THE CRYSTAL LEGACY
“And the Light shall be split by those who protect it,
Its fragments flung to the farthest corners of the land.
Hidden from all until a Hero –
One who is of our own yet not one of us,
Shall first find his identity,
Then, will find the fragments of the Light…
And in the finding of the Truth, he will take the colors and
Merge them back into the Crystal of Light.”
From “The Prophecies of Domar.”
Chapter 1. Endings
(Elorysia - The Final Battleground)
I don’t want to die, not like this. Not now.
Charley’s body shook with every step and her heart hammered against her ribcage as she walked towards her fate.
This was the end of years of fighting, the culmination of all the plans Charley and her friends had made; this moment would decide the future of Elorysia—and every other world, including hers.
The land around her was silent and dead. Sweat slid down her back as Moloch’s dark energy seeped into every crack and crevice, sucking life and light from everything Elohim had created.
Not even a glimmer penetrated the dense, murky fog that oozed across the valley as Charley and Ardreth stumbled over the twisted tree stumps, shattered rocks, and broken bodies which were all that remained of a once fertile, radiance-filled world.
Waves of fear gorged up in her throat and mouth, bringing the bitter taste of vomit to her tongue. Charley moved slowly, trudging toward her inexorable fate. She was no longer in control; not even her fear had that power anymore.
Terror bounced hard against her chest and her breathing came in ragged gasps that clawed to escape through chapped, bleeding lips. Her blood-brother’s presence forgotten, Charley swallowed hard as she fought to push aside the images of pain and death that assaulted her senses.
I always said Domar’s prophecy was wrong; I was right all along—I am not a hero. No matter what I do now, nothing will change. People have died because of me, and I have failed them… I have let everyone down.
Balling her hands into tight fists, sweat stung as her fingernails dug deep into her palms. Despite her terror, she was compelled by her destiny to walk on into the holocaust of her surroundings.
Many times before, she had longed for her parents to make things right. Her heart and soul screamed silently for them now, but she knew they wouldn’t—couldn’t—help.
Her mother was gone; her father was as good as lost to her. Both were victims of a life that had given them no choice.
The trembling in her heart made its way through her muscles and limbs until the fear shook her so violently, she couldn’t take another step.
Tears slipped through the grime on her cheeks, and she became a teenager again, terror stricken as she ran from her enemies, hiding in the silent agony of knowing what discovery would lead to.
But this time there was no hiding place, no dark burrow of safety, no reprieve.
This time, there was no way out of her fate.
Even as her feet stumbled to a halt on the dusty, rock-strewn ground she knew it was too late for hope. There was no miraculous rescue like in stories. This was real—terrifyingly, awfully real—and she was helpless to change anything. All-too familiar feelings of worthlessness and self-loathing surged over her.
Fighting Moloch is just a waste of time, but I have no choice. This must be done, regardless of the outcome, and I have to try one last time to put everything right and make amends for my mistakes. But what if I fail again?
Fear engulfed what little courage was left in her heart. She sank into the dust, tears and mucus streaming down her face as her body shook uncontrollably.
Charley dug her bloodied fingernails into the dirt and stared at the ash which grayed her skin, shaking her head as she tried to deny what was happening.
Then, a hand rested on her shoulder and a warm flow of comforting magic surrounded her body and heart.
Dragging her gaze away from the ground, she looked up at Ardreth. He had been by her side with every step she’d taken towards this moment.
In the overwhelm of her panic, she had forgotten he walked beside her.
“Have courage, little sister,” he said. “I feel the terror flooding through your veins, for the same dreadful trepidation fills my heart and soul.”
It had slipped Charley’s mind that their blood tie meant he shared her every thought and feeling.
I should have cloaked them. This is not fair to him.
“We are blood-bound, and you are not alone in this task,” Ardreth said, his eyes filled with empathy. “We have each other, and we have the knowledge that this is our destiny. Everything we have done has always been about this moment. We cannot lose sight of that fact now.”
“I haven’t lost sight of our destiny. But this reality is hard to see. The prophecies… Nothing could have prepared me for what this would really be like.”
Charley swallowed hard, choking on her dread.
Ardreth slid his hand to her elbow. “Come, stand up and walk with me. We will face this final enemy together and we will triumph—even if it is in our deaths—for that is what has been foretold must happen.”
Charley gave him a weak smile, then rose to her feet as courage and strength filled her body. “Thank you.”
Her words were simple, but the gratitude was deep-felt. Straightening her spine, she lifted her chin and stared up at Moloch looming in the distance.
Another—deeper—magic stirred within her soul, and her power swelled in recognition of the force that was greater than all of them. A gentle smile touched her lips. Pushing away the fear and doubt, she squared her shoulders.
She was doing what needed to be done, what had been foretold, and her life would be a small price to pay. It was a sacrifice she was willing to make to save the people she loved.
But it still may not come to that. Harmony said I had to trust in her, and in my destiny.
Charley wiped away the last of her tears, and with them, the final vestiges of childhood.
Head held high, she forged ahead into the wasted land, boot-clad feet crunching through the dirt and bones littering the ground. Her right hand rested on the sword at her hip, and Ardreth strode by her side.
She had come so far in the time since it had all started, a time which seemed so long ago now. Too much had happened to them all.
And it had begun with a storm, long before she was even born…
Chapter 2. Beginnings
(Elorysia – 40 years earlier).
On the darkest night of the year, Serena’s life—and the lives of every person in Elorysia—changed forever. It wasn’t for the better.
The wind howled through trees stripped bare of leaves and savagely whipped the falling snow into distorted shapes, piling it up against the walls of a small hut that hugged the edge of the forest.
Inside, Serena’s adoptive mother, Corinne, moaned on a pile of shabby blankets in the corner of a dim, smoky room, her face twisting with agony. Serena stood next to her; panic stricken at what was happening. She knotted her fingers and tried to stop the trembling that ravaged her body.
Life had been hard since Corinne’s husband had been killed in an accident a few months ago, not long after he had found out he was going to be a father late in life.
Things had not been the same since his death. Corinne was lost in a world of grief and would have happily followed her husband into the grave had it not been for the care of fourteen-year-old Serena.
The onset of an early labour had left no time to call for help from the village healer, Rowena, and Serena was on her own.
Why is this happening? It’s not supposed to be like this. I have no idea what to do.
“Serena?” Corinne moaned, reaching out a trembling hand.
“I’m here. Please…” Serena’s voice wobbled as tears slid down her cheeks. “Please tell me what I should do.”
She mopped the sweat from Corinne’s pallid skin, praying for help to somehow appear.
As if in answer, a blast of frigid air swept through the room. It extinguished the candles and froze both their breaths into a crystal cloud above their heads.
Serena shrieked, then clamped her hands against her trembling lips as the blood and mucus-covered body of the baby slipped from between Corinne’s open legs.
“Corinne” she screamed as she shook the limp hand of the woman who had raised her. “Corinne, wake up. What am I supposed to do?”
There was no reply.
Serena sobbed helplessly. She sat welded to the spot by Corinne’s side, until an angry scream from the baby jolted her into action. She gulped her panic down.
I must remember what she told me.
Glancing around the shabby room, she spotted the pan steaming over the dying embers of the fire, and Corinne’s words came back to her.
When the baby is born, Serena, you must fetch me the sharp knife that is in the pan of hot water so I can cut the cord. Then you need to give me the towel, which is by the fire, as I will need to wrap the baby up to keep warm. If there are any problems, you must go to the village and find Rowena.
Serena had nodded, never believing she would have to do all this herself.
Now, her hands trembled as she did as she had been instructed, tying, and cutting the cord, and then wrapping the screaming baby in the warm towel.
“Please stop crying. I’m trying my best,” she shouted as the tears continued to slide down her face, and her body shook with the horror of what had just happened.
Holding the baby close, she rocked him, cowering in a dim, smoky corner and weeping hysterically as the storm battered the walls of her home.
She just wanted it all to stop.
Burying her head into the squirming bundle on her lap, she squeezed her eyes shut and tried to block out the sounds that assaulted her senses.
Then it all went quiet.
The wind stopped, and the baby ceased his endless screaming.
Serena lifted her head as a deep chill settled over the cottage. Something was very wrong, but she had no idea what. Her body ached, and she thought her head was going to explode as she strained to peer through the dank swirl of ice-cold fog that engulfed her.
There was a presence in the room with her.
Her skin crawled, and the hairs on her arms lifted as she shuddered and buried her head into the bundle on her lap. The baby in her arms lay still and silent, and Serena screwed her eyes shut.
She gulped for air as the cold folded itself around her body and crept insidiously under her flesh, freezing the blood in her veins until she could no longer move. Darkness stole into her mind, bringing with it the bittersweet relief of forgetfulness as she sank into unconsciousness, the silent baby still clutched in her arms.
When she awoke, the storm was over, and whatever had been in the cottage had gone, taking with it her memory of what had happened.
All she knew was the woman who had been like a mother to her, was dead. She had to care for a baby she was not even related to and keep him safe. There was no fear, doubt, concern, or emotion whatsoever, just an instinctive drive to do what had to be done.
Today was the sixteenth anniversary of that event.
Autumn lingered well into the months when winter should have gripped the land, and it was another bright but chilly morning.
Geraint—named after Corinne’s dead husband—was outside, and Serena glanced through the window to watch him, a frown puckering her brow.
She stopped wiping the moisture from the glass pane and allowed her mind to wander back to earlier years, trying to put a finger on when she had first noticed the strangeness of his behavior.
He had been a quiet baby who developed into an oddly silent, serious toddler who never cried, no matter how hard he fell, or hurt himself.
But what else?
She shook her head as the fog slipped back over her memories.
Why is it always so damn hard to remember?
Putting her cloth down, she stared at Geraint, trying to force the recollection of his childhood to the forefront of her mind.
He used to stare at people too. Maybe that’s why no one comes here anymore.
He had now developed into a young man with dark, brooding looks and muscle-bound physique, but she was the only one to see how he had grown. All visits from their neighbors had stopped long ago. The only time she had contact with anyone else was once a week when she journeyed into the village for supplies.
Serena wondered where the years had gone. Like everything else she tried to recall in detail, the memories seemed to have faded into the gray mist which enveloped her mind.
She shrugged and pushed the thoughts away. Her energy was better used on more immediate needs.
Wrapping her shawl tight against the chill autumn air, Serena picked up her basket and a meager handful of coins and set off for the village. The coins were not likely to be needed, considering the mutterings and looks of pity that would follow her through the village.
She noticed the way her neighbors made the sign of the Crystal and crossed the muddy street when she passed by. Whilst something told her she should be concerned or upset by their actions, the fuzz that had clouded her mind since the day Geraint was born made it all irrelevant.
As always, few people took the money she offered in return for food, tools, and garments, and she hurried back home, her basket filled with everything they needed. When she neared the cottage, the rhythmic thud of wood being chopped echoed through the trees.
Geraint was working as he always did, alone and never stopping to speak to her.
Serena paused to watch him as he worked. It was as though she looked on as an outsider, taking everything in but disassociating herself from the scene in front of her.
It was how it had always been, but this time a brief memory of something touched her mind. Puzzled, she struggled to hold onto the fleeting thought, but it slipped away as quickly as it had appeared and was replaced with her usual blank apathy.
It didn’t matter.
She picked her way across the damp grass and entered the cottage.
Soul-deep exhaustion hunched her shoulders.
For so many years, a blanket of heaviness had weighed on her mind, leaving her feeling suffocated and numb. She knew she shouldn’t feel the way she did, but was helpless to change it, and she had long since learned the effort of trying to make sense of her befuddled mind was not worth the result.
It was easier to simply do what she had always done.
Once she had set her basket on the table, she unpacked it and put her purchases away before poking the fire into life and placing the kettle over the flames. The water roiled to boil as she cut bread and cheese and laid it on a plate along with slices of cold meat and an apple.
Nibbling on an oat biscuit, she made two cups of herb tea and placed one on the table next to the plate of food before moving to sit by the fire with the other cup clasped in her hands.
Geraint would come in when he was ready.
The door opened and cold air stirred the fire as the boy she had raised strode in. Ignoring her, he sat down at the table and ate his lunch as he always did, silently and without any sign of enjoyment.
After gulping down the hot tea, he wiped his mouth on the dusty sleeve of his shirt, pushed his plate to one side and scraped his chair backwards.
A rush of air fanned the flames in the hearth as he left the room in silence, and a fleeting sense of irritation washed over Serena.
It’s like I’m not here.
That’s because, to him, you may as well not be.
The wayward notion passed across her mind like a ghost and disappeared just as quickly. She shook her head. These odd thoughts had started to happen more frequently in the last few days, and she was at a loss to understand them, or why she was having them. Nothing like this had happened for as long as she could remember.
It was as though sudden beams of light were penetrating through the fog of her mind, teasing and tantalizing, but disappearing before she could make sense of them.
Maybe it’s just the tiredness.
Serena cleared the crumb-strewn table and tidied the room. A glance through the grimy window showed Geraint still chopping wood, and she moved listlessly around, an unfamiliar sense of unease resting heavily on her mind.
Eventually, she gave in to the overwhelming feeling of exhaustion and moved to her tiny bedroom at the back of the hut. Taking off her outer clothes, she slipped under the covers and curled up against the chill, closing her eyes.
She drifted off into a restless sleep that would be too little to prepare her for what was yet to come.