Gemma is an Erien Tale story by Terri Pray
Artwork by Samuel Pray, created using Daz 3D, Photoshop and Filter Forge.
“Is it done, daughter?”
She turned toward the voice even as her body resettled into its physical form. “Yes mother, it is done.” Gemma Tordan smoothed down her skirts, letting the full silken material slide into place around her thighs before she lifted her gaze and sought out her mother. “Kaleb knows what we are, or at least a part of what we are. His interest in rune magic has been reopened and he will begin his search for it soon enough.”
“Good, then the time spent apart was worth it, dearest one.” Helena Tordan opened her arms in welcome, a soft smile touching her ageless features. “Come, it has been far too long since I held you, and what you have been through—”
“Was for the good of us all,” Gemma moved into her mothers arms and sighed. For the first time in years she relaxed. Here at least she was safe, protected from the likes of Kaleb and those who served him. “He believed it, believed all of it right until the very end, mother. Just as you said he would.” Home. This was what the hug meant to Gemma. Here, among her family, in the arms of her mother, she was safe. Kaleb couldn’t follow her, couldn’t touch her and the shield of power, the presentation that she didn’t fear him, could all be forgotten.
Could she forget what she had endured at his touch though? Was that an option for her or would the time she had shared with him continue to haunt her?
Helena ran a hand over Gemma’s hair, her voice soft and warm. “You are safe with me. With us. What you did was for the good of us all but I would have spared you if there had been a real choice.”
Had there been another option? Someone else who could have attracted Kaleb’s attention? Her shoulders tensed as she faced those thoughts for the first time since she had allowed Kaleb to take her into his not so tender care. No, among her people there was no one else who could have controlled Kaleb and kept his attention focused away from her people or the magic they laid claim to until the time was right.
“I will heal, mother. I knew what would be expected of me when we first discussed this idea.” Gemma pulled free of her mother’s embrace.
Helena frowned, her brilliant eyes narrowed. “Will you discuss what happened in his… care?”
Gemma shook her head and stepped away from her mother, putting a good ten paces between them. “No, not yet at least. There are other things that require our attention.” By the gods, why would she feel that it was time to talk when there was so much to do? Things her father had wanted, planned for but where was he? “My father?”
Sorrow flickered across Helena’s features as the older woman turned away, her shoulders slumped. “He - he was taken from us six years ago.”
Gemma’s heart sank, a cold sweat forming down the length of her spine. She ran the tip of her tongue over her lips, stealing a moment to settle her voice before she dared to give words life. “What happened?”
Helena didn’t turn to look back at her daughter, her head hung low, hands clenched over her heart. “I wish there was an easy way to explain this but he went to speak with the dragons except he never reached the valley of spires, never managed to find a way to talk with them. He was attacked by those who also seek access to the rune magic, though we only know this from how his body was found.”
No, this wasn’t possible. Her father couldn’t be dead. He was strong, he couldn’t have been felled in such in manner. “Who was responsible?”
“We don’t know, not entirely. The area showed signs of human footprints but there were others mingled in with them. Six toes, large footprints, heavy ones, indicating-”
“Veklim.” Gemma growled the word out. “We haven’t dealt with their kind in centuries.”
“I know, daughter mine. We all know. Yet there is no other that would leave such marks behind.” Helena turned back to face her daughter.
Veklim. Dangerous humanoid lifeforms with a third eye and the jaw strength of a small dragon. Stone skin was another name they were known by, at least among the people of Erien, but her people and the dragons knew their real name. “Why did they come after my father? And have they attacked anyone else?”
“The rune magic is my guess, they always wanted access to it, though they lack the ability to use magic themselves. Which means they must have something planned, a race or even a small group of people that they can force into service. Half bred fae would be my guess when it comes to such, as those rare breeds are able to use that magic as well as the natural magic of the fae as a whole.”
Half breed fae. Gemma stepped away as she moved toward the only window in the chamber. How often had she stood at that window and taken a sneak peak out so she could watch the men and women who called this land their home? She had observed children at play, courting couples and families as a whole. Now there was nothing but the occasional movement of a bird across the sky. No sign of man nor woman, children or even pets. Those human settlements that had been a huge part of her life showed no sign of having ever existed.
“What happened to them all?”
“The villages? They moved away, slowly at first but they’re long gone now and have been for at least twenty years.” Helena explained, her voice soft and touched with sadness. “I wish they had stayed but times changed whilst you were in his hands. “There was a woman who came into the life of the lord of the castle and became his wife. But this one wasn’t happy with the path ahead of her and her darkness spread out and the people here felt her touch the hardest, especially when the lord’s gaze fell upon a fae woman. One with silver hair that shone like the moon.”
“He betrayed his wife?”
“No, nothing of the sort. He kept his desires controlled and was faithful unto his wife, despite the darkness he was wed to. No, not even when the woman brought a daughter into this life, not even when his dark wife turned from him to focus on the new child, did he betray her. Yet he knew and loved the fae with the silver hair from afar. He made no attempt to bring her close, nor did he openly lust after her, yet his wife knew that another woman had caught his attention.”
A shiver claimed Gemma as she listened, a cold hand wrapped around her heart. “The wife struck back?”
“Using a dark heart and colder magic, yes. Men and women died due to her actions and her husband attempted to bring her back away from her terrible path, but it didn’t work. The harder he worked with her, the blacker her heart became.”
“But she loved him, why couldn’t she curb her anger and work with him?”
“Hatred is a powerful thing and as much as she loved him, she also hated him.”
Love and hate in the same breast, toward the same man, would that have torn the woman apart? Gemma closed her eyes, lifting her hands to her temples long enough to massage her aching head. This wasn’t something she had planned for, but then again how could any of them have foreseen such a thing, nor the rise of the Veklim or the death of her father. “How did that impact the villages in the area?” She needed more information, as many pieces as possible before she made a final choice on what she needed to do next.
“Some died beneath her blade in the pursuit of what the humans call the black arts.”
Black arts. Sometimes they used that term in the wrong way, but in this case…
“She targeted this village because of the silver haired fae, claiming they were behind the change in her lord’s heart, but we all know that isn’t true. They had nothing to do with it nor did the fae female, yet the dark hearted woman was set upon the destruction of the woman and the village. It was enough to turn the lord from his wife and he banished her, despite the fact she had given him a daughter.”
A daughter. One who would seek vengeance in time, perhaps with the aid of her mother or perhaps she would seek elsewhere. Gemma frowned, mulling over the information before she spoke again. “This is the family who will open the doorway for Kaleb?”
“We believe so.”
The pieces fell into place. Vengeance would call to the Lord of Vengeance and in turn he would use the women to find an answer, a means of tracking down any hint of the very magic Kaleb craved. “We will be there to stop him.”
“Yes, but only after he has drawn close enough to the source to be of use to us.” Her mother confirmed.
Was it worth it? The loss of her father, the time she had spent in Kaleb’s not so tender care? Was it all worth it just to return the true power of rune magic to the world of Erien? Did they need the return of this magic?
Yes, we do. Erien does. It has to be this way or we all die. Not even the Tree-Faced will be able to continue on, nor the Master of the Hunt, without the return of rune magic.
“We do this for the good of all, daughter mine. I know that doesn’t make things any easier for you, or for the rest of our people, but it is the task we were assigned at the dawn of our race. The protection of Erien and those who call this their home.” Helena lifted her chin, her jaw set as she looked around the room. “But we have time, albeit limited, which will allow you a chance to recover before we face the next challenge. The dark heart has not, as yet, returned to the castle nor has she reclaimed her daughter or her lord, and he married the silver haired fae, and she gave him a daughter in return.”
“She is at risk, this silver haired one?” Gemma pushed a loose strand of hair back from her eyes.
“Not anymore, she died only a few months ago.”
Died. Despite the fact that Gemma hadn’t even known of the fae’s existence until a few moments ago, the knowledge of the woman’s death sat heavily around her heart. “How?”
“A curse unleashed by the dark heart.”
Names would have helped, but names held power and using them might be enough to draw the dark one’s attention if she had tapped the full extent of the magic of such things. Not a risk that could be taken. “Powerful.”
“Yes, but not powerful enough to destroy the half fae child, her mother and the magic of the child prevented the curse touching the daughter. And we will work to keep her from such a curse again.” Helena sighed, her shoulders slumped. “It will not be easy but that has to be the focus of our task, to keep the fae born child free from the touch of dark magic until such time as she is able to defend herself.” She is a key, not the only one, but an important key nevertheless. Her power, her connections, her strength and spirit will all be needed in the years to come, but only if she lives long enough to be of use to us and to Erien as a whole.”
“And the Three-faced, what of her people, those daughters of the Isle who have been chosen to stand against the darkness?”
Helena paused, her brow furrowed in thought. “I cannot see beyond an upset that will happen in the years ahead. There is a daughter born to the line but there is a darkness, something that blocks her and the power she will lay claim to. I do not know if she will ever be in a position to defend Erien. Yet… there is something else there. Something I cannot see clearly. One who will come to her, fight at her side but he may also be her greatest threat.” She shook her head. “I know, it makes no sense. There will always be things we cannot see clearly but we know what we must do with the fae born child. She is who we must focus on no matter the cost to our own people.”
How many of her people would die in the process?
Would her mother be among that number?
It didn’t matter.
The fae born daughter would be kept safe…