Landick’s face was grave as he answered. “No. Your mother is the daughter of our last queen, but she gave up the throne before leaving Sairon.”
Allison frowned. “Why would she give up the throne?” She shook her head. “Why would she leave Sairon?”
Talone gently nudged her husband. “I don’t think the way of doing this is by answering questions.”
Landick was grim as he nodded. “No. We’ll only confuse them further. We start at the beginning.”
A teasing twinkle glimmered in the Regent’s eyes. “Not at the very beginning, I hope.”
A faint smile briefly lit his face. “No, dearest, not this time.” He cleared his throat and rearranged his robes. “I am one of two children, the younger brother of the Crown Princess. My sister, your grandmother, was the last queen of this half of Sairon. She witnessed the first signs of the dome thinning, the first to realize it was going to fall. I watched as she married and had your mother and aunt. She raised them with the knowledge that war could be coming in their lifetimes.”
Landick drew a deep breath and he looked to his wife, who placed a hand on his shoulder. They exchanged a few murmured words before Talone nodded.
As they waited, Cass closed her eyes. The wind was picking up slightly, rustling the leaves overhead. There were no voices; indeed, the grove was eerily silent. Whatever Landick and Talone had to say, it was important, though she had a feeling she’d heard this story before.
“I did not always live on Sairon,” Talone said softly. “I was born here, am a daughter of Sairon, but I was raised on Earth. My parents were close to Landick’s mother and she advised them to create a safe place on Earth.” She smiled at Cass and her siblings. “The house you call home was established by my family as a favor to your great-grandmother, who had a special gift of foresight. It wasn’t strong, but it gave her glimpses of possible futures.”
“Alyssum and Jade have always been close,” Landick said. “As children, they spent a great deal of time at that house. Whenever the queen deemed it necessary, she sent the girls to Earth. On one of those occasions, they burned down a meadow.”
Allison laughed. “Mom told us this story. That meadow is still barren.”
Landick grimaced. “There’s a reason for that. As children, they thought it was from a magnifying glass they were playing with, but the truth is that your mother has a touch of elemental power.”
Allison was suddenly serious as understanding dawned on her. “You’re talking about magic, these special gifts and powers. Mom is the one who burned down the meadow, with magical fire.”
“Yes. She didn’t know it until she was much older, but, because she unleashed magical fire on Earth, that meadow may never grow back. But, as I was saying, your mother lost control of her powers because of a powerful vision gifted to her from a friend. She saw the coming of a powerful queen.”
“Not just any powerful queen,” Talone quickly cut in, casting a glance at her husband.
Cass shivered as the air suddenly cooled around her. She wrapped her sweater tighter around her, but no one else seemed to notice a significant drop in the temperature. Her legs wanted to start jiggling with nerves, but she fought it.
“A Star Queen,” Talone was saying, “a being rarer than a true elemental mage. Always a woman, the depths of her powers are unknown. Throughout the entire history of Sairon, only two have ever existed. The first was very long ago, when a powerful lord rose and claimed half of the islands as his dominion. There was a battle between him and the Star Queen and ended with an uneasy truce. The second came when the truce was broken, when the queen of that half attacked. In order to protect this half, the Star Queen put up the dome.”
Jonathan gave a low whistle. “Sounds like a formidable woman.”
Landick’s gaze flickered over the twins. “I wouldn’t cross her, if I were you.”
“So, Mom saw a vision of the next Star Queen,” Allison said. “She knows who the Star Queen is?”
Landick nodded and curtly said, “Yes.”
“When Landick’s sister died,” Talone said when it was clear Landick had no intention of continuing, “Alyssum was supposed to be queen. William and Jade and even your parents, Arnold, supported her, encouraged her to take the throne. They knew about her vision and how it had haunted her for over a decade, but she refused the crown at her ceremony. Instead, she said she and William were going to Earth and asked me to be Regent as only a woman can sit on the throne. With Lily also deciding to move to Earth, I was the only female relative left.”
Cass shook her head, her hands tingling. “I don’t understand. Why would Mom and Dad go to Earth?”
“Because your mother’s destiny was not to become queen,” Landick said softly, “but to be the mother of the Star Queen.”
Beside her, Allison started in surprise, but a feeling of dread pooled in Cass’s stomach. Her heart was threatening to pound right up her throat and out of her mouth. The trees were silent around them, the air was still, and even the distant fountain was quiet.
“Alyssum gave up the throne so she could protect the next Star Queen, so she could raise the Star Queen in peace and give her as normal a childhood as possible,” Landick said quietly. “We argued bitterly about it. I thought it would be best to raise her here so she would be aware of her duties, but my niece is stubborn. She would not deprive her daughter of a normal life. Besides, she said, her vision never said the Star Queen’s presence would be required when she was a child. No, if she could give her daughter a normal life, she would, but she agreed her child would be returned to Sairon after completing what you call high school.” A grim smile stretched his lips. “But the Star Queen was dead set on having a life after high school, so Alyssum and William decided four more years couldn’t hurt. They deliberately sent her to a place that could potentially unlock her memories and reveal the truth to her.”
Landick suddenly focused his gaze on Cass. She sat as still and cold as a statue. Her wide eyes were glued to his. All of a sudden, her body warmed and she felt ready to jump up and run.
“But it didn’t work and the dome is thinning at an alarming rate. It was time for the Star Queen to return to Sairon.”
“So,” Arnold said, “why are we all here?”
“Because the Star Queen would not come willingly on her own,” Landick answered.
Slowly, Allison’s head turned to her sister. Cass couldn’t bring herself to meet her sister’s gaze, but she knew her twin was a shocked as she was.
“You’re the Star Queen,” Allison breathed.
“Is that why Cass hears voices on the winds?” Jonathan demanded, resting a hand on Cass’s shoulder.
Landick blinked and traded looks with Talone. Eyes wide and bewildered, she shook her head at him.
“Voices?” Landick said.
Allison cleared her throat and turned her gaze from her sister. “Yes. Voices on the wind. She’s heard them for as long as we can remember. She told me she used to hear songs and stories on windy days.”
“More recently,” Jonathan added, “she’s been hearing voices, snippets of conversation.” He frowned. “Actually, earlier today…yesterday? Well, just before we were sent here, she was screaming and covering her ears.
“You,” Cass said hoarsely. “I was hearing your voices.”
Landick was visibly taken aback and his face paled. Talone reached out and tightly gripped one of his hands.
“What did you hear?” Talone whispered.
Cass licked her lips. “The Star Queen and a coming battle.”
“I didn’t mean to sound harsh,” Landick said softly. “I want you to know I was only irritated with your mother. She was refusing to send you, but we convinced her to send you with your friends to make the transition a little easier.”
“That’s why we were called home,” Allison said. “All so you could get Cass back here?”
Talone shook her head. “We couldn’t delay her homecoming.”
“And what about the rest of us?” Arnold demanded. “If Cass was going to be able to transition on her own, would any of us be here right now?”
“I must admit that you wouldn’t be,” Landick said. “Oh, eventually you would be called back as all of you are Saironian by blood and birth and we’ll need all able bodies for the coming battle, but no, not at this moment. We might have called Allison and Daniel as they are the only remaining prince and princess, but we really only have need of Cass.”
“You make me sound like I’m a weapon,” Cass said softly, her eyes flashing with hurt and anger.
“When it comes time, you won’t be much more than a weapon,” Landick said bluntly. “I’m sorry to put it that way, but you will be the one to fight against the other queen and all of our hopes will be pinned on you. It will be up to you to protect us.”
Cass’s eyes were cold. “And if I say no?”
“If you say no,”Landick said softly, his voice ominous, “Sairon will be lost.”
Slowly, eyes focused on Landick, Cass rose. Her friends and siblings stirred around her, but she ignored them. The wind was starting to pick up and the branches above their hands rustled with nervous energy. The fountain suddenly seemed to roar to life. Despite the wind, the air in the grove became warm and stifling. Talone’s eyes flashed with worry, but Landick held fast, his eyes never leaving Cass.
“What will be the next step?” Cass asked, a silky, midnight quality to her voice.
Landick lifted his chin. “You will be crowned as the long awaited queen and announced as the Star Queen. All the islands will be at your disposal as you prepare for battle.”
Cass looked from him to Talone. Then, without saying anything, she turned and walked out of the grove, sparing only a brief glance at her sister. As she left, the wind died down and the trees stilled. Landick moved to rise and follow, but Talone rested a hand on his arm and shook her head.
Jonathan rose and started to follow, but Allison caught his hand. Surprised, he stopped and looked down at her, annoyance filling his face.
“Yes, my sister is upset, but this is one of those times that she needs to be left alone.”
Jonathan’s lips tightened. “How do you know? The two of you have barely spent any time together over the last four years. I’ve lived with her for the last two years. I think I know her better than you do.”
Angry, Allison rose and faced him. “No one will ever know my sister better than me. She needs time, Jonathan.”
Landick drew in a deep breath. “Well, while we’re waiting for her, would you like to learn more about Sairon and perhaps explore the capital city a little?”
Cass wasn’t entirely sure of where she was going, but a few short questions of the servants guided her to what were to be her rooms. They were spacious and sunny, but she paid all of it little attention. Instead, her attention was instantly drawn to a large map set in an elaborate golden frame.
Her feet carried her over the plush carpet without her willing them to. Her eyes were focused on the detailed drawing. Sairon was indeed a world comprised of islands. They were small and large and, surprisingly, connected by elaborately drawn bridges.
Her eyes studied the map, drinking in every detail, memorizing it. As she studied it, her eyes fell on an island to the far left. It bore the name Time and she had the impression it was peaceful with it’s pointed mountains, rolling hills, and vast meadows.