Amaris tapped lightly on the door, and then thumped her thumb on the jewelry beneath her neck while waiting. Amaris tilted up her chin when the door opened, not sure who would answer. Illuma grinned, studying Amaris. “Hello, you are looking better.”
Amaris responded with a smile and a hug which felt stronger than any kindness she had offered for a fortnight. Then she set her friend at arm’s length. “Where is he?”
“Tea or anything first?”
Amaris shook her head.
“One minute.” Illuma turned back into her house. “Come in if you like,” she said over her shoulder.
Amaris stepped over the threshold and examined the abode. Clean and quiet. Sion emerged from the guest room.
“Alright,” Illuma turned on her heel. “I will give you two some space.”
“It is your home, we will leave.” Amaris kept Sion’s eyes. He nodded to Amaris and then Illuma as he walked toward the previous. Amaris held the door open and Sion passed through. “I will come back before I leave for the day,” Amaris told Illuma who tipped her head in return.
She turned and had to stop from running into Sion who had put less than two feet between them. Amaris narrowed her eyes a moment. “Come on,” Amaris walked away from Illuma’s. She heard steps behind her and inhaled, waiting to see who would take the first verbal blow. Several minutes passed while Sion walked beside Amaris, making occasional glances which never seemed to land far from the broach beneath Amaris’s chin.
“What are your questions for me?” Amaris looked ahead still. After no answer she side-glanced Sion. “Do not tell me you have no inquiries, I will not believe such from you.”
“Is that it?”
Amaris pulled her head back. What? Then she traced Sion’s eyes to the great jewel at her collar. She smiled. “You know what this is, then. Your father did not leave out all details, less for me to fill in.” Amaris felt relieved, perhaps Sion did not need schooling. Wait, that meant simple answers would be in low demand.
“What are you going to do with it?”
Amaris had not prepared for the condemning tone this soon. Her steps faltered and she stopped walking. A thick lump took the clarity from her voice. “Exactly what I am supposed to.”
Sion nodded, but his eyes turned to slits. “Can you explain why you have not finished your task yet?”
Amaris bit the inside of her lip as hard as she could without drawing blood. “Are you one of the people who thinks this is an easy walk down the lane? Because if so, I don’t have time for you. I need help, not opposition, or accusation.”
Sion opened his eyes wider. Amaris had the right to talk about her problem without skirting it in a petty facade.
“Are you telling me no one has the position of keeping you accountable?”
Amaris ground her teeth. “Certainly not you.”
“But does anyone . . . Or do you just shelter that broach, and get away with doing nothing?”
Amaris turned away and glared.
Sion huffed. “Gese! Do you think it belongs to you? Your ancestors took care of it, you are supposed to do the same.”
“Does it look in poor condition to you?”
“Are you ever going to use it?”
Amaris held silence for a minute. “Funny how your not mentioning how no one else in my family line ever made use out of the key, either. Because I am the current owner, responsibility for hundred’s of years falls on me?” Now, Sion stayed silent. “As if I am the only one to ever fail at my duty.”
“If their neglect makes yours more palatable, so be it. Multiple wrongs does nothing to assuage my frustrations.”
Amaris’s palm snapped into a fist and she closed her eyes lest she actually hit the man. She pressed the hand against her lips, trying to blur out the insult Sion had just unknowingly cast onto her mother. Her eyes shot open and she wished Sion could suffer the fire she felt inside. “You ignorant child! You cannot know anything about my lineage and spew horrendous lies like you just did.” Amaris shook her head. “I don’t know if I can handle traveling three feet with you at my side.” She started off deeper into the forest.
“You are just going to leave the conversation then?”
“No, fool, keep up.” Amaris forced the dagger at her side out of her mind. Sion caught up and needed a few moments to get back his breathing rhythm. Amaris could keep the pace all day after what she had just heard. “Tell me now, would you actually help me?”
“What are your other resources?”
Amaris stopped, and Sion jerked to a halt. “Me.” She answered.
Sion nodded but seemed displeased. “Then you need my help.”
“Why do you think I have stayed in this damned forest for so long?”
“Maybe if you did not send people away —”
“I know who means me harm, and I will not have them near me.”
“What is your plan?”
Amaris was taken aback, and stood in silence. She had nothing more to say.
“You make a plan for two people. Watch me tell you how insane it is. One broach. One of me. No aid.”
“Have you ever thought about —”
“If you want me to have daughters to preserve my line, I will slice out your tongue.”
Sion tilted his head down and looked up at Amaris. “Getting more than two people to chance this with?”
Amaris chuckled. “You are ignorant. But your optimism is refreshing, regardless of its folly.” She nodded in assent. “Then again . . . It has been some time since my last pounding on king’s and captain’s doors. Perhaps they will have forgotten my annoyance by now.” Then she estimated the years it had been since her efforts had exhausted her into unofficial retirement. “Better still, maybe they are dead.” But then she pinched her eyelids shut. Just all the wrong ones. Valmier. Amaris looked up, and Sion’s disposition softened. She shrugged.
“Will you come with me?” At Sion’s hesitation Amaris added a consideration. “Of course you can think about it, and then . . .”
“I have pondered that for years, and decided I would accompany you to the basins if ever the chance came.”
Everything fell quiet and solemn, like the world had to wait for the moment to pass. Amaris nodded at length, thinking about what Sion’s answer really meant. The basins were a haunt for death. “I need you to read something before anything else is decided.”
“I will.” Neither had broken the respectful tone, rare at best between them. They walked wordless back to Illuma’s. As the house came into sight, Amaris told Sion he was more then welcome to return to her home or else stay with Illuma, but she needed to lend him something from her place either way.
“And you would prefer?”
Amaris resisted the sigh of relief and answered honestly. Sion seemed not offended, and would stay with Illuma, whose welcome he had not yet worn thin.
Illuma seemed shocked to see Amaris and Sion so soon. Sion looked at Amaris, “Do you want me to come with you to get the . . .”
Amaris shook her head. “I can see to that.”
Sion nodded to Amaris and tipped his head to Illuma. “If you ladies will excuse me.” Sion turned and walked away, probably to wander anywhere alone.
“What happened?” Illuma began.
“Soon enough we will know. I will . . .” she watched Sion walk beyond the first trees, “return later. I have to get something.”
Amaris delayed at her house because she knew Sion would wander for some time, and she wanted to be the one handing him the book, not Illuma. Sion had to hear Amaris’s threat of what would happen if he damaged the heirloom. She did not loan it out to many, it caused too much anxiety, opened too many doors, and answered too many questions. She returned to Illuma’s, and still had to wait. Illuma recognizing the loosely bound, multi-author book, and discretely offered Amaris company until Sion’s return. Few words passed as the time drug on. They drank tea, although Illuma admitted to a low supply of Safrima, and said she wanted to save it, so a different drink attempted to sooth Amaris. The emotional repercussions from the past month had to be stripping years off her life.
Amaris set down her third cup of tea after dinner as Sion opened the door. She greeted Sion and quieted him before he could finish apologizing for his long absence. “I did not mind the time.” Amaris picked up the book and rubbed the worn burgundy leather. “Take care of this, and read it slowly. There are few pages, and I can be patient with you.” She placed it in Sion’s hands, and tried to discern the puzzle in his eyes. “This is my lineage.” Amaris choked back the familiar lump. “Our stories back to the day, the instant our family was set apart.”
Sion opened to a middle page and turned a few leaves. “This is how old?”
“Not as old as I wish. A foggy replica of the original which, to our great misfortune, burned.” Amaris felt her stability waining. “Just return it when you are finished. Then we will talk again.” Amaris began leaving, but Illuma caught her up in a hug before she let her leave. Soon Amaris would be home and could begin rethinking what she had just allowed Sion to read.
Sion studied the surface of Amaris’s revered book.
“She is serious about this, Sion, the whole thing. Make sure you know what your offer means.” Then Illuma retired to her room.
Sion took a seat by the fire. His leisurely walk could have lead him in circles for days, his mind teetering between surprise at Amaris’s turn in behavior, and his still frustration with her dishonesty to this point. Yet, after a month so filled with lies it soured his stomach, Sion had been convinced with rapidity that Amaris was who she claimed, and he just as fast committed himself to her aid. And now she entrusted him with her family story, a history few had probably seen in full. To what had he agreed? Curiosity made him want to tear open the cover, but Amaris’s threats slowed his hand; damaging the book would get him no where fast with this woman.
The pages looked aged, but still thick and strong. Amaris told him it was not old, but to an Alaquendi years must seem more like months. Sion stretched his back before turning to the first page where he expected some boredom from familiarity. His father told him the entire story, from the time darkness rose to the life of Amaris, at which point everything seemed almost redundant with repetition. He sighed. He supposed he should hear it from Amaris’s perspective as well — at least her family’s angle.
It started dull enough. Sion knew of the Alaquendi’s unfortunate location when one of their corrupt offspring had reversed his flow of life so he took rather than gave the substance. Unlike his kin, walked followed by a decaying of the earth, and a rapture of the energy Alaquendi emitted. His bullying of his people turned to brash injustice, and he began converting others to his cause. When his strength had grown enough, he began taking over the south, an epicenter of Alaquendi activity. With excessive water sources, the southern coast, the Basins, became advantageous and easy to protect. Apparently the story in Amaris’s little book started within the falling of this community when a young couple found by a troop of ‘s followers would not convert to BG’s cause. They were taken to . Why? So he could have the pleasure of killing them himself.
Sion wanted to skip the next bit, anticipating their wrongful end, but it seemed the man and woman would serve as an audience before they turned to prey. forced the two Alaquendi to watch as he pulled the lid from a large stone chest, beginning a terrific phenomenon in a small shack. Light burst into the room, through the door, the walls and up from the bare dirt floor, pouring into the stone box. For hours this thing occurred. The Alaquendi did not understand what they were witnessing. The color ceased flashing around and began stirring in the chest. At a loud command, the men helped lift the heavy lid into place, which further confused the captive couple. No one remembered to hold their bound arms any more, but they could not leave without resolution. As the lid slid into place, the door to the room was slammed shut.
A bright streak poured from a crack in the chest, a minor opening between the lid and base, which kept the room just visible, though much darker after the fade of such resplendence. rummaged the ground, picked up a rock, and shoved it into the hole which was releasing light. The Alaquendi started to understand. The woman gasped. roared as he was thrown back from the chest by the force he had trapped inside, and smashed into a wall. He nursed his arm only a moment before leaping to his feet. He tried again to place the rock in the crack, this time a scraping sound announced small movements from the lid as it slid back, releasing pounds of pure light which hit the ground where grass began quickly spreading. shouted and the lid was centered again, the stone removed.
dropped the glowing rock, and a patch of dirt around it turned green. “Get it away from me!” Two guards dove for the rock. BG threw one, smashing him against a wall where he slumped over and stopped moving. The woman gasped, confronted for the first time with actual death. BG turned to the Alaquendi, and the woman scampered back at the black in his eyes. “They will take it.” His dark and loud tone sunk the air around him. “I want these two to throw the damned key over the cliffs, and then they can follow their new treasure into the sea!” He stared at the captives as he spoke. The couple was forced outside. The wife looked over her shoulder and saw the room close with inside, his eyes marring the beauty within, and she cried the first tears over life’s great defeat.
Bits of grass had grown while the man and wife were closed within, and now began shriveling. The woman’s gaze stayed on the ground, and she watched greenery growing from the grass again. Everywhere her husband stepped, grass sprouted, dying as he moved past the spot. The woman’s smile grew and faded as fast as the grass. A few minutes passed before more people became aware of the strange phenomenon. The guards hushed their panic and channeled it into shoving the Alaquendi forward, keeping back from them as if the two had a disease to be feared, leaving the two bruised long before they reached the cliff.
Once at the cliffs, the woman realized how far ‘s damage had spread. She and her husband had walked along the same ridge that morning, enjoying sunshine, fresh grass, and wisps of ocean air. Rough straw, the remnants of grass, blanketed the earth now, and the waves crashing into rocks below did not calm the woman as it had before. One of the men dropped the rock, the key, at the Alaquendi’s feet. “There, take it.” The woman scooped up and cradled it. The smooth surface soothed her hands and a feeling, similar to the light she had seen in the room, coursed through her arms and into the rest of her being. “Now throw it!” The woman shook her head just a little while she looked down at the stone. A key indeed. A rare gemstone. She knew then, no other could have its likeness. The thing did not reflect light, but produced its own radiance. “Get rid of it,” A guard pushed the woman into her husband, and he held her while she covered the gem. They had given it to her, and she would protect it.
A terrible struggle pushed the two Alaquendi closer to the cliff. When the woman still would not release the stone over the edge, the men began talking of throwing her over. If she had to die, she would try and keep the key safe. Her husband, who had never had the chance to touch the key, panicked, and threw himself into the men. Swords drove into him from all directions. The woman screeched and fled from the men. Her ordinarily slow legs carried her faster than her pursuits could follow. Miles she ran, after the sound of men faded, she ran faster, fearing they might find mounts with which to follow her.
She reached home and collapsed. Her grip released, and the rock skipped before settling. Before she even had breath enough to cease panting, Ariadne began pouring out tears. For her husband’s demise, and the terrible things she had just witnessed, some reckless assault on life leaving her with a stone and nothing else. The day’s torture forced any possible tears from the woman’s eyes until she could shed no more.
And so the story began.
Sion shook his head in disbelief, coming to from the midst of the horrors Amaris’s book unveiled. Sion repented his arrogance, shocked stupid by detail, and frustrated within a a few pages. His mouth dried out, and the room started tilting. He shook his head, trying to stabilize everything . . . anything. When that failed he closed his eyes. Black shut out the wobbling fire place and shaky flames. His heart slowed into a dull rhythm and his head fell back against the couch. No. He could not possibly have heard the truth so far askew as to make Amaris’s version foreign on the whole. Or had he? Sion had vague pictures before now, only enough to sketch together what happened. Now he had fact.
His eyes shot open and he slammed the book. Self-control made him set the book down before pushing himself from his chair. He closed himself in his guest room. Throughout that night, Sion pondered the new information. Momentary mental agonies spoiled sleep and poisoned any peace. Parts of the tale unsettled him out of bed, and he paced himself tired before laying down again. Eventually, the sun gave him an excuse to rise from the broken rest.
He was careful to be quiet opening his door; his personal disturbance did not have to wake Illuma. If he could just finish the story, perhaps he would settle enough for real sleep. He sat on the couch and waited, book in his lap, appreciating the cold hearth and quiet room. The light burned his sleep deprived eyes, which closed and opened in slow intervals. He dozed before he could read, and woke to the sounds and smells of breakfast. He watched Illuma turn sausages over in a skillet, but she paid him no attention. He did not feel conscious until he had eaten half his plate.
“Did you sleep last night?” Illuma asked.
“I thought as much.”
“Well, what did you do when she told you, when you read that?”
“I cannot compare with your reaction.” Illuma’s mouth lifted on one side. “My realization was more subtle.” Illuma studied the contents of her plate for several moments and then returned her attention to the Sion. “Is there anything you need to talk about? I do know the story well. And though you can certainly address any questions with Amaris, perhaps you would feel more comfortable discussing this topic with someone other than her.”
Sion pressed his lips together. “What can I say? I am still so ignorant.”
“No. Perhaps protected though. I thought your father had told you more.”
Sion shook his head. “So did I. If he were here he would have a lot of questions to answer for more than just one person.” Such as why Valmier sent Sion on a wild goose chase without telling him what in the world he was actually seeking out.
“Perhaps you will get your answers from somewhere else.”
Illuma brewed tea and forced Sion into sitting down with a cup. He humored her and then started turning pages again. Perhaps the story would take a turn for the better. Instead the tale worsened. Ariadne found anything she could call a weapon and armed herself. Taking her family’s horse, and any supplies she could quickly lay hands on, and went to retrieve her two children from playing in the recently green and tall grasses. They fled to the nearest town where the small broken family was accepted. But her two children found more consolation in the Alaquendis’ kindness than did Ariadne. The Alaquendi believed little of what she said. After a few weeks dragged past, Ariadne — against all advice — left her children in another family’s care, and headed to the place where the key had been made.
She assumed her presence went unsuspected, as she met no opposition, and she nearly reached the room when saw her. After a momentary recognition of each other, Ariadne fled, never having a chance to use the sword at her side. Peaceful times had rendered weaponry as decoration, and she trusted her feet to run more than her hand to wield the blade. When she returned, after some practice with a blade, alone once more —for no one yet believed her — she found new structures built up around the one which housed the chest. She gathered the chest could not be moved, or else she thought they would have done so. Instead fortification had started. She fled again, this time with serious wounds.
When Ariadne returned to her people, her condition drew attention, and she pored out her story again. After evaluating the stone, and listening to the woman’s account, the Alaquendi began believing her. Weeks after Ariadne’s first arrival, the Alaquendi noticed changes in the landscape, and soon after admitted to a lessening of their own power. Dead grass, destroyed crops and the absence of stars which they first blamed on an unseen storm. They needed answers. When Ariadne had left them, the Alaquendi recognized they now contributed growth to the earth wherever they stepped. Grass — and seldomer flowers — grew from straight beneath their feet, where before the lush lawns had made this ability unknown to them. A bloodied and damaged Ariadne with her shining stone lent some explanation.
Stemming from their loss, the Alaquendi withdrew further from other people groups, embarrassed by their condition. Months they wallowed and even years did not recover them. With help, Ariadne did revive. Her healing was strange, though. Not unlike others, she possessed a gift to give small amounts of life back to the now ill earth. A gift was not the right description though for a constant and slow draining of life from a person whose being created too much for their self. However, rather than producing growth in her immediate interaction with the ground, life spread out before Ariadne like a small wave. Grass rippled into bloom, flowers grew frequently, and she healed fast from her injuries. People assumed Ariadne’s excessive health and ability came from her interaction with the stone. Because she seemed strengthened beyond her people, but had little skill with any weapon and was small in stature, they thought she could never complete a mission to open the chest — which they now deemed the best option for redemption. So they took the stone from her and gave it to a strong, trustworthy man, skilled with a blade, and a swift rider. He befriended Ariadne, but her heartbreak increased without the stone she had fought to protect. She cleaved to her children who grew increasingly resentful of their mother for her fame and infamy.
Derek, the man who now possessed the stone, tried many times to reach the room, to which Ariadne had given direction. He failed time and again, and each attempt brought reports of the enemy growing in size and number. They began hunting Derek, tracking him with the select Manori who now worked for . ‘s forces drew close to finding the Alaquendi settlement where Derek lived, burning many other towns, and torturing people for information in the process. ‘S ranks filled with those who surrendered their service in exchange for their life. The Alaquendi fled.
After resettling, and admitting defeat, Derek married Ariadne who had two daughters. Their eldest, Madrian, grew much taller than her mother, almost to the height of her father. She learned skills from Derek and the story of her grandfather’s death from her mother. Derek only ever made one more attempt at loosing life, during which he died and the broach was retrieved by a comrade. Three generations passed where the stone was given to sturdy, dependable men who tried valiantly to reach the basins and release life. Each attempt seemed to fail faster than the previous. With the lessened Alaquendi lifespans, a mere ninety years of age since the forming of the key, children and grandchildren grew and died quickly. As decades perished, Ariadne observed their passing, dying herself at 120 years old, her eldest daughter survived ten years past her mother’s age. However, Ariadne’s line, giving themselves over to Ariadne’s rejection, severed ties with the Alaquendi. They discovered their thriving state and right to the stone long before any others had.
One man succeeded in reaching the chest while a great many men held back . He inserted the stone and fifteen strong men heaved against the lid. It did not move. Three people escaped with the stone, all others perished or suffered the consequences of capture. There seemed no way to actually release the life in the chest, and Ariadne’s story fell into doubt. 74 years passed before the Alaquendi took notice again of Ariadne’s descendants. They lived long lives with extraordinary abilities to carry life. Since other efforts had failed, a willing grandson was given the stone and expected to attempt the same mission dozens had failed at already. He did try, but felt ill equipped, seeming absent of the abilities many in his family possessed. Another thirty years of insistence of Ariadne’s family, and the Alaquendi finally recognized in entirety why only a handful in each family stood out. A couple daughters of every mother would have their legendary lifespan. These women then were given the stone since it seemed only a family heirloom after the previous failure to unlock the chest. Once received, the stone reinforced the individual’s strength and she became prominent, standing out among Alaquendi, and taking on every trait which had set Ariadne apart during her lifetime.
The Alaquendi seized the stone long enough to have a craftsman surround it in a silver-metal setting and fasten it to a broach so it would be easier to keep track of. Then they gave it to the women of Ariadne’s line, only a few of whom seemed especially enabled. The thinking developed that only these women could unlock the chest. And around the seventh generation a woman decided to pass on her last name to her daughter. From that family each person who was given the broach also took her mother’s surname. Thus the Tempth line developed from Ariadne’s descendants. The Alaquendi traced and recorded the Tempth lineage, making additions each time the a mother passed on the broach; the original purpose of Amaris’s book.
Sion grew tired of reading Amaris’s book. The Alaquendi’s past cruelty, the devastation of the races and their land. For the first time, Sion understood the condition of the world was not a well-known matter. No wonder the Alaquendi retreated, hiding their identity under feet of snow and permafrost. If no one could see the earth, they could not discern Alaquendi from human or Manori. had to wipe out the carriers of life if he wanted his death to survive.
Sion suffered a wonderful amount guilt for ever ridiculing these people. The Alaquendi would be, and always had been, the best defense against . Sion began censoring himself around Illuma, softening his actions which prejudice had made rude. Perhaps if he apologized for mis-conceptualizing Amaris and Illuma, the current arrangements would not feel so imposed on his part. Assuaging guilt seemed inappropriate though, so Sion tried to reform quietly. Would Amaris ever look at him without condemnation after his irresponsible ignorance? Then again, she had still misbehaved almost greater than Sion.
Sion’s condition only worsened as he slowly forced himself to finish the Tempth’s story. Bounties without number haunted this family. Their daughters hid, tried to find success in their ever-failing mission, or died in some unseemly fashion. The broach slid through the family line which had few survivors at the end of each generation. Few could have met their grandparents, and no woman survived to see a single grandchild. Their failure depressed Sion’s hope of a simple victory. He almost wanted to leave the story unfinished and depart from Amaris, her forest home, and all her tragic memories. But there were only a few pages left.
Little detail came from the story Amaris had lent Sion. Overarching themes were fleshed out and only select portions seemed complete, but mostly it skipped vaguely through centuries of Tempths. Even with brevity, Sion found himself stuck at an especially depressing part. A woman’s baby was taken from her and killed. She died shortly after having another daughter whom others raised and informed before dropping the broach into her life. He could not read any more, and abandoned the book.
“Please eat that.”
“I do not mean to be rude, but I am not terribly hungry, Illuma.”
“If you allow yourself to lose strength reading that book, how are you going to help Amaris?”
Sion looked up from his barely touched food. He could not remember making eye contact with Illuma the entire day. She looked sad for him. Why on his account, why not about her own people?
Sion nibbled himself through the meal, hoping to finish the food, knowing he would suffer several nauseous hours of trying to keep it down.
“How close are you to the end of that book?” Illuma asked.
“Near . . . I think.” Sion eyed the book he had left untouched for two days.
“The back pages are blank, you know” Illuma mentioned.
Sion nodded. He had fingered through the ones with writing and counted what remained. Less than four.
“You have not reached Amaris’s mother yet, have you? Femeena?”
Sion felt dazed. He wondered if Amaris’s story would be like the one he had just started, an orphan with no one to support the poor child. “No, I have not,” he mumbled.
Illuma focused her sad eyes on Sion. “Finish reading it. There is no point to stopping where you are now.”
Illuma went to sleep, and Sion stared at the fire the woman had left for him in the hearth. Not tonight. Yet the book still sat on his lap from hours of scourge from his imagination about what might be the story’s end. Maybe he better find out what Amaris’s past looked like before he could invent too many variations on his own. He opened the book and let it sit open for a while. His eyes strayed to the words and began scrolling through sentences.
He hoped the orphan he had last read of had a happy marriage, because he next discovered she had seven daughters and one son, and most of her children had the potential to carry the broach. Each story unfolded into a life of some type of horrific adventure where the woman died at the end. Four of them had the broach in turn. Two perished before marriage, another was threatened too many times and fled with her family. Two of the three girls who could not use the broach were killed in an attack on their mother. So three siblings remained — the father abandoned his family during the persecution — Fredrick, Emily, and Femeena. The orphan was Amaris’s grandmother. A powerful desire to help Amaris — decades ago when she needed it — overpowered his wanting to close the book. He turned the page.
Freedrick, the eldest of the survivors, loved and cherished his two sisters, only one of which would carry the broach. Not by choice, Emily, the youngest, could do little to help her older sister Femeena, who married a man named Aliston, and had only one child. Her siblings could do little to protect her though, and she and Alison moved far south to escape the crippling attacks on their family. Five years passed where the Tempth family had rest, and they established a home in the forest. Sion wondered a moment if this might be Amaris’s home, but her abode seemed too small for three people. The book answered all questions, too soon. Fire, murder, death. He clenched his fist to try and find composure, and backtracked to read through more slowly the parts he had rushed past.
Femeena, Amaris’s mother, was killed in a direct ambush on the Tempth home. Seven-year-old Amaris was thrown in the house which was set on fire . . . The handwriting of the story changed, and the tone became dry and sharp. After seeing her mother run through with a blade, Amaris fought, kicked, and screamed at the men pulling her back into her house. They threw her inside, and she recovered from the slam to the floor while watching the door close. She tried to find a way out, as her father screamed on the other side of the door. Windows were too small, and horrid men looked inside them, watching her scamper like a trapped animal. She looked in her parent’s room, trying to get out through the one big window, but wood covered it from outside. Crackling noises started in the big room, so she ran there, but could not see what made them. She remembered them from somewhere but could not make them out as they spread above her head. She started crying about her mother, as sticks lit on fire started flying through the windows, and she wondered if her father was gone now to. One hit Amaris’s arm before landing at her feet. She stamped out her sleeve and threw something on the flame. When she got it put out, she saw many little fires around her house, and started dumping water on them. But the fire spread fast and she had no more water. Rather than fight them all, Amaris hid under a table where she screamed for her father until she passed out from smoke.
The handwriting changed back to the original, giving only vague details about Amaris’s survival. Alaquendi from the area showed up to help the perishing family, being alerted about the enemy’s presence. — They had questioned a nervous young man who had escaped a small group of soldiers the week before, and he admitted to giving information about the Tempths — The outnumbered enemy fled, including , who had himself slain Femeena. Amaris was rescued by her father who also salvaged the broach before leaving the burning house behind. His wife’s body was taken and buried in the Highlands with her family. The Tempth’s relocated many times to keep enemy troops away. Eventually they settled (the book specified no location.) At twenty-two years old, Amaris received the broach from her father who had kept it until his daughter came of age.
The book ended, but Sion had none of the closure he desired. Amaris must have written her own description of the fire. A scattered child’s wild emotions painted the page with vivid descriptions of panic. Sion could not have recounted such an event; how Amaris managed, he could not comprehend. She was more an orphan than he. Sion ruminated over the last page for some time before going to bed where he laid awake for even longer.
Sion forced himself from bed well after he felt lazy for the delay. Clumsy distraction marked his day. From beginning to end, he caused small accidents when his mind would split attention between Amaris and what ever he had busied himself with. He apologized to Illuma for the damage his absent thoughts caused. At day’s end he had broken a mug, scattered cinders from the fire while prodding a deteriorating log, only just preventing it from catching the house, and knocked over countless items. Before heading to his room where he could conceal his half-conscious state, he saw Amaris’s book lying open from his last reading. He closed and left it, and then closed himself in his room.
The next day promised nothing better than the previous. Staring at the ceiling only worsened the shock Sion felt, deep in his gut where it kicked around any food he had stomached. Poor Illuma probably thought the young man did not appreciate her cooking. He would have to make it up to her later, but not now. Today, Sion would be contented if he could manage staying outside his temporary lodging without suffocating under the hard shell covering his upset core. He cracked the door, not wanting to wake Illuma so early, and then he froze.
The quiet Alaquendi had Amaris’s book open in her lap, one knee pulled into her chest. She did not seem to notice Sion, so he watched. Illuma’s expressions danced between sorrow and anguish. Then all her facial features compressed into a look of physical pain. If Illuma had ever looked up, she would have seen Sion leaning in the doorway to his room. Therefore, Sion decided to own no guilt, and continued studying her sadness. Sion narrowed his eyes, when Illuma started flipping backwards through the pages she had just finished reading. She repeated this strange action several times. With each passing she read faster, and her face seemed more worried, confused about something. Sion felt rude then, and receded to his room. Later, he tried to find closure with Illuma, but could not bring himself to broach the subject.
“Does this ever become easier to handle? I mean, can you ever look at Amaris and not see her entire history screaming at you?” Sion asked.
Illuma stared at the table she had not bothered to clear. Sion planned to give Illuma a few more minutes before he took the task of clearing off her hands; she never let him help enough. Just when Sion thought he had asked too personal a question, Illuma turned her eyes on the man and quietly answered. “Sion, I love Amaris as if she were my own flesh and blood, but I can never stand being around her.”
“Because I lose her more every day.” Illuma tried and failed to swallow her tears. “I have to surrender her to the fate of her ancestors.”
Sion could say nothing, now he knew what Illuma meant. He had known Amaris a short time, and already felt uncomfortable with her daunting task.
“She is so . . .” Illuma struggled for words. “Painful,” she spit out. “Absolutely wretched to be around.”
“I see.” Sion whispered.
“Do you?” Illuma’s speech resembled a child begging help from their parent. She gripped the top of her chair on which she sat sideways, twisted backward to watch Sion.
Sion bit his lip. “No. But perhaps I know why my father chased her so. And, maybe, I can now fathom why she let him go.”
“She made him leave, Sion. Your father’s absence torments her . . . and now it always will.”
Sion felt guilt. But why? Valmier never could have asked Sion’s opinion before leaving Amaris so alone. He should not have to hear, repeatedly, how much his father had betrayed Amaris, especially when Valmeir was only obeying the woman’s wish — or the facade of a wish. Yes, Sion could understand why his father left, and the thousand reasons he should have stayed. Sion turned the subject matter. “Then maybe we need to get her to the basins before she fizzles out. She does not need to have sacrificed and destroyed so many joys just to fail. No. I will not see such take place if I can do anything other.”
Illuma’s eye sparkled for a second before fading into an even duller brown than before. “Perhaps you are right. She does deserve a fair chance. Only . . .”Illuma’s smile hurt to look at. “She will never really get that opportunity.”
Sion was too confused by the woman’s words to conjure any response. He made his eyes more stern and watched as Illuma stared into him with a dark defeat. “If Amaris has no chance, why have you not told her so?”
“She knows it already. Look at her face when she talks about the basins. The cavalier attitude is a facade to mask predetermined defeat. Watch how she acts, she is such a poor liar, Sion.” Illuma smirked. “Well,” Illuma continued — Sion had bought deceit from Amaris for weeks — “I think she is.”
“Why do you support her when you believe she has no chance?”
Illuma smirked with a nasty edge. “We all have to die in this battle somehow.”
Sion did not smile in return. His stomach churned. “I will take care of the dishes tonight.”
“Suit yourself.” Illuma’s now expression free face sank back into its shadow. Sion cleared and cleaned around Illuma. As soon as he had finished, he retired to his room and mulled over Illuma’s opinion. He felt uncomfortable in her presence. He looked at Amaris and saw something besides a liar. He might be able to pry loose whatever power lay underneath Amaris’s shallow surface. Sion did not think, however, that he could stay with Illuma any longer. There had to be somewhere else he could stay. Perhaps he and Amaris could work out their differences, at least for now. The next day he went to inquire of Amaris.
In the week and a half since he’d seen her, anything could have changed Amaris’s mind. But when he saw Amaris, he realized how unfounded were his concerns. The woman still wore the broach —on her dress since the weather did not dictate any sort of cape or outer covering— and she stood tall, exuding sureness. Her entire posture unnerved Sion, because he knew the story which gave this woman the right to walk with such aloof dignity. Amaris did not bother with a smile for courtesy, and Sion’s face stayed flat. They met outside Amaris’s home, and she received back the book Sion returned, before setting a second chair on her porch. She sat and gestured to the other seat.
“Amaris, I apologize for how I have treated you, but I cannot stay with Illuma.” As he spoke, Sion realized Amaris deserved space more than he deserved accommodations, so he modified the request into a statement. “I wanted to tell you I will be making a camp nearby.”
Amaris seemed confused. “Wait, why do you not want to stay with her anymore?”
“I do not think we understand one another. Our agendas, I fear, are not aligned.”
Amaris bit her lip and looked hard at Sion. “Am I to understand, then, that one of you have developed feelings for the other?”
“No! What? That is not at all what I meant.”
“Good.” Amaris let out a long breath.
“I meant our intentions with you.”
Amaris held her breath again. “Go on.”
Great, Sion’s misleading words dragged him right where he had meant to avoid. She shook his head politely. “Forget I said that.” Sion stood, trying to cut the conversation short. “I just wanted to let you know I will be staying elsewhere.”
“Wait, are you leaving?” Amaris had a moment with wild eyes and her hands clenched the seat of her chair. Sion lifted half his mouth in a smile. He stayed quiet for a moment to watch Amaris’s composure fade, and then he answered.
“I do not think so, Amaris. But your concern is reassuring.” Amaris’s grip eased, but Sion had irritated her. “It seems you and I have several items to discuss in the following days,” he cocked his head, “before we depart.”
Sion slept well that night. Head on the ground, covered with a blanket too thick for the still-warm weather. He did not wake until the sun arrived, promising something besides agonizing waiting and obeying Illuma’s gentle suggestions. Now he could make all addresses to Amaris.