Black Bird

I remember floating in a vast emptiness, lost to the world.

It’s difficult to describe what it’s like to be surrounded by a kaleidoscope of raw, iridescence power. The feeling of being enveloped in ethereal waters was a foreign sensation, something beyond my ability to recall accurately. Sometimes, when I’m by myself, I try to return to that place. I try to bring it back into my mind. In the end, though?

I think I’d be better off trying to memorize the capitals of the country’s nations, their rulers, and their emblems. I can’t figure out how it happened. The sudden, unwelcome thought of the foreign dignitaries triggered it. I couldn’t be surer, not in this.

The Princess’s tutors trained me well.

I’m worried, though. Princess Cia wants to marry the leader of our incoming guests. She wants to seduce him, bind his affections through trickery. I understand the thoughts behind this. This castle will fall if we do not secure their alliance, but is this the way to do it?

It’s possible the stress of this convention might have sparked the shift I felt. How long has it been since I’ve gotten a proper night of sleep? Two or three nights? Maybe a week, if the way I feel is any indicator. I tried to do what I always do when I’m worried, though I have had little luck of late.

Now I can only think on what occurred before the shift happened: I had gone to pray in silence this morning, hoping the lack of others would make it easier to expel my worries and refresh my mind. The gods have a way of answering our prayers. I had gone, I had relinquished everything and I had settled in my inner peace. 

One moment I was kneeling in prayer, alone in the chapel, and the next…

The next moment, I was in Spira Rea.


Terra paused, the tip of her quill hovering above the white parchment. She eyed the entry critically as she leaned back, the quill placed aside as she ran leaned away from the table with a sigh. The lamp to her left flickered, the light chasing away the darkness. She was standing when the door to her room flew open, a young girl with flowing brown hair tearing through the doorway with a happy scream.

“Thank God you’re awake!” Terra laughed as the younger girl’s arms wound around her body. Settling her hands on the smaller girl’s shoulders, Terra ran her thumbs along the unblemished skin of the girl’s neck as she said, “Good morning to you, Princess. Did you sleep well?”

“No, no I did not,” Princess Cia squeezed once more before hopping away, green eyes alive with an inner flame. The girl bounced on her heels, grinning ear-to-ear as she spun around to face her once more before continuing, “They’ll be here tomorrow night, Ra! I can’t wait. We have to go to town!”

Terra grabbed her cloak, knowing there was no use in trying to talk the younger girl out of this. Cia ran ahead, greeting other ladies of the court. Terra bowed her head in greeting, smiling as each wished her a good morning by name. Cia looked over her shoulder as she said, “Is there anyone who doesn’t know you, Ra?”

Terra held the door open for her, the two leaving the confines of the castle. “I made it my job to know everyone here, Princess. Yourself included.”

“Only because you were made my playmate when I was a little girl,” Cia fell into step at her side, arms swinging as she added, “A good thing, too. I don’t think I’d have liked any other girl being my constant, steadfast companion. We’ll always be together!”

They kept to the path leading to the town, their laughing carrying upon the cool morning breeze as their cheeks reddened from the biting chill. Terra folded her arms within her sleeves, gaze shifting to the rosy-cheeked girl next to her. Princess Cia was a bundle of excited energy, the younger girl already going over all the details she knew about the oncoming War Party advancing on their city.

“You’re enamored with the thought of marrying a man you don’t know,” Terra pointed out as they made their way into the market. Cia hummed in agreement, a sly gleam shining in her eyes as she answered, “Of course I am, Ra! Baskara Zoric isn’t just man, either. He’s a legend among the warriors. A force of nature!”

“You wouldn’t be the first to tell me this,” Terra eyed their surroundings, nodding to the guards in greeting. Several smiled as they passed. Terra turned her attention back to her charge, voice light as she said, “I am curious as to why you are so intent on being his wife when you do not know him. He is a warlord. They are not known for their kindness.”

“He will love me,” Cia gestured to the shop they were getting ready to enter, eyes bright as a mischievous smile spread across her face. “He’ll have to, once the spell’s in place. As the princess of this land, it is my duty to ensure the safety of my people no matter the cost to myself. And I have you, Ra. You’ll make sure everything goes perfectly.”

“Don’t I always?”

“Always,” Cia slowed as they came to rest before the unnamed shop, the two of them staring at the open door. Terra placed her hand on the princess’s lower back, guiding her through the threshold silently. As they stepped over the boundary, a wave on incense flooded her senses and Cia sneezed. The younger girl rubbed her nose as she said, “I hope the scents and smoke are necessary. God, I have to sneeze again!”

Before Terra could respond, a low, soft laugh echoed. Terra looked up to see a gypsy woman parting the strands of a beaded curtain, her long hair flowing around her body as she said, “The incense is an offering and our wishes, and prayers, are sent skyward to the Elder Ones. I take it that you’re here for a love potion?”

“How did you—”

“Oh, I know many things,” the woman said as she came closer. Behind her was a man, short, wavy hair grazing his jawline as he walked, bare-chested, into the room. He offered them both a sharp, flirtatious smile before making his way towards the shelves.

The woman shook her head, voice low as she said, “Everyone comes here for a reason. I am often forewarned. Come, let us start.”

“What is your name, Gypsy Woman,” Terra caught this woman’s gaze, silence dragging between them, and then there was a smile. The other offered her hand, voice even as she said, “You may call me Celine. That is my brother Roman. You are Terra and the young lady is Princess Cia. Come. If this spell is to work, we don’t have a great deal of time on our hands. Come, this way.”

Terra followed wordlessly. Had Cia already had someone else come and tell the woman, Celine, they were coming? A quick glance at her young charge told her that, no, she did not have someone come and tell this gypsy they were on their way. Cia’s eyes were wide as she stared forward into the smoke, one hand up and covering her nose.

In the back of the room, a cauldron rested at the center of open, spacious chamber. Terra spied dozens of burning candles covering every shelf, many seemingly melting into the tables and growing out of the walls. Incense cones swayed on hanging mediums, bells chiming with every sweeping movement. Celine cleared her throat, drawing Terra’s eyes as she gestured them to sit before the cauldron on a mound of large pillows.

Terra helped Cia sit before lowering herself to a large, impossibly soft pillow. She ran her hand over the soft fabric, marveling at the texture as it caressed her calloused fingertips. Celine and her brother sat across from them. It was Roman who spoke, his hand offered to them. Cia placed one hand in his. Terra hesitated as he said, “Before any potion is made, I always do a reading. Please, milady, lay your hand in mine.”

Cia took one of her hands, squeezing it as Terra slowly gave Roman her other. The man’s fingers closed around hers, soft and dry and warm. A sense of calm settled, a warm blanket of energy draping her body as her eyes closed. As she breathed, awed by the sensations washing over her, she heard Roman say, “Relax, ladies. Let your minds ease, let your thoughts drift away, leave your souls open. You are safe here…”

His words began to fade as the faint whisper of music rose. She could smell a bonfire roaring, the scent of cooking food and ink. Laughter and drums echoed, steadily beating as she relaxed into the dream sweeping over her body. There were children, small and blurry yet squealing with laughter.

Terra opened her eyes to see wide, sprawling grounds and a few trees. She was wearing a robe, the top parted and showing the slightest curve of her breasts. A sash danced in the wind at her side, bells ringing from where they were tied about her waist. Overhead, a black bird cawed and circled before diving.

Then she saw them, the children. They were blurry little things, one wearing billowing pants and a robe-like top. The girl wore a robe herself, the hem of it stopping just over her knees as she chased after what Terra realized was the little girl’s brother. An older child – a boy, she realized – was sitting off to the side, on the wrap-around porch of the oddest building she had ever seen.

Behind him, a man.

As this man turned, his gaze rising to hers, a voice whispered, “…you are safe. Inhale, feel your thoughts and mind. Find the line between yourself and your spirit, feel it pulse…”

Terra felt it, at the gentle prompt of the speaker. A silver chain wrapped around her wrist and arm, each link cool and silky against her skin. She turned her arm, feeling the weight settle into her palm. Closing her fingers around the chain, she lifted her gaze to see burning buildings, a castle on fire, soldiers firing arrows—

—A hand grabbed her and the vision vanished suddenly. “Terra!”

Terra gasped as her hand clenched around a rope, the fabric coiled around her hand as she sagged to the side. Screams echoed in her ears, the edges of her vision pulsing from a burning courtyard to an open, foreign home to the shop and back again. She bowed, eyes clenched shut and forehead against her knees.

Terra shuddered as she picked up the scent of burning wood and burnt skin. Cia was at her side, rubbing her back and talking to her. Terra couldn’t understand a word coming out of the young girl’s mouth. All she could hear was the resounding echo of a bell, the whistle of flaming arrows in the sky, laughing children, baking bread —

“Let her breath!” Another set of hands were grabbing her by the shoulders, hauling her into an upright position. Something cool and hard pressed against her lips, her mouth opening without her bidding. Chilled liquid flowed across her tongue, bursting with flavor and energy. Terra swallowed gratefully as she heard Celine murmur, “What happened, Roman?”

“A vision,” he whispered, his voice unnaturally loud to Terra’s ringing ears. She felt his hand on the back of her neck, warm fingers kneading the muscles there as he said, “She went in deeper than I thought she would. She was seeing, Celine. A warning was issued…”

Celine her head back, instructing her to keep her eyes shut when she tried to look between the two of them. A wet, steaming cloth passed over her brow and eyes, the water gliding down her cheeks as Roman said, “I’m certain of it. It isn’t good to try and tempt the Fates, sister mine. Any spell is better than the Siren’s Call in this matter.”

Terra tilted her head to the side as Cia asked, “What do you mean, she was seeing? Why a different spell? Ra, did you hear something too? All I heard was music and my father’s laughter. I think I might have heard the song my mom sang to me when I was little, but it was difficult to pick out. How did she see something?”

“Sometimes, if a person is sensitive to the arcane, a reading can draw them into what we call a Saeva,” Celine was lighting more incense, the pinpoint of the burning stick a wild fire to Terra’s eyes. The gypsy waved the thin sticks through the air as Roman muttered what distinctly sounded like prayers. Terra took the water offered, sipping on it as Celine continued, “Saeva is my people’s word for ‘Spirit Visions,’ where the spirits of the world give us messages and visions of something to come.”

“Does this have something to do with the spell we’ll be doing?”

“It’s possible,” Celine paused, then. Terra focused on her breathing, eyes closed and brow furrowed. She could still hear the children laughing, hear the sound of music and the scent of baking bread. Her mouth watered. She took another sip of her water as the gypsy said, “Love spells have the potential to be volatile. A spell’s power depends on the one casting it, the one who is a part of the potion and the one who is the target of the spell in question. However, given the fact your servant was drawn deeper, I am inclined to agree with my brother. Using the Siren’s Call isn’t a good idea.”

Terra blinked, her gaze shifting to her charge. Cia was frowning, cheeks flushed. Then the princess turned, looking at her as she said, “What do you think, Ra? Do you think we should forget all of this and go back to the castle?”

Taking another sip, mouth still parched, Terra murmured, “This decision is yours. I have no experience with magic, Cia.”

“What did you see?”

“That,” Terra frowned, thinking back to the odd vision that had occurred. She slowly related the two opposing sides. She spoke of laughing children and what looked like a foreign compound. A household, of a sort. Then she spoke of the castle, of the fire and the destruction. After a moment, she continued, “I don’t know if it is a response to what will happen if we use a spell. I can’t see how using such a thing can cause either outcome, if either of them are truths and not some side-effect to…whatever that was.”

Cia seemed uncertain. Terra turned to the siblings, voice even as she said, “As many times as you have done this, has anything ill ever come out of your work?”

“No, of course not!” Celine puffed up, eyes narrowing as she sat up straight. She tossed her hair over her shoulder as she said, “Our work is done with care. Love spells are powerful, yes. All spells are. The spells I have for this convention of yours have been picked out with care. Nothing damaging, only something to push this man into doing what you want him to do. It is powerful, I assure you of that.”

“How strong?”

“Strong enough to last through the convention and these foreigners return home,” Celine gestured to the cauldron as she rose to her feet. She grabbed another incense stick, lighting it as she said, “For the alliance to stick, the spell will have to behave as if the attraction is natural. It will have to set in, gently. Once these people leave, whatever attachments formed will lessen. If she does marry this man and travel to his home, the spell will continue for some time. For it to work indifferently, however, requires you to be willing to sacrifice everything. It will require commitment.”

“Then let’s do it,” Cia put both palms on the ground, voice strong as she said, “It is my God-given duty to defend this land and its people. If I have to use magic to get it done, then so be it! If Ra’s vision is any indication of not using the spell, the vision of fire is the result. To protect our lands, sometimes underhanded methods are all we got.”

Terra closed her eyes, clearing her mind before saying, “Then let us proceed, Celine.”

“Very well,” Celine went about the chamber, gathering herbs and flowers and other clear containers containing liquids Terra didn’t want to guess at. She was mixing it all into the cauldron, Roman at her side, as she said, “There is an incantation that must be used. I and Roman will speak first. The two of you will speak after me. I’ll need something of yours for this to work.”

“Like what?” Cia rose to her feet after Terra, the two of them stepping closer to the two as she asked, “Like blood or tears? Or hair?”

“Blood, tears or hair would cause a different effect than what we want,” Celine threw in some herbs, stirring it in as she continued, “An object you are associated with is what we need. A piece of clothing, jewelry, something you have written. These are things you have left an imprint in, something that isn’t as binding as blood or hair.”

Celine paused and then smiled. “That bracelet of yours is a good example. It is worn from use. That alone would suffice for what we intend to do.”

Cia placed her hand over the bracelet, eyes wide. “Ra gave this to me!”

Terra eyed the small bracelet, the beads worn and chipped. She placed a hand on the girl’s shoulder as she murmured, “It’s okay, Princess. I’m almost done with a few new ones. You can have one or two of those if you’d like.”

“The ones with the stones?”

“That one has stones, too.”

“The new ones are blue stones,” Cia seemed ready to jump out of her seat, her eyes wide as she continued, “The ones on this are almost dead, anyway. I’d rather retire it to keep us all safe than let it waste away in a little box.”

“Then let us proceed,” Celine said, breaking through the conversation.

She held her hand out and, after a moment, Cia dropped the worn, frayed bracelet into the palm of her hand. Celine broke the bracelet, dropping one bead after another into the water. The gypsy held on the frayed rope in her hands, black and white, needle thin hairs unraveling above the cauldron. As smoke billowed upward, Celine began to chant.

Terra exhaled, repeating the words with Cia.

“Blood-Stained Lord, Come And Play
Within My Heart, You Will Always Stay
Near And Far, I Attract Them All
Short And Fast, Lean And Tall
Lords And Men Of Every Race
Of Every Learning, Every Faith
Overcome By Willful Desire
Only I Can Quench Your Raging Fire
Now With The Siren’s Everlasting Song
Bring My Admirer, Never Will He Be Gone”

Terra watched as a soft, glittering smoke whirled around the cauldron. It lazily rose from the contents within the cauldron, swirling through the air in misty, cloud-like spirals. It was silent as the gypsy worked. Terra watched the light-colored liquid bubble, heard it sing as it began to glow.

As Celine finished, she tapped the spoon on the side of the cauldron three times. She then scooped out the amethyst-colored liquid, carefully pouring the shimmering liquid into a small, glass vial, Celine turned to them, eyes hard and face unsmiling.

“The power within this vial is infinite, the possibilities endless,” Celine handed the vial to Cia, closing the princess’s fingers around the glass container. Terra watched the two of them, her gaze shifting to the seemingly innocent vial resting in the princess’s hand. “Put this potion in his drink. For him to fall in love with you, he must drink it and kiss you.”

“He has to kiss me?” Cia asked, eyes wide.

“Yes,” Celine smiled, brushing a strand of hair out of the princess’s face. “It won’t be too hard. Once he drinks it, he’ll steadily become interested in you. Your bracelet will see to that. It is connected to you, empowered by your energy. He will find himself interested.”

Terra doubted it would be so simple. They all rose to their feet, stretching and shaking off the stiffness filling their limbs. Terra ran a hand through her hair, the thick, black tresses catching around her fingers as Cia cradled the vial like it was a priceless heirloom.

Celine showed them to the door, pausing them at the threshold as she said, “One last thing, Princess. These potions don’t always work the way you want them to. Once this potion is consumed, there will be no way to reverse the effects. It must run its course. I advise you to remember that.”

They left, then. The door to Celine’s shop shut without a sound, the building as gone as non-existent. Terra smoothed out the creases in her dress, inhaling clear air with a happy smile. As they made their way back to the castle, Cia asked, “What is the purpose of rhymes, anyway?”

The princess turned, walking backward as she continued, “I doubt a spell has to rhyme to work, Ra, so why does it have to be so pretty sounding?”

“I’ve already said I know little about magic, Princess,” Terra smiled down at the younger girl, watching as the pout sprang up. Cia turned on her heel, marching ahead of her as she said, “Well, all things considered, things are looking up. Even if you don’t know anything about magic, we have the chance on making sure everything falls into place.”

“You’re certain of that?”

Cia looked at her for a moment, then nodded. “Yes, I am. By the end of this convention, I will be married. I will sacrifice my own happiness and save us all.”

Sacrifice.

Terra mused over the word as they made their way into the castle courtyard, a sense of unease coiling in her stomach as a flock of jet-black, large birds flew overhead. She watched them pass, their massive forms elegantly circling the city’s walls. As she guided Cia inside, she felt the heat and smelled smoke. As she closed the doors, blocking the outside from their sights, Terra knew only one thing with certainty:

If they weren’t careful, the kingdom would burn.

 

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