Authors: C.K. Bryant
Tags: #Teen Paranormal
Book Two in THE CRYSTOR Series
By C.K. Bryant
Copyright© 2012 by C.K. Bryant
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This is a work of fiction. The characters, names, places, incidents and dialogue are products of the author’s imagination and are not to be construed as real.
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For sharing the ups and downs of the publishing world with me and for showing me tough love through your little red pen. I’m a better writer because of you. And a better friend.
Octavion stood near his sister’s grave. Word of Lydia's death spread through the kingdom quickly in hopes the news would reach the far parts of the region by night fall. Proof that Xantara already mourned her loss lay in the many colorful petals scattered over the hillside that led to the Royal cemetery.
Though her grave lay empty, Octavion's eyes burned as he stared at the fresh turned earth. Within hours of returning to their home world, anonymous threats had been made on her life. King Belesgar would take no chances with his daughter’s safety. With Lydia hidden away in her father's royal chambers, not even the loyal staff was privy to the deceit. No one but close family would be trusted. And to be sure a rumor didn't fester within the kingdom, King Belesgar forbade anyone to speak Lydia's name—the penalty possible death.
“It is time, my son.” King Belesgar stood at Octavion’s shoulder, dressed like his son, in the white robes of mourning. No color shone on their garments, no adornment accented their simple tunics and britches. Even their feet were bare to the cool grass that lay beneath them. Unfettered by distractions, the symbols of simplicity and purity gave no restraint for the dead, releasing them to return to the mighty gods who ruled the afterlife, the spiritual paradise of Lor.
Octavion faced his father, fully aware of the many eyes upon him—the Elders of Lor who’d come to pay their respects, and loyal subjects mourning the loss of their beautiful princess. “I would like permission to stay longer, Father.” Octavion paused for a moment, the proper language used to publically address his king made his tongue feel thick and uneasy. He’d been gone far too long. “If it be your will,” Octavion added, lowering his eyes while sharing his thoughts.
I have more than my sister to mourn this day. I would like time alone.
“As you wish, my son.” The king waved a hand, dismissing those around them. The crowd dissipated, flowing down the small hill that led to the village, their long white robes making them appear as angels descending into Xantara.
Do not be long. You are needed at your sister’s side.
“Thank you, Father.”
I am well aware of my place. Have you forgotten I also grieve for Kira who lies in my chambers? I do not know if she will live or die.
King Belesgar knelt by the freshly turned dirt of his daughter’s mock grave. He pressed his palm to the soil, adding his imprint to those already there, the traditional farewell to the blessed one that lay beneath. He stood and pressed his dirt-covered hand over his heart, then clenched the fabric at his belt. The gestures represented the gut-wrenching sorrow that settled in his belly and the ache of a sorrowing heart. Other mourners bore similar markings, but none held the significance of a father grieving the loss of his daughter.
“Be quick about it, my son. We have much to do.” Belesgar made a grand gesture with his hand—as if gathering the air in his fist, then setting it free. Then he simply disappeared. His wake swirled around the foot of the grave, kicking up the freshly turned dirt before drifting into the trees on the late evening breeze.
Alone, Octavion knelt in prayer. For too long, he'd neglected the religion of his ancestors. Now they were his only hope. He searched the hillside to be certain his words would not be heard by anyone but those for whom they were intended. The graves of his mother and Estaria lay close by. He felt their nearness, as if each woman lay a gentle hand on his shoulder, imparting their comfort.
He pressed his fingertips together and brought his thumbs to the center of his chest, lowering his elbows to his sides. The formal stance he’d assumed many times in his youth, felt strange and foreign to him now. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, exhaling slowly and cleansing his mind of everything but the heavy weight on his heart. He regretted letting so much time pass since addressing the gods of Lor. The words would not come easily.
“Brujha,” he began. “Father of all Creation. Giver of Life. Instiller of Pure Magic. Bestow Thy blessings upon Kira. Give her Thy Gift of Life. Breathe strength into her spirit, that she may overcome her weakness.”
Octavion took in a trembling breath and swallowed the lump in his throat. He lowered his voice to a whisper, showing respect for the Mother and Protector of all living things. “Felinea, press Thy hand to her heart to keep it beating. Let thy winds flow through her lungs so she may breathe. Heal her quickly, so she may be without pain. And hold her in Thy gentle arms and comfort her.”
Images of Kira flooded his mind. Flashes of the torture she'd endured—her back riddled with deep gashes and welts, the bruises and abrasions covering her fragile limbs. The gash on her cheek. He pushed the images away. He had to hold it together. One more prayer that needed to be said.
He raised his hands above his head as if reaching out to Lor itself. He opened his eyes and looked to the cloudless sky. “Zi’ah,” he pled. “Keeper of the Gates of Death, Holder of the Key to Eternal Life, pull back Thy hand and refuse Kira entry. Deny her the embrace of death and accept my plea. If it be Thy will, take my life in her stead.”
Prayer will not save her, brother.
Octavion pressed his palm to his forehead. Clearing his mind in supplication and letting his guard down had been a mistake. The gods hadn’t answered his cries, but his traitorous sister, Shandira. He had to be constantly vigilant of his thoughts. Shandira was as much a hybrid as he—though she lacked his size, she had her own strength and powers, and she’d perfected her gifts. He’d never seen anyone shift from one place to another as quickly or read a person’s thoughts as thoroughly as she did. Their sibling bond only made it worse. It was all he could do to keep her out of his head. He’d have to be more careful or she’d find out Lydia was still alive.
You are a fool to think she is safe,
Octavion stood and took one step before instantly appearing in the castle's courtyard, the rush of water from the nearby fountain filling his ears. He threw open the thick wooden door and walked into the grand hall, pausing at the base of the staircase. His grip on the newel post tightened, causing the wood to creak beneath his fingers. In spite of his efforts to block his sister’s thoughts, Shandira managed a parting jab that cut him to his core.
You cannot protect her. I have allies, men who hunger for something even you have not tasted—the flesh of a human.
Octavion snapped the newel post and dropped it to the stone floor where it bounced and rolled under a bench near the door. His back swelled and his eyes burned with the need for revenge; the need to release the wild beast impatiently waiting within him.
Your animals touch her again and I will kill you with my bare hands. Leave her be; this fight is between us.
Though no answer came, the pain penetrating his skull told him she’d received his message.
A moment later he stood outside his sleeping chambers. He took the iron latch in his hand and gripped it with purpose, but didn’t open the door. Kira lay dying within that room and the image of her bruised and beaten body haunted his every thought. For the past three days he’d exhausted all efforts to cure her, but she’d only gotten worse. He was sure the Pyrulis blooms had counteracted the poison, yet she had not been healed.
He turned the latch and let the heavy wooden door drift open. The ornate hinges groaned from lack of use over the time he’d been away on Earth. Ussay sat near Kira’s bed, eyes wide with surprise when Octavion entered the room. She shot to her feet, nearly tripping over the hem of her long blue dress, and curtsied—which surprised him. Even though she was a servant, as children they’d grown up together and been lifelong friends. She’d been doing that a lot since he’d returned—testing her boundaries with him.
“Forgive me, Sire; I did not hear you approach.”
With the wave of his hand, Octavion dismissed both her concern and her formal address. “Is there any change?”
Ussay shook her head, then looked at Kira’s motionless form. “Nothing positive. The wounds on her back are infected and she seems feverish.” She turned to the wash basin near Kira's bed and rung out a small cloth. She draped it over Kira's forehead, turned to face Octavion again and took a deep breath. “Gregor says . . . there is little hope.”
Octavion clenched his fists. “That old man knows nothing of the strength and fire that burns in her belly. She will not give up. Not without a fight.” He moved closer and sat on the edge of the bed, stroking Kira's uninjured cheek with the back of his fingers. The heat radiating from her flesh seeped into his skin.
feverish? She is burning up.”
Ussay put a hand on Octavion's shoulder, a gesture only a friend of his youth would dare. A servant never touched royalty. “May I speak freely?”
“Since when do you ask my permission?”
“You have been gone a long time. I do not want to overstep my bounds.”
Octavion turned to look her in the eyes. “We are still friends, Ussay. You need not ask my permission when we are alone.”
Ussay released a drawn out, sorrowful sigh. “You know better than I what infection can do.” She looked down at her hands twisted in the folds of her long white apron, then cleared her throat. “Perhaps it is time you accept her fate and let her go.”
Octavion reacted swiftly and without thought. Before he could rein in his temper, he'd turned and grabbed Ussay’s wrist to keep her from retreating. He'd transformed just enough for her to see the fire in his eyes. “You dare say this to me? After what she has been through? While I still wear the garment of mourning for my sister?”
Ussay peeled his fingers from around her wrist. “You have changed.” Her voice trembled but she held his gaze. “The Octavion I once knew would never place a hand on a woman and he welcomed honesty among friends.” A tear trickled down her cheek.
“You are right. I
changed.” He turned back to look at Kira and remembered the pain she'd endured at his hand. He would do anything to take those times back, to be the person he was before Shandira changed everything. But right now he had to focus on saving her life. “Do not leave her side for even a moment. I need to speak to my father.”
Without so much as a glance toward Ussay, he stood in his father's chambers. Lydia's listless body lay a few feet away on an ornate bed. Hand-carved posts stretched halfway to the ceiling, supporting the many yards of white gauze fabric that draped between them. More fabric cascaded down each post, held in place with red velvet ribbons and silver medallions.
King Belesgar sat near the fire, a large black book balanced on his lap. Without acknowledging his son's presence, he marked his place with a swatch of dark fabric and set the book on the table next to his wing-backed chair.
“Father, forgive the intrusion,” Octavion said with a slight bow.
Belesgar folded his hands in his lap, his expressionless eyes fixed on the fire. “Your concern for your sister is evident by your absence. Is she of no importance to you?”
“How can you ask that? I've spent the past three years protecting her. But she has you to see to her needs now. Who does Kira have?”