One moment I'm pinned to the bed helpless and in the next, Konas is flung of off me. He slams into the wall opposite the bed. Keeping my hand held up and my eyes on Rayna, I move slowly to sit up.
The wave inside twirls back and forth over and over again. The longer I keep my hold on Konas the stronger I feel the tide. It's strong, powerful…scary.
"Rayna?" I say, and she smiles at me. She smiles and I forget to breathe. Her figure is hazy, translucent until she takes a step toward me. Then it's like every color and fiber of her being slams into the air around her, solidifying her. Her smile becomes more real and I drop my hand.
Konas hits the ground, hard, and groans. My gaze flickers to him and I feel the wave tugging at me, calling me forward, beconking me and then she speaks. She says my name and my eyes start to water. I turn back to her, forgetting about Konas. It sounds good to hear her voice. I suddenly don't feel so lost.
"Gwyn," she says again, and I take a step toward her. The second before I touch her I'm afraid she won't be real. I'm afraid that I have gone crazy, that this is all a horrible nightmare, and in that one moment, I hope it is. My arms curl around her and pull her close. She laughs and the sound makes me smile.
"How?" I say breathlessly. "How are you here?"
"Gwyn!" Noah calls.
I turn just in time to see Konas swing a sword and I duck. My body reacts and my hand goes up, freezing him in the middle of his next swing. I flex my fingers outward and he sails back into the wall, sending a crack up the middle. He falls to the ground and his sword skitters across the floor, stopping at the feet of the other guard.
Slowly, Louis picks up the weapon. I tense, watching him. He moves carefully to place the sword at my feet. My shoulders straighten and the guard bows his head slightly before backing away.
"Untie, Noah," I say to Louis. As he moves to Noah, I turn back to Rayna. She's smiling, but her expression is grim. She doesn't look nearly as happy to see me as I am to see her.
"I'm sorry, Gwynevere," she says softly. She clasps the gold pendant around her neck before stepping toward me, eyes wide. "This shouldn't have happened. I am so sorry."
"Stop saying that, Rayna," I say, grabbing her hand. "This is my fault."
"I put those thoughts in your head," she says quietly before looking away from me. She touches her forehead lightly and I can tell she's upset. "I should have…I should have explained to you why I wanted to go through with the ceremony. I should have made you understand."
"Stop," I say, eyes narrowing. She isn't going to do this. She is not going to take the blame for this. Not like she did while we were growing up. She can't protect me from this.
Turning, I take in the bewildered, concerned looks on both Noah's and Esther's faces. Esther's still clutching her arm and Noah limps toward me, peeking at me with one eye.
"Gwyn?" he says again. His eyes flicker to where Rayna is standing in back to me. "Gwyn, who are you talking to?"
My eyes narrow, confused and I glance at Rayna. Pointing at her, I look back at Noah. He does his best to shrug, but only ends up with one shoulder rising and a cringe on his face.
"There's no one there, Gwyn."
"Rayna's here," I say. Each of them processes my words differently. Noah looks shocked and his gaze flickers about the room. Esther's eyes still on me. They narrow, darken, and then she scowls.
"Don't say that, Gwyn," she barks. "It isn't funny."
"I'm not joking, Esther," I say, reaching toward Rayna, who clasps her hands with mine. I feel a jolt of power and my expression goes blank before I pull myself back together.
"They can't see me," Rayna says. She takes a small step forward and the gold jewelry on her jingles. Noah flinches and his eyes flash to where Rayna is, and I wonder if he heard her. She reaches out toward him as his gaze lands on me. When she tries to touch his cheek, her fingers glide right through him. My eyes widen.
"Why can I see you then?" I ask her, but before Rayna can answer, Esther steps forward and slaps me in the face with her good hand. My own hand goes to my cheek in response as Noah steps between us.
"Esther!" Rayna scolds, but Esther doesn't hear her. Rayna moves forward toward her elder sister. Rayna's hair is similar to mine, dark brown, long, somewhere between straight and wavy depending on the day. Right now it flows in long waves down her back. Our eyes are similar too. Light brown with hints of green, though Rayna always had more green than me. Her features are delicate and beautiful. She smiles at her sister before looking back at me.
"We're running out of time," Rayna says suddenly. She shakes herself and grabs my hand. "You must protect the city. As long as the castle stands, our people have a chance."
"How do I do that?" I ask.
"Do what?" Noah asks. "What is she saying?"
I look at him, and he smiles softly, almost encouraging. I try not to let it show how surprised I am that he believes me. Esther isn't trying at all to hide her anger as she glares at him. I hold up a finger at him.
"We need to get to your chambers," she says. "The book is in there."
"The book?" I repeat, confused before my eyes narrow even further. "My chambers?"
"The Priestess' chambers."
"Right," I say, sighing.
"Don't you feel it?" Rayna asks, glancing to the back window. It's dark out, but I see flickering lights from the torches around the city. "It's getting closer."
"The darkness?" I ask, and she nods.
"Gwyn?" Noah says, annoyed. "What the fuck is she saying?"
"Mouth," Rayna scolds, and I smirk at Noah.
"We are to get to the Priestess' chambers," I say.
"Fine, let's go," Noah says, stepping forward. His stance shifts dramatically when he looks at Louis. Louis swallows and steps back but keeps a respectful focus on Noah. "Lock Sye Konas up in the dungeon, and inform everyone that he has been stripped of his rank."
"Also, send a healer to the two women downstairs," I say, stepping toward him. He nods, but I grab his arm as he bends toward Konas' unconscious form. "Did you have anything to do with what happened to those women?"
"No, Priestess," he says quickly. "Konas was already…done with them when I brought Sye Noah here." Glancing at Noah, he confirms that Louis is telling the truth. When I nod, he releases a breath.
"Let's go then," I say to Noah and Esther, but Esther shakes her head.
"I'm going to stay with the women downstairs," she says trying to sound light, but her anger never leaves her eyes. "I need to see a healer anyway."
"Fine," I say because I can't deal with her right now. I need Rayna's help and I don't need to be slapped every time I talk to her. Rayna and Noah follow me out the room, down the stairs and outside. Sye Ronan is still guarding the exit. I order two of the guards there to help Louis deal with Konas, send another to fetch a healer, and send the last two to the eastern courtyard.
"Have any riders returned, Sye Ronan?" I ask as we walk quickly through the city. I'm actually impressed at how well everyone listened to the curfew. No one is wandering the streets.
"How long as it been since the darkness fell?" I ask, and Noah gives me a sharp look I don't understand.
"About two phases, Priestess."
Two Phases. It's only been two phases since the world started falling apart. It already feels like an eternity. The riders aren't going to make it far. People in the furthest towns aren't going to know what's happened when the darkness reaches them. It would take four Phases on horseback to make it to my town. It'd be lucky if the riders make it that far.
"Do you think people will stay inside without answers?" I ask no one in particular. Ronan nods his head, Rayna smiles at me, and Noah just takes a deep, very unhelpful, breath.
"What book where you talking about, Rayna?" I ask.
Noah's whole body tenses and he looks around before settling his focus on me.
"Um, I don't know what book you mean, Priestess," Ronan says, and he looks worried as if he might disappointment me.
"I'm not talking to you, Sye Ronan."
He nods quickly, pleased, though the confusion doesn't leave his features. I clench my teeth together to stop myself from sighing and then screaming. We move quickly through the city, and I realize that everyone is just waiting. Waiting to die or waiting for me to…do something. To save them.
Ronan leads us through a side door and into the castle. He mutters something about how a guard should be posted there. We arrive quickly but out of breath at my chamber doors. The moment we open the door I'm bombarded with hundreds of words and questions. Katherin, Dales, and all the others jump toward me when we enter. I hold up my hand to silence them. I look from one to the other before settling on Rayna.
"I would send everyone away," she says softly. "You aren't going to want them to hear what the book says."
Closing my eyes and rubbing my forehead, I try to get myself under control. I can't lose it now. Not yet, not when we could all be dead in a few Phases. Turning slowly to face them, I plaster a huge fake, hopefully comforting smile on my face. I think everyone except for Rayna and Noah buy it.
"I have a plan," I say and most of them look relieved. "I just need some time alone."
"Time alone for what?" Dales asks. Katherin steps forward and her fingers intertwine in front of her.
"To contact…the Gods," I say, and it takes everything I have not to bite my own tongue off. Dales looks like he wants to argue, but Katherin wraps her arm through his and drags him away. "Sye Ronan, please show them to their families."
When I hear the door close and I know I'm finally alone with Rayna, I turn only to see that I'm not alone. "By the Suns, Noah," I snap. "I said I need to be alone."
He leans against the large beautifully carven door and glares at me. "Is Rayna really here?"
I look at her as she stands next to me. "Right here."
Noah steps away from the door quickly and grabs my arms. He shakes me once and glares down at me. "Are you serious?"
"I don't know," I growl. "Now, let go of me!"
He lets go, steps back, and runs his hand over his chin. "Rayna?" he says softly, voice suddenly light and tender. The intimacy in his voice catches me off guard.
"Noah," she whispers, stepping toward him. His gaze bounces around the room and it seems as if he can't pick something to focus on.
"She's here, Noah," I say, and he looks at me, and I've never quite seen that look on his face before. He looks vulnerable, sad…hurt.
Rayna moves toward him and tries to touch his hands, but the same thing as before happens and her fingers glide through his. My heart is tight as I watch Noah search for words.
"Rayna," he says. "I miss you so much. I'm so sorry. I should have fought harder for you."
"No," she says, and instinctively she tries to touch him again. She stamps her foot when she can't and looks at me. "Please tell him that I love him, and that he did the right thing five years ago." I shake my head and I don't even know why. "Please, Gwyn."
"Rayna," I say, and Noah's head snaps up. His blue eyes are deeper than normal. "Rayna says she loves you…and that…that you did the right thing five years ago."
"Gods," he says. "I wish I could hear your voice."
"I wish I could touch you," she says. I bite my lip and roll my eyes, but when she gives me a pleading look, I sigh, giving in.
"She wishes she could touch you," I say, and then shake my head when Noah opens his mouth. "We have time for this later. I need to figure out what or if there is anything I can do."
"The book is in a locked draw under the bed," Rayna says, and I repeat the instructions to Noah who moves to the bed and pulls out a heavy wooden box decorated with five suns. Three are the normal orange, red, and yellow. The other two are silver and blue.
Noah places the box on the bed and tries to pull the cover off, but nothing happens.
"I saw you guys, you know," Rayna says, stepping up to the bed and watching Noah's profile as he tries to open the box. I give her a look and she sighs. "I was here when the Priestess was talking to you and Noah. She was touching him because she knew it would bother me."
I swallow hard and have to look away from her.
"I can't say it didn't hurt to see you guys like that," she says.
I look at her and can see it on her face. I would never in all my years want to see that look on her face. Not on Rayna's. She was the only person in the world that mattered to me after her father passed.
"Rayna," I say and my voice cracks. I feel like I betrayed her. I did. I hurt her. Noah looks up when I say her name. He steps away from the box when he sees the tears in my eyes.
"It's okay," she says, smiling. She follows Noah as he moves to stand in front of me. She hovers her hand over his arm then his shoulder and finally his cheek. I watch her the whole time and Noah watches me. "I know why you tried. It didn't have anything to do with Noah. I get that."
"I'm so sorry," I say, and she shakes her head.
Her gaze flickers to Noah. "Don't tell him."
I look at him. His face is wide, confused and somewhat frustrated as he stares back.
Rayna smiles. "I don't want him to think he has to feel guilty. I am dead after all."
Crossing my arms over my chest, I nod at her then force myself to smile at Noah. "Don't worry," I smirk. "Just girl talk."
He rolls his eyes and huffs, but moves out of my way as I walk over to the box. "There's no lock," he says, "but it won't open."
I run my hand over the lid, tracing each of the suns. I almost feel them burning under my touch. Placing my hands on either side of the lid, I lift it. Noah's mouth parts. Inside, there's a thick book with a dark silver cover and black lettering. I stare at it, suddenly afraid to pick up. Noah moves to step on my right and Rayna moves to my left. Releasing a long breath, I pick it up.
"The Gift of the Five Suns," Rayna reads over my shoulder.
"Priestess handbook," I mutter and she jabs me lightly in my side, causing me to smile. Noah remains quiet as I turn to the first page. "Do I want to read this?" I ask Rayna.
"Probably not," she says, "but you don't really have a choice, Priestess."
Pouting, I place my finger under the first line. "Man does not deserve the light. It is given to them by the Gods through the Priestess. And on the fifth cycle of the orange sun, the Chosen will cross the threshold into everlasting darkness and the gift of light will be renewed. If the Chosen fail, the suns will be lost to the world.
Solan, God of the Orange Sun and leader of the others, created the curse on man when he discovered—"
"Stop," Rayna says, touching my hand. "We need to skip ahead to the protection spell."
"Yes," she says, staring at the book in my hands. "Skip to the back. The Priestess never needed it well because—"
"Because this is the first time the ceremony failed," I finish for her. "It was my fault, Rayna. I stopped the ceremony."
She gives me a sympathetic smile. "I know."
"The Priestess knew that's why you had been brought in," Rayna says, "but she didn't care. She told the king not to worry about it."
I glance up from the book. Noah's leaning against the bed with his arms crossed over his chest. The blankets covering the bed are deep blues with silver trimmings. The pillows are decorated with the suns. My eyes land on the blue and silver one. Rayna steps closer to me and rests her head on my shoulder. I focus on the last page of the book.
The writing here is scribbled, messier than the rest of the book, as if someone had taken the time and preciseness to add it in. I squint to make out the words. "To acquire power, sacrifices are made. The greatest sacrifice one can make is from within."
"No, flip back a few pages," Rayna says. I turn back two pages when she tells me to stop.
The first line sends a chill down my back. "There is no escaping the darkness. Each day will become darker and each night will swallow the next. But those with the power can ward against the darkness for a time.
"For the Priestess to protect, she must stand at the center point and place five fingers in representation of the five suns to the land. If one of the five deems her worthy, she will be able to evade the darkness for a time. One of the five will ask for something in return. It is her place to fulfil the request or suffer the consequences. She cannot escape the darkness, and she cannot escape her duties as Priestess."
"Why can't people ever say exactly what they mean?" Noah groans. "What is the center point? Can you read that again?"
"I know where," Rayna says. "By the fountain there is the drawing of the five suns. Most people overlook it because they think there are only three suns."
"Where are these other two suns?" I ask, ignoring Noah's sigh.
"I don't know," she says. "I've never seen them."
"What are my duties as Priestess?" I ask slowly. Rayna's lips part and my eyes narrow. I know when she isn't telling me everything. "Rayna."
"Flip to the beginning," she says, pointing the book. I do, then she points to the bottom page and reads out loud. "Once darkness touches the world, the Priestess is no longer worthy of protecting it. She must find the light before forfeiting her life."
It wasn't hard finding the five sun carving by the foundation. It is located nearly in the center of the city. Staring at the fountain, I try to drown out everyone's voices. Noah, Dales, and Katherin are arguing about what could happen if I do this. What this is, is still confusing me. The book wasn't really clear. I'm just supposed to place my hand on the ground and then what? Wait for a miracle? Fantastic.
Glancing over my shoulder, I watch Rayna study Noah. Her soft features look sad. She was 16 suns when she was killed. It's clear that wherever she has been in death hasn't aged her. She's still the same girl I remember. She'd only been betrothed to Noah for a year when she was Chosen, but she'd known him for most of her life.
We'd all grown up together. I met Rayna when I was six years old. I'd been at the city orphanage for as long as I could remember. When a family in Rayna's village decided they needed more help on their farm, they took me in. The husband and wife there weren't bad I guess. I just don't think they understand how little a six year old was going to be helpful, but I was the only thing they could afford.
I'd been there for two months and of those two months I'd cried myself to sleep every night. I was lonely, confused, and I missed my friends from the orphanage. The couple who took me in where old, busy, and didn't have time to deal with me.
One day, I went exploring, just for any excuse to get away for a bit. I ended up dirty, hungry, and tired by a creek four farms away. I'd never been that far before. My feet were blistering and I was rinsing them in the cool water when I heard laughing.
I stood up quickly when I heard splashing. Before I could take another step back, two people came into view. They stopped laughing immediately. A boy a couple years older and a girl. Noah and Rayna. though I hadn't known it then.
"Are you okay?" Rayna asked. She took a step forward, but Noah grabbed her hand.
"She could be dangerous, Ray," he said, eyeing. "Look at her."
I glared at him. "You could be a pervert."
His lips parted, shocked, and Rayna laughed. "He kind of is," she said lightly, and he pushed her gently on the shoulder. "Look at your feet," she exclaimed, taking a step toward me. "Sit down. Let us look at them. What have you been doing all day?"
Slowly, I sat down, confused at her tender tone. Most people overlook me whenever I went into town. I was the strange orphan with the big mouth. Children weren't supposed to be so opinionated.
"I was working on the farm," I said, watching her carefully. Noah was standing behind her, holding a strong, not so friendly, gaze on me. My jaw clenched.
"The farm?" she said. "Which one?"
They both gaped and shared a look. "How long have you been there?" Noah asked.
"Two Moons," I said tentatively. I didn't like the look they shared. What was wrong? Were they not supposed to be talking to me? I was suddenly afraid that she'd leave. The boy, I couldn't care less about.
She smiled. "I'm Rayna and this is Noah."
"What a pretty name," she said. I smiled and looked up into the sky. The orange sun was passing its apex. It travels faster than the others and I knew that it'd be dark soon. I stood up.
"I'm sorry," I said. "I have to go. I can't be late."
"Wait," she said, touching my wrist. "Will you meet us back here tomorrow when the red sun is high?"
I paused, debating. "Okay."
She helped me pull on my leather strapped sandals and I hurried away, but not without glancing back at her. She waved as Noah pulled her back down the creek. I hadn't known it then, but the nice couple that had bought me from the orphanage weren't allowed to have children. Apparently, there had been two occasions where they worked two children to death from exhaustion and heat stroke.
I met with Rayna and Noah ten orange sun cycles. We played, laughed, and for the first time in a long time, I had a reason to smile. On the eleventh, there was a tall bearded man waiting for me. He held Rayna's hand in his. They took me home that day. I was only supposed to stay with them until they could find me a new family but somehow I never left.
"What are you thinking about?"
Rayna smiles and it's comforting. I take a deep breath. "I was thinking about how I let all of this happen."
"Don't do that," she says, shaking her head. Her long dark hair ruffles in the light breeze. "Please, Gwyn. You didn't know. I mean for the Suns, Gwyn, I'm the one who put those thoughts in your head."
Tears swell in my eyes and I rub my hands over my face. When I shiver, I glance at my dress. The stupid white, transparent one. I should have changed into something else before we came out here.
"Rayna." I shift my hand over my mouth and refuse to look at her. "Why…why didn't you want to see me?" I pause to give her a chance to say something, but there's just a dead silence that lingers between us. "You saw your sister, you saw Noah, and you even saw the Makensians. But why, why in all of the Suns, did you refuse to see me, Rayna? It was our last chance to say goodbye. The day before the ceremony I came to the city, but I was told you didn't want to see me."
My mouth slams shut and I look at her. Tears stream down her cheeks. She tries wiping them away and catch her breath, but she just gasps and I end up rubbing her arms.
"Because," she says, looking away, "I knew if I saw you, if I talked to you, I wouldn't be able to go through with the ceremony, Gwyn. I know you would have been able to talk me out of it. You're the only one that could have and I couldn't let that happened."
"I would have told," I say, "I would have begged you not to kill yourself."
"And I wouldn't have…and the world would have ended."
"Well," I say, glaring at her, "look where we are, Rayna. You killing yourself was a big fat waste. I screwed up."
"Gwyn?" Noah says, stepping toward us. I wipe my face furiously, trying to get rid of the evidence of my tears. It's probably not going to help me if everyone sees their Priestess crying.
"Yes," I say, trying to make my voice hard.
"We think we should do a little more research," he says, "before you do this."
"Because," he says sternly, "we don't know what's going to happen."
"Fine," I say, and he turns back to motion to the others. I glance at Rayna, and she nods understanding me perfectly. Stepping forward, I bend over and place my five fingers on the small carving of the five suns. The second my fingers touch, a bright blinding light beam shoots up and toward the sky. The red light is so blinding that everything around me blurs out.
Standing up, I glance around but all I see is a bright brilliant red light. The air around me shifts and the light darkens then brightens and a tall, lean man steps out of it. I gasp and take a step back.
He smirks. "Priestess, we need to talk."
My mouth opens and closes because the only thing I can concentrate on is the fact that he's naked.
A/N: Thanks for reading :) I'm having fun with this story!