Cassian Shearin Muireal was a slender girl of nine years old. She had soft, thin, blond hair and hazel eyes. She was generally energetic and aware of her surroundings, but there was nothing particularly unusual or spectacular about her or her three-years-older sister, Amrath Shearin Muireal. Amrath was built about average. She had dark brown hair, hazel eyes, and was less energetic than her younger sister. They often played with a boy who was ten, also built rather average, having dark eyes, black hair, and skin the color of an almond. His name was Norden Jaryle Palece, but he was called Jaryle.
One early summer afternoon the trio was playing on a hillside overlooking a little village. “I’d like to go look in that cave!” said Cassian, pointing to a hole in a little precipice above them.
“Okay,” said Amrath, looking up from her pile of assorted leaves.
“There probably aren’t any baby goats in there,” said Jaryle. “There might be snake babies.”
“Nonsense,” declared Amrath. “Fall is the time for baby snakes– there might be unhatched snake eggs. Ooh! That would be gross.”
“There might be dragon eggs!” said Cassian, her face lit up.
“Probably not,” said Amrath, in a tone of voice that meant, “That’s ridiculous.”
“Well, are we going?” said Cassian, looking around at her sister and friend. Amrath was still half-sitting half-laying in the grass, and Jaryle was arranging sticks and rocks for a play castle.
“Sure,” said Amrath, getting to her feet rather slowly.
Jaryle jumped up.
Two minutes later, Cassian was leading the older ones into a dark space, half-hole, half-tunnel, and half-cavern. A little before it was totally dark, Jaryle almost bumped into something. “Hey! What’s this?” he exclaimed. “Cassy! Amrath!” Before the two girls could get to his side, he had put his hand on the object. “I think it feels scaly.”
“You think?” asked Amrath skeptically. She put her hands on her hips and examined the roughly egg-shaped object. It was hard to see very well in this lighting. She certainly did not want to touch it.
Cassian reached out her hand. “It has a pulse.”
“A what?” asked Amrath.
Jaryle drew back his hand. “What, Cassy? You can’t touch it?”
“I’m not touching it?” Cassian sounded puzzled.
“No, you’re not,” said Amrath, taking a closer look. The way her younger sister was leaning, the position of her hand and arm, it sure looked like Cassian was touching something, only the mysterious object was about two inches beneath her hand.
Jaryle touched it again, this time sliding his hand underneath Cassian’s. Amrath observed, “I think it might be red, but it’s too dark in here to be too sure.”
“I’m not touching it!” exclaimed Cassian. She removed her hand, and stepped back. Quickly, she wheeled around and lightly ran out.
Amrath started following at a much more sedate pace. Jaryle called after Cassian, “What are you doing?”
“Just getting a stick.” Cassian did not bother looking over her shoulder, and it took the two older ones a moment to realize what she had just said.
“What on earth would she want with a stick?” Amrath muttered to herself.
A few moments later, Cassian returned with her stick. She thrust it in at the object, and it slid across it, for some reason making no noise at all. As quick as lightning, she slid her hand along the stick, in past where she had been resisted a mere half-minute ago, and touched the object with the tips of her fingers.
The children could never quite figure out what happened next. Jaryle said that the instant Cassian touched the object– he had already begun to think of it as an egg of some sort– it was gone, but he never could recall if there was something within it– rather, where it had been– or if so, what. The very next moment something equally strange and hardly even knowable happened. There was a flash, a blast, an explosion. However, exactly what it was, none of the children knew. Cassian said it was something like light, only she did not just see it with her eyes, she saw it with her whole body. Not only did she see it with her whole body, she saw it directly with her brain. Amrath was not sure if she had seen it with her eyes at all, but she did say that she perceived it in a way that was ‘like seeing’.
At any rate, that flash, that explosion, of something that was like light, hurled them all away from the apparent source, and flung them on the ground, flat on their backs.
For several millennia, Camri had ‘slept’ in a state of conscious oblivion, her presence feeding and growing off of the energy fields that are strung through the universe, like webs and liquids, emanating from, permeating, and passing through all that is, as well as interacting with each other in ways too complex and secret for any human– or even dragon– to comprehend. Now, for the first time in her multi-millennium-long half-existence, Camri was aware of something other than oblivion: a mind, resembling her own in a way that no interaction of the energy fields did– a mind far freer than her own.
Then, something– or someone– pierced the shield, pierced the imprisonment and freedom from the definitiveness and reality of the actual world. It was sheer torment– for a moment, a flash, an instant. It was as though she were being burned into existence, exploded into reality, chained into freedom. It was one instant of awful torture, intolerable, unbearable; it felt as though it would annihilate her– in a sense it was, in fact, doing so– and yet it was defining her, making her, giving her life. For the first time in countless millennia, Camri was living, and so, for the first time, she was dying.
Then, the awful shock was over, and Camri stood, in a sort of imprisonment in reality, for the first time aware, and for the first time confined in her awareness. For the first time capable, and for the first time limited in her capabilities. For the first time alive, and for the first time dying.
As far as the children could tell, a strange creature, female, though none of the children knew how they could tell, stood where the egg had been. She seemed hardly part of this world. Somehow, Cassian knew her name– Camri. Wings spread out from her shoulders, and seemed almost to fill the cavern, only they hardly seemed to be real, at any rate in the same sense as the rock was real. Cassian put it this way, “Her wings were really there, all right. They were only a different there. It wasn’t so much that they were there in a different way than the rocks were, or that we were. They were a different there.” Jaryle said that he could make nothing of that, but then again neither could he make anything of the experience itself. Amrath said she did not really understood what Cassian was saying, but it sounded right, in a way. “Cassian’s right in the same way that the wings were real, and she’s wrong in the same way that the wings weren’t real. The whole thing was rather like two different worlds, too different kinds of worlds, meeting, touching, merging.”
The color of the wings was another thing that could never really be figured out. Jaryle said they were see-through, sort of like glass, and yet different. “One can see glass, at least around the edges. Even the edges of these wings could not be seen. Everything looks somehow, barely different, through glass, whereas what was on the other side of the wings looked exactly the same as that which had no wings between it and my eyes. And yet… and yet… I saw the wings.” Cassian claimed they were no color and every color, and said she had no memory whatsoever of whether she could– or could not– see what was on the other side of the wings from her. Amrath claimed the wings were a color that had never been seen before– perhaps no human eye could see their color– and yet familiar. She had seen it before, but not with her eyes, and she could remember it, but there was no name for it. It had a silvery sheen, but that was about all she could tell about it. “There are colors we can’t see, but sometimes we can sense them– in music, or in fragrances, for example. As a result, we can occasionally recognize them. It was one of those.”
The woman was very tall, but, here again, there was something strange going on. The children could hardly be certain whether she was six and a half feet tall, or a hundred feet tall. Amrath had the clearest idea on this. “Her height was about seven and a half feet, but she was taller than we could tell.” Cassian said she had not paid any attention to that; she was taller than they were, she was imposing, and it could not have mattered less exactly how tall she was. An energy pulse radiated from her, that Cassian, alone, felt very strongly, but of which Amrath says that she felt “a dim awareness.” There was something scaly about her form.
In a voice that seemed to resonate through the cavern, and yet did not echo, was strong as the ocean tides, and yet as cold as ice, Camri spoke. The children could never decide whether they heard it with their ears or with their minds, but one thing was sure: it did not exactly have words, in the normal sense. None of them could resist it. Madly, they fled, knowing not why, nor even from what.
Minutes later, stitches in their sides, for they had all run as fast as they knew how, the three collapsed on the bank of the stream that ran by the village of which their families were part. As soon as she had enough breath to speak Cassian said, “What was that creature? I feel almost as though I know her, but I did not recognize her at all. Somehow, I feel like I met her. Just now.”
Amrath nodded. “I don’t know what you mean about knowing her, or meeting her, but it was all very strange. Like there’s some twist in reality, or in the nature of things. Some strange, new dimension. Wizardry, I would say, though I know precious little of it.”
Jaryle just shook his head. “I don’t like it at all. I’m not sure what it was, or even if it WAS, but I do know it isn’t real in the normal sense, and I think we should tell our parents that something is not right around here– particularly in that cave.”
Amrath nodded. “Might not be a bad idea.”
Cassian was staring off into the distance, at nothing in particular. “I just feel like I know her, now. She needs someone,” she said, to no one in particular.
“She is evil,” said Amrath. “You should not get involved with her.”
Cassian said nothing in reply. After resting a few minutes, they got up and walked to the village.
Excerpted from Knights of the Promise, Copyright © 2017 by Raina Nightingale
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