[Image by the talented Hugo Richards]
Those last steps hurt as much as the first.
The devastation that they had known was coming in that one short hour before they fled, had long since been and gone. There was nothing left.
Not a brick.
Not a leaf.
Not a soul.
Dark, dry, level earth lay at their feet. It stretched all the way to the sweeping crevass of what used to be the river, previously visible only from the cathedral tower. The same cathedral where Orla had spoken her vows as a future Chieftain and sworn to protect the city that The Ancestors had built. Their descendants, hundreds of thousands strong, had filled Anria’s homesteads, preserved its walls and cared for its land. Now, hundreds of thousands of blank faces swarmed in her mind. Of all those people, she had known pitifully few well enough to accurately recall their features. And in the years since she had last stood on this seemingly alien ground, she had remembered fewer and fewer each day.
‘We abandoned them.’
The air, void of even the buzz of insects, lay oppressively dormant around them.
‘We abandoned them to save them,’ Doran replied, the ashes of Anria crunching beneath his boots as he took a stand beside her.
Orla clutched the leather pouch on her belt even tighter.
‘Only if this works.’
She tore herself from the heartbreak before her and met Doran’s gaze. His autumn brown eyes mirrored every tangled emotion in her heart.
The Chieftain’s daughter and the man with Anria’s fastest horse. They had lived worlds apart within the same walls until the sky began to crackle with fire and the ground began to boil. They had ridden for days before either could think through the horror enough to merely introduce themselves. And every moment since, Anria had waited while they fought their quest. Waited, lost in the dust, as they learned the pains and the luxuries of living.
The pair of them had been to hell and back searching for the artefact that could revive the home that they had so lovingly deserted. Yet, looking on the nothingness that home had become, the hope that had driven them for so long felt painfully heavy in her chest.
Doran’s fingers curled, gently familiar between her own.
‘You were born to do this and I was born to bring you home. I know it.’ His voice was sure even as it faltered.
Pulling her hand reluctantly from his, Orla looked down at the symbol carved deep into the flesh of her palm. The Chieftain’s mark, a ceremonial tattoo passed from one Chieftain to the next in death and death alone. Her ceremony had been self-administered with blood and river water in place of ink and wine, sanctified by nature in place of priestesses and holy men. The makeshift mark was one half of the key that could restore Anria. If the key was broken or incomplete, the ritual would kill them both and anything else within a hundred miles that may have dared to live. Yet, if she did not try, then all that suffering by all those people; their families, their friends, their city of faceless kinsman would have been in vain.
Reading her mind, Doran moved closer. His eyes, softened by experience, looked deeper into her hers. ‘You can do this.’
Orla allowed his words to flow through her heart and weave into her soul, allowed herself to connect with the part of her that believed them. Her reign had been forged in fire, the journey back to Anria melting her down and making her anew. Now a woman of steel stood in the place of a girl of glass. If she wanted to succeed, her intent had to be as strong as she had become.
‘I can do this.’
Orla strode further into the dust, tipping the contents of the leather pouch into her scarred palm.
The egg shaped stone glittered even in the cloud-dimmed light. The piercing cold and energetic thrum of two halves made whole, rippled through its ruby-like shell. It seeped into her bones until they hurt. Coursed through her veins until they screamed. Crushed her lungs and stole her breath. Sucked all colour from her skin but sickly, pallid blue.
Doran shifted behind her, skittish with concern. She held out her other hand, silently ordering him back. If anyone but Orla touched the stone, even by accident, this would all be over. Anria would never be reborn. And they would die along with it.
As Doran held her stare, she could see his struggle to hold himself back. Yet, she could feel the trust and the faith that he unwaveringly placed in her. That one look was all she needed.
I can do this.
‘Do not test me, Spirit,’ she sputtered the words, memorised from oft-told childhood stories, to the now glowing stone. ‘A thousand lives stand behind me and a thousand more before me. I was. I will be…I am.’ The stone quaked uncontrollably in her hand, the ground beneath her answering it’s call with violent, groaning shivers. Caging her fingers around the stone, Orla fought to steady herself. ‘In the name of The Neverending…’ she heard herself screech, lifting it high above her head. ‘I command thee, here, to shine!’
Gathering what little strength she had left, Orla forced the stone deep into the barren earth and prayed.
Thanks The Daily Post for your Daily Prompt: Sparkle!