The Realms of Thrice (Lesbian Fiction)

Chapter XIV - Truths at Every Corner



A harsh whimper woke Nora from her dreamless state. She must have been sleeping deeply because she woke disoriented, eyes blurry and unfocused, her movements delayed. The hand she had fallen asleep clutching, twisted in her loose grasp. Loud, desperate mumbles broke the stillness of the night. Emri was trembling in the bed, covered in her own sweat, and jerking violently.

“Emri,” she called softly at first; her calls then grew exponentially at each passing moment Emri’s eyes did not open. Her small tan hands reached up and cupped Emri’s cheeks followed by her shoulders as she tried her damnedest to bring Emri back to her.

After several unsuccessful attempts to rouse her from her sleep, Nora ran to find Kaleisha. The moon shined bright outside the home. It was late in the evening, and where many villagers had already secured their homes for the night, it was still early enough for the torches and rush lights to remain lit. In her panic, she couldn’t for the life of her remember where Kaleisha stayed, where to find her. So in her desperation, she ran to the first person she saw and without hesitation, they led her to Kaleisha’s home.

As she ran, Nora mentally berated herself for not going straight to the herbalist or village physician. Of course, it would prove counterproductive if she went to them now. Maybe Kaleisha would call for them on their way back to Emri and her hut, but just in the little time she had spent with the feisty young girl, Nora believed she would know exactly what to do, no guidance needed

And sure enough, after Kaleisha looked her over, she understood the problem. Nora had been relieved Emri had stopped her thrashing. At least she was now resting somewhat peacefully.

“The medicine they gave her was strong,” the young girl concluded. “It can cause hallucinations in its most weak forms. She’ll be all right, though. The infection was overwhelming her body. They had no choice but to give her a stronger dose. I can call one of them if it’d make you feel better?”

Nora shook her head as she waved her hand, dismissing the idea. “Right, no I understand. I was just …” she tapered off, but Kaleisha understood the reference.

“You were scared,” she said gently. Her tone held no judgment. “It’s all right here, Nora. Even the dreaded fallen High Empress of Black has a right to fear. You’re human, after all.”

Nora sighed; the sound was thunderous in the small, still room, yet she remained silent as she approached Emri’s bedside, took her seat, and resumed her position from earlier in the evening. Her fingers whispered across an unmoving hand. “I am most accustomed to fear, dear. I have held its burden for many years … I am just merely mindful of who sees it. Such knowledge is invaluable to those whose seek it.”

“Well, they’d have no use for such here.” She went to leave, but turned to address Nora once more. She couldn’t help but smile at the scene in front of her. In the days she had spent tracking and observing the two women, she had seen the love and care they devoted to each other, especially Nora. But now, since she gained knowledge of Nora’s true identity, she can’t help but look at her as a queen; a seemingly powerful and dark queen mourning the illness of her love. There was vulnerability there, and that made her even more human—more enthralling. “She should be fine by morning—alert, responsive,” she said over her shoulder.

“Thank you. Sorry to have woken you, however.”

“Don’t be sorry. Come get me again should you need me.”

But no more than Kaleisha had walked out of the hut, Nora succumbed to her lingering exhaustion.

Her eyes fluttered open, adjusting to the bright light streaming inside from the numerous windows. The abrasive light overwhelming her sense of sight meant only one thing, and that even in her grogginess, she determined morning was in full swing. But that was not the only thing that came to mind. The cloth door had been opened, which meant someone had been by earlier, and the hands brushing through her hair caused her pause.

She sat up and found bright emerald eyes staring into her own. A soft smile even formed across her now full colored cheeks.

“You’re awake,” Nora said. It came out in a long breath, a sigh of elation—relief. “How are you feeling?” Nora asked as she brushed damp strands of dark hair from her love’s face.

“Better.” She went to move, to sit up, but her face twisted in pain and a labored groan left her chest. A sharp, burning sting ripped from her legs all the way to her head. The intensity forced tears from her eyes and seized the breath from her lungs. “What happened to me?” she asked between breaths.

“Shh, just rest, love. You have been very sick.”

Emri’s eyes seemed to soften even more, perhaps becoming more focused than before at the term of endearment. She had heard Nora call her that once before, but couldn’t quite remember when or in what context it had been used. Everything seemed a blur. “I remember some things,” she said. “Very vague, though. Where are we?”

“I do not think you would believe me if I told you.”

She attempted to sit up again, but was met with a similar reaction, only this time, little dots of crimson began to show through her white linen shift. They had been too small to wrap, but big enough to require sutures.

“Do not try to sit up; you will aggravate your wounds further.”

Emri stopped and settled back against the pillow and bed. That’s when it finally occurred to her. She was laying on a bed, her wounds obviously tended to. She looked around but failed to recognize the design or interior of the home. This was different from anything she had ever seen in any of the other realms. When the panic didn’t wear off, her fearful gaze found and settled on Nora.

“Nora?” Her voice quivered the unasked question evident in her tone.

Nora sat still. She bowed her head, unable to look at the young woman’s panicked expression any longer. Instead, she reached out and took delicate, yet strong fingers within her own. “Do you remember when we found the nightwalkers? One had been shot by an arrow?”

Vaguely, yes. She nodded.

“And the first human body we came upon?”

She nodded again.

“These lands are inhabited by refugees of the three realms.”

“What? Then how …” The questioned died off her tongue as she was struck silent.

“It’s unbelievable. There are hundreds of tribes just like this one around the hollows. They have names, districts, leaders … all this”—she motioned around the room, alluding to the whole around them—“is what lies outside The Realms of Thrice. No wonder there was a panic. If you just sit and watch these people … it’s surreal. The way they live and operate. It is like another world out here. We came upon a young woman while you were gravely ill. She led us here so you could be cared for. Her name is Kaleisha. But here is the most fascinating part. She was born here … not in any realm. She’s a dweller of the hollows. No realm to call home. This, all this, is her home. Her parents were of the White and Gray.” She stopped to allow her words to seep in, take effect, and sure enough, within seconds, a brief flitter of anxiety crossed her face. “I think our situation has become more complicated.”

“Wow.”

“Here, you should go ahead and drink this. It will help promote healing … and the pain as well.”

“What is it?”

“Milk of some kind, infused with various herbs and medicine, all of which I know naught of.”

Then, a three knocks sounded against the threshold of the door. Their rescuer stood proud, her eyes elated and grinning ear to ear. “It’s woodland ox’s milk, infused with poppy, willow bark, and essence of the vine,” she said from the door, not yet entering.

“Emri, this is Kaleisha. She is the very one who saved your life. I am resourceful, but even I could not have pulled everything together to save you. You owe your life to her.”

The young girl took this opportunity to approach the bed and placed a hand on her shoulder as she shook her other hand.

“I’m glad to see you well and alert. Not many survive a ravencat’s attack. The venom in their saliva and claws is potent enough for us to use it as poison concentrate in our weapons.” Emri looked at her curiously. “It can take down a fully grown stag-moose. Perfect for hunting because it doesn’t taint the meat, but if an attack victim is left untreated, it’s fatal.”

“How long ‘til we can leave?” Emri asked.

Kaleisha shrugged her shoulders as she spoke, “Soon as your strength has returned. No more than a few days I’d say.”

“Thank you, Kaleisha. For all you’ve done. You’ve done a great service not only for me, but for the kingdoms as well … and I’m eternally grateful to you.”

“I’m just glad we were able to help. Had I not found both of you …” She didn’t her thought, but all three knew and understood what she implied. “Anyway, that drink will relax you, make you sleepy. You should rest, your body needs it.” With a parting smile and hand wave, she left.

Nora had a thought as Emri lay awake, the medicine yet to take effect.  She went to her satchel and removed something covered in cloth. Nora handed it to her, and she slowly began lifting the layers. As soon as the smell hit her, she laughed out loud. “Grimish Seed bread! Ugh, Gods,” she exclaimed as she looked at the disgustingly black and purple slice.  It’s a wonder this putrid bread had any benefits at all. By the look and smell, one would think it took lives instead of saved them. “You saved some,” she said with an appreciative grin as she took a hesitant bite.

“Like you, love, I too can be resourceful.” Nora spoke and had to stifle a chuckle as Emri’s face contorted into one of appall and nausea.

Oh, it tasted awful. The rotten flavor covered one’s tongue, coating the palate in a thick glaze of disgusting oil and grime, but she muscled through it. As she swallowed, her face pinched together and her body shook at the acrid flavor.

“That’s the third time I’ve heard you call me that,” Emri said between bites, trying not to think at about chewing. Thankfully, the taste improved, or better yet, she grew more accustomed to it as she ate.

“Oh, I didn’t—does it bother you?”

“Course not! Why should it?”

Nora didn’t answer, but Emri took hold of her hands for added reassurance.

“I shouldn’t use it all,” she eventually said as she eyed about three-fourths of the slice. “We still have a ways in front of us. We might need it.”

“The Gray is just a few days ride from here. You need to eat this now if we wish to leave soon. It’s almost over, Emri. The hardest part has passed.”

She hummed in agreement as her eyes became heavy. She ate the rest though.

“You should rest.”

And she did, finally falling into what seemed like a peaceful slumber. Nora wished she could follow her, both figuratively and literally. She yearned to climb in behind her and hold her close. With their size difference, it would appear awkward, but she knew it would feel nothing like that. Sometimes the protector needed protecting of their own. Comfort, support, and love would always fuel the strongest of bonds. But alas, the bed would only fit one. So she scooted her chair closer, already feeling the comforting warmth of her love and the softness of the mattress beneath them.

Sleep, what a wonderful thought.

But that thought vanished from her when someone, a man, called out her name from inside the room. It startled her. She had assumed they had been alone. The man’s voice was soft and melodious, instantly recognizable, as he spoke her name with reverence. It had been so long since she last heard his voice.

Arturo.

But her body would not allow her to face him.

“Nora,” he spoke in a whisper.

The man speaking her name sent a chill down her spine. He made her feel uneasy, and she couldn’t quite place why. She responded with an equally quiet, “Father.”

She heard his faint footfalls against the packed dirt floor. They sounded gentle and soft in their approach—nonthreatening. The soft sweep of his robe fluttered with each step. The gold bracelets, she presumed, clinked against the other as she imagined him clasping them together in front.

“I assume you know why it is I’m here. We need to talk.”

He drew closer and she felt the slightest of pressure against her shoulder. “So speak,” she said. It came out harsh, but he did not seem a bit deterred.

“No, not here. Come with me.” He went to take her hand, but she stood and jerked her hand away. Her face screamed red and the small veins that ran near her temple and across her forehead rose in affirmation.

“I will not leave!”

“I guarantee your return here.” He spoke vehemently as if trying to persuade her of an untruth. The feeling didn’t settle well, but he was her father, and she trusted him, just like she had loved and trusted her mother regardless of all the evils she had put her through. Curse the complicated relationship between child and parent. “You will not be held against your will.” He then stepped toward and whispered into her ear. “I’m not going to stop you, Nora. Please, for once, trust me.”

“Where will we be going?”

“Not to the Realms, if that’s what you’re wondering.”

He took both her hands in his own. The bracelets adorning both their wrists began to glow and Nora felt a sting of heat and flash of pain before they disappeared from the small hut, green eyes watching them the entire time.

●●●

Nora didn’t recognize the place where they transcended. She knew they stood within the same grounds as the village because the red cedars towered above them. That gave her some peace of mind. But as soon as her vertigo settled, reality smacked her square in the face. They had just transcended, in a place she thought had been impossible, during a time she had said was impossible. It should have been impossible, right? Everything both she and Emri had experienced and discovered should have been impossible.

However, the ache which had settled at her hands, made her understand that there was something unbalanced with the transcendence. Her wrists were red and bleeding.

She heard her father turn to begin walking toward her. “I’m sure you’re—”

“WHAT DID YOU KNOW OF THIS?!” she screamed as she rounded on her father with a fierce fire blazing within her crimson eyes.

“My Queen—”

Nora saw red. “Do not dare address me as such! You are the very one who condemned me to those putrid walls and iron bars! You watched as they beat me! Humiliated me! You watched my own blood and flesh—YOUR OWN BLOOD AND FLESH—be ripped from my body! I am your daughter! And you watched them torture me!”

“As you wish,” he said, trying to pacify the volatile situation

“You truly have nothing else to say to me?” Her eyes were as sharp and dangerous as he had ever seen them—murderous. The same look she held during her short reign. Now he understood with complete certainty why she was feared so. The hostility dripped like poison from her words. The hatred felt palpable in the crackling air—wicking the moisture from his body.

He wanted to say something. Anything to ease the unbearable tension.

“Tell me what you knew of this,” she spoke lowly and full of rage.

“What do you wish me to say?”

‘The truth!”

“Your mother and I plotted this as soon as the leaks were known. For millennia, the realm’s boundaries were kept well guarded and secured. Death was a certainty if one was caught trying to cross the boundary. They were killed on site; do you not think this was deterrent enough to keep people in line? It wasn’t. With the explicit need to keep the realms pure, both the white and the black decided to take action. We would not allow the realms to merge. So when your mother and I discovered groups of humans scattered about the hollowed lands, we knew it was only a matter of time. Subsequently, I had your mother cast the enchantment that would cause the portals to activate once a specific number of humans crossed the boundaries.”

“Why would you do such a thing? Kill all, just to keep the realms pure.”

“My dearest Nora … do you honestly believe it was only to keep the realms pure? Your mother desired power and control so much, she was willing to sacrifice everyone, including herself and her daughter just so she would not lose grasp on her kingdom. She would rather die a Queen than to die a mere mortal with no standing. Do you think, once people found out about the boundary and the other realms within reach, that they would have stayed in the Black? Where conditions are deplorable at best? No, they’d flee and she would be reduced to nothing. Not only that, but the White would then have to contend with impures? And who wants to deal with that, hm?”

His lips thinned as he spoke, “I never told you this, and I’ve debated whether this knowledge would truly do you any benefit at all, but I must tell you, for both our sakes. You think ill of me for allowing such a woman to manipulate me to do as she wishes. But I wish you wouldn’t. Unlike your mother, I honestly do care about you. If I’d had a choice about sending you away, I wouldn’t have. But your mother, already being consumed with lust, and rage wouldn’t have allowed me such right. If the portal had not been granted, she would have killed you. The portal required a living sacrifice. A sacrifice, that, in the end, she made for herself. She knew the kingdom would be passed to you, and she would die as a Queen to be remembered and feared.”

“She would not have given up that easily. Sacrificing herself—her kingdom, only for it to be given to me, a daughter she couldn’t even stand to look at? I think not, Father. But thank you for painting a pretty lie for me.”

“Your mother had not always been the cruel and heartless woman that everyone knew and loathed. In the beginning, she was as loving of a wife, daughter, and mother that any human could have asked for. But her downfall came at a massive price. I never fully understood what made her turn to the woman she became, but it wasn’t immediate. It happened over a few years time. The worst was when she became pregnant with you. I may be of White blood, but I don’t entirely believe in our ways. I have a daughter that was born of White blood, but in a dark world to a dark mother. I see you now … the woman you were and the woman you’ve become. And I can’t stand here and say that your heart is any less pure than mine. You are my daughter and I see all of you. Your faults and your strengths. Your mother may have caused doubt within you, never to be pleased with you. But you, my daughter, have made me so proud. You’ve made mistakes, but you’ve paid for them dearly.”

He stopped and watched his strong-willed daughter’s lips tremble; her face pained. For a second, it broke his heart. He cleared his throat and continued.

“I will not stop you from closing the portal, but just know I don’t know what lies beyond it. Death is certain, but beyond that … I do not know. Your mother was capable of great things.”

“She planned this all along, then. My life …” Her voice just tethered on control, but it was slipping rapidly. “I was merely a tool—to be used whenever it gave her benefit. Even my short reign as Empress … and the imprisonment?”

She thinks of all the time lost. Everything her mother stole from her.

“I’m so sorry, Nor—”

“Yet once again, and for the last time … I will die for her … because of her selfishness, I will pay the ultimate price. I, who have always suffered and sacrificed to her pleasure, will finally lose everything … everything to her.”

Her words affected him greatly. Tears prickled beneath his eyelids as he watched and heard his own daughter’s agonizing heartbreak. This was misfortune at the greatest of levels. A young woman starved of life, love, happiness, and when she finally has the opportunity to have it. To finally live, it will be ripped from her fingers.

Emri ruined her. Emri ruined his one and only daughter by showing her the prospect of a life she would never see.

“I am sorry I brought this life upon you,” he said with as much remorse as he could muster.

But Nora saw beyond his facade. She waved him off dismissively. “It is done,” she said evenly. “But perhaps, the gods willing, my name will finally be cleared.”

“Nora—”

“Goodbye, Father.”

And whether it was by his doing or her own she fell violently into nothingness, and it was only when she arrived back at the small room she and Emri shared, that panic settled in. Emri stood at the foot of the bed, glaring. The look of hurt, betrayal, confusion, and disappointment settled within her liquid green depths.

“I should have known …” Emri whispered. Her gaze was hard and her words even harsher.

“Emri—”

“DON’T! How long?!” she demanded as the blood raced to her face.

“Wha—”

Nora flinched as she heard something heavy shatter against the wooden wall. “How long have you been playing me for a fool?! Plotting behind my back like the ignorant heathen I am?! Your mother would undoubtedly be proud.”

Once again Nora flinched, but this time at the vicious words aimed at her. “Plotting what, Emri? I have plotted nothing!”

“But you have! Otherwise, you would have told me about you being capable of transcending just like me. Deny it!”

“I—”

“Is this a trap? I’m I being led into a trap? Was this all some elaborate plan to get me alone out here and kill me … or use me to some advantage?”

“Don’t be stupid,” she spoke forcefully, her body language supporting her authority. She wanted Emri to see the truth behind her words. She didn’t want her to sense any doubt.

“I knew of some things,” Nora whispered. “But there is no plot or game here, Emri. My—my father … he came here to see me. I went with him to talk, because after all we have seen … I had to know, and he could provide answers.”

Wait … what? Emri had always assumed Nora’s father died shortly after her birth and during his reign, which was why Kali became Empress, followed by Nora. Most in the kingdoms believed this, too.

“Your … your father? He’s dead.”

Nora shook her head. “My biological father—Arturo.”

“Of the White? The Superior Council Member? He’s your father? What else have you not told me?! Everything … me and you … everything you’ve said, everything we’ve talked about … was all a lie?”

“No—”

“Oh no! Of course not! You’ve just sat here and play me for a god damned fool!”

“I have done no such thing—”

“YOU’RE LYING! Gods!” she said, exasperation weighing her words down. “Tell me the truth!”

“You want the truth? You want the truth! Well, here it is, Miss DyerNothing that has transpired between us has been of falsehood. Nothing. Yes, I have developed strong feelings for you. Feelings that had always been there but were carefully hidden, locked away under watch and key. I meant every word I’ve ever uttered to you, but what you don’t seem to understand, or ever will understand, is that I am my past. I have to live with my history each and every day, never forgiven for my transgressions, nor will I ever be. I am a tortured soul, never to see happiness, and I know if I tell you everything …” she started, but to her horror, her voice cracked, ultimately showing the cracks in her resolve as well. “Everything that matters … you will not see me the same way. And I’ve come too far to allow my past to interfere anymore than it has too. I’m so tired of running from it.” Exhaustion overwhelmed her as she sank down to the hard floor. She buried her face in her trembling hands.

Emri, despite her anger, saw the struggle within Nora’s eyes. Her pained expression spoke volumes in itself. She found her own resolve weakening. Her anger dissipating as quickly as it had risen. But her stomach knotted as she saw hands covered and dripping with fresh and clotted blood. Sure enough transcendence had turned dangerous, ripe with instability, just like Nora had predicted. The sheer unbalance in the energy force quite literally could pull someone apart. It took all of her willpower not to kneel next to her and doctor her wounds. But she was still hurt.

Nora didn’t even feel the pain anymore.

“I need you to be honest with me, Nora. Please give me that,” she pleaded as she gave into her desires and knelt in front of her, taking her hands within her own and lowering them from her face. Emri gasped at how small she looked then. The insurmountable grief radiated from her; to not have felt it would have been inhuman. Streaks and smudges of blood covered her tear-stained and reddened skin. A person once seen invincible, now laid at her most broken, most vulnerable. Emri ached for her, not out of pity, but out of empathy, compassion. She yearned to ease her agony, to release her of her burdens. “Please, it may lift a heavy burden from you. To finally speak of your long-time troubles. What you encountered in life. I won’t judge you, Nora. Because I have a past as well, and you know it wasn’t glamorous.”

“I’ve killed people, Emri. Innocent people just for the sake and illusion of control. To make my mother happy. To make me numb and oblivious to my pain. It was like, when I looked at them and saw their fear, my own came to the surface, but as soon as their life ended and that fear along with them, mine did as well.”

“I know all that, Nora. We’ve talked about that many times, and I know that’s not what’s troubling you.” They had spoken numerous times of Nora’s killings, but this was something else. Something greater.

Their silence was palpable, yet both patiently waited for the silence to break, but Nora knew it relied on her.

Her eyes remained focused on the wall parallel to them. Her gaze fell on anything but Emri. She couldn’t watch—couldn’t see the look of absolute and complete anguish that she would undoubtedly see when spoke her truth. She knew this time speaking the truth would not be freeing, it would be condemning, and she wanted to wait as long as possible; to hold on to what modicum of happiness and contentment she still retained. “I know who killed your family, Emri.”

Of all the things Emri expected to hear, this had not been one of them. “My—what? You—”

“My mother ordered their deaths.” She said evenly, trying to keep her voice empty of anything. She had practiced this line … this discussion so many times, it no longer affected her.

“Wh—what are you talking about?”

“Two days before your family was murdered, my mother presented me with an ultimatum. She saw you as a threat to me. She too often spoke of emotion being a weakness. She had always read my emotions well, you see. But the ultimatum was either you and your family would be killed with mercy, gently, and with as least pain as possible, or … you would be beaten, tortured, and released into the dark forest where a hunting party would hunt you down and brutally massacre you all. She told me in sick and vivid detail everything she would do to you, your mother, and brother. But the condition was … the mercy killing would have to be by …”

“Wha—” she began, panic flooded her face as all color washed from it. “Nora? Tell me!”

“By my hands!” she screamed. The impact of the words was both instant and detrimental, blasting both women with such dolor it made them physically ill.

Emri’s breathing turned erratic as she stared at Nora with an unnatural look. Her gaze never tore from the woman in front of her yet she shook her violently. She ripped herself apart from Nora and stood so quickly, the room spun, her ears rang, and her vision whitened. With unsteady feet, she paced before heading toward the door.

“But I couldn’t! Don’t you see! They were the only family I knew! The first chance I had at happiness. You, your mother, and Danny … I loved you all so much—with every ounce of my tainted heart. For once I felt like I was part of a loving family. I couldn’t see that through despite my mother’s orders. So, I refused her, and she carried out the killings. I never knew what happened, just that you had escaped.”

“Wha—”

“Emri, please.” Nora called out to her, desperate for her not to leave. It was a selfish plea though. How could she have expected anything else.

“Y–you knew this whole time? You knew how much I struggled! This whole time!”

“Please, Emri. There was no other way—”

“There is always another way!”

But Nora saw something building. She closed her eyes and willed everything to just disappear. To take everything back; make it the way it was. The younger woman’s hands were shaking, and she knew what came next. So she waited; waited for the strike, the blow, the hand to close around her throat that would end everything.

But Emri’s voice, so soft yet uncontrolled, tore through the thick air. “I have to …” She didn’t finish, but her intentions were known as soon as she walked out the door.

Nora called out to her. A plea. “Emri? Emri, wait! Please!”

But she left without a parting word.


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