“Four earthly kinds of magic flow through the veins of Mirabelle. The Medulla Realm holds the one I favor most. The healing magic as they have named it. Medulla means healing, and thus, it is fitting. When I first came to the Medulla Realm, my companion, Mishael, was greatly wounded from our flight. When we entered the Medulla Realm, we ‘stumbled’’ across the tree that has yet to be fruitless through a season. I was a thief then. I stole the magic, and I paid the price.”
–From the writings of Daniel Adriel on his travels in Mirabelle, written during the Third Age.
“Any human without Spirit is broken; their fragments scattered to the wind. Living without Spirit is similar to running without legs.” Grandfather had said these words only once, yet they stayed with Camaria ever since, and she repeated them to herself whenever she ran, as she did now.
The young, adolescent girl darted in a zigzag motion through endless lines of trees in a vast forest as rapidly as she could. She took little notice of the loose roots on the narrow path. She stumbled but quickly picked herself up. She captured a sense of freedom when she ran. The aches in her muscles were welcomed even when she had become quite fatigued.
Since she was not the fastest of runners, hiding was a more practical option. They were quickly gaining on her, and they knew the forest just as well as she did. Presently, she approached a small stream which she splashed through despite the existence of protruding boulders from its sandy bottom. The hem of her dress was wet as she climbed out onto the other side and touched dry land.
Without hesitation, she threw herself behind the nearest and most enormous tree which towered to meet a sunburst sky. “They are far too fast,” she panted. Her next thought was to continue running, but fatigue overcame her. Closing her eyes, she leaned against the rough bark of the old oak tree. Chilly evening air brushed across her face.
The tie fell from her hair, and the raven curls bounced above her shoulders. She opened her eyes after several silent seconds and swept her attention over the vast forest. The trees were beginning to shed their leaves as summer neared its end. She spotted a deer far off among the trees. His huge antlers identified his place as a dominant buck. His black, watchful eyes stared into hers with curiosity. A few seconds later he turned and bounded away.
Night closed in as the glowing sun drifted over the hills beyond the forest. The girl leaned once again against the tree and allowed the soft wind to cool her sweat and dirt-streaked face. The crack of a twig sliced the silence, suddenly snatching her from her relaxation. She jumped. Excitement swelled in every fiber of her nerves. She listened intently for a moment but did not detect any other unwanted sound.
“Keep quiet,” she told herself, holding her breath. The next moment she screamed, for a caramel colored hand touched her arm without warning.
“Shhh!” She whirled and to her immense relief, saw her eleven-year-old sister Mista amid the trees frantically motioning her to be quiet. The girl, who was five years younger than Cam, stood panting with a sheen of sweat upon her brow.
“What has possessed you?” Cam interrogated, thoroughly irritated. “I thought you were Fiera!”
“Oh, I’m sorry,” her sister replied with a giggle. “She and Adria were on our trail not too long ago.”
“Have we any trace of Terra?”
“Last I knew she had crossed the creek and fled towards the forest region closest to the village.”
“We should find her,” Cam said, knowing Terra to be a terrific hider.
Mista gave Cam a slight roll of her eyes. “That’s sort of the point of the game.” Cam only grinned. The two sisters crept through the maze of trees in search of the one they were searching for. Fiera and Adria, their other two sisters, were likely not far behind.
Cam clutched the small, wooden ball which was painted red in her hand. The ball had been sawed in two and held together by string. Between the pieces of wood was a small slip of parchment in which a clue was written. The clue would lead to Terra who held the prize. . . whatever she had decided it would be that day. Cam and Mista had one of two clues they would need. Fiera and Adria had the other.
The five sisters had developed the game when they were much younger and had, in turn, introduced it to the village children.
It was late afternoon when Camaria and Mista walked in a westerly direction. They realized they would presently be upon the main village of the Medulla Realm. Cam and Mista had been on the run from Fiera and Adria for more than half an hour and the proof was evident in Cam’s slow gait. As they neared an enormous boulder, they halted and sank into a bed of crunchy leaves underneath the projecting rock. Cam glanced between the trees to assure they were not being followed before ducking out of sight.
“Where in the world could Terra be?” Mista sighed. She seemed to be talking more to herself rather than to Cam. “I’ve been looking for hours!”
“You know Terra. She’s the best at hiding they come. If she was willing to, she could hide for days without being found.”
Mista nodded and rolled her eyes. “Who knows where she is this time?” Quiet as a deer, Terra discovered the most unlikely places to hide and never revealed her secrets. The other four had never been able to remain concealed for long. Their second most prominent concern was that their oldest sister Fiera would find them. Fiera was excellent at the game, and they desired nothing more at that time than to trick her.
“We cannot sit here for long,” Mista remarked. Cam agreed and as soon as they were certain it was safe to emerge from their hiding place, they stood up.
The instant they revealed themselves, however, they both emitted startled cries.
“Halt right where you are!” exclaimed a towering figure. The person was none other than eighteen-year-old Fiera who had apparently been sitting on top of the boulder listening to their conversation and decided to scare them upon their exposure. Mista, who had been startled the most, clutched Cam’s arm until she realized that it was only their sister. Although frightened at first, Cam pretended to be unruffled.
Fiera grasped an arrow from her quiver and positioned it into her bow. She aimed the weapon towards Cam and Mista. “I’ve captured you at last. Surrender or die!”
“Okay, okay you’ve found us. No need for threatening our lives,” Cam objected with an exasperated sigh. Fiera’s piercing dark eyes laughed as she lowered her weapon. “Will you turn it over to me or shall I have to force it from your hands?”
Mista glared at their older sister and hurled the wooden ball in her direction. It missed Fiera’s face, and their older sister caught it with ease.
“Did you seriously think you could hide from me?” she taunted in a joking manner. She took a leap off the rock as her jet black hair rippled loosely in the wind, covering her tinged face. She brushed her hair away and unstrung the two halves of the ball. She read the clue carefully before tossing it back to her two younger sisters.
“She went to Asta’s house. Adria was right.”
“Where is Adria?” Mista queried. Fiera said nothing as she again leaped upon the rock. She swiftly pointed her bow towards a towering tree. The next moment a squirrel plummeted to the earth with an arrow protruding from its corpse.
“Show off,” said Mista, rolling her eyes.
“What was that you asked?”
“I asked about Adria.”
“She returned home to help with meal preparations.” Fiera shrugged. “I told her I was fine on my own.”
“We should hurry to Terra so we can make it home in time.” Fiera once again hopped off of the rock. She pulled her arrow from the squirrel’s corpse but decided to leave the animal behind for another prey’s enjoyment. Taking the lead, she, Mista, and Cam headed through the forest towards a small clearing where a lone tree house stood. The sky was darkening by now for the sun had almost disappeared.
They were shuffling through the leaves when Fiera ceased her steps. She bent to the ground and picked up an object. It was a smooth, round piece of wood bound with string much like the one’s Cam, Mista, and Fiera had held. But it was painted blue. They had not painted theirs blue.
“One of the villager’s I suppose,” Fiera said.
“I want to read it!” Mista grasped the ball, pushed the string off and slipped the parchment between her fingers. Mista frowned. “Is this blood?”
Cam peered over her shoulder at the sprawled words. What was supposed to be ink did look very much like blood. The parchment contained an odd assortment of figures and letters. The word second was written beside the letters TB and a drawing which appeared to be a blade. An X was drawn underneath the first line.
“It’s deer blood.” Cam and Mista looked quizzically at Fiera. She pointed at the parchment. “Deer blood.”
“Odd,” was all Mista said. Fiera took the parchment from her youngest sister and placed it where she had found it. She slipped the wooden ball into her cloak pocket and continued walking.
As they approached an enormous oak in which a treehouse was set several yards up, they heard a rustling in the underbrush. A moment later, a tall, dark, young woman with tangled hair emerged. “Took you long enough. The day has been smoldering and no one was home. So guess what? I was stuck outside,” Terra said as she approached her sisters.
“And we still took hours,” Cam sighed.
Nothing more was said as the four sisters tramped through the forest towards their home. They dwelled in a castle in the most expansive clearing in the Medulla Realm with their aging grandfather and their parents Silva and Kazbek, the leaders of Medulla. The castle was constructed of stone and surrounded by glossy trees. The dwelling was situated in the very center of the realm. Ivy and moss grew on its walls, reaching around small windows and wooden doors. The most becoming aspect of the castle was the set of glass windows on the east side. Ivy crawled over this glass and servants could be seen beyond, preparing for the ball which was to be held that evening.
As they approached the quaint castle, Adria, Camaria’s sister of fourteen years, leaned out of a window and informed them that their meal was nearly prepared. As it was Camaria’s sixteenth birthday, they had planned upon consuming a feast in honor of the occasion. Cam rushed inside, passed servants in the halls, and climbed up an extensive winding staircase to her room. With urgency, she scrubbed her face to rid it of the dirt and washed her hands under cool water. The hem of her dress was still wet, but she hoped her mother would not notice.
Upon her entrance into the dining room, she found her mother, father, and grandfather pulled closely to the table. They were murmuring among themselves as Terra and Adria assisted the cooks in their duty to serve the food. Their words trailed to Cam’s ears. “One of the Medulla Royals has died. The election for the next Royal should be held soon. We haven’t discussed any likely candidates since we assumed position here.”
Cam knew that the elderly woman who had acted as one of Medulla’s four Royals in the Royalty Realm had been in old age these past years. Her death did not come as a surprise. The elections in Medulla were held as follows: the leaders chose candidates they thought worthy and the citizens of sixteen and older voted for one of the select few.
Cam watched as Mista and Fiera took their seats across from one another in the high-backed wooden chairs constructed by the best wood carvers in the realm. Cam gazed at the splendid array of food set upon the table made just for her birthday feast. Scattered over the evergreen cloth were venison cuts, potatoes harvested by the farmers, and berries handpicked by some of the children in the village.
“Much time has passed since I last laid eyes on such an amount of food,” grunted Grandfather, his eyes sparkling. He sniffed in the delicious aroma and smiled.
“Much time has passed since I have observed you dance,” Silva addressed her father-in-law as she sipped her wine. A hint of laughter rang in her tone. Silva, Cam’s mother, was beautiful. Her skin was pale, unlike her husband’s which was a rich light brown.
“Ha! Dancing. Well there won’t be any of that from me tonight,” replied Grandfather, stabbing his meat with a silver fork.
“Oh please Grandfather, dance with me? Just once? It’s a special night for me,” Cam pleaded. It was a special night. Birthdays in the Medulla Realm were almost the same for everyone, a simple but happy time. A sixteenth birthday of anyone in Medulla or the rest of the nation of Mirabelle held more importance than any other celebration of birth. Those who were children of the realm leaders had special celebrations in honor of the age.
The sixteenth birthday represented an important decision each person in the Mirabelle would make, determining their future and where it was to be. At age sixteen, each child of Mirabelle had a year to decide which realm they would belong to the rest of their lives. Once they chose their realm, they were permitted to participate in the annual Magic Ceremony, in which those sixteen and older were allowed to consume their year’s amount of magic.
The Medulla Realm, being Cam’s home, held a special place in her heart, making it difficult to imagine a life outside of it. The Medulla citizens lived in sustainable order. Everyone followed a set of rules and orders and spread the wealth of the realm equally. The other realms did not particularly favor them, especially the Gnosi Realm whose people valued independence and freedom.
Grandfather once told Cam that they set their own morals and lived the way they saw was the most enjoyable. The Cinis Lumen dwellers held hardly any resentment towards the Medulla citizens. The lives of the later proved to be far too orderly for those who inhabited the southern, volcanic lands. The people of Cinis Lumen lived fearlessly among threatening mountains where their magic of ash and stars was found within the heart of the black rocks. Medulla did not favor the Cinis Lumen Realm much. Passion, a common character trait among those in Cinis Lumen, often led to violence which could destroy the system of society.
The Imber Fel Realm was closest to Medulla in terms of values. They too desired a prosperous realm. Imber Fel was a peaceful people group known to follow their hearts and trust their intuitions.
Cam had never met anyone from Gnosi or Imber Fel. She had become acquainted with a few from Cinis Lumen who came to seek Fiera’s hand in marriage. Fiera refused each and every one of them. Fiera chose the southern realm when she was sixteen, but her mother and father forced her to remain in their home until she was married. Silva and Kazbek heavily disapproved of Fiera’s choice, but there was nothing they could do to reverse it.
Terra, at age sixteen, met her parent’s approval to stay in Medulla and to wait until marriage before leaving home. “Terra was born for Medulla,” Cam had surmised on many occasions. She delighted in helping people keep a constant and working flow to their simple lives, unlike Fiera who was far too free-spirited to fit in among those of the Medulla Realm. She yearned to live her own life, exploring the outlying regions.
Considering the choices her sisters had made, Cam wondered what her parents would think of her choice. She did not know yet what she would choose. She knew if she stayed in the Medulla Realm her parents would be pleased. On the other hand, she considered departing with Fiera to Cinis Lumen. She could foresee Adria choosing Imber Fel. Mista’s independent spirit was much like those of Gnosi, the realm Silva and Kazbek outwardly disliked the most. But for some reason, they also seemed to favor Mista above the rest of their children. Perhaps this was due to the fact that Mista was the youngest in the family. Cam knew that what she would choose would become an example to her younger sisters and would determine the rest of her own life.
“At least I have a year to decide,” she thought.
In the midst of her contemplation, her attention was suddenly drawn to Kazbek when he said, “Camaria, take this.” His tone was pleasant and warm as he handed her a small box. With the feeling of weight on her palms, Cam smiled.
She withdrew the familiar necklace, a stone on a chain that everyone above the age of sixteen wore in Mirabelle. In the middle of the necklace was an empty hole in which the jewel representing the realm she would join would be placed. Terra, Silva, Kazbek, and Grandfather’s necklaces each had a shining emerald. Fiera’s was to be a dazzling ruby after she could venture to the Cinis Lumen Realm and complete training. Cam visualized the blue sapphire hanging from Adria’s white neck in her mind’s eye, drawing attention to her blue eyes and golden hair. Cam favored Gnosi’s jewel above the other three, for it was a shimmering diamond.
“Camaria, you must be very careful with this necklace particularly when you have your jewel and have mastered your power,” Silva informed her. The favored aspect of turning sixteen was that each child, after choosing their realm was permitted to begin learning how to bend their element, a wonderful power they could use at any time within the Realm’s boundaries of magic.
Cam supposed that Terra noticed her expression and knew she was in deep thought. “Have no worries Cam. Choosing isn’t as burdensome as it seems.”
“That I know for certain” Fiera dryly interrupted.
“Fiera, remove your elbows from the table” ordered Silva sharply. Fiera reluctantly dropped her arms to her sides.
“I can’t wait until I’m sixteen,” said Mista dreamily.
“I’m sure the people of Gnosi would be honored to have you,” remarked Fiera. Mista made no comeback, for they knew she was intrigued by the northern realm.
“My dear girls,” said Grandfather in a resonating, cheerful voice. “It will all depend on what you value you most.” His twinkling eyes turned to Cam. “That is what you must decide.”
Cam’s dark curls surrounded her fingers as she twisted it up into an elegant bun behind her head. She left a few curls around her face. Her dress was a bright shade of emerald green. Terra made it for her months ago in preparation for her birthday. It was adorned with black lace. She wore black gloves and emerald earrings. She decided to leave her necklace in its box for the evening. It did not look right with the outfit, not without a jewel in it yet. Cam smiled at her reflection in the mirror.
She could hear the strumming of strings and musical instruments below her, for the musicians were tuning. She drew in a deep breath and straightened her posture. The most renowned people from the villages were already arriving. She could hear the distinct chattering below her.
This was to be a whimsical evening.
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