Everyone joined the expedition for their own reasons. Lucius and Inoch wanted to prove that their theories about the mother goddess were correct. Ollo sought a magic strong enough to let him travel through time. Kyprosa was following in our father's footsteps, hoping to discover exactly what he'd been working on.
But of all our reasons, none were simpler than Aranzebia's.
Aranzebia was named after her godfather, Aranzeb. And while she was a brilliant mage, the fire of obsession had completely engulfed her mind. She was convinced that Aranzeb would love her one day, and that single thought dominated her every action. When she learned that he was leaving Delphinad to go with us on our expedition, she followed. No questions asked.
For a time, I was worried I would have to kill Aranzebia. Her mind was filled with hatred towards Kyprosa, whom she saw as a threat to her claim on Aranzeb. She never acted on her feelings though, which was good.
It would have been difficult explaining her death to the others.
On our journey into the mountains of Inoch's homeland, we visited the Amaitan Highlands. The notes our father Raeven left behind in Fir Castle suggested that he was interested in the place, and we hoped to find some evidence of his experiments there.
I was doing my best to be supportive. I knew Kyprosa thought she was helping. But I also knew that there was no undoing whatever my father had done to me. The voices - the Akasch - that dwelled within the Abyss were a part of me forever. I could no more remove them than I could rip out my own spine.
But Kyprosa was determined to solve the mystery of my origins, and to help me if she could. So I followed.
Where she goes, I go. No questions asked.
On our second day in the highlands, I felt the subtle pull of destiny. I alerted the others, following the invisible strands of fate through twisting ravines until we came to an enormous cavern. Taking Kyprosa's hand, I led the way into the depths of the mountains.
We walked for hours through the darkness, traveling further and further under the earth. The others began to grow uneasy, but I told them that we were getting closer.
With each step, I felt more in tune with my destiny. With every passing second, the voices in my mind grew stronger.
Finally, we came to a great door with bright torches set on either side. The doors swung open of their own accord, revealing a luxurious dining hall. On the table, there was food and drink of all kinds, and a place set for each of us.
...And there, sitting at the head of the table, was a man I knew at once.
It was my father, Raeven.
Raeven welcomed us kindly, smiling at his daughters and their guests. Music drifted out of the adjoining halls, and scaled figures appeared to wait upon us, offering us the most sumptuous food and drink after our long journey. We sat, but none of us were foolish enough to eat. And the whole time, Raeven stared at me intently.
It took me several seconds to notice what was wrong. I reached out with my power to confirm it, and saw what he must have been waiting for me to see: another room, in another world, just a breath from this one.
I moved into it, and found myself sitting at a table in a darkened cavern, alone with my father.
"So," he said proudly. "You have the gift after all."
I met his eyes with the coldest glare that I could muster.
"What do you want with me?" I asked.
Raeven smiled. "What I've always wanted, my sweet. I want you to fulfill your purpose. Are you ready?"
"No," I said flatly. "I've seen what it would cost me to become the queen of the Akasch, and I won't do it. Find someone else to be your pawn."
Raeven looked amused. "You must know this isn't something you can simply refuse. It is your destiny."
"No," I said again. "It's just your plan."
I stood, and the chair disintegrated behind me.
"You've hidden yourself away up here in the mountains, seeking the power of the gods."
I circled around the table towards him, trailing my hand along the surface as I did so. The wood turned to ash beneath my touch. "Have you forgotten, father, just how strong you made me?"
He grimaced. "You're rebellious. But you'll learn."
I stopped in front of his chair, my power coiled around me like a snake waiting to strike. From every corner of the cavern, the shadows twisted into deadly strands of force. I leaned my face in close to his.
"And just who," I whispered. "Do you think is going to teach me?"
I could see sweat beading on his brow. For a moment, I thought he might even surrender.
But then, he smirked, and the world fell apart into nothingness.
We woke to find ourselves seated at a long stone table, in an otherwise dark and empty cavern. The golden room, the servants, even the food had all been a dream--or at least, an illusion the likes of which no modern mage could replicate. I growled in frustration, furious at being tricked.
"It's okay," sighed Kyprosa. "We'll just have to try something else. Find some other way to help you."
I agreed, if only to keep her happy. But the whole walk back out of the cave, my father's words echoed in my head.
Inoch's homeland was a remote mountain valley, populated by a tribe known as the Hiram. They spoke to us of the mother goddess they worshipped, who dwelled in an eternal garden within a sacred cave. After many questions and consulting of maps, we tracked the legends back to a crater hidden in one of the nearby mountain peaks.
When we reached the bottom of the crater, we discovered a massive stone gate carved with ancient runes. Aranzeb immediately set to the task of deciphering them, declaring that it looked to be warning of some kind. But I paid him little heed: he couldn't see what I could see.
As my powers grew, I had learned to see the skein of fate: the countless threads of chance and destiny that connected all things, tying them together in an endless pattern. For years, I had felt trapped by this pattern--carried inevitably away from Kyprosa, and towards my fate as the queen of the Akasch. But as I stared at the ancient door in awe, I realized I could see no threads coming in or out. Not a single strand of destiny passed through its rune-carved surface.
Whatever was on the other side of that door, it was impervious to fate.
I was overcome with relief. Here, finally, was a way to avoid the insistent pull of fate that had nagged me all my life. With the power beyond this gate, I would be able to stay with Kyprosa forever. Without thinking, I put my hand to the gate and pushed.
Instantly, the gate split open with a blinding blue light. A rush of magical energy burst forth like a wave, pouring out into the darkened crater. Aranzeb yelled a warning, but it did us no harm. It only blew our cloaks back like a mighty wind, filling us with energy and life.
Inside, we found a large stone antechamber. It was lined with pillars and overgrown with twisting vines, and featured an ornate throne at its center. Everything was carved from the same gray stone as the crater itself. But this was nothing compared to the gate on the far side of the room.
Even looking at it now, the gate is the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. A door made entirely of light, leading into what we knew must be the garden of the goddess herself. A vibrant, constantly-changing paradise, which shifted through the seasons as we watched. Flowers bloomed in explosions of color, leaves fell in swirling drifts, and snow appeared and melted within moments. Seeing this for the first time, we found it mesmerizing.
But as we stared in wonder at the Garden, I found my feet moving on their own. I cried out in panic, reaching out for Kyprosa's hand, but it was too late. My limbs were held in a magic more powerful than anything I'd felt before. Screaming, pleading, I watched as my body walked itself to the throne in the center of the room and sat down upon it.
The second I sat down, I heard a voice near my shoulder sigh with relief.
"Thank you, girl," it said. "After an eternity, I am finally free."
Having regained control of my limbs, I turned my head to see a small, insect-like woman fly from the top of the throne and hover in front of my face.
"Who...who are you?" I asked her. "Why can't I move? What's happening to me!?"
"I am a fairy," she said, flipping in midair. "And until very recently, I was the gatekeeper of the Mother's garden. But now that you have opened the door, that duty falls to you."
The others had crowded around me now, and Kyprosa shook her head in confusion. "What do you mean? She's the gatekeeper now? For how long?"
The fairy gave a tinkling laugh, then caught herself. "I'm sorry, mortal. I don't mean to be cruel. But...the gatekeeper can never leave. She is bound to the throne, and granted the strength to protect the Garden. But there she will remain for all eternity, unless someone agrees to take her place.”
"No!" I screamed, thrashing as I attempted to stand up from the throne. "No! Not after all this! Not when I'm so close!"
The fairy gave me a final look of regret, then disappeared out the door in a streak of light. I stared after her in horror.
I've tried everything to escape. I can see and sense a thousand worlds just beyond my fingertips, but in every one of them, I am still on this throne. I have skipped from Delphinad to Ayanad like a child playing rope. I have traveled to the Abyss and back. I have braved armies, and dragons, and torn down the very mountains with my mind.
But this curse is beyond my power.
For the first time in my life, I have nowhere I can run to. No portals to open, no gates to unlock. No shadow realms to hide in.
I'm running out of paper. I've tried to write less frequently, but I've lost track of the days--the years?
The others, they said they'd go into the garden and they'd find a way to free me. They promised. She promised.
Kyprosa. She promised. She said she would come back for me. If she couldn't find a way, she said she'd take my place.
But it's been so long. So long. Did she change her mind? Was I not good enough for her?
In her secret heart...is she glad to be free of me?
I fear I'm losing my mind. I know she'll save me. She has to save me.
Where are you?