Authors: Michael Phillip Cash
“Well then use funds for all this pageantry to get supplies to the ones suffering down there.” He pointed a finger to the grayness outside. He watched the general shake his head and go back to the large, stone conference table where the rest of his counsel argued. Walking slowly to the window, he was oblivious to the discussions taking place behind him. He glanced through the gloom, wondering if Tulani was safe. Warm, dry, and safe.
He didn’t want to be crowned. It felt so final, as though his father was really gone. He stared at his reflection in the window, and the room receded as mist hovering changing shapes over his head. It spangled the air, filling it with the smell of ozone, and his hair went static, rising off his scalp. All sound receded as he watched the image of his father materialize in the window. The face floated, becoming fuzzy, indistinct. It became more clear as a familiar body took shape next to V’sair. The reflection smiled sweetly, the eyes lit with
incandescence. Drakko was healthy and whole, taller than V’sair. The boy rubbed his eyes, afraid to blink lest the apparition disappear. He glanced to his advisors, noting them locked in heated comments, then looked back at the specter. A smile spread across his father’s generous mouth. He nodded to his son, and V’sair felt tears sting behind his eyes. Pressure landed on the young man’s shoulders; V’sair touched the spot, knowing without a doubt his father had just squeezed him affectionately. Strong hands reached up, lifting the crown from his own dark head to hold it over V’sair’s blond one. The jewels sparkled with the reflection of the waning light, and he watched in wonder as his father placed it on his head. Though he knew nothing graced his pate, he felt the crown’s heavy weight resting there. Their eyes met to make a peaceful communion. Drakko pointed back to the council and shook his head with sorrow, letting V’sair know he was not happy with the discord. He watched those eyes rest on each of the Orbitus representatives, and while he frowned, V’sair couldn’t read his father’s thoughts.
Then the lips moved with a soft whisper, and V’sair distinctly heard his father say “Reminda.” The shimmering reflection winked, dissolving into nothing.
V’sair touched his head, then the corner of his eye, wiping a crystal tear that gathered there. Beyond speech, he cleared his throat noisily. Turning slowly, he looked at his councilors arguing over petty nonsense. He tried to figure out what his father was trying to tell him, but the whole thing was a muddle, from the councilors to the wet planet surface. Great Sradda, he wished Zayden was here to help him. He had to take command; the apparition, his father had indicated it. Taking a deep breath, V’sair made a decision. “General, arrange for my coronation for the first moon phase. We will do it in the temple. I want representatives from the Quyroos equally present. In fact, I will have one from the Quyroo League crown me.”
“Out of the question!” Brault fumed. “That’s my job. That is our custom!”
“We will circumvent the custom.” V’sair turned his back. “That is all for today. Send in my mother.”
Swart grumbled as he stuffed his notes into a briefcase. “Now he wants the coronation and within weeks. How am I supposed to get this done so quickly?”
Chanter Brault nodded, his face gray with indignation, and whispered, “I knew nothing good would come from the Planta influence. A Quyroo crown him, indeed!” They walked out of the room, Brault tense with anger.
Reminda floated in, her face serene. “You asked for me?”
V’sair took her hand and kissed it. “Yes, Mo’mo. I have decided to go ahead with the coronation. You must find Tulani. I want her by my side.”
“I will do my best, Sire.” She smiled and bowed her head.
V’sair stalked to the temple, walking purposefully down the long aisle to come close to the altar. It was a high-ceilinged room, the walls made of clear quartz, polished to a sparkling shine. Fossils of tiny prehistoric insects were frozen in the depths of the rock walls, testifying to both its age and majesty. It was a cool room, and when filled with Darracians, the walls reflected the array of colors adorning its inhabitants. Today it was empty, so the sleek, ice-like walls mirrored his bleak mood.
The altar stood before him on a high platform, completely carved from clear, solid rock. The legs were a bas relief of his ancestors holding aloft a giant beam for the grand chanter to sing the Songs of Sradda, the prayers of his people. Behind the religious leader was a wide block of wall, polished so that it mirrored the service taking place. It had cracked sometime when Aqin erupted, and as a result the light refracted, allowing for one person to be
multiplied into a hundred. V’sair looked up, seeing his face split in two, imitating his own internal schism.
He slid into his place, a pew just like the rest, nothing decorating it to make it special. Ornamentation could distract the pious from their sole purpose of communing with the Elements. A great pit with the eternal flame of the Elements burned bright, its orange and blue flames creating a show of dancer-like movements on the smooth surface. The shadows were compact and small, and as they traveled toward the rear of the temple, they stretched to become distorted images on the wall that seemed somehow threatening. The vast chamber echoed with the hiss and crackle of the flame. His father had stripped religious houses of all ostentatiousness, insisting that in the temple all Darracians would be heard by the Elements equally.
He bowed, placing his head in his hands, praying for guidance. Positioning his fingers in the appropriate spot over his heart, he cleared his mind, letting his
cares fall away so he could devote himself to finding solutions. V’sair concentrated on calling out to the Elements, picturing them, recalling the sound of Ozre’s voice, feeling nothing with the exception of his own desperation. He was missing something, his answer just out of his reach. It was as if it were one giant puzzle and the center was missing. The comet, Ozre, the nonstop rain—the solution was hovering before him in a jumble of answers that he could not sort out. He heard the echo of his whispers bounce off the polished, clear walls, but no response was returned.
At the opposite end of the temple, Chanter Brault gripped the chalice in his pudgy fingers. His lips thinned with rage, his eyes darting through the empty chapel. Weak sunlight filtered in from the tall, narrow windows, and he asked for a sign. It had been a close call, but nobody had talked. He was safe, and yet, the king was alone. Could he not finish the plan and kill him in the Temple of the Elements? Wind chimes called the faithful to prayer; the window of
time would soon be lost. Brault reached under his robe to touch the hilt of his Fireblade, unused since he had been elevated to the temple. It was purely ceremonial now, and he wondered briefly, if he activated the flame, would it burn the red of his youth, or the new blue flame of Darracian justice?
He withdrew it, his eyes widening as it jumped to life, bathing his face vermillion, and he suddenly realized he didn’t care about the color anymore. He had heard that the prisoners had died, taking with them the secret of his role in the overthrow, as well as the instigator of the assassination. He walked toward the chapel, his Fireblade humming at his side, just beneath his robe. Trembling with excitement, he thought it was almost too easy.
As if the king heard him, he looked up, his face innocent in its youth, and he smiled at the chanter. “Have you come to lead me to the Elements?” V’sair asked.
Brault’s clammy hand gripped his weapon, his
insides turning to jelly, feeling the fire of purpose die, along with his courage. Blood would be on his hands; they would know that it was he who did the deed, and perhaps the guards would overwhelm them. How would the new social order they had planned survive without his guidance? No, let someone else rid the Darracia of V’sair’s liberal ideas. But then, if he rid the planet of this half breed, he would be hailed a hero. Lothen might give him a title, some territory of his own…Wiping a nervous hand across a sweat-dotted head, he looked at the altar and shuddered, thinking he had seen a movement. It couldn’t be, he thought wildly, a trick of light, nothing more, but the image returned, and he found himself staring into the eyes of Drakko, V’sair’s dead father. Gasping, he coughed, his eyes bulging from his gray face, now a pasty shade of green.
“Are you well?” V’sair stood to hold out a hand to help the older man.
Brault backed away with a slight bow, sliding his
blade into his holster behind his back and then smiling with uncertainty. “Together we shall ask for guidance.”
Falling to his knees, he heard the door open and knew that V’sair’s royal guards were taking seats in the rear. “Oh, Great Sradda, giver of life, I commend myself to thee…” He began the Songs of Sradda, his mind feverously working on a different solution.
Brault had lost his nerve, losing his chance to ignite the coup. He watched the king sideways, lost his prayer, his face illuminated by the great Fires of the Elements, and wondered what he had just witnessed. Never a warrior, he chose religion because he was afraid of fighting other Darracians. Only because of his well-placed family was he able to advance through the temple hierarchy. There were no such things as ghosts—it was his imagination, nothing more. He smiled to himself. He had made the right decision. If V’sair and Swart survived this, he would be their religious lodestone. If Lothen succeeded, then he would be seen as a great ally. Leave his holy
hands clean, let them find someone who had no need to wonder of ghosts or devils, to take the chance with their souls.
He knew there were other rebels out there, operating within unknown cells. To protect them from being discovered, only one person knew all the members of each group. That man was now dead, and Brault had no idea who else was involved. He just knew he had to sit tight. Help was on the way. Let Lothen or one of the others take the glory; he would be fine taking a backseat until it was safe. “Oh Great Sradda,” his voice soared to the roof of the great temple, “show me the way to your light!” Who knew which way it was going to go. “Spare me to be useful to the victor, whomever he may be.” Brault smiled at the king’s bowed head.
Reminda’s bare feet slapped on the cold stone of the volcano. She was alone, her guards unhappily waiting outside. She secured her wrap around her small shoulders. Aqin was damp as well as cold. The rain dripped along the inside walls of a dead volcano whose fire had been extinguished.
The cavern was empty. Reminda seated herself with a sigh, hoping Tulani and Bobbien would return sometime soon. She eyed the small altar, then walked over, kneeling to place her tattooed forehead against the cold stone. “Oh great Ozre, I commend myself to thee. Return and speak.” She paused, taking a deep breath. “I beg of thee…” she added in a whisper.
The cavern filled with wind, racing in a circular movement, lifting anything not attached to the floor. Reminda held her dress down; it billowed beneath her palms. The wind was fierce, and the fabric ripped. “You are angry with us?” she yelled, her blue
“Not angry, disappointed.” The response filled the room, and a ball of light appeared in the center of the small tornado.
“So am I!” Reminda replied indignantly.
Ozre’s laughter echoed off the walls. “Are you now?” The gusts died, and the ball of light came close to Reminda’s face. It hung inches from her, and she saw into the bright, red core.
“You accuse your son of not having patience; we think the apple does not fall far from the tree.”
“Perhaps,” Reminda replied, exasperated. “That is not important! Why have you deserted us? V’sair is floundering, Tulani is lost, Zayden is wallowing, and I…”
“Yes?” the light said softly.
“You are the Element, Ozre, you know what I am.”
“So you say…”
“Why?” Reminda implored.
“Why?” Ozre repeating, sounding exactly like her.
“Stop repeating everything I say!” Reminda demanded. “You upended our world, threw us head over heels by indicating all we believed in was not the truth.”
“V’sair made that discovery, not us.”
“But all of Darracia is reeling from this revelation. The roots for all their doctrine are based on their superiority, and the blinders have been removed for them to find that strength is drawn from our inner values.”
“Isn’t that what you wanted?” Ozre asked.
“Yes, yes, Drakko and I wanted V’sair to be supported as the king because he earned it through his strength of character.”
“Then my job is finished,” the Element said tonelessly.
“How can you say that?” Reminda held out her hand. “He is struggling.”
“No one said it was going to be easy,” Ozre said reasonably.
“Well, yes, but…”
“It has not turned out precisely the way you expected,” the ball purred as it caressed her head.
Reminda sighed, tears glistening in her eyes.
“There are other Elements, my dear, other Elements to fulfill your hopes. But they only can help when you reach out for them.
“I am reaching! How can I find Ereth?”
“Reach higher, deeper. I can’t believe Ereth has been sending all of you signs; he is there for you. You are all so steeped in grief and unhappiness you cannot see what is right in front of your eyes.”
Reminda heart cracked within her chest as she fell to her knees; her pride evaporated like the morning
dew. She felt the warmth of Ozre envelop her, and a knowing heat filled her body. Taking deep, absorbing breaths, she let the feeling a peace wash over her, her soul lifting up. “I can feel you now, Ozre, why?” she asked softly.
“This I can help you with, my dear. You are finally asking the right questions. I am the Element of Earth.” The voice reverberated in her head, and she listened, tears running down her cheeks. “I am the Element of Truth, the direct path of mind to heart. You know me, Reminda. You and the others have just lost your way.”
“Sometimes when you are distracted by nonsense…” A new voice spoke, and Reminda gasped, her hands over her mouth with joy. She rose slowly, turning to see her husband inside the shimmering ball of Ozre, young and handsome, his gaping wound gone.