Miranda’s legs locked as she jerked herself awake from the cloudy dream. Rubbing away the last remnants of sleep from her eyes, she turned her gaze to her bedroom window. Outside the sun still slept somewhere beneath the horizon. Soft moonlight spilled through the window, casting shadows throughout the room. She kicked at the blankets tangled around her legs, swung them off the bed and sat with her face in her hands. Sweat blanketed her brow. She stood and walked over to the basin of water, splashing cold water in her face.
Three weeks of nightmares. Each horrifying enough to make her sick, waking with a pounding heart and shivering from the cold sweat that broke over her body. She took in a deep breath, staring at her hands gripping the edge of the vanity table. If only she could remember what she dreamed, then maybe she could figure out why. Her mother said dreams were the gateway to the spirit world. Miranda straightened and pulled her hair into low ponytail on her right side. As she ran her fingers through her hair, she felt nausea bubble in her stomach. She placed a hand on her stomach and another on the table to steady herself.
Miranda lifted her gaze to her reflection in the mirror.
As she turned around, feeling the nausea surge through her, Miranda saw nothing but her bedroom. She released the breath she’d been holding. “Not real,” she said to herself.
Oh, child, I am very real.
“Who are you?” Miranda shivered when she realized the stranger’s voice sounded like hers except slightly deeper and hoarser.
Look harder and you will see…
Miranda took several breaths and once again searched the room. Something caught the edge of her vision. When she squinted against the darkness, the shadows seemed to form the shape of a man.
My name does not matter.
Miranda’s eyes darted to the door. All she had to do was scream, but the sound remained locked in her throat. Slowly she realized the strange feeling of cloudiness in her head preceded many of her nightmares.
“What are you?”
An angel, one of the first children.
Feeling a bit of strength coming into her legs, she stumbled towards the shape. “Why are you hiding from me?” The shape darted from her vision.
He is weak, so very weak.
Your Uncle Caldon.
Uncle Caldon. Miranda could hardly breathe. “Where is he?”
Trapped with us. So many hurt. Captured in the night.
“Captured by who?”
Those who call themselves the Trinity Knights. They are responsible for the death of the Goddesses. And now they seek to kill their direct descendants. Because the goddesses denied them power over the temples.
“The goddesses never had direct descendants. They crafted life from the elements.”
If you would not listen…then you will never learn…it may already be too late for your uncle…
All around her the words too late were whispered and echoed within her mind. She placed her hands over her ears just when she remembered her uncle’s screams as he was pulled into the darkness.
“Look, I…” A sharp pain flared in her stomach. “You’re not making sense. Where is he?” She thought about her mother and decided she needed to get out of there. Except where would she go. Her mother was working with the Trinity Knights. Could she trust anyone?
A knock came at the door. “Princess, are you alright? Who are you talking to?”
Miranda rushed to the door before they could open it. She put on her best smile. “It’s nothing. Nervous for tomorrow, I guess.”
The guards smiled. “Do not worry, princess. The queen knows you will play your part well. It might be best for you to get some sleep.”
“Yes, of course.” Miranda tried not to roll her eyes. “I’m simply practicing the words the High Priestess would have me say.” Before the guards could say anything more, she shut the door and turned the latch so it locked.
You are wise, but not stupid. Tell me who you are and where my uncle is.”
He said you were smart. He is safe for now but will not survive long in this forgotten realm. Our connection…so weak…it fades…fading…
“What can I do?”
A dim red light circled over her bed, spreading into the shape of a thick book. The object solidified, sinking into the mattress.
Written in the forgotten language…read and remember…
Miranda touched the leather cover, tracing the stitched symbols with her fingertips.
Trust no one, Miranda…
That time it was Uncle Caldon’s voice, crystal clear in her mind. “Wait,” she called out. “What do I call you? How can I find you?”
Call me Naonet. I will find you, child of the dark…and remember, trust no one…
That last phrase sent shivers down her spine. The nausea in her stomach vanished as soon as it had come, making her head spin. She splashed more water on her face, slowing her breathing to a normal rate. She looked back at the book, walking over to the bed and sitting beside it. She lifted the cover and flipped to a random page. The writing was all in black ink and the pages were crumply from age. She took an uneasy breath as she began to read.
Just as the voice had said, the language was old. Still the letters made sense and soon the words formed sentences that depicted the goddesses death. The more she read, the more she willed herself to disbelieve. The firsthand accounts were gruesome and depicted a war between the goddesses and an army of men. In their last hour the goddesses sacrificed themselves to destroy the evil force controlling their people.
“In their last moments, they left behind a stone which contained their power. Split into pieces, lost in time…” The writing deteriorated to the point where Miranda could no longer make out the symbols. She shut the cover and hid the tome under her bed. Shivering under the cold, she pulled her robe snug against her. Although cold, the room felt stuffy to the point that Miranda felt she would start choking any minute. A walk to the gardens would do her well. She took in a deep breath and opened the door to her room. The guards outside jumped to attention.
“My apologies for startling you. Can one of you please take me to the patron statue in the gardens?” The guards exchanged an uncertain look. “You can stay with me if you’d like. I can’t stay in this room for another minute.”
“Princess, we’re under orders to…”
“That won’t be necessary, gentlemen. We will escort her. Please keep watch over the princess’ room.”
Miranda felt herself jump when she looked over to see the Queen and Vanar appear from around the corner. “Mother.”
A corner of Queen Cassandra’s mouth turned up into a smile. “It appears sleeplessness runs in the blood. As it happens, I was on my way to the gardens if you would care to accompany me.”
Miranda fell in beside the queen as she started off down the hallway. They walked in silence with only the sound of the torches to break the tense silence. Occasionally Miranda would steal a glance towards the queen and the scars on her face. Even with her scarred appearance, and the message from Naonet, Miranda felt she could trust this woman. Perhaps the Trinity Knights forced her to act the way she did. That could explain why the queen accepted her as her daughter so readily. She closed her eyes. Maybe she shouldn’t have left her room after all. So many questions plagued her already sleepless mind.
Queen Cassandra cleared her throat, “Tell me, why does sleep elude you tonight, my child?”
Miranda quickly looked away, deciding on a half-truth. “Nightmares, my queen.”
The queen’s smile was sad. “It appears we share that in common. What is troubling you?”
Miranda laughed. There were many answers to that question. “Where to even start. I’m not meant for this life. I miss my village and the slow days. I miss sleeping under the stars, even though Uncle Caldon told me I shouldn’t. More than anything I miss him. In my dreams he is lost or dead and…” She stopped just before she could mention the voice. Trust no one, Miranda…
They had reached the gardens, finding a seat in front of Solacia’s statue. Miranda remembered as a child going to the temples in Aldana. The statues were always the most beautiful. Zurla’s statues were commonly made from wood but Solacia’s clothing was formed from flowing water that collected in a natural hot spring. The steam brought a calming warmth to the cool night air.
“They’re just nightmares.”
The queen shifted her gaze to Miranda. She opened her mouth to say something but stopped and looked at the fountain instead.
“I dreamt about Sir Caldon a lot after I sent him away with you. If you care for it, there is a tea that makes it easier to forget.”
Miranda stood, feeling a surge of anger in her blood. “I don’t want to forget. You don’t understand. I want him back.”
“Do not make the mistake of assuming I do not wish the same. However, there are wishes that can never be. Sir Caldon’s fate cannot be changed no matter how hard we wish or how long we wait. You would be wise to accept that.” A tense silence enveloped the two women. “There is to be a change for the ceremonies today.”
Miranda furrowed her brow. “What kind of change?”