• The Fire I Shall Keep

    This is a story from long ago, in a place that may be too far too recall. It was almost like a folktale to anyone now. In the darkness of a forest there’s a well, you see.

    This well has the water from a long time ago and is as pure that makes crystal-clear drinking water. It gives the person anything that is wished for. It was used to baptize a prince. Although he was young and beautiful as an infant, everybody said that he would be an ugly person.

    He was the oldest of eight, it turns out. There was him, the oldest, and two sets of twins, one that was six months younger than him and one that was six years younger than him, and two that were born five years apart. But there was also a sister. She was to be baptized in her youth. She was going to die soon and only the water from the well could save her.

    The eldest brother went to fetch the water from the well. Along the way, his youngest brothers were whisked away by a witch who was disguised as a beautiful girl who was lost. The other brothers rode on, leaving them behind to deal with the woman and her issues. He then lost the two middle boys to a sand trap. They had made a bridge across and had easily been lost when the sand trap became a sand storm. He rode to the well and was dismounting his grand white horse and all it’s golden trinkets.

    When he reached the well, they were attacked by large hawks. The forest housed such strange creatures and the last twins were left to fend off the beast, but vanished into the forest, along with the grand horse.

    He remained in the forest, frightened. He sat by the well and waited for all the little witches and goblins and beasts to come and kill him.

    For nearly a millennia, that man has been lost inside that palace of wood and beast and fear. It has come and gone, his kingdom and has now been issued to a ruins that stayed that way. The forest began to turn to stone. The trees became tall statues of hard stones and the fountain that gave birth to the well began to strip away the years by means of keeping a pocket of earth that was untouched.

    It’s said that if you go into the forest by night, you can see a pair of eyes watching you from the trees.

    Today, it was Empress who accidentally stumbled into the forest. She was a beautiful girl. But there’s a problem with Empress. She is actually a he.

    Today, he had decided to wear a long white skirt and an ebony red shirt with long sleeves. Under his skirt, he’d worn a pair of baggy jeans and regular tennis shoes that were black. The other girls had said the skirt was ugly and he’d taken it off. His dirty, black hair, dyed with blond bangs and a shock of green to cover his left ear, was tangled with leaves and twigs from the earth. He had the brightest cobalt eyes you will ever see.

    The people from his high school had tricked him and left him in the forest when the sun was still high. He was running at the moment when he found a man turned to stone as he covered something under a tree. He stopped and looked down. Reaching around him, he moved aside the cloth that had been set up to help aid the man in his stone sentence.

    He gasped when he saw a man who was bleeding. The marble he was made of had a silver sliver coming down his face. He tore the cloth down and ripped it to pieces and wrapped the stone man’s head and hands and his leg so that, should he return to life, he wouldn’t die from lack of blood.

    Once that was done, Empress continued his trek to find some life out there that could help him on his quest back to reality. He pondered what had turned the forest to stone, but that pondering soon vanished when the forest was suddenly filled with the rays of orange and red hues.

    The stone trees suddenly smelled like they were damp with dew and he whirled around and around and around as things came to life around him. He had never known that there were such fantastic things in the forest. He heard a scream, like a man in so much pain that he would die soon.

    Empress was frightened and ran away, through the trees when he came to a spot that was still stone. It looked like a sand pit.

    He tested it with his foot and a hand shot out at him. Empress’ screams echoed all around the stone forest as the hand started to drag him in. Without thinking, Empress raised his hand and there was an explosion of light from all around him.

    The hand became human rather than slate and a young man’s head popped up and he begged for help.

    Empress thought he was going crazy, but grabbed a vine nearby and tied it around his waist. He reached into the sand, trying to pull the man free, but found that another man had insisted that he was injured. Empress’ hand touched the sand and then yanked away as the injured man clung to him.

    When they were both free, Empress tended to the injured man’s arm and back that were injured by all the dangerous jagged pieces of stones that had become sand. When he was sure that the man was okay, he got up and started to walk towards the closest stone spot and kept going.

    They didn’t follow, but they didn’t stop him. Another wretched scream echoed through the forest and Empress ducked behind a rock as he thought he heard the scream from just behind him. There was nobody there.

    “Turn around. This is no place for girls.”

    Empress gasped and looked straight up. Eyes of blood looked down at him from the trees. They were concealing something dangerous and Empress ran for his life. He was afraid of returning to that place.

    But he did. He had no choice. When he returned this time, the two men closest to the outside had moved. They were now both lying, face-down in the brook and Empress thought that they had died, drowned. He pulled them out and dried off their stone slab faces and dressed their wounds. He noticed that the cloth from last night was now part of the stone’s surface.

    He was determined to know who it was that was screaming at night. He ran for the nearest thing he thought was human. The two men were struggling with the sand pit once more and he pulled them free and set them down so they would rest on the earth that was trod on so many times.

    This time, when he escaped them, and before darkness came, Empress reached a well. It was made of strong marbles that were dyed the color of fire. He had never seen such a beautiful well and he walked to it.

    Before he could reach it, he saw two enormous hawks and he gasped, sliding back to the shadows before he realized that the attacking hawks were also stone. Empress followed their sight and saw two men who looked fearful and he ran to help them. He moved them so they were on the other side, where he assumed that the weapons of theirs were stuck in the earth.

    When he was about to touch the well, he heard a flap and looked up. The hawks were alive and they were coming right for him. He screamed and ducked as two blades sent the hawks back and he heard that blood-curling scream again. He shot up and looked around, but to no avail.

    He dashed from the forest when he heard a voice whispering in his ear; “Don’t come back, little girl. The Prince will die soon. You cannot help him. Leave and never come back.”

    When Empress broke through the trees, he looked back and saw the hawks flying high and he made a pact to come back and help this prince. Maybe it was the prince who was screaming.

    On the third day, Empress returned. This time, he carried a knife in his pocket. He arrived when it was still bright out and he had lots of time to look. He passed the safe twins that were hiding under a tree from something dangerous and fearful. He passed the two boys in the sand pit, but this time, they were throwing ropes across to each other and making a bridge. He passed by the twins who were fighting the hawks. He took out his knife and sliced at the hawk’s wings, taking a few feathers out so they would be in pain and give the twins time to fight back.

    When he came to the well, he noticed a rope that was leading to a tree. Empress walked over and looked up to see a man tied to that tree with vines and knives and the silver that was leaking from the wounds looked like it was starting to soak the vines and the earth. Empress looked up and saw the sun was starting it’s golden gift. He looked back to the man and thought he was handsome, like a gift of heaven’s that was meant to be found by a woman.

    The blood-curling scream echoed all around Empress. But the man was still made of marble. The white and amber marble began to spout silver that was spraying all over Empress when he wasn’t expecting it.

    “Get out. This is sacred turf!”

    Empress turned to see the same man dressed in perfect robes, made of green and gold. He was handsome, with a chiseled face that looked like it was crafted by Picasso’s hands and meant to be none other than a looking object. Empress took a step back before he realized that the man meant no harm, he was just curious.

    “I don’t intrude! I come to see what screams!” Empress called. He hoped that Picasso’s work would hear him.

    “Then why do you gaze upon my mortal body?” he asked.

    “I wished to know who it was.” Empress tried to stay put, but the red eyes were looking at him from over the top of the man’s head. Empress started to fidget as hands like black claws came out. “Is there something you must do?”

    “My sister needs the water to drink. I wait for my horse to return.” The man gestured to a place that was deeper into the forest. “Perhaps he is taking his time.”

    “Then what screams?”

    The claws shot forward and tried to grab Empress. The man reacted quickly and sliced through the claws with a blade of gold with emeralds emblazed upon it. The man stood tall and proud.

    “Try that again, foul beast.” The claws receded, but the eyes remained. The man turned back to see Empress turning to leave. “Wait, where do you run to, little girl?”

    Empress didn’t speak. His feet made his move for him and he ran. “I want to go home! I’m no woman! I belong outside the forest! I want to find a way home!”

    Then, without much warning, he felt a hand on his shoulder. He turned to see a young man in all maroon with silver accents to his cloths. He was accompanied by the other boy who looked just like him. They were the hawk fighters.

    “Our brother requests your help!” they said together.

    Empress pulled away and ran towards the well once more. How could he just leave without helping somehow?!

    He stopped mid step when he was two giant hawks slain. Their hearts were ripped out and were missing. He shook his head and rounded a corner that he thought was the right one but was nearly caught between blade and claw. The black mass that resembled a witch with long nails and searing red eyes.

    The man called for the “sour old woman” to show her face. Empress’ breath hitched when the “sour old woman” appeared behind the young man. It was no woman, it was a man. He had long, nimble fingers that extended outwards from bony arms and hands and his thinning hair was tied with a green tie. His cloths were thin blue robes and scarf.

    “I want the blood of the little boy. He has blood enough to turn this place into it’s lush, greenery that I hid among.”

    Empress watched as the man battled the wizard. When the man was struck down, Empress threw himself between the wizard and his prey, holding his arms out to defend as much of the man as he could. “No!”

    “Then I will shed your blood here! The well is too far away.” The wizard went to strike down Empress with a blade that was formed on his arm from the shadows he was made of.

    Empress prepared for a blow, but when the blade was centimeter’s from his face, he heard it hit something metal and he felt his body start falling backwards. The man was back up and was holding his blade up.

    “No. No bloodshed. Not in this forest.”

    Empress closed his eyes and breathed. This was an eventful night! And this man, who was he?! He was quickening Empress’ heart with just one hand on his shoulder, which mad no sense to him.

    “The boy, his name is Jillian. Jillian the Blood Saver! He will restore this horrible, wretched forest back to it’s beauty it once held!”

    Empress threw his hands up and caught the blades. He didn’t know how, but he was sure that he hadn’t ever done that before. His mother had told him he wasn’t strong enough to stop anything magical just yet, but he did have the power to change the world with his voice. “Stop! If it’s my blood that can save this forest, then take it!”

    Voices echoed from the depths of the forest.

    “You saved us.”

    “You healed us.”

    “You believed in us.”

    “Don’t go.”

    “We need you.”

    “Please, release our brother.”

    Empress looked up. Six voices? Who was speaking? He looked around and saw the six men he’d helped coming into the clearing. Each was wearing their stone with shame and each was desperately reaching their right hands out to Empress.

    “You can save him.”

    Empress looked up at the man who was sealed by vines. He looked back at the man who was standing in shock. He stole the man’s sword.

    “Then I will!” He raised the blade above his head. “With all that is pure and all that is grand, I command you to release all that you hold! Yield to my will and listen to my voice! Break back!” When the sword came down, the blue water that he often used to distinguish friend from foe splashed over the wounded man and he was washed clean of wounds and weapons and vines broke back to reveal his muscular body. Empress forgot that he was nearly thirty feet off the ground and quickly tried to remember the words for a catch. “Oh, um, taken from the highest of trees, land as safely as you can. Don’t break the brittle part of us, find a peace.” A swirl of wind lowered the man to his feet.

    The man that was dressed in green and gold was sucked in. His body turned to mist and floated into the stone and the stone became flesh and cloth and hair. He looked to Empress and snapped his heels together, bowing to the youngster.

    “Um.” Empress quickly bowed, holding the blade to his chest, unsure where to put it, exactly, and he turned to see the others were gathering color and he was sure that it wasn’t him who’d done that.

    “Jillian, return to the forest, where you belong!”

    Empress quickly thought of the high-leveled spell he’d been taught just three days earlier. “With all that grows and all that screams to the moon, I call it forward. With all that comes from the water and all that falls from the sky, I bring you asunder. With all that burns and shifts to earth’s will, I call you now. I bring you all together to stop an evil that consumes you. Burn him, eat him, swallow him, deafen him!” Empress closed his eyes and tried to think positively, but he thought that nothing was going to happen.

    All of a sudden, everything erupted around him. Lava came in great columns from deep beneath the earth’s dirt. The trees came alive and vines rose up from the ground like snakes hearing and responding to a song. The stars began to shimmer brighter and streaks filled the skies. The animals of the forest that had become stoned came to his feet.

    Empress was surprised, but then he heard a howl and knew that there were wolves that lived here and he watched as these things constricted this wizard. The man scream and howled in pain as he watched. “What is he?” asked Empress, his voice cracking slightly.

    “He’s crazy,” said one of the two blue-clad men. He was obviously a younger one because they all gave him strange looks. “What?! It’s true. He’s way off his rocker and this young woman asked what he was. So, he’s crazy.”

    “Forgive us, we haven’t introduced ourselves,” said the one in green. “I am Undon. These two in maroon are Yazma and Yandu. This one in yellow is Ferenz and the one in orange is Hudson. These two in blue are Reem and Resden. We come from the kingdom of Bejia.”

    “Bejia?” Empress repeated, thoughtful. “That kingdom fell three-thousand years ago.” He looked confused. “You guys can’t be three-thousand years old…. can you?”

    Undon looked shocked. “Then I guess my sister has died. We were the last to rule under our father. Our sister was our last sibling. Without a monarchy, our kingdom is nothing and they fight too often to elect a new leader for anything.” Undon rested on the well.

    “Fools! I’ll kill Jillian!”

    Empress felt irritation and he loomed over the witch thing. “My name is not Jillian! I’m not a woman! So stop thinking that!” He swung the blade again and this time, there was lightning coming down from the heavens and it struck the wizard. “The kingdom of Bejia fell because their king was assassinated. A rival country killed him. It is said that it was because Bejia’s oldest prince, Undon, was trespassing on their land.”

    Undon stood up again. “I was not trespassing! I was trying to put in Ikon on the tree for them!”

    “Ikon?” Empress asked.

    Reem, apparently the youngest and the one who called the wizard crazy, started laughing. “Ikon’s are what we call yolk paintings. We mix--”

    “Colors into pure egg yolks?” Empress asked.

    “Yes.” Reem stopped laughing. “Was the Ikon something beautiful?” he asked his brother, apparently for the first time. “If it was, then I’m sure they just wanted more of them so they could steal from our country. You’re famous, Undon, you have to remember that. Especially with the women.”

    “REEM!” Undon threw a light stone at his brother. “So, how do we return to our time and space?”

    Empress stepped back. He knew what was making him drawn to Undon. It was his thoughts about love. He was bisexual! What a way to find out….

    Undon was arguing with his brothers who were all fighting with each other when Empress got an idea and ran to the center of their fighting circle. Concentrating while they continued, he stabbed the sword into the earth.

    “With this blade, I demand that you open this wound in my heart! Take this pain and turn it into your sours of energy. I put forth my soul that flies with the birds and my love that falls with the rain. With all that is pure and cool to the touch, I wither away to death. I call you forth, Jillian, Julius, and June. Take me to your palace. Replace this sword with a way home.”

    The ground twisted and turned. The seven brothers stood silent. When he had plunged the sword into the earth, they had been surprised, but now the were in utter shock at the sight before them. The spot started tot urn a purpley blueish haze. It began to consume the earth and the well and soon the forest.

    They were pitched forward, through something cold and when they crashed, they were before the palace walls.

    Their father stood there, his eyes wide. They had returned and he ran forward when Empress stopped him.

    “Before you get all mushy, may I see your daughter? I believe I can save her, sire, given the time and materials.” He waited and then the king stepped aside and let him pass as they all followed.

    After a few hours, the baby was healthy and happy and playing with Empress’ nose, like it was some kind of button to change the expressions. Undon had come to the door and watched Empress and finally spoke up.

    “If you’re no woman, then why do you look like one?”

    “I never figured that one out,” Empress said. He gently put the girl down and stood up, smoothing out the wrinkles in his shirt and jeans. “But my name is Markel, Mark is my nick name. I was just comfortable dressing like a woman, so, I renamed myself Empress, Emy, if you will. Um….” He looked thoughtful before he ran over to Undon and pushed him out. “Leave me alone for a moment!”

    The door slammed itself shut.

    Markel looked at his hands and then pointed them at a mirror so they were right back at him. “With all that comes clean, with all that forms a sweet lady, I pull you forth with all my might. You see what I am, make me whole. Justify my leap through this strange time.”

    Black consumed the mirror and white hands reached out to Markel and began to weave around his arms and up to his face and over his closed eyes.

    ‘You are no longer Markel, dear child. From this day forth, you are Empress, Queen of Bejia.’

    Three-thousand years later, here I stand. I’ve come to find a story of a raven who had been transformed into stone. He was saved by a girl named Emy. She became his wife and lived on. But what she may not know is that Undon was not the eldest. Undon was a cold-blooded killer, until he had come to see Emy’s beauty.

    Although he’d killed his older brother, Undon saw that there can be many things that make you happy, but death is not one. Markel has now moved away from Bejia, but nobody knows why. They just know that my “spooky old house” is the last home of Undon, Emy, and their three sons and four daughters.

    Empress, Emy for short, was known to be the only one who could cast magic in all her ways, but she did, one night, forget that their youngest son was outside and she shot him down with lighting. The next night is when she, Undon, and all the other children, mysteriously vanished, like they were just mists.

    I know the truth. Undon had a debt to pay and his children paid for it dearly with their mortal bodies. They are now my only friends, ravens that have grown to the size of humans, and Undon has become my closest companion, as a German Sheppard that guards me at night. His lovely wife is a dove that comes to play with the Sheppard, and his six brothers are my six cats that roam the attic and eat tuna if I leave some for them.

    I am nothing more, nothing less, than a simple servant who’s been forever immortalized within the confines of these beautiful cobalt cuffs that chain me to the house that Undon built. I am none but twelve to the human eye, but I am less than three-thousand-years-old and I will not leave until the day comes that Emy’s son can walk again and he comes to say his “thank yous” to his mother.

    She saved him from the cursed fate of being a raven forever more. Tonight I call out to you, wherever you must be young boy; “Come back to the house who’s foundation has stood strong. Come back to the house when the bell tower gongs. Come back to the arms of a mother who coos you to sleep. Come home to the warm fire I shall keep.”