Hi there, dear potential reader. This story is complete and I will be updating every week or so, if there's even any interest.
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The Princess and the Eternal
"Yeah, I guess I'm not meant for a mind-bond." Shannyn shook her head and moved to get up off the narrow wooden chair she had been sitting in, when her best friend pushed her straight back down. With an unusually serious expression, he stared at her.
She glared at him, annoyed by his tone, annoyed by how he had shoved her back into the stupid chair, but mostly annoyed by the whole freaking procedure she was forced to go through. Shuddering breath passing her lips, she turned away to try and make herself relax a little. There was no use in getting riled up about the inevitable. And if this didn't work, then fine; all the better even. It was not like she wanted to have a mind-bond anyways.
Worrying her lip, she tried to "clear her thoughts," as she had been instructed to do before, staring out the small cabin's large window to her side. This place, this little wooden shed was where the "hopefuls" were brought. She didn't know and didn't care how many places like this existed, she just wanted to be done with it all, leave it all behind, and never see this too cold too stale smelling cabin ever again.
She felt cold and humidity creep into her bones despite the thick walls around her and not even the quietly crackling fire in the small oven somewhere behind her could make her feel a little more comfortable. What little warmth the flames created, she could barely feel it.
Eventually, she turned her attention toward the world outside, sighing quietly as she did.
There was a little pond out there, its surface in turmoil under a downpour of fierce rain, hard drops piercing its surface with such force that she could see the water splashing up.
The world seemed to be drowning, and she found herself holding her breath. She would have preferred getting drenched out there over sitting in the dry cabin, waiting for the impossible to happen. She wished she could feel the rain on her skin, in her hair. She just wanted to be anywhere but here.
She sniffed, absently rubbing a hand under her cold nose before reluctantly averting her gaze yet again and concentrating back on what was happening - or what was supposed to be happening - inside the cabin, while the oblivious rain continued pattering down on the roof above her. She tried hard to focus on the sound, to clear her mind. But it was so difficult.
This was too ridiculous. She really wasn't meant for this, the tryouts. She was not one of the special ones, the chosen ones. It couldn't be.
She was just another young Golden: Shannyn Qian, 20 years old, single, an almost drop out of nursing school, an orphan, and anything but special. Right?
But society didn't care whether you thought you were not eligible or nothing special. They didn't care whether you wanted to try out or not. You had to.
During the obligatory Preparation classes - that she had begun to attend just like all other Golden citizens between the ages of 15 and 20 - she had been told about the chances of being one of the "lucky ones" that would go on to become part of a powerful mind-bond between two people and thus play an important role in the war between their people, the Golden, and their enemy, the Silveren.
Secretly, Shannyn really didn't think of it as "lucky" at all, but of course she couldn't say that out loud. In times of war, patriotism meant everything. And calling the mind-bond business anything other than a fortunate advantage and great chance to help the cause was considered treasonous.
So here she was, finally actively trying her luck at establishing such a link between her mind and that of some random (lucky) bastard out there.
She was getting more and more frustrated, however, because nothing had really prepared her at all for this. What was she even supposed to be doing? She groaned to herself, squeezing her eyes shut, begging the world to just let it be over already. Let her be done and free of this crap.
Why had it even been called Preparation, when nothing she'd learned there had prevented her from being ridiculously, glaringly unprepared in the face of her tryout? She had absolutely no idea how to even try to get her mind to latch onto someone else's.
She harrumphed loudly and opened her eyes. "I can't feel anything," she announced and her best friend Kyle shook his head, eyebrows raised high.
"You gotta concentrate, Shan," he advised her, rather unhelpful, she found.
"I'm trying, Ky," she grumbled, annoyed, but he wasn't having any of it. She felt his light touch on her shoulder, felt his breath against her cheek as he got really close to her, and she shivered involuntarily. If only he knew that he was making it even harder for her that way. But of course she couldn't tell him. (She loved the idiot, oh gosh, she really did...) She chewed on her lip, forcing herself to wipe the unbidden thoughts and feelings away that had started washing over her as soon as she'd felt his touch.
Why couldn't she just get over him already? He'd never - not in a million years - reciprocate her feelings.
"Try harder," he was breathing into her ear, the air tickling her, and she tilted her head a little to evade him. "It can take a while."
Slowly but surely, frustration made room for anger. It was not working. She felt absolutely nothing! She didn't know what she was doing, or what she was even supposed to be doing. Would she just have to sit here forever? Trying and trying until a miracle happened?
"What the hell am I supposed to concentrate on?!" She threw the words at Kyle because she had to get them out. "There's nothing there! I told you!" she yelled, staring at her best friend, but he surprised her with a genuine smile.
"I've been there," he said, kneeling in front of her, looking up, a hand on her knee, "Believe me, I get it." He wagged his eyebrows knowingly, sympathetically, and smiled, then suddenly turned serious again. He took her hands in his, another very un-Kyle thing to do, and she gave him a quizzical look.
"I know this sucks, Shan. If I could give you any pointers, I would, believe me. But it's just not how this works. Otherwise they would have told us in Preparation."
"I know," she muttered, but her frustration was still clouding everything else. She wanted this to be over. "I just don't think I'm meant for this. Maybe I simply don't have it in me..."
She trailed off. Maybe this wasn't working because, deep down, she didn't want it to. Maybe the problem wasn't that she wasn't link-material, maybe the problem was that she didn't want to be… What if anybody found out?
"Give it another try. Another chance. You'll see. I found my link pretty much out of nowhere. Suddenly we both just… felt it."
Shannyn rolled her eyes. Sometimes Kyle and his partner were just a little too saccharine sweet and perfect. They were like soulmates. And the link, that had just been the cherry on top.
She stopped herself right there. Thinking about the two of them together was just not healthy. Given that Kyle was her best friend, she really felt awkward about being so… unhappy and jealous of their relationship. What kind of a friend was she?
"You got this, Shannyn. Come on." He smiled at her obliviously. "I just know you're meant for a link, too."
"Thanks." She glared at him sarcastically, annoyed at his enthusiasm for something she couldn't feel excited about herself. "That helps me so incredibly much."
But she did close her eyes again, listening to him chuckle. Then she wiggled down in her chair to get a little more comfortable. "Alright," she announced, "one last try…"
It was so cold his body had started shaking violently to keep itself warm, to no avail. It was freezing, he was freezing, and it took everything for him to stay on his horse as it was trying desperately to carry him away.
His brain felt fuzzy, his thoughts sluggish, but deep down, he comprehended how dire his situation was, how hopeless. They would soon catch him, and despite his one advantage, he would hardly be able to put up much of a fight in his current state.
Clinging on to the horse with one arm, the other one slack and too heavy hanging down at his side, he put all his last strength into trying to not fall off.
He was no threat to anyone like this. He had only one chance. He needed to evade them somehow, or hide.
With a deep inhalation, he forced his heels into the horse's flanks, making the poor animal accelerate its gallop one last time.
They would never let someone like him live if they caught him. Never.
The bonds were a strange business. Shannyn was highly aware of that. At least Preparation had managed to convey that much. (Which was still pathetically little.)
Nobody knew how and when the first bonds had even been established. It was still a somewhat recent development, a leap, a genetic mutation evading any grasp of research, a rare trait that needed some coaxing to even surface. At some point the bonds had simply been there...
Now they were their one tactical advantage over the Silveren armies with their horrible Eternal Weapons: blazing sword-like protrusions the Silveren soldiers carried on their arms, inflicting never healing wounds. Shannyn had seen their terrible impact first hand. She shivered at the memory, forcing herself to push away the images her mind conjured before they overwhelmed her.
She had enough to worry about.
When you bonded your mind with someone else's, you were bonded to them forever. You shared your thoughts and feelings, you were always in each other's heads, you were never alone, you became one. Mindmates. Soulmates.
Many Golden glorified it, romanticized it. It was something they all talked about. It was a big deal among the young, the schoolers. The ones old enough to be in a relationship or dream of one.
When Shannyn and her friends had talked about boys, and girls, and dating, and future husbands and wives, most of them had hoped to be part of such a bond. They had wished for it, daydreamed about it.
Then, when Kyle had actually gotten what they had all begged for, Shannyn had, for the first time, started to question their dreams. It had all gone downhill from there. Gone were the romantic notions of never having to be alone again and always having somebody who truly understood you, shared even your weirdest thoughts. They had been replaced by something way darker.
What if she could never hide any of her thoughts again? What if she'd get a link-partner and they'd inform the world about her forbidden feelings for one Kyle Mui? What would they think if they saw the pathetic fantasies she'd come up with, where his partner died a terrible death, or merely left him, leaving poor Kyle all alone, with only Shannyn there to pick up the pieces and slowly put him back together?
It sounded terrifying to her. Like she would never have any privacy again. She could be judged for merely thinking stupid things, without even having any intention of doing anything wrong.
But she'd always known this day would come. Once you turned 20 years old, you had to try out for your very own connection. It was something they told you from the moment you were born.
Because the links were their best weapon in the long and gruesome war they had been fighting against their enemies for decades. They were their best way to communicate over long distances, to infiltrate the enemy forces, to spy on them, to always be one step ahead.
It was a blessing and an honor to be part of something so profound. Yet for her it felt more and more like she was dooming herself.
Nothing was decided yet, however. There was still a possibility she was worrying over nothing. Not everyone was link-material, after all. Few people actually were. Maybe Shannyn was not one of them.
Or maybe she was just a passive partner, like Ava, Kyle's partner. He had been the one actively establishing their connection, and she had somehow just known how to accept it, to live with it.
If Shannyn was completely honest, she'd never paid enough attention at Preparation to understand better how it worked. It had seemed too ridiculous, too improbable to her that she would ever end up in a link-relationship anyways. So why care?
But now she was of the right age, the age where your mind "opened itself up" the widest. Even now it still sounded like a fairy tale to her, like something some crazy lunatics had come up with to indoctrinate the masses with a sense of false hope.
Because that's what it was, wasn't it? False hope. From the news she knew that they weren't doing too well in that stupid war. California, Nevada, New Mexico, Mexico, and Arizona had all long fallen to the enemy. Even Washington, Oregon and British Columbia were almost lost. The west was in enemy hands, and no link or bond or whatever you wanted to call it had prevented that from happening.
If it weren't for Kyle and Ava, her closest friends, she would have continued doubting that those links even really existed.
They were somewhat rare, after all, and very highly regarded. But also a little mythical.
Yet here she was, actually trying to open her own damn mind wide and let someone in - or find someone to establish a bond with.
If it worked, she would never be completely alone in her head again. The thought was mind-boggling. Part of her wanted to run from it, far away. But that was not a choice. They would find her, and they didn't take kindly to people that were unwilling to try out and help the Golden empire.
They… Politicians. The military. Dark circles of influential women and men.
Unlike Kyle, Shannyn was no soldier. She didn't know half of it, and she preferred to stay on the sidelines, as far away from the war as possible. If she ended up finding a link-partner, however, that passiveness would all be in the past. She shivered at the thought.
She didn't want to infiltrate the enemy with her potential partner and find out everything about their tactics, or whatever else they would ask of her, make her do...
She didn't even understand why they were fighting anymore. The war was so old, the soldiers so worn out. Did anybody really still know what had started it? And why they couldn't just sit down and end it already?
She huffed, jolting herself back to the present. The rain had not let up.
"Alright," she sighed. "It's not working." She looked over to Kyle and started to hoist herself up and off the chair.
"Come on, Shan. You didn't even give it a chance."
"I did!" She glared at him indignantly, anger bubbling up inside of her. "I don't even know whether I want this at all, Ky. What if the person I - potentially - link up with was a total douche and we wouldn't get along at all, or-"
"Shannyn Qian. Shh." Her friend looked alarmed at her outburst. If anybody else had heard her she could have gotten in trouble…
But she never heard the rest of his words because right then, she felt the most peculiar sensation. A reaching out, a searching, like her mind had grown tendrils of thoughts and emotions, floating out of her, and up. Or down. She couldn't tell, it was so… weird. She made a small gasping noise, clutching the armrest of the chair, slowly letting herself fall back into it. Everything seemed to happen of its own accord. Was this it? Was this what they all had been talking about?
Or was she just going crazy, losing her connection to sanity? She had gotten way too little sleep lately, so that was probably it. This all did rather feel like the spiraling down she sometimes experienced when her mind was falling asleep, but slower than the rest of her body. Surely, she would be jolted back out of it any second.
But that moment never came.
Her eyes were pointed upward toward the roof, her stare blank, unseeing. Until...
… she suddenly "touched" something else, felt her mind connect, a searing, sucking sensation that she wanted to stop.
Her mind was struggling hard. It fought to make a connection to whatever it had encountered, whomever. Shannyn felt like a mere witness, unable to control any of it, she was just somehow there.
She was met with a rather startling and powerful resistance.
"Is this normal?" she asked, panting. She was getting slightly panicky. Small beads of sweat appeared on her forehead, as she felt an uncomfortable heat creep into her body. "This is too difficult. I don't think I can do this. They're… they're fighting so hard!"
"Keep going," she heard Kyle's reassuring voice. Sonorous, calm. He'd always had the power to soothe her, but for some reason it wasn't working so well right now. She was terrified. This did not seem right at all. "You're almost there," he was saying, and she tried hard to concentrate on his words. "Ava wasn't too pleased at first, either. It can be quite disturbing for the passive partner to have somebody enter their mind."
His explanation didn't calm her one bit, rather the opposite.
Shannyn was starting to get positively scared.
Suddenly, there was a new feeling, an intense pain, washing over her. But strangely, she knew that it wasn't hers. It wasn't hers…
She was hurting the other person. "Oh no…" she breathed, and she tried to sever her mind from whoever it had connected with, although she quickly realized that she couldn't. She had no chance but to fight on until the link was properly established, ignoring the other's fight and revulsion.
"Can't I stop this somehow, Ky?" She looked to him for guidance, panicky, barely seeing him. "I don't think this is the right person. Something's wrong. They're really really fighting me…"
She felt his hand on her leg again. She grabbed it, hard. He didn't seem to mind.
"Once your mind has started the process, it can't be reversed. You gotta do everything in your power to work on that connection now, Shannyn. If you don't succeed…"
He trailed off. But he didn't need to say more. She perfectly remembered that lecture during Preparation. There was no going back. If something went wrong and the link didn't get completed, both partners would die.
"I can't do this much longer! How long is this supposed to take?" It was bewildering how taxing it felt. She was physically exhausted, as if she was running the last few miles of a marathon.
"It should be done soon." He still sounded soothing, but she was too distracted to feel it.
"You said Ava didn't like it at first either, but… was she actively struggling?"
Great, his non-reply was answer enough. "Oh gosh, this is so wrong," she hissed, her eyes wide and white. She felt her body start shaking, and she squeezed her eyes shut to focus on her strange task.
"Please, make it stop!" She suddenly yelled as the pain grew and grew, overwhelming her. She clutched Kyle's hand so hard her knuckles turned white and he flinched in pain.
In that moment, a sensation rolled over her like a wave, roaring in her ears louder than the ocean, louder than thunder, or the rain outside, and she slumped over in her chair, losing consciousness as she did.
He was just about to give in to the pull of gravity, letting his body roll off the horse's back and into the harsh snow underneath, not caring anymore whether they were still on his tracks or not, when a searing pain shot through his temples and deep into his brain and he let go of the horse to clutch at his head, thus falling off way harder than planned.
Agony. Worse than the pain in his arm had ever been. This was… What was this?! Death?
He couldn't think clearly. There was a jumble of foreign feeling thoughts and emotions, too many. Too much for him to process.
It needed to stop.
When Shannyn came to, the first thing she saw was Kyle's worried face. "Hey, are you all right?" His voice was a mere whisper, his hand on her arm just a soft touch. She closed her eyes, then opened them again.
Her blurry vision slowly improved and she noticed Ava was now sitting next to Kyle. Their worried expressions made Shannyn smile a small smile. It was good to have them with her now that whatever had happened had happened.
"Yeah," she replied, rubbing her hands over her face wearily, slowly pulling herself into a sitting position from the gurney someone had put her on. "I'm… okay, I guess. What happened?"
"You passed out."
"Thanks, Captain Obvious. I got that much."
It was Ava's turn to speak, her voice as soft and quiet as usual. "Kyle told me about your struggle… your partner put up quite the fight, huh? I mean, I thought I had been resistant when he first 'attacked' my mind, but… this was something else." She chuckled a little awkwardly, then offered a hand to help Shannyn stand. She looked at her curiously, contemplating. "So, who is your partner?"
Shannyn gave her a puzzled frown. She scoffed. "Am I supposed to know that?"
Both Ava and Kyle stared at her then, with frowns of their own. Ava gently touched Shannyn's forehead as if to see whether she had a fever. The gesture was a little too intimate for her liking and she took a step back. Lea let her hand fall awkwardly to the side.
"You should know, yeah." She didn't look at Shannyn.
"Huh." Shan was honestly confused. "I guess it didn't work after all then," she said, but Kyle laughed at her like she was being dense.
"You'd be dead by now if you hadn't succeeded."
Ava made a scolding face at him, then returned her attention to Shannyn. A little gentler, she speculated, "You're probably just not used to the link yet."
But Shannyn wasn't so sure. To her it felt like something had gone wrong. This didn't feel like anything she had been told in Preparation. There was no feeling of completeness. She honestly had no idea who her partner was.
"This is all so wrong." She felt a sob threaten to rise in her throat and bit down hard to stifle it. She didn't want to cry, not in front of Ava, and Kyle...
"Well..." Kyle sighed. "Maybe they are just unconscious, like you were. I'm sure it'll all be fine once they're up," he chirped, always one for taking things lightly. "Welcome to the club, Shan! Let's get you set up. Tomorrow you'll start some basic training on how to use your bond, so you'll soon be able to help us win this war against the freaking Silverscum."
She stared at him. She was starting to feel terribly out of place. Hugging herself for comfort, she dared to ask just one question.
"What do you think I… we will have to do?"
Kyle patted her shoulder lightly, pulling her against his side, a too familiar gesture. Too comfortable. She wished she could just give in to that hug and never let go. She needed him right now, more than ever. Yet she couldn't have him. Not ever…
"One of you might have to infiltrate the Silveren Armies," he started explaining, unaware of her thoughts, and she shivered at the idea.
"What if my partner doesn't want to work with me, though?"
Ava and Kyle both laughed. "That won't happen," Ava assured her, "They might be a bit confused and reluctant at first. But usually that goes away pretty quickly and you two will learn to enjoy being linked. It can be quite the comforting feeling to know that someone is always there for you, just a thought away." The two smiled at her, then at each other. Shannyn could see their love for each other so clearly that she felt a pang of jealousy.
Would she really have that? With someone that was still a total stranger to her?
She wanted that. She really did. But she doubted anyone could ever understand her crooked thoughts and feelings. And she simply didn't want to share everything.
"I hope you're right," she mumbled, then gasped suddenly and grabbed Kyle's arm as something - someone - was stabbing her mind with a single thought.
What the hell did you do? Reverse it! Leave me alone!
The feeling was so strong, she felt like she was going to topple over.
"Shannyn, come on. Are you okay? Is it your link? Shan!" Kyle looked at her, worry in his face. He exchanged a glance with Ava, who shrugged.
Her grip on his arm tightened, but she couldn't say anything. She was too focused on the stranger in her mind.
Reverse what you have done! It boomed in her head.
But… I can't! she yelled, though it was only in her mind, and Kyle and Ava stared at her worriedly while she was in another sphere.
That link, it didn't feel like it was fully formed at all. She could distinctly feel another one's presence, though it was merely touching hers at the edges. They didn't seem to be completely merged at all. This did not feel anything like what she had been told it would.
You have to. The voice in her head - it was a male voice - suddenly sounded so desperate, so weary that it pained her.
It's not possible. I'm so sorry, but… didn't you pay attention in Preparation at all? Once a link is formed, it can't be reversed. We live and we die together.
What the fuck is preparation?
The response came as a shock. She gasped.
What? Are you…
This was not happening. Alarmed, she looked to the other two, who both gave her a puzzled stare, before she turned back to her link partner internally and quietly asked, Who are you?
You are a freaking Golden, aren't you? Then, as if to himself, she heard him say (or think?), Fucking atrocious luck.
Her throat constricted. A horrible feeling of doom washed over her that made her knees weak and wobbly. "Are you not a Golden?"
But her partner never got a chance to reply. Because right then she heard something - it was so close to her ear as if she had been right there - she heard someone yell.
"Lee Mace! Finally... The Golden Army takes you prisoner! - Lieutenant, take his Eternal Weapon away from him!"
The words had barely processed (he had a name...), when Shannyn suddenly felt a searing pain, all the way up to her elbow, before she passed out again.