Ia was fading. Her grasp on reality was slipping almost as quickly as her physical form. She stumbled through Dor Wood, cursing her brothers with every step. No food for days, no sign of her sisters in many annuals, and Bian had nearly captured her last eve. Ia cursed him most of all. He was her twin, the Darkness that balanced her Light. It was Bian who had started the war, not two hours after their Father abandoned them. The memory was crushing, but tears would not come. Ia fell to her knees and screamed out in the night, shred her clothes and let the fade claim her form once again.
She materialized at the edge of Panei’s main settlement. Kriton was waiting for her with a cloak and Loki thrust a few pieces of jerky in her hand. Ia collapsed into Kriton’s waiting arms, the warmth seeped into her aching bones, pain flared even though he cradled her gently. Kriton always smelled of nature, she inhaled at the risk of more pain, and half smiled.
“My Goddess, you are weak. What has happened?” Loki’s velveteen voice grounded her.
“Bian nearly caught me, Child.” Ia cringed at how hoarse her own voice sounded. She attempted to clear her throat without successs, the rawness burning at the effort.
“Do not speak Goddess, we have a safe room for you. Lor has a pallet and teas for your pleasure. We will heal you, my promises.” Kriton’s warm breath in her ear did little to reassure the ache in her core. Bian was coming for her. She could feel him, feel the fear that crept along the edges of the minds around her. Kriton and Loki were concerned, not just for her weakness but for the spoiled harvests and poisoned streams. There was something more, something they did not wish her to know. Ia was too weak to pry it from their minds.
“We will tell you soon enough Goddess, please, rest and replenish your strength first.” Loki nodded solemnly, “We are not far but I think a cloaking spell would benefit us all.” He muttered a short incantation and Ia felt the ripple of magic tickle across her skin. The short walked seemed to last for hours, agonizing even in the safe comfort of Kriton’s arms.
“Here we are.”
Ia forced her heavy eyelids open, the morning light of the ivory suns was brighter than the dark of eve but still dampened by the growing strength of Bian and the brothers. Beyond the glare, her eyes found the ruins of a once grand manor, shutters were missing and the ones that remained were broken and faded, the onyx trim was cracked in many places and the once crimson roof was not only faded but half-collapsed.
“It is not so bad Goddess, most of us survived the attack. Wounds may heal and homes may be rebuilt. I have already begun the interior work but we decided that the exterior should remain as such. Your brothers rarely return to completely raze a home.” Kriton pushed open the entry cautiously, the creak echoed in the quiet day and Ia realized their were no creatures stirring in the yards. Her eyes went wide with understanding as Kriton carried her over the threshold.
The hearthroom was plain but crammed full of cots and pallets. Ia noted many familiar faces milling about, grim and worn down. Loki cleared his throat and the entire crowd went still. They bowed low in unison and Ia nodded with all she could muster. Kriton walked the length of the room and placed her in a pallet near the barely glowing embers of the hearthfire.
“We keep it low My Goddess, to avoid notice. Apologies for the chill but we have many pelts ready for your use. Please, allow me to help you with some teas.” Lor’s voice was melodic and ended the awkward moment. Ia smiled weakly and opened her cracked lips enough to take in the warm liquid. It spread quickly through her body and she felt slightly better. Lor knelt beside her, large brown eyes so like her sister Misa, the young woman’s mother. Ia lifted a hand to the child’s face, no longer that of a youth, nearly a woman grown.
“My Goddess, if you please, we would share with you our idea while you drink. Your energies should replenish quickly and I fear we have little time.”
Ia nodded to Kriton and allowed Lor to give her more tea.
“The animals have all fled or died of pestilence, the rivers are tainted with poisons and we run low on the elements to conjure fresh waters. Bain has taken to kidnapping and torturing those who have aided you in the past. Loki has suggested we take leave of our world, abandon it to the Darkness of Bian and start anew. Do you believe you can cloak us with the aid of a few?”
Ia took the chalice from Lor, her hands solid and full of feeling for the first time in days. She nibbled a piece of jerk and contemplated the option. It could work, certainly with a few hours of rest and a few floras she could do such a thing. Ia recalled her father’s departure, the incantations and potions, indeed if the children possessed the ingredients it would take little effort. But –
“My Goddess, we understand the gravity of what we ask. You will have to leave your sisters.”
Loki’s words mirrored her thoughts and even his sweet tone could not stay the splintering pain that passed through her core. Her sisters would be abandoned to the vile tortures of her brothers. The thought left her, replaced by the idea that these were her sisters’ children, the First Ones, asking for salvation. How selfish was she to mourn her sisters knowing they would lose their mothers as well. Which is worse? Tears sprang to her eyes; Ia nearly dropped the chalice.
“Goddess!?” The First Ones’ voices rang in her ears, their unfailing love as clear as their concern. Ia closed her eyes, blinked back the tears and sipped from the chalice once more. Calling on the strength of her father, Ia rose steadily and allowed her Light to shine upon the First Ones.
“Children of my sisters, you have long stood by us in this war, even as your mothers were taken. I cannot last against my brothers, this you well know. If you are prepared to take your leave and enter the unknown then I will go as well. We will forge a new world, free of the Darkness that has taken Panei.”
“We follow you Goddess, always.” Loki stepped forward first and bowed low. Ia dispatched instructions for all the necessary items and asked for some privacy to prepare herself. Kriton led her down a half-finished hallway to a small, nearly bare room.
“Apologies for the starkness Goddess, this is the only room that is finished beyond the hearthroom, but it will offer you fair solitude. Lor will bring you a pot of tea and I will make certain none disrupt you beyond that.” Kriton bowed low and made to exit.
“My thanks Kriton, you bring pride on your mother. Please see that they are all ready by nightfall.”
“Aye My Goddess, it will be done as you instruct.” Kriton disappeared and Ia was alone. She sized up her surroundings, nothing the stellar craftsmanship. The only sign that repairs had been made lay in the unfinished paneling and charred bits of flooring. Ia settled upon the sole piece of furniture, a slightly worn settee. She recognized the ornately carved frame and plush velvet upholstery. The piece had once been hers, a gift from Kriton before the war, before her father left. Ia let her thoughts drift to her father for a brief moment and then grounded herself in the task at hand, somehow strengthened by his memory. She spent the remainder of the day in deep focus, rehearsing the proper words and storing her energies.
Shortly before nightfall, Ia sent for the First Ones with cloaking abilities. It took a matter of mins to instruct them in the manner of cloak she intended to invoke. Ia led them back to the hearthroom and detailed the necessities to the rest. As the ivory suns set, Ia led the First Ones to the side yard and within moments they were flying through the skies in the guise of a meteor shower. Ia looked back once as she heard the cries of her sisters as they sensed her departure, then they were silent.