~Universal Law of Gravitation~
My sister was like a star- bright and burning, filling everywhere she went with light and laughter. So, it came as no surprise really, that when she disappeared there was a hole. Everywhere I went, I saw the places that she should have been. The relative darkness that was there just because she wasn't.
My parents felt it too. They tried to hide it, of course, but every word they spoke and motion they made was false. Even then at twelve, I could tell that. My older brother was the only one who was ever honest with me.
"Where's Lily?" I had asked him, when she had been gone for two days.
Ire shook his head. "We don't know. The council believes that she has run off with the Elder's grandson."
I frowned. "And what does that mean?."
"It means, that they have refused to look for her." Ire closed the book that he was reading. "It means that if we want to find her, we're on our own."
That only raised more questions, but I didn't ask them. I was confused, if the council was suppose to protect us, why would they not want to find Lily?
When Lily had been gone for a week, there came a rumor that she was in the Southlands, beyond the border of land ruled by the council. My parents were eager to go and look for themselves. More than anything, they wanted their daughter back, their star. I, with my mousy brown hair and gray eyes, understood that. I wasn't the star, I was the shadow.
But shadows only exist when there is light. Without Lily, I barely registered.
I wanted her back too. I was starting to see strange things in the darkness she had left behind.
So my parents bundled up the carriage with everything they could, and set out. And they, like Lily, disappeared.
After a year, my brother and I accepted that we would never see them again, and a realization hit: Ire and I were the only two of our clan left. There were seven clans altogether, and ours was on the verge of extinction.
"There is only one way to survive," said Ire, shoving a book into my hands. "Power."
From then on, I immersed myself in my studies. My learning was slow, but steady. Magic had never come naturally to me, and sometimes it felt like I was fighting the inevitable. But this was all about survival. I had learned to become good at that.
Even buried in books there was still thoughts that lingered at the back of my mind. Who exactly was the boy who disappeared with my sister? I knew that he was the Elder's grandson and I knew his name- Hadrian. He was Lily's friend and had visited the house several times. With and without my parent's knowledge.
But beyond that, he was an elusive figure. He was a character in the story who hadn't been fully fleshed out yet. I had no idea if he was the villain or the victim or the witless hero.
I just knew that if I found him, I found my sister.
It was on the eve of my fourteenth year that I discovered the truth. It was nearly twilight and I was rushing home, eager to get there before complete darkness fell. I had been out in the town visiting my godmother. She was a lovely old woman, but she kept pleading for me to live with her in her cottage. I felt a twinge of regret every time that I refused, but I knew that I could not leave Ire alone in the family home.
The ghosts were encroaching already and it took both of us to keep them at bay.
From the corner of my eye, I caught a sliver of movement. Fearing that it was a wild beast, I stopped and readied my wand. I approached the forest, straying from the path. I knew what I was doing was dangerous, but there was something pulling me.
It, I saw, was not a beast, but a person. Now I'm not sure that there's a difference between the two, but back then, there still was. The man- the figure was very clearly male- was wading in the stream. He was back on. The sound of rushing water echoed loudly in the night air. I hoped it would be enough to cover the sound of my footsteps.
There was something oddly familiar about how the man held himself and the broad shape of his shoulders. It wasn't until he reached the opposite bank and turned around that I was sure that I knew him.
He started to speak, and for a moment I thought that he knew he was not alone. His voice grew louder and more rhythmic. He was singing. It was at the sound of his voice that I knew for sure. He sang to my sister all the time.
It was Hadrian.
My mind screeched to a stop at this realization. After nearly two years of searching, and the loss of my parents, Hadrian had just appeared from nowhere. I wondered briefly if he came through town often. If we had overlooked his presence again and again.
I looked to the river that was bubbling peacefully. I knew from experience that the rocks underneath were slippery and hazardous. That a foot positioned at the wrong angle would cause the water to pull you down into its icy depths.
The moment that Hadrian was out of view, I stepped into the water intending to follow him. I did not know where he was going, but I knew that I was not going to return home until I had the answers that I needed.
The journey that I took that night, led me farther and farther away from home. I had never followed anyone before and the experience was not one that I would willingly repeat.
After following him for what must have been hours, I still wasn't sure that I had made the right choice. I had left without telling anyone, leaving no clues to where I had gone. Ire, I thought, must be frantic. It would be worth it, though, if I could find Lily and bring her home. Ire and I were surviving, somehow, but neither of us had lived in years.
I couldn't remember the last time that I had laughed.
Dawn broke out across the sky in brilliant pinks and purples before Hadrian came to a stop. There stood an ancient cottage- the roof was caving in on one side and I could smell the pervading odor of mold even though the wind was blowing in the opposite direction. Hadrian gave his surroundings a quick scan before he entered.
I counted to ten as slowly as I could. When I was finished, I left the cover of the tree from which I hid. I moved cautiously, or in a manner that I had seen my father- an ex-soldier - move. I dropped to my stomach and moved forward, the process was long, but Hadrian was an unknown. A variable. I didn't know what would happen if he saw me, and I wasn't going to risk my life, or my chance of rescuing my sister, on carelessness.
The cottage had only one door and one window. From the glass scattered on the grass outside, I imagined that there used to be a window pane. Now there was nothing covering the opening, nothing to keep the cold and elements at bay.
I pressed my ear against the wood and listened carefully for the sound of voices. It was curious, I couldn't hear anything, not even the sound of breathing. After a night with no sleep, I was weary of which sense I should trust. I removed my wand from the sleeve of my dress rode and clenched it in my hand. I cast a simple detecting spell, hoping that there were no wards that prevented magic. Or worst yet, sensed it.
The tip of my wand glowed pale yellow indicating that there were people nearby, but not in the immediate area. Trusting that the spell was correct, I lifted myself up and chanced a look inside the cottage. It was empty.
I entered and was surprised to find that the door opened soundlessly and without impediment; it was used often. The scent of mold completely disappeared as I took a step inside, and the window was no longer broken. The dilapidated state of the building was an illusion then. There was something here that Hadrian was desperate to hide. High class magic such as this spell didn't come without a cost to the user.
Knowing the Hadrian was eager to hide something, put me on my guard. I gave the room a long scan, but I didn't see anything obvious. There had to be a doorway somewhere- people can't just disappear no matter how much magic they had. They had to be somewhere. They had to be.
Keeping my steps soft, I walked around the apartment picking things up and putting them down again. The walls were bare except for one picture. It was a portrait of the old king who had been assassinated two hundred and forty years ago. He had been considered a tyrant by some, using magic recklessly to further his goals.
He was a personal hero of mine. Not so much for what he did- there were whole villages of people killed because of him- but because it took fifty years before someone was able to stop him with a carefully crafted killing spell. The thing that I admired was that he started off as a poor farm boy and managed to control one of the most powerful countries for over half a century. That was what Ire wanted for us- power that was pervasive and hard to take away.
We had lost nearly everything, and no one was going to take anything from us again.
Behind the picture there was nothing but wall. I should have guessed that finding a hint to where Hadrian had gone was not going to be simple. Surely the spirits were not going to bless me with a easy journey.
Just as I stepped away from the wall, I felt a vibration from the ground. Ah, they were under the floor. I knelt and placed my hands on the wood. This section of the floor was infused with magic; it was subtle and erratic. It was no surprise that I had missed it.
I felt my hands along the boards until I found one that was lose. Working quickly, I pulled away a board. Underneath, there was a gap wide enough to fit a foot though. No person had gone through there. I tried the other boards around it, but they didn't seem that they wanted to move. I was going in the right direction- I had convinced myself of that at the time- but had somehow gotten lost while on the path.
Using my wand I cast a spell, trying to determine the last spell that someone used in the cottage. My wand whispered the words of the enchantment, echoing back the words that Hadrian must have said only a hour ago. From the way that the words were arranged and it's basic structure I inferred that it was a unlocking charm, but as far as I knew unlocking charms only worked on doorways. There was only one doorway here and that didn't even have a lock.
"Power," Ire told me everyday when I studied, "is not all about strength. It is about knowing what your enemy knows in order to achieve the upper hand over them."
There was no going back, I lifted my wand and repeated the enchantment. Several seconds passed and nothing happened. I repeated the phrase, this time giving a slightly different pronouncement to the last word. The floor beneath me grew warm, uncomfortably so. I jumped to my feet to avoid the worst of the heat.
The floorboards on either side of the hole dissolved before my eyes leaving a large square entrance with stairs leading down into the darkness. Instantly, my wand turned bright red- the sensing spell was still in effect- whoever was here was down those stairs.
I entered down carefully. There was no question of what I should do. I had come this far, but a part of me was screaming to go back, that if I went down into that inky blackness I would never return.
And yet, the part of me that didn't fear what I was doing, was in control.
The steps were uneven and slightly damp. I grasped the wall looking for some sort of support to aid me down the stairs. After twenty minutes of careful maneuvering, I had reached the bottom. I let out a sign, thankful be on level ground.
I started to walk forward when I noticed that my eyes were not adjusting themselves to the darkness. There was a concealment charm in effect. Panic gripped me- I was familiar enough with the spell to recognize it, but I had no knowledge of how to dispel it, or otherwise overcome it.
My desperation drove me to cast a concealment charm on myself. It was a low level spell, but it was the only one that I had learned. It would give me some semblance of invisibility and worked fine provided that no one looked directly at me. There was a measure of luck involved that I was not entirely comfortable with.
I walked forward, feeling my way along with use of the wall. The room was narrow- only an arm's width. I could touch the palms of my hands to both walls, if I stretched out my arms.
Suddenly, the darkness broke, and I was temporarily blinded by a flash of white light. The concealment spell must only have been effective near the stairs; it was meant as a deterrent and not an actual barrier. Being able to see made my journey forward progress much quicker. Soon, the hallway branched off into three discrete tunnels. I pointed my wand at each pathway and, at the last, my wand flared a violent red.
Hadrian was down that way, I just knew it. Again, I dropped to my stomach and crawled forward. The tunnel, thankfully, was short and it quickly opened into what was essentially a large underground cavern. There were two people in the room and I recognized them both; it was Hadrian and his uncle, Philip. This was a strange development and I remember that it puzzled me completely. After all, Philip was on the council and had claimed to have no knowledge of his nephew's location.
"We have to stop this," I heard Hadrian say. "It is not in our interest to continue."
Philip gave a humorless laugh. "Dear nephew, we have been working towards this for two years- there is no stopping it."
"You can't do this. I never agreed-"
"Silence- you knew what this would require," Philip said, moving toward a stone alter in the middle of the room. I followed Philip's gaze downward; it was then that I realized that there was a person lying on the stone slab. I recognized her immediately- it was Lily. I was shocked at myself for not noticing her sooner.
Philip reached down a hand and briefly touched my sister's raven black hair. "Don't," Hadrian grabbed Philip's hand and jerked it away from Lily. A wave of relief washed through me. I did not like the way that Philip was looking at my sister, and the way he had smoothed her hair had seemed like a perversion of intimacy.
Philip let out a hallow laugh. "Yes, I can see that you love her very much." Philip took a dagger from his sheath and studied it. "Should you or should I?"
Hadrian pulled out his wand. "If you so much as move your arm, I'll kill you." It was then that I realized that both men were completely distracted with each other and that I would not have a better moment than this. I started to crawl, hopeful that I was still, for the most part, invisible.
As soon as I was underfoot, I raised my wand and cast a stunning spell on the two men. They froze instantly and I stood to feet. "Lily?" I asked, looking down at her ashen face.
"Rosaline? Is that you." Lily gave a ghost of a smile. I had missed that smile. Even now, in this situation, it brightened the room. "I knew that you would come." She closed her eyes again.
"Please, Lily, you have to stay awake. We down have much time." I put my arm under her body and forced her to sit up. "Please," I repeated. "Stand up." I had her to her feet and she managed to stand, though she was a bit unsteady. "Quick."
I glanced at the men, still frozen in their respective positions. Binding spells were something that I had an exceptional talent for and I felt confident that it would last for a while. Though if it would last long enough, of that I was still uncertain.
I managed to get Lily as far as the stairs before I heard the sound of footsteps running behind us. I cursed under my breath. It was far too soon. "Lily, is there anyway that you can walk up the stairs by yourself?" I asked, desperately. Considering that I was the only force that was currently holding her up, I knew that the question was in vain.
I lowered Lily so that she sat on the bottom stair. She rested her head against the wall and once again closed her eyes. My heart nearly broke at the sight- what had they done to make my sister so weak. It was like they were intent on destroying her, but there was no way that I was going to let that happen.
I spun on my feet to face the direction that Hadrian and Philip were coming from. Since I could not see I was relying solely on my ability to hear.
"Don't come closer," I said, pointing my wand forward into the darkness. "I won't hesitate to kill you both."
"Now, now little Rosie. Is that how you address your elders?" Philip's voice cut through my body like a knife. "Now just hand over Lily and I'll let you live. I'll do a forgetting spell and none of this will have ever happened." Suddenly, the darkness evaporated and the hallway glowed with a dull orange light.
"I'm not going to let you kill my sister," I shrieked before I could help myself.
"In case you haven't notice your sister is close to death already. I say that she has about ten minutes to live. More likely less." Throughout the entire exchange Hadrian was silent. My body bubbled over with hatred. How could this man who claimed to love my sister let this happen to her? He was a coward and there was nothing more to it than that.
"The council will have your head for this," I said, mustering as much calm as I could.
"Little Rosie, there is nothing that the council could possibly do to me. Death for me is no longer a possibility," said Philip, his face so distorted that it could hardly be said to be human. "It took two years, but with the help of my dear nephew, I have reached immortality."
"That only works if Lily dies before you," said Hadrian, "otherwise the spell is void."
Philip's mouth stretched into a smirk. "Immortality," he said, like the thought of which was perfectly sane. "Is mine." Philip rose his wand and I responded by raising mine in kind. The rest of the world faded out; it was just me and him, both of us moments away from potential death. And then, unexpectedly, the smile slide from Philip's face and his body slumped to the ground.
The world rushed back in and I was left staring at Hadrian, whose face was so blank that it could have been stone. "What did you do?" I whispered, looking down at Philip's body, a dagger protruding from his back. Instead of responding, Hadrian turned his back to me and started walking away.
I wanted to follow and demand answers, but I had more immediate things to attend to. I rushed back to Lily's side, relieved to find that she was still breathing. "What happened?" I asked. "What did they do to you?"
"I knew you would come," Lily said softly. "I dreamed it." She opened her eyes to look at me with a clouded, unfocused gaze. "Please, Rosaline, let me die."
I sat shocked at my sister's words. A refusal sprang to my lips, but I stopped it from slipping through. There was no way that I was going to lose Lily again, not after everything that I had overcome to save her. I took Lily's hands in mind- they were far too cold- I could feel the blood stagnant in her veins.
It was then I realized that Lily knew that there was nothing that could be done to save her. That her story would not have a happy ending- Hadrian was not her prince and I was not her hero. I laid my head down on her chest and listened to the weak beating of her heart. I think I must have fallen alseep because I can't remember the moment when she died. I'm thankful for that.
I left Lily's body sitting on the staircase: there was no reason to move it. I walked up the stairs, and through the cabin, until I was was once again buried deep within the woods. I knew exactly where I was was going. I have never been more lost.