The Land of Thera, Vol. 1 — Into the Fire
The two suns blazed above me. Tension filled the large garden courtyard. Grandfather’s icy, silver-blue eyes stared into my soul, and the veranda-wrapped walls of the manor pressed coldly on my every side.
The singing aves’ who usually twittered in the noon suns sat quietly in the garden wysterial tree. The weeping silver branches drooped down above my head and the purple petals glowed softly like a crying moon. The stones beneath my shoes felt cold despite the noon day suns.
I stood silently on the garden pebbles with my eyes lowered. Failing to complete one’s “bidding” was shameful. When I told Grandfather what I had done, his eyes kindled with fury—an all-too-familiar look.
He stood firmly on the dark, wooden veranda before me like a king before a peasant. His eyes seemed to scan my face for any hints of deception. I didn’t need to look at him to feel the weight of his burning gaze. I knew.
I tried to hold my head high with my hands behind my back, but I couldn’t help the fluttering feeling in my chest. I was scared of what Grandfather would say. I always felt scared.
Silence was stretched thin; and then suddenly, Grandfather growled in anger and waved his big hand in disgust. I flinched. “How can you be so incompetent?” He roared. After pacing back and forth and muttering to himself, he faced me again and spoke distastefully. “Fine. What happened, happened. It cannot be undone.”
He stood tall and looked down at me with crossed arms. The air grew stale and Grandfather’s insult crept on my skin like a cold, cruel frost. I wanted to leave. I wanted to run away from his gaze. I wanted to disappear from his very presence.
When he took a slow and deep breath in, I could imagine big, long claws digging into my throat. His words were lathered with fury. “Tell me, Farran. How exactly did my soon-to-be-heir fail such a simple task?”
“Do you even realize the pains I have to go through now? The Nightshades were breathing down my neck enough as it was without your little mess up. What do you have to say for yourself, huh? Huh?” A brief pause, then a roar. “Answer me, Farran!”
I shied away from him, taking half a step back. I pressed my eyes shut, then looked at the ground. Ah…. I thought. I feel like I’m going to cry. Why am I so sensitive? No, I pursed my eyes shut again. Why am I such a failure?
I lifted my head, trying vainly to not cry in Grandfather’s presence. Grandfather is right. I only had one target for that last task. It should have been an easy-in, easy-out job. Why did I let myself get so swayed? I’ve failed him….
Grandfather shifted his weight to one leg. He was clearly not fond of my silence. I was just trying to keep it together, but I must have looked like I was glaring at him. The air between us sparked with ire. A snarl forced its way onto Grandfather’s face.
He looked greatly displeased, but he suddenly relaxed his arms and sighed. “Forget about it.” He turned away and faced the white-walled building. A tear rolled down my cheek. “I should’ve expected this to happen one day. I should count myself lucky that you haven’t been such a disgrace until now.”
His words burned. I couldn’t hold it any longer. The tears came flooding like an unstoppable storm and I tried vainly to erase them from my face. I rubbed my hands and my arms. I rubbed my cheeks. I dried them on my shirt and continued to wipe my tears. Grandfather hadn’t seen yet. Grandfather hadn’t turned around. He didn’t know yet. He didn’t know. He didn’t-
A crying hiccup escaped my mouth. Every muscle in my body tensed. I stared fearfully at Grandfather’s back, but he remained still. He didn’t say a word. I quickly grabbed the hem of my green long-sleeved shirt, dipped my head, and rubbed my face. He didn’t know. He didn’t know. I kept telling myself. My head was throbbing.
As if nothing happened, Grandfather sighed and his shoulders sagged. The tense air seemed to suddenly vanish and I felt the gentle touch of a cool breeze. The aves’ gentle noon song tentatively filled the garden. The wysterial petals above me swayed comfortingly.
I tried to focus on the musical chirping and the gentle rustling of the wysterial. I slowly breathed in and out. The chill of the breeze filled my lungs and I imagined the air gathering my unwanted emotion and dispelling it into the infinite sky above.
Standing on the porch, Grandfather rubbed his forehead like he was confused. He then dropped his hand and lifted his face to the roof above him. His once stoic figure suddenly appeared so old and feeble to me.
We both stood silently in the courtyard—he on the porch, I on the stones beneath the wysterial. He replied in a low, cracked voice. “I won't question you anymore. The Nightshades have another bidding for you. Immediately.”
Oh, yay. Can’t wait. I thought unenthusiastically. I had not wanted to leave so soon. Right now, all I wanted to do was to go curl up in my bed, wrap myself in my comforter, and forget the world existed—specifically Grandfather.
“The crescent gulls migrate for Black Lake Island in three days,” he began. He remained facing the wall as he spoke. “I am told that it will be the start of a new year at the University of Arms. For your final task, they want you to prove your worth there.”
My heart sank. Final task? Wait. What? Why? Am I unfit to succeed you? Was my failure too great? Will they reconsider? Will you reconsider? Can I—?
Grandfather interrupted my thoughts. “They want you to be recognized officially for your skill. Being a null rank isn’t good for public image, Farran, and having an official rank will be good for business.”
Oh, so they’re not giving up on me. That’s a relief. I breathed a sigh. A tiny smile fought its way onto my face.
Grandfather paused and half-turned his face towards me. The dark noon shadows fell on his face and his silver-blue eyes glowed in the half-light. He looked scary, like some mystical creature.
“Well, if you actually tried,” he said tactlessly. “Getting astral rank should be your goal. Anything less would be a disgrace to the Nightshades.”
My smile vanished. His words cut to my heart. Who was I kidding? Of course Grandfather and the Nightshades weren’t giving up on me now. They already had long ago, and I still couldn’t figure out why.
Grandfather turned to face me fully with his hands held behind his back. “In the spring, you will meet your Nightshade Pair and become my official successor. Don’t make a fool of yourself and don’t disappoint me.”
My nose started quivering again and my breath started to shake. I quickly hid my face by acting like I was bowing my head in acknowledgement. The last thing I wanted was to start weeping in front of Grandfather.
Without any more explanation, he turned away and faced the wall again. He spoke in a somber whisper. “That is all. Dismissed.”
I was too concerned about my ugly tears being seen to catch his strange moment of woe. I turned sharply around, walked softly across the stepping-stones in the garden pond, and trailed towards the veranda opposite my grandfather.
As quietly as possible, I scaled the two steps, walked across the veranda porch, and slid the lattice door open and shut. The main hallway of the minka-styled manor greeted me.
Sliding doors were evenly spaced along the hallway and every flat wall was crowned with expensive wysterial lamps. The purple light they produced glowed eerily on the dark wood floors and lattice doors.
Sunlight peered sheepishly through the paper walls behind me, but it wasn’t bright enough to shake the creepy feeling from the purple lights. Sometimes it felt like this manor was a prison, designed specifically for descendants of the Sylver family.
Alone in the hallway, I took a moment to breathe and tried to regain my composure for the second time. My eyelashes were soaked and a few tears had dried on my cheeks. I wished I could stop crying at the slightest things, because it always made me feel pitiful.
Some floorboards creaked to my right and I snapped my head around. A servant was coming. I wiped my eyes, rubbed my cheeks with a sleeve, and darted away towards the front door. The only thing worse than Grandfather seeing me crying himself would be for a servant to report it to him.
Straight down the hall and to the left, the main doorway stood in grand stature. Two doors, frosted glass, and swirling wire frames—the Sylver’s manor had many ornamental embellishments that spoke bounds of the Nightshades’ wealth.
I quietly opened the door and shut it behind me. The suns warmed my lightly tanned skin as soon as I stepped outside. Without Grandfather’s icy glare, the sunlight felt welcoming and caring. Earlier, it had felt hot and murderous.
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