“Why did I agree to this…?”
I could hear Cinda muttering under her breath, her voice was one of concern.
I thought back to the whole series of events that lead up to this moment. We had been search through the entire library when Sarya had found the documents, telling us everything, even Cinda’s real name and her child. The project was founded five hundred years ago by a man named Victor Dareen, hence where the name of the stone that powered the Qwarnell came from.
Victor was the chief advisor of the King during the time when the mages rose to power, he was ordered by the King in secret to build him warriors that could tackle the problem head on.
….and so the Qwarnell project was born…..
He gathered the other kingdoms brightest minds and within a few short months, they had killed all that had volunteered. Victor found that the procedure had caused so much strain on the individual that they were killed before the merging process between the stone and the host could be complete. But this sacrifice did not stop the King. Instead, it gave them greater encouragement to complete the project.
…and they did…
The King and Victor then sought to find replacements… in the worst place imaginable…
The Prison of Rite.
“Hey, Delphinia? What’s the Prison of Rite?” I had asked her.
The question made her entire expression turn dark fast.
“It’s a prison for the worst of society. A dark place that was built for this entire region, as this region was once one country so they needed a prison for everyone. It’s built in a crater that was called the doorway to Lanos. It has one feature that makes it such an unpleasant place…there is only one way out. A large gondola lift. It’s the only way out or in.”
It… sounded like hell…
“We only use it for the worst of the worst. The most dangerous prisoners. Deranged psychopaths, mass murders and powerful mages… there are the ‘people’ who make up the prison…”
Actually… I didn’t want to see this place… at all.
So… the King and Victor gathered many prisoners from the prison and had many of them immediately go under the procedure, as a result… the first twenty were made.
….and this was how the horrible legend was made…
The King had promised the prisoners another chance of freedom if they were to challenge the rising mage threat, the King expected the prisoners to die, but they didn’t, as the end was near the mages had crushed most of who opposed them the king was desperate so he would do whatever it took to ensure their success…
Sending them out, they indeed challenged the mages… and much more… they utterly crushed them. The Qwarnell had slaughtered, raped and raised villages to the ground in their wake. Just twenty men had crushed and defeated hundreds in a week. However, the massacre wasn’t just restricted to mages, people who had defended the mages move and even people who were important to the mages were also killed.
Men, women…. and children.
No one was spared.
It was the mages turn to become desperate and in this, they sent an emissary to negotiate a truce. The King was ashamed of what his plan had brought, so much death, death that he never wanted, so he was quick to accept the truce. And the King sent his most trusted knights to deal with the Qwarnell, killing them. Because the Qwarnell’s abilities were tied to mages being present, they were quickly cut down. But not before their terrible legend could be told.
‘They will not stop marching. Eyes that show the emptiness of their souls. Death surrounds them, guides them. They are the monsters of old. Nothing can stop them, the blade, the spell or the arrow. They are the enemies of the world.’
The King, stricken with shame, buried the truth as quickly as he could and gave birth to…
The Magic Founding Society.
And that was the truth behind the legend. The truth that the kingdom so desperately hid.
Victor Dareen had despised the King’s choices and in his eyes, he saw a weak fool. Victor believed that the massacre was a necessary evil to ensure that the mages knew that the kingdoms could defend their homes. He had left the Kings side and wandered away from the kingdom, never to be heard from again.
I felt like I had a small understanding as to why the mages feared the Qwarnell and why that one man had gone out of his way to ensure that another one didn’t walk the earth.
I looked over to Cinda who was reading a document.
However the legend was… I refused to believe that she would ever be like that. While she maybe a bit cold, I doubt she could ever be capable of such cruelty…
As we had gone over the documents, we had found Cinda’s child, the child that she had never met. Almost immediately she refused to the idea that we go to this orphanage. I didn’t let it go however, I wanted her to meet the child. I had Elora with me for a good amount of time and I never regretted my decision on getting to meet her and raise her. And so in a few attempts I had managed to convince her to go, saying that I would support her and be with her. It also helped that the Princess had encouraged her as well, so here we were, a few hours later. In front of the orphanage. With Cinda trying to hide her nervousness as best as she could.
I rubbed her back. “It’s ok; I’ll be here for you.”
She sighed and took her first step into the garden path that led to the door. Over the door was a sigh that said EverGreen
“So… it really is here. In the city…” Zephy was thinking out loud.
When we had asked the Princess to look into the name of the Orphanage we were all shocked to learn that it was here in the city.
“Yeah…” I knocked on the door with the knocker and footsteps could be heard, for some reason, I was getting nervous. I couldn’t even imagine how Cinda was feeling right now. A click could be heard and a old woman, about in her late sixties poked her head out of the doorway, she wore a outfit befitting of a nun.
“Hello. How may I help you?”
Cinda wasn’t answering the woman so I spoke up.
“A-ah yes, I was here with Cinda here, we were curious about… well… we are led to believe that her child may be here. We were wondering if we are able to see if that may be the case.”
The nun looked ready to say ‘no’ so I produced a letter that the Princess had written. I handed it to the nun and she opened it and scanned the page, her hand reached to her lips in shock.
“That’s… the Princesses signature… well… I… guess I can’t go against her words…”
“We just wish to see, we won’t bother your work here…”
She nodded and glanced at Cinda for a moment before walking inside. We followed her inside and entered some sort of waiting room with two benches on each side of the hallway leading to a door. As we followed her to the doorway she put her hands on the knob and paused.
“So… if you don’t mind me asking… why are you here now…?”
I frowned at her question, and before I could give her a rebuttal she turned her head to add: “If you left the child here then why are you here now to pick them up? You weren’t there for most of their life so that makes it ok to come now…?”
I could feel a prick of anger hit me, I stood before the Nun.
“She had a problem that she didn’t have any control over.”
“I’ve heard that before…” the nun said.
She frowned. “What…? By most people who wish to leave their children here of course…”
“…and did any of them return?”
Her gaze fell slowly to the floor which gave me my answer.
“I’m not trying to say that what happened was right, but it is still something that people would wish to right their wrongs rather than sweep them under and never bring it up again.”
“Your… right… I’m sorry.”
“It’s fine, I understand that you have seen such things for most likely a good portion of your life so it’s likely something you expect now.”
She sighed and opened the door, showing us a large room, with a crowd of children running around and playing, laughing, singing songs and reading.
I could feel a jerk of movement by my leg; I looked down to see that Elora was showing signs of excitement. I instantly knew what she wanted.
“You want to play with them don’t you?” I picked her up and she had a finger in her mouth as she nodded.
“Well… after, we have to do something but later we can play with them.”
I guessed it was only natural; Elora hadn’t had a chance to play with kids of her age so now that she was surrounded by them she would likely find herself wanting something she never got the chance to do.
The nun led us to a back room with scrolls and books lined up on a shelf.
“So… as you can see, we have many children. So if you can give me some information to work with then we can get started…”
“Well… I’m afraid we only have very little. We know that she was brought here ten years ago and know that it was a girl…”
“That… actually might be more helpful then you realize...”
I frowned so she continued. “We have very few children here that are that age, most are around the age of 4 to 8. So that could narrow it down a bit.”
“However, as you know this is an orphanage so we have people come and take a child for their homes, so it could very well be possible that she may have been taken at this point.”
I nodded. “I understand.”
We had been searching the roster for only a few moments before we found out that only three children of that age were still here.
A moment of hope sparked in me and even better, only one of them was a girl. The nun went to collect her. We were sitting in a small room waiting for her to be brought and every second made me more and more tense. I looked over to Cinda and she was trying her best to remain calm, by shifting in her seat and looking at the clock, again and again.
Before I had a chance to reassured her the door opened and we all turned, I could feel my heart nearly burst out of my chest as we looked over to the door.
Before the nun stood a girl, about as tall as Elora. I could feel the hope rise up inside me, because of how she looked.
It was like a perfect picture of how I’d imagine Cinda to be at her age.
The girl’s hair was black and short, just passing by her ears. Her face was rounded like Cinda and her eyes colored with blue. Her skin had a slight pale complexion, like Cinda’s.
Immediately, Sarya and Zephy started to make their way to the door, I let go of Elora and had her go with them. “Go play with the other kids.” I said which gave her an excited look.
As they left with the nun, a deafening silence loomed over the room.
“Hi there, you must be Jetina.(Pronounced Jet-Teen-ah)” I was trying my best to break the silence but it seemed like none of them wanted to speak.
Jetina was rocking on the heels of her feet as she nodded. I got off my chair and sat on my knees in front of her, holding her hands.
“Hi there Jetina, my name is Teela. The two women you seen leave are Sarya and Zephy, the little Elven girl’s name is Elora, you’ll get to meet them later, but I was wondering if you could do something for me?”
I moved to the side.
“This woman’s name is Cinda… could you-“
“Are you my mommy?”
I blinked and winced at the same time from her question.
I tried to form better words but her sudden question caught me completely out guard. I was expecting the worst: ‘I hate you for abandoning me’ ‘why are you here now?’ ‘Go away’
Anything… but instead she did something I didn’t expect. She moved pass me to stand before Cinda, tilting her head and examining her like a curious object. Cinda was trying to say something but she kept fumbling her words. So Jetina climb up on her to look deeply at her face.
Cinda looked away. “Yes, I know. Terrifying… “
“No… their… pretty.”
Cinda looked back at Jetina with a flustered face and the next action Jetina took was defiantly something I didn’t expect. She wrapped her arms around Cinda and rested her head on her breasts.
“I’ve… wanted to do this… mom…”
Cinda raised her trembling hands and wrapped them around Jetina’s back… and for the first time I seen a single tear roll down her cheek. Cinda tightened her hold and started to quietly sob, I could feel my own tears stinging my eyes as I stood up and made my way to the door. As I quietly closed the door I turned and suddenly was bombarded by both Sarya’s and Zephy’s faces.
“How did it go?” Sarya quietly asked, puffing her cheeks.
“Are they together?” Zephy asked.
I nodded. “Yes, they’re just… catching up now…”
Sarya smiled so brightly that I wouldn’t be surprised if she could blind someone with it.
“Yes!” she gave a small cheer.
Zephy was smiling as well, not the common grin or smirk she usually gave, just a warming smile.
“That’s good to hear…”
We had all headed to the main room and I was playing with Elora, she was playing some games with the other kids so she of course had me join. All the other kids were curious of me, asking questions like ‘are you a goddess?’ or ‘how old are you?’ or my personal favorite ‘you have two different eye colors, did you steal someone else’s eye?’
It seemed like they had no end of questions.
I was playing with the kids, Sarya was telling them things about the Elven people and Zephy was displaying her strength by lifting the kids up. We were all doing our part to entertain the kids when Cinda showed up holding hands with Jetina. Without a word, I waved for them to come over. Cinda sat in a chair with Jetina on her lap. I had Elora on mine.
“Hello again Jetina, I told you I’d introduce you to Elora and the others.”
I gave Elora a squeeze. “This is Elora.” Elora waved and Jetina returned to gesture. Sarya knelt down beside Jetina and shook her hand.
We had all sat around talking and just laughing. Cinda didn’t say much, she just listened to everyone with a look that I knew all too well. It was one of pride, I knew because I shared the same look when I thought of Elora and watched her learn. I felt as if we had a connection, she was an enforcer for the kingdom and me…?
I was a man before, but now I had left that part of me, it seemed like a long time ago. Just looking around, I could see…
…that I made the right choice...
We had finished up with our meeting and it was time to go, we were all standing by the door and I had asked Cinda: “Aren’t you going to start a new life with Jetina?”
She shook her head.
“As much as I want to, I can’t… for a few reasons. The first is that I don’t have long to live. Remember, the Dareen stone will take a majority of my life span. I couldn’t allow her to stay with me just so I would perish. Second, I still am a Qwarnell so I still have mages who would like to take my life, so I couldn’t raise her. Finally, I… don’t know how I could do it…”
Well… the first two reasons were enough I guess, so I didn’t pressure her.
“So… are you coming back? How are you going to handle it?”
“She’ll be fine Teela. She’s strong.”
“I…will ask the Princess if there is something she can do. I hope there is…”
She lowered her head for a moment before showing me her face again, when she did, she completely took me by surprise…
…her lips curled into a small smile…
“Thank you Teela. For bring me here…”
Heat crept up in my face as I felt flustered.
“Uh…ah… yeah…. Of course…”
It was surprising that, despite her eyes, she could look actually cute.
“We should head back to the castle, the Princess would want to hear about how it all went.” Sarya informed us, snapping me out of my trance. I turned to leave and could catch a glimpse of Zephy, showing a knowing grin.