top of page

Chapter Five - The Crack of Middrift

At first the invasion of space had been alarming. Thyal had been alone so long that suddenly having someone thrust into his sphere was disturbing and unsettling. A presence permeated every corner of his cell, almost as if the walls had shrunken, compressing him. It felt unnatural to converse with someone again, especially when Sunday had finally begun speaking cakrei with her horrendous accent.

He simply wasn’t used to hearing a voice or needing to reply with his own tongue. Sometimes he completely forgot to answer. She was patient with him, never seeming to really mind his moments of brooding, or the hours he spent simply sitting in his spot by the back wall. Gradually, day by day, he’d adapted. Actually, he’d adapted far faster than he’d expected, and that in of itself, was a little worrying. His loneliness had been all consuming, but as the years had worn on, it had dulled into an endless ache that poured into a bottomless pit. He would never get out; he would never have the life that still haunted his dreams—

Fresh grass between his toes. Wind. The glorious sail-ships of the mighty Cakrei Fleet gliding gracefully through the high clouds, and the laughter of cubs dancing gleefully about in the shimmering green moors.

What a pitiful dream it was.

And now Skarlar had given him a twisted hope that it was possible. That he could climb his way out of this cursed crack, ravage the land that had burned his ships and slaughtered his people.

Thyal’s mouth salivated at the thought of it—the revenge—he had wanted it, so much, it was all he had clung to, like a lifeline.

But Skarlar’s words hung like a bell, clanging loudly in his mind.

A key to his kingdom.

What did that mean?

Riogan was lost—wasn’t it? Without their cloud-ships, without their navigators, it was impossible to traverse Aburu’s terrifying cloud-seas. It would be impossible to find a moving kingdom amongst the turbulent clouds. Thyal curled his claws against the scars down his arm. Fifteen years in the Crack, how long was that for the world above? How long had his people suffered in their chains?

Sunday’s slim fingers entwined through his.

He startled, surprised at her touch. He could tell she still had a headache from Skarlar’s visit the day prior. Despite how much he had tried to muffle The Warden’s overwhelming frequency, the power behind such a force was simply impossible to nullify entirely. He was impressed though, that she’d worked to tune back to his higher frequency despite her obvious discomfort. She was improving. Her waves growing steadier and less prone to fluctuating.

The Warden’s words had unnerved her though. She couldn’t hide the flakiness of her staves as they wobbled about with unsettled confusion and anxiety. Still, she had not denied him his revenge. He’d thought for sure she would object. His chest tightened as a warmth gripped him. Perhaps he’d misjudged that aspect of her.

It’ll be alright. She assured. It might not be easy, but, we can do it, right?

Thyal chuckled. No. No, it isn’t going to be easy, but we’ll figure it out.

It wasn’t as if they really had a choice. He supposed he could sit here, and continue to languish in stagnation, but if there was a chance, even the slimmest of chances, that he could reach the surface—

He had to take it.

Her hand in his squeezed tighter. He wondered if she used touch for his benefit, knowing he couldn’t see her unless he broadened his waves to bounce off the cell walls and reflect back in ripples to slowly form a highlighted glow of her shape in the darkness of his mind. He’d stopped using the skill early on in his captivity, the world being so voided and empty, apart from the drips of water that only reminded him of blood, dripping off walls, dripping off him.

But with Sunday bouncing around the cell, he found himself prone to activating the feedback loop more often, welcoming the soft light of her shape formed by the shimmering ripples.

Of course, he had considered she might have been just as lonely as he was, and that her life has been just as empty and that the way she sometimes fell asleep on his shoulder was a heartbreaking result of a bitter hollowness.

Suddenly, she bounced up, and he heard her clap her hands loudly.

“Okay!” He could almost imagine her slapping her hands on her hips. “So! Let’s do this! Um. Not that I know how to do it, but, let’s do it!”

“I applaud your enthusiasm.” He slouched back against the wall.

His knee was kicked lightly. “Oh come on, isn’t this a good opportunity? I mean, it is basically an escape plan handed out freely, right?”

“There is a very high probability of death.”

“Yes, yes, I get that.” She crouched in front of him. “But it isn’t as if we have anything else to do?”

Her enthusiasm was masking the cadence of her anxiety. Soft, fluttering lines of pink that hid behind the bouncing radiance of the loud, fluoresce beats she was projecting forth. Perhaps she was worried if she didn’t project such positivity, she’d be drowned in despair, or did she think he’d leave her behind to rot in this cell?

He rubbed at the acing screws of the iron mask. She needed not worry. Skarlar had entwined their fates, near to the point of removing any choice, and that made him uneasy.

“I suppose you are right.” Thyal managed a smile.

“What was that thing The Warden mentioned though, about your family having some sort of ancient tradition that would make this easier?”

His tail fur puffed out. He had been so hoping she’d not caught that bit of the conversation. How was he supposed to explain a complicated and complex cultural practice to an alien.

“Oh, you’re uneasy.” Sunday murmured. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have brought it up.”

He cocked his head. “You’re getting better at reading waves. I’m impressed.”

Her waves danced with embarrassment, and a tiny of happiness at his praise.

Thyal held out his hand, curling his fingers. Her cold hand slipped into his. Even with the enormous coat that Skarlar had provided her, she was still struggling to keep herself warm. It was concerning, especially during the night hours when her temperature just seemed to plummet.

“It is difficult to explain something so woven into a culture that it may not exist anymore.” He didn’t know what had survived of cakrei life beyond The Crack. Would his people even welcome him if he was to climb free of the prison—

If what Skarlar said was true, and the jouramine had forgotten about him, then it was most likely his own people had as well. Why would they remember a prince who had failed to protect them. He had sentenced them to lives of misery and servitude.

Sunday settled down beside him. “I’ll do my very best to understand.”

Thyal clanked his head back in amusement. That was really all his ask. “Alright, well. There was an old cakrei tradition within the royal family, that by a certain age the heirs of the throne would choose for themselves, amongst suitable candidates, either a sword or a shield. It was sort of a way to symbolize that heir’s choice in the direction their life, and their role as steward of the kingdom, would take.”

He watched the shimmering outline of her frame in the void of darkness nod along with his words.

“The royal family wasn’t simply an established aristocratic rule, we had a function had to be fulfilled, duties that were passed down from generation to generation.” Thyal held up his fingers. “One was to keep the Great Shield raised against Aburu’s toxic cloud-sea, and secondly, we were tasked with guarding the kingdom on the battlefield. This could be against other principalities, or against the cloud-sea monster’s that often attacked our Great Shield.”

“Right, so, a sword or a shield…” Sunday murmured. “We are not talking about actual iron swords, or wooden shields, are we? You did not go to some holy temple, and like, randomly choose some item that dictated your entire future?”

Thyal shook his head. “No. Though, your idea is somewhat accurate. Sword and Shield are the titles award to the ones whom the heir chooses as their…” He clicked his tongue, searching for a suitable word. “Champion?” That seemed like an appropriate translation. “The sword became an extension of the heir’s synthesising skill on the battlefield, while the Shield allowed the heir to greatly increase their perception field.” Thyal knotted his hands together. “The formed bond between heir and champion was referred to as oscillation, for it established a stable synchronisation between two compatible frequencies. By activating oscillation, a new level of synthesising could be reached, because no longer was the heir relying only on their own wavelength, but on a combined harmony. Does that make sense?”

He titled his head in her direction, trying to gauge her reaction through the small wobbles of her waves. She really wasn’t letting anything out, nothing other than curiosity.

“I had a friend, back then. Tousue. He was born of the royal guard. He’d been willing the make the sacrifice for me and take up the shield position as my champion, just to get my parents off my back, but it is a lifelong commitment, and I didn’t want to tie him down. He’d have been utterly miserable, locked up in a tower with me, no chance of living the adventurous life he dreamed of. He was a free-spirit, born to explore the cloud-sea, and he wanted nothing more than to own his own fleet of cloud-ships and have a whole family to run them.” Thyal spread his hands wide. “I never had that sort of luxury, to dream of such grand desires. I was destined for one role, and one role only, to remain bound to the kingdom as it’s guardian, powering the Great Shield. I truly did not have a choice, despite the illusion of one.”

He sighed. “Sometimes I wonder, if I had not been so selfish in waiting, if I had just found a shield, and let my ailing mother join the Currents, would the jouramine have broken through the Great Shield. Would our cities have fallen…is it…is it all my fault…”

Sunday’s neck chain clanked about. She must have been shaking her head. “You cannot possibly bear the weight of that thought, Thyal. No one could possibly put the blame on you.”

“Perhaps not.” Thyal tilted his head. He could still see it in the darkness behind the iron mask, the glimmering barrier that stretched across Rioghan, collapsing, allowing the raging clouds of Aburu’s terrifying cloud-sea to roar across the land in a furious tornado of flames. “But the responsibility was still mine, as the heir.”

“Even if it was, don’t you think you’ve been punished enough?”

He managed a wiry smile at her rebuttal. “I don’t know.”

“Could an heir choose a sword and a shield?” she asked.

Thyal rolled his knees to his chest. “Sometimes such a happenstance was required, though, such occurrences were more frequent during the Stagnation Era, before Rioghan began to drift amongst the cloud-sea, and we learnt to tame the currents. By then the Sceptre had been built, and it required a constant synthesist, thus the royal family tended for two or more children to spread the load.” He rubbed his neck.

Sunday seemed to shuffle uncomfortably. “So, you’re telling me, an entire nation was built around the idea that several people had to sacrifice their lives to fuel some barrier.”

“Yes. This was our duty, as the royal family.”

“So you didn’t govern anything.”

“I presume my…younger…brother and sister would have aided in such state affairs.” Thyal shrugged. “We dedicated ourselves wholly to the people. Our lives were not our own.”

He caught the small blimp in her wave.

“This displeases you.”

“No. I can’t judge something I might not understand.” Her voice was soft. “I’m just sad that you couldn’t travel the world with your friend, that’s all.”

Thyal chuckled. “I was very tempted to run away, but in the end, I decided to send Tousue off, fund his expeditions and to live vicariously through his letters.”

The notes of her frequency bubbled, forming clear amusement, tinted with aching sorrow, and deep loneliness that his own staves resonated with. It had been lonely, and perhaps that was why he had hesitated so much, knowing his life was destined to be one of solitude.

Yet hesitating had only caused solitude. His kingdom laid to ruin, and his family slaughtered. Thyal’s hands clutched at the edges of the iron mask. He had deserved the shroud of darkness, the silence, and the loneliness.

Sunday was clicking her fingers, a thoughtful tick that she seemed to do whenever idly thinking. “So…I just have to choose between being a sword, or being a shield? I gather I can’t be both.”

He choked. Wait—what? When had she made any decision—

“This is a lifelong commitment, Sunday! I would not want you to go into it feeling as though it’s been forced upon you due to Skarlar’s meddling.”

Sunday sighed. “I think you have the wrong idea about this whole thing.” She climbed onto her feet. “I don’t want to stay down here either. We have a goal, a combined goal. We’re going to climb out of this crack, together, and then you’re going to get revenge, save your people, become a king and so on, so on.” She fluttered a hand about, causing the glow that encased her form to fluctuate at the sharp movements.

“That isn’t your fight.”

She was an alien. This wasn’t even her world.

“No, but I haven’t really got anything else to do, have I? And I don’t even have anywhere else to go? I don’t know anyone. The Warden said I’m never going home.” Her waves grew low, showing momentary despair. “The way I see it, I need you, more than you need me.”

He frowned.

“I’m scared, Thyal.” Sunday whispered. Her frequency flattened. “I didn’t…my life was nothing…”

He smelt the faintest hint of salt. Tears.

“Oh Sunday.” Thyal held out his hands, clasping her elbows.

She bubbled out an uncomfortable laugh. “Sorry. The Warden is right. I shouldn’t make this a pity-party about myself.”

He brushed at her damp cheeks. “If we’re going to make this work at all, we need to be able to trust each other, wholly and completely. You’re not alone anymore, Sunday.”

She breathed in deeply. “Thank you.” Her frequency so easily threaded around his, and his tail tensed. Her waves brushed against his own so naturally, uncaring for the old taboos that had once surrounded synths and harmonisation. Perhaps it was possible that he wouldn’t be alone—

Thyal cocked his head to one side, focusing his attention to the corridor beyond their cell the distant echo of jouramine boots clanking of the stone floor. He knew that heavy clanging. It brough the smell of blood, tacky, drenching him from head to toe. He’d spent years believing he would never rid himself of the feeling of his family’s blood dripping off his fur.

Thyal leapt to his feet, dragging his chains as he headed for the iron bars of the cell.


He met the jouramine warrior at the cell door, hissing as his chains went taught, restricting him from going any further.

“Prince Thyal, and Miss. Riverstone.” Fardune’s armour hissed steam loudly.

Thyal crinkled his nose at the foul sulfuric smell the suit released.

“What do you want, Fardune?”

“Now, now, don’t bite my head off. I am here under The Warden’s orders.”

A loud beep indicated that the cell door was opening.

Sunday had pressed close to him, her finger’s clutching tight against his arm. Her waves began to flux, high and low, in panic, turning bright red as they fell out of sync with his own. He momentarily felt a swell of nausea grip him at the sudden lack of equilibrium.

“No. No!” Sunday protested.

What was happening? Thyal felt his chains jerk as Sunday grappled for a grip on his arm.

“Fardune? What are you doing?”

“Taking the lass for her first lesson.”

“Lesson?” Thyal twisted his grip around, grabbing Sunday’s hand. “What lesson?”

“If she is going to be of any use to you, Your Highness, she needs sharpening, to become a worthy tool.” The tone was mockingly condescending, and gripped with irritation.

“Ha, no.” Thyal snarled. “I am not letting you take anything else from me.”

“Ah, see…” Fardune’s grim grip snagged his wrist, twisting it. Thyal yelped as he was driven to the ground by the overwhelming strength bearing down through the hissing armoured suit. “There is really nothing you can do about it. There was nothing you could do back then, and there is nothing you can do now. You are weak and pathetic, and you will die when you take The Climb, finally ridding me of my greatest disappointment.”

Thyal spat in the jouramine’s direction. “She had better come back in one piece, Fardune.”

“Or you’ll what? Break out? Ohhh, I am so scared.”

The cell door slammed shut. Thyal winced at the clatter. Sunday’s frequency clawed at his, trying to hold onto their harmony, until fear completely broke it and the connection shattered. He gripped at the iron mask, biting his bottom lip as the pain radiated down his backbone.

The cell—

It was empty again.

Just the dripping of water falling from the stalagmites.

He curled into a ball, trying to ward off the oppressive loneliness.

It hadn’t taken long at all, to forget the choking hold of isolation.

5 views0 comments

Recent Posts

See All
bottom of page