The rocky cliff towered over the angry waves as they crashed against jagged peaks of stone. She stood on the edge allowing herself to regenerate in the salty air. The cool Autumn mist leaving tiny droplets clinging to her delicate mouth while the heavens bulged wet blue.
Like the dark clouds that rolled above her, a confident storm brewed inside her as she peered across the massive ocean of hopelessness. Confidence that pushed her through each day.
It was her birthday. The day most girls would spend with family and friends. The kind of day you’d expect to be filled with gifts, cake and birthday wishes. The day a normal teenager would spend at the movies with her friends or at the mall shopping, like she’d read about in books. But not for Ria. She was not a normal teenager as she had been reminded of many times by the adviser assigned to her since they did not have parents for guidance. They were told what to eat, when to sleep and worked endlessly mastering their craft. She was used to the constant eye though. Time alone was a rare occurrence, a precious opportunity she used to master the most enigmatic of her gifts. Away from their watchful eye, she worked at understanding her talent. A hot stinging shot through her body as the venom rose within her. A burning flame that grew stronger each day. Like the instinct of an animal, it came naturally to her. If the advisers knew, she would be destroyed.
Today would be the last day they would allow her to spend with her little brother. He was the only gift she needed in this world, she thought. He was her life, a bouncing ray of sunshine with youthful energy filled with both promise and hope in this less than humane life she lived. He was the only form of happiness she’d known in this vacant expression of what life was meant to be.
They allowed her to pass the doors of her prison. Briefly though, just long enough to collect a few shells and view the outside world of water rocks and sand. Why? she wondered. A test, perhaps? Is was an insult to think they could provoke the emotions of one true to the order. But these people were nothing but cruel with their constant poking into our brains. She scowled in wind and drizzle then dismissed the thought with the wave of her hand.
This was a realm unknown to her. She belonged to the stars, she reminded herself. She was Ria, a Starblood, ruler of her people and descendant of Arachnid; the Scorpion, lord of the cosmic. She lifted her hands to the sky, the grey clouds twisted and the blue parted leaving a twinkling of lights scattered against the black space above her. She peered into the vast darkness, the glitter of lights shone brighter as she spoke to the ancients, as they had called to her in her dreams of ages past. Awaking her to her destiny.
A reminder of another time, another place in the heavens when life was as it was meant to be, her people living in a quiet peace. A harmony meant to sustain them through the ages. But even in peace there are those who allow themselves the pleasures of wickedness. Letting their hearts harden, even against the ones they love.
Her stomach twisted and knotted. Her heart ached at the memory of that day when the unity of her people was destroyed by the betrayal of greed. With cold green fingers wrapping itself around his throat, choking out the good that once filled Saros soul. A longing that turned him into darkness.
She loved him once, in another life. He was golden with beauty and grace. Gifted with the strength of a warrior. She remembered him fondly with strands of burnt sienna coiled loosely around his square face, cheekbones high and proud. But his striking blue eyes turned as cold as the waves that crashed below her as the desires for the power and control of her people corrupted his mind. Their world changed, her people changed and were filled with death and sorrow. They divided, and the perils of war broke them, scattering their ashes across the universe.
She breathed in the moisture, taking her fill of the water, she needed to replenish. Reincarnated into another world, another life, she thought her people would have another chance for a life of peace. Instead, they were once again prisoners under the control of a selfish hunger for dominance. She shuddered against the chilled thought.
Behind her, the iron door rattled as it opened. Rusted metal from years of exposure blended with the wall of earth and stone. The Watcher stepped out onto the rocky bluff, her fleeting moment of freedom had ended. Ria lowered her hands, the clouded sky returned. She turned from the tumultuous waves, the damp wind blew long russet locks across rich eyes, the cotton dress flapped in the whipping air. She looked up at the massive figure, into those intensive eyes and followed him back into the walls that held her, into the assessment room where they waited.
Inside, she sat at the table, surrounded by the gloomy light of the room. In front of her lay a mound of clay. She had done this before-worked with the clay. She knew what was expected of her. She had prepared for this moment every day for the last sixteen years as did all Starbloods. Her skills were well versed. Across from her sat her Nesis guide waiting with calm, subjective grey eyes. Hard and serious. It was the first of her test of gifts.
Ria closed her eyes and centered her thoughts stretching her sure hands toward the clump. The lighted fixture above her flickered as a warm glow formed in her hands. Carefully she wielded the energy over the wet mud. Fire shot through the clod, casting and molding until the flame receded leaving a small clay fish were the earth once lay.
A gentle smile spread across Ria’s face, flush from the heat that surged through her now. She opened her eyes to the contented stare of her guide, a wiry pompous woman with snow white hair combed straight back from her forehead. Once, she thought she saw a flicker of kindness behind those deep eyes and attempted, for a moment, to reach out to her. But the frigid reflection of her soul reassured her of her misjudgment. She was not like the woman in her dreams, she thought. The woman who nursed her when she was sick, rocked her when she was hurt, loved her unconditionally. The memory of a mother from another life carried over through the channels of time and space.
Ria folded her hands onto her lap and waited. The ancestors will be pleased, ran through her head.
Her thin lips pursed as the woman waved her hand. The Watcher entered. Ria rose to rest at his chest. She slid her hand across the table as she stepped, closing fingers around the tiny figure, then tucked it into the pocket of the white maxi dress.
She trailed behind the beast of a man, his shoulders spread as wide as the door, into as adjoining room and quietly sat within the pale walls, patiently waiting for the next trial to begin. This time a man. The Psyche guide sat across from her holding a single card in his hand. She did not know him, but studied him, searched his mind. He thought he could block her mental probes into his thinking, but the steel wall he envisioned melted with the first stab of inquest. She saw a girl, small and blonde. There was water, then loss, then sadness.
Ria quickly let go. The feeling of loneliness washed over her like a sad rain. He’s an unhappy man, she decided, then steadied herself turning her attention from him and fixed her eyes on the blank sheet he held. The black outline of a bird formed in her mind. Her eyes rose to meet the man’s attentive stare of hollow eyes. “It’s a bird” she said. The man grinned as he laid the card flat on the table revealing the black raven. He raised his hand and snapped his long thin fingers. She noticed the ring he wore. The Cynotics symbol carved into as orange stone. The Watcher entered carrying a wooden box. He set it on the table in front of her.
Ria leaned closer, her eyes traced the angles of the square, concentrating on the darkness of the interior. An image flashed in her mind. Pleased, she relaxed and sat back in the chair watching his expressionless face. “It’s a doll,” she said. “It has brown hair, a little red bow pinned on the right side of the head, blue eyes and it is dressed in a red and white checked dress, a petticoat and black shoe’s.” Ria smiled at the rewarding voice of the ancestors that resounded in her head. The man reached for the box, lifting the top to expose a small doll. His face creased in a selfish smirk. She had passed the required assessments. One final test remained.
Once more he motioned for the Watcher, who entered and stood next to where Ria sat. She rose to shadow him into a room where a single chair was placed in the middle of a stone floor. She lowered herself onto the seat and examined the frame of a large mirror built into the wall in front of her. The feeling was different, she thought. A frosty chill filled the air sending a shiver through the warmth that pulsed in her blood. She breathed deep, tried to shake it off but the sense clung to her, stabbing at her flesh with it’s hot, icy blade.
Her eyes closed, she let her thoughts immerse toward the glass. Coiled sienna and cold blue eyes flashed into her mind, her breath hung in her throat, a dark, vile knowing consumed her mind. Behind her stood the Watcher and both guides.
She heard their thoughts, saw their greed dripping from their minds like crude oil spilling up from the ground. She knew the desire of their darkened hearts, but she would not let them know everything, as the ancestors had warned. Her power went far beyond anything they understood.
Ria dropped her head and shook it in dismay. “I see nothing,” she said.
She rose and turned to the Watcher who escorted her to the Green Hall. A gathering place where the children played. Even the Cynotics knew a child needed more than the cold isolated walls of dissection. A constant picking of their little brains. The thought made her shudder in concern as a chill ran through her.
The Green Hall was a large open space overflowing with the tranquility of luscious green grass, trees and shrubbery. The scent of earth lingered heavily, while leaves dripped quiet drops of water, the grass still moist from the early morning watering. Birds filled the air, their joyful song echoed in her ear. Above them, an opened dome, the sullen clouds replaced with a lighted sky that shone brightly filling the room with the cheerful beams of sunlight.
Beyond the climbing wall, Dax played alone on a swing away from the other kids. The pure delight of a child’s laugh rang across the lawn as rope unwound spinning him round and round. The frigid bite left her, her heart warmed at the sight of the child. Only eight years old, he already displayed a superior intelligence. A boy small for his age, his hair burned brighter than hers, his skin darker. Like her though, he was different. She worried they would see the same and feared for him without her there for his protection.
He jumped from the swing, planting his red, dirt ridden tennis shoes firmly on the ground beneath him, falling into a vigorous scamper straight for Ria. She bent to the ground, ready as he sprang into her arms. She tenderly kissed the top of his fiery head.
“What took you so long?” He puffed his bottom lip out in a pout. “I’ve been waiting forever!” Her hand at his side, she gave him a quick poke. He giggled, twisting, guarding side to side from the tickles she deluged him with.
“You, silly goose. I told you, I’m a grownup now. I had to do some grownup things.” “Grownup things are boring. I want you to play with me.” Lovingly his blue eyes sparkled, her heart warmed, spilling with emotion. She struggled to hold back the tears of separation. “Yes, we will play,” she said. “Come on.” He jumped to his feet, running for the swing he’d left still swaying in the cool breeze that blew from across the ocean. She trailed his childish trot, then plopped into the swing that dangled next to him.
“Watch Ria. I’ve been practicing.” He threw his body back then forward, his feet giving a mighty thrust to and fro until he had himself in a full swing lifting higher and higher, stretching his toes to the sky. “See how high I can go,” he laughed eagerly, innocent.
“That’s awesome Dax. Good job.” she smiled proudly, a joyous song hummed for him in her soul.
He played, she watched. Running, jumping, sliding and climbing. All the things a boy should do, until the sun dimmed, and the stars began to pop against the darkened sky.
She held his hand as the Watcher returned them to the chamber for children. Together they sat on the edge of Dax’s bed spending their last hours together as brother and sister’s do. Talking and laughing, sharing hopes and dreams as small children are filled with the wonder of life.
“Ria, tell me the story again.” Her face twinkled like the stars. “Tell it again? My goodness child, don’t you ever wind down?” “Nope.” Dax crisscrossed his legs and settled into the middle of the bed, his eyes glittered like blue gemstones. “Okay”, laughed Ria conforming next to him, legs crisscrossed, face to face. “First, you have to close your eyes and imagine the night sky with the stars twinkling above you.” Dax shut his eyes tight, squeezed them as hard as he could and imagined the stars. He saw the fish, his birth mark, watched it swim from star to star in the darkness. Ria feasted on the sweetness of his face. Watched as his expression changed with each new thought that came to his little head. “Ready?” she asked. His head tilted back, face to the ceiling, he nodded.
“Long, long ago, our people lived in another world. In a land far away. In another galaxy. On the planet Valstella.” Dax’s eyes sprang open. “What did it look like, Ria? Did they have swings, were there trees and birds?” Excited, he threw his arms into the air and flapped them like the birds he saw in the Green Hall. “I love birds, I love to swing,” he giggled, then snuggled back into his nest of blankets. Ria smiled at his dramatic performance. “Actually, there were trees and birds.” Ria thought of the ocean, the sand, the scent of life that surrounded her earlier that morning as she stood on the edge of that cliff. Her eyes distant. “It looked very much like this planet,” she said, then continued.
“Our ancestors spoke of the Valley of Stars. A beautiful valley, lush and green with trees and birds,” her voice teased. “Abundant with food and water. Everything a little boy could want,” she said with another poke. “Legend says that this is where the Star Mother gave us life. She promised, upon our death, we would return to the stars and planets.” She waved her hands above her head toward the stars. “So, the heavens filled with the light of our ancestors who watched over us, thus creating The Circle of Keepers. Now when we are born, we have the mark of our guardian, the one who gives us our gifts and our strengths, determining if we are Kapiens, the brave and mighty warrior,” she said boastfully. “The Starkins, the thoughtful and intuitive mystics or a Seer, the ones who foresee the future. Legend also says that the Star Mother saw that something was missing and added a thirteenth keeper. Helian, the Healer.”
“And that’s why I have the fish, right Ria?” He pulled at the sleeve of his shirt, twisted in the bed, bared his shoulder. “I was born with the mark of a warrior, right Ria?” She rubbed the mark on his tiny shoulder, admired his strength. “Yes, that’s right, you are indeed.” She grabbed him and tickled. He laid over on the bed, kicking feet, slapping hands, laughing with her. Across the room, Ria saw the Watcher. He stood outside the door waiting for her to bid her farewell to the small boy. Reluctantly, she wrapped him tightly in her arms, breathed in the orange scent of his hair, gently giving one final squeeze of his tiny frame in blue linen before releasing him. She reached into her pocket and pulled out the tiny clay fish. “Here, I have something for you.” She opened her hand. Dax’s eyes widened with excitement as he reached for the modest gift, turning it over for inspection. “You made this for me? It looks like my mark.” She smiled.
“Yes. I made it just for you.” Ria pulled him closer, eye to eye, her voice lowered into a whisper. “Now, I want you to remember something.” He looked at her questionably. “Every time you look at this, I want you to remember that you are special.” A toothless smile spread his face, a little restless hop sprang from his feet. “You,” she tapped his chest, “were born under Neptune. You are the fish,” she reiterated. “There are things about you that you do not understand yet. But I promise, in time you will.” His smile faded. “But, you’re going to be here to help me. Aren’t you Ria?” Her face softened, her heart broke. “I’m sorry Dax, but, I must leave.” His little heart raced with uncertainty. “My home is with the adults now. They won’t let me stay here with you anymore.” His lip quivered, his eyes filled with tears. The Watcher entered the chamber and marched to stand at her side. Ria bent one last time gathering the boy into her arms. She held him, loved him, the way only a sister could. “I love you Dax,” she sighed. “Don’t you ever forget that. I promise we will see each other again. Be brave my little soldier.” Dax sniffled, taking a deep breath. He would be strong, he thought. His face red of tears, he reached his hand into the air and waved as she took a final glance before departing the chamber, leaving him alone to grow into the man he was meant to be.