Chapter One | The Struggle for Humanity

ONE

THE STRUGGLE FOR HUMANITY 

The Canon of Gods and their rebellious children, the Divine, were laughing in mirth when my mother provided me with my name. Despite her later opinion of guardian society, she still adhered to the guardian tradition, only naming me on the fifth day after my birth. Then and only then, did she announce that my name was Briara Victoria Penndragon, a good and proper mythological guardian name. No doubt she desired to give me a name instilled with both fortune and wisdom.

My mother was not some ignorant street beggar inhabiting some intensely populated American urban street. No matter her dying wishes and opinions, she was still guardian in the end, even though she did attempt to become mortal and take me along for the adventure. No, she was Geneva Penndragon, born and raised proper on a wealthy guardian estate until she was eight. She came from a family whose love and affection for each other made up for their apathy of the Guardian Republic and its politics. Her mother preferred fiction over people and her father was a veterinarian, though his animal patients were of species more outlandish than those that were common in Idyllium, the mortal world.

When I was little, I discovered through my own unusual ways that my mother had had a satisfying childhood. My three year old hands would reach upwards, begging in one gesture to be carried. Most days, my mother obliged me. As soon as our skin brushed in connection, I was transported to the setting of her most precious memories. In vivid and bright colors, I saw my mother as a little girl, her long shiny dark hair flying in the wind as she ran across well tended green lawns in front of a gothic mansion. Or maybe I’d see her lips curved in a mischievous smile in her father’s direction after the successful completion of a silly prank. Sometimes, I saw her giggling with her brother, Julian, who was the eldest of the two by three years, at family dinner.

Yes, my mother was raised in a loving family environment. Even so, that proved to not be enough. She lusted for more than the solitary life her parents had found satisfactory. Since those few elementary lessons reading and learning sentence structure with a pre-elementary tutor, Geneva thirsted for knowledge. When her magic manifested itself at seven years old and it came time to start her long career of studying at the Academia and learning how to access her elemi, she was ecstatic. She urged her parents to take her to Andralyn’s Haven to be declared, dedicated, and blessed as a student of the goddess as soon as it was acceptable to do so. Not ones to deny anything to their daughter, Victoria and Quentin Penndragon arranged a day to visit Andralyn’s Haven, accompanying their daughter’s elation with obliging bemusement.

My mother’s joyous childhood transitioned into a tragic adult life. At the point of my birth, my mother had survived an adult life consisting of tragedy and tears. She had taken a dark fork in her lifelong quest for knowledge and executed some poor decisions. As consequence of those poor decisions, she became the possessor of an enormous amount of power and the determination to end the Republic’s corruption. Her efforts resulted in a guardian civil war, one that was later referred to with dread as the Millennium Civil War. My mother’s group of friends and followers, who called themselves the Conquistadors and the Society respectively, warred against the rest of the Republic. For seventeen years, the skies of Lyrana contained thick heavy black smoke; the streets of Lyrana’s cities were grave, empty, and dark. Survival was a consistent concern for many. At the war fronts, swords clashed upon each other, elemi curses flew around and targeted victim soldiers. Magic destroyed cities and countrysides. Prisoners of war were taken on both sides.

Under my mother’s leadership, the Conquistadors took command of Lyrana on September 30, 2003, and implemented the new Guardian Society. The Republic’s leaders were captured, interrogated, and tried under new Society law. Most were executed. The Republican Dynasty fled the (then) guardian capital city of Sistine ad Citia and went into hiding; the Resistance, consisting of pro-Republic guardians, sprung into existence to fight a losing battle a year after Republic’s destruction. The Resistance continued to launch small attacks against the Society. However, after five years of being a nuisance to the new guardian order, the Conquistadors exterminated them for once and all at the Battle of Irisly.

My father was apart of the Resistance from its inception, and after three tumultuous years of combat, he ended up as a prisoner of war. In the July 2007 Battle of Topaz, he was hit by a sonna elemi and suffered severe third degree burns. He was left for dead by his men. The Society army found him on the battlefield, still clutching to life, and relocated him to an interrogation cell in the Conquistadors’ fortress in the city of Vollioppe Gaean. It was my mother’s responsibility to interrogate the prisoners for information regarding the Resistance and my father became one of her victims.

His name was Connor Byrne. He came from small beginnings, born and raised in a small, desolate town in northern Lyrana.  His family had bred with mortals long before the Divine’s Departure, and the elemi genetic code had become recessive in his linage. He may not have had much to offer the world, but there was something in him that gave my mother pause. Whatever happened between my parents in that dark interrogation cell caused my mother to turn against her friends and her own ideology. Logbooks from the war revealed Geneva making a lot of visits to Connor’s cell. At first, her name was paired with what I assumed was a healer’s scribbly and quick signature, Delacey. Of course, near to death on the battlefield, Connor had to be healed from his wounds before Geneva could begin her torturous interrogations. Then, after months, the Delacey signature faded from the logbooks and my mother visited him alone.

I personally believe my father demonstrated the existence of humanity, compassion, forgiveness, faith, and a calm strength my mother had never really seen before. It drew her in and  gathering war intelligence was no longer her main concern. I can picture my mother and father engaged in some philosophical debate in a cold stone cell, warmed internally by their joint passions.

Whatever really happened in that cell caused a transformation so great that one night, my mother and father escaped the fortress. They fled to Denver, Colorado, where they rented a small dingy apartment in a seedy neighborhood. For a few weeks, Connor and Geneva enjoyed their freedom from the guardian world. They learned how to express their shared love. From pictures my mother had hanging around her vanity mirror, I knew that Geneva and Connor spent a lot of time exploring their new city. There were pictures of them cooking dinner in the apartment, sitting in Red Rock’s outside amphitheater, and enjoying a baseball game. They got married in a small, impromptu ceremony; a single picture of them before a justice of peace acted as the only evidence of their commitment to each other.

Yet, the war they had fled overshadowed their happiness like a bright yellow elephant sitting in the corner of the room. My father had been bred as a soldier, and he couldn’t stand taking the coward’s route of running away from war. Ultimately, he had to choose between duty and happiness. For him though, there was no confusion over what the right path was, as hard as it was. He left my mother in the apartment with promises of his return.

She let him go.

A week later, she discovered she was carrying his child.

Me.

She christened me Briara Victoria Penndragon. I breathed my first breath of life in a mortal hospital in Denver. When Geneva had made the choice to flee the guardian world, she vowed that she would leave Lyrana and her life there behind. She refused to have anything to do with the magical world, and thus never explained the magical properties of my blood to me. It was almost as if she had grown new skin, leaving her old skin of destruction behind. The term “guardian” was never spoken nor implied in her household. It was her will that I would be raised as a mortal, that I would remain ignorant of my true heritage. My father, whenever he could sneak away from the warfront and visit, did not act contrary to her wishes. She was too desperate for that mortal life.

Once, when I was four or so, I found her in the magazine section at the public library, a place we frequented often, flipping through a teen magazine with a young brunette actress sassily posed on the cover. Hearing the squeak of my tiny red wagon I was pulling behind me, she looked up from the magazine. Her face lit up in excitement and recognition as she waved me over. When I approached, she pulled me onto her lap, pulled the magazine in front of us, and gushed into my ear, “Oh Briara, you will be a great girl, I know it. You’ll go to school and achieve excellent grades to make both daddy and me proud. Then before we know it, you’ll be in high school, involved in sports and theatre, and going to high school dances. You’ll look beautiful in the prom dresses; so beautiful that your boyfriend’s jaw will drop when you appear at the top of the staircase. Then, after high school, you’ll go to college. I can see you as a teacher or a doctor. You’ll be good as a doctor; you have an analytical mind and like to help people. You’ll meet a wonderful man who will be everything you ever want; you’ll have the greatest group of friends, and the most wonderful children. I can see it already!” As if to affirm her desire, she squeezed me gently in between her arms.

Not long after this, I was enrolled at Premier Academy, one of the few charter schools with a preschool in Denver. There, clad in the generic uniform of blue polo shirts and khaki bottoms, I started my academics. I showed a great aptitude for grasping the basic concepts. Every night at the dinner table, I would ramble excitedly to my mother about the basic principles of arithmetic, literacy, music, nutrition, animals, Spanish, and geography. My mother would listen to my chatter as she chopped vegetables and stirred the pot, a guarded expression of despair in her eyes. Whatever she thought in these moments, she kept it to herself.

There was some worry weighing on Geneva’s shoulders, and rightfully so. My destiny was not hers to control. Still, my mother was determined to keep me separated from the guardian world and its magic as much as possible. As part of her strategy to further assimilate me into mortal society, she enrolled me in ballet lessons. Her inspiration came from seeing an amateur performance of Swan Lake at Clement Park one day.

I still remember my childlike reluctance to enter the ballet studio because of the unsympathetic chill I felt as I stepped inside of the building. Its gothic architecture rose around me in vast superiority. The ceiling formed a high arch above where ballet was practiced. The mirrors lining the walls of the studio made the place larger than it really was. Girls, ranging from ages of four to ten, were strapping on their ballet slippers near the entrance. They were intimidating in their unity, confidence, and vibrancy. Their eyes were judgmental and cruel as they assessed my worth. “Look at her. Think she has enough pudge?” smirked one of the girls. “What did she eat the night before? Five hundred bowls of chocolate mint ice cream?” leered another. “Can you imagine her dancing? It will be like seeing an elephant dance Swan Lake! In a tutu no less!” This last comment caused all of them to burst into laughter as they migrated into the studio to take their places at the bar.

I remember my mother kneeling before me in the ballet studio’s foyer, words of encouragement flowing out of her mouth, her shiny black hair secured in a ponytail, her eyes glinting with desperation and determination, her fingers wrapped around my upper arms. There, as a child of four, I stared at her, rooted in my own stubborn determination to not step foot in the ballet hall. Behind my mother, the ballet instructor stood tall and regal in her black, professional turtleneck and tight slacks, her arms crossed, and her lips in a tight, unfriendly line. Emma, if I remember her name correctly, had a grim and shallow face. Her strict bun seemed to pull her face back. Her demeanor caused terror to mingle with the chill underneath my skin.

“Briara, please,” my mother pleaded. “Do this for me. Don’t you want to be a pretty ballerina? You’ll be able to wear pretty costumes and float on air. You could be the queen in Swan Lake, just like the girl at the park, if you work hard enough.”

I scrunched up my nose. “No,” I denied, petulant.

“Geneva, it is no use,” Emma interrupted. Her dour eyes assessed me. “I’ve been an instructor for twenty years. I know potential and those without it when I see it. Unfortunately, your daughter falls into the latter category, and there is nothing I can do to change that. Perhaps you should try another activity; there are plenty of options out there. Some children have an ear for music; try her hand at the violin or piano. Or spring is just around the corner; softball and soccer teams will be forming soon. Ballet is a very strict discipline; not many can succeed in it. It takes decades to master the art.”

“Briara, come on, my phoenix,” my mother prodded with more effort, ignoring the instructor.

I tried to pull away from her grip. “No.”

“You’re just like your father,” Geneva hissed. Resolved, my mother rose from her crouch to face the instructor. Her determined expression drifted off of her face to reveal a sagging disappointment. I blinked; at age four, I could not understand what disappointment exactly was, but I saw the agony behind it. It allowed me to focus on something else other than the cold that chilled my bones and the fear of criticism that had attached itself to my muscles. My mother and Emma bickered back and forth, my mother’s protests slowly dying like fire surrounded by water. She suggested a private lesson, and then wondered about a refund. She muttered that I was a quick learner.

When neither was looking, I slipped past my mother and Emma and into the studio. I stopped near a horizontal bar attached to the wall away from the other girls; it was at hip level. Taking a chance, I used it for balance and attempted to squat and stand on the tips of my toes like the other girls were doing. My body threatened to lose its balance, but at the last moment, I corrected myself. A smile formed on my face as I released the pose and straightened. Exhilaration flowed through me, and I executed a couple of twirls on the wooden floor.

Behind me, I heard my mother’s wry voice suggest, “You better go out there and start your lesson.” I knew without looking that she was smiling smugly. My lessons started that day, with two private lessons and two group classes a week. I was never absent.

Between attending a charter school and ballet lessons, my mother was certain I was on the path to living a peaceful and ignorant life as a mortal.

As my mother wouldn’t tolerate any signs of the guardian and daemon societies marring our blissfully ignorant life, the Canon of the Gods and the Divine were laughing on their mounts of authority, confident in their superiority over a single stubborn guardian. For as much as Geneva desired encompassing humanity in her life, as much as she attempted to flee from her past and her heritage, I was plagued by three signs that whispered of the magical world; signs that if my child mind was able to fully comprehend, would have prompted a series of questions.

The first were my eyes. The options for a person’s irises are restricted to only a few. Genuine irises are described as amber, emerald, topaz, sapphire, or some combination of the above. However, it sent my mother into a small panic when my infant eyelids first fluttered open and a violet so sharp as an amethyst gem greeted her curious mother’s gaze. There was not any explanation for them, none that would have been peer-reviewed in a genetic journal or accepted by the laws of magic. Nothing she could have done would have erased the vividness of the violet in my eyes. She just had to accept it, and most of the time, she opted to ignore it.

I don’t remember the circumstances surrounding the appearance of the second abnormality, but Geneva claimed that it appeared on the underside of my left wrist on the eve of my third birthday in curt, irritated tones whenever I had the courage to ask her about it as I grew older. It was a permanent black mark consisting of complicated lines. The flourishes of black ink reminded me of a sword’s downward diagonal slashes. Three Xs were stacked on each other while two flourishes shot off in the cardinal directions. A single dot sat in each quadrant of the rune. Upon her discovery of it, Geneva took a washcloth to my wrist in an assault, muttering about permanent marker and three year olds. Even under her fierce attack, the mark did not fade; it acted contrary and grew in vividness. After weeks of similar attacks, different methods, and finally the use of her magic, she surrendered and went on as if it was never there.

It was the last sign that forewarned the future would go against my mother’s wishes. It was in the way I knew information and certain facts from a simple touch, how the past swarmed in my mind in vivid imagery as if I was really there. I’d tag a boy on the playground during recess and receive a vision of him, years younger, opening Christmas presents. Or I’d accidentally brush up against a black-suited stranger on the bus and see him in green United States Army fatigues with an American flag stitched on the side of his sleeve. When it occurred with my mother, I always saw her childhood, nothing else. She had buried those other memories of her adult life deeply.

Despite everything, my mother was still desperate for mortal normalcy. She disregarded these traits the best she could, though as previously one of Andralyn’s own, she could not contain her wonder sometimes.

Once, when I was five, I overheard her discussing the matter with my father during one of his rare visits. It was in the middle of the night, and my bladder had awoken me. I had crept out of bed and into the hallway where I overheard the faint murmur of my parents’ conversation. Through their cracked door, I saw my mother sitting on the ground with her back against the bed. My father sat crosslegged on the bed; his hair and skin glistened from a recent shower. They were linked together by their entangled fingers. I never really saw them show much affection for each other; both were reserved in that aspect.

“What does it all mean, Connor?” my mother sighed. “Why us? Why wasn’t someone else chosen for this? Do they not understand we want nothing to do with magic, much less magic I don’t really understand?”

My father, in all of his beauty and calmness, replied, “I don’t know, Gen.”

“I have read plenty of books,” my mother continued as if she had never heard him. “That was all I did at the Academia before I met Zane: read, read, and read. I thought that was where my life was headed. I thought I wanted to become one of Andralyn’s priestesses . . . From all of that reading, I know things most guardians don’t even know. But I never have read anything about a human being born with violet eyes or a godforsaken rune suddenly appearing on a child!”

“Hush,” Connor soothed gently. He placed a finger against her lips to silence her when her mouth opened again in protest. “You promised yourself you would not go searching for answers ever since Brie opened her eyes in the hospital and you noticed they weren’t the perfect brown you wanted.”

“To live life in ignorance,” my mother laughed bitterly. “A fine sentence for one who was once dedicated to Andralyn, to the pursuit of knowledge.” There was a pause. My father did not have a reply to her words; instead he chose to comfort her nonverbally by running his fingers across her extended arm. “Do you know what she asked me yesterday?” my mother asked abruptly. “She wanted to know what happened to her grandpa, the one with the scar running across his lips and who always snuck chocolates in his study before dinner; and her grandma, the one who weaved flowers into my hair during the summer. When I ignored her, she questioned me nonstop about Julian: how old was he now? Did I still talk to him? Has she ever met him? Why isn’t he around?

“How does she know about them, Connor? I’ve never muttered a word about my family. Every time she touches me, she gets this gleam in her eye, like she has satisfied some unspoken curiosity of hers. I don’t know what to do!” my mother exclaimed. Connor ushered Geneva up onto the bed; once they were on the same level, he embraced her. “I hope the Canon is having an absolute grand time with all of this,” she muttered darkly into his shoulder and glaring at the wall.

“Who cares?” my father muttered. “If you do not have the knowledge, then no one does and in this case, I think that will help keep Briara safe. Relax, Geneva. She’s only a child. Her curiosity about her family is natural. If you need to, make up a story about them. Talk to her when she gets older about her ability.”

“The mortals will notice her differences and may harm her.”

“They already have noticed, Gen.” A small smile formed on Connor’s features. “They probably think her eyes are some genetic mutation and you are a cruel parent for allowing her get a tattoo.”

His comment made Geneva snort. “If only it was just a tattoo. That and when she and I are out, I’ve seen other mothers glare at me and say something about forcing children into colored contacts.”

“She has the inner strength to deal with the ridicule. She’ll be all right, Geneva. Trust me. She’s doing excellent in school. Guerre’s Balls! She already has boys ringing our doorbell!”

My mother laughed. “Oh them? It’s just Christian and Adam. They’re Ana’s sons.”

“Well, they better keep their hands off of my daughter if they understand what is good for them,” Connor declared.

“They’re completely harmless!”

“They came bearing gifts!”

“An actual mud pie and a snake’s skin! Not a typical gift you’d give to a girl to woo the pants off of her,” my mother said in a tone that probably had an accompanying eye roll.

I lost interest in the conversation at that point.

Shutting the bathroom door, I flipped the light switch, and paused at the mirror. My reflection peered straight back at me, youthful innocence captured on my features. True as my mother claimed, my violet eyes were quite obvious. They were a faithful representation of amethyst. My pupils teased me with their unconquerable depths. An army of freckles marched across my cheeks and nose, using the features as their battlefield. My hair was tossed about in messy waves around my face.

My lips formed a frown and my eyes glittered with curiosity, more curiosity and determination than a five year old should possess. It didn’t matter, because the next morning, although my father had departed for his next battlefield before I awoke, my mother was more relaxed than she had been the day before.

If it seems as if my childhood was ruined by my mother’s apprehension, it was actually the exact opposite. Besides these tiny moments in my childhood, I was allowed to experience freedom as a child should. Every summer night saw me outside, never returning home until the sun disappeared behind the Rocky Mountains, playing with Christian, Adam, their older brother Isaac, and sometimes their sister if she was at their mothers’. Even when they moved from our apartment complex and into a larger house thirty-five minutes southwest of Denver, my mother and their mother would arrange visits and sleepovers. Moreover, I continued to cherished my time at the ballet studio. I loved school, especially Spanish. Most of the time, it was just my mother and I spending the evenings and weekends alone. Few and far in between, my father would appear and we would be a complete family again. Nothing could top those days when he was home from whatever distant war he was fighting.

The Canon and the Divine were not about to look the other way, however. They gave us eight years of peace before they determined it was time to churn up the dust.

I would be told that it was on the night of March 15, 2017, when the Canon and the Divine pushed my mother onward towards completing her ultimate destiny, while at the same time, destroying her dream for me and the existence of our happy home. At the time of our story’s beginning, I didn’t remember much of that night, except that it had been a very calm evening before the tragedy. It had been snowing outside; the snow had soaked my clothing from the knees down earlier that afternoon when I created trenches in the snow masses and the freezing temperatures had formed red blotches on my uncovered cheeks. Hot chocolate with marshmallows, paper, and crayons had been waiting for me after my play. Thus I occupied myself until the attack came. For the longest time, my memory of it was filled with flashes of light and blurs moving too quickly across the room to be comprehended and my mother’s frightened gasps nearby.

My last memory of my mother was indistinct. She and I sat alone on a midnight light rail. There was desperation and terror in her every movement. She glanced outside the train’s windows at the land and buildings that roared by as our southbound train sped on. Whenever the train stopped at a station, her body stiffened. Her eyes never settled on anything as if she was constantly searching for anything that would harm us.

Then my memory skipped ahead again and we were walking up the driveway to a familiar house. . . Christian and Adam’s mother, Ana, opened the door, bleary-eyed. Then the last sight of my mother I would ever have: my mother’s retreating back after a farewell, after a promise to make everything safe once more.

Fifteen days passed after that night. Daily, Ana tried to instill faith in me by reminding me that my mother would return for me once she was done with her business. I didn’t let myself believe Ana’s reassurances. I already knew the truth. My mother was not returning. I saw the paperwork on the cluttered breakfast nook; it was riddled with my mother’s signature. My literacy skills were rather developed for my age, and although I could not understand every word on the legal document, I still understood the gist of it.

They were adoption papers.

Still, I waited and hoped that soon, my mother would ring the doorbell and rescue me from sharing a house with three potential brothers.

Patience and hope. Two major emotions for a child to deal with.

Soon, my patience was rewarded.

Though my memory was faded in some parts of my childhood, I would always remember the day my life changed forever, the day it was derailed off of its mortal fork and steered onto the magical path. It was March 30, 2017, at precisely four o’clock in the afternoon. Ana’s current boyfriend had been assigned with the responsibility of watching us younger children while Ana struggled at her restaurant. I had gotten fed up with my new brothers, all of whom were taking irritating to a new extreme. Ana’s boyfriend was too occupied with the sports channel to mediate beyond yelling at us to “Shut up or duke it out!” Frustrated, I had found solace in a tree bordering the home’s backyard. I climbed it until I was sure I would not be found until I wanted to be.

It was perhaps because of my height above the ground that I saw them coming. Three adults, two males and one female, strolled across the field and towards my tree. I watched them approach; they knew exactly where I was. Due to the way their approach never wavered, it was clear that their intentions, whatever they were, involved me.

Sure enough, they stopped underneath my tree and stared up at me. I saw something similar in them that I had seen in my parents and myself; something no one else in my small universe had possessed. I instantly understood that they were not like anyone else. Power and intensity radiated off of them, causing me to shiver. All three were beautiful by unparalleled lengths, even the plump male. It was my curiosity that made me trust them enough to not scream for help. It were the taller tanned male’s confident and fluid words that made me trust them. He had a thin line of hair outlining his jaw.

“Hello, Briara. I’m Andis. I’m here to bring you home to your own people, where you belong.”

I pushed against the tree, its bark brushing against my shirt and digging into my back. “Where is my mother?” I demanded, my eyes fierce, my muscles tensed on the branch. Despite the way my heart fluttered in excitement at the possible escape from this world of rowdy brothers, a busy adoptive mother, and her sluggish boyfriend of the month, I wanted answers.

Andis’s companions shifted under the weight of my stare, but Andis kept his composure. “I’m sorry, Briara; your parents have died. They wanted to stay with you. They both fought bravely until their final breaths. Since they can’t take care of you any longer, your mother wanted us to. You know that you don’t belong here, with these people, don’t you? Come with us, and you’ll be with people who are like you. Where we come from, we are the kings and queens of our world. You will be well provided for. We won’t allow anything to happen to you. You’ll be safe; it’s what your mother would have wanted.” He reached up towards me, encouraging me to jump down from the tree.

I shifted my body on the branch to jump. Andis caught my waist and lowered me to the ground. He took my hand and I went with him and his companions, dreaming of castles, kingdoms, and princesses.

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