The Society – K.A. Linde

Darkness. Eternal darkness. Malysa was trapped. Trapped forever in this place, under this rock. Her world for so long had been nothing but this hell. A world only large enough to shift from side to side. No more than a foot of breathing room. Nothing at all but her own mind and the shadows. Others would have gone mad by now. Years passed in a blur as easily as days once had. Thousands of years in imprisonment for building the life that she had always wanted. For seeing something more than the happy ray of sunshine her sister, Benetta, had wanted for this sad, backward world. They were Doma. The first Doma in Emporia. Goddesses from on high.

They would not need to submit to a Doma council. They would not listen to a rule of the many. They would not allow these mongrels to believe they were better than them. Except Benny had. Malysa shuddered in her prison. She hated thinking of her sister. That traitorous wretch who had found a way to break her and leave her here, in these mountains. No. She would not think of Benny. It depleted her limited energy.

She had too much to do, so much to accomplish, that she could not waste it on her sister. But she knew that, when she got out of here, the first thing she would do was hunt her down. She wouldn’t kill her…not at first. Torture. At least a thousand years of good torture before she was satisfied. She gritted her teeth in the darkness and shifted another step over. She had had a long time to consider all the things she would do to her sister for trapping her here. But that was neither here nor now. She needed to conserve. Because her sister had not accounted for her influence outside of the physical.

She had always been better at mind games than her, and she had only gotten better while trapped here. Her favorites still answered to her calls, though they could not see her. Control had gotten easier and easier. Two thousand years ago had been the height. She had believed that she would have the energy to escape. Then, that bitch had ruined everything. Malysa steadied herself. No, she would not let that happen again. She would get out, gain control, and win this battle once and for all. Suddenly, an energy blast seemed to crash through the mountains.

It didn’t touch Malysa, of course, cocooned as she was, but it rocked her mountain home. Her eyes lit up as the earthquake erupted around her. Something shifted, just enough for a sliver of light to break through to her prison cell. Light. The first beam of light in thousands of years. She probed the area with her magic, and to her delight, she found its weakness. The light could not respond to the darkness any more than darkness responded to light. They were anathema to each other. Cracking through the defense was like slicing through an open mind—effortless. The rocks split away.

A hole appeared before her. And then she stepped out of her prison cell for the first time. Malysa breathed in deeply, pulling in that first breath of fresh air. It was glorious. She looked out to this world from her prison in the Haeven Mountains. The world was blanketed in snow and ice. Sunlight bounced off of the white winter wonderland. And her darkness settled into it all. It was a new dawn. “I’m free, sister,” Malysa said with a laugh.

“Free from this prison you created. I loved you, and this was how you repaid that love. I will remember that.” Malysa stared down at her form. Not even corporal any longer. Just shadow and ash and smoke. She was but a hint of what she had once been. Before, she could have torn these mountains asunder with a wave of her hand. Now, she could barely call her followers to her. Perhaps Benetta had used these mountains as a prison, but until Malysa regained her strength, she would use them for cover.

She did not want to alert anyone too soon to her freedom. She could wreak enough havoc from here. But, to replenish her powers, she was going to need a lot of help. She closed her eyes and dug deep until she found the closest village. Any farther, and she wouldn’t have even been able to get into their puny minds. Only those who called for her could she usually maintain. But today was different. Today, she was free. She reached her powers into every single mind and commanded they journey up the mountain. One by one, the villagers assembled before her.

They fell to their knees at the sight of her. Tears streaming down their faces. Then, she sliced their necks open and let the blood turn the white mountain red. She drank in their sacrifice, imbuing her essence with blood magic. Letting it fill her and fill her and fill her. And still, when the entire village was dead at her feet, she felt nothing. She knew what she needed… War. That was when the real fun would begin. Avoca lay on her deathbed. And Cyrene could do nothing but sit uselessly and watch.

“Cyrene, Ahlvie,” Vera said, appearing at the doorway, “it’s time.” Cyrene eyed the Master Doma with a sigh and then stood, her bones creaking in protest. She adjusted the strange Biencan shawl around her shoulders and brushed out her long skirt. She was still uncertain about the sliver of stomach that she revealed in the form-fitting blouse, but it was important to fit in. Better for anyone inquiring to believe they were merchants in from Yarrow than their true identities. Affiliates were looked down upon in most other countries, but the Byern consort…that would lead to too many questions. A title she hadn’t even wanted was certainly more trouble than it had ever been worth. She was sure that King Edric and Prince Kael would do much to get her back, and keeping a low profile assured their safety. Cyrene reached out and put her hand on Ahlvie’s shoulder. “Are you coming with us?” She could see the answer painted on his brow.

He didn’t want to leave. He hadn’t left Avoca’s side in the two weeks it had taken them to get out of the Barren Mountains and on a boat in Yarrow to Bienco. “You don’t have to.” “Do you think this spiritual, mystic person will be able to help Avoca any more than the healer… any more than you or Vera or Matilde?” His golden eyes were wide and luminescent…almost as if they glowed from within. “I don’t know, but I have to try.” She wanted to say so much more, but Ahlvie wasn’t ready to think of anything but Avoca. He’d lost all motivation to continue their mission to find the lost ones. Dragons were about the last thing on his mind. “You’re right.” Ahlvie rose to his feet.

“We have to try.” Vera touched both of their shoulders in comfort as they passed. “Be well. I will look after Avoca.” Ahlvie forlornly glanced back once more before following Cyrene from the room. “You can still feel her, right?” He’d asked about the bond a hundred times since this had all happened. It was still in place. Avoca was alive. Though, with what the Nokkin had done when it stole Avoca’s magic, the damage was severe. A coma.

That was the horrible word the healer had used. Her bound sister was in a coma. She might wake up. She might stay in this silent sleep forever. A magical feeding tube down her throat, which Vera had constructed, was her only constant. It was horrifying to behold. “Yes, I can feel her.” He nodded and then followed her out of the room. They hurried down the stairs and found Orden standing by the fire. Orden was the kind of person she always wanted to have on her side.

He knew his way around every city. He could bribe or talk his way out of anything. She wondered how he had found this mystic, but asking would be pointless. Orden clapped Ahlvie on the back when they approached. “Chin up, boy. We have quite an evening ahead of us.” Ahlvie shrugged his hand off. “I’m here. Let’s go.” Orden nodded approvingly and then guided them out of the inn and onto the hard-packed dirt streets.

Night was falling, but in Bienco, that meant the city was coming alive. It was a place of revelry and excess and debauchery. Whole sections were blocked off for large street festivals where pickpockets and prostitutes alike earned their keep. Cyrene was none too pleased when they walked toward the festival instead of away from it. Of course, the mystic kept shop in the exact opposite side of town where she wanted to be. Couldn’t ask for a respectable mystic after all. Much too easy. She blew out a breath and prepared herself for this meeting. She needed to keep her head on her shoulders. Her grief had consumed her after Maelia’s death.

Left her in this black hole that Kael Dremylon had tried to walk her out of with dark blood magic and deceit. She never wanted to find that hole again or be the person she had been before she came out on the other side of it. She was something new now. No one had ever survived blood magic without it burning them out, and she refused to succumb to that, even with the terror about Avoca hanging over her head. The revelry could be heard from blocks away. Cyrene knew she was upon it long before she got there. Somehow, it still felt sudden when they were encased on all sides by a parade of people in elaborate dresses, intricate headpieces, large masks, and music…so much music. Orden took Cyrene’s hand, and she grasped Ahlvie’s as they wove through the crowd. Orden halted outside of a closed door with the burgundy curtains pulled shut. Herbs grew in boxes on the windowsill, but otherwise, it appeared the place was empty.

He banged on the front door, and Cyrene was surprised when a gnarly blind woman answered. “Ah, it’s you,” she said and then turned around and walked back inside. Cyrene exchanged a glance with Ahlvie, but he just shrugged. Orden gestured to move inside, and they did, promptly closing the door behind them. Candles were lit in the room but hardly enough to see where they were going. Let alone to illuminate the full room. “Have a seat,” the woman said, gesturing her dark brown hand at the table. “Use that fire magic to light the rest while you’re at it, girl.” Cyrene startled. “Did you tell…” Orden shook his head.

“I know it when I see it.” Then, she cackled at her own joke. “Are you…gifted?” Cyrene asked. “In my own way.” The woman looked right at her. “But not like you. It is not often I see someone so clearly.” She traced an outline of Cyrene’s figure. “I read auras…among other things.” “Birdie,” Orden said softly.

“She radiates golden. I would have known Doma magic a league off from the looks of it.” “Birdie,” Orden repeated a bit sharper. “Yes, yes, of course. Light the candles and sit,” Birdie said, taking a seat at the head of the table. Cyrene went to work, lighting all the candles for the old woman until the room was practically blazing. She eased down, uncertain of how to take the news that there was someone out there who could read her magic. Even if she claimed it was her aura. It scared her. “You’re here about the boat,” Birdie finally said.

“No, about our friend who is sick,” Ahlvie corrected. “I cannot heal the sick.” Ahlvie jumped up in a rage and glared at Orden. “Why did you bring us here if you already knew that?” Orden didn’t rise to Ahlvie’s anger. “Sit down and listen.” “You know what, Orden?” Ahlvie growled. His skin began to ripple. His golden eyes turned menacing. His beautiful hands grew into claws right before their eyes. He heaved in air, and the Indres within threatened to rip its way out of him.

Then, without a backward glance, Ahlvie loped out of the room and slammed the door so hard behind him that it rattled the building. “Fascinating,” Birdie said. Cyrene gritted her teeth and turned back to face the old woman. There was nothing they could do about Ahlvie right now. And, if Birdie had answers, then Cyrene would wait for them. “Birdie, we would appreciate whatever information you have. As you know, I am well within my means to pay for the information,” Orden supplied. “You know, I always did like you.” Birdie wagged her finger in his direction. “I told Gwynora, dear, that she should give you a second chance.

” Cyrene arched an eyebrow in question. “Ancient history,” Orden remarked to both of them. “So you say.” Birdie shook her hand at him and then reached for a leather pouch on the table. “Now, tell me exactly what you want, and I will read for you.” Orden caught Cyrene’s eye and then nodded as if to say it was her turn. She took a deep breath. “We want to know if there is someone in Bienco who could take us across the ocean to the land of the lost ones…to Alandria. We need a boat and a crew with the knowledge to get us there.” She paused for a moment before adding, “And, hopefully…something to heal our friend.

” Birdie closed her eyes, shook the bag, and then dumped the contents into a large, flat bowl. Cyrene was appalled to see it was full of…bones. Little bones all splayed out. She shuddered. Birdie held her hand over the scattering of bones and hummed softly to herself. “There is such a man who has crossed these waters and returned. You can find him on the docks at sunrise, wearing a red feather in his hat. He will be with a woman in men’s clothes.” She tilted her head to the side and frowned. Then, she blinked rapidly and dropped her hand.

Sweat beaded on her forehead, and she was breathing heavily. Orden jumped up to assist her. “Birdie?” “Are you all right?” Cyrene asked. “Your friend…is in darkness,” she spoke hoarsely. “Yes,” she whispered. “Nothing of this world can save her.”

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