THE FALL OF THE KINGDOM OF CEREY
That very night, Tabby dreamt of the Gods for the first time.
She was caught in a tunnel of white clouds, a gyre of mist that spiraled above her for countless feet. She would’ve been swept away by its zephyrs if it weren’t for a figure of aquamarine water that was anchored in its center. She clung to the water figure for dear life. All around were strange voices, muffled garbles of children and animals. Above it all a harmonic hum as beautiful as a choir sung to her. It was coming from somewhere outside the maelstrom.
Squinting against the wind, Tabby looked up and saw an impossible vision. It was a glowing, two-dimensional apparition, a colossal woman with perfectly circular eyes, a square mouth, and rectangular fingertips. Tabby recognized her immediately and became flooded with awe. She spoke the name in her mind: Merofi, the water goddess.
The goddess peered down at her from the vortex’s funnel. She wore a vacant smile, as if Tabby was merely a pretty flower on the ground. As Tabby gaped back at her, wondering what she was doing there, a familiar woman’s voice pushed through her thoughts.
Wake up, Tabetha Charon. It was the ghost woman’s voice. There is much to do…
Tabby managed to blink her eyes open, blinded by daylight. Merofi, the water figure, and the vortex disappeared.
…and little time to do it in.
She rolled onto her stomach, her head throbbing. Strange insects chirped somewhere outside. A nearby stream babbled as a gently howling wind funneled through the hills. The wind made her think of the vortex of clouds, of Merofi, and she abruptly sat up with a sharp gasp.
She felt around. Am I still dreaming? she wondered, disoriented.
A fragrant breeze reached through the window and caressed her cheek. It was cool and biting, causing her to pull the blanket up to her chin. No, she thought, eyes wide. I’m awake. This is real.
Tabby sat up in bed, the paper soft comforter folding at her waist, and looked out the open window of Philip’s bedroom. Golden sunlight kissed her face, dancing mist filled her lungs, and alien birds greeted her ears. A sweet, unknown scent rose from the markets below the spire, filling her mouth with comfort. She savored it, waiting until the daze of dreams passed.
After they went home last night, Tabby stayed up later than she should have. She couldn’t sleep, not after speaking with the ghost woman, not after discovering she was stuck on Rema indefinitely, and not after learning her arrival on Rema wasn’t a fluke. The ghost woman brought her there for a reason, “to illuminate the darkness of Cerey,” whatever that meant, and she couldn’t talk about it to anyone.
Tabby wanted to speak to Philip so badly, to tell him everything about the ghost woman, but just as the ghost promised, she couldn’t. Every time she even thought about mentioning the ghost to him, she found herself getting tongue-tied, unable to speak.
Ever since last night, the ghost’s presence has been hovering around her, as if she decided to rest inside of Tabby somewhere. It agitated her like a tickled nerve. It felt like her life wasn’t quite hers anymore. It was being shared with the ghost woman.
When they got home, Tabby turned to Philip’s collection of books and spent the night reading. She needed to know who the ghost was. She needed to know her name. She needed to know whether she’s haunted and killed before. There were already a few things Tabby knew. The ghost could slow time, read thoughts, and manipulate the portals. The ghost wasn’t welcomed on Rema.
Tabby started with the Remanora, keeping those facts in mind. She scoured the entries, hoping to find some mention of a ghost that haunted the portals. There was nothing. With very few exceptions, most of the Remanora was glorified stories about priests and the Gods.
No wonder I dreamt about Merofi, she thought.
The book was just as she left it -- on the floor, still open. Tabby fell back into bed with a heavy sigh, her spirit sinking into the comfort of the mattress, threatening to pull her back into the world of dreams. She thought of Merofi and the vortex, of how waking up had blurred the line between fantasy and reality, how disorienting that was. She didn’t want to go back there. For the first time since she was a little girl, she was afraid to fall asleep.
Tabby lay on her stomach and draped her arm over the edge of the bed, lazily tapping the open tome left on the floor. It was turned to the last story in the book, entitled: The Geist Prince And The Fall of the Kingdom of Cerey.
She sat up, unsettled. I don’t remember leaving off on this page, she thought.
Tabby slowly scanned the room. Nothing was changed – the armoire was closed, the chest with Philip’s Rebel mask was locked, the rest of the books on his shelf remained undisturbed. Despite being the only one in the room, she felt invisible eyes on her from all around.
When I woke up I heard her voice… she recalled, her thoughts as quiet as she could make them. Is it possible the ghost left the story for me to read?
The idea disturbed her. The ghost’s words echoed in her mind: Follow my lead, and you will know your father better than he even knew himself.
Warily, Tabby lifted the Remanora to her lap and began to read…
King Ceron Helvir was a kind and just man. His family brought Cerey to the glory of its peak in the year of Rema’s 5010th cycle.
He kept his kingdom free from chimera attacks by establishing the rank of Keepers, now used everywhere, with the help of the Guardian of the Helvir Era, General Raed.
Tabby paused her reading. There in bold white lines was a Remanora rendering of the odd man-boy himself. The drawing of General Raed was perfect. It had his funny spiked pigtails, his dramatic cape, and even his recognizable scowl. He was a living relic of Reman history.
Tabby continued reading, fascinated.
Working as equals, King Ceron and General Raed allied many kingdoms in defense against Nonak, ignoring differences in wealth, clan, or region. By doing so, King Ceron unified Rema and helped it flourish in peace, with the Kingdom of Cerey at its center.
King Ceron Helvir was loved by all, but a terrible tragedy was kept from his subjects. His only child, a beautiful son who appeared flawless by all who beheld him, was a geist.
His uncontrollable power put the kingdom in peril from the day of his birth. His name was Prince Cenri Helvir, and he was in line to inherit the Kingdom of Cerey upon the King’s passing.
Death followed the Geist Prince like a shadow. Even if he did not wish to harm others, he would harm them by his own chaotic nature.
The Geist Prince’s existence was kept a careful secret. Years passed without concern for the monarchy, until Nonak invaded. The Great Chimera Swarm ambushed the kingdom, ravaging its people.
General Raed fought off the hordes with all of his might, but it was not enough. Cerey was decimated, and the king was mortally wounded in battle.
The royal healers tried to mend him, but the effort was in vain. The good king saw his death approach, and planned accordingly.
He did not wish to give Prince Cenri the throne, for chaos would surely follow with a geist ruler.
“Geists cannot rule my kingdom,” said he. “And so I shall choose a council of trusted advisors. Along with the spiritual guidance of my sister, the gracious Priestess Hiida, they will bring Cerey to another age of peace and prosperity in my son’s stead.”
To the Geist Prince, he instructed: “My beloved son. Should I fall, give my council your crown, my sister your blessing, and relinquish your power to rule this kingdom. If you truly love me, you will fulfill this, my final wish.”
When King Ceron Helvir passed away, his ghost lingered to ensure his son would carry out his wishes. The prince did as he was told.
Passing Cerey’s rule from the Helvir family to the appointed council was the first and last command from the young Geist Prince. From that day forth, the kingdom was known as the City of Cerey, to be ruled by Ceron’s trusted counselors alongside his graceful sister, Priestess Hiida.
Prince Cenri Helvir pleaded to the assembled people of Cerey to listen, pray, and worship with Priestess Hiida, anointing her as the Grand Merofian Priestess of Cerey so she may live on as a symbol of the Helvir Family’s legacy for all.
King Ceron loved his son, but he loved his kingdom more. Fearing his son’s insatiable powers, the King’s ghost lured the young prince to the sea, into the arms of Merofi who awaited him. The Water Goddess drowned the Geist Prince with mercy, releasing his corrupt spirit to the void from which it came.
At last, King Ceron could rest in peace. To this day, the Grand Merofian Priestess of Cerey keeps watch over Cerey’s spiritual heart as the last legacy of the Helvir Royal Family.
Tabby stared at the illustrations accompanying the story.
Hiida was a member of the royal family, she thought, noting a particularly refined portrait of her. No wonder the Cerians love her. And General Raed was there... She touched an illustration of the spiky-haired fighter dispatching a team of bizarre monsters. The Chimera Swarm… could it be the same one that killed Philip’s family?
Her fingers slid across a drawing of the Geist Prince with his long braid and crown. There was something about his clothes that gave her pause. She’s seen them somewhere before, but the memory of it was so fuzzy. She was about to shrug it off, when it struck her: expensive robes and an elegant crown of coral, a boy born into a cruel world who suffered in pain and heartache, doomed to be alone.
“It’s you,” she whispered. She let out a quiet, amazed laugh, and her heart raced. “The boy in my dreams. It was you!”
She nearly forgot about her vision when she tried on Philip’s geist mask. It was so odd and brief, something she thought wasn’t worth remembering, but there he was, drawn in his robes and his crown. The boy in her vision was Cenri Helvir, the Geist Prince.
Tabby’s eyes warily looked to the locked chest in the corner of the room, growing disturbed. She needed to find out how Philip got his mask.