“Ephraim?” Cecilia called throughout her quiet home. “I’m busy,” was the usual reply, but it didn’t come.
“Are you there?” She asked again, peering into his library. She figured he might be trapped in some new book he bought. The only sound she could hear was the muffled bustling market streets—caravans carrying goods across cobblestone and murmuring voices. Cecilia started towards the door when it suddenly opened. Ephraim appeared, breathless and his long dark hair tostled contrary to his usual reserved appearance. His eyes were wide upon seeing Cecilia at the door.
“Hey where were y—?” Cecilia started.
“We have to go. Like now. Grab your bow,” Ephraim interrupted. “I’ll explain on the way, but there’s something weird following me.” He began stuffing tomes into a satchel, but only the most versatile.
“What’s going on?”
“Pack for at least a few days.”
Cecilia was annoyed, but she relented. She trusted her half-brother’s judgement.
“Grab your cloak too,” he added.
Covering her bright orange hair, Cecilia and Ephraim left their little house and stepped onto the busy street. She followed his tall figure swiftly, dodging any market shoppers or officials. Ephraim stood out. He towered over the street saturated with humans, dwarves, and half-lings. Hardly any elves lived in Taiyorka, despite it being the grand, diverse capital of Feridela. Most elves resided in Avira, but they wouldn’t have a half-elf like Cecilia. The Elven bloodlines must stay pure in order to receive the special gifts of the Goddess, Ferina. Faiyans who chose paths of worship to the Goddess were especially blessed for their devotion.
Ephraim led Cecilia all the way to the Grand Gate where the guards simply nodded and wished them safe travels.
“Can you tell me what’s happening now? You’re scaring me,” Cecilia said as they exited Taiyorka.
“I saw a fey spirit in an alley, and it attacked me.”
“A fey? Magic shouldn’t work within the walls of the capital,” Cecilia challenged.
“It gets worse,” Ephraim said. “The fey spirit bore the same brand as you. It was the same magic.”
“That’s insane. Did you see anyone?”
“No, but I think it was after me. It has to be related to you somehow.”
“Well it wasn’t me!” Cecilia exclaimed. Cecilia’s brand was unique, unknown to the point of having no official name. She named her brand, the Mark of Catria, after her late mother who was a renowned priestess of Ferina. She didn’t practice magic in fear of the possible chaos that summoning flaming animals could have. Her brand was too unpredictable, so Ephraim didn’t train her as a wizard like him. He taught her the ways of the bow. The more distance, the better.
“I know it wasn’t you, that’s why we’re going to the Taiyan Temple,” replied Ephraim.
“You think the Goddess will know?” Asked Cecilia.
The Taiyan Temple stood just outside the walls of Taiyorka. It was a temple where pilgrims travel for wisdom, guidance, and blessings from the goddess, Ferina. Luckily for Taiyans, it was just a rock throw away from the city.
Cecilia nodded and clutched her cloak tightly. The thought of danger inside the walls of Taiyorka was terrifying. People of all races from all around Feridela enter the capital for balance and security (Ephraim and Cecilia included). It was determined that the safest place for Cecilia and her unique brand was under the control of Taiyorka.
The grounds in front of the temple was crowded as always. Street vendors selling charms and talismans lined the entrance and benevolent guards stood watch as worshippers meander in and out of the temple. Cecilia and Ephraim walked up the marble steps, not bothering to admire the exquisite paintings and sculptures littered around the hall. Up ahead was the large structure of Ferina, a stunning feminine statue posed with her arms wide open in welcoming. Ignoring the voices of the others in the temple, Cecilia and Ephraim knelt in front of Ferina and closed their eyes.
The effect was almost instantaneous. Heat flared up in front of Cecilia in the form of purple flames as she opened her eyes inside what must have been a vision. Her stomach felt a powerful lurch of familiarity and abstractions of fear and love assaulted her emotions. Sensory overload. Through the fire, she appeared to be at the base of an enormous tree at the center of a lake. And then, her mother. A beautiful woman who had the same green eyes and orange hair as Cecilia smiled serenely.
“I bring this from the Goddess Ferina. Find her, and protect her…” said Catria. She held her hands together and a bright light shone between her palms. As the light fades she floated towards her daughter. She placed a thin, cold object into Cecilia’s hands.
“Mother, what is this?” She asked, but Catria only smiled. The lake and the great tree began to blur as Cecilia was suddenly snapped into reality.
“Are you okay?” Ephraim placed his hands on her shoulders. His light eyes filled with concern. Onlookers who noticed Cecilia receiving a vision stared in their direction.
“What did the Goddess show you?”
“It wasn’t the Goddess,” Cecilia replied. “It was my mother.” Cecilia glanced down at what her mother had given her in the vision. The object was tangible. She held a silver circlet, intricately woven with amethyst gems.
“She gave you a magic item,” stated Ephraim, observing the elegant metal jewelry. “Let’s get out of here first.”
The two of them left the temple, avoiding the other gawking worshippers. Outside, they rested near a tree to examine the circlet.
“Tell me what you saw.”
Cecilia explained her strange vision, and felt the circlet in her hands. Somehow, she didn’t want to put it on. She had no idea why it was even given to her.
“Relax, your mother would never give you something that could hurt you,” Ephraim reassured her.
Tentatively, Cecilia rose the circlet and gently rested it on her head.
“A perfect fit,” Cecilia said.
“How do you feel?”
Warmth gathered in her chest. It was the feeling of magical energy, only she had never wielded this much mana before. Cecilia was untrained in magic, and she immediately felt the urge to take off the circlet. Her human half made sure that magic was never her true path. However, the tickling feeling of seeping energy was pleasant.
“The circlet gives me mana. A lot of it,” she told Ephraim. Ephraim made a noise with his throat.
“Maybe I should wear it, Cecilia. You don’t know how to control it.”
“No way,” She answered. “Mother gave it to me.”
“Don’t do anything reckless. And by that I mean don’t even try casting until you ask me,” Ephraim insisted.
“Okay, okay. So now what? You told me to pack for a few days. Where are we going and why did Mom give me this?”
“You’re asking the wrong person. Visiting the temple just gave us more questions. But I was planning on moving us to Edela. I didn’t want the fey spirit to follow us home or endanger the citizens,” Ephraim replied, itching a pointy ear.
“What’s safer than Taiyorka?” Cecilia wondered aloud.
“Well whoever was using the Mark of Catria could break through Ferina’s magic barrier around the capital, which means nowhere. What we can do is keep others out of it.”
“The lake,” Cecilia blurted out. “From my vision.”
“You said it was a lake with a huge tree, right? It has to be Lake Ferina!” exclaimed Ephraim.
“Then it’s settled. We’ll go to Lake Ferina,” decided Cecilia.
Cecilia adjusted her quiver and touched her circlet. The two headed west towards the dipping sun, but Ephraim and Cecilia weren’t afraid of moving in the dark. Ephraim had his light magic and Cecilia was a deadly shot even in the night. Cecilia breathed in the scent of dying leaves, an oddly comforting smell. It’s been years since Cecilia had traveled further than the general territory of Taiyorka. They were just past the bridge, leaving the Avira Plains. Her stomach felt filled with fairies.
“Don’t let your guard down,” warned Ephraim.
“Come on, we’ll be fine. I’ve got the most powerful wizard in Feridela with me.”
Ephraim gave her a disapproving glance, sharpened by his elven features. His look softened.
“You flatter me, Cece. You’re lucky to be related to me.” He chuckled slightly, bringing a grin to Cecilia’s face. It was always a victory to make Ephraim laugh.
“Joking aside, we don’t know what we’re getting into here, and I need you to be prepared to use everything I’ve taught you.”
“If only you taught me about magic,” Cecilia muttered.
Ephraim ignored the comment.
“Feridela would be nothing without the Goddess’s gifts. If something is wrong, we must do whatever is in our power to protect her.”
The lands would not bare crops and magic would run without limits if not for Ferina’s rule. The land was said to be doomed without her presence. At least, that was what Feridelan children were told.
Cecilia’s nose twitched. Smoke. She glanced around, searching for the source. There was a campfire glowing faintly ahead.
“Brigands. It’s best to avoid them,” whispered Ephraim. “We’re close to Munt territory.”
Cecilia and Ephraim crept silently, sticking close to the ground. Muntsmen were not to be messed with. They were one of the few villages that did not worship Feridela, and the lands there were practically barren. The townspeople usually turned to lives of thievery in hopes of providing for their families. Cecilia wondered why they don’t want Ferina’s favor. Cecilia tried to prevent rattling her quiver and bow slung across her back. In the distance, Cecilia could make out the tips of buildings that must be Edela Village. Her forehead began to tickle. She reached up to poke the circlet back into place, but a spark appeared from the gem stone. It dropped on the forest floor in a small purple flame. Ephraim began to chant a water incantation but the flame didn’t die.
“What did you do?” He scolded.
The purple flames began to lick the trees, to Cecilia’s horror. The fire was bright and hotter than she’s ever felt.
The two of them began to sprint ahead, hoping to reach the edge of the forest. An axe whizzed past Cecilia, whacking into a maple. She flinched violently.
“Who’s there?!” A deep throaty voice called out.
Cecilia and Ephraim sprinted away from the flames as brigands started to wake and yell war cries.
“I’ll make a cover!” Ephraim yelled. His tome shook up and down as they ran, but soon enough, a layer of fog began to rise from the ground. Purple lights glinted within the fog appearing all around them. The brigand’s stiffened and their eyes lit up with lavender lights.
“Come, Cecilia.” A droning voice moaned from one of the Muntsmen.
“It’s the other Catria Mark!” Shouted Ephraim as he furiously conjured barrier magic. “They’re possessed!”
Cecilia ducked as a mace came close to her head. She drew her bow and fired an arrow in his foot. The arrow was lit with the same purple pyre.
Cecilia shot out more, heart pounding in her ears. She wasn’t shooting to kill, but flames lit every arrow she pulled from her quiver.
“Cecilia. The Tower of Two Goddesses,” a possessed brigand groaned.
“Two goddesses?” She said aloud.
Ephraim yanked another tome out of his satchel.
“Get behind me!” Cecilia gripped Ephraim’s cloak as he began to cast Flash. “This will disorient them for a while!”
A blinding light exploded around them in the fog. The brigands collapsed to the ground, writhing and screaming as the purple flames were extracted from their eyes. The cover began to settle as the Muntsmen quieted, passed out from the Flash spell. The purple flames subsided as well. Cecilia and Ephraim caught their breath, pulling each other in for a hug.
“What in Ferina’s name just happened?” Ephraim asked against Cecilia’s ear.
As the fog settled, a small figure appeared, a violet aura surrounding them.
“Cecilia,” was all the silhouette said. It was a small, feminine voice like her own. The girl stepped forward to reveal her face. She wore a long, hooded, dark cloak, but what appeared to be half-elf ears still poked out. Her skin was youthful and she had sharp, dark eyes.
“She’s just a projection,” Ephraim told Cecilia.
“Who are you?” Cecilia asked.
“Cecilia, you must listen to me and trust what I’m about to tell you,” the mysterious girl replied.
“You attacked me,” Cecilia reminded. “Why should I trust you?”
“My name is Hildi. A half-elf like you. I was sent to eliminate you for Feridela’s benefit—” Suddenly, Hildi vanished mid-sentence.
“What?” Ephraim asked, dumbfounded.
“I don’t know. But I do know we have to get away from here to rest.”
They reached Edela, and the village was silent. Few lights were still on at this time of night, but the two headed into the nearest Inn. Cecilia stared out the window at the stars and she very carefully took off the circlet, which was no longer hot to the touch. How was she connected to the Goddess, and what exactly was she protecting her from?
“Don’t worry. We’ll get you to the Goddess,” Ephraim said, watching her carefully.
The purple flames danced across her eyelids as she laid down to sleep.
The next morning, Cecilia and Ephraim headed into town to stock up on anything they would need. Edela was a quaint town with sturdy buildings and relics to Ferina everywhere you look. Naturally, this made the village lavishly wealthy. Dwarves wearing pristine robes roamed the organized street, singing their praises to the Blessed town of Edela. Cecilia’s mind whirled around with thoughts of Hildi and what she had told her. Cecilia spotted an information broker with a big nose sitting by some merchants near an alley.
“Hey!” She called out.
Ephraim turned his head to find Cecilia already heading towards the broker with her hand straight in the air.
“I’ve got a question.” Cecilia pulled gold from her bag and held it out.
“I’m listening,” said the short man.
“Have you heard of the ‘The Tower of Two Goddesses?’” she asked clamping the coins in her hand.
The broker’s beady eyes shifted back and forth. “Two.”
The pieces were exchanged.
“There’s an ancient rumor that exists around Northern Feridela,” he started. “One remaining structure stands for the Forgotten Goddess.”
“The Forgotten Goddess….” Cecilia whispered.
“All I know is that there’s a place beyond the Ferin mountains up north. People say whoever does not worship Ferina is left with nothing. That’s all you’ll get from me.”
Cecilia started back towards Ephraim, her chest buzzing.
“Stay away from those guys, Cece. Also let’s leave for the tree while it’s nice and early. It’s only a few minutes from here.”
“Who do the Muntsmen worship?” Cecilia asked randomly.
“Not sure,” Ephraim answered. “Doesn’t matter. Ferina must be waiting for you.”
“Actually, I’m kind of curious,”
Ferina entered Edela’s library, an impressive building filled with the extensive history of Feridela and stories of myth. She perused for hours, despite the nagging from Ephraim. Not a single word of a second goddess or a northern tower lived with the pages. Ephraim used his magic to sort through key words, going through books upon books. Cecilia opened a particularly old book, larger than normal size that wasn’t flying off the shelf from Ephraim’s spell. It was heavy in her hands as she read the cover; Golden Obsidian. Cecilia opened the book to find that it was a hidden pocket book. She lifted the smaller, ancient text and opened it.
“Ephraim…Look at this. Your spell didn’t work on it.”
Cecilia’s eyes scanned the pages rapidly, when she discovered the chapter, “Ferina and Munteia.”
The story wove a power struggle between not one, but two sister goddesses over Feridela. Munteia, who dispersed her blessings to the needy, and Ferina, who gifted those who were devoted to her. Priests, clergy, and nobility rose above all as the highest power thanks to her. As a result, the citizens looked to Munteia. Ferina’s power declined as less people prayed to her. Ferina was jealous, so she released her people to destroy all shrines and worshippers of her sister. Blood was spilled across the region for years, but Ferina’s smaller group wielded more powerful weapons. Over centuries, the text and connections to Munteia, weakening her very existence into a sealed, dormant state. The author of the book must have wanted to protect her, The Forgotten Goddess.
“Ephraim, you aren’t going to believe any of this.”
The sky seemed bluer the closer Cecilia and Ephraim traveled to Lake Ferina. They could see the grandeur of the ancient tree from miles away. There was a paved path towards the mystic lake where friendly fairies and benevolent magical creatures milled about. Cecilia couldn’t keep her mouth shut. Every new wonder dropped her jaw open in awe.
“This is amazing!” she exclaimed. She wasn’t sure what was waiting for at the Lake of Ferina. The words of the book she found in the Edela library haunted her. Unease crawled around her back like a snake.
“Indeed,” Ephraim agreed, his head whipping left and right.
Finally they arrived at the base of the lake, a vast, sparkling body of blue. It almost appeared to be illuminated even in the daylight. In the center of the water, the humongous tree stood, stretching its branches as if reaching to the ends of the earth. Cecilia felt the familiar divine warmth from her vision once again as she stared across the lake. Transparent stepping stones surfaced, leading Cecilia closer to the Goddess’s tree, and Ephraim followed close behind. A gentle chiming noise echoed as Cecilia reached out a pale hand to touch the trunk. She took a deep breath and closed her eyes. A gentle light fluttered in front of her, and Cecilia stepped back to see the silhouette of a familiar shape from the Taiyan Temple. The Goddess Ferina herself descended as though made of thin silk. Cecilia and Ephraim both fell to their knees in adoration.
“I am glad you made it here, Cecilia,” Ferina’s wispy voice whispered. “You possess my blood, although sullied through generations.”
Ephraim and Cecilia picked their heads up in shock of her words, but they do not dare to interrupt. Ferina continued.
“My sister, Munteia is roused, and her presence threatens Feridela’s peace. I need you to destroy what is left of Munteia’s blood in the world: the half-elf, Hildi.”
“Destroy…Hildi?” Cecilia murmured.
“If the last of her blood is vanquished, we will never have to worry about Munteia’s resurrection again.”
Was Munteia actually cursed? The familiar blur of violet caught Cecilia’s eye. She watched Ferina fade as heat rose from her feet. Hildi stepped out of a swirling magic tortal, a staff in one hand. Her black hair tumbled over her shoulders, casting a shadow over her face.
“You don’t believe her, do you?” Hildi asked softly. “Come with me to the Tower of Two Goddesses.”
“If Munteia is brought back, then Feridela will launched back into war,” Cecilia retorted. “The people can’t handle that.”
“Munteia will bless everyone, and not just her devoted.” Hildi argued.
The creatures floating around the tree fled as the purple flames grew. The Mark of Catria glinted above Hildi’s portal. Ephraim gripped Cecilia’s hand protectively, prepared to cast.
“Come with me now and let us bring Munteia back together. I left Golden Obsidian in Edela for you to discover the truth, and make the necessary sacrifice.”
Cecilia drew her bow and her circlet surrounded her with aura. Cecilia felt herself waiver when she met Hildi’s intense eyes.
“That’s nonsense!” Ephraim screamed. He cast a Freeze spell, and shards of ice splintered towards Hildi before bouncing off pathetically. Hildi raised her staff and summoned large bubbles to capture Cecilia. Cecilia shot magic arrows at them as they lingered closer. Only her magic could match Hildi’s. The speed of the bubbles increased, flying towards her before she could draw. Ephraim grabbed Cecilia to prevent them from being separated. Hildi swung her arm, flinging the bubble into the portal. Cold washed over Cecilia and suddenly she found herself lying on damp stone. She picked up her head, slightly disoriented by the sudden teleportation. She touched Ephraim’s arm as they watched Hildi step into the round.
“We’re in the Tower of Two Goddesses.” Cecilia observed the dilapidated thrones and the torn, deep red carpets. The air smelled stagnant and mossy.
“Good observation,” Hildi commented, sarcastic. “Now, disappear!”
A tiger of flames launched out of her staff, sprinting full speed at Cecilia and Ephraim. They rolled in separate directions, swiftly attacking back simultaneously. Cecilia focused her energy, and a fiery spirit imbued her arrows, making them follow Hildi as she glided around the throne room. Ephraim couldn’t touch Hildi, but he could destroy her spirit tiger. The tiger let out a cry and lunged, clawing Ephraim’s leg. Ephraim collapsed to the ground, his satchel spilling books over the stone ground. He inched forward to reach his Book of Water. He chanted an incantation, rising his tome to conjure a waterfall, dousing the lavender fire, dissipating the creature. Hildi retaliated. She shot a sleep spell at Ephraim, causing him to stay motionless.
“Stop this, Hildi!” Cecilia screamed.
“I won’t stop until Munteia is awakened! She is the true goddess!” Hildi cried.
“Your battle is already lost!” returned Cecilia. “Bringing her back will only bring pain and confusion,”
“You don’t understand. Anyone who isn’t obsessed with Ferina lives in poverty. You don’t get to see those people though, do you, a daughter of Catria and Elven nobility.” Hildi jabbed. She sent a rain of purple flames, igniting the throne room.
“People will die.”
“But, may everyone have blessings.”
Cecilia concentrated and her circlet lit up with flames. The land would undoubtedly fight over the Goddesses, just like in ages past. She could imagine how theocratic leaders would be torn out of power and their goods being distributed to the poor. The leaders that she has followed since birth. Being the daughter of Catria has had it’s perks. She just wasn’t well-traveled enough to see how everyone lives. Feridela was ever-present. Every meal and every lucky chance was an opportunity to worship the selfish Goddess.
“We can’t endanger Feridela,” she announced firmly. The aura around her blazed brightly. “I’m sorry, but the Forgotten Goddess must remain forgotten!”
Cecilia stamped her foot down and the ground rumbled intensely. Hildi was blown backwards, banging her head on one of the two thrones. Her eyes fluttered and she yelled as she became engulfed with Cecilia’s fire.
“I thought you would be strong enough to oppose Ferina. You are a fool if you think things will never change.” Hildi said weakly.
“I will protect the people I love.” Cecilia approached Hildi, her hands filled with purple fire. Hildi raised her arm again, but Cecilia sent a blast that sent her across the room, sealing Munteia’s existence forever.
Cecilia released the breath she didn’t even know she was holding, and she ripped the circlet out of her long hair. Ephraim lay in the corner, still sleeping. She went to him and held his hand.
“I will protect the people I love.”