I've lost count of the days I've been stuck here. No matter what magic I try, I can't escape this prison--this hell I've been tricked into.
Kyprosa said she'd come back for me. She promised.
But...how long has it been?
Has something happened to them in The Garden?
The waiting is driving me mad.
For some reason, I'm reminded of the siege on the Shadowhawk House. I was forced to wait on that day too…
But of course, back then I was far from helpless.
It was a rival ganglord that started it all. He had enjoyed a series of successful expansions throughout the city slums, and now had his sights set on the Shadowhawks' little slice of Delphinad.
He was no fool, however; he knew of Gene and Tahyang's fighting reputation. So he patiently waited until the "Twin Swords" had left the city on an errand, then sent his entire army to take their hideout for his own.
It did not go as well as they expected.
Though the Shadowhawks were outnumbered ten to one, they had still been trained by two of the best fighters in Delphinad's criminal underworld. With the aid of Kyprosa's magic to confuse and distract their opponents, the members of the Shadowhawk House put up a valiant defense against the invading force. Each street of territory was hard-won, and paid for with blood.
In the end, though, the numbers took their toll. More and more Shadowhawks fell dead or injured, slowly losing ground until the enemy had completely surrounded their hideout. I watched from the front steps as Gene and Tahyang's brothers-in-arms made their final stand in the outer courtyard, swearing to fight to the last man before surrendering Shadowhawk House.
Kyprosa turned her attention from the fighting when she noticed me nearby.
"Orchidna!" she yelled. "Get back inside!"
I walked towards her instead, joining her behind one of the Shadowhawks' hastily constructed barricades.
"I can help them," I said calmly. "You know I can."
I felt Kyprosa's thoughts spin wildly and she looked between me and the battle. She feared for the Shadowhawks...but she also feared for me. She was not blind to the darker nature of my gifts.
She paused, then shook her head firmly. "No. You can't. It's not safe."
I growled in frustration. I couldn't control all of their minds at once to force them to surrender, but I risked losing Kyprosa if I simply killed them. I needed another option, I needed help.
As always, the voices had the answer.
It was simple, really. There were many worlds, all around us at all times. Easy to get to, if you knew the way. All I had to do was find one that was full of people who would help me.
And the voices knew exactly which one I should use.
I concentrated, reaching out with my power. I followed the urging of the whispers in my mind, letting them guide my hand until it rested on the barrier between my world and theirs. It was heavy--much heavier than the barrier between Delphinad and Ayanad. But my strength was growing daily.
With a grunt, I brought the full force of my gifts to bear…
And opened a window between our world and the Abyss.
It was not a true gate--I wasn't strong enough for that yet--but it was enough. The courtyard filled with an unholy howling, and shadowy figures flickered on the other side of the tear between worlds. Abyssal energy poured out of the ragged hole like a heavy fog, coiling around my feet and wait and embracing me with an intoxicating sense of home.
The combatants in the courtyard dropped their weapons and fled, screaming in terror. Every instinct for self-preservation told them to run, to hide from the creatures on the other side of that unholy portal. But I didn't care. The power that came out of the Abyss was flooding into me, and with every breath I could feel myself sinking into the darkness.
I knew I should close the portal. I realized I was losing control. But the power the abyssal creatures offered was filling me up, and with each passing second I became less Orchidna and more their queen. Soon, I would lose myself entirely.
The moment the thought crossed my mind, I saw Kyprosa's head snap around to look at me in shock. Her eyes flickered between me and the swirling darkness for only a second before her face twisted into a mask of fury.
"NO!" she shouted, grabbing me by the shoulders and spinning me to face her. "YOU CAN'T HAVE HER!"
With a yell, she reared back and slapped me as hard as she could. My face exploded with a burst of pain. Tears instantly filled my eyes.
And the portal collapsed in on itself with an unearthly shriek.
When Gene and Tahyang returned three days later, they were greeted with rather mixed accounts of that final battle in the courtyard. Some claimed I had summoned demons, others that I had cast an unholy spell of gear. But on one point all agreed: if it hadn't been for me, Shadowhawk House would surely have fallen.
Tahyang frowned at these tall tales, giving me a look of concern that I studiously ignored. I was simply glad that none of them had been around to see Kyprosa pull me back from the brink. Even then, I could feel the temptation to lose myself in that midnight void. Its power was seductive and familiar--a part of me that I had never known was missing.
And now that I had felt it once, I wasn't sure how long I could stay away.
In the weeks following the battle, Gene and Tahyang began to recruit new Shadowhawks to replace those that had fallen. Of these new recruits, one in particular caught my eye.
She was a young woman from Epherium. A talented assassin, who claimed to have tired of the kingdom's corruption and came to Delphinad seeking a new life. She was deadly, driven, and followed every order she was given.
And from the moment we met, I knew she was a traitor.
Her name was Melisara. And while she truly was an assassin, she hadn't abandoned Epherium; in fact, she had been sent by the queen of Epherium herself.
To kill Gene Evernight.
Melisara's intentions for Gene weren't especially troubling for me. It would be a simple solution to his bothersome relationship with Kyprosa, after all. But as she continued her training with the other recruits at Shadowhawk House, I began to notice similarities between us that interested me.
Like me, she knew her purpose. And like me, she was hesitant to embrace it.
I could sense the doubt in her mission growing with each day. She had come to kill a spoiled exiled prince, but had instead found a charismatic outlaw. And with every mission she went on to gain Gene's trust, she found herself trusting him more and more as well.
Melisara rose quickly within the ranks of the Shadowhawks and was soon Gene and Tahyang's second-in-command. She felt more at home there than she ever had in the courts of Epherium. So she continued to postpone her mission, and her destiny.
I still don't know what choice Melisara will make. The strands of fate that surround her are tangled by conflicting thoughts and emotions.
It was the King of Epherium's consort - Gene's mother - who ordered the death of Melisara's father all those years ago. That hatred still burns within her, telling her that killing Gene is her only vengeance. Even now, as she walks besides him in the Garden, she may be contemplating a way to murder the man whom she admires most.
It’s comforting to know that I'm not the only one with secrets.