The Two Kingdoms - Prologue

There was only one absolute force for the universe. That force was Destiny.

She came to be from nothing, appearing from within the depths of a universe barren of life and existence. As she herself existed, Time came to be. The two joined hands as friends and looked upon the universe around them. They began to prep it, to prepare for more, and their efforts called forth more allies: Life and Love. The four higher powers knew their work would be vast, their duties unending, yet they did not falter. Destiny became their leader as much as their companion and her all-seeing eyes told them what needed to be done.

One day, Time felt a loneliness in her heart, sparked perhaps by Love's meddling, and she turned around to find someone had been by her side all along. Eternity, the perfect complement to her powers. They would bear two children together, twins, who came to be known as Moira and Horatio. They had gifts relating to their mother's powers and soon took up roles in all of existence. Horatio would defend time; Moira would fight for it.

Horatio and Destiny flirted a bit outrageously, teased one another across space, and eventually they had a rather interesting affair. A child would come from that union as well, a young god named Orion who would become Guardian of Destiny and protect his mother and her power.

Into the empty universe around the gods and demi-gods came to be worlds and stars. Other demi-gods began to appear as well. Destiny, still fond of her former lover, set Horatio onto a path that meant he encountered a demi-goddess named Mortality. The two loved, mated, and soon had two children of their own. The eldest, Claret, became quite beloved to her grandmother, and Time herself gifted the girl with the ability to effect time. The youngest child, Pallas, had gifts all his own that would soon be useful as well.

A celestial baby boom seemed to be springing up! Life and Love had always been soul mates, and they also bore a child. A boy they named Lycander who, by appropriate nature of his birth, became the Guardian of Desire. With all the new life, all the new powers and gifts, the physical plane began to slough off into another, more metaphysical, plane. The Ephemeral Plane, as they called it, began to house that which physicality could not.

Within its endless fields appeared a place only Time and Claret could access: the Hall of Records where all memories of all that ever lived would be kept. It would be the central hub for those of Time power, would keep time moving as needed, and even allow someone to move through time—in extreme circumstances. Claret became Librarian of the Hall, and into her possession came an hourglass made from stardust that would mark her position.

The Immortal Fields that made up the rest of the Plane needed their own caretaker as well; they held a vital and critical role to all that existed. Pallas became their Archon to manage the day-to-day maintenance, and Orion stepped forward to serve as their Knight to police anything bad that may come. Unfortunately, the Fields rejected Orion as Knight. When eyes turned to Destiny, she only smiled, and all knew that that meant someday someone else would rise up.

The existence of the Plane bolstered the power of Life in the universe, and worlds began to cluster into galaxies. One galaxy, at the very heart of the universe, began to evolve faster than the others. Two large worlds formed some distance from the star that would be their sun, and behind those worlds came eight more smaller—four behind each. The two largest worlds developed Cores first—that which would give the world its power—and each took in the most potent of elemental magic in the universe. That of Light and Dark themselves, as well as the lesser two, Illusion and Nature. The remaining eight elements dispersed to the Cores of the other worlds, and all was primed for life to begin, but . . . nothing happened.

Life tried. He tried so very hard. His power just could not penetrate the frozen lands. It should have. It could have. Yet something . . . the worlds needed something. Claret, just a girl of fifteen then, looked out upon the worlds and felt her heart ache with love for the one at the end of the four following the Dark planet. A powerful love, almost as if the same as for her mother. She went to visit the small planet, walked upon its surface . . . and flowers began to bloom.

In a rapidly spreading wave from where she stood came acres upon acres of delicate flowers whose petals had the same pink and lavender hues as Claret's own hair and eyes. The statice blossoms consumed the surface of the world, and the Core took its first breath as life at last arrived. That first breath breathed into Claret's lungs to become her own, and beautiful marks appeared on her bronze skin. A statice blossom, in two places. One directly over her heart and the other over her upper left arm. The world, Statice, had claimed her as its Daughter.

A shockwave released in the process. Other Cores took their first breath and flowers exploded across the surface of all lands. The largest worlds took on protea and delphinium, the former to Dark and the latter to Light. Behind Protea came hyacinth, orchid, and daffodil to join Statice. Behind Delphinium came aster, gladiolus, carnation, and iris. On Protea and Delphinium, at a point where the two worlds could see each other, particularly large blossoms began to grow ever bigger and bigger until they unfurled to reveal the new life sheltered within. A young girl, one to each world, bearing coloring that bespoke of her mother planet's flower. Black and pink to Protea, white and gold to Delphinium.

Blossom marks also appeared on them, but only over their hearts. Destiny carried them to the Plane to meet one another, and to also meet Claret, and a curious thing happened when they did. Claret looked upon the two younger girls and loved them. Loved them so deeply, so powerfully, that she wanted nothing more than to protect them. The mark on her arm glowed brightly, and into her hands came a shimmering mask. When she put it on, her power evolved into something more tangible. Armor reminiscent of her patron flower formed on her body.

The other gods clamored at Destiny to explain. So, finally, she came before the three girls and said, "You are made of magic born of the flower magic of your worlds. Flower Elements, as they should properly be called."

Claret looked at the other two, and they at her, and then the young Protea stepped forward to demand, "We have no names. We should have names to know who we are before you tell us what we are."

Destiny smiled. "You are Shanta." She looked at the one of Delphinium. "You are Enaya. You two are like Claret, but yet different. You are all Cultivators, but where she is both Ruler and Defender, you are only Rulers."

"Ruler?" Claret protested. "You want me to rule Statice?"

"Of course, sweetheart. Only a Child of Statice could rule it. Just as only Children of the other worlds can rule them. The Ruler Cultivator magic inside you comes right from the Core of your world. It cannot be taken. Cannot be diminished. It can only grow, can only be inherited by your children. As long as there is a Ruler, the worlds cannot stagnate. But, you, Claret." She turned to the Librarian with a warm smile. She could not help but be most fond of this child of Horatio, the one most like him. "You are also a Defender Cultivator. It will be your duty, your honor, to protect not just your world, but also Shanta and Enaya. To protect all descendants of their lineage. The Cores of Protea and Delphinium are critical for they maintain the elements that infuse all of life: Dark and Light."

Claret took a long breath and then removed her Mask. Her armor disappeared and became instead a gown that in its own way reflected her flower. Both Shanta and Enaya also wore flower gowns of their own. "I will accept that duty, with honor."

She would not be alone for long. The other worlds began to blossom large blooms of their own, two to each world, and from each came another Ruler or Defender. Defenders bore their Flower Marks on their arms for they would take up arms to defend, and Rulers bore their Flower Marks on their hearts for they embodied the heart of their world. Only Claret stood as both for Statice, but when eyes turned to Destiny for answers, she again only smiled and said nothing.

Each Defender protected their world, their Ruler, and then also the two queens of Protea and Delphinium. For two Defenders, the need to protect went literally into their souls. The Daffodil Defender bonded to Shanta, and the Gladiolus Defender to Enaya, in the way of soul mates, but in a purely platonic sense. They were twin souls, each possessing half a soul that looked identical and therefore overlapped to fuse them together. All the intense love and joy of a romantic soul bond, but without the tricky entanglement of desire. No, that problem lay somewhere else for the two queens: Orion and Lycander.

One day, as Shanta and Enaya neared the end of their second decades of life, they unexpectedly happened upon Orion and Lycander. The four had never met before, for the two demi-gods tried not to interfere with events on the worlds unless needed, yet they were not strangers. Even before their births, half their souls had been made to interlock. Shanta soon made Orion her king, and Enaya took Lycander for her own. In not long a time, each bore a daughter of their own who came into life with a Ruler blossom over her heart.

Life, finally, could use his power on the worlds. He populated them with animals, plants, and people, and the Ruler Cultivators became the queens of their planet's kingdom. Shanta and Enaya also took into their command the four worlds behind their own, making them the High Queens and overseers of the Blossom Field galaxy as a whole. Neither could use the Dark or Light power of their planet's Core, however. Instead, each embodied the other element of their world, that of Nature to Protea and Illusion to Delphinium. Peace and harmony spread across the galaxy as a whole.

The other queens bore daughters to become Rulers someday in their stead, and in the same year, new Defenders were born—except for Statice. Claret had yet to meet her soul mate, and though many offered, the queen remained unmoved. She would rule and defend alone until, perhaps, someday her perfect match be born.

As things settled, the highest gods began to leave the physical plane for one where only they could go. Losing Destiny and Time meant that Mortality had to gift humans with shorter lifespans, and Orion had to remove from all people the ability to know the future. Only Cultivators maintained immortality for they possessed undying magic, and only Aster Defender Cultivators, Claret, and Orion's own Protean daughter maintained their Sight. All Protean children would receive Sight by nature of their shared blood with the Guardian.

Aster Defenders kept their Sight for it allowed them to see if danger approached those they lived to defend. Claret maintained hers for she needed it in order to fulfill her role as Librarian. Having the gift of Sight allowed her to keep the flow of the timeline from getting out of order. She had to be able to see aspects of the future to ensure the past did not change in detrimental ways. If anyone else ever were born with the gift of Sight, it would only be because they fulfilled a role of critical importance to all existence.

Peace could have remained forever . . . if there had not been an unknown consequence for Shanta's birth. The Ephemeral Plane relied not only on Dark and Light power, but also on the power of Nature infusing Protea. Thus, Shanta became the Ruler of the Plane as well, keeping the balance of the space moving easily. The Immortal Fields soon began to house the dreams of all that lived, and Pallas ensured that both good and bad dreams remained in harmony for both held important roles.

Unfortunately, a conflict waged inside Shanta's soul. The powers of Nature and of Dark worked against each other in many ways for Nature depended on sunlight and the Dark absorbed all light. Shanta could not control the Dark of her world's Core, and there could be no harmony without it. They fought for dominance within her soul until they sloughed over into the Immortal Fields. Bad dreams became nightmares that Pallas could not control, and without a Knight, could not destroy. Nightmares rooted, seeded, and moved beyond the reach of the elements. They began to take on a will of their own, began to twist and corrupt, until nothing good remained. Until they had become something never before seen in the universe: they became Evil itself and gained consciousness.

He spilled over into the physical plane before he could be stopped, and he went right after Shanta. He stood as such an adversary to her that all began to call him only Nemesis. He could not reach the High Queen immediately; first, he had to contend with the Defenders who immediately put on their Masks and rushed to protect their liege. They could not touch him, however. Could not wound him. He bowled over them and claimed their lives on his mad quest to reach Shanta. He wanted only her. How he wanted her! His obsession with her was violent and dangerous, and nothing would stand between him and consuming her.

Nothing except Shanta herself. Her people lived in fear, the galaxy trembled around her, and the price of such a thing lay on her shoulders and her weakness. As she watched Nemesis bearing down on her palace, she covered her Flower Mark and felt inside her soul the Seed that made her a Cultivator. Without fear or guilt, she tore out her own Seed and unleashed the rawest magic inside her soul.

The cataract of magic could not destroy Nemesis—not without any harmony—but it could banish him. She hurled him violently away into the sun where the bright light of Nature would keep him weakened and entrapped for millennia. In the process, she thoroughly burned out her Seed and, with it, her own life. When she fell, it was into the arms of her beloved almost-sister Enaya.

"Shanta!" Enaya clutched her closer and felt tears clogging her throat. They two were almost like twins themselves, deeply connected by the opposing force of their worlds' Cores. Enaya had already been devastated through her soul by losing her twin, but this only poured salt in the wounds. "How could you?!"

Shanta did not open her eyes, but she managed to smile. "Aya, how could I not?" She felt a hand take hers and forced her eyes open to see her husband's face above her as well. "Orion."

Orion's handsome face seemed strangely calm, though lines of strain edged his eyes. "It had to happen," he admitted roughly. He brought her hand to his cheek. "I knew this had to happen." He closed his eyes. "Shanta, Enaya . . . someday in the very far future there will be born two Apexes. They will wholly embody the elements of Dark and Light in a way no other could. They will possess infinite power known as arcanery that rivals Destiny herself, and they will stabilize the universe. But . . . they will pay a price. A terrible price, for arcanery cannot come without it."

Enaya took a long breath. "What price?"

"I do not know. I only know it will exist. Mother does not tell me everything either, unfortunately." He closed his eyes. "The Apex of Dark will be the only one who can bring harmony to Dark and Nature. She will destroy Nemesis. Something will face the Apex of Light as well, make her the only one who can destroy it. I know not what."

"Then," Shanta whispered, "I will hold to the hope of a future where my sin is cleansed." Her lashes fluttered closed and the Mark on her chest faded away entirely. Her body had nothing to hold without its Seed, and it began to dissolve into shimmers of color. It took only moments before she no longer existed in the physical realm.

Enaya barely bit back a cry as she reached out. She dropped her hands as her body shook with the force of her pain. "You can't leave me," she whispered. "I have no one left but Lycander and Claret." Her lips twisted into a sad smile. "No wonder Tarveel forced Claret to retreat. She has no successors." She looked at Orion. "But we do. Our daughters are grown. They will become queen in our stead. I will follow Shanta and my Defenders to the afterlife."

Orion felt no surprise; this, too, he had known would happen. "Lycander and I are demi-gods. We can ascend to the Realm of the Gods where Shanta has gone without any trouble. Enaya, are you sure in your decision to abandon your life?"

"What life is left for me here, Orion?" She felt her husband kneel behind her and covered his hands when he placed them on her shoulders. "Our time is done. It is time for the next generation to rise."

"Then so be it."

It was time in more ways than they had guessed. Curious events happened across the galaxy within a year that led the remaining Ruler Cultivators and their mates to leaving behind one life for another. The next generation of Rulers and Defenders rose at the same time to take their positions to maintain balance. Claret mourned those she had lost, but found comfort in the new companions she had gained. She loved Shanta and Enaya's daughters no less than she had loved their mothers, and so she gave them her dedication instead.

Hundreds of thousands of years passed. Every generation, a new crop of Cultivators would be born. They would rise to fight evil in all its forms, for though Nemesis had been sealed, he had planted disgusting seeds that would spawn weed after weed of evil that only the Defenders could destroy. The prophecy that Orion had once spoken passed between generation to generation, but details slowly began to be lost. It took only a few millennia before it lingered only as a memory within the Hall of Records.

Only a legend yet to come to pass.

©Stacy J. Garrett. Do not reprint or redistribute without permission.

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