Answers. I need them. But I don't know where to look.
Who's Althea? What does she have to do with this?
I stare at Veradis, trying to see if she knows anything. "Why is this cave so special?" I asked her, and she clawed at the ground. Her tail was sweeping back and forth, bringing up clouds of dust every time. "Veradis, stop." I cough, shielding my eyes. She stops, but looks down at the ground. "Are you trying to show me something?" I ask after a moment, and she nods. Veradis gestures around the cavern with a point of her muzzle, and I follow her eyes. Something was underneath the dust and rocks of this cave, and Veradis wanted me to find it.
I had promised Raya everything would be fine, even though I knew it wouldn't.
I think back to her, and the pain while I watched her act as Lady Castor. It hurt to see her constantly try and live up to her parent's standards, and act like a completely different person around me. And now...I'm gone.
My heart breaks for the millionth time.
Alasdaire dips down, his movements swift and sharp. "Stay in the air!" I command, gripping two of his long, black horns. But he doesn't.
Alasdaire dives down through the trees, landing in a small courtyard of what once must have been a temple. I stare for a moment before jumping off his back, looking around at the vine-circled pillars. There's a three-step stairway that leads up to a large, stone archway, the gray speckled with moss. The energy feels...off. There's great power here, I know. But it's twisted.
Whispers drift from the darkness, and I snap my gaze over to it. A gem hangs from the arch, glowing a deep emerald. And for a second, the stone corridor glows.
But this place confuses me. It feels...wrong, however beautiful the ruins looks to the eye. To my mind, it's unsettling.
Someone would assume that this is a place of collective Elemental magic, centered towards the Earth. But this place...this place feels Cloaked, covered by magic to make people see what they want them to see.
Veradis sweeps her tail across the floor again, and I place my hand on her muzzle. I raise my right arm, a small cloud of dust swirling in the center. It soon forms a column, and my eyes glow as I lift my other hand and manipulate what looks like a small tornado. The wind lifts up the smaller rocks, boulders moving out of the way as I push my arm forward.
My limbs soon begin to burn, but the symbols carved into the stone give me a last burst of determination.
I stumble back, leaning against Veradis for support. This is the most exhausted I've ever felt. After a few moments, I look up at the cavern.
In the center of the cave is a small circle, about four feet wide. Around it are markings, some of which I recognize as the signs for the Five Elementals. The largest one is for Akasha, the leader, deity of Space, Matter, and Energy. She has control over everyone and everything.
The columns are now uncovered, and I can see symbols inscribed into the stone. I turn around, and see a small set of steps leading out of the cave and back up to the land. The woman had come from there.
I remember the girl, Althea, and how she had...changed. Shifted. She was a Shifter.
That woman had wanted to use her for something. "Remember, Althea. You're supposed to be dead." But what? And what does she assumed to be dead have to do with it? Who would know?
Raya Castor would. She knows more than anyone.
I still, and backtrack to when she shared her memories with me. Nepthys had been in her memories. Raya had shown Nepthys the dragons. That girl had Shifted into one. She had looked about my age. The scene hadn't been from long ago- it would have felt different if it had been.
I stare into the deep blue of Veradis's eyes, then out at the cave.
That girl had been in the races, like me. That's what the woman had meant. Everyone think she's dead, when she isn't. They think she's died, but she's being used for her magic. I touch my hand to Veradis's nose, pressing myself into her as realization crashes over me.
No one in the Dragon Races really dies. And we aren't chosen by random, either.
I freeze as I sense the presence of someone beside Alasdaire, turning around slolwy. My eyes narrow as a pair of glittering, dark brown eyes stare at me from the shadows of the ruins. The deep growl of a dragon echoes through my ears. White flares around my fingertips as the figure steps out of the shadows. It's her.
"You..." I'm at a loss for words. I thought I could trust her. I thought Eriene could.
"My name is Karila." she replied with a smile. But the expression didn't reach her eyes. Her eyes shine with amusement and pity.
"I thought I could trust you."
Her dragon stared at Alasdair. Her dragon was the largest one I had seen in that large room where the creatures had been kept. It was tall and menacing, with black and violet scales dotted with silver and dark amber. Their tail swished back and forth against the stone, the spiked end drawing white lines on the stone.
"You've been working for them- the queen- this whole time."
"You don't understand anything." Karila said after another minute of silence. She let out a soft chuckle, shaking her head as she crossed her arms. "It's not because of the queen. The royals have nothing to do with this."
I don't understand. It isn't because of the Loire family? They aren't the ones in charge of the fortresses set throughout the kingdom?
She stared, the corners of her lips turning up in a smile. She stepped forward until we were a foot apart. I wouldn't let her intimidate me. I narrowed my eyes, glaring. "It's all Lady Castor's doing." She whispered in my ear, and I freeze. Lady Zerynthia Castor. Raya's mother. "Oh, she knows." Karila whispered like she had read my mind. "Raya."
I try to keep my feelings contained, and not lash out. I need answers. But, at the same time, she had stated that Raya was on the opposing side. How couldn't I get angry? How couldn't I defend her?
"No." I said with a shake of my head, tripping over my words. "No, she can't. She doesn't. She isn't" I fumble for the words that express what I'm feeling. Karila's lying- she's lying. She doesn't know Raya. "She knows about what's going on, and hates it. Raya wants to end the Dragon Races, not have them continue."
"That's what she wants you to think."
She lying. She's flat-out lying. But why, then, do I feel uneasy? Why am I questioning everything Raya's ever said? Why does even the smallest corner of my mind believe this Alderonian?
"What are you doing?" I hiss, stepping back. My mind feels muddled, twisted like it isn't my thoughts. "Why?"
"It's for the best." Karila whispers, and images of Raya flash through my mind again.
I see her with Lady Castor in rooms with stark white walls, staring down at people withering in pain on the floor. I see her talking to a woman in white with graying hair. Their worlds are muffled, but I catch "The Dragon Races" in their conversation. Then I see that same woman staring down at a tablet a white-coat handed her. I see an image of me, then one of Everlys. Anya. Emery. A girl with olive skin and fiery auburn hair and a boy who looks like her, though his skin is a lighter shade and his hair is black and wavy. There's another male, with snowy hair that contrasted well with his dark eyes. Then I see Alaric, and finally Eriene.
Why am I doubting her? I know Raya Castor. I love her. Don't I? I don't know whomever this person in front of me is. But then why do I believe them? Why does everything Raya's ever said to me seem like a lie?