Episode 1: “Order of Akasha”
“The Order of Akasha” Part 1
Written and Created by Ingrid Díaz
“Aeryn.” Larken read the next name on the list and sat back in her chair, awaiting the Circle’s comments. In the dim light of the office, the Elders’ faces looked older than they really were, their gentle features darkened by the yellow glow of the candles.
Ellowyn glanced around. Her blue eyes seeming almost black as she scanned the faces of her companions. When no one appeared to volunteer the first words, she cleared her throat and addressed Larken. “Aeryn has an impressive mastery of the Craft. She’s got the highest marks out of any of the apprentices – ever. Her range of powers is extraordinary. As you well know, she has surpassed some of your own records. She’s brilliant, and gifted …”
Larken frowned only slightly. “But?”
“We fear that her stubbornness may hinder her judgment,” admitted Faedyn.
“She is already very powerful,” Telwen added. “And in the wrong hands, access to the Greater Power could prove dangerous to the Order.”
Larken sat up, her long, silver-white hair falling across her face with the movement of her body. She cast green eyes upon the members of the Circle. “Has she done anything to elicit such concern?”
The Elders exchanged glances.
Finally, Faedyn spoke. “No,” she answered. “Not directly. She does, however, have a tendency to act without thinking. She follows her emotions first, and logic second, if at all.”
Ellowyn argued, “While that is true, Aeryn is kind, and always gentle. In her lifetime here, she has never harmed anything or anyone. The fact that she is as powerful as anything—“
“My point exactly,” cried Faedyn. “To make such power even grander!”
“It could be an enormous asset to the Order,” Ellowyn finished, rather sternly.
“But her father,” prompted Faedyn, her gaze not quite meeting Larken’s. It was a sensitive issue, she knew, but an important one nonetheless.
“He is not the one we are concerned with.” The High Priestess settled back against the chair. She tried to keep the anger from her voice, but failed.
“With all due respect, Larken,” Telwen spoke up, his voice gentle but firm, “we cannot protect her from the Guardians once she is out of the island. If Jael finds out his daughter has entered the Order…”
“She could be turned,” Ellowyn whispered the words hesitantly.
Faedyn locked gray eyes on the High Priestess. “There is no going back once Aeryn has access to the Greater Power. If she were to use it for the benefit of the Guardians, the entire foundation of the Order could collapse.”
“Think what it could mean if Jael found out that she is still alive.” Telwen’s voice held a bitter edge.
The High Priestess breathed back a sigh. She understood the Circle’s concern; it had been her worry since the moment Aeryn had shown an interest in the Order. But it was not why the Circle had gathered. “Whether the Guardians choose to take an interest in her or not, we cannot allow that to interfere with the matter at hand. The members of the Order cannot be selected on presumptions or fear. Only the Goddess can decide who enters. Our job is to determine who has the right qualifications.”
The truth of the words caused a brief wave of silence. Outside, the breeze filtered through the leaves in the trees, their rustling now being the only sound audible from the room. A gust of air slipped in through the open window, blowing out the candles.
In the sudden darkness, Faedyn spoke. “May the Goddess decide.”
“Dear God,” she whispered, her forehead against the edge of her bed as she kneeled before it. She could feel the strands of black hair tickling the side of her face, mixing with the tears already there. The wind outside of her window strengthened with her words, as if something, somewhere, was suddenly paying attention.
“Forgive me,” she continued after a moment, feeling somewhat breathless. “I don’t know how to make these visions stop. I don’t know why I know the things I know, or how I know them.” She stopped to take a breath. “I just want them to stop. Please, just help me make them stop.”
Azure Varden looked up, her light brown eyes glassy, her vision blurred by the tears. She rose from the floor and sat at the edge of her bed. Her mother was right to think she was cursed. Cursed since birth to see the things that no one else saw, to feel the things no one else felt. It was wrong; no human should have such power. It went against the laws of God and nature; it went against her faith.
Her fist opened to reveal a Rosary. She placed it gently on the bedside table, and looked around the room, half-fearing, and half-expecting to see something that shouldn’t be there. But the dorm room was still.
The water was bitterly cold, making her shiver in spite of her determination. She dove through crystal clear waters, until she felt the soft sand at the bottom of the lagoon. Her fingers formed stray, seemingly frantic patterns, stirring the sand into her eyes.
I could tell you where it is. The voice came to her as part of her thoughts, filling her mind with its soft, melodic tone for only an instant, before fading into silence.
No, thank you, was her annoyed reply. Just let me concentrate.
The voice remained silent, granting her request. Aeryn had not stopped her search during the short distraction, but her lungs were beginning to burn, and she refused to return to the surface empty-handed.
Stubborn, the voice spoke again in a tone of mock disapproval. The ceremony starts in less than thirty minutes.
I know that. Aeryn was becoming exasperated, her hands continuing to roam through the sand to no avail. She needed air. Resigned, she started swimming toward the spot of sunlight shining through the water. It seemed so far away. The more she swam, the further it seemed, and for a moment, she didn’t think she’d make it.
But she kept going, determination propelling her upward. Her head broke through the surface and she gasped through a lung-full of air. Her chest expanded and contracted desperately, painfully, making her wonder what in the world had convinced her to hold out so long.
That was close.
“Shut up.” With one hand, she pushed away the matted-down clumps of dark brown hair. Her light green eyes surveyed the area. She could hear the animals in the trees, and the constant roar of the waterfall several yards away. This place had been her sanctuary, her escape. And after tonight …
Twenty-six minutes, fifty-three seconds … fifty-two… fifty-one—
“Fine, Kalan, you win,” Aeryn admitted, addressing the air. “Guide me.”
Oh, now you want my help?
“Please.” Her tone was calm, despite the urgency of the matter.
Very well, Oh Stubborn One. Dive in.
“I know I put it in here somewhere.” Naia Dalton continued to search through the crumbled up pieces of paper scattered throughout her bedroom floor. Each piece was examined closely before getting tossed aside.
From his place on Naia’s bed, Bartholomew Wright—better known as Ry—let out a dramatic sigh. “This place is a nightmare, Naia. How do you expect to find anything in here?” He lifted his arms to indicate the disaster area around him. Piles of comic books, old newspapers, Internet site print-outs, incomplete story ideas, videos, and various unidentified objects obstructed any hint of the pale blue carpet below. Or maybe it was green. He couldn’t remember.
“There is a method to my madness,” Naia assured him, her search continuing undisturbed.
“Or a madness to your method.”
The sarcastic comment did not fall on deaf ears, but was ignored all the same. “Ry, get off your faggoty white butt and help me look.”
“Did you just call my butt white?” Ry appeared offended. “I spent all summer tanning this bad boy.”
Dark brown eyes met with the pale blue ones of her best friend. “Honey, you’re white. You could stick your butt in the toaster oven and set the knob to dark, and it would still come out as a lily white ass.”
“Well we weren’t all blessed with caramel-colored skin,” Ry answered, pointedly motioning to Naia’s body. “Some of us need to risk skin cancer in order to look beautiful.” He slid his body off the bed and lowered himself onto a pile of magazines. “I think I’m sitting on George Clooney.”
“Well that should make you happy.” Naia smirked at her own wittiness and resumed her search. “Do you think the paper will do well?”
As her best friend, Ry was required to provide Naia with an endless source of confidence and assurance. It was his job – and one he took seriously – to do away with all traces of self-doubt, and replace uncertainty with a biased, yet positive opinion. “Yeah, there’s bound to be a bunch of freaks in town who’ll read it.”
“Just kidding. I’m sure you’ll give Weekly World News a run for its money.”
“There is a huge difference between them and us.”
“They have a much higher budget?”
Naia dislodged a paperclip that had somehow gotten entangled in her dreads. “No, my dear, stupid boy. The difference is that our stories will be true.”
It had often occurred to him that Naia was insane, but it was at times like these when Ry remembered why. “And this is because goblins and werewolves actually do inhabit the happy little college town of Merfolk.”
“The truth is out there, Barty, and it is our job to find it.”
Ry cringed. “There is a reason why I go by Ry.”
“Well, it’s dumb. Ry Wright?” Naia smiled. “Ry Wright. Ry Wright. Ry Wright.” She giggled. “If you say it fast enough it sounds like a dog barking.”
Ry extended his middle finger.
In exchange, Naia blew him a kiss. “Anyway, I give up. I can’t find where I wrote it down.”
“For the record, I plan to refer to myself as just Ry. Last names are overrated anyway. Who needs them?” He caught his reflection in the mirror behind Naia’s door, and smoothed out the sides of his dirty blonde hair. “Do you think I should ask that guy out?”
“Which of the five million?”
“The one at the health store. He seems…”
“Healthy?” Naia supplied.
“Well, that too. But I was going to say, gay.”
“Then go for it. Now, can we focus on me again?”
“Sorry.” Ry crossed his arms against his chest and leaned his back against the side of the bed behind him. “The name of the newspaper.”
“I wrote it down and forgot it. But I know it’s here.”
“Hm,” Ry murmured.
“Some help you are.” Naia uncrumpled a piece of paper and cried, “Found it! The Weekly Bizarre. That’s what I’ll call it.”
“Sounds good. When’s the first issue coming out?”
“As soon as I land some good stories.” Naia regarded her friend seriously. “My next door neighbor swore she saw a UFO in her backyard last night. And I went to investigate the area, and sure enough, there was a patch of dry grass.”
“It hasn’t rained in like three weeks,” Ry replied. “I’m shocked there’s only a patch.”
Naia wasn’t about to give up so easily. “And you know that guy across the street? His dog has been barking at the attic door for days. Herman has had to put down food and water in front of the door, otherwise the dog won’t eat.”
“Has he gone to investigate?”
“Yup. But he didn’t find anything. So, I volunteered to spend the night in the attic. If there’s something there, I’m bound to find it.”
Ry had to hand it to her, Naia was completely bonkers, but she had a lot of guts. “I hope you land your story. But don’t forget we start classes tomorrow.”
“I’m free until one,” Naia informed him. “I’m setting up a timer on my camera for when I leave for class. Maybe whatever’s there won’t show up with me around. But I’m hoping some periodic shots will land me something. I’m thinking of maybe attaching a sensor to the camera instead, that way it will only take a picture when it detects movement.”
“Just you talking about it totally creeps me out.” Ry shuddered.
Naia grinned. “I live for this stuff.”
“You’re completely insane, I hope you know that.”
“Anything for the news.”
They gathered in the woods as the sun began to set over the horizon. Dressed in the ritual cloaks of the Order, the elite members of Akasha stood around the Sacred Circle. From all around the globe they had traveled to witness the Goddess’ final trial.
Seven years and seven days had passed since Aeryn started training for this moment. It had been her dream since the age of twelve to learn the secrets of the Craft and stand against the treachery of the Guardians. She had entered the apprenticeship at the age of thirteen, under the teachings of Priestess Ellowyn. At twenty, she now stood among the most powerful sorcerers on earth, prepared to face the Divine Deity in the final trial of the Akashan Order.
There had been twenty when the training began, now only four remained.
Aeryn glanced around the Circle, feeling a sense of relief at the knowledge that she’d made it on time. With Kalan’s help, she had located the amulet, one of the few sacred items in her possession. Materialism was not a quality possessed by many witches on the island of Lare. But sentimentality was a strong emotion.
She gripped the amulet, rubbing her thumb against the blue lace agate stone at the center. Nervousness and anticipation were threatening to replace all other emotions.
For the past month and a half, she had reviewed every spell, every potion, and every piece of information she had ever been taught. The final test was a mystery to anyone outside of the Order, and therefore none of the apprentices knew exactly how to prepare. Aeryn had spent the previous night in a state of meditation, but its calming effects were starting to wear off in the presence of such imminent possibility.
Aeryn grew aware of the fact that she was shaking. Beside her, Callifae didn’t appear to be doing any better in the nervousness department. A fidgeting, lip-biting individual had replaced the usually calm persona of Aeryn’s closest friend on the island.
The other two apprentices, Elara and Gailen, had been a couple since the second year of training. Aeryn both pitied and admired their relationship. If both were initiated, their separation would be inevitable. Each member of the Order had an individual mission at a specific locale. In the history of the Order, no two witches had ever been granted a single mission. Aeryn admired their loyalty to the Craft. But she could sense the sadness and fear surrounding them.
Could she be able to sacrifice love for the greater good? Yes. The answer came easily. She would do anything for the Order.
But the matter faded into the back of her consciousness as Aeryn’s attention turned to the center of the Circle. The Elders now stood there, their faces hidden beneath the black hoods of their cloaks.
All murmuring faded away. The air crackled with raw energy. Aeryn felt certain that if she reached out, a spark of electricity would rip through the air. She was captivated by the moment, by the sudden awareness of nature, which in its constant presence was always rendered mute by the urgency of human noise.
A figure stepped forward. It paused for an instant before lifting the hood. The rest of the Elders followed suit.
It was then that Aeryn noticed that all of the members of the Order were concealed beneath their hoods. One by one, they pushed away the material, until everyone was revealed.
Aeryn looked around, taking in the different faces of the people around her. Many she recognized from years past, others she wasn’t sure she’d ever seen before. A sense of wonder filled her at the possibility that she could be standing there some day; her apprentice cape replaced by the black cloak of the Order. For a moment, she basked in the glory of possibility, until the fantasy rippled away.
At the center of the Circle, the four Elders held up the objects in their hands. Ellowyn carried a chalice, Faedyn a pentacle, Telwen a wand, and Larken an athame. Each object represented one of the four elements.
The High Priestess addressed the group. “Blessed be all in the name of the God and Goddess,” she began. Her voice was so smooth and calm that it almost put Aeryn at ease. “Tonight we welcome a new generation of Witches into the Order. Seven years and seven days ago today, the Great Mother chose but one apprentice out of the five that faced Her. Today, he will welcome the Great Goddess into our Circle.”
A figure stepped into the Circle and stood beside Larken. His blonde hair shone under the bright light of the full moon. Aeryn caught herself staring, and looked away, suddenly aware that Larken had been speaking all along.
“Callifae has been working with herbs since the age of ten,” Larken was saying. “She joined the apprenticeship at the age of fourteen, under the instruction of Priest Telwen. During her years, she has found treatment for eight hundred and forty-five different ailments. She also holds a nearly insuperable knowledge of medicinal plants.”
Larken moved on to the next two apprentices. Elara and Gailen were both twenty-five. They had done joint studies in the area of magickal stones. Separately, Elara’s knowledge and experience rested in the subject of trees. She was one of the few Witches on Earth who could communicate with them.
For his part, Gailen had shown interest in the area of weather pattern formations. But his experience with the subject lay solely on research alone.
Aeryn froze when her turn came to be introduced. Larken met her gaze for a brief instant before turning away to face the Order. “Aeryn has been a student of the Craft since the age of four. She is now twenty years old, and an expert in the areas of transformation, astral projection, meditation and telekinesis. She is also one of only seven known Witches who can shapeshift on command.”
The members of the Order appeared vastly impressed by Larken’s short summation. And when Aeryn glanced up, she realized that Braeden was staring at her. She instantly looked away, embarrassed by the attention.
Larken turned to face the four students. “Tonight you will enter the Circle, and as you do so, the Goddess will reveal her decision. Power, strength, knowledge and ability have no place in this ceremony. Those are merely the tools you have been armed with to face a strange and difficult world. You can each do a lot of good, with or without the mark of the Order. Remember that, always.”
Faedyn, Ellowyn, Telwen and Larken each stepped toward a different point in the Circle. Soon, only Braeden remained at the center.
Aeryn’s heart began pounding as Braeden began to speak.
“Hac nocte, O Magna Dea, excimus te ut legeres lectos…”
The words permeated the air with their power, causing the wind to strengthen. The trees bled leaves, released them into the air like snowflakes, and the moonlight set them aglow.
Aeryn took in the moment with breathless anticipation. She could sense the magick in the air, the sudden rise of power. It filled her with a dizzying need to close her eyes, to surrender to a feeling far more powerful than herself. She felt protected, encircled in a warm embrace that could only be described as love.
“… tui intimae Circuli discipulis quattor his…”
The rest of the words barely registered in Aeryn’s mind. She was overwhelmed by the sensations coursing through her body. It felt as if every nerve ending were suddenly awake. She could feel the wind, brushing gently across her skin. She could hear the animals scurrying in the woods. Through closed eyes, she could sense the moon shining down on her. Flashes of memories filled her mind, flickering by in rapid succession.
Slowly, the memories began to fade. The wave of sensations quelled; all that was left was the feeling of being wrapped in the arms of something magnificent.
Green eyes darted open, her heart pounding wildly at the realization that she’d lost complete control. She half expected to be somewhere else entirely. But she wasn’t. The members of the Order stood where she’d last seen them. Braeden remained at the Center of the Circle. Beside her, Callifae, Elara and Gailen all appeared as mystified as she.
“The Goddess has completed the test,” Braeden announced.
His voice sounded strange, as if it didn’t belong in that moment. The matter-of-factness in his tone jarred Aeryn from the peaceful state she was in. It reminded her of where she was, and why.
As Braeden retreated from the center of the Circle, Larken took his place. She turned to the four apprentices. “The Goddess has touched you each individually. Her test does not determine skill, but rather purity of mind, body, and spirit. Your every thought, your every memory has been taken into consideration. As you are asked to enter the Circle, keep in mind that denial or admission is not an assessment of your worth as an individual, or as a mage. The Goddess does not have the same life plan for all of us. I trust you will each go on to do amazing things, regardless of tonight’s decision.”
There was a moment of silence as the four students took in the High Priestess’ words.
“Callifae,” Larken called. “You may be the first to enter.”
Callifae took a deep breath, visibly shaken by the pressure of the moment. She stared down at the space between her feet and the outline of the Circle. Seven years and seven days of hard work all boiled down to the distance between these two, otherwise unrelated things. Callifae hesitated only a few seconds longer before starting toward Larken.
Aeryn watched as her friend walked into the Circle, half-fearing and half-anticipating the outcome of the action. The quiet stillness that followed confused her. Certainly, something should happen, one way or the other.
The members of the Order stood in silent waiting. Aeryn watched them; waiting to see if any would show a hint of emotion. But their faces remained impassive as they watched Callifae complete the journey into the Sacred Circle.
The change began before it could be seen. It started as a sudden shift in the atmosphere, a spark in the fabric of an otherwise mundane night. Aeryn could sense it, though she couldn’t identify what ‘it’ was. The dirt beneath her feet seemed to vibrate with a nearly indiscernible hum.
Aeryn became suddenly aware that the outline of the Circle was aglow. A faint, yet visible ray of white light shone through the ridge in the ground. It grew brighter and brighter until beams of light shot up into the air, creating a wall around Larken and Callifae. Nothing was visible beyond the mystical barrier, and Aeryn was forced to shield her eyes.
It lasted mere seconds. The wall of brightness separated into bars of light that bent and swirled around the Circle, then vanished as quickly as it had come.
As her vision adjusted to the sudden darkness, Aeryn noticed that Larken and Callifae remained in the same place. But now, instead of an apprentice’s cloak, Callifae sported the ritual cloak of the Order.
A mixture of elation and nervous anticipation consumed Aeryn at the sight.
“Gailen,” Larken called.
Aeryn watched as Callifae exited the Circle and joined the members of the Order at the other side. She let out a nervous breath. As happy as she was for her friend, she was unable to shake the anxiousness pertaining to her own trial.
As Gailen stepped into the Circle, Aeryn let out an uneasy breath. She understood that the rules of the Order dictated that only thirteen members could be active at once. Therefore, for each new Initiate, the oldest member was required to retire. It made sense to Aeryn, that for that reason, the number of Initiates was generally limited.
Aeryn waited for the change in the air, she waited for hum beneath the ground, the light around the Circle. But for the longest moment, nothing at all occurred.
Finally, Larken spoke. “I’m sorry,” she said simply, in a voice that did not reveal pain or regret.
Gailen bowed his head and retreated from the Circle. He stood next to Elara, and took her hand briefly before letting it go.
“Elara,” Larken called.
The redheaded woman walked into the Circle. Aeryn once again waited for the welcome Callifae received, but only silence met Elara’s entrance.
Elara bowed her head before Larken said anything. Words weren’t always necessary. She reclaimed her place beside her boyfriend.
“Aeryn,” Larken said, her tone held a hint of hesitation.
Aeryn noticed nothing but the sound of her own name. She started toward the edge of the Circle, each second passing as an individual fragment through her mind. Each step was as significant as the last, and Aeryn wished to hold on to each slip of time still bathed in the blissfulness of hope.
It was inevitable that she should cross into the Circle eventually. And as she did, all thoughts of time and space drifted from her consciousness. The outside world vanished completely. She could see nothing but white, beautiful light shining from every direction at once. She felt enraptured by the moment, by the peaceful quietude that surrounded her. She was no longer standing in the woods, of this, she was certain. She’d stepped into a different plane altogether.
It was then that Aeryn noticed that Larken was still there. “Congratulations, Aeryn.”
Aeryn stared at the High Priestess, unable to comprehend what was happening.
“You have made it to the final stage of Initiation.” Larken offered a smile that never quite reached her eyes. “The rest of the process is up to you. There are several laws you must abide by at all times. Failure to do so will place you in probation. Break one law more than once, or any two laws, and your powers will be bound. The Circle of Elders will decide your fate from that point forward. Do you understand?”
“You must never, under any circumstances use your knowledge of the Craft for the purpose of causing bodily or emotional harm to another. You cannot influence a person’s thoughts or emotions for any reason, even if you feel it is for their own benefit. It is your solemn duty to protect others, but always remember that the Order’s war is with the Guardians alone. It is ultimately up to you whom you choose to help and how you choose to help them. But you must never lose sight of why you’re really there.
“Until the day you retire from your duties, your life will be dedicated to the protection of the common people, and to maintaining the balance between Dark and White Magick. Those are your first and foremost priorities.” Larken paused and looked at Aeryn for a moment. It seemed as if she wanted to say something else, but chose not to. “Do you accept?”
Larken bowed her head. “So mote it be.”
As the words were spoken, the light surrounding them began to fade away. The woods became visible through the dissipating brightness. Aeryn became aware of the change in her attire. Her cape was gone. In its place was a velvet black cloak. Her hands tingled with a kind of energy she was not yet used to. She felt reborn.
“Welcome to the Order of Akasha,” Larken whispered.
The events of the night replayed in Aeryn’s mind hours after the ceremony ended. Every now and again, she’d glance at the closet to make sure the cloak was still hanging there. Memories had a funny way of sometimes seeming like a dream.
Staring at the ceiling was a pleasant enough pastime, but it did nothing to quell the anxiety surging through her. The details of her mission were to be delivered at some point that night, and with each second that passed, her nervousness escalated.
Aeryn had spent her entire life in Lare. Her knowledge of the outside world was limited to the facts she’d read about in books, through the images on television. She knew of many things, but had never experienced any of them. The thought of leaving the safety of the island was both exhilarating and terrifying.
The knock on the door startled her, the sound both sudden and sharp. Her heart pounded in her chest as she crossed the short distance between her bed and the door. Her breath caught as she swung open the door to find Braeden standing there.
“Hi, Aeryn.” He smiled at her, his eyes lighting up with the gesture. “I’ve been asked to deliver a letter.”
Aeryn was surprised to find that outside of the Circle, Braeden looked a lot younger, and far less intimidating. She smiled. “You were?”
“Well, not so much asked, as allowed to once I begged.” He held up the envelope he carried, and placed it in her hand. “I wanted to meet you.”
Aeryn glanced down at the letter in her hand, wishing to tear it open and read what it said. But the conversation had suddenly sparked her interest. “Meet me, why?”
“It’s not every day that a shapeshifter is Initiated into the Order. It’s bound to spark some interest.”
“Should I expect a line of people assembled at my door, then?” Aeryn arched a brow, amused, and a little bit intrigued. Something about him made her want to prolong the conversation. “I’m sure I’ll be too busy to sign autographs.”
Braeden grinned. “Please open it. I know you’re dying to.”
Unable to dispute his observation, she conceded to the request. She tore through the envelope and pulled out the sheet of paper inside. Anxiously, she unfolded it, only to find that there was nothing there. Confused, she glanced up at her visitor. “I don’t understand.” She showed him the blank piece of paper.
“It’s a special ink,” Braeden explained with a hint of amusement. “We use it to send messages back and forth within the Order. Most of the information we exchange is confidential. This assures that no one else reads it.”
“Clever,” Aeryn admitted. “But it would help if I could read it.”
“It took me about five hours to figure it out when I got it. Fun times.” Braeden smiled. “The record stands at fifty-two minutes and thirty-three seconds. Impressive, believe me. But I suppose that’s why she’s our High Priestess.”
Despite her annoyance at the situation, Aeryn liked the thought of a challenge, especially one that was timed. “I suppose if it were easy it wouldn’t be any fun.”
“Welcome to the Order,” Braeden replied with a wink. “Anyway, I’ll leave you to your letter. I’m sure I’ll see you again.”
Aeryn wished him a good night and retreated back into her bedroom. Once on her bed, she assessed the situation. There had to be some way of making the ink appear.
Ah, the magickal ink, Kalan’s voice resounded in her mind. This should be fun to watch.
“You’ve been shockingly silent for a while.”
Sorry, there was a meeting I had to be present at. Though, I did catch the Initiation ceremony. Congratulations.
“Thanks. You sure have a lot of meetings over there.”
Who said being a Spirit Guide was easy?
Aeryn smiled. “I don’t think anyone’s ever said that.” She stared at the paper. “Do you know how to solve this?”
“But I suppose you’re not allowed to tell me.”
Aeryn chewed on her bottom lip thoughtfully. She ran through a list of possible spells in her mind, but none of them seemed likely. “Maybe if I bleed some ink on it?” she wondered. She reached for the bottle of ink on her nightstand, and let a drop fall onto the sheet of paper. Nothing happened. “Hmm.”
You seem to be doing pretty well here. So, I’m off to play some tennis. Call me if you need me.
“Have fun.” Aeryn turned back to the paper. It had to be something simple. Something so obvious it would be continually overlooked. She glanced around the room, searching for ideas.
Half an hour later, she was nearly ready to give up. She’d tried everything from soaking it in water, to lighting candles around it, to setting it on fire.
Aeryn lay back against her pillows and stared up at the ceiling. “Please, Goddess. Show me the way.”
It was then that Aeryn caught her reflection in the mirror. The mirror. She grabbed the paper and rolled out of bed. Once in front of the mirror, she turned the paper toward the reflection. The text appeared there clearly, though upside down. Quickly, she turned it over and read:
Please join me in my office so we can discuss the details of your mission.
“Oh, you’ve got to be joking.” Aeryn crumbled up the piece of paper and threw it in the trash by her desk. Grabbing the cloak, she exited the bedroom and headed outside.
The night was warm and festive, dressed in the spirit of the day’s occasion. It was a night of celebration for all involved, even those outside of the Order’s ranks. The island of Lare was a small strip of land cloaked beneath the spells of ancient magick. It existed between dimensions, thus far concealed from the attention of the Guardians. Those witches inhabiting the island were there to train, to do research, to search for spiritual knowledge, and above all, to assist the members of the Order.
She nodded to the people she recognized. Congratulations were shouted from all directions as she passed. She smiled, feeling proud. She had grown up among these people, and they had encouraged her all of the way. She wouldn’t be who she was if not for them. And still … she always wondered who she might have been if fate had not brought her there.
Aeryn had been brought to the island by a witch whose name she was never told. She’d always hoped that joining the Order would help to shed light on her past. The amulet around her neck being the only link she had to a life she couldn’t fathom. She’d learned not to ask too many questions of the Elders. She’d been encouraged to let the past go, to focus on the future. And so she had. But the questions always lingered, and she hoped to one day find the answers.
At the door to the Elders’ Hall, she paused. Of the many times she’d ever been in Larken’s presence, this would be the first time that she’d face the High Priestess alone. A shiver of excitement ran up her spine as she pushed open the door.
Inside, a long, expansive hallway greeted her, its wooden panels lined with portraits of prior members of the Order. As she walked, she could hear her footsteps echoing on the black marble tiles beneath her feet. She wondered if the Hall was usually so quiet.
Aeryn found the door to Larken’s office slightly ajar.
“Come in, Aeryn.”
The young mage stepped inside the office and closed the door behind her. Larken was seated behind a large, mahogany desk cluttered by piles of old books.
“Please sit.” The High Priestess pointed to one of the chairs in front of the desk. “Thirty-two minutes and fourteen seconds. You beat my record.”
Aeryn sat where instructed and nervously pushed away strands of brown hair behind her ear. “How did you know the exact time?”
“There are few things I don’t know.” Larken leaned forward, her hands folded across the desk. She whispered, “And so you know, it took Braeden fifteen hours to figure out the ink spell.”
Aeryn smiled. “He lied?”
“Well, some people have to try harder than others to impress.” Larken offered a smile. “He’s not one of them. But, I suppose everyone has details they’d like to conceal.”
Aeryn wondered if the statement applied to Larken as well. “Yes, perhaps.”
Noticing the approaching lull in the conversation, Larken changed the subject. “You’ve been assigned to a place called Merfolk. It is a small college town on the eastern coast of America. You’ve been enrolled as a freshman at the university. Everything else you may need to know is here—” Larken held up a huge binder filled with paper. “A little light reading for your trip.”
The ‘light’ reading weighed a ton, but Aeryn accepted it without comment. “When am I to leave?”
“Tomorrow. I suggest you pack lightly. You can purchase appropriate belongings when you arrive.”
Aeryn nodded, trying to hide her surprise. She’d been expecting at least a couple of days to prepare.
“I know this is quite overwhelming for you, Aeryn,” Larken said, her tone softening. “As difficult as it may be to conceive of, I was not born a High Priestess.” Larken smiled, sitting back against the chair, which seemed as ancient as the knowledge behind the woman’s green eyes. “I once sat where you sit now, nervous—well, petrified, really—of what was to come.”
Aeryn couldn’t picture Larken being afraid of anything. “And were your fears justified?”
Larken’s smile faded with the question, but her gaze held Aeryn’s steadily. “The world is a dark, mysterious, fascinating place; glorious in its innate perfection, but tainted by the flaws of humanity. My fears rose from self-doubt, and a lack of confidence in my abilities. They were justified in that I created them, and gave them life. There is no greater enemy to magick than doubt. Doubt yourself, and inevitably, you will fail.”
A question floated into Aeryn’s mind, but she had to struggle to voice it. She did not want to offend Larken, or cross any boundaries. “Did you ever fail?”
A long sigh preceded the answer. “I did.” The High Priestess looked older at that moment. Despite her silver hair, she couldn’t be older than forty. And most of the time, she didn’t look older than thirty. But wisdom, Aeryn suspected, had a way of making the young seem old.
Aeryn wanted to know more, but didn’t dare ask. “I suppose I should go pack.”
“Have a safe journey, Aeryn.” Larken’s tone was distant, distracted.
Aeryn nodded, and rose, holding the binder to her chest as she walked toward the door.
At the doorway, she turned. “Yes?”
The High Priestess appeared to be struggling with something. Finally, she said, “Just be careful.”
“I’ll do my best,” Aeryn said, feeling a rush of excitement at the prospect of heading out into the world. She was a member of the Order now, armed with the Greater Power of the Goddess; she had nothing to fear.
She closed the door without noticing that Larken’s eyes were filled with tears.
Azure entered the building quickly, pointedly ignoring the voices of the students outside who called out to her, wishing to know her name, wishing for her to stop and have a smoke and relax. They didn’t—couldn’t—understand that she didn’t have that luxury.
She passed through the bulletin boards covered in multi-colored papers. Clubs, meetings, parties—so many fun-sounding activities she would never have the courage to be a part of. Regretfully, she glanced at one of the flyers stapled in front of another. She wondered how far back it all went; how many layers of history were dressed in outdated photocopies of events. But the thought drifted away into the back of her consciousness, replaced by a more immediate interest in the words: “Open mike at Paraiso, Thursday night at ten. Bring poetry, music, and an open mind.”
Chewing nervously on her bottom lip, Azure glanced around. When she was certain that no one was looking, she ripped the paper from the board, and stuffed it in the pocket of her sweatshirt. Quickly, she headed for the stairs.
The narrow hallway that led to her dorm room presented a challenge. People had the unfortunate habit of lounging around outside of their rooms, taking up space. Azure paused, considering for a moment going back downstairs and taking different stairs. But there was always the risk of more people blocking her path. It was inevitable.
The students in the hallway glanced at her curiously, but continued their conversation undisturbed.
Hesitantly, she headed toward them. With luck, she’d be able to pass by without drawing too much attention to her anxiety. Please, God, don’t let them touch me. As she approached, the conversation trailed off. They stared at her questioningly. “Excuse me.” The fear in her voice was palpable.
The girl on the floor looked up at her with a raised eyebrow. “You can just jump over us.”
Azure glanced at the maze of legs blocking her way. The girl and the guy were sitting zigzagged, with their legs stretched out in front of them. She would never make it across without touching one of them.
“Are you a freshman?” the guy asked.
The girl stretched out her hand. “I’m Dawn.”
Azure stepped back, her heart beating furiously in her chest.
Dawn stared at her in confusion, and maybe embarrassment. “It’s clean.”
Azure swallowed. “I’m sorry, it’s not you.”
Dawn lowered her hand with a shrug. “Whatever.”
“Oh!” The guy snapped his fingers. “I read about this is Psych last year. Phobia, right?”
Azure nodded, though it wasn’t entirely the truth. “Sorry.”
“Don’t apologize. I’m terrified of spiders.” The guy stood up, motioning for the girl to do the same. She reluctantly complied. “I’m Dan.” He waved.
“Azure.” She offered an appreciative smile. “Thank you.”
Dan grinned. “No problem.”
Azure walked across the path they’d allowed her, and didn’t stop until she reached her door. Once inside the room, she glanced around, making sure that she was alone. Relieved, she dropped her bookbag on the bed, and sat down.
It had been two and a half days since her last hallucination, although, sometimes it was hard to keep track. Questioning every little thing was far too difficult, and occasionally impossible. Real, imagined – what was the difference, really? It was hard enough getting through day-to-day activities. It was exhausting to avoid human contact at every turn. She was tired of fearing the darkness, the light, the silence, the noise. There was no hiding from the visions in her mind.
She thought of the flyer in her pocket, of the surreal possibility of performing for a crowd full of people. She had spent so many nights attempting to fill the silence with her music. She had spent so much time in the company of her own words. It was a lonely existence, having only one’s own reflection for an audience. Yet, she could not conceive the notion of being heard.
At dinnertime, Azure succumbed to the power of hunger and headed outside. Quietly, she trailed behind the clusters of students headed to the dining hall.
“…and then he told me to drop it ‘cause it was harder than that class we had with Simmons last semester..”
“…I don’t think so, but it’s possible…”
“…take it with Professor Quell, trust me …”
The voices passed by, sounding so clear in the temporary proximity, then trailing off with the distance. Azure wondered how it came to be that people made friends so easily. She had never met anyone she could just talk to. Maybe it was her fault. Perhaps a person had to be open to the possibility of friendship. Still, whom could she befriend in a place like this, where everyone joined a clique three seconds after arriving?
Abandoning her thoughts, she glanced around, suddenly expecting to encounter something out of place. She could feel it, a subtle, yet unmistakable change in the air. She looked at the people, wondering if anyone else had noticed it, but they continued on, unaware of a shift in the ambiance.
The unexpected vision hit her so hard that she stumbled to the ground. But she didn’t feel the ground beneath her, colliding against her body with the force of the fall. Her mind was lost to the images flashing before her eyes.
A black cape … a symbol… fire … a man … pain … a girl’s body … naked … bed … wrinkled sheets … a shot of pleasure …
Azure gasped, her breathing a series of desperate intakes of air, as the vision vanished. She was surprised to find she was on the grass. She was surprised to find her elbow was bleeding, and that someone with soft hands was touching her.
“I’m sorry,” the stranger was saying. “I felt this … um, there was a rock or something. I must have trip—Goddess, you’re bleeding.”
Azure’s breathing evened out, and she managed to ignore the memory of the vision long enough to notice the person kneeled beside her. Strands of long brown hair fell across the girl’s features, and all Azure could determine was that the girl’s eyes were green. They appeared so concerned, that Azure was at a loss for words.
“Are you hurt anywhere else?” The girl pushed her hair away from her face; her green eyes meeting Azure’s brown ones.
Azure’s gaze drifted from the girl’s eyes to her lips, then back again to her eyes. She quickly looked away, her heart pounding. God, not this again.
Soft fingers brushed against Azure’s arm again, sending her reeling into another vision. It was brief, detailed, the kind she’d come to recognize as inconsequential premonitions. When it ended, Azure took a deep breath.
“Are you okay?”
The soft voice caught Azure’s attention, and she glanced into green eyes once more. “Sorry. It’s … I’m fine. I … should go.” She ignored the girl’s offered hand, and stood up on her own, making sure to keep a few steps away. The pain in her arm was nothing compared to the onslaught of emotion coursing through her. Physical pain she was used to.
Azure tried to keep her gaze on the grass, but she was unable to keep her eyes from drifting. Her mind registered the black boots, the cargo pants, and the black tank top under a black hooded sweater. Finally, she pushed her shyness to the side, and met the girl’s gaze. “Thanks.”
“For hurting you?” The girl’s voice was a mixture of amusement and concern. “I could treat that for you.” She motioned to the wound on Azure’s arm.
Azure shook her head. “I have to go. I… um. Bye.” She turned to walk away, and then paused, feeling the need to add, “Watch out for the ketchup.”
“Nothing,” Azure said, suddenly regretting her words. She’s going to think I’m a freak. As if she doesn’t already. She walked off in the opposite direction of the dining hall, not bothering to wait for a response.
The memory of the first vision came back to her so vividly that she halted in her steps. She had never experienced anything so fully, so personally, so intense. But that wasn’t what had thrown her. That wasn’t what had caused her to suddenly lose her appetite.
… a girl’s body … naked … bed … wrinkled sheets … a shot of pleasure …
Azure shut her eyes. That was me.
Naia had spent most of her life – since watching a special on UFOs on the Discovery Channel at the age of six– trying to uncover the hidden world of Merfolk. Every occurrence of possible paranormal activity within a 2 mile radius of her center of operations (room) was recorded, studied, and analyzed. In the course of fifteen years of intensive study, she had come to discover, without a shred of doubt, that Merfolk was inhabited … by morons.
How was she supposed to get through to the other-dimension spirits when the only calls she received where from people confusing creaking floorboards with ghosts, and mundane shadows with fantastical creatures? It was exasperating! All of that wasted time spent listening to the settling of wood, and photographing what turned out to be nothing but specs of dust set aglow by the afternoon sunlight.
Naia seethed as she recalled the latest findings. An entire night of sneezing out dust balls and attempting to find comfort in the unyielding wooden planks beneath her body had culminated at six o’clock in the morning, when, after rising to leave, she had discovered, quite by accident, the object of Mr. Fluffy’s attention. Wedged beneath a rotting old couch was a chewed up tennis ball that Naia had seen the flea-infested mutt toss about in the backyard for years. It was this saliva-soaked abomination that had been the cause of the dog’s commotion. The second she’d stepped down from the attic holding the dreaded object between her thumb and forefinger and dropped it in front of Mr. Fluffy, all barking suddenly ceased.
Indeed, Naia had wanted nothing more than to shoot the owner, the dog, and herself as she walked home to change for her first day of classes.
Now, two days later, she found herself tapping her pencil against the blank page of her notebook, wanting only to shoot herself. At the rate things were going The Weekly Bizarre was headed nowhere. She adamantly refused to print one false word upon its pages.
Defeated, she sunk down in the desk, and dropped the pencil on the notebook. What she needed was a miracle.
Aeryn burst into her dorm room, and quickly removed her now-stained sweater. Staring at the moist patch of ketchup that now adorned the front, she shook her head. “Great, just great,” she muttered. She’d been there less than a day and had already succeeded in making a complete fool of herself in front of a cafeteria full of students. If she were to successfully blend in, she would have to attend a crash course on ketchup dispensers. Clearly, the Order had forgotten that very important lesson.
Sighing, she sat down on the bed and stared out of the window. Her thoughts trailed away from the memory of her dining hall catastrophe, and settled on earlier events. Rolling her eyes, she leaned back against the wall and shook her head. “I’m such an idiot,” she mumbled, recalling the collision preceding dinner. “A member of the Order of Akasha, top-level mage by anyone’s account and I can’t even—”
Her self-deprecation ceased instantly as a thread of recollection made its way to the forefront of her thoughts.
“Watch out for the ketchup…”
Aeryn frowned, sitting up. She knew. Quickly, her mind’s eye replayed the accident as vividly as her memory allowed.
There had been a sudden change in the air, but nothing like Aeryn had ever felt before. It was not otherworldly or supernatural in anyway that Aeryn could recognize. Instead, it felt like a peaceful calm descending upon her, as if she were close to something…
And then she’d felt the jolt of her body hitting something solid. Mere seconds elapsed before she realized she’d knocked someone over. She’d quickly set about inspecting the girl’s body for physical injury, and finding blood, felt her own draining quickly from her face. She’d never hurt anyone before.
Aeryn had done a quick overview of the girl’s aura, finding it an odd mixture of colors that at the time she’d attributed to the shock of the accident. She’d also dismissed the girl’s strange behavior as surprise.
But now, thinking back, Aeryn recalled the way the girl’s eyes had glossed over as if looking at something that wasn’t directly in front of her. It had occurred twice, and both times as a result of physical contact.
“Watch out for the ketchup…”
Aeryn paused in her train of thought, not wishing to jump to conclusions. Before reporting back to the Order she would have to make sure that her suspicions were correct. Having a Seer in the area was too much of a coincidence. It was far likelier that she was working for the Guardians.
Jumping from the bed, she went straight for her bag. First things first: a location spell.
Jael flicked his cigarette over the railing of his balcony, in a mindless, casual way that illustrated the monotony of habit. It was not the first time one of his cigarette butts would land on the freshly mowed lawn of his estate, and it would certainly not be the last time his gardener would be forced to bend down and remove it from the grass.
Balance, cause and effect, those were the things that Jael had spent his life studying, observing, perfecting. It was a shame the others did not see life the way he saw it. The way his ancestors had seen it.
Those with the answers always suffered at the hands of the ignorant. So many brilliant minds wasted, lost to the fear and cowardice of those too scared to taste progress. This “God” to whom the masses prayed to, He did not exist. And they, blind to the truth, felt it necessary to destroy every testament of proof.
“Fools,” he muttered into the wind. He leaned against he railing, breathing in the salty air. “Such possibility wasted.” An eye for an eye, his father had said, and Jael agreed. For centuries, they had struggled to take vengeance upon the world, and for centuries, they had failed.
He let out a laugh draped in a bitterness brewed from countless years of regret. He’d held the key to humanity’s undoing in his very hands, and then made the mistake of letting it out of his sight.
“An accident,” he’d been told. He smiled humorlessly at the thought. Even without his powers, he could tell it was a lie. Still, decades of searching had proved fruitless, and with the years, his anger and resentment had grown into full-blown rage. “Larken,” he whispered, the name tasting bitter on his tongue, “you will pay dearly for what you have cost me.”
Episode 1 Part 2