If truth gave a freedom that could destroy all you've ever known, would it be better to live shackled to a lie? When the kingdom of Othrinia was split down the middle at the hands of feuding twin kings, leaving Othrinians scattered and the new land of Veodue secluded in desolation, these two lands, worlds apart, became the epitome of light and darkness. Raenah Brookshire is not a typical Othrinian young woman. She yearns for adventure and chases danger with a passionate drive that is unmatched by the people of her village, Farreloch. It would seem as though her life is rich with possibilities, but she has no idea just how far they’ll take her. A mystery of her birth is uncovered by sheer chance that leaves her reeling in shock and betrayal. The key to who she is lies in the hands of a dark Veoden stranger who begins to plague her dreams. He has the answers to her undying questions, but refuses to offer them without a price. Caught between the life she knows and a passion more rich than the darkness before the dawn, Raenah must decide herown fate.
The rising mist curls upward from the Hallowed Oaks into a crystal clear sky. Such a dark place looks so unthreatening in the bright afternoon sun that I find myself riding closer to see if anything about it has changed. From here, I can’t tell.
The circular grove of trees is impenetrable by the naked eye, due to the denseness of the foliage and the mist that seeps between the trunks to veil its depths. This place is believed to be sacred, and legend says that if one seeks to find himself, the Pool of Reflection is where one may make a self-discovery.
According to that legend, the mist is heavily laden with the souls of those who sought answers but didn’t make it past the strangling vines and creatures that emit a weeping sound until closing in on their victim. They weep with loneliness, yet kill because they know no other way. This shadowy nook of our land is a piece of Veodue—the only place we know of that stands in Othrinia. The last time I was here, I was disappointed by the Pool. It had no answers to ease my restless spirit. I haven’t felt content for months, while everyone around me moves on with their lives. Gavin and Mother, even in their grief, are content with hope for the future. So why, then, do I feel so lost?
I have to know.
I remove Gafian’s bridle and pat his neck, touching my dagger as my feet tread lightly toward the mist that reaches out from the trees. The closer I come, the damper the soil is. The first beads of moist air touch my skin with a cold sensation that seeps to my bones. I think the legend must be true, because by the time the sun is blotted out, I feel as though hands are brushing against my clothes. I pause when I notice a moist handprint on my thigh. With a deep breath, I press onward.
My spine grows rigid at the sound of weeping. Silence follows, like the pause someone takes before they speak. Movement catches my eye, my vision focusing on the swaying two-legged creature with solid black eyes. It sinks behind a tree, then looks at me from the other side. Six-fingered hands with broken claws wrap around the trunk. He, at least I think it’s a he, is no taller than my waist. He looks sickly—like he hasn’t eaten in months.
I unsheathe my dagger halfway, then replace it when his eyelids narrow to slits. The muted sunlight creates a wet gleam on the creature’s sallow skin, pulled taut over his protruding ribs and cheekbones which wrinkle when he bares his teeth to me. Pointed they are, and they drip with a foul colored foam. I take my hand away from my dagger. “I won’t hurt you,” I say, as if speaking to a timid horse. He curls his lips back to utter another wail, then shrinks back into the shadows until I can see him no more. I press forward again, glancing behind me to make sure I am not being followed.
Only once I am a safe distance from the weeping do I begin slashing through the vines that move on their own accord. They reach at a sluggish pace, seemingly intending to strangle me before I notice their intent. I step over fallen logs and avoid moss covered stones to maintain my balance, thankful when I am free of the foliage that has far more of a mind of its own than it should.
The glassy surface of the pool glints with the only streaks of sunlight that reach through the haze. I crouch at the water’s edge and tilt my head downward to observe my face. Last time I was here, nothing happened. No grand revelation of my future; no clarification of my wild tendencies. I left disappointed and bleeding from my calf where something, I’m not sure what, sank its teeth into me. I never saw the creature, but it wasn’t like the one I witnessed moments ago. It gave me a nasty infection, but nothing that couldn’t be healed with a concoction of Father’s herbs—in secret, of course. I couldn’t tell anyone where I’d been.
I sigh when nothing appears in my reflection, wondering if I’m going about it all wrong. Perhaps I should have brought an offering of some sort, though nothing like that was mentioned in the stories told in my village. I trail a finger across the glassy surface to disrupt it. A strange sound begins to build as the ripples reach outward, until a shriek pierces the air. I fall away from the noise. The angry cry echoes through my eardrums even as I clap my palms over them until the water returns to normal. Clearly, I’ve disturbed it somehow other than physically. I inch forward until I’m on my hands and knees with my face hovering over the inky surface.
“S-Sorry,” I utter stupidly, feeling foolish for speaking to a pond. But nothing in the Oaks is typical, so my apology doesn’t feel typical either. I lie flat on my stomach with my cheek propped on my palm, gazing into nature’s mirror for any sign of life. I puff air between my lips to blow a lock of hair out of my face, nearly falling forward into the water when a flash of color reflects before me. It’s like fire, flickering all around my reflection, but when I turn my head, nothing is there. I return my gaze to the pool and watch it closely. Perhaps this is the moment of truth, I think.
I rub my face and then push my hands into my hair, disheartened. Fire? What was that supposed to mean? I rise to my feet to brush the moistened earth from the front of my clothing, turning to leave the way I came.
Father once said, “Only a hidden darkness of the heart will protect a soul in the Hallowed Oaks, because purity is too easily corrupted.”
I can’t help but wonder what this means for me.
Adwen is an Oregon native, born and raised in the mountains. She currently resides in Oklahoma with her husband and three cats, where she devotes the majority of her time to writing and photography.