The Realms of Thrice (Lesbian Fiction)

Chapter VI - Light Meets Dark (Part II)

A/N: Final part to Chapter V. This is fairly long so please keep in mind that this chapter, and the work as a whole, is unedited and only proofed by my repeated read-throughs, which certainly doesn’t catch everything. I’m human, and by nature, make mistakes. As always feedback is appreciated. 🙂 Hope you enjoy the final part of Chapter V!

Chapter VI – Light Meets Dark (Part II)

Once Emri left Nora, she and Ryker met with the Senior Council Members who had traveled to the dark realm. To her utmost dissatisfaction, Alok was in attendance as well as Kael, Lord Tyron, of course, Raya from the White, and Catriona and Gareth from the Grey.

“Nora has agreed to help, all she asks is to be freed,” Emri stated with satisfaction as she leaned against the smooth table top, palms down. She looked to the other council members as she addressed them.

Alok laughed deep in his throat with contempt. “Well, that’s not asking for much is it?” he asked sarcastically, but Lord Tyron dismissed him.

“Fine, she’ll be released. But she is to remain under your watch, Advisor. Under no uncertain terms is she to leave your sight. She might have agreed to aid you, but she still cannot be trusted … you best remember that.”

They went back into the prison room, and a few of the council members followed. Emri looked at Nora as her eyes traveled south to her marked hands.

“I want those off of her.” Emri said firmly. For some reason, it felt odd to see her former friend reduced to such a state. She had been marked before, but these markers were different. The skin around and buried beneath the metal was red and angry. Pockets of yellow and white skin were enough of an indication to know they had been improperly fitted and were infected. The Gods only knew how long they had been like that. Red streaks were running parallel to her arm, and Emri knew that as a sign of blood poisoning; an incorrect dose of the marking material could do such a thing, as well. All these thoughts sickened Emri. She wasn’t just looking at a wicked Empress who had done unmentionable acts, that’s who everyone else saw, but she was also looking at her best friend, at least until their paths broke.

“What? Her bindings?” Alok asked. Disbelief colored his tone.

“No, her receptors.” Emri clarified in annoyance.

Whispers were heard behind her back, and Nora watched her carefully. “We don’t have the authority to remove those,” Gareth declared in dismay.

“Removal of one’s receptors is a crime punishable by death, Miss Dyer. They’re not only a necessity for living, but also for marking one’s status within the Realms.” Alok stated with superiority. An arrogant smile twisted his face. Emri wanted to throttle him and hold her grip until he was within an inch of his life.

“I know all this,” she stated evenly, trying not to upset herself further. She took a deep breath before she continued. “I’m not asking for her receptors to be removed completely. But I want those things off her hands and replaced with those like mine. I know entirely too well the burden those damned things bring … and I want them off her,” she spoke coldly. “If it makes you all feel any better, she will forever be marked with the scar of The Black Realm. Make no mistake; people will know where she came from and the crimes she committed.”

She spoke as she looked down at her own scars. Painful reminders of her past.

“Well, Nora,” Lord Tyron said mockingly. “It seems as if you actually do have someone within these realms that cares about your well-being. I would be honored. Many would rather see you hanged, drawn, and quartered. But this woman here actually wants you to be comfortable.” He smirked as his eyes narrowed. “Call the Marker forth,” he commanded his Governor. “Tell him he has a removal.”

“I’ll do it,” Emri said as she stepped up and went to stand in front of Nora and the council members.

“You? You aren’t qualified –” Alok began.

“I’m an adviser to this realm now. I’m able to transcend freely within the other realms. So, I think I clear any security concerns,” Emri said. The men around the round mumbled to themselves before coming to an agreement.

“Be that as it may, but her eyes remain as they are. You will not change those.” The Lord stated with fire in his eyes.

Emri nodded in understanding. “Understood.”

She approached the now older brunette and looked at her form. The years had not been kind to her old friend. Worry lines decorated her forehead and her ruby eyes were dull and lifeless. Her skin was pale and ashy; only covered by filthy rags. Even in such conditions, Nora still held herself high; her posture sharp and rigid. One word came to mind even in such conditions: regal. Years of formality and growing up as the Empress’s daughter had trained her to look and behave a certain way. Sometimes, old habits were not forgotten, and proper form had been one of those.

The Keeper opened the iron door, and two guards seized Nora, neither being gentle in their touch. She was pretty much manhandled to the lower sanctum where she was detained against the pair of grip bars. Emri was sickened with the way the older woman was treated and regarded; restrained by the grip bars on either side of her. The once powerful ruler was reduced to such a state, and now, put on display for all to see. Humiliation at its finest.

Before Emri could react, the guards had stripped the fallen Empress of her ragged robe, exposing her naked and battered form to all.  It wasn’t until then that Emri noticed just how beaten and worn down the older woman was. Her entire body was covered in bruises, lacerations, and thick scars. Even at such a stance, Nora still held her head high, her resolve never breaking. But Emri’s sure was. Pressure was building within her head, and red was coloring her world.

She wanted to strangle them, all of them, with her bare hands. Her fingers flexed into fists as she attempted to control them from grasping hold of the small dagger she kept concealed. A couple quick moves and both guards would be flopping like fish out of water. Struggling to breathe as they slowly faded away.

“Stop this,” Emri demanded as she confronted Lord Tyron. “I will not stand to have her treated this way,” she spoke, but her words went unheard as the brutal assault continued right in front of her.

The Lord merely leered at her. “She is a monster, Advisor. One not worthy of your sympathy.”

“Stop it, or I will. She’s a human being for fuck’s sake!”

He turned on her with fire in his eyes. “You are not in your Realm, Advisor,” he spat. “I would be careful of the declarations you make,” he stated. He motioned for the guards to step away, and then he, along with the guards, exited the room.

Emri approached her straight away, tearing at her own cloak to make a makeshift robe. She hoped to preserve some of Nora’s modesty; whatever she had left of it now, which Emri figured wasn’t much.

The woman who stood in front of her was not the same woman she had grown to love. Instead, a woman stood before her, broken and damaged. Perhaps beyond repair. The thick scars that ran along her back and abdomen told countless stories of torture and abuse. Not to mention the various cuts, scrapes, and bruises. But it was the faint lines that ran from beneath her cheek, down her jaw, throat, and collar bone, which haunted Emri the most. They were ghosts of imagines that still invaded her memories.

Nora’s red eyes, which were once radiant orbs that glowed bright despite the oppression she faced, were empty; portraying the broken soul within. A soul that had finally been taken by the darkness so many didn’t even have the will to fight.  They were as empty as a canteen on the forth night of parched thirst.

The heavy wool cloak fanned out across the span of Emri’s arms as she draped the warm material over Nora’s body. She could feel sets of eyes on her, but she didn’t give a damn. One by one, Nora’s hands were removed and slipped into the arms of the cloak, and it was tied at her waist.

“Can someone please draw her a bath and fetch her some clean clothes?” Emri asked as she glanced over her shoulder at her comrades. One immediately left presumably to give orders to the hand maidens.

Emri extended a hand and allowed her fingertips to whisper across bruised and chapped flesh, raising only to tuck a few errant strands of dark hair behind the woman’s ear. She noticed Nora flinched at the soft contact, but older woman did nothing to separate herself or make distance between them.

The few remaining council members left the room as she and Nora became the only occupants. Metal clanged against metal as two bracelets were readied for fit.


Nora watched as Emri tinkered with the bracelets that would soon decorate her wrist. She watched with an avid eye, but her thoughts remained elsewhere, focusing on the gentle touches, motions, and care that the young woman exhibited. She couldn’t even remember the last time someone showed her so much care. It had to have been Dane, her keeper, all those years ago as he bid her goodnight and placed a kiss on her hand. That had been thirteen years ago. Gods, how time crawled. It seemed like centuries ago.

But that touch. That caress over her imperfections brought back so many painful memories and emotions. She was marred … defected … everything that a woman of royalty was not. At the beginning, she knew how each scar had originated. Now, multiple scars layered over the other. Like the layered organic material that built up season after season on the forest ground. Most, but not all, adorned her upper, middle, and lower back. They were reminders of her crimes. Punishment. Humiliation.

The metallic clang of the bracelets sent her back many years to a memory she longed to forget. It had been the beginning of her new life.

“Death to the Empress!” Some man shouted from the crowd. The group of onlookers cheered. Some even clapped or pounded on hard objects. She swore she even felt drops of liquid gracing her legs. They were spitting on her. They were out for blood, more specifically, her blood.

It had been two weeks since Nora was ripped from her throne. Torn from all that she knew. A bludgeoning, knee collapsing, keel over, face-first, fall from grace.

What would her mother think of her now? Not that she could have really thought any worst of her disgraceful daughter. She had already been the greatest disappointment. A burden. A parasite that, as her mother put it, simply would not wither away and die. Like a worthless mutt. Using up resources with nothing to offer. The only thing that honest to goodness redeemed Nora was her pedigree. Her mother. Her Empress. Kali, infamous Empress of the Black.

So here she stood, under the intense sun with intense stares to match. The air was thick in the summer heat, and the humid water from the bay enveloped them in more suffocation. She was harnessed and chained to the wall. The black stone, heated from the sun, burnt her back and singed the fine hairs there. This was part of the sentencing. On display for all to see and witness her warranted punishment. She knew it was fitting. An eye for an eye. She killed, humiliated, maimed, imprisoned, and tortured. It was only fair for her to pay the price.

“She should burn for her crimes!” Another man called out and received much of the same response.

“Let’s have her hanged, drawn, and quartered! More fitting for a monster!” A woman shouted.

“I wonder if royalty bleeds the same?”

“I think we should open her belly first. See if her insides are as black and cold as her outside!

“People, please! Lessen your anger,” a young man addressed the restless crowd as he ascended the steps of the platform. He was the Governor, the issuer of justice. “The fallen Empress will be justly punished, have no fear. She will appear in front of the Council of Thrice in two moons time for sentencing, however, that does not mean she will not be punished under our laws. The reigning members of the court have agreed upon a public lashing morrow morning as the dew lifts from the grounds. The law is written as one lash for every crime. However, do to the nature and scale of which the fallen Empress has committed against the people of the Black, she will receive fifteen lashes.”

“Fifteen?!” someone from the crowd shouted in outrage “Only fifteen for what she’s done?!”

The young Governor huffed mockingly. “Fifteen lashes with a scourge, my fellow Darkonians. And don’t fret, she will receive her fair share. Fifteen lashes every thrice a quarter. That equals to one hundred and eighty lashes by the end of the year. I’d say that’s reasonable given the sentencing she’s bound to be given,” he stated as the crowd cheered in agreement.

Nora stood stoic as he continued to read off her list of crimes. The punishment, coupled with the agitated crowd only made her break further. She would not give in. Her limbs quaked in fear as her heart thrashed against her chest cavity. Gods, death would not come easily. What had she done to deserve a life such as this? But she knew that was just how the odds played. Some people were simply born, destined to suffer, and not for the first time in her young life she understood and accepted her fate.

A warm present at her cheek startled her from her memory. She jerked her face to the side, her whole body moving with it. A labored breath was released.

“I’ll see if I can’t find something to help your wounds. You don’t need any more of them infected than already are,” Emri stated softly.

“You would be most wise to listen to your friends,” Nora whispered as she felt those same gentle fingertips grace her mangled wrists and palms. She felt the pressure on her wound as Emri relieved it of its hold on the bar. Her fingers and palm stretched painfully on their own accord, and Emri began the agonizing process of removing the marker.

“Oh? And why’s that?” Emri asked in return as she loosened the first metal plate on the back of her hand. As soon as the plate was released of its hold to the metal insert, the damage was immediately detected. The wound had festered to almost unbelievable lengths and even more so once Emri completely removed the plate from her skin.

Nora inhaled sharply as bits of skin came off with the plate. Her bottom lip trembled as she was trying to fight the pain.

“I know it’s painful. No one obviously had any care or concerns about how they marked you. I can try to diminish the pain level, but it’ll hurt nonetheless.”

“Just continue, Miss Dyer.” Emri nodded and resumed her task.

“They don’t trust me,” she began. Answering the question Emri had asked earlier. “And neither should you.”

Emri just regarded her with a sad smile and continued her work. “Maybe not, but what else do we have to lose? At any given time, our worlds will cease to exist, and all those who inhabit them, innocent and not, will die. So, forgive me, Your Majesty, if my faith in you is misplaced, but quite frankly, there is no other option.”

Emri must have noticed her began to pale as her arms and legs started to shake. She grabbed her shoulder and gripped her hand in support. She eyed her carefully for any signs of impending collapse.

“You’re shaking.” Emri said as she tried to meet the fallen Empress’s red eyes. She never did, but the Empress huffed in response.

“Hmm, being locked away for eight years without any form of exertion will do that to one’s body. I am simply weak, Miss Dyer, so if we could please hurry this along,” Nora said tiredly.

“Here, this might help,” she stated as she raised her palms towards Nora’s head. The older woman jerked her head away in response; not wanting the contact. Emri lowered her arms in defeat before she sighed and stepped back half a step. “I’m here to help you, Nora. I’m trying.”

“Oh please, you’re here to save your people. Not some fallen dark Empress who was imprisoned for her heinous crimes.”

“You’re right. I am here to save people, but I’m also here to help you now. And I will if you allow me?” Emri asked her eyes gentle yet expectant.

Nora didn’t respond right away; instead she closed her eyes and tried to ease her breathing. Her limbs continued to shake, and all she wanted to do was lie down in a soft bed and rest.

Emri’s breath caught in her throat as soon as crimson eyes found hers. She saw a great deal expressed within them, but she didn’t recognize the eyes much at all. They were cold and harsh, yet there was something buried deep within them. Something vaguely familiar. Agony, fear, and hopelessness, yet they shimmered with a certain softness. Whatever myriad of emotions were turning about in Nora’s head, Emri was overwhelmed with it.

Nora nodded her approval with a curt nod and Emir quickly shook herself out of her reverie. She raised her hands to Nora’s temples but never made contact. Instead, her palms and fingers hovered mere centimeters from her skin.

“This may feel strange,” Emri warned as her bracelets began to glow and pulsate.

Nora rapidly felt her body fill with immense energy as her body regained its verve. Her head lolled back, and she released a shuddered breath. Emri had been correct. It did feel odd. The sensation was nowhere near uncomfortable, but it made all her nerve endings tingle with nervous energy. It was a feeling that rejuvenated her whole being, but just as quickly as it had begun, it stopped, and Nora wanted to cry in frustration. It was unnerving because she could feel every ounce of energy, might, and power that Emri held within her. It was as if Emri was transferring parts of her to Nora, sharing her strength with someone who needed it.

“Thank you,” Nora stated, respiring unevenly. Her breath was no than a whisper. She lifted her head and looked straight into malachite depths. Everything stilled as she concentrated on the soothing movement of a thumb, emblazing life back into her smothered form as those eyes pierced into her, making her quivering heart clench in agony. If only it – if only she could be enough to save her. But Nora was far from saving.

The contact lasted for mere seconds, but it seemed to transcend all those stolen years. Making Nora feel as if she was but a young girl again. Young and naïve in understanding her world and the worlds in which were parallel to it. They both were children again, ignorant to their fates. Living life the way most all children do – carefree, hopeful, and full of silly dreams.

Liquid warmth spread across her darkened and chapped cheeks as dexterous thumbs worked at drying them.

“You’re quite welcome,” the young woman said quietly as contact was lifted seconds after. She turned her back to Nora after clearing her throat to retrieve the two metal bracelets from the workbench.

Nora knew the moment was gone.

“You have grown powerful,” Nora stated in a hushed voice. She was still shaken from the overwhelming experience.

“It’s a burden,” the young woman replied as she fitted Nora’s wrist with the metal bands. “A curse if I’ve ever seen one. I would do anything to be rid of it.”

“Why rid yourself of something that many desire to have? It’s a powerful gift you have.”

“They could have it. It’s brought me good fortune, but I’ve suffered immensely with it.

Nora could sense the truth in the statement. But the question remained if Emri’s suffering was indeed caused by such a gift or if it was the effect of life itself. Either way, it was something Nora wished to understand. Not wanting to press the matter, Nora looked up from her hands, and found green eyes staring at her. Just as quickly as they made contact, Emri diverted her eyes, and pink colored her cheeks as if she was embarrassed at being caught. Like a roster being caught in the hen’s coop.

“You still see me as that young girl who ran to your side and talked on hour’s end about frivolous nonsense,” Nora began. Her voice was soft and gentle, wistful. Not harboring the bitterness and coldness that filled her heart.  “The same girl who longed to escape … who was weak. But I caution you such thoughts are foolish and misplaced. I am a far cry from her innocence. She and I are no longer the same person.”

Emri considered her kindly before she spoke. “Don’t I know it. But, I think she’s still there. Albeit, a very small part, maybe. But she’s there nonetheless. I think you’re just afraid. Fearful of allowing yourself to open up like that again – to feel. I won’t lie, it takes time … a long time. Wounds heal, but scars are often left in their wake and are reminders of the past. But the wounds do heal,” she said knowingly.

“I don’t trust mine ever will, dear.”

“Perhaps they’re not meant to. They’re evidence of your struggles … your hardships, your pain. Evidence that you didn’t walk away unscathed … that you’re human. They’re your life, written across your flesh for all to see … for all to see just how strong and determined you are. How brave you are, despite your weakest moments, to come out alive and fighting. I believe they’re beautiful.”

“If you say so,” the older woman dismissed.

The marking process was almost complete. Emri had mixed a balm for the wounds covering Nora’s hands, and was applying the waterproof concoction when she decided to ask the one question she had wanted to ask the moment she saw Nora behind those bars. “What happened to you, Nora?”

It was the one question Nora dreaded the most. It was the most painful and complicated of anything she could ask. She stiffened, her body becoming rigid and her eyes harsh.  The walls protecting her inner self had just been reestablished. “Please continue, Miss Dyer.” She stated without intonation. “I have much I need to see to, and very little time to do so.”


When they finished the process, Emri escorted Nora up to her chambers for a change of clothes and a nice wash. She opened the door to the small servant room, and Nora immediately flinched. The handmaiden had removed the boards from the small window, and sunlight was streaming into the darkened room.

“After your bath and change of clothes, would you care to join me for a walk outside? It’s quite cold, but I’m sure anything would be an improvement over a confined space for eight years.”

“Yes,” the older woman stated as she fumbled between her healing hands and the new bracelets. “I – Yes, that would be …”

“I understand, Nora, and you are more than welcome to decline if that’s what you so wish. Don’t feel obligated–”

“No,” Nora interjected quickly. “I would appreciate your company, Miss Dyer.”

“Very well, just call one of the maidens when you’re ready. They can fetch me, and we’ll go from there.”


A maid led Nora forth into a cramped servant room with a wooden basin filled half full with warm, clean water. Her skin buzzed with delight at first sight of the clear liquid. For five long years, all she had to cleanse herself was a barely damp, dirty rag. Even then, it was sporadically given, at best. Sometimes stretching on weeks. Her past lavish lifestyle had been long since tossed in a pit and pissed upon, so seeing the clear and warm water was more than a welcomed sight.

During her musings, the servant left, closing the door behind her. Nora approached the basin slowly, her wrapped feet slapping against the cool stone. Her hip leaned against the wooden side as her fingers dipped into the water, making it ripple. She swirled her hand and fingers around gracefully. Like a fish dancing happily within its home. A glass bowl containing lye soap sat on a nearby table.

She lifted her hip to rest it on the edge of the wash bin, content to relish the soothing motions of her hand caressing the water. It tamed her frayed nerves, and allowed a decade of tension to seep out of her muscles. It also gave her the opportunity to transition to the forgotten sensations of a forfeited world. Inhaling deeply, the sweet scent of water, steam, fragrant herbs, damp wood from the basin, and soap filled her barren lungs with renewed vigor. It was remarkable how such mundane practices and items could be taken for granted; forgotten how fortunate it was to utilize such everyday necessities, direly missed when no longer given the right to use them.

She jerked, her hands giving way, causing the dish and lye soap to crash to the ground. The figure staring right at her was unrecognizable. She was incredibly thin, emaciated. Her eyes, once lively and thoughtfully, were now vacant and sunken in. Her cheekbones were more pronounced than ever, and her jaws were hollow. Her beautiful raven hair was dull, tangled, and brittle. And the scars. The scars that would forever remain with her taunted her. Taunted her with the simple fact she matched on the outside with who she was on the inside. A monster. Everyone knew her all along. They were right in their assumptions.

Unsteady fingers traced the collections of scars gathered at her face and neck. Two fingers outlined the thin scar at her temple, right at the corner of her eye. Hesitantly, she slipped the thick wool fabric from her shoulders and inhaled sharply. Tears gathered within her lifeless eyes as she looked at her naked flesh for the first time in eight years. Her lips trembled as she wrenched her head to the side, unable to look at herself any longer. She didn’t even want to see her back. The sensations and taut skin were enough to alert her of the damage done. Fiercely, she wiped at the tears that had fallen and steadied herself before she stepped into the lukewarm water.

She washed away the dirt and grime from her skin; at times viciously scrubbing the sins of others from her flesh. The rag slid over bruised and damaged tissue, and resulted in the flinching of muscles beneath. Many of the injuries were fresh, but some, despite being healed, were still sore, especially the ones that penetrated deep. Those were the ones that seemed to cut down to her very soul, opening her up and exposing her like nothing else.

Watchful eyes assimilated the surrounding room as a tinge of fury welled up inside of her. This had been her palace. Her home. Not only had she been imprisoned and tortured within her own walls, but she was now reduced to the servant chambers. It was degrading, and it was slighting. Not but a few floors up had been her private chambers. The only place she truly had to herself, even as a child. Many a night had been spent in those chambers, reflecting on her past, present, and future. But not once during those evenings could she have ever foreseen her impending doom.

Long ago Nora had lost faith in the gods above. They had done nothing to ease her suffering and discontent. They hadn’t protected her, those around her, Emri, or Emri’s family. They’d done nothing, but bring misery. Still, even as she washed the last remnants of, what felt like, her past life away, she prayed to the one who just might listen and grant her clemency. But for someone who had experienced the worst, Nora found everything too good to be true.

As the water became too cool for comfort, Nora slipped out, dried off, and gathered the clothes provided. They were nothing much but rags, an old coarse woolen tunic and slippers. Fit for the poorest of laborers.

She slipped on the fabric and tied the sash around her waist when there was a knock at the door. She opened it without hesitation and was greeted by someone completely unexpected.

“Darcy?” She was speechless as she stared at the man who had been by her side since her mother’s ruling. A confidant unlike another, and a dear friend. He had been her Governor for the two years she served the throne and a private guard during her mother’s reign.

His figure towered over her petite form. He still had his raven hair and beard. Both long and each tied in a single braid.

“Milady,” he greeted, mahogany eyes meeting her as the rest of his body bowed.

It was but a second more before she leaped up in pure jubilation and gave him a fierce hug. He maneuvered them inside, giving her a silencing motion with his finger to his lips before closing the door.

“They spared you?” she asked as she cupped his cheek. “I feared they killed everyone in my house.”

“Most all were executed,” Darcy said solemnly as he separated them by arms length.  “Tyron feared an uprising from those loyal in your house, Milady. I’m so sorry.”

“But you’re here. You were my most trusted friend, how were you spared?”

“I’m sorry, Milady,” he spoke as he bowed his head in shame and knelt in front of her. “I pledged fealty to him and his house.”

She was quiet for a few moments as she looked at her close friend of many years. Time had not been kind to him. His face was careworn, and his eyes seemed to have little fight left in them. Yet she saw the faintest burning within them. An inferno just waiting to breathe in oxygen and ignite into a fiery explosion. “You did what you needed to survive. I know better than anyone what that entails. I do not fault you for that, Darcy,” she said as she asked for him to rise.

“If I may speak openly, Milady? The people of Black saw you as a cruel ruler, not quite the likes of your mother, but fierce nonetheless,” he spoke.

Nora took in the statement with her chin high, reminiscent of her days as Queen. It was nice to know she hadn’t lost something she had worked so many years, and endured much punishment, towards.

He continued, “But despite their opinions and hushed whispers, I saw and heard of stories spoken within the palace walls of mercy and humility given to many within her house by none other than a heartless Empress.” Nora’s eyes widened in panic, but she tried to remain neutral. “Those deeds were never uttered outside these palace walls. Were you feared? Certainly, but with that came respect and loyalty. And that loyalty did not perish with their death, Milady. It’s still here and still very present,” he declared passionately.

“Are you saying there are still those loyal to me held up within his house?” she asked with baited breath.

“Only one, Milady,” he said with sorrow. “But he is willing to go to the ends of the realms to assist you with whatever you may need. I came to bring you that message and these clothes, curiosity of Dyer.”

He handed her the set of clothing which was much more adequate than the tattered fabric she currently wore. She sifted through the layered clothing and found a wool riding skirt, a white button up blouse, and a well worn leather vest and belt, and two roughly stitched leather boots. It looked similar to the attire Emri wore, except for the skirt.

“Thank you,” Nora stated in-kind as she gave him one last hug. His words only added kindling to the growing fire within her.

“You will always be Empress in my eyes, Majesty,” he whispered as he opened the door to take his leave.

“Darcy, will you please inform Miss Dyer I’m ready to see her.”

“Certainly,” he stated as he left Nora alone to her thoughts.


Emri had just breached the lower level where Nora was awaiting her arrival. During the time apart, she had discussed overnight arrangements with the palace staff and Lord Tyron, none of which were overly exuberant of the Advisor, council members, or the fallen Dark Queen, taking residence within their dwelling. However, a compromise was reached, just as expected. Not many could refuse monetary compensation. It was simply human nature to want.

“Hey, look at you,” Emri stated without thought to who she was addressing. Currently, in her stance, Nora looked just like the young girl from the forest. A young maiden readied for a casual ride, not a Queen, or a fallen Empress. Emri had to be careful with her words and actions. She didn’t know the woman in front of her anymore. Didn’t know her personality or character. What would set her into anger, or what would quell her fears. This was a learning process were they both would have to learn and accept the other again. So, Emri bowed out of respect and smiled softly, regarding Nora with admiration she had always held and would continued to do so. “Feeling better?” she asked.

“Most definitely.”

“You certainly seem so. More relaxed, perhaps?”

“Just on the outside, dear.”

“Well, this won’t help with the nerves, but it’ll get your strength up,” she spoke as she reached into her pocket and withdrew a ball of cheese cloth. She unwrapped it to reveal an ugly and putrefied mound of bread.  Nora gasped as she realized the significance of what Emri was holding. “Just don’t ask where it came from,” she said as she handed the mess to Nora.

“This is Grimish Seed bread,” Nora spoke in awe.  Grimish seed bread was kept under lock and key. A watchful eye never left it. Highly regarded as a miracle bread with properties in healing, rejuvenation, and revitalization. Peasants and royalty alike would commit acts of murder and treason just to obtain a spoonful of such bread. It had the capabilities to bring a starving house new life again. “How did you come across this?” she asked in a whisper.

“Told you not to ask. Wouldn’t want you to be privy of my misdeeds.” Emri smiled knowingly. “Just eat and enjoy. That’ll do more for you in the next ten minutes than three daily meals for a month would. You need energy, and some meat on those bones, Your Majesty.”

The title seemed to surprise Nora, but Emri didn’t back down from it. She just watched in amusement as the past Queen forced down the foul tasting bread, trying not to retch in the process. It was quite comical to watch as the once leader tried to maintain her composer as her face turned a bright red and her eyes glassy as her stomach threatened to up heave what she just swallowed. It only had been a handful, but after several minutes, she finally managed to get it all down.

Finally, Emri extended her arm for Nora to take and they made their way upstairs to the grand courtyard.

“I haven’t set foot out here since mother’s passing,” Nora spoke as she looked to the sky with her eyes closed and inhaled the cool, dry air deeply. It hadn’t changed. It was dead of winter, and the surround foliage mirrored that. Hibernating trees and shrubs dotted the landscape, and a few diseased apple, pear, and cherry trees formed lines across the far courtyard. The stone pathway and walls of the palace were chipped and weathered. Lifeless vines and weeds still clinging to them with vigor. Everything in sight was shades of brown, grey, and black. No indication of life could be witnessed. It was bleak and dreary, the smell of damp earth and mold in the air. At least it was pure, and not the stagnant air Nora had breathed in for an octennial.

‘Truly?” Emri asked and received a positive hum in agreement. “Well, why don’t I take you to the foregrounds and you can see what we’re dealing with.”

“I know too well what we’re dealing with, Miss Dyer. It’s just a matter of how to stop it, and that’s something I am very uncertain about.”

Emri nodded in return as they continued to walk through the courtyard in silence. Their feet sinking into the damp ground as they strayed every now and then from the stone path. “Can I ask you something then?” Emri breaking the silence that had enveloped them.

“You may,” Nora replied, her head and eyes forward as their strides remained steady.

“Why are you helping us?”

“Do you wish for the truth, Miss Dyer, or an elaborate lie thrust forward to ease you and your people’s concerns?”

Emri huffed in light irritation. Just when she thought they were getting more comfortable with each other, the Empress, with her sharp tongue and authority, would slice through all the progress they had made. One step forward and a leap back. Patience, Emri reminded herself. Patience was a virtue, and one that she had mastered gracefully. She was an adept hunter and scout after all. “These are not my people,” her answer short and to the point. “I have no people. It is me and me alone in these worlds, but I wish to live, and I don’t desire to see innocent people murdered for the sake of revenge, power, control … whatever it may be. It’s fruitless, but to answer your question, I would like the truth, if it’s not too much to ask.”

Nora stopped walking, as if to ponder her response. She simply shrugged and lowered her head, looking down as she twisted her fingers. “I don’t know. I don’t know why I agreed to help,” she spoke. The honesty of the statement was evident in her tone, and that surprised Emri. “Setting in that despicable cell for nearly a decade can wear down even the sanest person. I presume reality simply hit me. I saw you and what you had to offer, and a part of me panicked. It was either die alone in that dark, damp hole, or help you and see light once again before my probable death.”

“So you don’t think there’s a way to save the realms?”

“I wouldn’t say that, dear. It’s just a matter of how and if we have enough time. There’s a strong likelihood that I can, indeed, find a method to dispel it … but, how long will it take me to find such knowledge, and at that point, will everyone be satisfied with what I find, and what the outcome may be? My mother either hid or destroyed all her notes and books regarding enchantments and how the realms operate essentially. It’s possible she destroyed the one most useful, but I think I can recall where she hid some of her collection. I can go through them this evening and report to you in the morning.”

Emri nodded as they began walking back towards the palace entrance.“Sounds like a plan, Your Majesty.”

“I am not the Empress anymore, Miss Dyer. That title is inappropriate,” Nora stated sternly.

“Perhaps not, but you’re a former Queen, dark or not, and I was raised that such people deserve as much respect after their reign as during.”

“I’m a fallen dark Queen, and no respect comes with that, Miss Dyer.”

“Emri, please call me Emri.”

“As with you, I was raised with etiquette and formality. It’s not meant to be an insult or impersonal, it simply means a level of understanding – respect. Something of which you understand, no?”

Emri paused as she regarded Nora carefully. A look of longing and desperation in her eyes as her face fell. She was sure Nora saw it. “It will never be the same between us, will it? Too much has happened. We’ve changed.”

“Indeed we have.”

It had grown dark within the walls of the palace, and the glow emitted by the few still lit candle chandeliers and candelabras was peculiar as they reflected off the black stone walls. Emri had accompanied Nora in the library for several hours after their walk through the grounds. It was nearing the wee hours of the morning. The halls and chambers were vastly empty save for the stray night watchman posted at the major passageways. She descended to the lower quarters where the servant rooms resided. It was even more unnerving down there. She withdrew a small wall torch sconce from its holdings and proceeded down the dark hallway.

Halfway down, when the soft light of the stairwell was no longer in view, she heard the strain of a heavy door. It was the slightest movement, but she heard it like a shattering ceramic plate upon the stone floor. She stilled her movements quickly and glanced around her. She could see nothing; nothing within the diminutive radius of light that the torch provided. Her breath quickened as her heart thundered wildly within her chest. She turned to her left, directing her light source, and jerked back at the sight of two yellow orbs staring her down.

She was frantic as her feet and legs failed to keep up with her terrorized form. She didn’t scream, and her movements, albeit frenzied, made no more noise than the soft fluttering of clothing. Her back hit the wall hard, and as she gripped her dagger, she slug the torch in the direction of the eyes. A loud hiss and the snarling growl of an angry feral cat echoed throughout the dark hallway. The damned thing had been perched on a ledge about head height. She mumbled curses under her breath as she contemplated setting the damn thing’s tail on fire as it jumped from its post. It probably was mangy and flea-ridden, a carrier of diseases which Emri wanted no part in. She loathed cats ever since she was child when a stray cat jumped into her open window and ate her sickly song bird.

She palmed the clothing above her heart as she willed it to calm down, but it was in vain as another strain of a door grabbed her attention. Something was not right. Someone was watching her. She felt it as the knowing chill blasted from her scalp down to her toes.

Walking further down the hall, almost to her chambers, she noticed the adjacent door to her own was ajar. She clenched her hands and squared her jaw. She had a very good idea of who was waiting for her on the other side. She opened it slowly and walked in.

“I told you we would meet again, Lady,” a familiar voice spoke as he shut the door with a soft click and secured it with a tumble of the lock. He struck her in the face and grabbed her from behind before she could react any further, and put a blade to her neck. “Now it’s my turn to have a little … pleasure,” he stated sickly as he tried to grope her.

Suddenly, a sickening crack was heard as the back of her head made contact with his nose. The edge of the blade cut right under her jaw, but it didn’t stop her from a well placed kick to his groin.

The dropped torch lit the room enough that Emri spotted two long upturned nails shooting from the wall. They were hangers, no doubt. She grabbed him by the front his shirt, hoisted him roughly to his feet, and then, with all the strength she could muster, threw him against the wall. The guard gasped out in pain as the nails pierced through his thin leather vest and latched onto flesh. The nails, surprisingly enough, held his weight and gave Emri the advantage where she lacked in size.

Nursing the cut on her neck and lip, Emri directed her anger on the threat that lingered in the room. She lolled her head side-to-side trying to get the soreness and stiffness out, and spat the gather blood out of her mouth. Lissome fingers surrounded the grip of her dagger as she released it from its scabbard. She crept up to him, and forced the pommel right into his lower abdomen.

“I know men like you,” she whispered as her face reddened from both exertion and rage. Fingers tightened their hold on his throat. “My mother suffered because of the likes of you, and I will make sure you never touch another woman again, you fucking sick bastard!” she said as she withdrew her hand and stepped back.

The guard gasped for breath, his eyes wide and panicked as Emri’s bracelets began to glow and pulsate. “You are the unluckiest man today,” she spoke as she latched onto his head, thumbs at the edge of his eyes, “because all the hate and fury I’ve harbored these past years is about to be inflicted upon your flesh,” she hissed, looking him directly in the eyes as the pressure on his head increased tenfold.

Their screams never breached the walls.

Tip: You can use left, right, A and D keyboard keys to browse between chapters.