top of page

The Destined Kingdom - Chapter Five

The sprawling palace that stood as the centerpiece of the kingdom as well as Protea as a whole sat in the very center of the large capitol city around it. Crystal and stone came together to make the castle sparkle in the sunlight and nearly glow in the sunrise and sunset. Towers seemed to teasingly reach for the sky, and the castle's personal square footage alone topped a hundred thousand. The palace land around it went on for fifty acres covered in trees and gardens and a glorious abundance of nature where all manner of animals lived and walked freely.

A large wall surrounded the entire thing, and tours were offered on occasional weekends. The gardens could be rented in advance for ceremonies. The royal family of High Queen Shanae, High King Robert, and High Princess LeAnn had made it clear that they were approachable. It was not unusual to see the queen herself hit cities on her world and roll up her sleeves to help as needed.

A Portalpad—Pad for short—sat right outside the palace gates to drop magically transported people off, and two different public transit carriage lines had stops nearby as well. The Pads were the most beloved part of the galaxy since they made travel so much easier no matter the distance. They had been lost for use between the fall of the kingdoms to about halfway through the Rebirth Era, almost eight thousand years' worth of time, but they had finally been reinstated once magic had grown strong enough. The Pads drew directly on the power of a world's Core by harmonizing through a Ruler, so it took a combination of a strengthened Core and a living Ruler to make them operational.

You paid a small fee to use them, naturally, but the money went immediately back into the local community. Pads existed in every city on all worlds, even the recovering ones—it was what allowed the workers on the eight Lower planets to work safely in shifts since the atmospheres only allowed roughly eight to ten hours of exposure before it got dangerous. The length of exposure increased as the atmospheres strengthened as the worlds themselves did. Some people who loved to travel paid flat monthly or yearly fees to use Pads as many times as they liked; the workers had free yearly passes.

Tasia and all her friends had monthly passes, given their enjoyment of wandering the city and those with introverted tendencies not liking public carriages for their inevitable noise. All had licenses to drive carriages as well, but they only utilized those for trips where the destination did not sit conveniently close to public transportation. A regular carriage could hold anywhere from one to six people depending on the make; the public carriages could hold up to twenty.

As they assembled outside the gates after leaving the small Pad station, Theo felt a chill of premonition down his back. Like Tasia, he possessed the rare ability of Sight. His limited to specifically Future Sight and the not as rare Ghost Sight—strangely, the latter could be the more annoying, though at least his family was used to him talking to people they could not see. The former was what stirred as he approached the gates, and power moved across his eyes as he stared into the distance at something only he could see. "Something will change," he murmured. "The Tower is in my mind."

"I pulled Death from the arcana this morning when I was cutting the cards," Tasia admitted. The cards were tucked into her back pocket and they throbbed softly with ancient power. They had been in her family since the beginning, and she had brought them in case they might be needed by the royal family.

"Life-altering," Raine murmured.

"Catastrophically life-altering." Beth took a deep breath. "Tasi, what haven't you told us?"

A wind teased Tasia's long ponytail. "You'll find out today. I am sure of it." She squared her shoulders and walked forward to ring the bell outside the gate.

A guard wearing the common uniform of a Royal Knight walked up to the gate and smiled as she saw the group on the other side. "May I help you?" she asked.

"My name is Tasia Martine." She smiled. "I and Queen Yvette accidentally switched some papers. It was cheaper fare to come here than go to Delphinium, so I thought I might be able to drop off her work here and maybe have someone mail me my, er, paper." Subtly, so subtly her friends did not notice, she tugged her shirt down a little bit. The silver pendant around her neck sparkled in a bit of sunlight.

The guard stared for a moment at the familiar pendant. Anyone in the castle knew it for it could be seen on two paintings in the Grand Hall, adorning the necks of the first and second High Priestesses of Protea. Its presence here on this woman could only mean one thing. "Why don't you come inside yourselves?" she offered graciously as she opened the gates. "You could wait around a bit for Queen Yvette to come herself to meet you. I'm sure Queen Shanae would love to give you a tour. She adores showing off her gardens."

"Okay, sure!" Beth said cheerfully. She shoved Tasia quickly in the gates as the others followed. Only when they were out of earshot did she mutter, "Tasia, what in the hell are you hiding from us? Something weird is going on."

* * * * *

"Are you sure of this?" Robert demanded of his wife and sister as they sat in the upstairs drawing room with all of the Cultivators and Commanders except those from Hyacinth and Orchid. Even Racine was present for this meeting, but her generation was the one under discussion and she deserved to have input.

"We're sure." Shanae's voice was flat as she spoke. "I don't know who or what did it, but the Resurrection Era Cultivators have had their Seeds frozen."

"Like me?" Racine asked. "I was frozen too, because of being born in the wrong Era."

"I wish it was that simple!" Shanae crossed her arms tightly. "What happened to you was, for want of a better word, natural. Something or someone, likely Statice, had frozen you for your own safety, and once Claret had found you, you started thawing. You then finished thawing across both Eras as a part of those complicated Paradoxal Pivots. Perfectly safe and natural, if so very odd. This was not natural. This was a deliberate act of aggression by evil magic."

"What!" Asheria stared at her. "Is that even possible?"

"If it was done by evil, yes. That's the allure of evil magic. It grants the owner unnatural and great power. It had to have happened when they were young, that freezing. Before Activation, because otherwise it would have been nigh impossible."

Kacey took a sudden sharp breath of realization. "Holy hell. I think . . . I know when it happened. Tasia. She was that child I was called to help save twenty years ago. We had to sew her lungs back together literally. I felt nothing when I touched her. I had no idea she was a Cultivator at all. It was her fifth birthday when it happened, and she is the Lead. She would have been right on the cusp of Activation as a Defender."

"They may have already been Activated as Rulers but with hidden Marks," Julianna mused, "but had no way of knowing because Rulers also don't develop magic until around age five. We have our Marks, and can access our Ruler outfits, but we can't do much else. Safety defense from the planets to have the Marks be hidden on non-royal children, which led to us not knowing, which led to them being beyond our sight long enough for something terrible to happen. That . . . that hurts. A lot."

"Did you feel her majik?" Yvette asked. "Because I wonder how you didn't notice."

Shanae held up a finger. "Don't you remember Gracia, Jean and Byron's eldest daughter? You could not feel majik inside her until she was six or seven. That was when it became tangible enough to be felt by those with magic. Only another witch felt it inside her before then. I expect the same applies to Tasia as well. Destiny truly, deliberately, tied our hands here."

"But why?" Veronica demanded.

"I'm sure we'll find out."

"Argh." Veronica sat back on a scowl. "Well, how do we fix it then? If they could not be thawed by even you, Shanae, then what will work? Maybe Sayena since she's a healer?"

Sayena shook her head. "If the Apex of Dark cannot unthaw a Seed, then the Apex of Light will likely fare no better. This isn't a case of healing someone, and it's beyond our experiences as a whole. And if anyone has Seen anything, they're not saying anything about it." The subtle dig went at her brother and sister-in-law alike, but both shook their heads—which did not make her feel better. She may dislike when those with Future or All Sight withheld information, but she liked less when they didn't know what was happening.

"How are we faring with Emily and Ryan?" Dane asked.

Sayena suddenly smiled. "Not well. They won't even admit to being Cultivators let alone contemplate ways of thawing the Seeds they don't believe exist. They're being remarkably typical for those with Dark cores, that terrible stubbornness and ability to be blind to the patently obvious."

"I don't know what you're inferring," her sister-in-law demurred. She started to say more but then went utterly still as her eyes widened. Her breath caught in her chest as she felt the searing blast of majik moving down her skin.

Racine shot to her feet and looked around in sheer confusion. "That was surreal!" she blurted. "I just felt . . . felt as if I had been hit!" She shook her head. "My companions are here. I can feel my friends are on the palace grounds. I know they are!" She went rushing for the door and hurried into the hall. She knew, was sure, that LeAnn and Reagan would feel it as well, and so would Emily and Ryan. Like called to like.

"They're gathering of their own will," Evan said quietly. "Even frozen, they are gathering. That does not bode well."

"Shanae?" Sabin frowned at his queen. "What did you feel?"

She touched her heart. "Once upon a time, long ago, there was a witch that I loved almost as much as my Cultivators. She was one of my most beloved friends, my priestess who aided me in healing when I thought I never would. She got in my face, yelled at me . . . and was the most amazing person I've known. She promised me I would know her descendant when she was near." Her eyes lifted to meet the gazes of the others. "She was right. I can feel her near. The High Priestess of Protea has come home."

* * * * *

They had made it into the foyer of the castle before not being sure what else to do or where else to go. The servants had happily shown them in and one had said he would go find the queen. All except Tasia felt highly confused; they were being treated like parts of the nobility rather than just some city folks in off the street to drop off a design paper.

"Tasia," Theo warned. "You know something!"

Tasia opened her mouth to answer when she felt a presence near the doorway. She turned sharply and put herself in front of her friends. "Who's there?" she demanded. "Show yourself."

"Easy," Racine said dryly as she stepped forward. "Don't shoot. I'm unarmed." Her smile warmed as she felt a relaxing inside her soul. Here, finally, she had found the friends she had desperately longed for. She had always been different from the Rebirth Era Cultivators, just like LeAnn and Reagan. They had just not belonged in that generation. They were their own. "My name is Racine Statice." She looked down at her Ruler gown. "As if it wasn't obvious, I'm the Crown Princess of Statice and one of its Ruler Cultivators." And one of its Defender Cultivators, but that could be covered later.

The tension left Tasia, and she smiled at feeling the strong sense of kinship. "You're like us." And perhaps in more ways than Racine herself knew. She offered a hand palm up. "I'm Tasia Martine. These are my friends Theo Mallory and Beth Jackson, and the other two are my siblings Raine and Storm Peacer."

Racine smiled as she pressed her palm to Tasia's, and a brief look of surprise crossed her face at feeling the majik blasting into her. It felt . . . oddly comfortable, and familiar. "Er, welcome to the castle. You ran into Yvette, right?"

"And knocked her down, poor thing! I came to return her design and get my story back."

A commotion from the other end of the hall had them turning to see Reagan and LeAnn hurrying toward them. Reagan rather predictably tripped on the edge of her Ruler gown and sent herself and her cousin tumbling. Raine and Tasia had already been moving and they easily caught their twin to steady her before she hit the ground. "Damn it, Reagan!" LeAnn complained. "Don't take out the innocent bystander!"

"Ah ha!" Beth snapped her fingers. "I knew you two were familiar! Leslie Ann is the long version of LeAnn. What's the Rhya from?"

Reagan blushed slightly as Raine stood her up straight. "It was the name my mother picked for me as my non-Ruler name. My father picked my Ruler name. They thought we should have two, so we could use the other when we wanted to have times to pretend to be normal." She smoothed out her skirts and then twisted a bit of the material between her fingers. "Please don't be mad," she pleaded. "We didn't mean to deceive you. We just . . . wanted to be normal."

"It's okay." Tasia smiled. "I knew from the beginning."

"And anyway," Theo agreed with a grin, "even princesses have a right to be normal. Besides, you're not nearly as spoiled as you might expect of a High Princess, so it's not like you are really annoying or anything."

LeAnn started laughing at the look of surprise on Reagan's face. "Trust me, our parents worked to keep us humble! And," she added a little softer, "it's hard to be spoiled when there are certain . . . duties you bear in the roles we fill." She felt a hand clasp hers and looked down to see Tasia's fingers had curled around hers. Her twin did not say anything, but just that small touch made her world better. "I think you have a different magic entirely," she said on a smile. "That you can do that."

"That's my job."

It felt so right to be standing there together that they almost forgot they had not all known each other from childhood. They complemented each other in ways surface and deeper, comfortably falling into the roles needed of them by each other. Every other generation had gotten to be friends from childhood as a whole of ten; this generation had been split in several pieces, but it had not changed that bond. They had been friends the entire time without even knowing it.

A second commotion came from the stairs, and Ryan and Emily came sliding down the banister. "You're a sadist!" Emily shouted up at the second floor. "I'm not wearing that . . . that fancy thing! My butt stays in denims!"

"At least your butt is cute in them," Beth offered with a grin.

Ryan and Emily swung around in shock and stared at the others. They stared back. Then, collectively, they all shouted, "I met you in the marketplace!" It was followed by more than one person muttering, "Well, shit."

Drawn by a power neither could name, the two siblings walked over to join the others. They formed a circle together and all began to smile. Even Emily couldn't deny how perfect the moment felt. The sensation that they were caught in something far bigger than anything they could fight couldn't stop the joy they felt. "Finally," Storm breathed softly. "A place where we all belong."

Tasia's head jerked up, and she turned to see Shanae standing at the top of the stairs. A sense of disorienting déjà vu rose inside. It was a strange tangle of emotions that felt more than her own. On top of her own strange recognition of the High Queen, she could feel the familiar ancestral echo that was the recognition from the prior two priestesses in her lineage.

Everyone fell silent as Shanae slowly descended the stairs toward Tasia. "Hello," Shanae said softly. "I would say it's nice to meet you, but I think we've somehow met before. We're not strangers."

"No," Tasia agreed just as softly, "we're not." She walked forward a step and then knelt gracefully with her left hand touching her forehead. When she straightened again, she pulled out her pendant and let it rest visibly on top of her shirt. "I am your High Priestess," she said calmly. "I am the final direct descendant of Liena and Jean. My services are yours until the end of Time, Your Majesty."

"Of course you would know." Shanae lightly touched the pendant and felt the distant presence of her long-passed friends. She was one of only four people allowed to touch the pendant without risk of receiving a painful shock. "You know your full heritage."

"Naturally." She smiled. "You can't hide something like that. I am a hereditary witch. My mother knew from my birth what I would be. I knew it as well. And, yes, I am also aware that the Ruler lineage of the planet Ranunculus runs in my veins from a Defender Cultivator ancestor. There has always been a flavor of the Glass Flower Element even in my favored Ice and Light and Dark."

"Cultivator!" Theo blurted.

"Light and Dark?" came from Julianna in sheer shock. She stared at Sayena and Shanae alike. "She can use Light and Dark?!"

"Majikally, yes," Sayena admitted on a smile, "which is of course very different from the magical ways Shanae and I use them. Which, yeah, was also super really rare in that no one has ever used the Dark or Light Flower Elements in any sense as a tangible element like the rest, but since Tasia is already super rare for being what she is, it's logical in the end, I think. Also, she has a Light and Dark core. She's neither but more like both, more so than even Chance or Allister! She's very nearly True Shadow, actually, since she's definitely not either Light Shadow or Dark Shadow. She could be True Shadow, if that Light and Dark merge inside her to become Gray—which it could, actually, because she's really special."

The slightest hint of pink touched Tasia's cheeks as literally everyone stared at her. "Thank you so much for blabbing," she muttered.

Shanae felt a smile rise as she saw not just what made Tasia different from her lineage, but some beloved quirks from Jean and Liena alike that linked them together. For the first time, the lingering grief for her long-deceased friends faded away. She offered a hand to Tasia and their fingers clasped. A hint of sparks flew between their fingers, and Shanae's heart stopped for a moment as she received the first real shock she had ever had in her very long life.

The premonition was swift and powerful in her mind, and it brought her a feeling she had never felt before: peace, from the first sight of her future freedom. She searched Tasia's eyes intently but saw that she only understood part of what she had felt in return. She was far from ready to know everything. It would be revealed as she grew strong enough to understand.

"I saw sparks!" LeAnn said in confusion. "I thought that only happened between you and Aunt Sayena," she told her mother.

"Well, usually, yes. It is because we have the strongest of Dark and Light cores, which, of course, create sparks because they want to make Chaos by coming together. Tasia, however, rivals us for the strength of her core, which is both Light and Dark, so she's inevitably going to spark against us both," Shanae explained. "And, yes, as that implies, her Light/Dark core is stronger than either Robert or Evan's individual Light or Dark. We don't spark against each other because they may have been the next most powerful Light or Dark after Sayena and I, but they stayed just shy of strong enough to spark."

"I'm sure you produced plenty of other sorts of sparks anyway," Theo murmured drolly.

Jayden side-eyed Asheria. "He reminds me of someone."

Shanae ignored them as she smiled at Tasia. "Speaking of Byron, did you ever wonder if perhaps what made him chosen might be genetic?"

"You mean did I wonder if I might not make a decent Defender myself? Oh, to be sure. And I wondered other things as well. Things that I wondered more when this happened." Her fingers touched her two streaks. "I always had suspicions as to why it happened, but not how." Her eyes sharpened with wisdom as infinite as her power. "But when I met Reagan and LeAnn, I saw the pattern and knew my suspicions had been correct."

Racine winced as she felt a sudden buzz of static from Tasia's mind. As a powerful telepath, she didn't even need to try to pick it up. She could pick up the thoughts of people in varying degrees without trying depending on their own level of mental shielding, and actively attempting to read minds could get through most barriers. She had definitely not been able to pierce Tasia's shields though, even on purpose, so suddenly getting the blast of static without any effort seemed extra surprising. And painful. "Ow, what is that?"

"Uhm, it's hard to explain," Storm apologized. "And as a warning, I might do it too. I'm still just stretching my powers though, so to speak."

"What pattern did you see?" That she was a pattern master did not surprise Shanae at all, even though Pattern Mastery in witches was all but non-existent. She doubted she would find anything surprising in her new-old friend. A kindred spirit. She had always assumed she would never have one. It was not entirely a comforting feeling. It came with a touch of painful bitterness. If they were true kindred spirits—two people who had been forged by the same experiences to a similar shape—then Tasia was the one the burden of Destiny had shifted onto. She was the one who would shatter herself in order to be reborn.

"Well, obviously," Tasia pointed to her hair, "these are very obviously the colors of Iris, as seen on Yvette herself. The purple iris that is found only on the world Iris. When I met LeAnn and realized I was her twin soul mate, that confirmed it for me, that Iris had chosen me as her next Daughter." She turned to smile at her friends. "It was easy to see then why we came together." She pointed at each in turn. "Daffodil, Gladiolus, Aster, Carnation, Hyacinth, and Orchid." She jerked a thumb at Racine. "And, of course, Statice. She doesn't have streaks because she was already aware and thawing her Seed by the time she reached twenty-one."

Racine opened her mouth and then closed it. "How . . . did you know that?"

"Don't ask," Beth whispered.

Tasia kept talking as if not interrupted. "So that is eight. Eight Dual Cultivators who are both Ruler and Defender, set to protect the High Princesses of Delphinium and Protea, as Defenders always have within Blossom Field, as well as someday rule the worlds that helped birth us. Perhaps for the same reason the Rebirth Era possessed Duals, the Resurrection will as well. Having both Ruler and Defender magic which is so different from each other made all of you stronger, and it will do the same for us—just as our possession of majik will aid as well, because it is also complementary and does different things."

"It will never not be creepy to hear a High Priestess talking about things you'd think she shouldn't know," Julianna grumbled.

"She gets worse, trust me," Storm grumbled back.

Emily had been internally seething silently the entire time, and she suddenly exploded with, "I can't believe this! How can you believe in all this crap? It's just a load of bullshit!"

"You all carry the same mark!" LeAnn snapped back.

"It's just some weird coincidence!" She made a disgusted noise. "And what's all this bullshit about majik and witches?! Are you seriously telling me they exist? Oh come on. They’re just a fantasy tale from history!"

Theo's forehead hit his palm, and Beth sighed. Wisely, Raine and Storm grabbed Ryan's arm and pulled him a bit further away from Emily so he would not even accidentally be in the line of fire.

Tasia's face showed nothing except mild amusement as she turned to face Emily, but something glinted inside her eyes. She deliberately lowered the shields behind which she hid the full force and potency of her power, and it welled in the air as Ice and Light and Dark with the before-mentioned flavor of Glass. Music began to throb and pulse in the air, and it echoed into everyone's souls long before it reached their ears. The ground rumbled softly, warningly, as if in response to the warning in her eyes. "Would you like proof that we exist?" The mystical music vibrated out of her very voice.

"A Mystic," Dane breathed. He had never thought he would ever meet one, but he was unsurprised she was the descendant of two Virtuosos. There was no other way she could have come to be.

"Do it if you can!" Emily was desperately holding onto her bluster, but goosebumps kept racing over her skin. Something inside had reacted greedily to the power in the air. She wanted to reach out for it somehow.

Tasia just sighed. She held up a hand and snapped her fingers, and a downpour opened directly over Emily's head to soak her to the bone. Emily sputtered and gaped in shock and then looked down to see the water disappearing before it touched the floor. The downpour ended and she stared through soggy bangs at the priestess. She could not find a single word.

"Congratulations," Diego said dryly, trying his best not to laugh. "You just shut her up for the first time in forty-eight hours."

"Wait, Water too?" Navidan Gladiolus asked. "In addition to three others?"

Tasia nodded without looking away from Emily. "Majikally, I can use any common element plus the restricted Light and Dark. I have also mastered every skill under the heading of witchcraft."

Yet she was still only a witch, when usually more than two elements and skills meant evolution to the rarer wizard level. More than Olivia began to realize then that evolution of the lineage may have finally shifted from optional to outright mandatory—and only Shanae truly understood how and why it needed to happen. Sayena, though, had a decent guess.

"Limitless potential," Sayena murmured to Shanae, remembering a conversation from five thousand years before that she had almost forgotten. "Controlled by her driving need to create only good. You're as creepy as she is."

Emily began to wring out her shirt only to realize she was completely dry again. Fed up with everyone present, she muttered something under her breath and shoved past the others to head toward the front doors. She was done with this insanity. Beyond DONE.

"Em, you deserved that!" Ryan followed his sister quickly. He couldn't help but glance back over his shoulder at the others, and Tasia in particular. He would have loved to have learned more about witches, and the Faith of the Goddess that the majority of witches supposedly belonged to, but he couldn't let Emily go off on her own. "Wait up, Em!"

"Hey wait!" Reagan shouted. She gathered her skirts to chase after them both. "Wait I said!"

"You have no idea how to make a command sound like one, do you?" Beth ran after Reagan.

"Cursing works!" Theo offered as he followed along.

"Don't teach her any more bad language!" Racine yelped as she scrambled after Theo. "Her parents already blame me for the others she knows!"

"Hey, no fair leaving us behind!" LeAnn and Storm said in one voice and then went running after their friends.

Tasia and Raine looked at each other. Gold majik moved across the latter's eyes as visions moved across the former's. "The Tower," Raine murmured. "Theo pulled the Tower from the tarot. You pulled Death."

A hint of a smile touched her friend's face. "If it was easy, it wouldn't be Destiny." She took Raine's hand and they ran together toward the doors to go find their friends.

"What did that mean?" Veronica demanded of Asheria and Jayden. "You're the ones who know divination and how to read tarot cards."

Divination could be learned and use by anyone with any sort of Sight or the Sensing skill in order to elicit information from the invisible. What they could see depended on their gift—Present Sight could only see present happenings, for example—and own personal strength. Tarot cards were the tool used in divination by those with Sensing (Sight did not need tools) and helped focus the owner's energy.

Sensing meant to feel when events moved or held still, so owners of it could be prophets even without Sight just by reading the energy of others. Channeling through the cards helped narrow the focus to specific questions and needs. A future seen in the cards, however, was only a possibility—usually. If someone with Future or All Sight used tarot cards, the future they revealed would all too often be set in stone, which was why they tended to be very judicious in how they used the cards. Tasia had All Sight from her lineage, and Theo, by nature of being an Aster Defender, had Future Sight.

Both Jayden and Asheria had gone pale. "The . . . the major arcana," Jayden managed to say. "Both cards from it, making them particularly strong. The Tower means . . . means catastrophe. Death is life-altering events resulting in rebirth."

A chill suddenly roughened Asheria's skin, even as Shanae's head came up sharply. Though normally only Aster Defenders could sense evil on the move, Shanae's unwilling connection to and defeat of the first of all evil had given her the same gift. "Evil," Asheria whispered. "It comes. It-it hasn't been this strong before!"

That, more than anything, terrified her friends. "Shit," Veronica said with feeling. "Defenders, grab Masks. Commanders, grab weapons. We're going after the kids!"

Outside, Emily continued to ignore the others even though they were following her and Ryan closely. LeAnn stomped a foot and shouted, "How can you turn your back on Destiny, you airheaded Cultivator!"

Emily sighed with reluctant amusement as she turned around. She couldn't help but like LeAnn's strange blend of temper and patience. She seemed a little like what would happen if opposites mated and produced kids, which, considering her parents, made a lot of sense. "Look," she said, "Destiny and I are like cousins. Every time we meet we beat the crap out of one another."

"I have a cousin like that," Raine admitted. She smiled as she came to a stop next to Ryan. "You just hit back until you're both on the same page."

"What have you got to lose?" Racine pointed out.

The answer was . . . nothing. There was nothing to lose. Emily and Ryan hesitantly walked forward and joined the others again. The ten of them formed a perfect circle. Tasia held out a hand in the center and said, "I'm in."

Reagan put her hand on top of Tasia's. Her eyes sparkled merrily. "Worst case scenario, we're wrong and everyone gets to spend some time in the palaces eating some really first-class cooking. And . . . we'll still be friends. That can't change. So . . . isn't that alone worth it?"

LeAnn and Racine put their hands on top of Reagan's without hesitation. Storm and Raine were next, followed closely by Theo and Beth. All eight looked at Emily and Ryan. The siblings exchanged glances and then Ryan smiled and put his hand on top of the pile. "I want to believe in something, Em. Please. Let's just see what happens."

Emily paused and then with grudging grace put her hand on top of Ryan's. Tasia put her other hand on the top to seal the deal . . . and the sky went pitch black as vicious thunder roared. Lightning struck the ground near the team, and they jerked closer together on shrieks. Tasia and Ryan grabbed LeAnn to protect her even as Raine and Theo grabbed Reagan. Storm leapt into Beth and Racine's arms with a deep-seated fear of lighting that momentarily startled the Statice Cultivator.

Theo's head jerked up as he sensed something drawing closer and closer to them. It was somehow familiar and made his skin crawl with dread and terror mingled. "What is that?!" he shouted over the roar of the wind.

"You won't touch us!" Tasia snarled as she threw her free hand in the air. A shield briefly sputtered into place and then dissolved. Her eyes narrowed sharply. "Whatever this is, it's a nullifier! It's blocking all majikal abilities! Hang on tight and don't get separated!"

Ugly lightning struck the ground near them just as the Elder Defenders burst out of the castle, wearing Masks and armor and ready for battle. They were moments too late. The lightning engulfed the ten Resurrection Cultivators and filled the air with blinding light. When it faded, the sky was as clear as it had ever been and the lightning was gone. In the silence after, there was nothing left behind. Not a single Resurrection Cultivator remained on grounds.

"Why?" Sayena whispered painfully as she stepped into the doorway behind the Defenders. She held onto Shanae's hand desperately, to borrow her courage in the face of the pain and terror that came from watching their daughters be kidnapped. "Why is everything so different this time?"

"Good damn question," Shanae said tiredly.

0 views0 comments
bottom of page