A gentle breeze sweetly scented with the dusk jasmine rushed towards Sefyra where she sat deep in contemplation on a weathered boulder that looked over a humble, tumbling valley towards an interesting complex of ruins. She figured that was as good a place to start as any, since behind her there was nothingness. She was certain it was that way that she had entered this realm, but it was clearly a one way trip that people entered the Shynasekae by.
All around the horizon was a pale and shimmering curtain that no doubt encircled the whole pocket realm. When she had tried to touch whatever the veil was made of, it had sent an incredible and nauseating jolt through her as though lightning had struck, so she had pulled her hand back and turned back to the valley ahead of her. Aside from the ruins, there seemed to be an impressive white stone wall that wrapped around the city and one road that would guide her there. Inside was the great tower that rose high above all the other buildings in its iridescent pillar of light.
For all that the pastures around her looked perfectly Arcadian, perhaps there were sinister beings that dwelt outside the city wall. A sobering thought that brought Sefyra back to her feet as she subconsciously tried to reach for her Ryutadulas before remembering she had become separated from it. With a sigh, she carefully checked the rope of incense within the stone clock which was still burning a sweet patchouli and started on her way.
Her feet found the old and broken cobbled road that had been trodden to a polish by however many souls had taken this same path before her. Sefyra wasn’t sure how long she had been walking when her nose twitched and realised that the the incense had changed to bergamot. What she was now sure of, was that the Shynasekae was perpetual dusk; and that distances were warped. She’d calculated that it would take her barely fifteen minutes to reach the ruins, yet the change in smoke told her she had already been walking over half an hour and the cool slate grey ruins were still a long way off.
With a growl of frustration, she tightened her hold on the clock and leapt into an all out sprint and let her nails bite into her skin as she forced her weakened body back into action. By the time she reached the first shadows of her destination, she was drenched in sweat and trembling so violently that she had to lean wholly on the first unsuspecting stone as she tried to catch her breath. Fortunately, the smoke was still the peppery citrus of before and she hoped time might behave itself at last.
Somewhere deeper in, Sefyra could here steady rush of water cascading over a series of short drops and begun to walk unsteadily towards it. She knew drinking the water would be fatal, but at least rinsing herself off would hopefully revive her. Amongst the stones, the air became close and stuffy as though no breeze ever came through. Dust had settled on the road in a perfectly even carpet that reminded her of snow as she crept through the shadows. She could feel eyes watching her as she went, Sefyra could almost pick out the curious and patient intent of her audience, her ears strained for the slightest breath to reach her as she paused at the spring and splashed some water over her face and arms.
“Couldn’t you at least tell me where I am? What are these ruins for?” She asked the walls while she examined how badly cut up she had become. “Or at least tell me what happened to me.” She mumbled more to herself as she paid closer inspection to a slash that had only just missed her eye. No answer came to any of her questions, though that was as much as she expected. Whatever had been watching had turned its gaze away and Sefyra returned to her task of exploring the ruins for any clues of anything.
After bergamot had changed to cedar, and cedar has changed to lavender, Sefyra had to conceded that there was nothing more here. She had sat down beside the least broken stonework of the ruins - a beautiful and colossal stone carving of a dragon so lifelike, she had at first thought it was sleeping and would awaken at any moment. Then she had seen the giant gashes down its sides and allowed her breath to escape. Nothing could survive a wound like that, no matter how magical it was.
Now she had her back resting against the warm, surface of its flank as she studied the lush green pastures absent of livestock and the abundance of flowers that swarmed towards the city. The air was still heavy around her and her eyelids heavy. When was the last time she had slept? She could feel her mind start to settle as it wandered through soft lit corridors of golden light. It was only when something violently rocked her and the clock almost slipped from her fingers that she remembered where she was, and that time was running out on her. She sat shaken, certain that the inanimate stone dragon was what rocked her so violently from her stupor. Yet when she looked at the stone scales and ran her fingers over them, they were most definitely stone.
“I wonder what kind of dragon you should be. I have the strangest sensation I’ve met one like you somewhere...” Sefyra whispered, hoisting herself back to her feet with the aid of the stone beast. Sighing to herself again, she continued along to dust covered road and exited the bizarre stone ruins that gave away nothing and returned to the pleasant breezy air and verdant grasses. As she stood with her back to the ruins, she felt she was being watched again. Ever so slightly, she tilted her head to try and glimpse whatever was studying her. She saw a sizeable pale blue orb that blinked out of existence as soon as she noticed it and no amount of staring brought it back. Instead her eyes became focused on the behemoth face of the dragon, it’s horns and tusks shimmering with a silver lustre. She was just contemplating going back to investigate the strange orb some more when-
“Hey you! What in seven stars are you doing?” Sefyra swivelled back to the road to see a middle aged man trotting towards her with a severe expression. “Well?”
“There was a blue light inside I was curious about.” She said simply. She felt her observer watching again, sort of like a cat might squint through one barely open eye.
“Tosh! There’s nowt in there but dust and stone. It is forbidden to enter however. Come a long.”
“Why is it forbidden?”
“That’s for the masters to know.” The man had managed to get between her and the ruins and was chivvying her towards the cobblestones. “Why ever do you have a clock down here for?”
She snatched the small orb away as the stranger tried to take it from her. “I have to be somewhere by it’s final hour. Can you at least tell me what the ruins are called?”
“There’s only one place you want to be by anytime, and that’s inside the city wall before the shades come from south.” He stood on her path, glaring sternly until she gave up on any idea of returning to the ruins. The more he had said and the less he answered her, the more she wanted desperately to give the stones a more thorough investigation to see what she had somehow missed.
“And what shades from the south can worry the dead?”
“Most consider it poor manners to point out someone’s detachment to the living. Go on, get a shift on.” Whoever this man was, he was unrelenting and returned to his chivvying. Sefyra took one final look at the ruins, still not seeing anything of note in the formless stones, and continued her way towards the city. By now the smoke had faded through cinnamon to honey. She’d already been in the Shynasekae six hours.
Though it would likely be a waste of her precious time, Sefyra was already planning how to get back to the strange stones as she stepped through the heavily fortified gatehouse of the city. The strange had herded her all the way back and stood in the open archway with his arms crossed. A guard perhaps. At least that gave him cause to be such a nuisance to her. She raised an eyebrow at him, then melted into the crowds of the dead and went about losing her tail before moving through the tight alleyways of sandstone towards the central tower.
“No can enter the tower, the light keeps everyone out.” Another stranger told her an hour later as she stood at the base of the tower. She had carefully touched the veil of light and had the exact same sensation as the veil at the end of the realm, and that was then this new person decided to offer up the obvious.
Sefyra ignored the young woman close in age to herself and continued to stare up at the walls so much like her beloved Arcania. It frustrated her that she could both recognise it and remember nothing at the same time. Every time she got close to finding her memories, her mind went blank and she’d find herself back at the start, unable to even explain what it all felt like.
“You need something called Apalla. Opalla? Oh the name hardly matters as I share it doesn’t exist. No one ever knows what the damned stuff is meant to be either.” The young woman continued absent mindedly. She too was staring up at the walls and cogs finally started to churn into action in her memories. Opalla was reformed leaves of a soul tree. She recalled seeing a night black soul tree in her minds-eye once before and wracked her brain for where it could be located. Part of her cynically thought it would be in the base of the tower itself.
“Why are you telling me this?” Sefyra asked, fixing her attention on the female instead and noticing the luxurious silk and tulle dress.
“I need to find a way out of here before Lughnasadh, or we’ll be trapped here forever...” The female trailed off and Sefyra took the “we” to mean she had another to lead away from the place, though Lughnasadh was an entirely foreign word to her. She understood it meant the same as the honey scented smoked that was cooking through her fingers.
“But if you’re...” Sefyra recalled the middle aged man again and chewed her tongue, though there really wasn’t a delicate way to tell someone they were dead.
“It’s complicated. I’m not dead, and I’m pretty certain Tegan ...well, I don’t really understand the specifics. But we don’t belong here.” The woman finally looked back at Sefyra and she relieved to see a warm expression and bright eyes. “Liese.” She said simply offering her hand. Sefyra took it and gave her own name, before at last her eyes were drawn back to the tower, clicking her tongue in irritation.
“I don’t suppose you have come across a tree made of crystal while you’ve been here, have you?” Liese shook her head apologetically. Then if it isn’t in the tower, there’s a high chance I missed something in the ruins...if only I wasn’t dressed in white! “What about a way out of the city? I mean... a way that means I can go somewhere-“
“I knew it! The dust on your dress, you’ve been to Craerva haven’t you? I saw you come in with Jack earlier and followed you here.”
Sefyra was momentarily taken aback by someone having tailed her that she almost forgot the name Liese had given her. She laughed and tried to brush some of the dust away, more conscious of her glaring white dress than ever. “And why would dust make you follow me?”
“Back home, I’m a writer and those ruins fascinate me. There’s something there. It’s always watching, and always sleeping. But...I only got to go there once. Now Jack guards the road as you’ve seen. I want to go back for the sleeping story and I think you can help me with that.” Liese gestured with her head towards one of the alleys and started walking. For a while, they moved in silence through the swathes of people going about their business. It seemed like any other city with people peddling their wares and the tempting smell of fresh food filling the air. She could smell bacon above all else and her stomach growled.
After a few more minutes, Liese opened a door to one of the many cramped buildings that lined the streets, and lead Sefyra through a long corridor, up several flights of stairs, along another corridor and finally over an enclosed walkway to a larger series of buildings that clustered on a stone plinth that rose slightly above the main thoroughfare. The white wall of the city perimeter was still visible through one of the windows with nothing but peacock blue firmament above it.
“This where I’m staying at the moment, help yourself to whatever clothes you prefer.” Liese waved at a wardrobe to the back of her bedroom. “We can plan our next move over some food, and don’t worry. The food here comes from the erlkin so it won’t cause your soul to demortalise.”
As Sefyra left Liese in the kitchen to attend to her cooking, she wondered what other information Liese might help. She couldn’t help thinking she had walked into someone else’s story and a language that almost made sense, but not quite. She looked through the various silk dresses, all of which were too delicate and colourful for her taste. She moved to the next wardrobe which looked to be more promising.
She pulled out a coarse white shirt with baggy sleeves that tied at the wrist, a pair of black breeches and a black sleeveless surcoat. With the help of one of Liese’s waist corsets, she was able to get the garments to fit. She heard someone else enter the apartment, a male with a soft and musical voice and no doubt the owner of the clothes she had purloined. She returned to the main room coughed politely to announce her presence.
“I hope you don’t mind?” She smiled politely at Tegan. “Only I’m not a fan of dresses with my line of work.”
“And here I was hoping I had finally convinced my fiancé not to leave the city for those internal ruins,” Tegan shook his head a offered her a plate of soft ginger biscuits coated in chocolate.
“Can you tell me anything about the ruins?” She asked quizzically as she cheekily pinched a couple more of the biscuits.
“Only that no one really knows what they are, something is always watching and now a demon from the south side has found his way over and is skulking around.” At that, Liese shivered violently and leant into Tegan who wrapped and arm protectively around her.
“This demon is why no one leaves the city and a hawk of a man rounds the strays up? Then, I can deal with that beast if you can help me out of the city. But it needs to be soon. I don’t know when your Luna...Luhnusa...is, I have until the hour of the carnation to leave this place. Sixteen hLiese ours.” She pointed at her stone clock on the table.
“I’ve no idea how you intend to take on such a feat, but you’ll have to wait two more hours before the next window to slip out. Judging by the dark shadows around your eyes, you might want to sleep a bit. Liese, can you attend to her wounds? We’re going to need stronger coffee.” Sefyra heard Tegan leaving again and felt her own head dropping forwards to meet her arms resting on the table, Not only had Liese tailed her earlier, she’d somehow managed to charm her to sleep, though she didn’t feel at all threatened by it. Instead, she let the magic do its work and slipped into a dreamless slumber.
The Last Carnation is the final volume of The Sirin Chronicles and picks up straight from Ghosts with Sefyra (previously Astraea) as she desperately tries to remember why she entered the Shynasekae.
Can she remember and escape in time? The fate of all of Sirin is reliant on her, while her companions wait for her in Liretika and a dark shadow begins to devour the light...
The Last Carnation is my current WIP for NaNoWriMo 2019. I’m hoping to both hit the 50k word count goal and finish the first draft....however as I’m also going through a rough patch health wise (which is why I missed 2018), I’m not holding myself to ransom this year!
Sefyra woke with a start. She remembered being by the stone dragon and leapt to her feet realising it had woken up and was causing her body to shake. She blinked furiously and realised she was still in the parlour of Liese’s apartment and the cause of her shaking was the combined effort of Liese and Tegan trying to rouse her. She sniffed at the air and her heart dropped. Vanilla and strawberry. Two hours had become four somehow. She let the half-formed knife fade back out of existence and didn’t miss the look of fear in Liese’s eyes.
“You wouldn’t wake. I’m so sorry Sefyra, I must have gotten the spell wrong.”
“No. I’m afraid explaining both our stories to each other would take too long. Just know that it wasn’t your fault I overslept. I currently can’t remember why I’m here, or what I’m looking for...” She rubbed her eyes furiously as much to try and shift the aching in her muscles as to remove the sleep. “...I’m hoping that Craerva is the right place to start...