The planet of Anané, the kingdom of Pharel, 3057
Ten year-old Prince Keir found himself, once again, in a troubling situation. There was a red-headed woman kneeling before him, her two squirming children making a racket that echoed through the barren metal walls of his throne room. He could hear her speak, but he wasn't listening.
"The fact of the matter is," he interrupted her, "is that you are a Saphma. I know you are. I can see it in your eyes. They are violet…and your hair, red as flame. I also realize that there is nothing you can do about it, being one of them…but who is this newborn child I see in your arms, her face resembling your features?" The prince's cerulean eyes were like a beam of ice, his white-gold hair flinging in front of his face like spun golden wheat. His white hands gripped the sides of his throne in repulsion.
"This…this is my child, your Highness…this is Rebekah. And the elder is Mary."
"Rebekah? Mary?" The child prince was confused. "Where have I heard such names before? Or is it just more Saphmatism?"
The poor woman refused to lift her head, her heart throbbing in her chest and her daughters at her side, huddled to their mother in torn rags. "They are…they are from the Holy Christian Bible, your Highness."
"The Bible?!" Prince Keir rang out, slamming his fist to his armrest. "I won't have this! This is Saphmatism, you stupid wench! First you go out and conceive yet another horrid Saphma, and then you name her after some ridiculous person in your stupid Holy Bible! I won't take it any more!" He snapped his fingers, beckoning two well-sheathed guards to come to his side. "Find out where this woman and her children live." He looked down at the poor woman, her head shaking and her red hair tumbling to her sides. "Burn it."
"Yes, your Highness." The guards bowed and exited the palace.
"I hope you have learned your lesson," Keir looked at the three impoverished souls, and shooed them away with a flick of his silver-gloved wrist.
"But, but your Majesty…my children will die! They will die, your Majesty!"
"So be it!"
"Cannot anything be done? Wouldn't they be of help to you in some way?" The poor woman's hands were clasped so tightly her knuckles were turning white, and the prince couldn't help but feel pity as he looked into Rebekah and Mary's deep lavender eyes, brimming with tears.
"I shall take them in, out of the goodness of my heart. They will become slaves. And I refuse to bring them up as Saphmas. They will be of the proper Davore religion, do you understand? And those names! Those ridiculous names! They will have to be changed to something halfway decent!"
"But they are Saphma!" the woman cried. "They will never be Davore! Never!"
"Yes, they will! I shall see to it! And for speaking so to me, conceiving another Saphma, and showing ungratefulness, you will now see to your execution!" Prince Keir snapped his fingers again, and two more guards showed up, their hands gripped tightly on the destitute Saphma woman's arms, leading her out the palace doors.
"Mary! Mary! Take good care of your sister! And never forget the Bible! Never forget your names, Rebekah and Mary! Never forget that there is a God!" Mary, who was only six years old, blinked and nodded her head, her red curls flouncing up and down.
"Goodbye, Mommy," she whispered.
The heavy metal doors slammed behind her, leaving an echo that bounced off the walls. The young prince smirked and stepped off of his pedestal, his heels clicking on the silver chrome floor. "It is much too bad your mother underestimated my power, little Saphmas," he stated to the two girls, Mary cradling Rebekah in her arms. "From now on, you will obey my rules. You will be converted to Davore, meaning no more God, no more Earth, no more spiritual beliefs or Holy Bible. Do you understand?"
Mary, too frightened to object, nodded her head.
"Good. I will see to it that you both are treated fairly, as you have done nothing to defy me. You will serve your prince now."
Mary blinked her large, violet eyes and followed Prince Keir to the slave quarters. He stopped at the doors and directed Mary to enter them. He thrust his head through the door. "Nyx! Nyx!" he cried, beckoning a ravishingly beautiful but dingy young girl of about thirteen, cloaked in a red handmaiden's uniform. "Nyx, these are two Saphma children who have come to be slaves. Their mother is being executed. Give them good Davorian names, and make sure they don't get into trouble." Nyx nodded, and took Mary by the arm.
"Come now, we'll be needing you in the kitchen," she instructed.
"What about my mother?" Mary asked her, frightened. "Why was she dragged away? What is that word the prince said?"
Nyx kneeled down and grabbed Mary's hand. "What's your name, dear?"
"Why did Prince Keir want a different name for you?"
"Mary is the name of the lady in the Bible. The prince called my name a Saphmatist name. I don't know what that is."
Nyx, although just a thirteen year-old handmaiden, was wise beyond her years. She led Mary and the crying Rebekah to the corner of the bustling palace kitchen, and set them on a cushioned bench, cradling Rebekah in her arms. "I'll explain it to you. A Saphma is an Earth descendant. Earth…I'm not sure if it still exists…was a small blue planet not very far from here, from our planet, Anané. Are you getting this so far?"
"All right, good. Well, one day, a very long time ago…perhaps a thousand years, a spacecraft landed on our planet Anané, and it had come from that blue planet called Earth. The people inside the planet looked very much like the Arinians. I believe the aliens from Earth called us all "human beings". Well, the spacecraft they brought with us was filled with various objects…like guns, and Bibles, and history textbooks, and different items of unnecessary technology. Believing that the Earth people who traveled here were evil, the King of that time demanded all twelve of them be killed immediately."
"Why did he think the Earth people were bad?" Mary asked.
"I don't know. They never taught us that. I just knew that the King was bad…like, like Prince Keir is bad. But he ordered them all killed. And only one escaped. She was a woman…I quite forget her name, it was something odd and interesting, like 'Sarah'. This Sarah woman was a very bold person, and very clever to escape the King like that, and she took her Bibles and preached her beliefs to whomever she could find."
"What did Sarah look like?"
"I believe she was very pretty…but the strange thing about her was she had flame-colored hair. Much like yours. No one on this planet ever had such hair. Everyone's was either silver, or white, or gold." Nyx touched her own white-blonde hair in distaste. "Some of the Earth people on the spacecraft had gold hair like we do, and one had even silver hair…I can't remember much of it, I learnt it all so very long ago. But Sarah ran off and had children, all with the same colored hair that she had, and it quickly spread." Nyx shook her head, saddening. "It was only about three years after she escaped that the King hunted her down, and killed her."
"Are you saying that Sarah is related to me?" Mary asked in awe.
"I do believe she is. There is no one I know of with hair quite like that, or quite like your sister's." Nyx looked amazed at her own story and stared at the ceiling. "I believe your mother found Sarah's Bible to be quite true. And although I myself am not a Saphma, I refuse to be called a Davore believer, either."
"Then, what are you?" Mary sat next to her on the bench, and patted Rebekah's short red curls.
"I don't think I'm anything."
"What is a Davore?"
"Someone who believes in mythical creatures called Mylak, which I think is perfectly ridiculous. The Davorian beliefs are that there are certain Mylak god creatures for each of the elements, and for rock and ice and weather." Nyx sighed, twirling her limp blonde hair in her fingers. "My mother named me after the Creator of Trees, Nyx…a supposed little wood pixie that spreads tree sapling seeds throughout the woods with the touch of her feet."
"That's odd. Mother always said the trees were made by God, who said, 'Let the Earth bring forth grass, the herb that yields seed, and the fruit tree that yields fruit according to its kind, whose seed is in itself, and on the Earth.'"
"That's quite complex for a little girl like you to know." Nyx was astonished.
"Mother taught it all to me. She says a man named Genesis brought it about."
"Well, I'm quite impressed, but I suppose it's time to give you both new names, since that's what his Highness instructed." Nyx sighed deeply. "I do believe this whole system is completely unfair…but besides that…what do you like best, Mary? What is your favorite form of nature in this whole world?"
"I like flowers."
"So do I." Nyx smiled. "My own mother told me that the Creator of Flowers was another pixie…a pixie named Philantha. Do you like that?"
Mary nodded shyly. "I like Mary better though."
"I know you do. But you must understand…you can't be a Saphma anymore, the prince forbids it. It's either that or your life."
"What about Rebekah? She likes the river by our house."
"Does she? Well, that's unfortunate, the Creator of Rivers is male." Nyx gave a high, twinkling laugh. She even sounded like a pixie. "How would you like Creator of Streams better? I do believe that was a giantess by the name of Rea. Such a pretty name, isn't that? I have a friend by that name."
Mary nodded, her hopes rising.
"Remember, you are Philantha now."
And so their mother and their beliefs were soon forgotten.
The planet of Anané, the kingdom of Pharel, 3064
Philantha dressed in dirty frocks and her sister Rea helped her make the Prince's evening meals. Sometimes, after her chores were done, she'd fold up her apron and run upstairs to her, her sister's, and her friend Nyx's sleeping quarters, a dingy loft at the top of the long, winding stairway, just so she could slip through the trapdoor at the foot of Rea's bed.
Yes, a trapdoor there was. It was small, barely big enough for her to squeeze through, and it had a brass handle that could be led to the downstairs basement.
"Rea, I'm going to the trapdoor," she told her sister. In all actuality, she whispered it, so the nosy kitchen cooks wouldn't suspect anything. Rea handed her a small white candle from her aprons and told her to hurry.
Philantha had turned into a beautiful girl in the six years since she had come to the palace. She had luxurious, thick red hair that fell past her waist, a trait she and her sister had that was much different from anyone else's. And while the kitchen cooks prayed to the Creators of This, and the Creators of That, Philantha always thought that there was a Higher Being other than the Creators. But being a good Davore, she pretended she believed what they were talking about and pretended to feel honored when someone blessed her in the name of one of the Davorian Creators.
She never could remember what had happened to her mother. Nyx refused to tell her, for some reason. "If I told you, it would make you hate the person who did it to her. Which wouldn't be good, seeing that his power is so much greater than yours."
"His power?" Philantha cried. "Whoever killed my mother has that much power?" She had always believed that maybe she had fallen ill, or been murdered by some random man with one of those Earth guns.
"Believe me, be quiet about it, Philantha," Nyx warned her. "You are much better off now than you were when you came to the palace. I know, I remember it well."
Philantha had just nodded and went back to sweeping the floors. "Does Prince Keir know who killed my mother?" she asked.
Nyx frowned. "I told you, be quiet!" she hushed her, suspecting that the gossipers of the kitchen would be on her back pretty soon.
Philantha didn't see what was so very wrong with Prince Keir. After all, he was the most gorgeous person she had ever seen. Of course, she had never remembered really experiencing anything bad having to do with Keir, so she continued to serve him happily, often trying to get a glimpse of his face under his silver blonde bangs that fell in front of his forehead. Sometimes, she succeeded, but she rarely did, seeing that she couldn't approach him unless she kept her eyes to the floor.
She grabbed the white candle that Rea had retrieved for her, and one of the lighters that the cooks used for smoking rolled up papers, and quickly rushed up to her musky loft. The gray sunlight streamed in just barely as she made her way down the creaking wooden stairs underneath the trapdoor, the lit candle in her handle her only guiding light, but the lighter in her pocket.
It was cold down there, all right. But it was cold upstairs too, and even outside, where the large snowflakes fell almost every day of the year. The small flame from her candle finally led her to the bottom of the staircase, where she looked around to find herself in the familiar room, surrounded by cases and cases of books, all tempting and beautiful, musky but satisfying.
Setting the candle in the bronze candleholder at her side, she sifted through a case of the books, trying to find a good story. She had read most of them, coming down to this forbidden room. There were some in odd languages she'd seen before but could never understand, but most of them were in Pharelian print…Pharel being the large country she lived in.
After she had nearly emptied the box, she found a small but thick navy blue book, the nine letters inscribed on the front impossible to make out. The pages were as thin as thread, and were filled with tiny words that were barely readable…in fact, weren't even readable to Philantha, who had never before seen such a language. The covers were completely blank, and the inscribed letters were embossed in gold. She tucked it in her apron's front pocket and, frightened that someone would catch her, grabbed her candle and slowly made her way up the creaking stairway.
Nyx was waiting for her at the foot of her bed. "I am supposed to let you know that the Prince wants garlic sauce with his dinner tonight. And my shift is over."
Philantha smiled. "Nyx…I have something for you, could you tell me what it is?"
Nyx blinked in surprise as Philantha removed the thick book from her apron pocket. She ran her dirt-stained fingers over the letters on the front, and then dropped the book to the wooden floor in shock. "Philantha…hide it. Hide it now."
Philantha was startled at Nyx's sudden reaction to the book. "Why must I hide it?"
Nyx shook her head and stuffed the book under a loose floorboard. "No one must ever see that book."
Nyx closed her eyes. "It is the book of the Saphma…the Christians…it is the Bible."
"Really? Can you read that language?"
"No. And don't try. If the Prince catches you with that book, trying to read that book, he will kill you. There is no doubt in my mind." Nyx sighed. "Philantha, there is something I must tell you never understood. Your mother did not die of illness, she was not randomly murdered, she did not run away. She was executed by Prince Keir."
"She was executed?" Philantha cried. Nyx only nodded her head and folded her hands in her lap, trying to avoid the young girl's eyes.
"I watched her being sentenced. I was your age at the time, I think. I stood behind the folding doors of the kitchen, watching ten year-old Prince Keir give no mercy to your Saphmatist mother." Nyx shook her head in sadness, tears forming at her large blue eyes. "He was angry that your sister Rea was born…because she was also Saphma. Born a Saphma, die a Saphma. There is no escaping that. He killed your mother."
"But I am not Saphma! I am a Davore!"
"Now you are, but only because the Prince had you converted. Look at your hair. Look at Rea's hair. How else do you think it was obtained?…because of your ancestry. Your original name was Mary, and Rea's was Rebekah. He had those changed to Davorian names, too."
"I don't believe it…" Philantha plopped on her unstable bed, tears welling up in her eyes. "How could he? Why does he hate Saphmatism?"
"I'm not sure. I'm not sure in the least. But now that Bible that you have found will have to be burned…even though it may be the very last one."
"How could it possibly be the very last one?"
"You remember your history lessons…the woman named Sarah, who brought many Bibles to Anané…she could not speak our language, but she taught us. And many caught on quickly, and believed what she said. The ones who believed were then called Saphmas, the name derived from who knows where." Nyx patted Philantha's folded hands. "The King had them all burned. Prince Keir would be furious to see that there is still one in existence."
"How was this one kept from being burned?"
"I'm not sure. But it must never be found. Ever."
Suddenly, the door to the loft swung open and two chrome-clad guards burst in, their faces shielded with metal, and a large gun in one's hand. The larger one removed his helmet and glared at the two girls, who were shocked. Nyx held Philantha's hand, both white in fear. "Wh-what can I help you with?" Nyx stammered.
"We are on a mission from the Prince," the larger one said, grabbing the handle of his gun and lowering it. "Do you know of a room in this palace where books are stored?"
"Books?" Nyx looked confused. "I'm not sure where there is such a room."
"We have been told that there is an entrance from this very loft," the guard said suspiciously. The smaller one, who hadn't removed any armor, opened the small closet near the window and inspected it. Then the other joined him, checking under the girls' beds. The smaller guard nearly tripped on the brass handle.
"It's a handle! I do believe this is a trap door!"
Nyx shook her head, afraid. Philantha's jaw dropped as the guards pried open the wood on the floor. Philantha only prayed that the Prince's guards wouldn't see the footprints her feet had made on the dust, or the stack of books that she had failed to put away.
Lighting a flame, the guards ascended down the winding, creaking stairway. "Follow us, girls!" they commanded, beckoning them to ensue. Nyx grasped Philantha's hand even more tightly, and Philantha prayed that they wouldn't find that the Bible was missing…or even worse, find the Bible under the floorboards. Her heart felt like it was beating at a million miles per hour. The blood had drained from her face and she could barely breathe.
The guards rummaged through the boxes of books, throwing each unwanted at the wall, some splitting in half down the spine. "Have either of you girls seen a thick book with thin pages in a completely different language?" one asked, staring at them harshly.
Nyx shook her head. "I'm sorry, we have never been down here before." Philantha was completely impressed by the way she stayed composed, even though she knew that by lying, both of their lives were on the line. The two guards finished hunting for the Bible, and kicked the empty boxes at the wall. "Remember…if you find it and bring it to him, the Prince guarantees your freedom."
Philantha gasped, and Nyx nodded. "Yes, sirs, we will take that into consideration."
The guards turned their heels, their heavy boots pounding up the stairway, and the door slamming behind them after they had exited the loft. Philantha immediately fell on her bead, weak with fear. "What are we supposed to do, Nyx? What are we going to do?"
Nyx pried open the loose floorboard in which she had hidden the Bible, and handed it to Philantha. "This must be the last Christian Bible, Philantha, if the Prince wants it so badly," she said. "You can't let it be destroyed. It's all that is left. You are a Saphma, Philantha."
"But…but…what am I supposed to do?"
"Look for those with hair like yours, or even violet eyes, like yours," Nyx said, wrapping the Bible in a cloth and hiding it in Philantha's apron. "I sense something bad coming for those like you."
"You…you want me to run away?"
"But what about Rea?"
"I'll take good care of Rea, I promise. I feel war. It's in my blood." Nyx lifted her head, closed her eyes, and breathed in the musky air. "You have to warn the other Saphmas before it's too late. Your entire generation will be wiped out, if you don't do something."
Philantha nodded. "I understand."
"Good. You must leave tonight, when the clock on the wall strikes eleven, and chimes three times. That's when the Prince sleeps, and when his indoor guards retire."
Philantha, naïve without much intelligence, just agreed with Nyx and planned her own escape, to look for those like herself. "When I find them…what do I do?"
"When you find them, make sure they were once Saphma, like you."
Philantha nodded. Turning her eyes to the small window on the west side of the room, a rush of adrenaline flew through her veins. She turned to Nyx, kissed her cheek, and slowly clambered her way out of the window, silent as a mouse.
"Girl! Girl, what are you doing?"
Philantha froze, and her heart jumped to her throat. She had successfully made the climb from her bedroom window to the courtyard below, and now this voice had hit her like a bullet from a gun. Her eyes as wide as saucers, she slunk by the wall and held her breath as the crunching footsteps became louder.
"I asked you what you were doing."
Philantha found herself staring into a pair of crystal blue eyes. She gasped and jumped back to see that she was looking into the eyes of the garden servant, a boy of about fourteen with white-blond hair that he had spiked from his forehead like knives, and with a face as pale as snow, but lips redder than her own. "Ezek! What are you doing out here?"
"Shouldn't I be asking you the same thing?" Ezek replied, sarcasm in his voice as he rubbed the rusted blade of his pocketknife against his dingy black pants.
Philantha shook her head. "It is none of your business."
"Well, perhaps it is the Prince Keir's business…"
Philantha sighed. She always found it hard to come to good terms with any of the garden boys. Ezek had been one of the Prince's favorite servants for years, which didn't sit well with Philantha's dear Nyx. Ezek had worked in the flower gardens his entire fourteen years, and knew the craft perfectly. A pair of hedgeclippers lay at his side. He smirked at her. "Well, I don't think I would. But only because you are on my side."
"I am on your side? I thought you were the prince's favorite."
Ezek blushed. "One of them, I suppose you could say."
"Then why did you say that?"
"Only out of the fact that he banished my mother and father to the depths of Azakaria."
Philantha gasped and leaped back. " I had no idea!" she cried. She had only heard stories about the dreaded country of Azakaria, deep in the south of their planet. The temperatures there were well below freezing, and the only few souls that lived there were evil creatures called Hods and slaves that had been banished from good places like Pharel.
"Shut up, keep your voice down, damnit. Why do you think I'm out here in the first place? To get caught?"
"I have no idea."
"I suppose you should know." Ezek sighed. "About a week or so ago, I was back here, in the gardens. The prince was wandering through with two of his best guards at his side, and had no idea I was out here, so I hid behind a bush and listened to what he had to say. I could barely make it out, but he said there was to be a war. Against…against your kind." Ezek lowered his cerulean eyes. "The flame-hairs. The Saphmas."
Philantha nodded. "Yes, Nyx is so very smart. She predicted war. She said it was in her blood."
Ezek nodded. "My father's best friend was a flame-hair. When he and his children and wife were banished to Azakaria, my father pleaded mercy before the prince, who was only eleven years old. But instead of granting freedom to the wandering Saphma family, the prince only sent away both my mother and father as punishment." Ezek shuddered. "I was only about eight, but I could vaguely remember. It was terrifying. And it was then I decided to get on good terms with his Highness, so that he might someday bring them back."
"Tell me, Ezek, are there really such things as Hods?"
Ezek nodded. "I do believe so. They're black creatures, slim and human-shaped, who live in the deep underground and emerge only at night to steal souls." Ezek shuddered again, and shook his blond head. "It's difficult to fathom." He looked to his left, then right, and then whispered, "It's dangerous to be out here. We better get moving or we'll never make it."
"Who invited you?" Philantha scorned.
"Oh, come on. You realize you couldn't make it without me."
Philantha rolled her eyes. "Fine. Just don't give me any smart-aleck remarks."
Ezek grinned. "All right then. Come now, Gat!"
Suddenly, a tiny black-furred animal no larger than an average human foot jumped out of the bushes. It had long, curvy ears, yellow eyes, two tiny sprouts of wings on its back and a tail so long that it had to wrap itself around one if it's owner's little black legs. Philantha found herself being licked in the face by its long, slobbery pink tongue. Philantha made a face. "It's wretched!"
"I realize that." Philantha rolled her eyes again. "There is no way I'm going to take this…this thing along with me."
"You do know it could be of good use."
"In what way?"
Ezek shrugged, and then changed the subject quickly. "Yes, I know that you know my name, but can I get a reminder of yours?"
"That's a good name. You even smell like the flowers you were named after."
Philantha scowled. "If you dare try to flirt with me I'll hit you upside the face faster than my foot hits your creature's ass and sends you both flying over the fence. Got that?"
"Yes, ma'am! Now, let's leave! Where's our destination?"
Nyx watched her dearest friend as she descended to the snowy pits of the outside world, closing her eyes and praying for her safety. She looked over at little Rea, who was huddled in a ball at the end of her bed, her red hair sprawled all over the blankets. The lantern next to her was slowly burning out, and the room was freezing.
Suddenly, the door to the loft was being knocked on, abruptly and quickly. Nyx gasped, shut the window and cracked the door open. "Who is it?" she asked, peering through the peephole.
"Someone who demands to be let in."
Nyx caught a glimpse of long-ish blonde hair, and two matching pairs of ice-blue eyes. "I'm sorry, I cannot do that without his Highness' consent. It is after sleeping hours."
All of a sudden the door she had been holding was flung aside with her against it, sending her to the floor and making her elbow throb as it hit the wood. She lifted her eyes onto a person clad in golden robes and a stern look on his face. Nyx gasped.
"I do believe I have his Highness' consent," stated Prince Keir, his silver-booted foot treading on Nyx's brown tattered cloth night robes. Nyx's heart beat rapidly in her chest in fear. The prince ignored her and walked straight to the trapdoor at her bed foot. "Is this the basement room I have been hearing so much about?" he demanded.
Nyx could only nod her head. She felt the blood draining from her face.
"Is it true there is a Saphmatist book in that very room?"
Nyx gathered up her strength and stood up, looking the prince in the eyes. "I have never been down there, your Highness. Never would I know of such a book." The fact of the matter was, that the very book was hiding under a loose floorboard by the window. "Your guards were in here earlier looking for it."
"I realize that, you stupid wench!" Keir flung his fist at her, sending her crashing to the floor again. Nyx grabbed her arm in pain, but uttered not a word. The prince then proceeded to opening the trapdoor and advanced down the winding, dusty stairs.
"I would be careful, your Majesty!" cried Nyx. "There is a large step at the bottom!"
"Shut up!" the prince yelled. "I believe I know my own palace better than you!"
Nyx could barely contain her laughter when she heard a stumbling of feet, and a scream from the prince as he tripped on the last step. "Are you all right, your Majesty?" she yelled to him, peering down the staircase as the prince was trying to lift himself from his prideless fall.
"Quite!" he cried. "I just saw a creature!"
"I believe you!"
She heard the rustling of books that went on for a long while, and then she watched the prince as he ascended the stairs back into the cold loft. He had two books in his hand, both in the same language that had been inscribed on the cover of the forbidden Bible.
"I believe my work here is finished." The prince nodded to her and made his way out the door, being careful not to trip on his robes. Only after the door closed did Nyx gale herself in her high, twinkling laughter after encountering Prince Keir's undoubtedly embarrassing moment and some in relief that he hadn't noticed of Philantha's absence.
Of course, Nyx was not offended by his harshness. Often had she and other girls been treated the same way. She was used to it. She also knew that the prince favored her above others, and no matter how hard she tried, how many lives he took…she could not find it in herself to hate him as the others did. She disapproved of his wrong towards humanity, and other religions and cultures different from his own. Since she had only been very young when he became prince, she had little idea of his father, the past King. But she knew that Marla did, the old cook. Sometimes she would sit and stir soup and listen to Marla's stories of the good past of Pharel…
"Yes," Marla recollected, "there was once a time when all was good in the land. The Great King Carro had great influence on it, too." Marla smiled, lines crinkling at her eyes. "Sometimes I also think he had quite a thing for me, too."
"I'm sure he did, Marla," Nyx laughed.
"Yes, he did," Marla would continue. "And he knew of the past hate of the Saphmas, but he never joined the hatred. He took them in as his brother, even though he, of course, was Davore. Every night he would sit in front of the golden statue of the great goddess Rea of the Streams and pray to the Mylak that some day he would be able to understand their God." Marla shook her head. "And then that wretched child of his came along, and tangled everything up. King Carro named him after Keir of the Fire, because the past four generations the kings had been named after four elements. Carro, as you know, was god of Wind…"
"Yes, I do realize this, Marla," Nyx told her, and urged her to continue and get to the point.
"When the King died of the black fever, the entire kingdom mourned." Marla eyes glazed over in pity. "He retrieved the fever from his most favorite servant, the good Saphma man John. When Keir heard of this, he flew into quite a rage and ordered that poor John be killed, even though he had recovered from the fever. His mother, the queen, did nothing about it. She couldn't, because she herself was on her deathbed." Marla shook her head. "It was a sad, sad day in the kingdom of Pharel."
Nyx sat in the loft, her legs crossed, remembering the sad stories. She knew that was where the hate of the Saphmas came from, was the black fever that stole the King away from the kingdom and Keir himself. If only she could make him realize that they had no bad intentions towards anyone…
She sighed and good thoughts filled her head as she imagined her dearest friend Philantha with the entire population of the Saphmas, trying to make peace with the prince once and for all. Her thoughts drifted into dream, and she found herself asleep on the hard wooden floor.
The prince sat at the edge of his red silk bedclothes, the two dusty books sitting in his lap as he removed his golden robes and stared at them in confusion. His two guards stood still at his bedposts, watching the ivory double doors leading to the prince's luxurious suites.
He turned to the guards. "Zareb, Garren. I have a mission for you I need accomplished quickly."
The shorter, Zareb, nodded his head. "Anything, your Highness."
"Go find the old translator that calls himself Synan. He lives near the palace, in a small house of clay and bricks. There will be a sign on his doorway, a sign that resembles this." With his arms, Prince Keir showed his guards the sign of a cross.
Garren gasped. "But…but your Majesty, he is a Saphma."
The prince scowled. "I realize that he is a Saphma, idiot! But he is the only one worthy of my presence! Find him quickly, or neither of you shall receive food!"
The two guards quickly turned their heels and rushed out of the prince's quarters. Keir sat on his bed, leafing through the two Earth books. He knew they were Earth books, they were inscribed in the same language that he had seen before, on the forbidden Bible. "Those horrible creatures," Keir reminisced, remembering the black fever that had taken his mother and father from him. He shuddered, and closely stared at the pictures in front of him. In one there was a man with a large feathered hat, sitting on the edge of a large boat, and surrounding him were other men with oars.
"What a strange contraption," Prince Keir thought to himself, and carefully turned the next page. The next picture was obviously a photograph instead of a painting, and it was in black and white. The man standing in the picture was standing next to another man, and both were clad in suits and hats, and there was a symbol that Keir had never seen before…it looked like a symmetrical cross, but with different jagged curves. The man in the foreground had a black mustache, and a look in his eyes that was ice cold.
Keir flipped the page. There was another black and white photograph, but this time it involved a large number of people, posed in front of four flags that bore the strange symbol that had adorned the suits of the two men.
The prince squinted closely at the picture to see the black-mustached man in front of a long line of people, looking regal and mighty, almost king-like.
"I wonder who he could be," the prince pondered. There was almost four pages filled with black and white photographs of the strange king. Keir was most certain he was a king. There was a great deal of people following him in each photo, and the men next to him looked like his guards.
Suddenly, there was a knock at the ivory double doors. Keir was startled, and jumped. "Come in!" he cried.
His two guards entered with old Synan. He looked magnificent, even in his old age. The white beard trailing from his chin was curly and nearly hit his feet. His robes were pale blue velvet that shimmered in the light of the lanterns surrounding the prince, and the rings on his fingers were many. His eyes were a piercing violet color that rivaled lavender. He looked like he could have been a fairy tale magician. "You called for me, your Majesty." Synan bowed his ancient head.
Prince Keir nodded. "Yes, I did. Come, sit." He motioned Synan to a red velvet chair in front of him, and then set the book in his lap, the pages open to the picture of the man with the mustache. "Please, will you translate this for me?"
"I will try my best, your Majesty." Synan squinted his eyes, and then pulled a pair of reading glasses from his sleeve. Looking it over for a long while, Synan lifted his eyes to Keir's. "This tells of a man named Adolf Hitler."
"Adolf Hitler?" Keir had never heard such a ridiculous name.
"Yes. The strange symbol that you see is called a 'swastiko'. No, wait, 'swastika'. It is from a kingdom called Germany."
"That is an Earth kingdom, right?"
"Yes." Synan coughed, and looked at the page, holding it in front of his face. "It says here that Adolf Hitler had hatred toward a group of people. They are called Jews."
"Why did he hate the Jyoos?"
Synan squinted, and looked at the book. "I do not know. But there are great many words in here I cannot understand. Dee-mo-cracy. Leg-is-lature. What it is, I have no clue. But I do believe that Adolf Hitler sent many of these Jews people to a place called a 'concentration camp'."
"Con-sen-tra-shun camp." Keir nodded, sounding it out. "Do you know what it is, Synan?"
Synan closed his eyes. "Here describes a terrifying situation, your Majesty. Back in the Earth year one thousand, nine hundred and forty-one, this man named Adolf Hitler started a war. In this book it describes the war as the Second World War. Perhaps the second war the Earth has taken part in?" Keir nodded. It seemed quite reasonable. Synan continued. "Anyhow, this Adolf Hitler had much to do with it. He was a dictator."
"What do you mean by that, a dictator?"
"A dictator is one who makes all laws. No one else but Adolf Hitler could take part in any decision making. And because of his hate of Jews, he could declare them all dead if he wished."
"I thought he was a king."
"His acts seem indifferent to your own." Synan lowered his face and a glare passed through his violet eyes. The look startled Keir, but he made no remark. Synan continued. "The Jews did nothing to Adolf Hitler to make him act in such a way. The rumor in here stated believed that, since his dying mother was under the care of a Jew who was unable to save her life, he became hateful of all Jews." Synan's right hand started shaking in such a way that his rings clinked against the book cover.
The prince smirked. "This dictator was like me. I do not believe it." Keir laughed. "Tell me, Synan, was his mother carrying the black fever?"
Synan shook his head. "I think not. But be careful. The Dictator Adolf Hitler killed himself only few years after he started the discrimination." But Keir was barely paying attention to Synan's words anymore. He slipped his arms in his robes. "Synan, read more. I invite you to dinner. You must tell me of these 'concentration camps'."
Synan sighed, defeated. "Yes, your Majesty."
Keir snapped his fingers. "Garren, Zareb, please make sure the cooks are making roast beast like I asked of them. And make certain that Philantha has my relish ready."
Garren and Zareb looked at each other in fright. "Your Majesty, Philantha is absent from the kitchen."
"What!?" cried Keir. "How can she be absent from the kitchen?"
Garren looked at his feet. "Your Highness, while we were walking through the back exit, through the kitchen, Philantha was not making your relish. Marla was. We were afraid to tell you right away…but when we asked Marla where Philantha had gone…she…she…"
"She did what?" screamed the prince.
"Marla told us that Philantha had escaped late last evening," Zareb finished. The prince's eyes widened in disbelief, and then a shout rang from his lips that echoed through his quarters. He took the gold-plated wastebasket in the corner and threw it at the wall. "How could you not tell me! Go find her! Get every guard in the kingdom to help you, damnit! I will not have this! I will not have this!"
Then, suddenly abandoning his guest and his two guards, the prince flew through his doors and ran down the hallway, rapping on doors and screaming for everyone to help in the search. "The kitchen maid has escaped!" he cried. "The kitchen maid has escaped!"
Old Synan, however, was relieved by the prince's tantrum, for after the prince left, he stole silently away through the east wing and down the corridors, leading to the exit from the palace.
"This is old Synan's home, is it not?" Philantha whispered to Ezek while both of them hid behind a garden of bushes. Ezek was trying desperately to keep control of little Gat, who was yipping wildly at the little winged rodents that floated through the sky and made chirping noises.
Ezek nodded. "I think so."
The small, crooked house in front of them was made of brick and clay, and there was no snow surrounding it, but ice dripped from the sides. On the door there was a large wooden cross. "I'm going to peer in the windows," Philantha whispered to Ezek. "Keep that creature quiet." She pointed at Gat, and then hit it across the nose. "Shush, you!"
Grabbing the edges of her yellow tattered robes, she crawled on her knees to the low windows of the crooked block house. The light inside was yellow and inviting. Grasping the window edge, Philantha lifted her eyes to see inside. She saw the old man, bent over a low table while stirring something in a black pot. "I think he's a witch!" she whispered to Ezek.
"He can't be a witch. Witches are women."
"Perhaps then he is a warlock."
"Where do you get your insane ideas?" Ezek removed a shoelace from his boot and tied one end around Gat's paw and another around the bush, and then crept quietly to Philantha's side so he too could see inside the house. "Oh, you dumb girl, he's only making supper."
"How can you be so sure?"
Ezek sniffed the air. "I can smell pacba root."
"Pacba root is used for conjuring love spells!"
Ezek rolled his eyes. "You're dumb. Pacba root is used for soup, not love spells. You should know that, Miss Kitchen Maid. And besides, what would an old man like that be doing with a love spell?" Ezek smirked.
"Oh, shut up, Ezek. I'm getting tired of you already."
"Because I am right and you're wrong?"
Philantha narrowed her eyes, and then clamped her hand over Ezek's mouth. "Shut up, fool! He's coming!" The two of them crouched under the window sill and didn't make a sound as the front door with the cross opened and Synan exited, peering out the window. "What is that strange noise I hear?" he cried, his old voice quivering. Philantha held her breath as Synan neared them, and then turned and walked toward the bushes they had emerged from. He clicked his tongue. "Come out, now, come out!" he beckoned.
"Damnit, Gat!" Ezek muttered under his breath.
Synan bent over the bush and untied the shoelace from Gat's paw. "You poor little thing!" he cooed. Gat licked his wrinkly, bent hand. "You can come in and have some pacba root soup with me." Hearing this, Ezek smirked and smacked Philantha's arm. A scream fell from her lips, and then she clamped her hand over her mouth. Synan's head lifted in alarm. "Who's there?" he cried.
Both Ezek and Philantha held their breath this time, and silently prayed that Synan wouldn't be angry with them. Philantha stood up, and lifted Ezek with her. "Good old Synan, it is only two common street children!"
Synan smiled, the lines in his face crinkling with delight. "Oh, good. I suppose this little creature is yours then?"
Ezek frowned. "Yes, it is mine. His name is Gat."
"That's a good name." Synan smiled again. "What is it short for?"
"Gatarin of the Rocks."
"Why don't you both come in with me? I hope you like soup."
"Very much so!" Philantha nodded in delight.
"Good. You can both tell me of your travels. And also, I'm quite interested to know how you escaped the palace unnoticed?"
"The-the palace?!" Ezek stammered. "I have never been to the palace."
"There is no need to lie to Synan," he said. "I know all inhabitants of the palace. You are the garden servant, who's parents were banished to Azakaria when you were young." Synan turned to Philantha. "And the prince is in quite a fit to find you, young Philantha. You best come in here where it's safe." He led them both in his house and poured them both dishes of soup, making sure not to leave Gat out.
Philantha looked around the small, warm house. It wasn't furnished greatly, but there were many beautiful crystal trinkets and goblets and teacups, and even a gargoyle that stood in the corner. She sat at the rickety old table and breathed in the scent of the pacba root. "The prince found out that I had escaped?" she said.
"Yes, he did. I believe you were supposed to prepare his relish?"
Philantha laughed. "Yes, that is my fourth night duty."
"It's a good thing I found you both when I did," Synan said. "The prince has been reading history books. Earth history books. He is developing terrible ideas from past Earth experiences. There is to be a war, that's for damn certain." Synan clicked his tongue in disgust. "I managed to escape the palace before I could translate any more."
"My dearest friend Nyx also said there was war arriving," Philantha stated. "She said that she could always feel when it was coming, in her blood."
"I do not doubt it," Synan laughed. "She is my granddaughter."
Philantha nearly dropped her spoon. "She is what?"
"She is my granddaughter." Synan laughed again.
"But how can that be?" Philantha cried. "You are…you are a Saphma! I've heard all about you! She is not a Saphma!"
"Are you for certain that she is not a Saphma?" the old man chuckled. "Just because of her hair color and her eyes? There are many of us, but some are unrecognizable. She is also descended from Earth. Maybe one of your distant cousins, Philantha."
Philantha shook her head. "I cannot believe it. I simply cannot believe it. Why did she never tell me?"
Synan smiled. "That girl has a strange mind, that Nyx of mine. There isn't quite anyone like she is. She isn't completely Saphma, however. She doesn't believe in God and she doesn't believe in Mylak. And if you hadn't noticed, her hair is red-blond, but she bleaches it with the cleaning agent used for cleaning the prince's clothes. She comes here often and tells me of it."
Philantha could only gape in disbelief. "She was the one who told me to escape, to find others like myself and warn them."
"And that you should do." Synan turned to Ezek. "And I suppose you're willing to help her?"
Ezek nodded. "Yes, if I can bring the prince off of his pedestal and bring my parents and everyone else back to Pharel."
Synan nodded. "It sounds like a good plan. But first, neither of you can look like yourselves, or you will both surely be caught and punished." Synan removed a bottle of white powder from under the table. "This is silver-blonde dye, Philantha. Run your hair under the faucet, and I'll take care of it. Meanwhile, Ezek, you must do something with those enormous spikes you have growing from your forehead!" Ezek placed a hand over his head.
"My-my hair?" he stammered.
"Yes, your hair!" Synan said. He removed a knife from a crate near the table. "Cut it short. Or you will be noticed."
Ezek sighed in remorse, and then took the knife to his head and chopped off his blonde spikes, all three of them. He looked like he was in pain. "You're crazy," he told Synan. "I can't believe I'm listening to you." Synan only laughed and finished bleaching Philantha's red hair.
"There. Look at your reflections."
Philantha and Ezek stood in front of the large, cracked mirror in the corner of the room and gaped at themselves. Ezek looked somewhat normal and Philantha's hair was the same shade as Nyx's. "Now," Synan continued, "Philantha, your hair will maintain that color for the next few weeks." He placed the remaining contents of the bottle in her hand. "Pocket this. When the roots start growing out again, dab some on them, and you will have nothing to fear." Philantha nodded. Synan continued. "Any have neither of you anything to eat while you are on your journey? You will surely starve." He rummaged through his cupboards and filled a large bag full of bread and dried fruits and meat. "You will have no trouble finding water," he laughed, looking outside at the snow. "That is obvious."
Ezek grinned. "Thank you, Synan."
Synan nodded. "Yes, you are welcome. But there is one thing I have failed to mention to you!" Synan reached in the crate and pulled out a folded, yellowed piece of paper. "This is a map of Pharel." He spread the map on the table so both children could look at it. "Here is the creek, and here are the three streams that flow into town. Near the fork that separates the three streams is a large mound of dirt under a stone pile. Do you understand me?"
Philantha looked confused. "Yes, but how is this supposed to help us, if you don't mind my asking?"
"I am not finished. When you come to the rock pile, remove the rocks at the very top, the red ones. Underneath these rocks you will find a green door that leads underground." Ezek shivered in delight, a rush of adrenaline shooting through his bloodstream. Synan continued. "The door will be emblazoned with a cross such as that you see on my front door. This is the meeting place of the Saphma families of Pharel."
Philantha gasped. "The Saphma families of Pharel!" she cried, frightened and delighted all at once. "So, they meet there once in a while? How are we supposed to know when they arrive and when they don't?"
"On the third day of the week, which is tomorrow, when the three moons all arise over Anané is when the Saphma families will enter. Hide behind bushes or a tree until they are all in their hiding place. When they are out of view, rap on the little green door three times and yell through the hole, 'We are those of the blue Earth!' When they let you in, you must approach your case to the whole of them."
Ezek nodded excitedly. "This is grand! This is just grand!" Even Gat ran around in circles underneath the table, yipping in near frenzy.
Philantha smiled. "Thank you so very much, good sir. It is very very appreciated."
Synan chuckled. "Anytime. You don't have much time to lose, now! Get going! And take the monster with you!" He gently kicked Gat out the door and both of them left, taking the back woods of Pharel and knowing they could never return to the palace without an army with them.
"Word of two escaped slaves better not escape the palace!" cried the prince, while chewing heartily on his roast beast.
"But your Highness, with all due respect, wouldn't you want the public to know? So if they come across them, they will send them back?" Garren asked.
"There is no true need of either of them," the prince stated. "If the public knows, my image will be ruined. And if the other slaves know, they will surely start a revolt! So take care not to let them know either!"
"Yes, your Majesty," agreed his guards.
The prince shoved the remainder of his meat away. "Garren, fetch Nyx, the kitchen maid. I want her immediately." The guard bowed and took off, returning with his hand grasped around Nyx's arm. He flung her to the ground in front of the prince, where she stayed.
"Nyx, tell me now what you know of this…mishap."
"I know nothing," she lied, looking to the ground.
"Surely you could have known about Philantha!" Keir cried. "She was your friend, your sleeping quarters companion! And if you do not deliver information, I will take Rea from you!"
Nyx shut her eyes in horror. "Your Highness, I tell you all I am able," she lied. "I helped Philantha into bed right after I did Rea. She told me good night, and I fell asleep. When I woke up, she had left her bed, but I only thought she was downstairs."
"Is this the truth?"
Nyx nodded. "It is the only information that I know of." She silently prayed that Keir wouldn't remember not seeing Philantha in the loft after he barged in the night before. Keir nodded, and then flicked his wrist, shooing her away. Nyx stumbled back into the kitchen, her heart pounding rapidly in her chest. She threw herself against the counter as tears started at her eyes.
Old Marla tried comforting her. "What's the matter, my dear girl?" she asked, rubbing her hand over her head.
"That was the hardest thing I have ever done," she confessed.
"Have you ever tried looking into the person's eyes who has so much power over you that he could kill you with a snap of his fingers, and lying straight to his face?" Nyx affirmed. She wiped away the tear forming at her eye and took a long, deep breath. "And then he threatened to take Rea away from me."
"Terrible!" Marla shook her head and went back to kneading the bread dough. "You poor child. And even worse for Philantha, so much responsibility put on her shoulders! I know she can pull it off, but how difficult will it be?"
Nyx tried to listen to Marla's statements, and be overly concerned for Philantha, but she also knew why she had started crying. Not only had she lied straight-faced to the prince of Pharel, the person in control of her entire existence, she had also lied to Keir, the boy she had loved and trusted since she was only a tiny girl, and her grandfather Synan had taken care of her. She remembered nearly 12 years before, when she was playing in her grandfather's front yard…
Being eight years old, Nyx had always found herself the adventurous type. She would often make snowballs and throw them at the palace gates. On that certain day, she had a large one. It was nearly the size of her foot. She swung her arm back and threw it full force at the gates.
"What are you doing, dumb girl?" she heard from the other side. She peered into the eyes of a boy who was a little younger than herself. His white-blonde bangs hung in front of his eyes and he was clad in silver silk.
"I'm merely enjoying myself. What is your name?"
"You should know by now." The boy raised his nose in the air and huffily stated, "I am his Majesty, Prince Keir of Pharel. You will bow to me now."
"I do only what King Carro and my grandfather tell me," Nyx replied just as huffily.
"And what is your name, then?"
"I am Nyx. Care to join me in a snowball fight?" She grabbed a large chunk of the soft white snow and packed it into a ball. The prince only shook his head in disgust. "I do not take part in such childish activities!" he cried, and then turned his heel. Suddenly, without any warning, Nyx felt a flying snowball brush past her ear and a high-pitched laughter come from Keir's mouth.
They took part in this parade of juvenile divertissement until they both heard Keir's name being called, ringing through the crystal air. The small prince smiled, his cheeks flushed with color. "When will I see you again, Nyx?"
"Come back tomorrow if you can. We'll have another snowball fight."
"That is agreed upon." And the prince walked away, his silver boots making crunching sounds in the royal snow.
Nearly every day near noontime he came, and they would sit cross-legged on opposite sides of the fence and share their stories. Nyx would confide in him what it was like to be poor, and how it wasn't quite so bad, and the prince would tell her of where he had been and who he had seen and what he had gotten for the holidays. And then one day, he stopped coming, like he had vanished. It was only then that Nyx learned that both the king and queen had fallen ill with the deathly black fever.
Nyx sat in front of the cross on her grandfather's front door, praying to his god that her dearest friend Keir wouldn't catch the sickness, and he didn't. But she never heard from him again.
Nyx sat in a stool in the kitchen, thinking of her long-ago memories of Prince Keir. She thought of how he had vanished and left every ounce of goodness he had in his heart on the gates between the palace and her grandfather's house, and how it had all been stolen away by that wretched black fever. Not late after, her grandfather became much to poor to support her any longer, and sent her to serve under the prince's name. "I hope you still remember that you once were my friend, my dear Keir," she wished.
"What was that, honey?" Marla shouted over the sound of the crackling roasting spit.
Nyx turned to Marla. "Marla, have you ever wanted something so badly, you would do anything to obtain it?"
"Why, no, child, not recently." Marla laughed.
Nyx bit her lip. "Well, can you keep a secret?"
Marla laughed again. "I'll try."
"Have you ever been in love with someone that you know is terrible for you, and you will never be together, but still want him and need him to love you back?" Nyx clenched her fists together, praying that Marla wouldn't figure out who she was talking about. Marla was a good friend, but she was a bit of a kitchen gossip.
Marla chuckled. "Not in that exact respect, my dear. But yes, I follow you. I also think you should know what you should do. You're twenty years old now, Nyx. You're not a little girl anymore. I think that, whoever you're speaking of should know of what you feel for him. You should tell him."
"But Marla, it's not that easy." Nyx shut her eyes and clenched her teeth, not believing what she was about to say. "What if the person you were in love with was so terrible that he murdered your best friend's mother?" Nyx looked at the ground, and her tone became softer. "What if this person hated your kind of people and wanted them dead?"
Marla gasped. "Nyx! How can you possibly be in love with a murderer?"
"I don't know!" Nyx cried. "I positively do not know! But I know that deep down I could break the ice surrounding his heart."
"That's quite poetic, my dear. But it isn't reality. Tell me who it is and I'll tell you what to do." Marla looked full of thought, trying to figure out the culprit of Nyx's affections. "Philantha is your best friend, isn't she?" Nyx nodded. "But your story makes no sense to me, dear. Philantha's mother was executed, not murdered."
Nyx sighed. "Isn't execution murder, Marla?"
Marla blinked, and then dropped the pan she had been toying with, make a loud clattering sound on the floor. "Nyx! You can't do this to yourself! He is evil! He is pure evil! He will use you, destroy you on the inside, and then he'll kill you!"
"But I know him better than that!" Nyx cried. "I know that I can break the barrier of hate that surrounds him! There must be a way! I could not have been in love with him for the past twelve years if I knew there wasn't a way!"
"Do not speak of such a thing any more to me, Nyx!" Marla furiously started scrubbing the kitchen counters. "Just don't! He is evil! He will turn you evil!"
Nyx sighed and ascended to her loft upstairs, where she tossed herself on her bed and let the tears run like a river down her pillow.
"Come, Ezek, we don't have much time to lose!" cried Philantha, squinting her eyes at the sky. The Great Star had just fallen into the horizon line, and already the First Moon of Pharel had appeared in the still-bright sky. Ezek had been hurrying to catch up to Philantha and try to maintain Gat at the same time.
"I feel so naked without my spikes," Ezek grumbled, running alongside Philantha. "And I am so very hungry."
"Is there no end to your complaints?" Philantha scorned, but out of the goodness of her heart she stuffed a handful of dried fruit into Ezek's open hand. "Do not choke on it, and that's all you get for now!" Ezek gave her a harsh look, but obeyed her anyway. Suddenly, without any realization, Philantha and Ezek heard a loud and screaming yipping noise from not far behind.
"Gat!" they both cried at once, and turned to find their creature friend gone, but a hole in the ground nearly twelve feet deep or more in which he had fallen into. "Oh, my little Gat!" screamed Ezek, and peered in the hole to see a black furball crumpled in a pile of tree leaves, sitting at the bottom of the hole. A faint whimpering sound was heard.
"Hunter traps," Philantha muttered. She too peered down the whole. "He's still alive, that's for certain. I think maybe he's just in shock, poor little thing." She gazed at the sky. The Great Star was gone, and the light it had shed had dissolved into darkness. The First Moon of Pharel was brighter than the snow on the ground. "Maybe I could lower myself into the hole…" Philantha pondered.
"How could you do that?"
"Watch me." Philantha removed the only robe from her back, the one shielding her from the cold winds, and tore it into thick panels of threads, and knotted each together. "Help me!" she shouted at Ezek, who was just staring at her sacrifice in awe. He got on his hands and knees and frantically knotted the thread into a long rope. It was more than twelve feet long, that was for certain. Philantha inhaled a deep breath and handed one end to Ezek.
"Ezek, please hold the end of this rope as tightly as you possibly can. I will go and retrieve Gat." Ezek shook his head, but was unable to refuse. Tying the rope around his wrist, he stated bravely, "If you fall, I too will fall." Philantha nodded and started to climb down the rope, her fingers burning the entire way down, but she kept her composure and her teeth clenched and could do nothing but stand the pain. Bundling Gat in her shirt, she beckoned Ezek to try and help pull her up.
After a long while of struggles and falls, a dirt-stained and tired Philantha finally fell on the snow pile above ground, a barely panting Gat bundled in her shirt. Ezek smiled weakly. "That was a very nice thing you did for Gat, Philantha," he said, and removed his own robe to drape around her shoulders.
Philantha smiled meekly. "You owe me."
And the both of them, knowing their time was running short, raced as quickly as they could down the side of the streams as the Second Moon appeared in the night sky above them. The streams become narrower and narrower, and finally collided into each other…at a large pile of red and gray stones.
"We made it," whispered Ezek in awe. "Now we must hide." Grabbing Philantha's shirtsleeve, he pulled the weak and tired girl behind a thick tree and bundled the sick Gat in his own arms. After panting for a long time, their strength returning slowly, they heard a crunching sound of snow in the near distance. Ezek placed his hand firmly over Gat's tiny mouth, so no sound would escape.
Philantha couldn't help but peer around the tree trunk at the people entering the underground hideout. Many were redheads, but many were also blonde, like she now appeared. But they all carried with them one thing…a cross. There were many kinds. Some wore them small around their necks, some wore them dangling from their ears, some had a patch sewn on their robes, and some carried small wooden ones. She noticed an older man also carrying a book identical to the one Philantha found in the loft basement.
Philantha gasped and told Ezek. "Nyx told me there was only one in existence, and that I had obtained it!" she whispered. Ezek shrugged and whispered back, "I have no idea what it is, but if it can help me find my parents, then so be it." Philantha also noticed a blonde woman in thick robes carrying a large metal gun, and she held it in front of her as she helped her two young boys down the underground hideout.
Ezek and Philantha followed Synan's instructions carefully, and waited until every last person had disappeared from sight, shut in the underground room. The three Pharelian moons shone like diamonds in the night sky. Ezek looked at Philantha, and they nodded to each other. Tucking the weak little Gat inside her robes, Philantha gathered her courage and removed the remaining red stones, rapping on the little green door three times. "We are those of the blue Earth!" she shouted loudly.
Both of the children's hearts beat rapidly in their chests as they waited for a response. Suddenly, the green door flung open and an old woman's face appeared. "Have you a cross to prove your Saphmatism?" she demanded.
Philantha shook her head. "We were sent by Synan."
The woman's face crinkled into a smile. "I suppose then that you are Ezek and Philantha. He told me that I should be expecting you at the meeting." She beckoned them inside the small room, and took each of their hands in gesture. "I am Eve. I was named after the first woman on Earth." She beamed. She looked Philantha in the eyes. "And I know that you are Mary. Sweet girl, come in."
The underground room was no larger than double that of Philantha's old loft, but it was warmly lit with lanterns and the group of about sixty people seated on cushions looked happy and cheerful. "Come, say what you must," Eve demanded.
Ezek first stood to the group. "First, I have a confession to make. I am not one of you. I am Davore." A small gasp rang through the crowd. Ezek shook his head. "I am for you, though. For you and everyone else. We were not sent here, Philantha or I. We have a mission to accomplish, and we thought you should know of the prince's plot." Ezek cleared his throat. "I was once a garden servant for Prince Keir. I sat in the bushes and would sometimes listen to his conversations with his guards. It so happened one day that I overheard that he was going to wage war on your kind." Another gasp rang through the crowd, this time louder than before. "We must put an end to it, and we don't know how, but there must be peace in Pharel."
A small girl with dark blonde hair and violet eyes looked at Ezek. "But you are not one of us. Why are you helping?" She clutched her cross necklace in her hands as if in protection from poor Ezek, who was trying his very best to look innocent.
"My mother and father were banished to the cold kingdom of Azakaria when the prince found out that they were, too, helping your kind. I put myself in that sort of danger just to help you. And if I somehow manage to make peace with the prince, he may be able to bring them back." A tear formed slowly at his eye, but he quickly brushed it off. "If peace does not help, there is always…"
"Assassination," Philantha interrupted. The crowd buzzed, talking about what such a horrid attempt could mean to them. Philantha had no such horrible intentions toward Keir, but she knew that it was the only way they were to be saved. "I have the keys to the palace, since I was once a servant," she explained. "Sometimes I would bring the prince his dinner in bed when he was sick, so I know how to sneak in his quarters unnoticed. And if this is what it must come down to to save everyone here, my sister, and my best friend, then so be it."
The meeting went on like this for a long time, each person having his or her own idea on how to kill the prince. One suggested food poisoning, but Philantha knew that someone would be blamed and punished, most likely one of her kitchen maid friends. Another suggested that someone hide under his bed and shoot him, but the guards stood foot at his bed every night. It was decided that if the situation became any worse, a bomb could be thrown in the prince's quarters. Philantha shuddered at the horrible possibility. She knew that it would kill everyone in that room. And she did not want the prince dead…contrary to whether he killed her mother or not.
Philantha remembered one time when her dearest friend Nyx confided in her something that she never told a soul. "Philantha, please keep this a secret and never reveal it," Nyx had pleaded of her, and then continued, "If Prince Keir ever were to die, I would find it so horrible to take in that I too, would kill myself."
And so the decision was difficult, for Philantha and for the rest of the Saphmas, but if the prince didn't agree to her peace proposition, and continued killing and banishing Saphmas, he would have to die as soon as possible.
"And so we go to the palace!" cried one man, raising his fist in the air. The rest of the crowd joined in his cheering.
Philantha nodded. "Yes, we meet here again next eight days, on the third day at the usual time. By then we will have something worked out." She looked to Ezek. "But before any of you leave us, could you provide us with shelter for a week, if that is possible? And…and is there a doctor here?" She looked at poor Gat, who was still whimpering from his fall. "I'm afraid our little Gat fell into a hunter's trap."
One woman stood. "I have been trained in the profession. Let me take a look at it." Squinting her eyes at the little animal, she gave a confused look. "What sort of animal did you say this was again?" she questioned.
Ezek shrugged. "I do not know. I found it in the back woods near the palace. When it yips, it makes a 'gat gat' sound, so that's what I named it…after Gatarin of the Rocks," he finished, to make sure everyone knew he was still pure Davore.
The woman removed a bottle of salve from her sleeve pocket and rubbed it on the little creature, making sure to do it cautiously, so it wouldn't bite her. Ezek crinkled his nose at the smell. The woman smiled. "Gat will be well soon enough," she confirmed. "I still would like to find out what sort of animal that is…would you both like to stay at my house until the next meeting?"
Philantha grinned. "Oh yes, we'd be delighted!"
"And so begins the construction of our new concentration camps!" cried Prince Keir in front of the many who were invited to his banquet, to celebrate the execution of the Saphmas. A loud cheer rang through the audience of dignitaries, princes, kings, queens, princesses, dukes and duchesses, a sea of blonde hair that resembled a field of wheat flipping through the wind.
Keir waited for the clapping to die down, and then he stood again at his podium, as tall and regal as he had ever been. "We will start with two of these so-called 'camps' on the outskirts of Pharel. Each will contain every aspect that was once used in an Earth concentration camp, back in the years of one thousand nine hundred and forty-so-on." The audience beamed at such a concept. One watching from Earth might have expected them to yell Heil Keir! they were so engrossed.
The prince found himself pleased that his audience was fond of the idea. Even the bad-tempered Princess of Azakaria looked impressed. "And so, what will be in these concentration camps of yours, your Highness?" she cried from the back row.
Keir smiled. "Yes, I knew you would ask such a question." He snapped his fingers, and a guard came forward in front of the prince's podium, holding a piece of spiky wire. "This," Keir pronounced, "is called barbed wire. It is made so that there is a shock of static when one touches it. As you can see, the barbed wire has not been installed." Keir flicked his wrist, and the guard exited. Prince Keir gripped the podium with his fingers, growing even more excited. "There will be gas chambers. The Saphmas will be led in there, thinking they will wash. They never return. They are poisoned to death, by the gas."
The Princess of Azakaria stood. "Your Highness, forgive me, but don't you believe such a concept is a form of cruelty?" The audience gasped, knowing that the princess had made a mistake. Pharel was the most powerful kingdom in Anané, and Keir had much more power than she. But Keir only laughed. "My dear Princess, don't think such a thing! These Saphmas are invading our good Anané! Would you like them to someday take over?" And with that, the princess sat and uttered not another word.
"Now, following this, we shall have a celebration!" the prince cried. "I have invited you all to dinner! Feast!"
The long white table in front of them suddenly was filled with the best meats, fruits, sauces, desserts, and vegetables that any of them had eaten in a long time. The kitchen maids scurried like mice to deliver the food in time, and every now and then a dish would empty, and they'd have to serve another batch as quickly as possible. Nyx felt herself most rushed.
Without warning, a clanging of spilled dishes echoed through the banquet hall, and Nyx grabbed her broom and dustpan as quickly as she could to help clean the mess. Bending over to scoop up the glass, she heard a man saying, "That's a pretty one you got there, Keir. How much will you sell her for?"
Nyx's heart leapt to her throat when Keir announced, "That is Nyx. She's not for sale."
"Oh? And why not?"
"She's mine." The prince glared at the duke sitting two seats down from him. "And I'm not impoverished! Do you think I care about money? I am the richest prince in the whole of Anané!" Keir laughed and bent over, picking up a large chunk of glass, setting it in Nyx's dustpan. "There you are. You missed one." He smiled at her and continued to eat. Nyx's face turned pink and she rushed out of the banquet hall for the back kitchen.
Marla was stirring gravy when Nyx entered, nearly spilling the contents of the dustpan. Marla narrowed her eyes. "Nyx girl, what happened now? Your face is as red as a pacba root."
"I have no desire to speak of it," Nyx declared. "And besides, you would only speak ill things of me anyway."
Marla rolled her eyes and used her ladle to fill the gravy pots. "Nyx, he will never love you like you want him to."
"He has to!" Nyx cried, slamming her broom against the door. "And he does! Or will! I can see it in his eyes. It's there. He just needs the extra inspiration…I can break that barrier between us, I know I can."
Marla shook her head. "Nyx, there's something I need to tell you about the prince before you can go on…" Nyx looked confused. "Nyx, the prince is…he's…" Marla stopped mid-sentence, shaking her head. "I can't tell you. I really cannot tell you."
"Why? Why can't you tell me? I think I have a right to know!"
"You will find out sooner or later, I suppose."
The prince, at the head of the long table of royalty, found himself involved in a conversation with the Duke of Wardway, a neighboring kingdom. At first, the prince was disturbed because of his wanting to buy Nyx, but when he started to ask about the prince's ideas for his New Kingdom, the prince mentally forgave him.
"Yes, but these grand ideas are not mine!" the prince said, just as happily. "We can thank a man who lived great many years ago…a person of Earth named Adolf Hitler." Keir smiled as the duke nodded, deep in thought. "Yes, my friend, Adolf Hitler and I are so very much alike, you see. He hated a group of people called Jyoos, and I too hate a group of people. The Saphmas, of course."
"But, forgive me your Majesty, what are Jyoos?"
The prince laughed. "I really cannot tell you. An old Saphma who lives near the palace named Synan translated an old history book for me. Jyoos are a religious group, I suppose. That is all I have learned."
"But, your Highness, if that is all you have learned about them, then why do you believe that this is such a grand idea?"
The prince narrowed his eyes, his bangs falling in front of his eyebrows. "I know why I hate the Saphmas. I know why Adolf Hitler hated the Jyoos. The reasons are both the same. Both of us had parents killed by the opposite group of our own." Keir glared at the duke again. "If it weren't for a Saphma, a stupid Saphma, my father would live!" He slammed his fist on the table, making it rattle. The crowd of dignitaries gasped and turned toward him. Keir lost all his sense of dignity.
"You heard me!" he cried, tears rushing to his eyes. "My father was killed by one! They are all the same! They will destroy us!" He stood from his chair, and ran into the kitchen, retrieving Rea, who was huddled in a corner. He brought her out in front of the a-waiting and nervous crowd, lifting her in front of him. "Evil! Look at her!"
Of course, no one but Keir saw evil in the tiny six year-old girl, who looked frightened out of their mind. The prince had gone berserk. "Her hair is the color of fire! Fire is evil! Her entire face is clouded in evil! She will be the first to die!"
Nyx, who had been startled by the commotion and rushed out of the kitchen, was there to witness the prince's acts of lunacy, and tears rushed to her eyes as she saw her dearest Rea about to be killed for nothing she had done. "Your Highness!" she cried. "Your Highness! Do not kill her!"
"What!" cried Keir. "Nyx! I did not issue you to speak!"
"No, you didn't!" she cried. "But I know you could not kill her! You are not evil, Prince Keir! There is love in you, and there is love in her! Spare her!"
There was a buzzing of excited talking throughout the table, until the price cried, "Shut up! All of you, leave my palace!" He threw Rea to the floor and rushed through the double doors, clambering down the corridors to his chambers.
"Your Highness…your Highness!" cried Nyx, rapping on the large ivory doors. "Please, please come out!" Her face was tear-stained, but she didn't care. All that mattered was the prince had just ruined himself in front of some of the most important people in Anané, and he was most likely feeling extremely sorry for himself. But what got to Nyx most was the fact that he didn't kill Rea…on account of Nyx being there.
"Who speaks?" Keir cried, his voice muffled.
"It is Nyx."
"Come in, then." Nyx slowly opened the door to find the prince seated on one of his enormous red velvet chairs, looking meek and helpless. The fire in the fireplace in front of him crackled and spat ashes. Nyx slowly closed the door behind her. "Nyx, come here and sit by me," the prince instructed. Nyx did as she was told. "Look at the fire. I was named after the fire. I was supposed to be courageous and destructive like the fire. But look at me. I'm not." The prince hung his head in shame.
"Your Highness, you know that is not true," Nyx comforted him. "Who else could bring about such a demanding task as ruling a kingdom as large as Pharel? It is difficult, I do realize, to do the right thing sometimes."
"Nyx, remember when we were little? We used to play with snowballs?" the prince laughed. Nyx nodded, secretly delighted that he remembered their game. "Why did you come to work at the palace after that?"
Nyx shrugged. "My grandfather was unable to support me any longer."
"Oh? And who was your grandfather then?"
"An old man named Synan."
Nyx just realized what a horrible mistake she had just made. She sat in the deadly silence, the flames in the fireplace crackling. She slowly turned her head toward the prince, who looked deep in thought. He finally shuffled from his frozen position. "Synan is your grandfather," he restated. "Synan is a Saphma."
Nyx sighed in defeat. "Yes, my grandfather is a Saphma," she said.
The prince turned toward her and narrowed his ice-blue eyes. "Get out. Get out of my palace and never return. And if you do, for one moment, I will have you killed." He shook his head. "I thought you were the only one I could trust, Nyx. Now I find you just as bad…worse…than the others. I cannot kill you, however. My heart is not into it. Leave."
Nyx quickly leapt from the velvet chair and rushed towards the door, turning the handle. "And I trusted you also, your Highness. For even in your darkest days, your worst tempers, your most unfair judgements…" She paused to peer straight into his blue eyes, which were still glared, but glazed over with tears. "I still loved you."
And the servant girl ran down the palace corridors and out of sight.
The prince sat there in sheer loneliness, horrified at what he had done. His very favorite servant, his only friend, was gone, all because of his stupidity. He stared into his fire, knowing he had done wrong. He lifted himself from his chair, almost calling her back, when reality struck him. Calling Nyx back would be a cowardly thing to do. He'd be weak again, and he'd feel it. He just let the tears slip from his eyes as he imagined the old days, the days before the corruption and hatred had erupted.
"Even in your darkest days…worst tempers…most unfair judgements…I still loved you. I still loved you. I still loved you." The words echoed through his mind like minor church bells, the sound almost unbearable. He stared at his face in the hand mirror at his side…the blonde bangs falling in front of his crystal complexion, his lips scarlet and his eyes cerulean. His cheekbones were higher and fallen in, and even in his beautiful state of composure, he knew something wasn't right…because, despite of his ravishing face, there was not a single bone of vanity in his body.
"How could she love me?" he thought to himself. "She…the one I have hit, insulted, the one I have treated most poorly…loves me?…or did." The thought was quite sad to him, actually, that he had given up his favorite servant for the hate of her people.
"Besides," he said to himself, "I will someday find a rich princess and marry her instead." The thought comforted him for a while, but every time he thought of this dream princess she had a square chin, like Nyx, and almond-shaped eyes, like Nyx, and features that so resembled hers that she might as well have been Nyx.
Keir shook his head, veiling the image from his mind. "Garren! Garren!" he screamed, ringing the bell in his room. The guard appeared before him, nearly out of breath. "Ca-can I help you, your Majesty?" he panted.
Keir nodded. "Yes, you can. Have all the guests left?"
"Yes, your Highness, I do believe they have."
"Good. Have one of the literate maids write them each a word of apology. And then call my architects and my carpenters to my quarters." The prince rubbed his hands together, almost in an evil way. "We need to begin the construction of these concentration camps, neh?"
"Yes, your Majesty." Garren turned his heel and exited the room. In a half an hour, he had rounded up each and every architect and carpenter that lived under the palace ceiling. The prince planned, the architects scribbled, and the carpenters took notes. After Keir called it a night, he shut his eyes and stated that if anyone saw Nyx, that she be sent to him immediately. And as the Great Star set over the horizon of Anané, Keir knew nothing would ever be the same.
Heartache and Bloodshed
"I still cannot figure out the origin of this animal." The doctor who had taken Ezek and Philantha in for a week, sat in her small, warm cabin with Gat at her feet, flipping through thick books. Her name was Althea, and she looked about fifty years old and lived by herself, and was very kind and so good at her craft that she could heal just about anyone, or in Gat's case, any creature. "Where do you say you found him, Ezek?"
"I was working in the palace gardens a few months ago, and he just jumped out of a pile of rocks at my feet, and started licking me." Ezek laughed. "I let him sleep in my cabin in the gardens, and I fed him some of my rations."
Althea smiled. "You don't suppose he could be a Yeshpa, do you?" Yeshpa were little black cat-like animals that lived near water.
Ezek shook his head. "Yeshpa have small tongues. And yellow paws. Gat has black paws, and a very very long tongue." Gat looked up at Ezek admirably, and then as to prove his point, shot his tongue out and licked Ezek's nose. "Gat!" he cried.
"Where did you get his name?"
"It is after Gatarin of the Rocks, you see. He emerged from a rock pile. And…whenever he barks it sounds like 'Gat! Gat!'"
Althea nodded. "Interesting. So, are you both going to tell me your story?" Philantha nodded and told Althea of their travels from the palace, and their escape, and Synan. Althea nodded her head in interest, and served them both plates of some dish neither of them had seen before. She called it "fish".
"Do you actually think the prince is that horrible a person?" she asked them.
Philantha shook her head. "I only think he is confused at times. The thing is…he executed my mother when I was only a little girl. For conceiving my sister, Rea. She wasn't supposed to, I guess…seeing as she's a Saphma…and the prince hates us. I don't truly understand why, but I think it had to do with the black fever."
"Philantha, you didn't happen to know a girl by the name of Nyx, did you?"
Philantha nodded. "Yes, she was my best friend. Before I left. I don't know if I'll ever see her again, I don't know what has been happening at the palace."
Althea smiled. "She was Synan's granddaughter. A hidden Saphma, wasn't she?" Philantha nodded again. "I once worked in the palace also, I was the healer." This came as a shock to Philantha and Ezek, but they said nothing. "I helped Synan's daughter deliver Nyx. What a pretty little thing she was." Althea beamed. "I don't suppose you know who Nyx's mother was?"
Philantha shook her head. "No, who was she?" She prepared herself for any more shock that was coming. Everything she had heard about Nyx since she had left had been full of it.
Althea took a deep breath. "Nyx's mother was named Piar. She too, was a Saphma of course. As was her sister."
"Piar's sister's name was…I'm not supposed to tell you this…but I will. Piar's sister's name was Torra. Queen Torra."
"Queen Torra?!" Ezek nearly screamed, dropping his fork. "Wasn't that King Carro's wife?"
Althea nodded sullenly. "Prince Keir's own mother was a Saphma…as is Nyx. That would make…"
"Keir and Nyx are cousins," Philantha finished. In all of her life she had never heard such a terribly exhausting statement…the prince who hated Saphmas was in fact, a Saphma himself. It was all so unbelievably wrong and immoral, and yet, the puzzle seemed to fit together perfectly. "That must be why Nyx had such hidden feelings for him!" Philantha cried. Althea shook her head. "I don't believe it's that simple. She doesn't know he's her cousin."
Ezek clutched his stomach. "This whole thing makes me nauseous."
"I can't believe this!" Philantha cried. "It's all so difficult to understand! It's all so horribly confusing! Keir doesn't know of his ancestry, right?" Althea shook her head no. "If we don't stop Nyx, she'll do something terribly stupid." A tear came to Philantha's eyes. "She'd die for him. She told me so. And to find out that he's her own cousin…and that the prince is killing off his own relatives!"
"Yes, word just came to me that the construction of one concentration camp is underway," Althea informed them. "It is going to be built maybe seven miles from my home here. I'm planning on leaving before the prince can get his hands on me and sending me there."
"Where will you go?"
"I hope I don't have to worry about it. We must win this war against the prince," Althea stated defiantly. "If he dares think for one moment that I will be tortured, then he has no idea. He is out of his senses. And once I see him the truth will escape me, and he will know of his true past and identity."
"Don't you think that a bit dangerous?" Philantha said. "I mean…he'll think you're lying. He'll probably kill you."
"I have proof. Don't forget that I am, indeed, a doctor." Althea grinned and pulled out of a small cabinet drawer a wooden tray. The tray was filled with the most grotesque thing Philantha or Ezek had experienced…tubes and tubes filled with blood. Each tube was labeled with names. Althea slipped her hands into a pair of gloves and removed a tube that inscribed "PIARà NYX".
"I can take this blood sample of Nyx's and compare it to that of Keir's," Althea stated. "How we're going to obtain Keir's blood, I have no idea. But there are certain elements that can show me their genetics and how they're alike. If I find any trace of Saphmatism in his blood, there will be problems. For him, of course." Althea grinned slyly. "I plan on taking this evidence to the meeting next week."
"But how are we going to obtain the prince's blood?" Philantha queried.
"I'm thinking about that. I think I've come up with an idea." Althea looked thoughtful. "Maybe we don't need blood. Maybe…maybe we just need saliva." Ezek shuddered in disgust, and then laughed. "I think Nyx could help with that!" Philantha was quick to hit Ezek with the back of her hand for his remark.
Ezek winced. "Oh come on, Philantha! You know I didn't mean it that way!" He laughed. "I meant, doesn't she work in the kitchen and handle his food and stuff? Couldn't she take the remnants of his drink off the side of his glass or something?" He shuddered again. "I still think this is absolutely disgusting."
Althea shook her head. "That might work, but I'm not sure if saliva would. I'm thinking that it's only blood. If we could only get someone to prick him, or have him bleed somehow…"
"He'll be dead before long," Philantha said. "The rest of the Saphmas are going to eventually kill him, I know they are."
"They can't kill him," Althea insisted. "That wouldn't be helpful at all. If we killed him, then the Saphma discrimination would go on forever, despite the ruler. The next in line to the throne is the prince's second cousin, who is just as terrible as he."
"That would make him a Saphma too, right? His second cousin, I mean?" Philantha scratched her head in confusion.
Althea shook her head. "No, it wouldn't. Only Torra passed on the genes, not Carro." She shook her head again, and shut her eyes. "This entire thing is completely insane."
Nyx sat in a corner of her grandfather's cabin, her tears run dry and her face red from weeping. "How could he, Grandfather? He couldn't really hate me that much, could he?"
Synan sat in front of the stove, making some sort of concoction for supper, mixing random ingredients in his black pot. He had been listening to Nyx with a straight face for the past hour or so, trying not to either laugh or cry…or tell her of Keir's mother. It would only upset her more. "Nyx, I'm quite positive that he made a mistake and is looking for you as we speak."
"What? So he can kill me?" Nyx grabbed her grandfather's shirtsleeve. "Grandfather! Please don't let him kill me!" Synan laughed and shook his head at his granddaughter's ravings. "No, Nyx, I don't believe he will." The truth was that there had been a guard at Synan's own cabin that very morning, asking him if he saw any sign of Nyx. The prince had been "searching frantically for her".
"Maybe you should go back to the palace," Synan advised. "I assure you, Keir won't kill you."
"He told me he would!" Nyx sobbed. Synan shook his head again and handed Nyx a bowl of his strange but agreeable dinner. Nyx hungrily gulped it down while she told Synan about Philantha and how she was never coming back, and about Keir and how he never wanted Nyx back, and about little Rea who absentminded Marla would probably lose.
"How would Marla lose Rea?" Synan asked. "It's not possible. You're just frantic, my dear."
Suddenly, there was a loud knocking on the front door. Synan motioned Nyx to hide under the table and pull a crate over her head. She obeyed as he slowly and steadily opened the door to find, not only two guards accompanying him, but the prince himself, bedecked in green and gold silk, shorter than his guards but his head so high and regal that anyone near would be afraid of his ice-cold stare.
"Synan, please tell me now of your granddaughter's whereabouts," Keir demanded, raising his eyebrows up at the tall old man.
"Even if I knew where she was, I know of your plans," Synan lied.
"Oh, do you now? And what would they be?"
"You would kill her for being my granddaughter and deceiving you. Because she is a Saphma. And I well know of your hate towards my people." Even though Synan knew he could be dead with the snap of the prince's two fingers, he stood tall and proud, like a tattered flag after a battle.
Keir turned toward his two guards. "Zareb, Garren, please leave me alone. I will call you when I need you again." They nodded and headed towards the door, and the prince shut it behind him. Synan sat in a chair and sipped a cup of tea, knowing he had nothing to worry about now that the prince's guards had left but preparing himself for shock. He wasn't the only one shocked.
"Synan!" Keir cried, grabbing the old man's hands as tears started down his cheeks. "You have to help me, please! If you don't find her, no one will! She's as good as dead!"
Synan retained his composure. "And why would you care?"
"Because…because I love her!" Keir buried his face in Synan's old blankets on his rocking chair, his regality completely gone and looking weak and fragile, the color drained from his face and tears running down his eyes like rivers. "But…but I cannot change my ways! I have already told the entire world of my plans! I was just like that Earth man, Adolf Hitler, remember, Synan?"
Nyx, in the dark of the crate above her head, had her hand clasped over her mouth and was trying not to sob out loud. She had done it. She had done it. She had finally done it. She knew that he had a heart, and that it belonged to her and her alone! But the horrible darkness in her heart lifted again, and she knew that their love was forbidden. By the world.
"My first concentration camp is almost finished," Keir continued. "It has everything I ever wanted in it…it has the 'barbed wire', and it has guns, and it has those horrible sleeping places called 'barracks', and it's deathly! But…but I know that if I give in now, I will be called a coward! By the entire world!"
"Your Highness, please listen to me," Synan insisted. "I realize you cannot change your ways right now. There are already troops in different kingdoms trying to distinguish Saphmas and bring them to you. But tell me…do you really want them dead?"
Keir shook his head. "I wanted revenge for whomever killed my father."
"Don't you realize that it was an accident? More Davores contracted and spread the black fever than Saphmas did! Don't you want to learn the ways of the Earth?" Synan asked him. The prince nodded, wiping the tears from his eyes. "Then what are you going to do?"
"I'll try to get my troops back here, I suppose... and after this entire thing is resolved, I'm hoping to have Nyx back. When you see her, you do promise to send her back? Please?"
Synan nodded. "Yes, your Highness, that I will do."
The prince stood, turned his heels, and then slowly headed out the door, but stopped. "And…and Synan? Promise me one more thing…that I…I will be the one to tell Nyx." Synan nodded, smiling so widely that the crow's feet near his eyes were long and thin. The door shut behind the prince and Nyx quickly emerged from the crate.
"Oh Grandfather! I knew it was true!" She hugged Synan tightly and wrapped her robes around her. "I have to go find Philantha and the other Saphmas and tell them before it's too late…before they do something terrible."
"Then hurry you must." Synan gave her a bag of food and told her to be careful, and then she creaked open the door and dashed around the back of the house, entering the back woods of Pharel.
Nyx spent a long, cold day searching high and low for any signs of Nyx or Ezek, or even any other Saphmas. But her heart was not cold. Inside, she was leaping for joy, despite her chattering teeth or freezing fingers. Marla had been wrong all along. The prince was not evil, he was good…and he wouldn't kill anyone, he was only confused. And her love was requited! This, more than anything, made her completely, insanely happy. She was fearless. Being fearless made her hopeful.
But even with her hopes risen, they would eventually come tumbling down.
Yet, she had never been happier at the prince's small proclamation. She imagined his face, his voice…all etched in her mind and heart, and she remembered their meetings at the palace gates and the sparkle in his beautiful eyes and the stories he'd tell her.
"When this whole thing is over, he will be mine for as long as I live," Nyx told herself, her stomach fluttering with butterflies, both anxious and excited at once. Even in secret she would have been happy to be with him and him alone, and knew that eventually they would be together.
Suddenly, she felt a hand clasp over her mouth and pull her into a pricker bush. The thorns tore at her skin, but she couldn't think about the pain. She raised her eyes in frenzy to see who her captor was, but she couldn't get a good glimpse. She thrashed around, but was unable to escape.
"Shut up, Nyx, you're not escaping." The voice was so familiar, but she was unable to recall whose it was…
Nyx felt herself being dragged across the ice-hard snow so ferociously that sores suddenly burned on her calves, and no matter how hard she tried, had to give in. Her hands were tied with rope, she could feel it…but she had no strength left to fight it. Suddenly her captor threw her against the trunk of a tree. She blinked her eyes widely, and then in horror, realized who it was.
"Garren!" she cried. "What's the matter with you?"
The tall, burly guard glared down at the girl with eyes of ice as he tied her feet in the same rope. "I couldn't help but overhear the prince's conversation with your grandfather," he explained, his teeth gritted. "I know that you tricked him somehow into going to your side, you little wench! But there's more to it than that! The Saphmas will all die, and I'll watch them burn! And you too, you horrid little witch!"
"What have we ever done to you, Garren?" Nyx cried, with tears at her eyes.
"The king's death may have been accidental, but my brother's death was not!" Garren shouted. "When we were at a Pharel fair once, we visited an old Saphma woman who claimed to have 'special herbs' that would cure any disease. My poor brother had been cursed with paralyzation on his left leg, and he bought some of the herb from the woman for seventeen littans." Garren shook his head in dismay. "The next day we found him, dead on the floor of our cabin."
Nyx gasped. "That's horrible, Garren! But that's one woman's fault, not the entire population! You must realize this! Please, Garren, try to understand!"
"Try to understand!" Garren screamed. "You try to understand! Try to understand waking up on a sunny morning, only to find your only friend and brother dead as a doornail, sprawled on the floor after having vomiting blood all night long! Understand it, Nyx!" Garren spit in the snow, and continued tying Nyx to the tree. "Perhaps the beasts will come eat you. That would make my day. But until then, I'm going to kill you off, every single one of you! And don't think I won't! I'll find a way to kill you and the rest of them, Nyx! And if you don't die tonight, it will be tomorrow!"
Nyx's happiness had been shattered. Just an hour ago she had been completely satisfied in her entire life, just because of what she had heard coming from the prince's mouth. And here she was, roped to a tree, praying for her life and hoping the evil yellow eyes of the forest beasts wouldn't see where she was. The snow and icy wind that blew from the north was like the chill of death, and Nyx knew it was coming, whether it be by the slashing of teeth or a sword or the bullet of a gun through her head.
"Keir, please save me," she said aloud, her words nearly drowned out by the sound of the wind. "If there is anyone who can save me, it's you." She clenched her teeth. "I refuse to die. I cannot die until Keir realizes what is happening to me, and what I did for him."
Suddenly, Nyx's ears perked to the sound of snapping twigs and crunching snow. She held her breath. Maybe Garren had come back to finish the job himself. She could almost feel the blade at her throat already…a hand touched her shoulder. Her head jerked in surprise, and squinting, looked up to the familiar face of the one and the only Philantha, her violet eyes so bright against her shiny red face they looked glowing.
"S-sindra…" stuttered Nyx, and then she felt her head roll onto her shoulder and she went completely unconscious.
"Ezek! Hurry, lift her up! We have to get her back to Althea's cabin!" Philantha beckoned her friend, who was trying to maintain the squirming Gat in his coat pocket.
"Hold…hold on…Philantha…stupid creature…" Gat yipped ferociously at the falling snow, and tried to bite into a snowflake as it landed on his nose. Ezek finally let Gat go and lifted Nyx onto his shoulder, while Philantha held her legs in the air and the both of them carried her, trudging through the dense snow. The wind was so cold and the snow so thick, however, that neither could see very well.
Gat, on the other hand, was trampling his way through the snowbanks, falling in every chance his little legs got. Finally, he couldn't take it anymore. Standing on top of a thick snowbank, Ezek and Philantha only feet behind him, Gat gathered up all the power he could muster and, his large eyes glowing a bright yellow, blazed through the snowbanks with a ray of invisible light, or some invisible force.
Philantha was so shocked she nearly dropped Nyx. "What did Gat just do?!" she screamed. In front of them, about five feet wide, was a trail of perfect green grass and light and clear air, while the area surrounding it was still as snowy and cold and windy as ever. The air on the trail was as warm as spring, and Gat gave a little smirk of his own self-appreciation and trotted merrily down his own path.
Ezek and Philantha looked at each other in complete and utter awe. "Gat…Gat Gat," Ezek called. "C'mere, boy." The little black creature trotted back to his owner, and licked his toe appreciatively. "How did you do that? Tell me in some way you can!"
Gat looked thoughtful, but just puffed some air through his little shiny black nose and skipped forward. Philantha and Ezek had no choice but to hold onto Nyx as best as they could and walk her down the spring path that Gat had blazed for them, and ever so pridefully.
"I knew there was somethin' special about that thing," Ezek beamed. "Do you think he could be some sort of Mylak?"
"There's no such thing as Mylak," Philantha scoffed huffily.
"And there's no such thing as a God, either then," Ezek scorned. They trudged along in silence for a moment, and then Ezek got a smirk on his face. "Your hair looks good in braids, Philantha." He felt a kick on the back of his kneecap, winced, and then kept moving.
"Althea! Althea, please open the door!" cried Ezek, kicking the cabin door with his foot. Althea rushed to the door and opened it as quickly as she could. After helping Nyx to a place on the large cotton sofa, Philantha explained that this was the famous Nyx, and told her where she had found her…tied to a tree.
After Althea inspected the girl and insured that nothing was wrong with her, she turned the fire on the fireplace nearly scorching hot so that the room felt as warm as a summer day. Nyx soon blinked her large blue eyes open and was delighted to see Philantha again. After explaining her entire story, beginning with when she hid in the crate at her grandfather's house till when Garren tied her to the tree and threatened her, she was so happy to be in a perfectly safe environment that she was nearly giddy, but still dead weak from the cold.
After hearing what Nyx told them about Prince Keir, Philantha and Althea exchanged troubled glances and knew that Nyx had to know eventually. The truth about Keir. "Nyx, we have to tell you something," Althea told her, taking a deep breath. Nyx looked confused, and then nodded. "All right, tell me."
Philantha closed her eyes. "Are you sure you want to hear this, Nyx? Because it could ruin everything."
"Anything you have to tell me must be important enough to ruin my life."
Althea lifted her eyes to meet Nyx's. "Nyx, I am a doctor. I delivered you. I know your mother, and I know her sister."
"My mother had a sister?"
"Yes. Her name was Torra. Queen Torra."
Nyx's jaw dropped. "That's-that's Keir's mother." Althea nodded sadly. Nyx's eyes darted from Ezek to Philantha and back to Althea again. "But…but that must make him…that makes him my own cousin. Keir is my cousin!" She felt her heart jump to her throat. "Keir is my cousin. And that…that makes him a Saphma also then."
"Not completely. Only half. The point is that he's killing off his own people."
"But he's not!" Nyx cried. "He's changed! I swear it! He told it to my own grandfather!"
"Do you ever think that maybe he knew you were there and was trying to fool you, Nyx?" Althea shook her head. "Maybe he was trying to turn you to his side, so that you'd understand why he was killing you. Our real problem here is that he himself is a Saphma and he's trying to rid our world of them!"
"No," Nyx muttered through gritted teeth. "This is not my problem. I have one problem and one problem alone. Keir is my cousin. Keir is my damn cousin. Do you know what this is doing to me? I am royalty. He is a Saphma. We are both Saphmas. We are relatives! And all you can think about is something you believed the prince lied about which, I know for a fact he did not!"
"Nyx, you are being selfish!" cried Althea. "We have the beginning of a war here. And that damn prince of ours took someone else's idea…someone else's idea from a different world, nonetheless…and worshipped it and followed through with it and now he's trying to turn you to his side because he knows that your capabilities are powerful!" Althea grabbed Nyx's hands. "Nyx, you are being used."
"I wish you would all shut up and let me sleep." Nyx covered herself with a large quilt and tried to block out Althea's lecture, and the echoing of it running through her brain, but she couldn't. And when her eyes drooped heavily and she finally fell asleep, it worried her so that she woke up in the middle of the night in a cold sweat more than once, deathly worried and sickened by her discoveries.
"He must love me," she thought to herself, wiping the moisture from her forehead. "He is my cousin. But he must love me. Like I have loved him for so many years." Her mind trailed back to the expression on the prince's face when he told her grandfather his true feelings for Nyx, and when he refused to let her be sold to the Duke, and his smiles and his horrible moods and even his rare good ones. And most especially the way his silver blonde hair fell in front of his sky blue eyes and the dear look on his face when he confided in her and would cry in front of her. These thoughts comforted Nyx once again and she was able to fall into a deep sleep.
Four of the prince's most heavily armed guards followed him as he walked back up the path to his palace. One of his advisors met him at the door and greeted him. "Good evening, your Highness," he nodded. "Can I ask you about your plans?"
"I found Nyx," Keir said, an evil smile creeping on his face. "I completely fooled her into thinking I had feelings for her…because I know she loves me. She told me." Keir sat in front of the fireplace and beckoned his advisor to sit across from him. "I knew she was listening. She wouldn't stray far from her grandfather's house, and I told him I was going to give up trying to kill the Saphmas."
"But what does the handmaiden have anything to do with it?" his advisor questioned.
"Plenty. When she finds out that I have no bad intentions toward her and Synan's people, and that she will find out falsely, she will find the rest of them and tell them the war is over, and there is to be no torturing and no killing." The prince rubbed his palms together, and grinned. "So, the Saphmas will be unarmed. And then we'll attack. And they will all die."
Garren, who was standing on the prince's left side, suddenly broke into a nervous sweat. His thumbs twitched in terror. "Your Highness, may I please ask something?" he queried. Keir turned to him, confused, but nodded. Garren continued. "How important is Nyx to you? I mean, how important is she to this war?"
Keir smiled. "Very important. Very important indeed. The Davores winning the war depends solely on her existence." Keir raised an eyebrow. "Why do you ask, Garren?"
Garren's teeth chattered in fear. The color drained from his face, and he sunk to the floor on his knees, his hands in a begging position, as tears ran down his face. "I ruined it! I ruined it! Please forgive me, your Highness! I'm begging you to forgive me!"
"What did you do?"
"I-I tied Nyx to a tree in the middle of the forest…for the beasts to come and tear her apart…I hate Saphmas just as much as you do, your Highness, and-"
"What?" screamed Keir. "What the hell did you do? You killed Nyx? You killed Nyx?"
"I'm-I'm not certain if she's dead…but most probably she is…"
The prince glared at him, the most evil glare Garren had ever seen him give anyone. Garren shook in terror. Zareb was terrified also, even though he had nothing to do with the situation. "Now the Davores will die. Many will die, because of your stupidity, you stupid stupid fool," the prince muttered. He reached for the bell on the side table. As his hand rang it, Garren trembled in complete fear. "No…your Highness…I didn't mean to do it…"
"Shut up!" screamed Keir. The four guards that had protected Keir earlier showed at his side. "Throw Garren in the east dungeons. Lock him up. We'll see to his execution tomorrow morning." Garren shook his head in horror, but no words could escape him. His whole body weakened as the four guards dragged him from his station, but he made no attempt to struggle at it.
"I can't believe he betrayed me," Keir muttered to himself. "This entire thing is completely blown out of proportion! Not to mention that if Nyx truly is dead, there is little to no hope that this war will belong to us." He turned to his advisor. "You know how powerful the Saphmas are, don't you?" His advisor nodded sadly. Keir clenched his teeth and kicked the glass table near his feet, causing the vase on top of it to fall to the floor, shattering in a thousand pieces.
The prince's advisor looked thoughtful, and there was a long pause. "Even if Nyx is dead, your Highness, we still have a great chance of winning this war. I have an idea."
"Oh?" Prince Keir looked confused. "How so?"
"Think of this. Nyx can't be completely trusted, even by her own kind. No one can be completely trusted. Look at Garren! He turned around and betrayed even you, your Highness. What we have to do is tell them that we mean no harm. It's definitely a complete falsehood, but you could tell them yourself that you are over your grudge. Invite the entire population of Saphmas to dinner, or to a ball, or some such festivity, and they'll think you're on their side!" Keir's advisor laughed heartily. "They're just plain stupid that way!"
"Yes, that would be a good idea," Keir agreed. "And then, when they think peace has finally arrived, wham! We nail them. Concentration camps, soldiers, gas chambers. Whatever good old Adolf Hitler had in mind." Keir grinned. "Thank you for your cooperation and good advice. I excuse you." His advisor nodded, turned his heel and headed toward his chambers in the west wing.
But the prince's smile turned into a frown when he was certain no one was watching him, and tears started at his eyes, for even though he knew he could win the war…Nyx was dead, there was no denying. His heart fell to his stomach and he slowly tucked in his pocket the one and only photograph he had of her, encased in glass.
The prince woke up at the crack of dawn, when the Great Star was peeking over the horizon line. It was time for Garren to die. Garren will die today for killing Nyx, the prince ensured himself. He didn't want to feel any regret for having to do this. After washing his hair and face and dressing himself in his finest black robes, he stormed out of his chambers to the main hallway, where Garren, dirty and dingy from his night in the dungeons, stood before him, guards at his every side.
"How would you like to be killed, Garren?" the prince snarled.
"Your Highness…let me first make my argument," Garren pleaded.
Keir laughed. "Go on. It will not change my mind, but do go on."
"Your Highness, I only did what I did because I hate Saphmas, just as much as you do. I wanted to kill one so badly! And most especially Nyx, seeing as you hated her so! I had no idea that she was part of any plan, and it was you that failed to tell Zareb nor I. Anyone could have killed her, you should know that!"
"Yes, but you broke the law, Garren!" cried Keir. "You broke the damned law! Do you remember what it says under Title VI? 'Any person shall not murder another person unless under consent of pure royalty, or they will be executed.' I am pure royalty, you dumb fool! I did not want Nyx dead! You ruined it, Garren. You completely ruined it! And now you will die. How shall you die, Garren?"
Garren bit his lip and said not another word.
"All right then, hold your tongue and see what good it comes to you." Keir smirked. "Maybe I will kill you the same way you killed Nyx? How very cruel, is it not? To be torn apart by wild beasts?" The prince laughed. "And now you will die the same way many Davorians will die. Good and innocent Davorians. And you know what they say, 'an eye for an eye'."
Garren's face suddenly froze. "Would you kindly repeat that, your Highness?"
Keir blushed. "It's-it's something my mother taught me. She says a great god said it. I forget which one it was."
Garren shook his head in sudden joy and realization. "You just ruined yourself, you stupid bastard! For even if I'm to die, I know what you are! I know what you are, Prince Keir of Pharel! Your mother was a Saphma, and so are you! That quote came straight out of the Christian Bible, you moron!" Garren laughed, almost insanely. He turned toward the guards holding him down. "Tell the world! Tell the world of the prince's true identity! He is not pure blood Davorian! He is a Saphma! A Saphma!"
The prince went into a rage. "Kill him! Kill him now! Wait…don't! I'll kill him, damn it!" Keir ran toward the antique collection of swords and weapons and picked out a large metal blade adorning pointed spikes. He grabbed the blunt end and ran toward Garren like a bull after a target, the edge cutting into his former guard and slicing him so deeply that his inner organs started to spill from his gut and blood spilled from his mouth.
"Your people will kill you!" Garren choked. Those were his last words before he sunk to the palace floor in a large and deep puddle of his own red blood.
"I want every single one of my damn search parties looking for Nyx," the prince cried, throwing the now red-stained weapon to the ground. "You," he stated, pointing to one of the guards next to him, "recruit someone to help you take care of the body. The rest of you look for the girl. And don't come back until you find her, dead or alive…and just find her whereabouts, don't bring her back." Keir smirked. "Oh, and if you do find her, give her this. From me." Keir shoved a diamond pendant in his guard's hand and waved him off. "To make sure she knows I am being truthful, no?"
The guards nodded and stormed off to draft some fellow comrades to help them look for the handmaiden. Zareb stepped up to the prince's side, and slowly bent over, picking the weapon from the ground. "Now you know what happens when you defy me, Zareb," Keir smirked, waving his hand toward the bloodied dead body of Garren. Zareb only turned away.
"Althea, we have something to tell you about Gat," Philantha said, after she was certain Nyx had fallen asleep on the sofa. Althea nodded, as if to go on. Philantha took a breath. "When Ezek and I were carrying Nyx through the snow, Gat stepped in front of us and…and it was strange, he let out a beam of light that seemed to turn the winter to spring in our path."
Althea looked puzzled, and then she took out her enormous encyclopedia of creatures, and skimmed her finger down the index. "Well, I don't see anything about strange beams of light, except for the sea creatures, and that Gat is definitely not." Gat wagged his tail and Althea smiled. "But…but Gat could be of a different breed. Maybe possessing some of the sea creatures' traits and some of the Yeshpa's."
"But…but can the sea creatures turn winter into spring like that? Or make everything warmer?"
Althea shook her head. "No, I don't believe so. This might just be another mystery I cannot solve." Althea sighed in discontent and closed the book. "Have you taken it into consideration that Gat may not even be a creature at all?"
"What are you talking about?" questioned Ezek.
"Maybe…maybe the little thing is something more than a creature. Maybe…he's an alien of some kind. Like, an alien from another planet, who'd been sent here on some mission?" Althea laughed at Ezek and Philantha's surprised faces. "I don't know, it's just a theory. But he's not of this world, I can tell you that, if he can do the things you say he can." Althea patted Gat on the head. "But keep him with you. He'll be of great use." Gat seemed to understand this and beamed, his little nose up in the air.
"Now you two better go to sleep," Althea changed the subject. "We have a big day tomorrow…Saphma meeting…we need to present our case." She waved her hand at the blood samples and smiled. "We'll get our revenge on that bastard, sooner or later."
Nyx's eyes were shut, but she could hear their words and dreaded them. She knew that the three of them would never believe that Keir actually was on her side, even though she knew deep down in her heart that he was. She opened her eyes and sat up. "Please, Althea, you can't do this to him."
"What do you mean, I can't do this to him?" she questioned. "He's out to kill us, or torture us, and we will be miserable for the rest of our lives if the truth isn't told!" She pointed at Nyx. "And you…you're living proof! Living proof that the prince is a Saphma himself. He is his own enemy."
"I am proof?" Nyx asked. "Living proof?" She got on her feet, and wavered a little, still dizzy, and walked over to the large array of kitchen knives Althea had collected. Slowly pulling out the largest one, she held it at her throat and whispered, "I can't be dead proof then, can I?"
Philantha's eyes widened. "Oh Nyx, no, don't do this."
"If I kill myself, then what proof will you have that I even existed? I am a simple kitchen maid! No one takes records of me." Nyx smiled somewhat wryly, and twisted the blade so that it made a reflection off the walls of the kitchen.
"I think you're forgetting what I am in possession of, Nyx." Althea gestured towards her blood containers, and pulled out the one labeled NYX. "Once I show everyone that the prince's family elements are the same as your own, there will be nothing left to show, will there?"
Nyx dropped the knife, which clattered to the floor. "Fine then. I'm leaving. I'm going back to the palace and I'm going to explain everything to Keir." She turned towards Philantha. "Philantha…you were like a sister to me, you always were. I hope you understand…but I'm standing up for what I believe in. I believe in love and I believe in hope. And-"
She was interrupted by a loud knock on the door. Althea gasped. "Everyone, hide! Find a hiding place…quickly." Ezek and Philantha rushed to find barrels to hide in, but Nyx stood her ground, crossed her arms and lifted an eyebrow. Althea shrugged. "Suit yourself, Nyx."
The door opened to reveal, sure enough, two well-clad and heavily armed guards that were certainly the prince's own. "Hello, my dear lady," one bowed to Althea. She looked confused, but he continued. "Ah, I see I have found Nyx, our dear misplaced kitchen maid." The guards walked in the room and stood near Nyx, looking her straight in the eye.
"Nyx, we have come to deliver a message from his Majesty Keir of the Kingdom of Pharel." The guard smiled. "He wants to make sure that you and the other Saphmas have nothing against him?"
Nyx grinned and gave Althea a knowing look. "Oh, it is being worked on."
"He wants to apologize for any inconvenience he has caused everyone," the guard continued. Then, he reached into bag hanging from his right arm and pulled out a small, velvet bag. "This, Nyx, is for you." Placing it in Nyx's open hands, he nodded his head and wished the women a good evening, and walked out the door.
Ezek and Philantha scampered from their hiding places and crowded around Nyx. "Open it! Open it! Let me see!"
The diamond pendant fell from the bag like liquid into Nyx's hands. It shimmered in the lamplight and in Nyx's own blue eyes. "It-it's beautiful," she stammered. She felt her heart soar and tears come to her eyes. He must love me, she thought, or he wouldn't have gone through with all the trouble…
Althea clicked her tongue. "It's a hoax. It's all fake. It's completely unreal!"
Nyx finally raised her voice. "Shut up, Althea! You're only jealous!"
"If I was jealous I would have let you die, you spoiled little brat! I'm trying to save my people and myself from death, is that your definition of jealous?" Althea kicked the knife so that it skidded in front of Nyx's feet. "I don't need you. Walk away. Go to your beloved prince, and I will see your pretty little head on an ivory pedestal, Princess Nyx!"
"Fine!" Nyx shoved the pendant in her pocket, kissed Philantha and Ezek on their heads, and opened the door. The blustery wind nearly made her turn back, but she walked forward with a determined look on her face. But she had no plans of going to the palace, oh no. She was going to find the meeting place of the Saphmas and she was going to make certain that they knew the prince meant no harm. Even if it would cost her her own worthless life, for she had one thing to live for and one thing alone… Keir.
It loomed in front of her, dark and cold and uninviting. But it was home. Home where only a few months before she and Philantha and little Rea had lived peacefully and without too much worry, home where her affections for the prince were kept hidden as well as her hidden past of Saphmatism. She gathered up her courage and stood at the front gates. The guards recognized her and let her pass.
Walking towards the large iron doors, Nyx fumbled through her pockets to find the diamond pendant. She clasped it around her neck and stood at the doors, her mind racing, her heart pounding and her entire body shaking. "S-sir," she told the guard at the door, "I-I request an audience w-with his Highness."
The guard nodded. "Just a moment. Your name, please?"
Nyx lifted her head and looked at the guard straight in the eye. "I am the handmaiden Nyx who's grandfather is the Great Saphma Synan." The guard nodded again and went through the door to tell Keir of his visitor.
Keir sat at his throne, drinking some fancy beverage when the guard came in, bowed at his feet and told him of the Nyx that had come to him. Keir nearly spilled his drink. I thought she was dead! "Tell her to come in." He looked at the guards at the side of his throne. "You are all excused until further notice." The guards all nodded and exited the room. Keir stood up and cried, "Come in!"
The iron doors opened to reveal Nyx, her long, blonde hair trailing to her waist and scantily clad in rags and a tattered robe. Keir's heart twisted in his chest when he saw her, but he didn't let it show. Nyx fell to her knees and kept her eyes to the long silver carpet beneath her. Keir took his time to walk up to her, trying to think of what to say, what to do…his feet stopped at her knees. "Nyx…I order you to stand and face me."
Trembling, Nyx stood up until her eyes met with Keir's. A chill went down her spine as she looked into the same face that she had seen for so many years, but had never directly looked into his eyes. Keir too, was astonished, only because he felt his own ice-cold heart leaping to his throat and aching at the same time. He leaned forward and kissed her…the kind of kiss that was led up to from years of heartache and unannounced love and pretend hatred…and the barriers that had separated them both before had disappeared and they became one, in just one moment.
But this time, unlike many times before, Keir wasn't lying as he poured his heart out to the meek little handmaiden in front of him. "All of these years, I tried to hold it in, I knew I could never fall in love with a commoner, but I did the very first moment you introduced yourself to me…you don't understand that you led me to your heart. I have never loved anyone and I didn't know what it was, I apologize that I hadn't been more direct sooner…and, I thought you were dead." And for the first time since he had last spoken to Nyx, a silent tear fell down his cheek, which she wiped away with her fingertips.
"Don't cry, your Highness," she smiled, her own eyes filled with tears. "I'll never leave you."
"Listen to me, everyone!" Althea cried, standing at the front of the large group of Saphmas. "The prince is still pure evil! A girl will most possibly try to tell you otherwise…a girl with the appearance of a Davorian but the blood of a Saphma named Nyx…don't listen to her."
It was the third day, and the Saphmas had crowded around Althea to hear her proposal. Althea presented her case of blood to the crowd, sitting it on a wooden table in front of her. "As you all know, I am a doctor," she said, "and this case here contains a small amount of blood from every baby I have delivered. I knew one day it would serve its purpose." She beamed, and picked out the tube inscribed "PIAR à NYX". "I show you now the blood of a Saphma girl, the granddaughter of the great Synan." The crowd murmured, and then hushed. "Piar, the girl's mother and Synan's daughter, had a sister. Her name? Torra."
"Queen Torra?!" cried a woman from the crowd.
Althea nodded. "Our beloved prince's own mother, nonetheless! Synan is Keir's grandfather, Nyx is his cousin…he is of Saphma blood, ladies and gentlemen!" A gasp ran through the crowd. "And what we need to do now is make certain he knows of his descent!" Althea cried. "For if he doesn't…we will all die."
"I'll tell him!" one man cried. "I will tell him myself!"
Althea shook her head. "It will not work. He will kill you for certain. There is only one Saphma who could possibly tell him, and now she isn't on our side either. She has gone to the prince, and it's now up to her whether she tells him or she doesn't." Althea hung her head. "It is our own Nyx who was fooled into thinking he was on our side, and yet she alone can make it end."
One man stood up and turned to the crowd. "All right everyone, go home and get your weapons ready. This is war! We must be prepared for anything!"
"No!" Althea cried. "Don't listen to him! The Davores are a powerful, powerful people, and they have the prince on their side! What I'm telling you all to do is go home, pack up your things, and move southward. We will go in groups, and meet here tomorrow at the crack of dawn! Bring your weapons, just in case. We need to get out of this treacherous kingdom as soon as we possibly can! There is already one concentration camp underway! He will steal your children, he will torture them and kill them, don't you understand? The prince is evil!"
"Keir…I have to tell you something." Nyx hung her head. "The Saphmas do not believe me. They think that you are really going to kill them…and I know you won't, right? You cannot do that to my people…or your own people."
"No, no, of course not," the prince lied. "What do you mean, my own people?"
"Keir…my mother's sister was your mother. The queen was my aunt. You are my cousin."
"That-that cannot be!" Keir cried. "I am…I am Saphma then?" Keir slunk down on his throne, obviously distressed. "And you, Nyx, you are my cousin." Keir looked at her, his ice-blue eyes piercing into hers. "I have something I must tell you then, Nyx. I-I lied to you…I mean, everything I said before was true, about you and I, I mean…but my plan was to get the Saphmas on my side so it'd be easier to kill them." He hung his head. "I am in shame!"
Nyx tensed up. "You-you lied to me?" she stammered. "I trusted you! I gave you my whole heart! And you lied to me!" Two tears trickled down her cheeks. "I nearly died for you numerous times! And what do I get in return? Lies! All of them, lies!" She turned her heel to walk out of the palace, and then jerked her head back around to glare at the prince. "Oh yes, your Majesty, we will have a war. I hope you enjoy it when I die!"
"Nyx, I never wanted you dead! That's why I had the guards find you…so you'd be unharmed!" Keir insisted.
Nyx stopped. She turned to Keir, her eyes nearly as ice-cold as his own. "I love you, Keir…but I have to tell them. They are my people. They are your people. Every person who lives in Pharel is. You are their guardian, their protector. They look up to you to help them, and what do you do? You turn on them like they were your own enemy." Nyx shook her head. "I cannot believe you. And now you've changed your mind because you found out you were one of them? It's disheartening. It's sick, your Highness!"
"It is. You should hate me forever. I wouldn't blame you." Keir looked at her, his eyes saddened. "I should die. I have caused my own people to hate me. I have even killed some, and were planning on the destruction of the rest." Keir fell off his throne and sunk to the floor, and for the first time in both of their lives, Keir's head was lowered in front of Nyx's feet. "Kill me, Nyx. Do it. Kill me."
"I could never kill you," she told him.
"Kill me! It is an order!" the prince cried. He flung at her feet the same spear he had used to kill Garren, still stained with his blood. "Stab me, Nyx. Kill me the same way I killed Philantha and Rea's mother, the same way I killed Garren. Make my guilty blood spill like I did their innocent blood!" Now Keir was sobbing, his eyes red and his gasps short.
Nyx shook her head. "Your Highness…with all due respect, did I not tell you I'd never leave you?" She smiled wryly. "If I killed you I would have to kill myself as well." Keir gave her sort of a half-smile. Nyx grinned. "You wouldn't want that, would you?"
Nyx took the prince's hand and helped him off the floor, so that he was facing her. "Althea is going to instruct the Saphmas to leave Pharel. All of them. And they will listen to her, that is for certain. The population of your kingdom will decrease greatly, Keir." She raised an eyebrow. "But that was what you desired, wasn't it? The Saphmas gone?"
Keir buried his face in his hands. "I already have my best men out looking for them."
"You did not tell them to murder the Saphmas, did you, your Highness?" Nyx glared at him.
"No…no…of course not. I told them to imprison any Saphmas they found in my dungeons. Of course, my guards all despise them as I did…if they found out I too, was a Saphma, they would call it deception and take it to court." Keir looked so disheartened that Nyx almost felt sorry for him. "I would be executed, assassinated…Nyx, I have an idea."
Althea was still standing at her podium when all of a sudden, the compacted dirt above their heads started to fall, and dust was swirling around their hidden spot. "What the hell is going on!?" Althea cried. The rocks leading to the entrance collapsed, and three of the prince's men emerged from the hole, all carrying large guns.
"How…how did you find us?!" Althea screamed. Ezek and Philantha silently tried to calm the crying children, while Gat ran around in circles, yipping like mad. The guards didn't attempt to answer her, but surrounded the large group of people and shouted not to move.
"You will all be directed to the palace dungeons, where the prince will take care of you!" shouted one guard.
Althea sunk to her knees and clasped her hands. "Please, sir, tell me what has happened to the handmaiden Nyx."
"I honestly cannot say," he responded. "Hands behind your back, everyone!" The Saphmas all obeyed, and prepared themselves to walk out their hidden entrance. Ezek tucked Gat in his front robe pocket and he and Philantha obeyed their orders. Althea, however, did not.
"I will not be treated like a slave, sir! I will not be tortured and I will not be killed at the hands of his Majesty, a Saphma himself!" she screamed. The guard did not hesitate, and swiftly turned around. He pulled the trigger on his gun, and before anyone could have predicted it, Althea was dead, huddled on the ground in a growing puddle of her own blood. Ezek gasped, and Philantha started to cry.
"At least she stood up for what she believed in," Ezek whispered to her. "At least she will not die in a concentration camp…which is what we seem to be headed for." Their healer, the woman who took them in and treated them like family, was gone. Dead. Never to be seen again. Philantha couldn't help but cry. She felt something sharp poke her back, and she turned around to face a guard, who instructed her to shut her mouth.
The wind was blustery and cold, but they marched onward, their hands behind their backs and the guards prodding at them with their guns. Unable to grab their robes before they had been escorted so violently out of their warm little hiding place, some of the younger children were becoming frostbitten and were crying hysterically.
"Gat…do something," Ezek told his little creature sitting in his pocket, remembering when he and Philantha had rescued Nyx from the cold. Gat panted, his little tongue out of his mouth, but his eyes seemed to agree with his owner, and his eyes began to glow yellow again. Ezek nudged Philantha to look at Gat, when suddenly, the little black creature shot up in a beam of light and disappeared.
"Gat! Gat's gone!" Ezek whispered loudly, trying to make his voice heard over the wind.
"I demand all guns be abandoned at once," said a loud, large, echoing voice over the wind. Everyone stopped dead in their tracks, but the guards didn't listen. They got their guns ready, and aimed it at wherever the voice was coming from. The voice laughed, and clicked its invisible tongue. "Tsk tsk, I warned you."
The Saphmas were suddenly and miraculously lifted into the sky, suspended midair. The snow around them turned to a warm, spring-like atmosphere, and Ezek grinned. "Good job, Gat." Suddenly, the guards, who had been left in the snow, were being chased after by heavy boulders and various sized rocks fell out of the sky. The ruckus continued until the guns had been abandoned and the guards were long out of sight.
A figure appeared in front of them, an adolescent boy with long, black hair and nearly black skin, with a silver aura glowing around him. He smiled at the group of astonished people in front of him, and announced, "I am Gatarin…I am what they call a Mylak. This boy," he pointed to Ezek, "saved me from misery. I turned into a small creature long ago, and because he and Philantha cared about me, I have been freed…and so have you. Go on, leave this kingdom, and never return."
And with that, Gatarin of the Rocks disappeared into the silver aura surrounding him, and was lifted into the sky by the wind.
The iron doors to the palace opened, and four exhausted guards fell in front of the prince. "It was Gatarin…Gatarin of the Rocks, your Majesty…we tried to capture the Saphmas, and were succeeding until he showed up!"
"Then there really is a Gatarin…" the prince smirked. Nyx stood there and smiled. "Tell me, how many of these Saphmas were there?"
"Oh, most of them, your Majesty!" cried one guard. "One old woman became obnoxious, so I got rid of her quickly."
"You what!?" screamed Keir.
"It was an old woman, your Highness. Someone called her Althea…I think." At the mention of Althea, Nyx sunk to the floor and buried her hands in her face. Keir tensed up. "Get out of my palace, all of you! I told you not to kill anyone, you ass! I am in right mind to execute you myself! Out! Out!" The four men didn't hesitate to run back out the way they came.
"Althea…she can't be dead…" Nyx cried. "And after I was so horrible to her, she was right the entire time. I am such a fool, your Highness!" Tears ran down her face, and Keir smiled. "It's all right, Nyx, don't worry about it anymore. I told you before, I have an idea. It will save us both, I think. But we must hurry." Nyx nodded, and Keir continued. "Is there anyone you can particularly trust in this kingdom?"
"Yes, Marla, the old kitchen maid," Nyx told him.
"Summon her, quickly."
Marla was brought before the prince, who presented her with his notion. "Marla, you will be a witness. You will tell all of my guards and the rest of the palace that Nyx and I were killed…in a fire, yes, a fire. Tell them I was speaking with Nyx when she lit a lantern and it dropped…and created a fire. Can you do that, Marla?" Nyx was astonished at the prince's sacrifice…his own royalty.
"Yes, your Highness, but what will create your ashes?"
"Have you any dead creatures?" Keir asked.
"Yes…I have plenty." The plan was being accomplished, and Marla brought out two large, freshly butchered creatures, and set them near the prince's throne. Keir lit a match. "Thank you, Marla. Goodbye, your Highness," he told himself, and threw the match on the throne, which went up in flames. Nyx kissed Marla's cheek as Keir grabbed her hand and they exited through one of the back doors, Keir's silver velvet robe left to burn.
Keir then realized that he was no longer a prince, no longer royalty. He was just like Nyx, a commoner, but now neither of them had a name, or identity. They were both dead, as far as the rest of the kingdom was concerned. Only Marla knew, and Nyx knew she could trust her with her life…but that didn't matter anymore. All that mattered was that she was alive, and so was Keir, and they were going somewhere they'd never been, somewhere where the air wasn't quite so cold and the hate wasn't quite so strong.
"Who is next in line to the throne?" Nyx asked.
Keir smiled. "I thought of that. It will be elected upon. Perhaps…your own grandfather Synan? It doesn't matter…word came to me that my second cousin had been assassinated. That is good news, seeing as he was even worse than myself." He gripped Nyx's hand, and led her to the forest. "These woods are the very edge of Pharel. See the three different paths? They all lead to neighboring kingdoms. Shall we take the one going North, or the one going East, or the one going South?"
Nyx smiled. "It doesn't matter to me…as long as we're rid of this place!"
"Whatever your heart desires, Princess Nyx," Keir answered. She led him to the path leading eastward, and as they walked through it, hidden from the sight of the palace, Nyx asked, "Where does this path lead, Keir?"
"Wherever the wind takes us, Nyx. Wherever the wind takes us."
Old Synan laughed as he was given his new throne. "This throne does not fit me!" he chuckled. "I will die of old age before I can actually use it!" Nonetheless, he sat in it and smiled at Philantha and Ezek, who were both grinning a mile wide.
Synan clicked his tongue. "To think that our prince was actually a Saphma the entire time!" he laughed again. "Mark my words…everyone will now live fairly and equally, not according to how they look or what religion they practice." Ezek and Philantha, his only audience, clapped. "And more benefits for kitchen maids and garden boys," he promised.
"When will my parents get here?" Ezek inquired impatiently.
"They're on the next boat up from Azakaria, I assure you," Synan assured.
Philantha wasn't listening anymore. She had gone outside to cut the stems of some of the most beautiful flowers in Ezek's small garden. Tying them together with her hair ribbon, she set them between the two large ivory graves. The plaque outside them read:
For his Highness, Prince Keir of Pharel,
And the only handmaiden who ever stole his heart, Nyx.
Both died in a palace fire, in the year Three Thousand Sixty Five.
May peace be with them through all eternity.
Philantha let a silent tear slip down her cheek as she kissed the graves. "Goodbye, Nyx. You will always be my sister and my best friend." She stood up and watched the spring air lift the petals from the flowers and send them flying towards the cerulean blue sky.