An onyx blur divided the light. The atmosphere appeared to shimmer as the ebon blade cut through the air; the afterimage of shadow seemed to tear at the very fabric of the world.
As black as the void between stars, Orakio's sword was the stuff of Orakian legend and Layan nightmares. A millennium under Landen's sea had done nothing to dull its edge, let alone rust the metal. Adan stared at the ancient weapon. The long blade was slightly curved and sharp on one side. The hilt was long enough for two-handed use and the guard connected to the pommel through a curved loop of protective metal. The black sword projected a killing edge unmatched by anything else in myth or history. It truly was the only weapon suitable for his godlike ancestor.
Adan wished he had never pulled the damned thing out of its watery grave.
The young Orakian prince closed his eyes and reached out with his mind. Nothing. A vicious slash cut through the last of the intact wooden pells, but Adan paid no mind as the thick, heavy device toppled to the floor. He snarled as he shoved the wretched sword into its hasty scabbard and stormed out of the training room.
He should have listened. Gwyn had warned him. She had told him it was dangerous. He could count on the fingers of one hand how often her feelings had been wrong. Regardless of her warning, he had gone ahead and freed Orakio's sword from the underwater temple it had slept in since the Devastation War centuries ago. He had been a fool not to question why Rulakir had known where the blade rested.
The moment his ancestor's weapon was released from its pedestal, the darkness came alive with evil. Wren's light faded as the shadow grew in malevolence. Black fog had impossibly filled the sunken building, something his mind even now could not understand. Even though the mask he had worn was supposed to supply enough air for him to survive underwater, he had been unable to breathe. An invisible fist had grasped his lungs and suffocated him. Every gasp for air came from a distance as terror overwhelmed him. What lingering warmth from Landen's sun had accompanied them into the depths had vanished as tiny spheres of ice appeared and melted in the water.
The black fog roiled as a hideous face manifested in the darkness. A hollow skull more grotesque than any Layan monster stared at him. Long, serrated fangs replaced upper and lower canines as twin red fires burned in the hollows where eyes would have been. Adan knew that face, the detritus of every nightmare he had ever had as a child. His twin had insisted it had been the face of true evil, but he had dismissed those claims. How foolish of him!
Instinct screamed at Adan to flee, to rip off the air mask and drown, to do anything to escape. His hand had tightened its grip on his ancestor's sword. Stubborn pride compelled him to stand his ground. Orakio and Aunt Laya had faced this demon alone. He would do no less than they, no matter the consequences.
Sound should not have carried underwater, but that was not an obstacle to the malevolent entity before him. "At last I am free of my vile bonds! Tremble, fools, for I roam the worlds again! Other matters await me, but we will meet again!"
The impossible black fog receded. The presence of evil had withdrawn. Wren's light once again cut through the underwater gloom. The vile demon gone, Adan finally heard Gwyn's screams.
A new fear churned in his stomach as he turned his body around in the water and looked at his twin. He stared in confusion as Gwyn clawed at her face, her howls filling his ears via the communication device in the breathing apparatus. In slowly dawning horror, he realized that in her terrified frenzy, his twin was trying to rip her breath mask off, the only thing that kept her alive under Landen's sea. Adan abandoned any notion of grace when he realized his sister was trying to kill herself, and had desperately flailed through the murky waters to reach her in time.
His desperate movements to reach Gwyn paled in comparison to her own efforts to rid herself of her breath mask. When he tried to use his free hand to restrain her, his sister kicked him in the stomach. The blow was substantially softened by the water and gave him the chance to crush Gwyn against his chest. Her arms trapped, his twin thrashed wildly in the water, her screams more intense by the second. He gritted his teeth and held on. It seemed like hours passed before she went limp. Adan assumed Gwyn had fainted and had given Wren orders to take them back to the surface.
He would give his sword arm for his twin to wake up and call him an idiot right about now.
It had taken an agonizingly long eternity to return to the surface. Wren had refused every order to rise faster, insistent that a fast ascent would do Gwyn more harm than good. Adan had ground his teeth the entire trip back up. The ride back to the facility where Kara and Mieu were waiting for them took hours that dragged on like centuries. By the time they reached the port, Gwyn had still not awakened.
Mieu had examined his sister. She had spoken gently to Gwyn, touched her, pinched her. Mieu's diagnosis had not been comforting. "She's responsive to stimuli, but failed the index test. She's comatose."
They had rushed back to Landen to discover worse news: Laya, Queen of Landen, their mother, was also in a coma. His father, King Nial, was mad with grief. His wife and daughter unconscious, and the whole thing seemingly connected to the release of Orakio's sword, Father had blamed him. In a public shouting match in the middle of the court, father and son had screamed accusation and insult at each other, each blaming the other. It had almost come to naked blades but for a fortuitous interruption.
A beloved voice, raised to a stentorian bellow, froze them in their tracks. Old King Rhys, patriarch of the family, respected father and cherished grandfather strode between them. The Treaty of Dahlia had made Father King of Landen, but Grandfather ruled in Satera, hard at work rebuilding the damaged kingdom. Taller than Adan but far shorter than his giant son Nial, the lean old man was well past half a century in age, and just as deadly as he had been in his youth, when he had been called the strongest Orakian warrior.
Rhys' sharp blue eyes had raked them over a slow fire. "I heard my daughter-in-law was in a coma and rush over to be of use, and here I find my boys at each other's throats! What is the matter with you two? Have you lost what little wits you were born with? If I have to, I'll toss you both in the dungeons to cool off!"
Adan had stared at the ground, ashamed. His grandfather had never taken him to task before. Father had attempted to protest, but the old king would have none of it. He had firmly taken them both to the family wing of the keep. Father had attempted to rush to Mother's room, but Queen Lena had stood in his path.
"I know you, Nial," his tiny little grandmother had said, her hands on her hip as she faced down the massive son who easily made two of her. Her voice was firm. "I blame your father for it, but it's still a Sa Riik failing. You are both forbidden from entering Laya's quarters and Gwyn's quarters. Your rages won't do any good in sick rooms."
That had been that. Grandmother and Wren were to stay with Laya while Mieu and Kara were to keep watch over Gwyn. Old King Rhys had taken his son and grandson to Adan's chambers, where the old man had questioned Adan at length. When King Nial heard that Rulakir had told them where Orakio's sword rested, he had been ready to mobilize the entire army to attack Lashute. Adan had been all for it. Grandfather had firmly squashed that.
"Don't be foolish," the old king had growled. "Your kingdom needs you to govern. Your people need you to defend them against the wild monsters and machines roaming the lands. And Laya and Gwyn will need you both when they wake up."
Whatever his kingly words, Adan had seen the training room after his grandfather had used it. What little of the training equipment had survived the old king's wrath had been finished off by his father's rage and his own fury in the succeeding two days.
Staying within his chambers had been unbearable. Fury and shame had made sleep impossible; his own thoughts condemned him for his failure. Adan stalked through the halls of the keep. The servants took one look at him and fled. Guards carefully stared over his head as he marched past and breathed sighs of relief in his wake. The entire castle was within the grips of an oppressive silence. Everyone who lived and worked within walked on eggshells, fearful of the uncharacteristic rage of their usually gentle lords and anxious over the uncertain state of their beloved ladies.
Their avoidance suited Adan, as he had no wish to speak to anyone, not even Kara. It was his fault his mother and sister were in this state. Had he listened to Gwyn, none of this would have happened. He reached out again, trying to feel his twin's presence through the bond they had shared since birth. Nothing.
The dull impact of his fist against the stone wall did nothing to dispel the pain within. His twin was there in body, but her mind was missing. His fault. He stared at his bleeding knuckles as he remembered how pleased he had been when Kara took to walking in the swordsman's blind spot. What a joke. How could anyone count on his protection when he was the one who had put his own sister in harm's way?
He started to head back to the family wing. They had to wake up. A life without his twin was a nightmare far worse than the demon that Orakio's sword had kept sealed.
And when Gwyn did wake up, Adan would make Rulakir pay for his treachery.