Aria bounced on her feet. The wedding was only a couple of weeks away, and she was bound with nervous and excited energy. She could barely hold onto it, and nearly caused a ruckus with it. The plans were coming along just fine, but she couldn’t help her nerves. Adding to the kerfuffle, Manuel had been acting very strange. He was distant, barely giving her any attention at all. It wasn’t like him, and it was driving her nuts.
“I mean, do you think he’s cheating or something?” Aria despaired at Zaria.
“No, I think he’s just nervous about the wedding,” Zaria soothed.
“Yes, but he’s locked himself away in his shop, day and night. He’s never home!”
“He’s probably just dealing with the nerves in his own way, by working through it. Everything will be okay,” Zaria pat her sister on her head, and led her to the leather sofa where they sat down. She smiled and held her hands to transfer some calming energy to her sister. She didn’t normally manipulate someone else’s energy, but she thought it would be for the best. Just this one time.
“You’re right. He’s probably just stressed and nervous about the wedding. I just can’t wait! The decorations are coming along and will be amazing. I am so lucky to have such talented friends working on them!”
Zaria welcomed the change in subject, but kept Aria’s remarks about Manuel in the back of her mind. She didn’t know him too well, but he really didn’t seem like the cheating type. She thought there must be something else going on there. But what? She would need to ponder this a little bit longer. “So I see you let the bird stick around.”
“Oh, yes! Buster is wonderful! We’ve just been letting him fly in and out whenever he wants. He seems to like flying around the village. We make a plate for him at the dinner table sometimes.” Aria looked a little embarrassed to say it, but she seemed to really enjoy Buster’s company.
“There’s nothing wrong with treating pets like little fae. It’s good practice for when you have little people of your own.”
Aria flushed, embarrassed. She looked down for a moment and folded her hands in her lap, then smoothing the light blue silk dress she wore. “Yes, I suppose that’s true. It’s funny, we haven’t even talked about children.” She drew her eyebrows together. “I’m sure Manuel will want them, though. He always smiles when the village children run around playing.”
Zaria patted her sister’s knee. “You’ll be a great mother, I know it,” she comforted. “Remember when we were kids and we built that tree house?” She smiled at the memory.
Aria giggled. “It was a castle, that was. We even had turrets. And no boys allowed! Remember our palm fronds we fanned ourselves with?”
Zaria laughed with her sister, feeling good about reminiscing, and effectively changing the subject. When was the last time she had felt so carefree? Having her own cottage in the woods seemed like forever and an age ago. They talked about the adventures they had had, running around in the castle they had made, and zipping through the forest.
On her way back to the clearing to meet Gareth, she thought about her father. He had died protecting his family, handing it off to Gareth. He had made good on his promise to the dying man. She felt safe, but she knew that hard times were coming. There was a war to fight. She had to regain the throne. Would her mother reign? They just had to get rid of Awen. It was vital. She had no idea how to do it though. Zaria was almost to the edge of the clearing when she heard someone call her name.
“Zaria!” She heard again, and turned around, seeing a woman with short black and grey hair waving at her. She squinted, and recognized her from when she had first arrived at the village. She was one of the Elders. She still didn’t know much about them, so she was wary.
“Hello,” she greeted, as she made her way to the older fae. “How are you?”
“I’m doing just fine. How are you, my dear? That’s the more important question. Why don’t you just come over for some tea?”
Zaria nodded her acquiescence at the subtle command and the older lady grabbed her arm, hooking her own through. “Has Gareth been teaching you how to focus your power?”
Zaria opted for caution. “Yes, it’s a work in progress though. I just have so much to learn. I don’t know if I’ll ever get through it all. I have to protect my family when the time comes. I just need to try harder.”
“Yes, that is very important. I’m not worried about your abilities. What we felt was very powerful. Did you know that I’m the one who introduced Sage and Rhea? Sage had been a very old friend of mine. When we heard about Gareth and his near death experience, Sage was the only that could help.” The way that Rishtah sighed, Zaria could tell that she and Sage had been more than friends.
“What was your relationship with him?” Zaria asked.
“Oh, he was a close friend. I had known him since we were kids. We grew up together. I remember when we found out he had the gift for opening up his chi to the universe,” Rishtah said as they approached a lovely house made of cherry oak. They went up the porch stairs and Zaria admired the wood work. It was beautifully carved into various protection spells, and she could feel it when she ran a finger across the wood railing. The energy sang out to her and she smiled, sighing. The more time she spent attuned to the universe, the more comfortable she felt. She was starting to keep a small amount of energy spindled in her mind.
They chattered about nonsensical things as Rishtah prepared the tea. It was a raspberry pomegranate green tea and it smelled wonderful as it steeped in the hot water. The tea pot was a beautiful cream colored ceramic, hand painted with symbols of healing. It had been so long since Zaria had seen symbols of magic created by hand that she didn’t remember what they all meant. Her face reddened as she flushed with embarrassment. Rishtah carefully poured the tea into matching tea cups. Zaria blew on the liquid before putting it to her lips, closing her eyes in bliss as she tasted it. She ran her finger over the healing spell and her tight muscles relaxed.
“So. Zaria.” Zaria was instantly alert at the serious tone of Rishtah’s voice. “How invested are you in our cause?”
Zaria was puzzled. Shouldn’t the answer to this be obvious? “I’m loyal to the Resistance. The queen is evil. I don’t want her to rule my people.”
Rishtah stared intently into Zaria’s eyes for a few moments. “I believe you,” she said finally, leaning back into her chair. “There are some here, who are traitors.”
The image of Gareth’s head popped into her mind, and she pushed it away. Icy cold fear gripped her though, and she shivered before she could stop herself, frowning, her eyebrows furrowing. His trustworthiness had been called into question before, and one mustn’t forget how they met in the first place. She gripped the tea cup and took a sip to try and warm herself up.
“It’s not Gareth,” Rishtah interrupted her thoughts, as though seeing where they had been going. Zaria lifted her head and stared at her, trying to remain poised. She barely knew this woman, and felt like she had to reign in her emotions from showing on her face. Rishtah was watching her carefully, but Zaria didn’t ask who. She felt like she was still being tested.
The standoff ended when Rishtah took a sip of the tea she had sweetened with a lump of sugar and then said, “But it is someone you know. I can’t tell you who it is. When you find out who it is, you will be hurt. There are others who used to work for the queen, and are trying to get away from her shadow. Time will tell if they will be successful.” She poured more tea into Zaria’s cup to warm it, but Zaria’s head was buzzing with these words.
“I’m one of the few people you can absolutely trust. Gareth is another person. You can trust both of us with your life. You’re going to need us. This will not be easy, and failure is a very real possibility. We need to be prepared for it. We need to be prepared for betrayal.”
Zaria remained quiet, processing this. How could Rishtah know who was doing what? She asked, the first time she had spoken in a while.
“I can tell when people are lying. This is an ability I’ve kept from everyone. Very few people know I can do this,” Rishtah answered. “You must not tell anyone, because if the wrong people found out, I would be assassinated. I don’t want to die yet.”
They remained quiet for quite some time, sipping their tea. Zaria looked around the bright and sunshine filled kitchen, wondering if all this would ever end. Why was evil allowed to prevail? The universe, she didn’t care who won. She was passive, but Zaria and Gareth could manipulate her. But, the more she thought about it, the more she thought the queen had an awful secret. Otherwise, how had she won in the first place? Rishtah suddenly leaned forward, grasping Zaria’s hand in both of hers, her gaze intense.
“We need you, Zaria. We need you dearly. You will have people protecting you throughout the battle, but you are the one who can save us. The only one,” Zaria was more than a little afraid, ice slipping into her veins. Not so long ago, she had been living a peaceful life in a little cottage in the woods, with a dog and a garden. Though, it felt like a lifetime ago. She sighed as she stood.
“I’ll try my best,” Zaria whispered, shaking the hand of the older woman. She felt the barrier of the protection spell around the house as she stepped off the porch into the sunlight, knowing now that the spells were very powerful, and the reason Rishtah had wanted her inside. It was protected and away from the prying ears of the village. She warily glanced back towards it before stepping towards the clearing. She couldn’t trust any of them, with their laughter and pleasant smiles. She felt cold, even in the rays of the sun. She hurried towards Gareth’s protection bubble, worried.
Gareth was already there, and she had to stop herself from rushing into his arms. She had to be strong. She steeled herself as they fell into warm up poses. Her legs were spread out, one in front and one behind, as she raised her arms up toward the sky, palms pressed together. She slowly opened her arms up to the universe, and allowed the energy to flow into her mind. She almost screamed with the power, but she gritted her teeth. She forced herself to breathe, the power making her feel light headed. She had to do this. She swallowed the power and energy until she could feel it in every cell, in every atom of her being. The energy was hot and wild, bouncing around inside of her, looking for a release. She felt like she could create planets, born from the nebula she carried inside her. Slamming her palms back together, she released the energy back out to the stars with a shove. She fell to her knees as tears flowed from her eyes. How could anyone use this for evil? It was beautiful, and it was pure. She felt Gareth’s arms around her, but she didn’t hear what he was saying. It was almost too much. Everything was almost too much for her to handle. She wondered if she would be able to handle this. What would happen to her when this was all over?
“I’m fine,” she breathed to Gareth, and wiped her eyes. She would be fine, she had to be. She had to make sure her people would be fine. Better than fine. The fae had to thrive. She was sick of seeing the world destroyed. She took a breath and resumed a different pose, this time with her feet shoulder width apart, her palms held together. She imagined a mass of energy in her hands, and she grew it as her hands drew apart. Zaria shrunk it by pressing her palms slowly together again, spindling more and more energy into her head. She could hear Gareth’s careful coaching in the background, but she almost felt like she knew what she was doing without him. It seemed to come naturally to her, as though she were truly one with the universe. She knew, though, that Gareth would have to pick up the pieces that would become her once this was all over. This was going to break her.