Their footsteps crunched on gray gravel as they entered the oak grove. Surrounded by towering trees, it was a small open circle with two curved stone benches. It was cool under the shade of the trees and a few blades of grass poked up between the towering trunks.
A man and woman stood across from the entrance, between the two benches. He was tall and slender with long graying hair and deep blue eyes set deep under gray brows. His face was tired, though his eyes flashed with fire. He wore a lavender robe with bell shaped sleeves that almost obscured his hands. She was shorter, but willowy with her graying brown hair done in a long braid over one shoulder. Her hazel eyes sparkled and a ghost of a smile played around her red lips. A golden circlet surrounded her head, resting just above her brow. Like the man, she wore a lavender robe, but it was belted with a long golden sash, the ends draping over one hip.
As they filed into the grove, Arthur and Meagan offered deep bows, their arms held out from their sides. A little awkwardly, the rest of them offered the same, a vague sense of recognition in all of them.
As one, the man and woman offered their own bows before the man gestured for them to sit on one of the benches.
“If you approve, Meagan and I will retire now,” Arthur said, inclining his head to the couple. “We, ah, have many things to prepare.”
The woman nodded and flashed them a smile. “Yes, of course. We will see you for supper?”
“We’ll be there,” Arthur assured her as he and Meagan offered bows once again before withdrawing.
Cass settled herself between Jonathan and Allison as the Witherworks left, noting that the stone was unusually warm. She recognized the woman’s voice as the one she had heard on the winds and wondered if the man was also the same. Her heart pounded as she realized she was about to receive some answers, but her gut twisted as she wondered if she really wanted them. After all, in recent weeks, the man had sounded quite tense and agitated.
The couple gracefully settled themselves across from them. For a long moment, the seven of them eyed each other from head to toe.
“Welcome back to Sairon,” the woman said softly, offering a warm smile. “We meet once many years ago, so may not remember us.”
Cass swallowed hard. “You must be Regent Talone and our great-uncle Landick.”
“Yes, Cassidy,” Landick said tiredly. “We regret having to send for you before you were ready, but great changes are happening.”
“Very quickly, too,” Talone put in. “We couldn’t put off calling you back any longer.”
Allison folded her arms and gave them a cross look. “If our mom is supposed to be the queen or whatever, which means we are supposed to be here, why were we living on Earth?”
Landick chuckled and turned slightly to his wife. “And the questions begin.”
“Too many questions,” Cass said softly.
“We understand,” Talone said gently. “I’m sure the fact that there’s even another world has been a shock.”
“You could say that again,” Daniel said, though there was a trace of humor in his voice. “Though I’m excited about exploring this place.”
Talone grinned at him. “You’ll be even more excited when we tell you about a certain ability you have and who will be helping you.”
Landick gently nudged her and she cleared her throat as he said, “Or perhaps not.”
Allison’s lips quirked. “Can we just get on with the question answering?”
Talone squirmed slightly and nodded. She turned to her husband and shot him a look. “Dearest, you begin.”
Landick nodded curtly. “I suppose that is fair.”
“Either way, would someone please start explaining this to us?” Allison burst out.
“Fire,” Talone murmured. “Most definitely fire.”
Cass smiled slightly. “Allison does have a short fuse and a hot temper, so I advise you to start sooner rather than later.” She glanced over to her brother and friends. “I think we’re all getting impatient.”
Landick nodded and looked over them. “Yes, I can see that.” He cleared his throat. “You cannot see it now, but Sairon is a world full of islands. It is also split in half and divided by what we call the black dome.”
Beside her, Allison started. “I remember seeing it,” she said softly. “For years, I had nightmares about it.”
“I’m not surprised,” Landick said, sighing. “On the other side is another nation of islands ruled by a queen who seeks to take over our half of Sairon. An ancestor of ours erected the magical dome to keep her ancestor at bay, but, as time goes on, it weakens as the magic seeps out. One day, it will come down and we expect the queen to attack. Unfortunately, that day is inching closer.
“We expect it to come down, not today or tomorrow, but in a matter of months or years. Every day it thins more and more. Soon we will be able to see through it and find out what has been happening in the other side.”
Cass shuddered. “You have no idea?”
Grimly, Landick shook his head. “There is no way of telling. But neither can they see into our side.”
“If it wasn’t going to come down during our childhoods, why weren’t we raised here?” Allison asked. “Why is Talone the Regent instead of queen? Does that mean my mom is supposed to be queen?”