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Into the Black
Lake Lotus Park, Florida, 2010
A girl skipped along the boardwalk. Green leaves waved above her head, whispering as the air blew briskly through the arbor above her head. She had pale skin covered in a liberal dusting of freckles, with which she held a love-hate relationship. Almond-shaped brown eyes were set in a round, heart-shaped face framed with long brown hair, currently pulled back behind her head in a braid that went to the middle of her back. They crinkled at the edges as she smiled with delight at the ever-present essence of nature that abounded around her. It was 68ºF that day, though not unusually cold for a winter’s day in Florida, so she wore long blue jeans that flared slighly at the bottom. To keep from getting too hot, she had discarded her jacket, displaying a plain red tank top, her favorite color. She wore a pair of round gold studs in her ears.
Tara Hartridge was happy because of the absense of people around her. Oh joy, to be alone! Gone were the voices of her aunt, Maybel Ridley, and older cousin Rachel, continually criticizing her laid-back style and the fact that she would never smudge her eyeliner. If a side-by-side comparison was made, it would never be said that Tara had overdone her make-up. Gone, too, was Tommy, Rachel’s brother, younger than Tara by over ten years. Uncle Robert was really the only one of her father’s family that she bore without complaint, because they had a mutual love of Star Trek and he could care less about what his niece was wearing, preferring to spoil his son and daughter rotten. If she had to compare her relationship with her father’s family to a similar relationship, Tara’s first pick was Harry Potter and the Dursleys. But their strained relationship wasn’t because of any magical blood, though Tara had wished many times that was true. Truth be told, she wasn’t sure why. She knew that there was some bad blood between her father and his brother, but not what had happened.
While most people would feel sad after prolonged solitude, Tara delighted in it. She loved the nature park, loved the expansiveness that made her feel like she was the only person for miles. As Tara left the shelter of the trees and entered the unshaded portion of the boardwalk that extended over the lake, she squinted her eyes at the sudden sunlight glancing off of the exposed, whitewashed boards and into her face. Her eyes were drawn back to the wood beneath her feet as a black circle appeared out of nowhere, irising into existence about 10ft away.
Curious, Tara moved a little closer. It was as if someone had just cut away the boards, leaving an inky black hole. It glowed purple around the circumference. Although she could hear nothing, she felt a humming vibration that made the hair on her arms stand up, like standing too close to a subwoofer. Tara could see herself faintly reflected in the strange circle. Her eyes narrowed as she mulled over this strange happening.
Suddenly, her reflection rippled, like a rock had been thrown into a pond. Thick tentacles rose up slowly, reaching towards her. A small cry escaped Tara as she ran away, all curiosity gone with the wind. The girl felt ice-cold where the black semiliquid wrapped around her body like ropes, securing her ankles, wrists, and waist. She was lifted off her feet and, still struggling, dragged into the portal! Her yells were cut off as she disappeared into the black. As quickly as it opened, the portal closed, vanishing as completely as the person it had taken. Some joggers who had heard Tara’s cries came into view just as the portal blinked out of existence. They looked at each other, confused. Shrugging, they moved on.
Tara was never seen again. At least, not by anyone who could have known her.
Ryloth, Kingdom of Bhunarza, 26 A.F.
Nico miya Bhunarza may have been only eighteen years old, but his impressive maturity had been what caused him to become a knight before the majority of his classmates. His classmates had been jealous, but knew him too much to be too angry – most of them, anyways.
As Nico ran up the long stairway of the famed Lighthouse of Ryloth, he felt bad abandoning his friends to the attacking Nillian army, but his sense of duty won out every time, a little voice in his head telling him to keep his eyes in front of his feet. He had not become one of the youngest members of the Knights of the Sacred Flame, a holy order of fighters that protected sacred sights within the realm of Bhunarza, just to be disciplined for a lack of that on his first official mission!
He also hadn’t become a knight to watch Bhunarza fall, but that was another thing entirely. He was racing to the top of the Lighthouse so that he could better protect the Eternal Flame that burned atop the structure. It was not only a lighthouse, but a shrine to the gods of thousands of people. Should the lighthouse fall and the Eternal Flame perish, so would his beloved country.
Nico finally reached the top of the stairs and, thus, the Eternal Flame. A large bonfire in a marble firepit, the shrine was not only a navigational beacon warning of rocky shoals, but also a beacon of spiritual guidance. Evidence of this could be found closer up, in the gold statues facing each point of the compass, and the incense pots abandoned at the feet of the statues.
Briefly, Nico’s breath was taken away at the sight of one of Bhunarza’s most holy places, and the boy felt the inescapable sense of tresspass widen, like he was being watched. Perhaps that was why he felt the hair on his neck stand up? His friend Baird fa Toren had always teased him for being cautious, which Baird viewed as paranoia more often than not. Taking off his helmet in respect to the deities made him feel a little better.
Without warning, fingers of ice wrapped around Nico’s body from behind, crushing his legs and arms in his light armor. Nico was pulled into the floor so quickly he dropped his sword.
Nillia did not take Ryloth, the ancient capitol of Bhunarza, that day. But when Master Yun, the man who had sent Nico back, made the announcement that the young knight had disappeared, celebration turned to mourning.
Only one breed of person had the honorific title of “miya.” For Nico miya Bhunarza was the son of none other than Ignis, King of Bhunarza, the largest nation in the region of Sarkellia!