- "I'm fed up, I'm fed up, I'm fed up!" Ethan says, slamming his fist on the table.
-"You really have no patience, do you?" Liz retorts with a smile.
-"It's taking so long, I'm going to get some fresh air."
He slips out of the cramped quarters that serve as their temporary residence and closes the door behind him. He wants to taste freedom, to have a chance to forget the world that seems to be collapsing around them.
He's not quite sure where he's going, but he knows he wants to be alone. The sun is shining above them, the sky is painted with vibrant blue hues, and the city streets are bustling with people going about their daily activities.
However, he hasn't gone far before he notices Liz following him. He shoots a frustrated look over his shoulder, hoping she'll catch the hint and turn back. But Liz is simply persistent. She has a way of sensing when something is bothering someone, and at this moment, Ethan's attitude is clearly revealing.
-"Ethan, wait!" she calls out, her voice carrying through the bustling streets.
Ethan comes to a stop and lets out a resigned sigh. He turns to face her, irritation etched on his features.
-"Liz, I thought I made it pretty clear that I wanted to be alone."
Liz catches up to him, her expression a mix of concern and determination.
-"I know, but you look upset, and I don't want you to be alone."
Ethan's frustration softens a bit in the face of her genuine concern. He runs a hand through his hair and offers her a reluctant smile.
-"Fine, you can come. But don't expect it to be a fun adventure. I'm just... going somewhere."
Liz nods, her hazel eyes meeting his.
They walk in silence, winding through the narrow streets of the city. The noise of the crowd gradually fades as they move away from the center. Eventually, Ethan stops in front of a tall, old tower that seems to reach into the sky.
-"What is this place?" Liz asks, her curiosity piqued.
Ethan doesn't immediately respond. He looks at the tower for a moment, lost in thought. Then he turns to Liz.
They enter the tower, climbing the spiral staircase until they reach a door that leads to the rooftop. Ethan opens it, and a cool breeze hits them as they step out onto the open platform.
Liz's eyes widen as she takes in the breathtaking view. The city stretches below them, its roofs, streets, and inhabitants mere points of observation. The sun casts a warm glow over the landscape, and the world seems to hold its breath amidst the chaos.
Ethan, on the other hand, remains cynical and distant. He leans against the stone railing, arms crossed.
-"Impressive, isn't it?"
Liz looks away from the view to him.
-"Yes, it's incredible."
She feels a pang of sympathy for him, realizing he carries a heavy burden he rarely lets others see.
-"Are you okay?" she asks softly.
Ethan looks away, his jaw clenched.
-"Yeah, I'm fine."
They remain silent for a moment, the distance between them palpable. Eventually, Liz breaks the silence, her voice gentle.
-"Do your parents live in the capital?"
Ethan's expression hardens, a flicker of pain crossing his eyes. He doesn't respond immediately, and Liz can tell she's touched a sensitive spot.
-"No, they don't," he finally answers, his voice devoid of emotion.
Liz's heart aches for him.
-"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to—"
-"It's okay," he cuts her off, his tone sharp. "I don't have parents. Jade practically raised me."
Liz feels a twinge of guilt for prying into his personal life. She lowers her gaze, unsure of what to say.
-"I'm not clueless, you know?" she says, lifting her head.
-"What do you mean ?"
-"I know you're searching for the Exitium."
-"The notebooks, my father's notes... It's pretty obvious, actually. You can try to deny it, I don't care. I know, that's all."
Ethan's phone suddenly rings, breaking the heavy atmosphere. He takes it out of his pocket, and his lips curve into a small, almost amused smile.
-"What is it?" Liz asks, intrigued by his sudden change in demeanor.
He shows her the screen, displaying Kieran's name.
-"It's Kieran. Him and Jade must be wondering where we've disappeared to."
Liz chuckles softly, a hint of mischief in her eyes.
-"Well, are you going to answer?"
-"What do you mean, 'nah'?"
- "Let's let them search for us a bit. We have the whole day ahead."
If you have any critiques or advice, don't hesitate!
The nocturnal breeze whispers to the ear of roses,
The secret of the stars, where the mystery rests,
The flowers bow their heads in wonder,
Enchanting the night with their captivating fragrance.
The dark river murmurs ancient tales,
Flowing time in its serene reflections,
Dreams mingle with silvery reflections,
Sailing gently towards eternity.
The night, like a muse, inspires souls,
To paint canvases of fiery stars,
Poets seek words that ignite,
To capture the essence of these scented nights.
As the world rests beneath the starry sky,
Imagination awakens, free and unbridled,
Poetry dances with the moon's glow,
Weaving verses that, like stars, ignite.
A symbiosis of nature's grace and human soul.
Ethan sighs and places the books and notebooks on the table where Liz is waiting.
- If it makes you feel any better, I didn't exactly ask to spend the afternoon with you either.
- Oh, great, he says as he sits down next to her.
-But you don't have to be so unpleasant, you know. I haven't done anything to you.
He sighs again, and she shoots him a dark look.
-Would it kill you to sigh a bit less loudly?
-And would it kill you to stop talking? Here, take this.
He places a stack of notebooks in front of her.
-What exactly are we looking for? she asks.
-Anything interesting your father might have written or come across.
-And why are we doing this?
-To see if there's anything of interest in his notebooks.
-Are you stupid enough not to understand my question?
-Your brother didn't tell me you were this annoying.
-I'm only like this with people who deserve it.
-What do you imply? he asks, looking up at her.
-Oh, because even that was too subtle?
-Is everything going well here? their older sister asks from the door.
-Jade? Weren't you with-
-Finch is running a bit late and I wanted to see how things were going here. I'm glad I arrived before you two tore each other apart.
-We weren't at all in the middle of-
-Try to relax, okay? Can I go in? Jade asks.
-Go ahead, don't worry about us, Ethan replies. We'll manage.
-Jade, she's your sister, right? Liz asks.
-Why don't you have the same uniform as them? she asks, pointing at him. Yours is dark blue, and my brother's is purple.
-I'm still a novice. When I turn eighteen, I'll become a guardian.
He opens the first notebook in front of him and furrows his brows at the indecipherable symbols.
-Do you understand any of this? he asks, showing it to her.
-Wait, let me see. Do you have a piece of paper?
He hands her one, and she starts scribbling on it.
-My father liked to encode what he wrote. On these pages, it's in ancient Clydian.
-It was the language of the founding tribes. I'm not very knowledgeable about it. There might be a book about it. We are in a library, after all.
He nods, and they stand up, starting to search.
* * *
- What do you mean you have nothing? Finch asks us, arms crossed. Jade lowers her head, embarrassed. Finch is our superior. His uniform, a dark black, signifies his rank and proximity to the Celestials, the highest leaders of the Order. His short brown hair and icy blue eyes, along with slightly wrinkled skin, are the only signs of his age.
- Not at the moment, I reply, meeting his gaze. But we're making progress. We've collected notebooks and research books directly related to them.
-Books? Great. If you don't have anything concrete in three days, I'm pulling you from this mission, clear? We lower our heads, aware of the significance of this project.
-We'll come through, I reply. Starting tomorrow, we'll head out to find the first piece. Jade gives me a questioning and panicked look, while Finch nods, satisfied.
-You're dismissed, I won't hold you up. Keep me posted.
We exit his office, and I hold Jade's arm.
-Why did you tell him that? she asks, pushing me away. You know very well we have nothing at all.
-Ethan and Liz are deciphering the notebooks; they'll probably find something.
-And you think that will be enough to leave tomorrow ?
-Trust me, okay?
-Kieran, it's not a matter of trust, you know that very well. This mission is important and completely beyond us.
-Let's just see if Ethan and Liz have found anything. Let's keep our hopes up, okay?
- We won't progress with hope alone, she retorts, picking up the pace.
If you have any critiques or advice, don't hesitate!
Part one - Kieran
The train slows down and comes to a stop at its destination. I gently wake up Liz, who has fallen asleep on my shoulder, and motion for her to look through the window. To her, who has only known the countryside, the capital must surely seem... alive. The tallest buildings don't even allow their tops to be distinguished, and the temples, the grandest of them all, tower over the city. With Ethan's help, we grab our bags and disembark.
Dawn is slowly breaking, and the curfew has just been lifted, yet the main square is already bustling and teeming with people. Liz looks a bit anxious, and I place my hand over her shoulder to reassure her.
- Are you ready to see your new room? I ask, trying to change her thoughts. She nods and smiles politely, but I know her mind is elsewhere.
- Have you ever thought about what you want to do in the future?
- No, not yet.
- When you were little, you wanted to be a writer, I say.
- I've grown up since then, she retorts, ending the conversation.
- Are we going straight to the apartment? Ethan asks, out of breath.
- Yes. We'll drop off our things.
- Will Jade be there?
- Maybe. I turn my head towards him and see him grimace.
- I can't say we're getting along very well right now.
- That's completely false.
- Let me rephrase: she hates me.
- That's not true; she's your sister, she doesn't hate you.
- Yeah, right. He shrugs, and I smile.
- I'm sure you're overreacting.
- Not at all, he replies, resolute. We reach the building and climb up to the first floor. I open the door, and Jade is waiting for us, breakfast prepared on the table.
- Did you have a good journey? she asks, taking the bags off my back.
- Pretty good, yes. The train stopped for an hour due to an obstacle on the track, but we quickly got going again.
- I heard about explosions near the border, are you okay?
- We escaped the worst. Liz, let me introduce you to Jadelyne.
- Nice to meet you, Liz. You can call me Jade, she says in a soft voice. She extends her hand, and Liz shakes it timidly.
- Come with me, I'll show you your room, I tell her, guiding her down the hallway.
- Ethan, can you put the bags in the living room, please? Jade asks, following me. He nods and places them down, while I lead my little sister down the hallway, towards her new room. I guide her in and turn on the light. The room is spacious, bright, and furnished. A bed stands in the middle, and there's a wardrobe for her things.
- You can decorate it if you want, I say, inviting her in.
- Thank you, but it's not necessary, Liz replies, lowering her head. I don't want to bother you.
- You're not bothering me, Liz, I say, placing my hand on her shoulder. Put down your bag and come have a bite to eat. After that, you can unpack your things, and I'll help you, okay?
- Okay, Kieran, she murmurs, clutching her bag tightly.
We return to the kitchen, and Ethan hands me a steaming cup of coffee. I thank him and sit down next to him. Jade joins us, and Liz starts eating with enthusiasm. I take a sip of the hot coffee and turn my head toward the window.
- What's the news at the southern border? Ethan asks his older sister.
- A rebel group launched an attack from the south side of the wall. A little under a thousand casualties but about a hundred injured, she answers. Kieran, come, can I talk to you in private in the kitchen? I nod and follow her.
- Your mom didn't come, did she? Jade asks, closing the door behind her.
I look away and sigh.
- She's not coming. I tried to change her mind but it didn't work.
She runs her hand through her black hair and looks up at me.
- What are you going to do, Kieran?
- What do you mean?
- We're both guardians, and she's only thirteen. And by the way, Finch called. He wants to see both of us this morning, she says.
- He wants to know where we stand. That is...
- Absolutely nowhere.
- You haven't found anything? she asks hopefully, straightening up.
- Well, notebooks, notes. Ethan will take care of that, and I'm going to the grand temple this afternoon.
- And your sister?
- Could you stay with her, and I'll go see Finch with Ethan?
- Are you kidding me? You don't get to order me around, just so you know. You're not my superior. You could stay with her, by the way, unless you have a better idea.
- I don't know... Do you think Ethan could stay with her?
- Trust me, you don't want that. Ethan is really not good with kids. He may be fifteen, but he's as mature as a newborn.
- Excuse me, but do you have another idea?
She sighs, exasperated.
- She can always go to the library with Ethan this morning. She can help him decipher the notebooks. I'm trying to convince her.
- So, you're going to tell her everything? she asks, furrowing her brows.
- Only what she needs to know. I promised my mother I'd protect her, and that's exactly what I'm going to do. When she's with him, Ethan just has to tell her that- A clearing of the throat startles me, and I turn around to find Ethan at the doorway.
- Do I have a say in this?
- If that say is "great, good idea," then yes, but not anything else, his sister says, smiling while giving him a dark look.
- Seriously? Why don't I come with you guys? I'm not a babysitter, you know?
- I'm not asking you to babysit her. She's going to help you, I retort, emphasizing that word.
- But I don't need her help. And you can't give me orders, by the way.
- Oh yes, we can, you're a novice, Ethan. But it's not an order, Ethan, Jade says, getting up. It's just a way to move forward faster.
- And what if I don't agree? he says defiantly.
- Well, in that case, it is an order, his older sister responds, determined.
- Because you really think she won't slow us down? Look at her, she's only thirteen, and-
- Just so you know, the kitchen wall isn't perfectly soundproof, Liz says through the wall.
I smile, and Ethan becomes pale.
- Why me and not one of you two? he asks more softly.
- Ethan, don't be a baby, it's just for a few hours, Jade insists.
He sighs and puts his head in his hands.
- Anyway, you never listen to me !
Liz, Kieran, and Ethan sit on the train that starts without delay. She catches her breath with difficulty and casts a final look through the window, leaving behind memories and tears. A cloud of black smoke rises from the roofs of the houses in their old village, covering the sky and the horizon, and flames rise from the tallest buildings.
- Are you okay? Kieran asks, his gaze filled with concern.
- Yes, don't worry.
She smiles timidly at him and snuggles against him.
- Do you think Mom is okay? she asks in a small voice.
- I'm convinced she is. Try to get some sleep, okay? We haven't arrived yet.
- But what if we arrive after curfew?
- I have a pass for the three of us, don't worry.
Lizzy rests her head against the window and holds her bag close. The train moves slowly and ventures into the lands. The countryside and nature gradually give way to houses and other roads, while the silhouette of the capital's towers appears on the horizon.
The sound of explosions resonates in her ears, and her heart tightens. No one really knows when the war began. It's just part of their daily life, impacting every aspect of it. The battles that began with their ancestors never stopped, and both sides have suffered greatly.
It all would have started between two powerful cities, Hélynedias and Lyssandre. Two cities built in honor of the Founders, the two Gods of the same name. Hélynedias, goddess of the sun, fire, life, day, whose ruined city is led by rebel groups and organizations. Lyssandre, god of the moon, night, dreams, death, whose city is governed by the Order and the Celestials. No one knows who attacked first, each side blaming the other for this fault.
The city of Hélynedias was decimated, but it never gave up. All men aged 17 to 30 are sent to the front lines, and few return. There are only a few exceptions to the rule, like him. Kieran fought for a year before joining the Order as a Guardian. Few men come back unscathed from the front lines, and many pay a high price. Kieran and Liz's father gave his life for the Order, and his loss affected their entire family. His son committed himself definitively a week later, and the rest of his family never really recovered. Poverty struck his family as it did all the inhabitants. War comes at a cost, and the population pays the price.
War doesn't come without sacrifice. Both cities will fight to the death, if necessary, to regain peace. Just like their soldiers, and just like Kieran himself.
Night has fallen over the capital for several hours now. Most streets are deserted due to the curfew that has been imposed.
A silhouette emerges from the shadows, wearing a black cloak and hood, blending into the darkness. She exits the building she was in and crosses the street, staying close to the trees to remain concealed as long as possible.
She moves cautiously to avoid drawing attention and stops in front of the building at the center of the large square. Despite the dim lighting, the temple is easily recognizable by the seven statues surrounding it and the other frescoes and sculptures adorning it. She adjusts her hood to obscure her face, pushes open the temple door, enters, glances around, and spots a man with his back turned, sitting on one of the benches.
She sits next to him, and he turns toward her.
- Is it not risky to be here? he asks, looking anxious.
- There's no one else here but us, if that's what concerns you.
- What's the casualty count at the border? he asks, staring at her intently.
- About 800 dead and around a hundred wounded. But that's not why I came to see you.
- Then I'm listening.
- Have you ever heard of the Exitium, I suppose?
- You're talking about the legend? Of course.
- But... what if it's not just a legend? My parents spent their entire lives searching for it, and...
- Just like many others. But no one has ever found it. There isn't even concrete proof of its existence.
-But according to the legend, whoever possesses it will have the power and might of the Gods.
- I know it. But where are you going with this?
- I know the Order wants to find it, and I believe I can find it before they do.
- Many have lost their lives in that quest. What makes you think you'll succeed?
- Believe me, I will succeed. I'm certain of it.
- If you're so sure of yourself, why do you need me?
- Once I have it, I want it to cross the border.
- To use it against them?
- No. To destroy it. A weapon capable of obliterating an entire planet should not even exist.
- That's still a suicide mission. Why not destroy it before crossing the border?
- The Exitium is unstable, says the figure, lowering her head. I want to avoid any unnecessary casualties.
- Wars are not won without some sacrifices.
- I didn't ask for your opinion, I believe. I'm just informing you of my plan.
- How will you locate the weapon?
- I can't inform you about that, unfortunately. I'll call you for the transfer. With those words, she stands up, putting an end to the conversation herself.
- Wait, the man asks, grabbing her sleeve. What's your name? The silhouette turns around, hand on the temple door.
- You'll know in due time.
- May... May the Gods have mercy on your soul, he says, removing his hat, pale. May they watch over you on your quest.
- At the risk of disappointing you, I believe they can't do anything for me anymore, the silhouette replies, politely bowing to him. Their reign is eternal... but eternity only lasts for a while. The Order will fall, like all the empires that came before it. This rebellion will be the people's. They can no longer ignore us.
Thank you for your feedback! Don't hesitate to share your critiques or advice!
They continued packing their belongings into bags, and Kieran volunteered to take them down to the dining hall. The living room was overrun with bags filled with all their possessions. Kieran set down the last bag on the floor, out of breath from the effort. His mother, Anna, approached him, her gaze heavy with a gravity he had never seen before, and she gently stopped him.
- Kieran, I need to talk to you. Kieran felt his heart tighten at his mother's tone. He sat down on the couch, anxious, waiting to hear what was troubling her.
- What's going on, Mom?
- I'm not going with you. Kieran's eyes widened in surprise and confusion.
- What? Why? You're our mother, you have to come with us!
- I'd be nothing but a burden to feed. You have to take care of your sister, protect her. It's your duty now. Kieran shook his head, refusing to accept his mother's decision.
- But you're our mother, you can't leave us! We need you.
- I know it's hard to understand, but I can't put you in danger by staying here. You'll be safe in the capital. I'm proud of you, Kieran. You're strong and brave, you'll take care of Lizzy. Tears welled up in Kieran's eyes. He wanted to beg his mother to change her mind, but he knew she had already made her decision.
- I can't let you go, Mom. I can't do this without you.
- You're stronger than you think, my son. I know you'll do great things, just like your sister. I trust you, Kieran, but I need you to promise me you'll watch over your sister. Kieran grasped his mother's hand in his own, unable to contain his emotions.
- I promise I'll take care of Liz, Mom. But please, come with us. We're a family, we should stay together.
- My love, sometimes we have to make difficult choices to protect the ones we love. And that's what I'm doing right now. I'll always be in your heart, no matter what happens. Reluctantly, Kieran nodded, realizing that his mother had made her decision out of love and dedication to them.
- Okay, Mom. I promise I'll take care of Liz, I'll protect her with all my heart.
- I know you will, my son. I'm proud of you. Now, go get your sister and Ethan. You should hurry to leave. Kieran stood up, struggling to hold back his tears. He walked toward the door, but before leaving, he turned around one last time to his mother.
- I love you, Mom.
- I love you too, Kieran. Now go, take care of your sister.
Kieran wiped away his tears, trying to gather his courage. Ethan came downstairs and entered the living room, ready to go.
- Liz? Where is she?
- I don't know, she was here just a few minutes ago, his mother said, looking around. Kieran felt his heart race as he called his sister's name, hoping she hadn't gone too far. He heard hurried footsteps from outside, and he grew worried.
- She might have gone out, his mother said, concerned. The door is open!
The heavy bags filled with belongings hung from Kieran's shoulders as he ran through the woods, searching for his sister. His heart pounded in his chest, anxiety gripping him at the thought of what she might have overheard. He navigated through the trees, desperately searching for clues in the direction she might have gone. Finally, Kieran caught a glimpse of light filtering through the branches of a large oak tree, and he rushed in that direction. He came to an abrupt stop when he saw Lizzy sitting near their old wooden cabin, tears streaming down her face and her expression betraying her distress.
- It's no usefull, Kieran. I... I heard everything, she whispered as she sat near the entrance, in tears. Kieran approached his sister gently, kneeling beside her and placing a comforting hand on her shoulder.
- I know it's hard, Liz. But Mom believes it's best for us. You'll be safe in the capital, with Ethan and me. She nodded, but the fear in her eyes didn't completely dissipate.
- But... what if something happens to her here?
- Mom is strong, Liz. She's always protected us, and she knows how to take care of herself. We have to trust her and continue on our path. We'll always be a family, even if we're apart. She looked at Kieran, her tears slightly calming under the effect of his reassuring words.
- Okay, Kieran. I trust you.
He offered her a reassuring smile and gently embraced her.
- Everything will be okay, I promise. We're together, and we'll get through all of this. Suddenly, an explosion echoed in the distance, followed by several more. Kieran straightened up, his heart tightening with anxiety.
- There's no time to waste, Liz. We need to leave now.
Lizzy stood up, wiping her tears with determination, and nodded weakly. They left the cabin, rushing through the woods to reach the station where they were supposed to meet Ethan. The sound of explosions grew closer, amplifying their anxiety. They ran toward the station as if their lives depended on it, which, to be honest, might have been the case.
Just as there are two versions to every story, there are two versions to every person. One version that we reveal to the world, and the other that we keep hidden... A duality governed by the balance of light and darkness. Each of us has the capacity to do good and evil, but those who are able to blur the line of moral division hold true power. Emily Thorne - Revenge
The Exitium, also known as "The Flame of Judgment," is a legendary secret weapon with cataclysmic powers. Created by a long-forgotten ancient civilization, this weapon is capable of unleashing a destructive energy of immeasurable magnitude. Legend says that it is the creation of a demon and the god of war, and that the person who possesses it, in addition to controlling its power, will be equal to the Gods. It was designed to be used as a last resort, as its power is so devastating that it could annihilate all forms of life on Earth.
In a dim and austere room, a shadow sitting at an old wooden table picks up the rotary phone. The room is bathed in a cold glow from a single bulb hanging from the ceiling. The face hidden in the surrounding darkness confidently dials the numbers, creating a familiar melody of metallic clicks. On the other side of the line, in the border control station, the guards are monitoring the control screens. The atmosphere is tense, as if each echo of the phone's ticking announces a potential disturbance. The ring sounds once, and then a deep voice answers.
"Border control station, who am I speaking to?"
The shadow maintains a calm and distinct tone.
"Listen to me carefully. I know someone intends to cross the border illegally in the next few hours."
The guards exchange perplexed glances. "We don't move for that kind of thing."
"But it's a deserter. A traitor !"
"Listen, we can't..."
"What if I tell you it's a terrorist?" The shadow continues with a calm yet determined voice. "The person you're monitoring has more than a simple covert passage in mind. They're planning an attack on the Order."
Silence falls over the room. The Order is the governmental entity that maintains authority over the region. Despite many rumors circulating about its corruption and abuse of power, no one had dared openly challenge its authority until now.
"Wait, how can we know you're telling the truth?" another guard asks, suspicion in his voice.
The shadow responds with certainty. "I don't have tangible proof to provide you at the moment. However, it's in your interest to take this information seriously. My goal isn't to deceive you, but to warn you." The guards exchange another look, this time tinged with uncertainty. One of them finally speaks.
"We can't move for every rumor we hear. However, if you're right and the situation escalates, we'll have to take action."
The shadow seems to understand this response. "I understand. Do what you must do. The future will reveal whether my words were true."
Sunlight filters through the curtains of Elizabeth's small room as she sits in front of her mirror, brushing her hair. Her mother, Anna, stands behind her, gently untangling the blonde strands with soft hands. A sense of apprehension forms a knot in her stomach as she watches their reflection in the mirror. She knows her mother has something important to say, and the solemn tone in her voice confirms it.
- "My dear, there's something we need to talk about," Anna begins gently.
Lizzy bites her lower lip, nervous about what's coming next.
- What is it, Mom?" she asks, eyebrows furrowed.
You know things are becoming more dangerous near the border," Anna says, avoiding her daughter's gaze in the mirror.
- "I'm worried about you, Lizzy. I don't want you to be in harm's way. The Order suspects that the Rebels might launch an attack near the border soon. We need to take precautions for our safety."
The young girl nods, understanding her mother's concerns. Tensions between the two cities had escalated lately, and rumors of an impending attack were spreading rapidly.
- But... I don't want to leave," Lizzy admits, a hint of stubbornness in her voice. "Kieran said...
- He's the one who suggested that we join him in the capital. He's already found us an apartment.
- Wait...When are we leaving?" she asks.
- I know, it's early. I'm sorry to tell you so late. Try to pack a few things when your brother is here, okay?
- Okay, Mom," the teenager agrees, looking down.
- Happy birthday, sweetheart. Just try to enjoy the day a little, okay? It's not every day you turn 13.
Lizzy manages a small, half-smile.
- Okay, okay. I'll do my best, promise.
The sound of the front door opening interrupts their exchange. Kieran enters the room, a warm smile lighting up his face. Lizzy rushes to Kieran and embraces him enthusiastically.
- Kieran! It's been forever! Where have you been? Keeping the world safe, I suppose?
-Oh, you know, Order business is quite delicate. I'm here and there, making sure everything's in order.
- Sounds boring...
- Well, you know, it's an exciting job. Always watching over the celestial energies and protecting the faithful... well, that sort of thing.
Another man follows Kieran and enters the room. Lizzy recognizes her brother's friend, Ethan, also dressed in his guard uniform.
- Happy birthday," he says, avoiding her gaze.
Lizzy thanks him, feeling an awkwardness settle in the room.
- We should get going, the temple is on the other side of town," their mother says, putting on her jacket.
- Let's go.
* * *
The temple walls are adorned with sacred symbols and frescoes depicting the gods revered by the Order. Devotees flock, dressed in their pristine robes, their faces filled with devotion. As they proceed, a sacred silence settles, broken only by the murmurs of the faithful and the distant rumble of the organ. The Order's guardians, dressed in black robes, watch silently, their scrutinizing gazes observing every movement of the participants. The celestial priest, an imposing figure in his crimson robe and golden crown, stands before the altar. He raises his arms, signaling the start of the ceremony. His voice resonates in the temple, solemn and powerful.
- Beloved faithful, today we gather in the light of the Eternals, aware of the grandeur of our destiny.
The priest's words are punctuated by the mechanical responses of the faithful, repeating the words they have memorized by heart.
- The stars themselves have revealed the ancient and eternal truth. The worst of the war is behind us, and we have the Gods' support for our quest for peace. They watch over us and our city.
The celestial descends from the platform and approaches the faithful, one by one. People step forward, eager to receive his blessing, to receive a mark from the Order. The priest places a sacred ring on each person's hand, a symbolic mark of their devotion. Lizzy's family steps forward, their hearts heavy, to receive the priest's blessing. Her mother humbly bows before him, extending her arm. He blesses her solemnly, then turns to Lizzy. The priest approaches her, his hand adorned with a silver ring that he uses to mark the Order members. She extends her wrist, but she feels a shiver of apprehension run through her body as he presses the ring against her skin. A bolt of pain courses through her being as the ring's metal touches her skin. The burn is sharp, almost unbearable, but she grits her teeth, refusing to show her suffering. The rest of the ceremony proceeds smoothly, with the faithful departing one by one. Lizzy watches each person approach the priest, receive his blessing and the mark of the sacred ring, but none of them seem to experience the same pain as she does. The ceremony continues, but a palpable tension hangs in the air. The recited words blend into a muddled symphony of voices, and Lizzy feels strangely disconnected from it all. After the final chants and prayers, the ceremony draws to a close.
Their mother opens the door to their house and switches on the lights. A few prepared boxes are placed near the door, almost enough to hold their meager belongings.
- Elizabeth, my dear, could you do me a huge favor? I need you to pick up a few groceries from the market. I forgot to buy some ingredients for tonight's dinner," her mother asks.
- Of course, Mom. I'll take care of it," she responds with a sigh.
- I'll come with you," her brother says.
- There's no need to worry, Kieran. I'm cold, distant, and totally immune to the horrors of this world.
- I'm coming with you. Ethan, do you mind staying here until...
- No problem, go ahead," he agrees with a smile.
- Kieran, hurry up!" she orders her brother with an authoritative tone. I'm not going to stand here waiting for you.
Kieran smiles and follows his sister promptly.
- Did I do something wrong? he asks, worried.
- Then something's off, Liz, I know you.
- Really? Yet you're never here.
- Liz, I'm a guardian. I can't just...
- Don't say that, please. I know that if you wanted to come, you would.
-Things are complicated.
- Because I don't know? It's always been complicated, you know.
- So you're angry at me?
- You enlisted right after Dad died. You don't know what Mom and I went through.
- If I'm doing this, it's to protect you. What don't you understand?
Tears well up in Lizzy's eyes, and she can't help feeling a surge of anger.
- Protect? Is that what you call protecting?
- Liz, I get that it must be hard for you but...
- Just drop it, you don't understand.
She quickens her pace, wanting to end this conversation as quickly as possible. He gently stops her by taking her arm.
- I'm sorry.
She simply shrugs and wipes away her tears. Lizzy and Kieran walk in silence through the market's aisles, observing the almost empty stalls. He looks sadly at the sparse stalls, the vendors wearing expressions of discouragement. The remaining people frantically search for something to buy, but there are limited options. The two continue walking through the market, absorbing the stifling atmosphere around them. The faces they encounter are marked by despair and resignation. Suddenly, she stops in front of a stall where an old woman sells a few withered fruits. Her gaze lands on the tired face of the vendor, her wrinkled hands trembling slightly.
- How much for these apples, ma'am?" she asks in a gentle voice.
The old woman looks at her with gratitude, almost surprised that someone is interested in her goods.
- Two silver pieces, dear."
Lizzy takes a few coins from her pocket and hands them to the vendor.
- Keep the change."
The vendor, touched, clasps Lizzy's hands affectionately.
- May the gods bless you, young lady. You have a rare kindness in these dark times." The teenager offers a faint, satisfied smile, thanks her, and they slowly head toward the market's exit, their meager provisions in hand. Instead of returning home, she heads toward the forest.
- Liz, can I ask you something? Kieran asks.
- Stop asking that, just get to the point, please," she says, rolling her eyes.
- Dad was researching the prophecy, wasn't he?
- Yes, in his study, why?
- Are his things still there?
- We haven't touched them, his work must be in there, do you need it?
Kieran shakes his head, but an idea occurs to him.
- No, but we should probably take them.
- Do you really think that's necessary? They're just old notebooks and books.
- Maybe, but he spent his whole life filling them and studying them. They must be important.
- If you say so," she shrugs.
* * *
Lizzy, Ethan, and Kieran enter the workshop, their footsteps echoing on the wooden floor. Lizzy runs her fingers over the furniture, raising a cloud of dust, while Kieran lights an old lamp to illuminate the dark room.
- It's been ages since I've been here," she says, lost in thought.
Her brother heads to the shelves filled with old books. Ethan carefully opens a book, revealing yellowed pages and handwritten words. He scans the passages, his brow furrowed, captivated by the content.
- Kieran, take a look at this. These books talk about the prophecy. They contain information about what we heard at the temple today,"
Ethan says, handing him a stack of books. Liz approaches and observes the books, her expression slightly hardening.
- I... I don't know. Dad was fascinated by these stories, these legends.
- You don't believe it?" Ethan asks, surprised.
- I believe in facts, in evidence. These are just superstitions," she shrugs. He smiles and closes it.
- What do you have in your hand?" her big brother asks, concerned. She steps back, a hint of suspicion in her eyes.
- This? It's nothing.
It doesn't look like nothing. Show me. She hesitates for a moment but ends up giving him her hand. He gently touches her burn.
- How did you get this?
- I...I burned myself. But it's nothing, really, don't worry.
Her brother furrows his brows and turns his attention back to their father's cluttered desk. Kieran holds an old notebook, his eyes fixed on the yellowed pages. Notes, sketches, and intricate diagrams fill the pages, forming an indecipherable maze of information.
- It's incredible... Your father was truly a brilliant man. Look at all these studies on the celestial prophecy," Kieran says, his eyes fixed on the pages filled with ancient symbols.
- Yes, he dedicated his life to trying to understand the meaning of the celestial prophecy," Kieran confirms. "But it still remains a mystery." Lizzy steps closer, scrutinizing the sketches and annotations with intent.
- Of course, it's still a mystery. As if the gods would let humans uncover their plans. - -- What does this symbol mean?" she asks, touching the black ink drawing on the wall.
Her brother looks up and ponders.
- I think it represents Lyssandre, the god of the moon and dreams.
- What are we supposed to take? Ethan asks, holding a stack of books in his hands.
- Everything," Kieran answers without a hint of doubt.
- Everything?" he asks, surprised.
- Absolutely everything. We don't know what we might need, and what might be useful."
- Useful?" her sister turns to them, intrigued.
- I...I mean what was important, you know, for...for Dad. Lizzy holds an old worn notebook in her hands, its pages yellowed by time and use. She watches as Ethan and Kieran delve into other similar notebooks and books about prophecies and legendary weapons.
- You guys could help me, you know. Instead of spending all your time on these old books.
Kieran and Ethan raise their heads, surprised by the irritation in Lizzy's voice.
- Sorry, Liz. It's just that these notebooks and books are important. They were our father's passion,"
Kieran says, placing them in the box.
- And I'm sure you'll have plenty of time to dissect them later. I've already filled two bags all by myself, and you? Zero. I don't know what kind of math you do in the Order but...
- Okay, okay, we'll help. You know what? Let us finish.
- Really, go ahead.
She smiles, satisfied, and exits the room with the items she has sorted.
- I get why you brought me here, you weren't lying," Ethan says to his friend.
- What do you mean?
- We have everything we need here.
- Not so loud. But yes, you're right. It's a good start.