The Sacrifice

“Vivianna, don’t walk away from me. We’re not through with this discussion.”

“Yes we are Mother. I’m not doing it.”

“This is your rite of passage, Vivianna. Please don’t be difficult.”

“You can’t make me!”

“You know very well I can. I didn’t want to resort to that.”

“So you’re threatening me?”

“I’m not. I’m urging you to do this on you own accord. But I’m begging you, for all of Naroona’s sake, don’t make me force you.”

“Why? Why me?”

“Vivianna, you’re my only heir. The throne of Naroona is destined to be yours but only if you go through with the Awakening, you know that!”

“What if I don’t want to be destined? What if I want to be an average women, born only to bear children and the burden of my husband?”

“You’re better than that. And you know it,” mother spits between clenched teeth. She’s obviously fuming. Steam will shortly stream for her ears.

“You can’t make me, Mother.”

“I can and I will. Don’t test me Vivianna, you have no knowledge as to how far my wrath reaches.”

“But…”

“Don’t test me Vivianna. This discussion is over. Don’t bring it up again. In two nights time, when the moon is full you will sacrifice yourself to Naroona.”

I knew better to push Mother any further. I stop protesting and stare into my mothers cool yet kind turquoise eyes.

“You have a lesson. You don’t want to be late, now run.”

“Yes, Mother,” I said quietly bowing my head.

I scurry off down the stone corridor, and push my way into the third door to my left, the music room. In the middle my golden harp stands tall, towering over my five foot frame. Beside it, Lady Barrow sits waiting. Her lips in a tight straight line. She’s cross. I’ll suffer for my tardiness.

“You’re late.”

“My apologies Lady Barrow. I was discussing…something with my Mother.”

“You were arguing with your mother, that’s what you were doing.”

“You were listening, weren’t you?”

“What if I was?”

“It’s a despicable trait you know,” I say, adding a tone of disdain to my voice.

“So is being late.”

She always had to have the last word. But I’m a pro at this game.

“Eavesdropping is worse than tardiness.”

My lesson is exceptionally painful. When it’s over and I suffered for my tardiness I loiter about the castle I refer to as home. But the stone walls bore me. I move into the garden, the only outside world I know. It’s the only place in all of Naroona that doesn’t expect something from me. It’s the only place I feel most at east, most like myself – a simple girl born into a not so simple life.

I know nothing outside of Naroona, the lone island that makes up the new world. Whatever I know is what I’ve learned from ancient text books and equally ancient tutors.

The island of Naroona was founded some five hundred years ago when the old world – the former United States – came to a surprising end.

According to my text books it was 2012, December 21, 2012 to be exact. Throughout the year news reported the Mayans prediction of the end of the world, but the people’s ignorance was blinding.

The prediction: a series of intergalactic events would occur millions of miles away, ultimately causing a series of catastrophic happenings that would transform the world as people of the twenty-first century knew it. Some probably assumed it was nothing weather patterns would change. That California for the first time in history would have four separate seasons – fall, summer, winter, and spring. And New Jersey would be cast in a perpetual state of unbearable heat. But most thought it was a bunch of nonsense made up by the media outlets to scare the general public.

On December 21, 2012 seven ten point zero magnitude earthquakes simultaneously shook each of the seven continents. The world did not end, but it did in fact change … drastically. Parts of the world crumbled and sunk into the depths of the ocean. Parts of the world shifted, eventually forming one island: Naroona.

But something else happened, something the Mayans didn’t, probably couldn’t, predict. When the land finally shifted, settled into on extremely large island, something spectacular was released. Magic. The new world of Naroona was full of magic. Not just full of magic, but full of magical creatures. Every tree hole was a house for fairies. The waters were filled with selkies and sirens alike. And even dragons soared the airs above.

Even though humans occupied the Southern territory and the magical the Northern, people feared this new world in which they lived. we each had our own, separate territories, people were hesitant. That is, the people who did survive the Mayan Apocalypse. Yes, some were enthralled by this new magic. But most were confused and terrified.

Fingers pointed in every direction searching for someone to blame for the “unnatural” world that they were forced to live. They blamed the government for running the economy down. They blamed the Nazi Germany of the 1940s, saying this was the cosmos way of punishing humans for all their crimes and sins against humanity. They blamed the church for telling them not to believe in what was being called the ultimate rapture, but instead believe in a Christ that was nowhere to be found when the rapture did come.

But eventually humans learned to coexist with these once mythical creatures. And by coexist, it really means they kept to the North of Naroona while we humans kept to the South. Our only shared, common ground was Mount Ca-Vel, the center point of Naroona.

When there was finally some semblance of peace the eldest of each family gathered at the most center point of the newly formed world to discuss everything from the formation of a new government to the newly magical world they were not accustomed to the food supply that would surely dwindle rapidly.

Because details about this meeting didn’t go into any specifics within the pages of my ancient text books my ancient tutors taught from, I’ve learned most about it from my family. It was decided, since so many people ultimately blamed the democratic government for the events that occurred on December twenty-first, they decided on implementing an absolute monarch – one person or family to rule. Whether by pure luck, unabashed stupidity, or sheer magic the citizens of Naroona voted someone from my bloodline. No one really thought that one family, my family that is, could possibly rule an island for over five hundred years.

After ten years of living under the thumb of the same iron-fisted queen – a queen my own mother is ashamed to admit we’re actually related to – the people of Naroona pleaded their case to the island elders. Realize they had outgrown this monarchy approach, the elders set out to Naroona’s highest peak, Mount Ca-Vel, in search of, not only peace, but answers.

It was on Mount Ca-Vel that fate intervened, making the elder’s task a whole lot easier. They claimed a cosmic voice spoke to them, supplying an answer for a question they’ve yet to ask: if not democratic vote, how would a queen be elected?

A task. An answer so apparent and so simple the elders of Naroona overlooked it. It was decreed by this cosmic voice that every woman, on the dawn of their sixteenth birthday, was to hike the trail to Mount Ca-Vel. There they would meet their fate, and be asked to complete one task. If the task was completed up to the fate’s standard, a new queen would prevail.

But here’s the thing about the Awakening: no one knows exactly what’s waiting for them on Mount Ca-Vel. Each fate, each task differs. We go into this archaic ritual blind, only carrying a few items our mothers carefully selected for us based on their own experience.

Hundreds of girls await their fate, their task. All but one fail. It’s one girl out of hundreds. And for me, this means so much more than it does for the other girls. For five hundred years my family has ruled over Naroona, if I don’t complete this task, shame will fall on my family’s royal name. Our legacy lies in my hands.

In a mere forty-eight hours fate will either decree me Naroona’s next queen or will strip my family of its beloved titled, dethrone my very own mother, and shove us into a life of poverty. All of which my family – myself included – fear for.

As much as I fear being left penniless, what I fear most is facing the unknown. Even though generations of women have gone before me, no one can tell me what fate I will face. My own mother will not even what she had to face atop Mount Ca-vel. No matter how much I pester her about it, she will not relent. So, the only option I have left is to refuse, even though I know that my refusal means nothing. In two days I will hike the jagged path that leads to the top most peak of Mount Ca-Vel.

The temperature is swiftly dropping. The willow trees that surround my secluded bench in my beloved garden swish and sway in the chilly breeze. Shivering, I know it’s time to retreat inside.

When I step into my welcoming bedroom I’m shocked to find my mother sitting at my vanity. Her turquoise eyes stare at me through the mirror’s reflection. But unlike the cool eyes from hours before, there’s a softness found within her gaze.

“Sit down Vivianna.”

But my guard is up, still obviously put off from our previous disagreement.

“I’m fine standing,” I say.

She closes her eyes, searching for composure. I push every one of her buttons.

“Please, Vivianna. Please sit?”

I move over to the edge of my down comforter clad bed.

“I don’t want to argue with you. Arguing always proves fruitless.”

“So what do you want Mother?”

“I know this isn’t easy for you. I know because I too went through the very thing you fear. Even though I know you don’t believe me, I know what you’re feeling. It wasn’t easy for me either, you know.”

She pauses. I’m not one hundred percent sure as to where this discussion is going.

“This goes against everything I believe, every ounce of my being. But your are my daughter Vivianna, and I swore the day you were born that I’d do anything in my powers to protect you. You wanted to know what I faced during my own Awakening, well I’ll tell you.”

For the second time in only mere moments I’m shocked. My mother is going against her own principles, her own morals.
I wait. She looks pained. She knows that if anyone finds out what she’s about to do, she could risk losing the thrown, the crown, the life she’s struggled to provide me with. I consider her risk.

“I don’t want to know,” I say quietly, even though, on the inside I’m dying to find out.

“But Vivianna,”

“What difference will it make Mother? My Awakening will not be like yours.”

“I thought it would help.”

“It won’t. It will only make it worse.”

“If that’s how you feel.” She takes it as a stinging slap in the face. I pushed her away. She doesn’t realize I did this for her. It doesn’t matter that she doesn’t realize this.

“Here.” She hands me a cloth bundle tied in a golden silk ribbon.

“What is this?”

“Everything I think you will need to get through your impending Awakening.”

I don’t open it. I just hold it there in my lap.

“Aren’t you going to open it?”

“Not now. I don’t want to think of all this right now.”

“I understand.”

She stands up. Walks slowly to the closed-door, and reaches for the knob. She stops, and turns.

“Vivianna, you know if you didn’t have to do this, if the Awakening didn’t matter to me or to Naroona, I wouldn’t force you to do this.” She waits, when I don’t answer she pleads, “Vivianna, please answer me.”

“I know,” I whisper. She turns around and opens the door. She steps out and into the drafty hallway. “Mother!” I call as I run to the open door. She stops and turns her head, just enough to look me in my own turquoise eyes. “I’m sorry about the things I said before. I will graciously step forward, I will graciously accept what ever fate the cosmos deem worthy of me.”

She turns back and kisses me on my cheek. I don’t say anything, and step back into my room.

The bundle beckons me to the bed. I sit across from it, hover my palms just above the golden bow. Carefully I untie the ribbon, unfold the linen, and reveal the secrets the bundle carries: a black cloak, a jagged stone dagger, and a vile full of a think, amber liquid. I’m engrossed with the three items. I have several cloaks, all of which are prettier and sturdier than the one Mother has provided me with. The dagger is ancient, and I wonder if it could really do any damage. The vile sends an uneasy chill up and down my spine.

I tear my mind and my eyes away from the three items, and notice a small piece of paper. It’s fold into four neat square. It’s written on crisp gold cardstock, and sealed with wax. I tear at the seal, hastily opening the letter I’m sure my mother has spent hours writing.
I’m surprised to find that this folded piece of paper doesn’t contain words of encouragement and words of love. Instead there is only one sentence. A mere five words:

“Trust in what you are.”

I don’t know what to make of it. I fold the letter back into four neat squares and try my hardest to stop thinking about it.

That night I sleep restlessly. I toss from one side to the other. My dreams are full of nightmares. Dream after dream I find myself lying on the crumbling edge of Mount Ca-Vel writhing around in sheer and utter agony. I scream out for help, but no one hears me. They’re all miles below waiting to see if I’ve been decreed the new queen. I writhe and wriggle, my back arching and hunching over. From between my shoulder blades two green iridescent wings poke their way through the surface of my skin. They’re terrifying and magnificent all at once.

Just when I begin to hear the faintest voice, I’m pulled out of my dream state and back into the reality of my stone chamber. I wake up dry mouthed and in a cold sweat. Thoroughly shook, I crawl out of bed, move silently out of my room and through the castle corridors. I slip out into the moonlit garden. I slip into the glass gazebo, and lay on the bench. I stare out to the stars and the moon above me, wondering what secrets the night is keeping from me.

“Why aren’t I asleep, Mrs. Moon?”

She doesn’t answer me, she never does. Instead, she shines down above me, and with a gentle breeze lulls me to sleep. I sleep peacefully, near perfectly for the rest of the night, and wake only when the gardener shakes me awake. I sit up slowly, cautiously wondering why and how I got out here. But than I remember the dreams, than I remember the fear that I’m about to face. At at ten p.m. tonight I make my way to Mount Ca-Vel.

By the time I make it to the peak at exactly midnight, I will officially be sixteen years old. I will officially find out what my fate holds.

I spend the day camped out in the safety of my bedroom. When I don’t find comfort in my bedroom I move to the music room where I pluck a few lonely chords on my harp. And still, when that doesn’t easy my nerves I move down to the kitchen and scrounge up any sweets I could find – a candied apple, a few pieces if Turkish delight, a marzipan maple flavored leave, and a handful of fig cookies. But no amount of sweets can make me feel any better. In fact I feel worse. If that;s even possible.

Before I know it, it’s already nine o’clock. My mother sits with me. She strokes my hair as I prepare for my trek. I wear a soft pair of black slacks. snug black turtleneck shirt. When it’s time I let Mother tied the cloak to my neck. She covers my shoulders, and looks me square in the eyes.

“I love you Vivianna!” Her tone is fierce. My eyes well up with tears, but I swat them away. I can’t respond verbally, I nod, and when that isn’t enough I through my arms around her waist, and relinquish my tears against the smooth velvet bodice of her gown.

“Mother, I’m scared.”

“I know, but you are strong.”

“No! I’m not like you.”

“Vivianna, listen!” she raises her voice, takes my face in her palms and raises my turquoise eyes to hers. “Listen to me! Something unbelievable is about to happen to you. You have to believe in yourself, and trust in who – in what – you are.”

I nod and swipe the falling tears from my cheek. A light knock raps upon the door. A maid pokes her head into my room.

“Your Majesty, I’m sorry for the intrusion, but the carriage is here to take Miss Vivianna to Mount Ca-Vel.”

I’m whisked away to the awaiting carriage. My mother follows close behind, when I’m loaded and locked into the carriage I poke my head out the small oval window.

“Goodbye Mother,” I whisper.

“Don’t forget Vivianna, I love you and you are stronger than you know.”

At exactly ten I’m dropped off at the base of Mount Ca-Vel. The maid who’s traveled with me hands me a flickering lantern, along with it the jagged stone dagger.

“The vile! I left the vile,” I say near hysterics.

“Calm down Miss Vivianna, it’s here,” she sais handing me the vile. It’s dangling from a thick, black leather cord. She places it over my head and around my neck. I open the carriage door wanting nothing more to get the task at hand done and over with. When I climb out I look back at the maid who still sits in the carriage.

“Be brave Vivianna.”

Those are the last words I hear as a human.

At exactly midnight – I could tell by Mrs. Moon’s position in the darkened night sky – I crest the peak. I struggle to stand up on my the small ledge. My legs shake with ache. My breath staggers out of my lungs.

It’s cold. My teeth chatter noisily as I stare into the darkness, unsure as to what’s supposed to happen next. I tuck my cold hands into the cloaks pocket. An unfamiliar piece of paper tickles my fingertips. I pull it out, curious. It’s a note, but from who I’m not certain.

I unfold it, and realize that this piece of paper isn’t a note after all, it’s a set of instructions. At first I think it’s from Mother, but that I realize that I don’t recognize the writing at all.

“Vivianna.” My name is quietly carried on the wind. I pull my eyes away from paper and look for the source who called my name. The voice of the cosmos is a lot quieter than I expected

“Who’s there?”

“It is your fate calling.”

I’m not scared. I’m terrified.

“I accept whatever fate I am to face.”

“Read.”

I do as I’m instructed. I look down at the piece of paper in my hands.

“With the stone dagger break the vile and drink the liquid contents,” I read aloud.

I crack open the vile by tapping the crooked edge of the dagger on the thin glass. I down the amber substance, but not quick enough. It’s thick and bitter. My mouth is coated like chalk dust on a blackboard.

Seconds after I down the liquid I drop to my knees. A searing pain shoots throughout my body.

“What’s …. happening … to … me?!” I yelp out in between screams of agony.

“Vivianna, you are destined to be the next Queen of Naroona, but only if you are willing to give up who you are.”

“I’m willing,” I spit out. I can’t take the pain.

“Vivianna,” I hear my name again. But the voice is different. It’s the voice of my mother. “You must sacrifice yourself. You’re human self.”

“I don’t understand?” I try to stand up but I can’t. I don’t myself on all fours, a throbbing pain searing the space between my shoulder blades.

“You must give you your life. You must throw yourself from the rock’s edge.”

I can’t speak. This is not the fate I was expecting. But at the moment flinging myself of Mount Ca-Vel seems better than suffering though the pain.

I slowly stand up, my knees shaking with pain. I shuffle forward a few short feet. My toes hang over the edge.

I can’t believe I’m about to meet my death. But something deep within me knows I will survive this, something deep within me knows I will live.

“I give myself to Naroona,” I yell through the pain and tip my body forward. I fall full speed, the wind whipping through my loose hair. After a few solid seconds the searing pain courses through my body. It pulse from the tips of my toes and throbs all the way to my shoulder blades, where I feel two wings bursting their way out.

I am not longer falling to my death. Instead my newly sprouted wings flap against the wind, lifting me higher and higher. I fly for what seems like hours over mountain ranges and below the clouds.

It’s not until I’m soaring just above a lake that I catch a glimpse of my reflection. I’m so startled, so scared I lose focus and my wings falter. I’m not longer human. Instead I’m a … a dragon. This can’t possibly be.

Shocked and amazed I head back to Mount Ca-Vel in hopes of finding some answers. When I get there the ledge is just how I left it. Cold, dark, and empty. In a few short swoops I’m at the base of Mount Ca-Vel. A Carriage awaits. Still in my dragon form I creep over and peek inside. I find my mother. She peers out at me.

She blinks back tears and emerges from the carriage.

“Vivianna, you’re beautiful.” She extends a hand and cups my long snout in her hand. My skin is silky smooth and the color of pure gold. For the first time in my life I’m tall and slender. My wings flicker in the moonlight, sending a cascade of color over my mothers face.

I know, after looking into my mother’s eyes that I now inhabit two complete bodies, two complete souls: my human soul which will physically rule Naroona and my dragon soul who will spiritually guide my path as queen.

“Vivianna, we are empresses of knowledge – wise beyond our years. Our bodies are temples of strength that could withstand any weapon and any army. You have all the tools you need to rule Naroona.”

“But I sacrificed myself, my human self Mother. How can I possibly inhabit two bodies?”

“Because you willingly sacrificed yourself for your country, for your dragon self, you did not lose your human life, you only gained a dragon life.”

“Can I change forms?” I ask wearily.

“Of course.”

“How?”

“You’ll learn, in time my sweet Vivianna.”

“But,” I start to protest.

“Tonight we fly!” She says shifting into her dragon form. My mother was always beautiful, but to see her like this, like a dragon she’s breathtakingly beautiful. He skin is the color of rubies, her wings are gold. Her eyes, still cool yet kind, are turquoise.

“We fly,” I say as I push-off the ground and shoot upward towards the moon.

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