4 – Black and Silver
Phan sat on the floor of the shimmering jeweled cavern. Even though he was a zombie and didn’t need to eat to survive, he enjoyed fishing in the ocean. The fish were tasty and good for eating. Captivated sniffed at a pile of fish bones stacked beside Phan. When he didn’t find them appetizing he snorted and turned away. “Here,” Phan said to the unicorn. “I picked a bit of grass for you to eat.” He pulled out a pile of beach grass from his pocket and handed it to Captivated. Captivated immediately returned and started eating the grass. While watching Captivated consume his meal he was interrupted by a sound. It sounded like footsteps from either an animal or a human. He stood up and strained to hear more. The sounds gradually increased in volume and came from the direction of the tunnel leading down to the cavern. The closer they sounded the more Phan began to worry. The footsteps could be from something harmless such as an animal or strayed livestock. They could also be something dangerous such as an enemy or robber. Shadow-shapes couldn’t have made the footsteps because they glided across the ground without any noise. Quickly Phan ducked behind Captivated. Maybe he could let whoever or whatever it was think that it was only a strayed unicorn. Even that plan would fail. Captivated was easily recognized across the Shadow Realm as being Gemini’s special friend. Finally, Phan stepped out from behind Captivated. He was ready to fight if it was necessary. Captivated’s ears were pricked and pointed towards the direction of the tunnel. The footsteps sounded closer now like they were very close to him. Finally a shape appeared from out of the tunnel. Now Phan didn’t want to fight or escape. The cause of the footsteps was just Prince Gemini! “Gemini!” Phan shouted. “You had me scared for a moment!” Gemini smiled. “Sorry,” he apologized. “I see that you and Captivated are well.” “Yes,” Phan answered. “But I saw something that might have been of interest to you. Coming from the shore were many shadow-shapes. I don’t know if they are dangerous, but I don’t think I like them.” “Yes,” Gemini answered. “I have faced them. They are dangerous, Phan, and have to do with the attack on the realm.” “What happened to everyone else?” Phan asked. “I don’t know,” Gemini admitted. “Everyone in the castle disappeared.” Phan was disappointed. “What is this place,” he asked. “I found it while running from the shadow-shapes.” “This was a mine for jewels and gemstones,” Gemini explained. “But now it is mined only when special or extremely expensive gems are needed for only the best occasions. Obviously, to protect the gems, the mine had to be well-hidden. I thought that this would be a good place to stay.” He placed his supplies down on the floor and wandered around the cavern. “Nice, huh?” “Yes,” Phan agreed. “And Captivated is here! He’s been missing you!” Gemini stopped, turned around, and smiled at Captivated. Captivated recognized his owner and took no hesitation to approach him. Gemini reached out to him and rubbed him between the ears. “I brought your saddle,” Gemini told him. Captivated turned to where the saddle was sitting and sniffed at the familiar piece of tack. Gemini turned to Phan and prepared to tell him about his experiences in the city. “Phan,” he began. “Something has happened. In the city, shadow-shapes have taken the girl Jenesis, daughter of Sir Delen and Lady Lucille. Others have been taken, too.” “That’s horrible,” Phan responded. He sat down beside Gemini’s saddle and supplies and waited for his friend to continue. “I couldn’t follow the tracks of Jenesis and the shadow-shape on foot,” Gemini continued. “But with you and Captivated I think I may be able to go after them.” Phan felt as if he was missing something. “Why are you going after this Jenesis girl?” he questioned. “Because,” Gemini answered. “I want to find out where and why the shadow-shapes are kidnapping our people.” “So you plan to go after them with an army or patrol of some sort?” Phan asked. “No, I plan only to take Captivated and you if you are willing to accompany me.” Phan wasn’t so sure about his idea. “Are you absolutely sure? You have finalized your plans?” “Yes” Gemini assured. “Will you come?” Phan wasn’t making a difficult choice between accompanying his best friend on an important errand or sitting around on a gem mine doing nothing. “Of course!” he accepted. “Great,” Gemini replied. “Shall we start tomorrow morning?” “That would be good,” Phan answered back. “Would you like some fish?” Gemini nodded his head. “I like fish.” Phan walked over to his small fire pit he used for cooking his food. The fire wasn’t lit but the fish were still very hot. Phan cut a piece from one of the fish and handed it to Gemini. “Thank you.” He sat beside the pit and started eating the piece. Upon entering the cavern Phan had almost immediately seen the silver crown that was placed on his head. If his early memory served him correctly it had belonged to King Theo. The crown was so light and shiny that he was sure that Queen Elodie had worn it after Theo. Phan planned on asking about it but couldn’t compose a sentence saying what he thought. “Are you prepared for the journey tomorrow?” Phan asked. Gemini nodded his head in response. “I packed my saddlebags while sifting through the trashed castle.” “I see,” Phan answered. “And we really should get some rest.” “Good idea,” Gemini agreed. He turned around only ten seconds after answering and already Phan was asleep where he was sitting. He must have fallen asleep while he was looking away at Captivated. Speaking of Captivated, there was a certain item that he needed back. It would be of utmost importance to the trip. Captivated’s bridle was lying on the floor. Gemini approached it and picked it up. What he was looking for wasn’t tangled in the bridle. It wasn’t lying on the floor either. There was a possibility that it could be lost, but he had tried to secure it as best as he could. Hopefully Phan had found it. Captivated came from behind Gemini and sniffed the bridle. “No, we’re not riding,” Gemini said to him. “Have you seen my amulet?” Captivated snorted. The amulet didn’t appear to be tangled in Captivated’s mane or horn. There was a good chance that Phan had it. Now Gemini started to think about the situation he was heading into. He didn’t have any knights, sorcerers, or armies for reinforcement. Captivated and Phan were the only ones who could assist him. On the brighter side, he was an expert with his sorcery powers. Those would be very useful to him. The walls of the cavern shone brightly with its jewels and gems sparkling. The cavern was a true wonder throughout the Shadow Realm. Its gems and jewels didn’t need light to shine. Magic gave them their luster and shine. Gemini’s amulet also possessed that power. Only a select few jewels were capable of this. As the night went on, Gemini finally fell asleep leaning up against Captivated’s saddle. Captivated fell asleep shortly after Gemini. He wasn’t tired today but sleeping still felt good for him. The sparkling jewels danced around the cavern all night long.
Phan and Gemini woke up early in the morning. They always woke up early, Gemini due to his personality and Phan because of him being a zombie. Quickly they prepared for their journey after the shadow-shape. Captivated’s personality brightened up when he discovered he was going someplace exciting. Then again, he was happy anytime he was with Gemini. Gemini slipped on Captivated’s bridle while Phan tightened the saddle girth. “Hold the bridle,” Gemini instructed Phan. Phan grabbed Captivated’s bridle while Gemini tied the saddlebags behind the saddle. “Thank you,” he thanked Phan. Captivated was ready to ride and everything was packed up. There was only one problem which needed solving. Gemini had Captivated to ride but who would Phan ride? The other unicorns weren’t anywhere to be seen. “Who should you ride?” Gemini asked. “You haven’t seen the other unicorns around, have you?” “No, unfortunately,” Phan answered. “Don’t worry. Just climb up behind me in the saddle.” Gemini placed his foot in the stirrup and pulled himself onto Captivated’s back. Phan jumped up after him. “Are you sure Captivated can carry the two of us, plus the saddlebags?” Phan concerned, but he immediately answered that question in his mind. Captivated was a strong, fast, and talented unicorn. “Captivated is fine,” Gemini answered. “He doesn’t mind this weight at all!” What he said was very true. Captivated trotted off with no problem at all. He was happy to have Gemini back riding with him. When they rode out of the cavern Captivated didn’t hesitate to gallop off. “We’ll ride back to the castle, then ride into the city. When we reach the city I can try to follow the tracks of the shadow-shapes.” “Sounds good,” Phan agreed. The forest appeared brighter and life seemed to carry on despite the situations in the realm. A young fawn stopped and started at the travelers. Birds once again fluttered around in the treetops. The forest had changed back to its usual self. It would change further along with the realm. The question was: Would it change for the greater or for the worse? Captivated made the route back to the castle much quicker and easier. While cantering past the castle Phan had to turn and take a glimpse of the remains of the castle. He was surprised to find that the term “remains” wasn’t exactly accurate enough. The castle was intact, but the yard was covered in ashes and furniture. Still, the sight was shocking. It was hard to believe that a magnificent structure such as the castle could ever end up in a state like that. Gemini didn’t have a shocking reaction to the sight. The castle could be repaired someday. It wasn’t time to wish about changing the past. Instead, it was time to look ahead to what could be done. Gemini needed to take control of the realm until Queen Elodie and everyone else could be found. However, Gemini did look back at the castle before galloping down the road. It seemed to tell him that riding on was best. The sound of Captivated’s hooves striking against the road was pleasant for both Gemini and Phan to hear. It also meant that they were getting closer to the shadow-shapes by the second. With the aid of Captivated it wasn’t long until they reached the city. Gemini slowed Captivated to a walk while passing down the main street of the city. He yielded Captivated to a walk. The people in the city at first didn’t notice their prince passing by. Their eyes were fixed down either at the ground or at each other. They wouldn’t be completely satisfied with the sight of Gemini anyways. Gemini was a well-loved and respected prince but he wouldn’t be a joyous sign in this particular situation. Seeing only him, Phan, and Captivated meant that there wasn’t a broad selection of messengers left at the castle. If Elodie wished for the public to be addressed about the Shadow Realm’s condition she would have sent Torren. If Torren wasn’t available Sir Edwin would be sent. Gemini and Phan would have been among her last choices for a messenger unless, of course, Gemini wanted to complete the task and addressed his wish to her. The crown on Gemini’s head didn’t place the public at ease either. It delivered the message that Elodie was incapable of ruling the realm. That would only cause more panic and distress. Torren or the rest of the knights and guards weren’t to be seen or heard from. Most would believe that they hadn’t survived the attack. Then again, Gemini’s escape was surprising. Not much was known about Gemini outside of the castle. Even in the castle he usually kept to himself, exception being to those he trusted the most.
“That’s Prince Gemini!” a voice called from the left side of the street. Gemini turned his head towards the sound. Captivated stopped and observed the source of the voice. A young girl of about seven years of age stood on a wooden crate pointing directly at him. The girl descended from the crate and tapped a woman near her on the shoulder. “Mother!” she called out. “Look!” A woman in a plain dress turned around and glanced towards the direction her daughter signaled. “You’re right!” she exclaimed. The girl left her mother’s side and ran to Gemini. The mother walked behind.
“What are you doing here, Prince Gemini?” the girl asked. Her voice had a worrying tone combined with a slight hint of excitement over meeting the prince. “Why aren’t you with Queen Elodie and the rest of your friends? And what are you doing here?”
“Just passing through,” Gemini answered.
“Where?” the girl’s mother asked.
Gemini honestly wasn’t sure on his reply. “I’m not sure,” he finally answered.
Luckily, Phan had a better response. “To wherever the shadow-shapes lead us,” he told them. “We’re not sure on the exact location.”
The woman was surprised. “Without any knights or guards? Are you sure?”
“Yes.” Gemini was positive on this answer. “I’ll be just fine.” He tapped Captivated with his heel and he walked on through the city.
Gemini rode to the location where he had last spotted Jenesis and her shadow-shape captor. “This is the spot,” he told Phan. “Here is where I last saw Jenesis and the shadow-shape were last seen before heading down there.” Phan looked down the street Gemini pointed down. The street looked entirely stripped of all life. “There seems to be some kind of track at the end of this street,” Gemini pointed out. “Composed of something along the lines of soot, mud, or dirt?” “Seems like mud,” Phan commented. “Are you absolutely sure this will lead us to Jenesis if followed?” “The chance is good,” Gemini answered. “And now we follow.” He kicked Captivated onwards and galloped beside the tracks. “Do you think they escaped by carriage?” Phan asked. “There’s a good chance,” Gemini answered. “The tracks appear to by made by a carriage. Besides, those markings in the ground could be hoof prints.” The tracks led out of the city and onto a dirt road which led through the forest. Since the ride seemed silent Phan decided to ask Gemini a question which was nagging at his mind lately.
“Gemini,” Phan asked.
“What do you remember about the attack on the castle?”
Gemini didn’t reply as sudden as he usually did. After the pause he finally said, “I remember that I failed.”
Phan seemed confused. “How did you fail?”
“By not saving my mother, Torren, and the rest of the castle.”
“You couldn’t possibly save everyone yourself!”
“I could have at least saved Queen Elodie!”
“That wasn’t your job. If anyone was supposed to be guarding Queen Elodie, it was Torren.”
“No, Phan. Even under those circumstances I should have either saved everyone or captured along with everyone else.
“But if you were taken, who would be riding with me to search for them?”
“If I was captured, I would know where they are.”
Well, do you suppose any of our neighboring kingdoms would be willing to assist?” Phan suggested. “Perhaps they are also suffering from similar attacks?”
“Not sure. The Shadow Realm’s bordering kingdoms have no contact whatsoever with us. The shadow-shapes keep to themselves. Queen Hearthina, who rules below, isn’t particularly an ally of us. Finally, we haven’t heard much from King Dunker and Queen Dunnabelle for many years.”
“And similar attacks?”
“I highly doubt that. I can see no purpose for attacking realms and taking prisoners. What could the shadow-shapes possibly want with the sorcerers and knights of other kingdoms?”
Phan agreed with the last statement. However, he still wasn’t at ease with Gemini blaming himself.
Conversation proved to pass the time. They rode out of the forest and onto another small road. The scenery was beautiful in this part of the realm. Phan especially took a liking to a shimmering pond surrounded by flowers. The water appeared to be so perfect it could have been made of glass. He watched as a small bird hopped along around the water’s edge. Funny that a realm named “Shadow Realm” could have such beautiful sights. Captivated caught on to the fact that they were following the set of tracks before him. He knew where to go now so Gemini didn’t even have to guide him. Later on, while heading down the road for a good while the tracks suddenly veered off of the middle of the road. “Definitely the shadow-shapes,” Phan commented. “Probably right!” Gemini agreed. “I can’t think of any other explanation right now.” Gemini reined Captivated off the road and through the grass. Once more Captivated caught on and started trotting along again. “No doubt these lead to the land of the shadow-shapes,” Gemini said. “I’ll say, these shadow-shapes are very unusual. They don’t even bother to cover their tracks -or attempt to, at least.” Phan agreed with Gemini. However, another possibility entered his mind. “Have you ever thought,” he began, “That maybe these shadow-shapes don’t feel the need to cover their tracks? I wouldn’t underestimate them if I were you. Perhaps the shadow-shapes are so powerful that they don’t consider us a great enough threat to their civilization?” There was a chance Phan was right and Gemini knew it. “That just may be the case.”
As Gemini and Phan rode to the edge of the Shadow Realm’s border the air became dense. Exactly as predicted, the tracks continued on. Gemini kicked Captivated on despite the sudden change in atmosphere. The very site gave off an uncomfortable feeling. Under law no towns or buildings were to be built by this section of the border, with exception of guard towers. The guard towers were abandoned a few months back so the guards could be put to work on another town miles away. (Yes, another of Elodie’s brilliant ideas!) The reason for the law was obvious. Nobody in their right mind would want to come to this border, anyways. Finally, a wall of smoke surrounded the travelers. Captivated became confused and wasn’t sure as to where to go. Gemini directed him straight ahead and Captivated eventually obeyed. It was a possibility already that their trail had become lost. Ash and sparks floated around in the smoke. Breathing became complicated. The terrain became choppy and filled with rocks. Captivated nearly slipped twice. Gemini and Phan adjusted to their surroundings after spending a few minutes in the intense conditions. Phan turned around to see another uneasy view. Behind him he could only see smoke. It was as if the Shadow Realm had vanished behind them as they crossed the border into this strange and unusual realm. Eventually, however, the smoke finally thinned out to reveal the landscape in its entirety. The terrain was made up of charred rock, no doubt from a volcano. Rivers and streams of lava wound around the rocky, lifeless terrain. Large volcanoes towered above the rivers.
Surprisingly, neither Gemini nor Phan were terrified of this. Lava and volcanoes were only physical landforms. The real horror stood before them in rows upon rows, red eyes glowing with hate and evil.
“Gemini?” Phan whispered.
“Did you expect any of this??”