Cass cast her gaze out to the ocean. Sunlight danced off the waves, which crashed against the shore in a rhythmic pattern. It was a soothing ballet of sight and sound and she momentarily lost track of what Daniel and Jonathan were talking about.
It was easy to get swept up in the waves. She had spent much of her childhood perched on a giant boulder down on the beach. She liked the sand, but the boulder was her favorite spot. It made her feel grounded where the sea and wind threatened to blow off with her. It kept her rooted and reminded her she was Cass, otherwise it was easy to cast herself out and lose herself.
“Any time now…”
” …sending Kaieela. He’ll need her… ”
” Don’t be silly-”
Cass stifled a gasp when a soft, warm hand, as gentle as a breeze, rested on her shoulder. She hadn’t meant to get caught up in the voices again, but it was too easy to focus and try to figure out what they were talking about. It was the same man and woman from before, but he no longer sounded angry. The woman sounded anxious, but he sounded resolute. Some days, like today, she missed the stories.
The voices gone, Cass looked up into warm brown eyes behind thick lenses and a soft smile. Long brown hair strayed into his eyes, but a lifetime of too long hair had him ignoring it. Soft brown curls cloaked his neck, though the top of his head only had pin straight strands.
Smiling, she rose and embraced her friend. Shorter than Jonathan, he was still half a head taller than her and never let her forget that, though she had once been taller, she was now the short one.
“It’s good to see you again, Arnold,” she said as she squeezed him, missing the dark storm that flickered through Jonathan’s eyes. “I read your article last week. It was beautiful.”
Arnold chuckled as he released her. “I had a good editor in high school.”
Cass waved her hand as they sat, Arnold between her and Daniel. “Please, Arnold, you know I never had to do much with your work. I still think Ms. Poppy should have made you editor.”
He shrugged. “I wasn’t interested.” He looked over at Daniel and Jonathan. “Does anyone know where my parents are? I got home a found a note telling me to come here.”
Daniel shrugged. “I don’t know. They’re not here. They were here, locked up with my parents in the study, last night, but I saw them leave around midnight.”
Arnold combed through his curls for a moment, frowning. “Strange. Maybe they ran into town.” He looked around. “Allison here yet?”
“Not yet,” Daniel said. “She’s supposed to be here in time for lunch, though.”
Cass turned to Arnold, fiddling with the sleeve of her white sweater. “Did my mom or Jade greet you in an…interesting way?”
He blinked at her. “Actually, that was even weirder than not finding my parents. They both descended on my like I was a prodigal son and studied my face before they would let me come out here.”
“Us, too,” Jonathan said, casting a look at Cass. “What do you suppose was up with that?”
“I told you,” Daniel said, “they’ve all been weird lately.”
The wind kicked up again and Cass turned her ear back to it, wondering if the voices would pick back up where they’d left off.
“Someone must. It’ll help keep Earth…”
“…all the wind…”
“…me to do?”
Cass’s brows raised, but a quick glance told her the guys were too busy talking about…something to notice.
A new voice had entered the mix. It was young and female, but there was a strange, deep undercurrent to her voice. It was both calming and unsettling.
“…show him the way…”
“…ancient art, not seen for far too long…”
Cass gasped and almost fell out of her seat at the new voice, this one crackling with heat and fire. But, unlike the last new voice, this one she knew well and it was carried on the breeze, but did not exist solely on it.
She looked up and offered her newly arrived twin a small smile. Except for her stick straight ginger hair, she was identical to Cass in looks. But Allison was a spitfire where Cass was calm and rooted. Allison always had to be the center of attention, had to be heard by everyone, and was quick to lash out. All their lives, the sisters had goaded each other, but still carried a deep respect for each other. When Allison’s hot head got her in trouble, Cass was there to calm her and explain her behavior away. In exchange, Allison vehemently defended her sister and served as their shared voice.
Cass watched as Allison exchanged cheek kisses with everyone before she settled herself next to Jonathan and Daniel, flicking her long hair behind her shoulders.
Allison looked around at all of them, silently demanding their attention. “Anyone know what’s going on here?”
Almost as one, they shook their heads.
“We’ve been wondering the same thing,” Arnold said. “Was your mom weird when you arrived?”
“Her and Jade. It was like they haven’t seen me in ten years or something.” She shook her head and began to tap one long ruby nail on the table. “Then they shooed me out here and vanished into the kitchen. Where’s Dad?”
“Hospital,” Daniel answered. “Don’t even bother asking why. They’ve been weird for almost three weeks.”
A breeze wrapped around them again and Cass struggled to pay attention to her sister, but the voices sounded urgent and seemed to have grown louder in volume to drown out Allison. Strange. Mentally shrugging, she turned her attention to the voices.
“…barrier is weakening.”
” …Euricca and Ayiva must be planning.”
There was a short bark of a laugh from the man.
“…nothing to guess. That’s why the Star Queen must return now.”
“…think she’s ready?”
“No, but she will have to be. The whole battle hinges on her. Without her we are doomed.”
Cass’s heart raced. Never before had the voices sounded so clear. But, the more she heard, the more she felt sorry for this queen.
“…means ‘truth.’ How can it elude her so completely?”
“Perhaps she’s not willing.”
The man was sounding agitated again. The girl was silent, but the woman sounded worried.
“She was sent there for a reason, but her senses are clouded. We will have a lot of work to do when she arrives.”
“It’ll be a great shock.”
“There is no more time for her to become ready. It must happen now!”
The man’s shout had her crying out and covering her ears. Dimly, she was aware of her siblings and friends taking notice and hurrying to her, but the crystal clear voices weren’t stopping. Tears were starting to fill her eyes and she felt the cool touch of Daniel’s hand on her arm.
“If she hasn’t figured it out, she’s not ready!”
The woman’s voice was almost shrill in her head, but, no matter how tightly she pressed her hands to her ears, the voices wouldn’t stop and she couldn’t shake them from her head. No longer were they being carried on the breeze, but instead they rang out like bells in her head, loud, obnoxious, and overwhelming.
“There’s no more time. You heard Daimia’s report. Time is short. We must make her ready.”
“And how do you intend in doing that? Her mind is not yet accepting.”
“That’s because she doesn’t know there’s something to accept. My niece did too good of a job shielding her.”
“What of the others? What if they are not ready, either?”
“It no longer matters.”
The man’s voice was dark and calm now. Cass shivered even though the morning was quickly warming up, especially with her sister at her back.
“She must be ready. She is out of time.”
The words cut through her. She gasped and quickly found the ground rushing up to embrace her.
She heard voices and panic filled her breast. It was dark and she feared she was losing her mind.
No, she knew that voice. And that cool touch. Of course Jonathan wasn’t far from her.
Slowly, she became aware of Jonathan’s hand stroking her hair. Muffled voices around her became clearer and easily recognizable as those of her family and friends.
Warm hands grasped her shoulders and gave her a light shake. She opened her eyes and her sister’s worried face filled her field of vision.
“Cass, what happened?” Allison asked. “You started screaming and covering your ears and then you fell out of your chair.”
Cass grabbed her sister’s elbows and gently pushed her away so she could sit up. Allison backed away, but still hovered. Cass slowly moved her feet to the floor and ran her hands through her tousled hair, gazing from worried face to worried face to her mother’s ashen face.
She met her sister’s eyes. Something flickered in Allison’s eyes. Almost imperceptibly, Cass shook her head. Allison’s brow furrowed and she frowned, letting her sister see she was not pleased with her choice, before turning away.
Across from her, Alyssum and William Matthews stood, tall and resigned. Her father looked tired and her mother seemed to look grayer around the edges with every passing second. They didn’t move; indeed, they almost seemed to be afraid to move. They were flanked by Jade and Arnold’s parents, Arthur and Meagan Witherwork, who also gazed on her solemnly and almost unblinkingly.
“Cass,” Alyssum said softly, her voice breaking, “what happened?”
“I,” Cass started, her gaze darting around the room, her mind grasping at straws for something. “I just…”
“Cass hears whispers in the wind,” Allison said bluntly. She turned to her sister, her eyes only showing a shadow of apology. She shrugged as Cass paled. “I’m sorry, Cass, but what else could it be? You should have told Mom and Dad a long time ago, anyways. Maybe they could have helped you.”
“That’s true,” Alyssum said softly as she sank down into the nearest armchair. She sighed heavily. “Allison is right. You should have told us a long time ago. How long have you been hearing the voices?”
Cass looked down at her hands and said softly, “All my life. At least, for as long as I can remember. Sometimes I heard songs and sometimes I heard stories. As I got older, I began to hear people talking. Lately, they’ve been talking about a Star Queen who is the key to winning a battle.”
Alyssum’s hand snaked out and grabbed her husband’s. “Are you sure? Did they say when the battle is going to happen?”
Cass shrugged. “I’m not sure, but it sounds like it’ll be soon.”
Alyssum gave a soft cry. “Too soon, William, too soon.”
“You knew it had to happen some time,” William said softly. “We did send her to Harvard for a reason, even though it seems to have been for naught.”
Alyssum shook her head. “No, that’s not true.” Though pale, she cast her eldest child a reprimanding frown. “You should have told us about the voices earlier, Cassidy.”
Cass bit her lip. “I didn’t think it was important.”
“But didn’t you think it was at least a little odd?” Alyssum asked, her voice almost sharp.
Cass flinched. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was crazy.”
Lips pursed, Alyssum turned to William and gave him a nod. Nodding in reply, he slipped over to a bookcase and retrieved a decorative box. Cass had spent her whole childhood staring at it. It was beautiful, a fragile thing crafted from spun glass. Jewel tones masked what was inside, though Cass always believed it was empty, A golden latch held the two halves tightly together, but now William pressed it open with a soft click.
Allison leaned close to her sister. “I thought that box was empty,” she whispered.
“So did I,” Cass whispered back.
“You’ve heard of memory dust, right?” Alyssum asked as she took the box from her husband.
“Sure,” Daniel answered for all of them. “It makes you forget stuff. They use it all the time in fantasy shows and books.”
“Right. Well, we have a form of memory dust in this box. It actually makes you remember things that have been suppressed.”
“Mom, that makes no sense,” Allison said as she began to twist a lock of hair around a finger. “Why do you have that? What do we need to remember? Have you guys been using memory dust on us?”
“Just once,” William said quickly, “when each of you turned eight. Even you, Dan, when you turned eight four years after everyone else.”
“What happened when we were eight?” Jonathan asked as he threw a glance at his mother, who refused to look him in the eye.
“You visited a very special place that you now need to remember. In order to do that, we need to use this dust on you to help you remember it and what we told you back then. Hopefully, it’ll make your acceptance of the full truth easier. I promise you everything you remember is not false.”
Cass frowned. “How does that explain the voices I’ve been hearing?”
Alyssum fiddled with the lid of the box, her gaze cast downwards. “I’m not sure if I have an explanation for that, Cass. I’ve never heard of anyone hearing voices on the wind, though we have no idea what you’re capable of. Though if you had told us about it earlier, we could have done this earlier.”
“Sorry,” Arnold said, “but that doesn’t actually make a lot of sense.”
Alyssum frowned. “Okay, then. Close your eyes.”
“Mom,” Allison began.
“Not now,” Alyssum said sharply. “Close your eyes, Allison.”
Cass had the sensation of steam pouring off of Allison, but her sister’s eyes only flashed before she obeyed their mother. Linking hands with Jonathan, she did the same.
A moment later, a tingle made it’s way down her body. It started with her head, where her hair felt like it wanted to dance and twist. Her nose twitched as though she were preparing for a sneeze, but it never materialized. Her throat clogged for a second and then her heart was racing, but it, too, passed quickly. Her skin tingled as the sensation ran down her arms and legs and then her toes had a momentary urge to tap. As soon as the sensation passed completely, she gasped and her eyes flew open.
“It can’t be,” she whispered, raising her eyes to look at her mother.
Sadness and worry passed over Alyssum’s face, but it was quickly gone, replaced by a resolute and almost regal look.
“What is it, Cass?”
“The voices mentioned a place called Sairon. I remember them telling me stories about it when I was a kid. I thought it was an imaginary place.”
Jonathan scratched his head. “I can’t say I remember a place by that name, but I remember a trip.”
“Yeah,” Arnold put it. “It was kind of a weird place with a lot of islands.”
“And a looming black…thing,” Allison said softly. “I always thought that was just a bad dream.”
“Huh,” Arthur Witherwork said, stroking his goatee as his amber eyes flashed over his son and his friends. “The jinsu dust worked in interesting ways.”
Daniel frowned. “What does that mean?”
Alyssum smiled at her irate son. “Just that it affected each of your differently. I hid the memories of visiting Sairon, but your sisters’ memories couldn’t be fully suppressed.”
Allison folded her arms. “Yeah, it gave me nightmares for years.”
“Does that mean the stories I remember being told weren’t actually stories?” Cass asked. “It was just the dust’s way of suppressing and letting me remember?”
“It would seem so,” William said. He smiled. “Though you were told stories. Your mother’s Uncle Landick is quite the storyteller.”
Something tickled Cass’s mind and she shook her head slightly to see if the strands would come back together.
“Landick…” she repeated, internally struggling with the name. “He’s married to…Talone.”
“The Regent,” Jonathan said slowly. “They rule Sairon.”
Alyssum nodded encouragingly, though her face remained solemnly. “Don’t force the memories. They will come in time.” Something like regret flashed in her blue eyes. “Cass, we sent you to a university where the motto means truth. We hoped it would help you remember and see the truth.”
A sound escaped Cass, something akin to laughter laced with a snort. “I don’t think it worked, Mom, though the voices came more often.”
“A part of you refused to remember,” Alyssum said. “Perhaps the double dose of dust we gave you worked a little too well.”
Alyssum waved a hand. “It’s not important. Your mind was just strong when you were eight and you clung to the memories of our trip a little too tightly.”
Cass nodded, but frowned. Her mother wasn’t being honest with her, but, with all the memories flashing through her head, now was not the time to pry it out of her. Besides, something told her she wasn’t going to like the real answer.
Arnold rubbed his forehead and leaned against the wall next to the French doors. “So, what’s next? Are we supposed to rattle around here until we remember everything?”
Meagan Witherwork laughed, a light sound that felt like a breeze. “Goodness, Arnold, don’t you think that would drive you crazy? No, you’re all going to Sairon.”
“Wait, really?” Daniel asked.
Alyssum nodded, the sadness filling her eyes again. “Yes,” she said softly, “and the sooner the better.” Her eyes met Cass’s. “If the battle is coming, there is no more time to waste. Your memories will come back faster when you arrive.”
“Wait,” Cass said, “you’re not coming with us?”
“Not yet,” William said gently. “We will follow in a few days, after we get your Aunt Lily settled here.” He cleared his throat. “Sairon and Earth share a connection, which is why we are of Sairon, but live here.”
Arnold’s eyes narrowed. “Yeah, why exactly do we live here? How did we get here?”
“To protect you,” Alyssum said. “But Landick will tell you more.”
Cass’s hands balled into fists and her nails dug into her flesh. “Landick is the man I’ve been hearing. He’s sounded agitated and not particularly nice lately.”
Alyssum sighed. “He’s under a lot of pressure right now if the battle is coming and you’re still struggling with your memories and the truth.”
Next to her, Jonathan muttered, “I’m so confused.”
“Don’t worry,” Cass whispered. “I am, too. And it doesn’t look like anyone is doing any better.”
“Aunt Lily is going to stay here on Earth?” Daniel asked.
“Yes,” Alyssum answered. “If all does not go well, we will need to send you back here for protection and Aunt Lily will be able to provide it.” Sighing heavily, she stood. “We can’t delay any longer. Follow me.”