(“Enlightenment” appeared in Alcyone: Speculative Fiction and Poetry: Issue IV.)
by Mandi Jourdan
“This way, Lady Celesta.”
Eurydice nodded. She moved alongside the members of the Imperial Guard who had accompanied her to Talio, the center of commerce within her family’s planetary sector. On either side, sleek, metallic ships curved upward to the ceiling of the hangar far above where the party walked. The hangar dominated five floors of Cor-Chrysos, the palace that housed the Council of Enlightenment. For the first time since the Council had shifted its power to Eurydice’s generation and she had risen to the head of her bloodline, she’d had opportunity to act as a diplomat and oversee the governance of her territories. Now that she had returned to Serenity, her homeworld, she felt more like a member of her people’s governing body than she had when she’d left.
On her right, from beneath the boarding ramp of one of the Imperium’s immense golden warships, emerged a boy who looked roughly her age. His pale eyes were wide with what seemed like panic, and he wore a black bodysuit too thin to be considered substantial armor. His hair was dark, his face familiar. He held up his hands, evidently trying to show the group he meant no harm.
All around Eurydice, her guards halted in their path, raising swords to him.
Her throat went dry. She raised a brow and open her mouth to order the guards to stand down—the boy was unarmed.
“I sincerely apologize if I’ve startled you, madam,” the boy began before Eurydice could speak. “I simply heard your name and wanted to ask you whether you know someone by the name of Meira. She looks just like—”
A pair of guards broke ranks and charged for the boy, grabbing him by the arms and dragging him toward the back of the hangar.
“I’m sorry,” he called, his eyes not leaving Eurydice’s even as he was pulled away from her. “I just wondered if you know my—”
One of the guards hit him in the back of the head with the pommel of her sword, and the boy crumpled. The guards dragged him out of sight. Eurydice’s palms tingled, and she barely registered the voices surrounding her as she watched the spot where he’d disappeared.
His what? she wondered silently. What relationship could he have had to her mother? Meira had been dead for over sixteen cycles, and the boy hadn’t looked older than Eurydice’s seventeen—eighteen, in a few days.
Eurydice tried not to think about how much the boy had looked like Maxim Avior.
She stared at the portrait of her mother on the living room wall—at the same green eyes she’d seen in her own reflection all her life, the regal dignity the image exuded, and the golden hair she knew had been dyed from red when her mother had been chosen to lead their people.
“Her Majesty, Enlightened One Meira Celesta,” read the plate beneath her mother’s portrait. “Head of the Council and Lady of the Imperium of Serenity and its Territories.”
Meira had been universally loved by her people. Stories were still told of her bravery in the face of the Darktide, of her willingness to stand against evil and banish the greatest threat the Imperium had ever known.
Eurydice had never known her mother as the Enlightened One. She hadn’t even known her as Mother. Whoever had stolen into their quarters and left Meira dead on the floor during her daughter’s infancy had seen to that. With a sigh, Eurydice turned away and paced the floor of her living room. Outside, dusk had come; Serenity’s two suns provided light in alternation, and the planet had never been darker than the orange glow now lighting the room.
It had, though, seen a different kind of darkness.
Her gaze flicked to the portrait once more. The boy in the hangar had known of her mother, even though he couldn’t have been from Serenity. Whatever material had composed his suit, it had been unlike anything she had ever seen. She was accustomed to metal armor in gold or silver, depending on the wearer’s rank. Her own was gold, her family’s symbol—a “C” ringing three planets—etched into its chest.
At the sound of voices approaching from behind her, she turned toward the corridor outside her quarters. The wall shifted and split, opening enough to allow her father to pass through and to give her a glimpse of the sentry waiting outside before the wall sealed again. Her father wore the golden uniform of the Imperial Guard. His white cloak and the silver symbol at his lapel—the “E” with twelve small circles at its center that signified the Enlightened One—marked him as the Guard’s captain. Dark crescents framed his eyes, giving him the look of someone who hadn’t slept in weeks.
“What’s wrong?” Eurydice asked, frowning.
With a heavy sigh, her father settled onto the sofa, rubbing his temple.
“I don’t begin to know how to tell you,” he said.
As far as she knew, the Imperium was in no immediate danger; there hadn’t been a conflict with another governing body in over ten cycles, and aside from minor squabbles between planetary systems within the Imperium’s borders, its people were at peace. The only thing out of the ordinary had been the dark-clothed boy who had attempted to speak with Eurydice before being dragged away by the Imperial Guard.
“Is this about what happened in the hangar?” she asked as she sat down beside her father.
His posture radiated tension, and at her words, his jaw clenched. Eurydice’s hands felt suddenly clammy, and she fiddled with the white cloth of her skirt in an attempt to keep herself calm. She had never seen him this uneasy. Symon Celesta had always been the picture of composure and strength under pressure, even when the corsaira had invaded the Niverian Sector in a bid to overtake it. The worst he’d shown then had been frustration at being dragged away from his daughter’s birthday celebration to advise the Serene forces. He’d cursed for the first time in Eurydice’s memory, then, but he’d still recovered himself quickly.
Whatever had transpired today had shaken him to his core. He inhaled deeply, and Eurydice ignored how quickly her heart was pounding.
“That boy in the hangar was your brother.”
She stared at him, frozen. She couldn’t have heard him properly.
“I wish I knew a better way to tell you, Eury. He’s your brother.”
Her throat went dry, her body cold. Her father had barely mentioned him over the past seventeen cycles, but she knew she’d had a brother, once. According to everything she had been told, her brother had been killed as an infant, on the same night as their mother. Questions flooded her mind—Where had he been? Why had they never met? Was he still in Cor-Chrysos?—but she could manage only one word.
“I lied to you. And to myself.” Her father closed his eyes, and he seemed to deflate where he sat. “I never found Kadmus when I—when I found your mother.” He swallowed. “I had no idea who would’ve wanted her dead or who would’ve had the ability to break into the Enlightened One’s quarters. Into here.”
He gestured to the room around him, and Eurydice’s stomach turned. She tried never to think about the fact that her mother had been murdered in the ancestral quarters of the Celesta family, which had passed on to Eurydice herself with her promotion to the Council. She vaguely recalled a dark stain in the white carpet between the sofa and the balcony, but she told herself she couldn’t possibly remember something from when she’d been so young. Perhaps her mind had attempted to fill in the gaps in the story of her mother’s death.
“It was easier to think he was at peace with her than that he’d been stolen,” Symon continued. “That he could be suffering somewhere, enduring things I couldn’t imagine.”
“Where was he?” asked Eurydice, forcing the words past the tightness of her throat.
“With Maxim Avior.”
Eurydice sprang to her feet and began to pace, her heart roaring in her ears. “That’s not possible,” she muttered.
Each time she sat in the throne room, eleven seats were filled by members of the Council. The twelfth chair was always left empty, a symbol to the Imperium of what became of traitors. Maxim had served on the Council with Meira—he had been her predecessor as the Enlightened One. She had come to power after exposing him as the vessel of the Darktide.
“The boy—Kadmus—called Maxim his father, when I spoke with him. He didn’t know what had become of your mother. He was here looking for her when he saw you.”
Eurydice paused in her pacing and studied her father’s face as he stared at the floor. There was a redness to his eyes she hadn’t noticed, and he’d struggled to call the boy by her brother’s name. He clearly believed the story he’d heard from Kadmus, no matter how difficult it was for him to reconcile with the version of events he remembered.
Kadmus called Maxim his father.
The words circled through Eurydice’s mind, taunting her. When she’d seen Kadmus in the hangar, he’d looked familiar. Most images of Maxim Avior had been stripped from the walls of the palace since his banishment, but a few still lingered in less-trafficked areas. Eurydice knew what Maxim looked like. His hair had been a dark shade of brown before he’d become the Enlightened One, when it had been dyed the same gold as every other person to hold the position. He’d been pale with blue eyes and a square jaw, just like Kadmus.
But it’s impossible, she told herself. There’s absolutely no way.
“Do we know where he went?” she asked quietly. Her stomach was churning, and she focused on keeping her breathing even.
Her father looked up at last, frowning as he met her gaze.
“He went back. I know what you must be thinking, Eury, but it won’t—”
“I’ve wanted to know my brother all my life. If this is actually him, it might be the only chance I’ll have.”
Her father lowered his head into his hand. “Do you know what you’re asking of me?”
She did. If the story Kadmus had told him was accurate, Eurydice was asking her father to admit that he had no right to call himself that. She nodded slowly.
“No matter what happens, Father, nothing will change between us. I swear. I just… I can’t live with myself if I don’t at least try to find Kadmus.”
Pulling in a deep breath, her father stood. “I’ll go with you.”
The sky was black outside the Praesa, the ship designated to carry Eurydice, Symon, and a handful of members of the Imperial Guard. The Serenes had always believed the Void was a death sentence; Maxim Avior and the inhabitants of his territories had been banished here in order to ensure that the darkness possessing Maxim did not spread. Eurydice had half-expected not to survive the trip through the wormhole that had led her retinue here. Part of her still believed she had been tricked. Instead, her ship had not only survived but had broken the atmosphere of a planet as dark as the clouds above it, lit only by a distant red sun and jagged bolts of crimson light cracking through the air.
The sight reminded her of the stories she’d heard as a child, clustered around her tutors with the other children who would one day form the Council. She’d heard about the Darktide—the primal, insatiable force of destruction that had once all but destroyed her homeworld and plunged it into an unending night. Eurydice remembered the hours spent staring at her bedroom ceiling, unwilling to close her eyes, as she’d thought about how the Darktide had been cast into the center of the planet only to regain its strength and take Maxim Avior as its host shortly before her birth, guiding his hands to kill. He’d murdered a Council member and Meira’s advisor, and Eurydice had no idea whether he had stopped there.
Aside from the tales used to instill fear of the Darktide into her heart and those of her peers, Maxim was spoken of very little on Serenity. It was as though the entire planet—perhaps the entire Imperium—wanted to erase him from its collective memory.
“Are you ready?”
Eurydice blinked and looked away from the floor-length window and to her father, who stood beside her, his lips pressed into a thin line. Beneath his cloak, she could see the hilt of the sword at his belt. She had no idea how Maxim’s people had developed over the cycles since their banishment, and she wondered whether such a weapon would benefit her father, if he were to follow her to speak with Kadmus and they were ambushed. She had nearly left her own blade on Serenity, but at her father’s warnings that she was far too trusting, she had brought it. Still, she didn’t plan to remove it from its sheath at her hip. She had, though, allowed him to persuade her to wear armor. The metallic golden suit was a drastic change from the long gowns she was accustomed to; she’d only ever worn her armor during training simulations, and she hoped no one noticed how uncomfortable she was in it as she followed her father off the bridge.
She felt the lurch of the Praesa’s landing as they reached the ship’s hangar, and she glanced over the small, pointed fighter vessels docked on either side of where she stood, awaiting use. Their batteries were far more advanced than the swords she and her father carried, but she doubted there would be time to return here and board one, if things went poorly.
Behind her, footsteps thundered down the corridor, and she turned to find six members of the Imperial Guard filing into the hangar.
“The atmosphere is viable for supporting Serene life, sir,” one of the guards told her father, who nodded and squared his shoulders. “We’ve run multiple tests to confirm it”
“Let’s get this over with,” Symon mumbled as the ramp to the ground outside began to lower.
The group moved past the lines of silver fighters and toward the ramp. Eurydice’s fingernails bit into her palms. She couldn’t allow anyone to see that she was terrified of what they might find. She pulled in a slow, deep breath and followed her father down the ramp and onto the planet’s dark, metallic surface.
Immediately, the ground stretched and split, holes opening to reveal subterranean tunnels from which a small battalion of soldiers emerged. Their armor was the same polished black as the ground beneath them, and rough-hewn red gems were set into their breastplates in different arrangements Eurydice surmised signified rank. Behind them, she caught sight of what looked like a palace. It was comprised of spike-like projections surrounding a central tower, which disappeared from view within seconds as the soldiers closed ranks around the group of Serenes. Eurydice swallowed and rolled her shoulders backward, determined to look composed.
“State your business,” said one of the dark-suited men, his hand on a sword at his belt. His face was hidden behind a helmet, his eyes partially visible beyond a red crystalline panel. His focus was locked on Eurydice, and his posture was rigid but not entirely threatening.
“We’ve come to speak with Kadmus Avior.”
Eurydice did not look toward her father at the sound of his voice, but she heard a slight quiver in his tone. She didn’t know whether it was due more to the entourage surrounding them or the idea of ‘Avior’ following Kadmus’s name.
The soldier who had spoken paused. “With us,” he said at last. When the members of the Imperial Guard started tentatively forward, he shook his head. “Only her.” He nodded to Eurydice.
“Absolutely not,” said Symon.
“Stay here,” said Eurydice firmly, brushing past the members of her guard. Her father caught her wrist as she passed, his eyes imploring.
“Please. Don’t go with them.”
“If what Kadmus said is true,” she muttered, “they won’t harm me.”
He released her wrist with a longsuffering sigh, and she followed the black-clad soldiers toward the palace.
The throne room was immense, arched, and cold. The heavy metal door closed behind Eurydice with a low thud that resonated through the air around her. The guards had waited outside, and she was alone. She eyed the empty throne at the room’s head and she examined the red crystals set into the walls in the patterns of what looked like constellations. The stones glowed in the light of the lamps hanging from the ceiling, and among their formations, she recognized a map of the Imperium’s planets.
Footsteps drew her attention, and she swallowed, turning again toward the head of the room.
Maxim Avior halted beside his high-backed throne, his eyes wide and his mouth half-open as though he’d seen something far more terrifying than Eurydice standing in her place. Slowly, she made her way toward him, reminding herself that her people were nearby and that if something went wrong, she only had to get to her ship.
“You look exactly like her.”
The softness of his tone gave her pause, and she studied his face. His eyes were pale blue, his hair the same dark brown it had been before he’d become the Enlightened One. Though she had been raised to fear him, to believe he was the vessel of the greatest evil her world had ever known, she saw only pain and sadness in his eyes that suggested he might shatter at any second. She couldn’t bring herself to fear him.
Still, she had no idea what to say. She stood silently, a lump welling in her throat, and waited for him to speak again. He opened his mouth and shut it with a shake of his head.
“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I can’t do this.”
“I’ll send Kadmus. And I’ll return, I just… I need a few moments.”
Without another word, Maxim turned and departed through a hole in the back wall that sealed behind him, and Eurydice fidgeted on her feet. She scanned the empty room, idly wondering what the palace was made of and how long it had been standing. Had Maxim constructed it upon his arrival, or had another race colonized the planet earlier? Perhaps the Serenes were the only ones who had been blind enough to suppose that such a dark place could not support life.
The wall split once more, and Kadmus hurried through it, looking mildly panicked. He ran a hand through his dark hair and seemed to struggle to keep his focus on Eurydice, as his gaze darted to the floor every few seconds.
“You’re… actually here.” He paused. “I’m glad you came.”
“I needed to know,” she said.
“Sorry I couldn’t speak with you on Serenity.” At last, his attention settled on her, and he edged forward, apparently trying to give her time to draw back. When she held perfectly still, he hugged her gently, and she allowed herself to relax. She wrapped her arms around him in a careful embrace. “There’s something Father—there’s something he wants me to show you.”
Eurydice nodded, trying to hold back all signs of her unease. Kadmus led her through the lamp-lit halls, over metallic floors and through gaps that opened in walls to allow them to pass. Though the palace’s structure was similar to Cor-Chrysos, with its arched hallways and polished surfaces, this place was strange. The darkness set Eurydice’s mind on edge. Still, she couldn’t deny that the building was beautiful.
Kadmus led her into a small study. Books lined at least ten ceiling-high shelves, and a fireplace sat dormant beside a pair of tall-backed chairs. Kadmus moved for an immense red crystal dominating the desk to the right of where Eurydice stood, and he gestured for her to follow.
“He made it,” he said as she paused at his side.
“What is it?”
“I need you to try to trust me, please. And trust that nothing you’re about to see can hurt you.”
She raised a brow. “What are you talking about?”
“Isn’t it true that the scepter passed from one Enlightened One to the next holds a connection to the memories of its bearers?” When she nodded, he continued. “This works somewhat similarly, but Father has transferred his own memories into it. He wants you to see what happened for yourself.”
“Give me your hand, please.”
She did so, and he laid it on the crystal’s smooth, cold surface.
“Close your eyes and clear your mind,” Kadmus instructed.
Eurydice drew in a long breath that trembled just a bit and did as she was told.
An instant later, she felt her mind being pulled toward the crystal. Emptiness swept over her—she no longer felt her body standing in the study or the icy touch of the gem. Then, as quickly as the emptiness had come, she was overwhelmed by a blend of fury and despair.
“Why?” Maxim’s throat was constricted with pain, the word hard to push past his lips.
Meira turned so quickly that her motion knocked the glass on the table beside her to the floor. Maxim vaguely registered the sound of it shattering, but he kept his eyes on Meira’s and struggled not to falter at the sight of her shock. He could only imagine how foreign he must look to her, now that the black clothing of his people’s new makeshift culture had replaced the bright metallic hues he’d worn as the Enlightened One. She, on the other hand, was exactly as he remembered her, apart from the golden hair that told him she had stolen his throne.
He was unprepared for her to vault across the space between them and throw herself into his arms. The familiar feeling of her face nuzzling into his shoulder nearly broke him, and it took every bit of strength he possessed not to embrace her as her arms wound around his neck.
“Why did you do it?” He fought to keep his voice flat, but he couldn’t stop a small portion of his pain from seeping into his tone. “I’ve thought about it a million times, and I can’t make sense of it.”
“I didn’t have a choice,” she said softly. “Maxim, I never wanted to hurt you, I—”
“What do you mean, you didn’t have a choice?” More anger dripped into each word, and he fought to keep his gaze hard when she lifted her head to meet his eyes. “You told them I killed Aalok! You told the Council to banish me to the Void, to give me a death sentence by exile! I thought I was going to die, when my ship reached the Void—thought all the people of my territories, who you decided should share in my punishment just for their allegiance to me—were going to die! And by some miracle, by the grace of the Protector, we survived. But every second of every day for the last two cycles, I’ve gone over it in my mind, trying to understand where we went wrong. I can’t find it. We were in love, Meira! Or, at least, I loved you.”
“Loved?” Her voice cracked on the word.
“Loved—love—what does it matter?” He shrugged out of her grasp and took a step back, throwing up his hands. “What does it change? Because you clearly don’t love me.”
She closed the distance between them, gripped both sides of his face to pull it down to hers, and kissed him hard. He resisted for as long as he could, trying not to let himself surrender to the soft warmth of her lips against his, but at last, he broke. He rested his hand against her back and returned the kiss. Eventually, Meira pulled back just enough to speak.
“I have always loved you, and I always will. I would rather die than see you in pain.”
Maxim abandoned his attempts to sound angry and allowed his desperation to the surface. He did his best not to think about the fact that her lips were still only a hair’s breadth from his own.
“What was I supposed to think?” he asked. “Make me understand.”
Slowly, he trailed his fingers along her cheek. His mind screamed at him to run from her, but he craved the touch of her skin. He kept his eyes on hers for several moments, and when his gaze shifted to the tears he felt on his fingertips, he was certain his heart stopped.
Her tears were black.
No. It’s impossible.
Try as he might to deny what he saw, part of him had suspected it from the beginning.
It was never her. Meira would have never betrayed me.
The Darktide had stolen her body, had guided her hands when they’d driven Maxim’s blade through Aalok Lychinus.
“It didn’t give me a choice,” she said, her voice barely a whisper.
Eurydice pulled back, gasping for breath. The fear that Maxim had felt now constricted her chest, and she looked around wildly, struggling to remember where she was. A smooth red crystal. Shelves weighed down with books.
“You’re not really there,” said Kadmus, moving toward her swiftly and squeezing her arm. “Breathe.”
Eurydice closed her eyes and forced in a steady breath, willing her pulse to slow.
“That can’t have been real,” she whispered. She refused to believe it. There was no way her mother could have been the true vessel of the Darktide.
“There’s more you need to see,” said Kadmus gently. “Please.”
Opening her eyes, she studied him. He seemed to be a moment from tears, doing his best to hold them back.
“How long have you known all this?” she asked.
“Just a few days. Father never told me anything about her. He only said he’d been falsely accused of terrible crimes, and that was why we were sent here. I… ‘borrowed’ a ship and went to see if I could find her, and that’s when I saw you. He finally told me everything when I came home.”
At least I’m not dealing with this alone, thought Eurydice. If Kadmus has had to handle it all at once, I owe it to him to try to understand.
Steeling herself to what she would find, she replaced her hand on the crystal.
Meira pulled in a long, shaky breath. Her eyes were distant and pained. “I’m not alive, not really. Watching it do these evil things with my body, watching it kill…” She shook her head quickly. “But it’s tied to me. When I’m ill, it’s weaker; I can feel it. I’ve been trying to keep it weak by taking small amounts of neutreum—”
“You’re poisoning yourself?” Maxim demanded. “That’s insane! Meira, there has to be another way to—”
“How? Tell me, and I’ll do it. I’ll do anything. But I need to stop it before it hurts anyone else! You don’t understand, I—”
A cry sounded from the next room. A child, as certainly as Maxim was breathing.
He stared at Meira, unable to ask the question but certain she would understand what he needed to know.
She sighed. “Yours.”
He felt a smile creeping onto his lips as his pulse pounded in his ears. He had a child? The fury that had been building within him for the past two cycles was ebbing away to be replaced by horror at what he’d missed and love for Meira and joy at the thought that they could raise a son or daughter together.
In the next moment, however, she doubled over, clinging to her knees.
Maxim’s heart plummeted as he watched her stand to her full height, her irises black and the smirk on her lips full of more malice than he’d ever imagined she could feel.
“Leave her!” he snarled, gripping her shoulders and wishing that he could rip the dark entity from her with his bare hands. “Release her!”
“She’s dead,” said the Darktide in Meira’s voice.
“That’s a lie! Meira, come back to me, please. You can fight this.”
“She’s not strong enough. Didn’t you listen? She’ll serve me until I’m through with her, and then she’ll burn with the rest of them.”
Maxim’s grip on her shoulders tightened, and his words died in his throat. He couldn’t allow this. He had to free her. But how? How could he possibly strip the Darktide from her? His telepathy was no match for something so powerful and malevolent.
“Maxim, listen to me.”
Meira’s eyes were wild, desperate, but they were hers again. Her green irises had returned. Her lip trembled, and her hands clenched into fists and unclenched again every few seconds. He hesitated, watching her carefully, his breathing heavy. He wanted more than anything to believe that Meira had broken through the Darktide’s hold, but he couldn’t be certain.
“Is it really you?” He laid his hands on her cheeks, his thumbs caressing her skin.
“Yes. You have to trust me, all right? Trust me. For everything we had, everything I threw away.”
“It wasn’t your fault,” he said, keeping his eyes on hers and ignoring the black tears he saw sliding down his hands in his periphery.
“Maxim, you have to kill me.”
Eurydice pulled backward, her mind reeling and her breath unsteady. She caught her balance by leaning heavily against the table, and she barely processed Kadmus’s hand on her shoulder.
“What the hell?” she breathed. Despite her rapid pulse, her body had gone numb. Her mind had reached the end of its ability to process new information.
She wanted to die? Asked him to… to kill her?
Kadmus guided her to one of the high-backed chairs and sat down across from her. She studied his face for a sign that what he had shown her was a trick, but the set of his lips was solemn.
“Did he do it?” The words burned her throat. She couldn’t reconcile what she’d seen with the stories she’d heard, but she knew beyond reason that Maxim’s memory and the feelings he’d held for her mother had been genuine.
“Yes,” Kadmus said quietly. “He killed her. She begged him to, Eurydice. She was afraid she was a danger to you. To me. She thought she was protecting us.”
“Why did he take you with him? Why did he leave me there?”
Kadmus closed his eyes. “He didn’t know about you until I told him I’d seen you on Serenity.” When he looked at her again, his expression was filled with remorse. “Symon said he’d taken you with him on his rounds with the Imperial Guard because you were having trouble sleeping. We were already gone, when he came back. Father swore to our mother as she was dying that he would take care of me. She must not have had the strength left to tell him the whole truth.”
Kadmus’s last word looped through Eurydice’s mind, its sound strange. Until five minutes ago, truth had been immutable. Her mother had been their people’s hero, responsible for saving the Imperium from Maxim. Her people believed they were safe, that the force responsible for their near-destruction had been banished along with the one it had chosen as its host. If her mother had been the Darktide’s true vessel…
“Was it killed with her?”
Kadmus hesitated, staring into the empty fireplace.
A vacant space in the wall behind him shifted, a hole large enough for someone to pass through forming in its place. Maxim entered, looking far more tired and worn than he should have—he couldn’t be over forty cycles of age. Kadmus blinked and looked over his shoulder, scrambling to his feet.
“I’ve shown her,” he said. “She wants to know what happened to it after…”
Maxim gestured to Kadmus to retake his seat, and when he had done so, the elder man paused beside the chair and studied Eurydice silently. What looked like a hundred unspoken questions lurked in his eyes.
“First of all,” he began, “I’m sorry, Eurydice. For everything. But especially for not being able to face you right away.”
He pulled in a long breath, and she tried not to focus on the fact that even his voice sounded older than suited him. She couldn’t imagine the torture he had endured, living in exile with the blood of the woman he’d loved on his hands.
“I understand,” she said, though she knew it was a lie.
Maxim gave a stiff half-nod. She noticed for the first time that though he also wore black, it was in the form of pants and a long-sleeved shirt with delicate embroidery along its edges instead of armor. He looked regal even now.
“After everything your mother sacrificed,” he said, “the darkness sank into the floor when she died. Poured out of her like smoke.”
Eurydice’s eyes stung, and she blinked to fight back the tears she felt forming.
“It was all for nothing,” she muttered.
Maxim reached for the end table beside Kadmus’s chair, and the material comprising the table shifted, a thin layer separating from the top and reforming into a glass. Maxim retrieved a bottle of wine from the nearest shelf and filled the glass before offering it to Eurydice. She took it gingerly and stared down into the drink’s red ripples, and the image she was certain she’d imagined of the red carpet stain flashed through her mind.
“What’s this made of?” she asked absently.
“Chaosogen,” said Maxim. “It obeys our commands and forms whatever we need—buildings, tunnels, clothes, armor, glasses. It’s helped us survive here.”
“Why can’t you come back?” asked Eurydice, looking up at Maxim at last. “If you were never possessed—if you never killed anyone until—”
“Kadmus says you’re a member of the Council now. Tell me: how willing do you think they would be to believe they made the wrong verdict a generation ago and sentenced the inhabitants of three planets to death? Regardless of whether we survived, they did not intend us to. If they saw chaosogen—saw what we look like, now—would they believe it was not the work of the Darktide?”
“But couldn’t you show them, like Kadmus showed me?”
“We’ve made a life for ourselves here,” said Maxim, waving his hand above the table to form another glass and filling it. He took a long drink of wine before speaking again. “I don’t think I could set foot on Serenity again. She haunts me enough as it is.”
Eurydice glanced to Kadmus, who shifted uncomfortably in his seat. When she looked up again, she saw that Maxim had followed her gaze. His jaw tightened.
“They arrested him the minute he tried to speak with you,” he said. “Just because he looks like me. He was lucky that Symon was around.” His last words held an edge, and he frowned.
Eurydice couldn’t imagine what Maxim thought of her father.
“When did Mother… when did they marry?”
“After my banishment. Soon enough that everyone believed you were his children.” Maxim sighed. “And he’s fine, by the way. No one you brought with you has been harmed. I wanted to speak with you without their interference. But you’re not being detained—you’re welcome to leave whenever you wish.”
Eurydice sipped the wine as she processed his words, and to her surprise, the drink tasted sweeter than any she had experienced on Serenity.
She was far from finished attempting to convince Maxim to return, and the knowledge of Darktide’s survival prickled at the back of her mind, refusing to allow her to be fully at ease. But if she could accomplish nothing else yet, she wanted to learn more about the man her mother had loved so completely.
“I’d like to stay a little while longer, if that’s all right with you,” she said at last.
For the first time since her arrival, she watched Maxim smile.
Mandi Jourdan studied English and Classics at Southern Illinois University. She is the author of Lacrimosa, Veritas, Shadows of the Mind, and The Silenced. She is the co-editor of Alcyone, and she wrote and performed in two adaptations of the Harry Potter books in the style of Shakespeare. The Shadows of the Mind podcast based on her novel series is available on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Stitcher, and other major platforms. When not writing science-fiction and fantasy and listening to eighties rock, she spends time with her cats, Leo, Sera, and Vanessa. She can be found on Amazon, on Twitter (@MandiJourdan), or at bloodandtalons.wordpress.com.