the high collar of her dark-gray uniform, searching for any nervous vein. She nodded, looking back into Ventus’s eyes and the commander smiled, satisfied. Serendipity pressed her lips together and covered her eyes.

 

“Don’t waste any more thoughts over it.” Ventus pulled away. “If you excuse me, I want to inspect your guards now.”

 

The queen flung her hand, sending the woman away.

 

Ventus turned and a dark shadow crossed her face. She bit her lip. It should feel as a relief for a puppet to cut its own strings attached for so many years to the master but, to her, it was a hard to handle torment.

 

 

The castle’s strangest chamber, the Mirror Room, inhabited by the ruler of Speculum, trembled under the heavy steps of the restless man. He had walked the whole morning from one corner to the other, inspecting all of the images in endless mirrors, searching throughout the kingdom for his twin sister. She had decided to arrive by horse and carriage and not as usual with the help of the rain. She was close and he felt the blood in his veins boil, longing for the presence of a family member. They had been inseparable as children but had hardly seen each other since they both became rulers. The knock at his door didn’t divert him from his search and he ignored the man who entered.

 

“Would you stop for a moment, you’re making me dizzy!” the man complained, rubbing the usual dark circles under his brown eyes. “Levis, do I have to remind you that your room is exactly above mine? You have kept me awake all night with this constant stomping around.”

 

Levis didn’t stop so the man slammed a bottle to the table, although careful not to break it. He looked for glasses and filled them with the amber liquid, hoping to get the man’s attention. He was sipping from his own glass, calculating the angle of the newly arranged mirrors when the door opened again and Ventus entered.

 

“What’s wrong with him?” Ventus asked, looking at Levis.

 

“He’s nervous. With the dark circle around the moon and Morgayne arriving one minute or the other…he has lost his mind!”

 

“And you can tell that just from his walking?” Ventus took the other glass. “Nice to see you, Prudent.” She swallowed the whole glass, still watching Levis.

 

Prudent looked at her, troubled, analysing the woman from head to toe.

 

“Oh? You’re usually bored to see me.”

 

Ventus snorted, her amused eyes wandering to the man.

 

“Only when you make me yawn with your infinite knowledge,” she patted the man on his back making him cough. “By the way, Levis,” she turned to the walking man. “did you know that I never met your sister? She is the only ruler who has never visited me nor did I her.”

 

“Actually you did meet. Once, before her powers over the sea had awakened. But you didn’t notice her then,” Levis replied shortly.

 

“Oh, it speaks!” Prudent mocked the man.

 

“Well,” Ventus placed her elbows on the table, “if she is as reflective as you, it doesn’t surprise me.”

 

Over the years, Levis, in his position as guardian of souls, had gradually lost his shape. To common eyes he seemed to echo light, like one of his mirrors, and anyone looking at him would rather see a reflection of themselves than the man’s actual face.

 

“She’s not,” Prudent shrugged.

 

“Can she see you? Or does she, as us humble mortals, look into a mirror whenever she tries reading an expression on your face?” Ventus teased him.

 

Levis stopped walking and approached the commander.

 

“My sister sees me perfectly; she has greater gifts than you two boring creatures.”

 

“Oh…” Prudent rolled his eyes in amusement.

 

Ventus frowned and stared at whatever she could see of Levis. Cherishing Levis was as easy as breathing and it offered her some comfort to have always counted the man as a true ally.

 

“Are you getting fuzzy on me?” Levis noticed the change in Ventus and he changed the subject. “Did you talk to her?”

 

“She wrote to me and…”

 

“No, I mean the queen not Morgayne.”

 

“Yes, I did.” Her smile vanished. “She suspects something. And I think she read through me, I don’t know how she always…” she shrugged and reached for the bottle.

 

“I could answer you that question, but I am not keen on having such a discussion with you right now. That shadow around the moon…it’s shifting. It’s changing position, moving toward the Land of Earth. I have never felt such a void in my life. It drains me every night. And on Morgayne, the things happening in her land are worse. The moon has always influenced the sea. What did she write to you?”

 

“She asked for help. Land of Fire and Land of Water have never demanded any help from me, you know that. It came as a worrying surprise to me. Joining forces, becoming one again, you know very well Serendipity broke that bond years ago.”

 

“And she made sure, through you, that it would be kept like that. What made you change your mind?”

 

Ventus filled her glass again while Prudent thoughtfully sipped out of his. He was staring blankly, trying to keep his opinions to himself.

 

“You know I am betraying Serendipity by hiding this from her, don’t you? I am going behind her back, agreeing to work toward a bond she interdicted,” Ventus said.

 

“You’re smart enough to know you don’t have any powers above death,” Prudent finally spoke. “Neither does the queen as much as she likes to think she does. If you want to save your land and the other lands from vanishing, you’ll forget about your customs of loyalty.”

 

“Your loyalty stands with your people, and then with the queen,” Levis said. “You…finally understand that, don’t you?”

 

Ventus pressed her lips together, her finger playing on the edge of the glass.

 

“What is it that you all want from me?” She stared at them.

 

Levis and Prudent exchanged a short glance.

 

“We should talk about this when we’re all gathered. Just wait for Morgayne and Ignis,” Prudent explained.

 

Levis returned to his mirrors. To Ventus and Prudent they were all blank, each a surface of moving shadows, like water reflecting a sunny day.

 

“She’s here! I can feel it in my blood!” Levis exclaimed.

 

Ventus looked amused at the man as he rushed out the door.

 

“And Ignis? When is she coming?” she asked Prudent.

 

“You never know with time and fire.” Prudent shrugged.

 

“Last time I saw Ignis we got in a fierce argument.”

 

“Then again wind and fire never got along too well.” Prudent smiled at her.

 

“This secrecy is really unnecessary, Levis,” Morgayne explained as she followed the man to his room. “Do you really think no one in the castle will notice that I have arrived?”

 

“I am not trying to keep your arrival a secret. I just want to buy us some time before the queen notices that you’re here. And you agreed with me; you chose to travel by carriage and not rain.” He rushed her through the maze of castle corridors.

 

“I didn’t choose. It’s just that the rain over the sea is impossible to control these days. We had to sail to the border,” she concluded as Levis opened the door to his chamber for her. Morgayne entered and stopped midway as she saw the other two rulers. Ventus was looking out the window, with a glass in her hand, while Prudent was bent from his waist down inspecting a mirror.

 

“Are you still trying, after all these years, to understand how Levis’s mirrors work?” Morgayne inquired.

 

“To the day I die.” He straightened his back and approached her. A short bow of the head and an embrace followed.

 

Ventus watched the two until the dark blue color of the woman’s eyes met hers. A shudder brushed her spine as she looked at the cold beauty of the princess, flesh and pale skin shaped into a marble statue, every strand of pitch black hair curved into a loose lock covering her shoulders. The commander’s gaze lingered on the feminine body, noticing the lightly contoured muscles under her flattering dress, and the short fingernails on her even brighter hands, bleached from handling potions her whole life. Morgayne approached her and the two bowed their heads.

 

“You have kept away from my kingdom for a long while, princess,” Ventus spoke first with courtesy.

 

“So have you,” Morgayne smiled.

 

“Ignis isn’t coming,” Levis interrupted the two.

 

“What do you mean she is not coming?” Ventus turned to him.

 

“I mean, right now,” the man corrected himself. “She told me she will be late, but she didn’t tell me the reason, yet again she never does. She will be here tonight. I will tell the queen, and you,” he turned to Prudent, “will come with me.”

 

“You think it’s wise to leave these two alone?” Prudent asked.

 

“We’re not going to jump at each other’s throat,” Ventus answered.

 

“Well, your predecessors would have.”

 

“Trust me, they speak the same language.” Levis grabbed the man by his arm, pulling him toward the door.

 

They left the two women alone.

 

“And that is supposed to mean what?” Ventus asked, taking a seat on the window sill.

 

“You know my brother, he speaks in riddles.” Morgayne took her cloak off and placed it on her chair.

 

“Even for you?”

 

“Sometimes.”

 

“Care for a drink?” Ventus lifted her half empty glass.

 

Morgayne shook her head. A shadow passed under her eyes, revealing a troubled mind.

 

“You’ve seen the dark circle around the moon and sensed the void,” she said. “It’s been getting stronger. You know what it is, your guts told you.”

 

“It’s hard to believe death can take such a strange form.”

 

“You named it correctly. It is indeed a form of death. It’s not the final stage, but a preliminary one.”

 

Ventus blinked slowly and rubbed her forehead. She pressed her elbows to her knees to be able to look more closely at Morgayne.

 

“It makes no sense to me. Levis tried explaining it in a letter, but he was so vague. How does death have forms and preliminary forms?”

 

“It’s the form taken by the Lower World. That circle you have seen is the void they are trying to cast upon our world. They are free to break the boundaries of their unseen world and step into ours as we have no way of controlling death. We’re missing a ruler, commander.”

 

“They’re trying to conquer us? To take over and we are supposed to fight death?”

 

“We can’t fight death, you know that. They can’t just devour us all of a sudden. After all we are the living and they the dead. To be able to control this world, make it theirs, they need the link between our two worlds. A link that has been dormant for a long time, buried and kept silent.”

 

Ventus’ face froze and her eyes widened as she stared at Morgayne.

 

“Somewhere out there, in the Land of Earth, a dormant ruler is tormented by nightmares and shadows. This ruler has no influence to awaken naturally, as you and I, Ignis, Levis or Prudent once had. He or she is locked in a kind of dungeon and so are their powers. What I believe is that the Lower World is trying to get to this person and awaken them, control them, and erase the balance between life and death. If they get to them first, they will be able to control this person as a puppet. It will be their link to invade our world to turn it into a field of death, of nothing.”

 

“How sure can you be about all of this? The Lower World has never tried invading or attacking or whatever you call it. This world itself is not a land or a kingdom, just a place to redeem one’s debts after death. Why would they, all of a sudden, become interested in destroying our world?”

 

“Because, until now, they never had access to our world. There was never a case of a ruler being held from awakening and reigning over their land. Not to mention that we are speaking about the prince or princess of the Land of Earth which keeps the balance between life and death.”

 

“I ask again—how can you know that the shadow around the moon is the Lower World invading us?”

 

“You felt the void and Levis was almost shattered by it. He can feel the presence of any soul or that same presence missing. What we have witnessed, the last nights, were tormented and dead souls. That shadow, Commander, is the presence of the Lower World. You are facing an enemy that can’t be defeated not even by your numerous armies. Wind, water, and fire have no power over death.”

 

Ventus stood up and walked around the room, trying to bend her mind around the information she had just heard.

 

“You want to awaken the ruler of Earth,” she finally concluded, still pacing. “This is impossible since the queen has made sure of it when she killed the last prince of the Land of Earth.”

 

“It’s not.” Morgayne also stood. “You, Ignis, and I are all part of the four elements of nature. Wind, Fire, and Water—we have the power to awaken the fourth element, Earth. This information was always hidden from you. But not from me. Our predecessors have treated this problem differently. Mine made sure to pass the knowledge down to me, in case I needed it. Ignis has agreed, now you have to agree. It is the only way you can protect the empire you made an oath to.”

 

“You are asking treason of me. You’re committing it, just by asking it of me!” Ventus’s voice sharpened. “This is treason against the queen, Morgayne.” She reproached the woman.

 

Morgayne nodded calmly.

 

“Regardless of what you might think, I have all the respect in the world for our queen. She has faced times that have forced her to make hard decisions. And I don’t think she has ever wronged her empire, but right now, if she continues like this, it will bring an end to every land under her reign.”

 

Ventus wanted to say something, but Morgayne placed her palm on the commander’s arm. A strange calm emanated from the touch.

 

“Think about it. I believe it must be very hard for you to make such a decision. Just don’t think too long or there will be nothing left for you to consider.”

 

A knock came from the door and a guard entered.

 

“Princess Morgayne, the queen wants to see you right away.”

 

Morgayne nodded and left.

 

 

“Didn’t I warn you to stay away from her?” Serendipity paced. “Do you always have to disobey my orders? I was expecting Ignis to cause me trouble, not you. Your predecessor was definitely obedient and understood my commands.”

 

“I didn’t disobey your orders. You never specifically asked me to stay away from your annual balls.”

 

“I don’t want you meeting with Ventus.” She turned to Morgayne. “You come to my ball and I find you in the same room as Ventus before you even greet me?”

 

“We stumbled upon each other,” Morgayne smiled.

 

“In your brother’s room?”

 

Serendipity sighed and sat down.

 

“I have explained this to you. Rulers of the Outer Lands have always had their problems with each other. Year after year, ruler after ruler, the same competition to prove which element was stronger. I am sick and tired of this; the last time I had to deal with it I ended up having to kill the Ruler in the Land of Earth. So, I want you all to keep away from each other, especially from Ventus. You and Ignis…you complete each other, but Ventus…her middle name is competition! Don’t ruin this celebration for me, Morgayne.”

 

“I assure you I have no intention to do so. And it will be a nice change for your people to see your rulers getting along. It’s one night, we will be polite to each other and that’s it.”

 

“Good! While you are here, prepare me another batch of this.” The queen raised the empty bottle, “will you?”

 

Morgayne’s polite smile vanished and she sat in front of the queen.

 

“How much of the cell restructuring potion are you ingesting these days? I have to warn you again…it has fantastic benefits and it holds everyone from aging, improving the quality of our lives, but too much of it will harm your cells.”

 

“Are you asking me to die, Morgayne?” The queen glared at the princess.

 

“Of course not. But, please, lower your dosage. You’ll lose the taste of food, the feeling in your fingertips, and that’s just the beginning.”

 

The queen frowned, as all of that had already happened. She was thin as a straw, seldom eating or drinking anything, and she couldn’t recall when she had last smiled with all her heart. But none of that mattered as long as she was alive.

 

“Just do what I said,” she whispered.

 

Morgayne stood, bowed her head, and left the terrace. 

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