Remember the first time you realized the dark? Remember that first bit of crisis, wondering, now, where has the sun gone? Where has all of civilization gone? You lie deep in your covers, feeling the warmth of the blankets press against your skin. The hovering loom of the silent house aching deep and down into your ear canal. You feel there is a mystery here, a mystery to this house that remains unaware. You realize that the dark is nothing without that silent looming, the silent looming that makes the dark so much more real, scarier than the shadows of the day. You’re not looking in the right place…
Candace feels the emptiness when West suddenly leaves her. She steps onto the grass, out of the oak tree but still within the safe circle provided by the immense plant. She looks around her, noticing the small, almost inconceivable changes made to her childhood backyard while she’d been gone. She vaguely realizes that she would not have noticed the changes just a few days ago, the perspective would have felt the same, even as the child in her, Aine would have known the stark differences.
The entirety of her childhood backyard felt…darker. Colder, aloof, bleak, as if the greenery stared at you maliciously, at her cruelly. She could almost feel thorns and branches scratching and biting at her, Candace shook her head, crossing her arms. She felt all the memories from when she’d been eight and even afterwards, all those times nature had acted cruelly towards her. Biting, scratching, thorns sticking, burs latching, the pain and itching, stepping on garden snakes, running away from a tarantula, all the uncomfortable memories from her childhood backyard. Candace winced uncomfortably, her skin seeming to crawl as the dark memories washed over her. She stuck her hands out in front of her, closing her eyes, trying to rid herself of the memories, letting out small grunts of pain.
The oak tree shook its last remaining leaves, as if to remind Candace of what was still rooted just behind her. Candace shook her head, groaning before she felt slithering just outside the circle. Slimy, malicious slithering just aching for her, and Candace whimpered, the deep, dark thing within her tugging ferociously, grabbing for her soul a bit too tight, her entire being becoming wound just a bit too much. She clutched at her chest, near her heart, fingers digging into the tender skin.
Snaking, she heard the snaking; a slow, tempting whisper of a slither enticing, into her ears, into the darker parts of her brain. Slithering down into her, as if trying to make a home within Candace. Candace shook her head fiercely, “Stop it!” she yelled fiercely, and the slithering stopped, the oak tree groaning madly as it shook wildly behind Candace’s crouched figure.
Angry gray eyes stared hard into pools of liquid gold. Sorja smiled languidly, she sat on a throne made of deep, dark things. Shadows snaked and slithered across the throne, there was no sound to the snaking though, absolutely no sound escaped and Candace shivered involuntarily, aching for a warm blanket. Thorns flicked ever so gently against Sorja’s cracked gold leaf skin, soft pools of liquid gold slithering silently towards the withered grass with a soft hiss.
“My Queen, you return to me, at just the right moment,” and Sorja held out one gold leaf hand, long nails caked with black ooze, slithering down Sorja’s cracked arm. Sorja’s slithering, loathsome throne snaked inches closer towards Candace and the oak tree. Candace pressed her back against the immense tree, gray eyes looming with animosity. “I was growing so bored, and your grandfather would seem the perfect plaything. Pity, humans and their hemispheres,” Sorja said, giggling hysterically.
Sorja plunged herself away from her slithering throne, inching closer and ever closer towards Candace. Sorja stopped, however, an inch away from the protective circle guarding Candace. Sorja bent her face closer, small tendrils of electricity crackling across her gold leaf skin. Candace’s eyes grew wide, in anger or in fright she could not have said.
“Keep your promise my Queen, it is what you owe me,” Sorja hissed and Candace whimpered, shaking her head, tears in her eyes. Tendrils slithered and slid silently around the protective circle surrounding the oak tree and Candace, upending the withering earth. “Tis only something that already belongs to me, my Queen. Only memories you were never meant to keep, dreams never to be remembered, my sweet. This pain is not my fault,” Sorja whispers darkly, liquid gold eyes brimming with unbridled hysteria. “I only brought a fraction of this pain, my sweet. Come to me, let me collect what is mine and your pain will run away,” and Candace’s head whirled with Sorja’s words, her mind suddenly feeling so heavy. The deep, dark thing within her tugged dully now, thudding right beside Candace’s tired heart.
“You lied to her, to me,” Candace murmured, placing one hand against her forehead. “You never said the whole contract, you never explained. You’ll keep doing this, you won’t stop,” Candace gasped out. That’s what West had meant, something about other children, more little Aine’s in danger.
Sorja craned her neck, liquid golden eyes bright with cool ferocity. “I only give to those who want me,” Sorja said, the words slithering against Candace’s mind. Candace shut her eyes, looking away, placing one clammy hand against the oak tree. “You wanted me, you asked for me to come. I only come to those who want me, and I always shall,” Sorja declared icily, and Candace felt claws scratching against her warm jacket. She screamed, pushing the claws away, pushing the crawling spiders running up her arms and into her hair, into her clothes.
She screamed, panicking, dancing madly, kicking against the slithering claws ripping at her, trying to reach her skin. She swung her arms to and ‘fro, trying to rid her hair and her body of those creepy crawly spiders. The oak tree shook wildly behind her, as if trying to remind her of something, as if trying to protect her. But Candace was lost, lost in a daze of childhood memories, of grotesque spiders, bee stings, thorns scratching her, and these claws kept biting and pulling, tugging and pushing. The spiders seemed to be biting and tearing against her skin, she could practically hear their hiss of glee when blood would spurt from the tiny wounds. Candace shook her head, tears racing down her cheeks, dark brown hair swirling madly around her. She needed to be strong, needed to be brave, just needed to be…
“Ah, my Queen, none of that now,” Sorja lulled. And Candace felt ice cold fingers press against her throat, slowly tightening. It had only been an inch, just the littlest inch of her left foot outside the magic circle. It had been enough. Candace clawed angrily at the cracked gold leaf skin of the Giver, gray eyes wide with tears and frustration. She felt her feet slowly slide off the withering earth as Sorja lifted her upwards and closer, her other hand snaking until it rested right atop Candace’s heart. Candace groaned in pain, feeling the deep, dark thing within her wound too tightly push and pull, seem to push and pull every atom, every molecule towards Sorja. Candace seemed to feel creepy crawlies riding deep into the pits of her mind, shackling her from thinking, from being.
Sorja pulled Candace in close, liquid pools of gold gleaming with a hysteria verging on ecstasy. Sorja’s eyes were so wide now, and Candace was so very close to those pools of liquid gold. She almost seemed to feel a strange sort of cooling heat radiating from those liquid golden eyes. Candace faltered for breath, gray eyes lanced in anger. “You see my Queen?” Sorja whispered, a vicious, wicked gleam almost screaming from deep within those golden eyes. One hand tightened ever so slightly against Candace’s throat, seeming to tighten the creepy crawly shackles within Candace’s mind, entire thoughts destroyed before they could begin.
The other hand pressed into Candace’s chest, slithering into Candace’s being, shuddering against the deep, dark thing. “I did not forget,” Sorja whispered.
And then there was silence.
Not the silence of death.
Not the silence of destruction.
Not even the silence of impending doom.
But silence absolute.
Absolute silence from Before.
They did not slither, they did not slide, they did not even seem to move. They simply were and so they are. They were not like the Cardinals, who Created movement. They were not like the Givers, who moved slowly and so dangerously. Those who Move do not move, but are. Everything is still, as they are still. Even Sorja’s angry breaths are silent, and Candace can’t even hear her own breathing, cannot even be sure she can hear herself thinking.
They seem to be made of shadowed fabric that is both there and not there. Where they should have faces is only a mask, a mask that reminds Candace of those kabuki masks from Japan. White masks similar to the absolute white Candace sometimes saw on West. There are rivets of red, such an eternal red, etched across those white masks pooling into the area where there should be eyes, but instead is just more absolute white.
One of them craned its neck, holding out what looked like a hand and beckoning not towards Candace, but towards Sorja. “Such a blessing,” it slurred, and Candace shivered, hearing the unnatural glee in its voice. Sorja slid away from Candace, facing Those who Move.
Candace sighed; she must have sighed as she slouched slightly in relief. But Candace heard nothing, could not hear the breath escape her lips, could not hear her lungs expand and deflate, could not hear herself slouching, nor could she hear her heart beating. Candace panicked, and who knew there could be a sound to panic? She kept panicking but there was no sound, nothing at all.
“To be introduced to one of the oldest Givers of this plane of existence, why, brother, think of the possibilities,” it slurred, and Candace saw what must be hands claw against each palm.
“Aon ní,” Sorja hissed towards the one that had just spoken. “Your Cardinal will pay,” Sorja whispered ferociously, liquid gold eyes wide with terror.
There was a small pop Candace heard from within her eardrums and suddenly there was sound again, sound emanating from everything and everyone except those two made of absolute white. When they spoke, their voices seemed to resonate everywhere except from them. Candace remembered the absolute white resonating from West’s eyes, but not like this, this seemed darker, more menacing than the controlled chaos of West. Candace stepped further away from Sorja as the one called Aon ní fluttered slowly towards the Giver, ignoring Candace at the moment.
Aon ní’s hands twisted and furled around her, the rivets of eternal red seeming to express mock surprise, shaping into two mismatched crimson eyes. “Our Cardinal? But dear Giver, we heard you were making trouble,” Aon ní replied in singsong.
Sorja’s cracked gold leaf skin shuddered and shimmered, bits of gold flaking off into nothingness as the other one slid a finger down Sorja’s cheek. “Just a taste Giver, we were only told to have but a taste.” Sorja’s golden pools swirled in anger, bits of light and energy crackling around her. The other, the brother, seemed to laugh lowly, releasing a pleasured sigh. “I can taste the farthest reaches of Lidande, Giver.”
“She is mine, tell your sweet Cardinal that I will have what I already own,” Sorja declared violently, golden eyes boring deep into Candace’s gray eyes. Candace gasped as the two beings of absolute white turned slowly towards her. Candace thought of being brave, she thought of simply not being here, but rather anywhere else. She thought of being but she could feel the magic continually slipping from her mental grasp. It kept moving and shifting further and further away from her mental grasp, becoming nothing at all. Candace blinked, turning away, stepping closer and closer towards the perimeter of the magical circle.
“Aon rud,” said the one called Aon ní, keening her white mask back towards Sorja. “We have precious work here to do.”
Sorja yelled in defiance, arms lashing out in a flame of light and pure energy. Aon rud laughed from behind her, twirling hands pricking at the light around Sorja and Candace couldn’t believe it. The light simply vanished; the energy seemed to radiate out from Sorja and was then just simply…not there…once that Aon rud touched it. Candace watched in horror, not understanding, unable to grasp the image of giving and moving before her.
Aon ní whirled closer towards Sorja and the silence slowly built around the Golden Ruler of Lidande. Sorja’s liquid golden eyes turned to face Candace, beautiful face entirely expressionless. There was no slither, there were no creepy crawlies, and destroyed light and energy continued to radiate from Sorja. Candace could faintly hear screams of agony and hysteria echoing from the cracks between Sorja’s skin, and she understood. Those had been all the wound up dark and deep things from others before her. Those that kept their promise, and had their soul ripped from them. Candace’s eyes went wide with unshed tears, feeling the agony of all those souls becoming further destroyed by Aon rud and Aon ní.
Those two beings made of nothing whirled closer and closer towards Sorja and her cracked gold leaf figure, the rivers of eternal red running wild with excitement across their masks.
“Run my Queen of Being, run,” Sorja whispered in a dazed moment of lucidity. Candace felt the weight of those words, the weight of time and energy radiating from Sorja’s liquid pools of gold. Candace could feel the weight of Lidande, saw the world as it was through Sorja’s eyes. Everything made up of energy and light that she wanted, that she wanted to consume totally and absolutely. Candace had never been anything but a bright, shining beacon of untapped energy to Sorja, nothing but energy this Giver had so wanted to consume, to make a part of herself. The ideas running wild of taking all untapped energy before they could remember their promise; the idea of consuming all shining beacons while they were children, forgetting their promise made so many years ago. Candace saw what must be an event horizon within Sorja’s liquid pools of gold and turned away, just as Aon rud and Aon ní touched Sorja’s face.
Sorja screamed in hysteria, and Candace heard pops and cracks, she could hear the low moan of time and space being bent and twisted, reshaped and given new form. Candace gasped in terror, clutching at her chest with both hands, closing her eyes. The deep, dark thing within her tugged wildly, aching and clenching, writhing in sheer pain. Candace fell to her knees, clenching her teeth as she groaned in pain. She could barely think, hardly feel beyond the visceral impact of that deep, dark thing so very tightly wound, so very tightly clutching onto her. But she needed to think, just needed to breathe, just needed to be something, anything.
And then there was silence, absolute silence.
Candace opened her eyes, and she was standing, hovering just inches above the ground. The two beings, Aon rud and Aon ní seemed to be staring at her from behind their white masks; the rivers of eternal red swirling chaotically across their masks, becoming mismatched crimson eyes before shaping and whirling into something else.
Aon ní spoke slowly, her voice thin and breathy.
“We have a Queen, brother.”