“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.