candlelight Alix Paige

Skia hadn't expected this, but she'd be blazed if she stood by and did nothing.


Fantasy Dark Fantasy Not for children under 13.

#queer-characters
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Dusk

“Please keep your extremities in the ship,” an automated voice spoke from above Skia. She glanced up nervously from her seat. A flight high above the city and eventually, the wilderness outside the city, then another, much larger city—Skia had scarcely been in a situation in her life.

“Skia, stop fidgeting,” her mother, Asimi, ordered. “We’ll be on the ship for another five hours, relax.”

“It’s uncomfortable when I stop moving,” she told Asimi. “Moving just helps somehow.”

“Then after the ship reaches full altitude you can go walk around,” Asimi told her firmly. “But it’s not safe right now. I get that it’s uncomfortable, but safety is more important.”

“I know, Mother,” Skia murmured.

So Skia was left to fidget for another twenty minutes, a crawling sensation in her lower limbs continuing to torture her as she waited, waited, for clearance. Finally, another automated voice rang out through the ship. “Ship has reached full altitude. It is now safe to stand from your seat. Please be aware of the possibility of turbulence and respect any request by the captain to move back towards the ship’s center. We thank you for flying with us today, you shall now be released from your seats.”

The buckles over every passenger’s chest undid themselves as they became unnecessary, the straps they had secured dropping to the sides without anything to hold them taut. Skia jumped to her feet, eager to explore every corner of the ship. As she began to move again, the crawling sensation faded, much to her relief. It was so difficult to sit still when she was so compelled to move.

Skia and her mother were traveling to Puctero, a city five hours’ travel away, to visit a doctor about the very same phenomenon that had kept Skia restless for the forty-five minutes it had taken from the time Skia was strapped in her seat to when the straps were removed. It had kept Skia up countless nights, and after a fight her pacing sparked with her older sister, Aspro, their mother had elected to take Skia to visit the doctor. Except Kvon was so small compared to other cities that there simply wasn’t someone who could figure out what it was.

But Puctero was huge, with a population of over fifty million compared to Kvon’s mere hundred thousand or so. So to Puctero they went.

Hopefully whatever it was could stop so she could stop fighting with Aspro.

People milled around the center of the ship where the seats were, for the most part. Not many were wandering away from it like Skia, but then again that was the reason she was wandering. Fewer crowds.

Five hours float by when you’re with so many people, so many things to keep time, but alone? With nothing but your own thoughts? Skia was hyper aware of the how quickly time could wind down that way. That was the point. Except, she realized as the sound of footsteps echoed down the hall: She wasn’t alone. Three men in white walked towards her. All in white. Seriously, did these people have any creativity? All white? How cliche.

“Excuse me,” the man in the lead began, “But you are Skia Solfare?” Skia nodded. One of the other men pulled out a pair of restrainer straps. “Come with us. We need to ask you a few questions.

Idly, Skia remembered what Aspro had said to her before Skia and Asimi left. “Just remember, Skia: They’re wrong. All of them. Never forget that the only way to have control in this world is to fight for it. Fight until your dying breath, because once you begin you’ll be fighting the rest of your life.” The meaning behind Aspro’s words escaped her still, but the words themselves didn’t leave. They stuck. And as the men walked towards her, Skia wondered if this had anything to do with what Aspro had meant. Skia didn’t know how to fight; she wasn’t like Aspro that way. But she wasn’t one of the fastest people in her school for nothing. Skia bolted.

“Get her!”

Five minutes later, Skia was sure that this had been a terrible idea. As she skidded through the halls of the ship with three full-grown men chasing after her, there had scarcely been anything she had been more sure about. This was a terrible idea, because in her panic she had gotten very lost. That in addition to not actually paying attention which way she had come from…Skia was sure at this point that if she found the center again, it would be through bright dumb luck. She couldn’t even find a map, for light’s sake!

Finally she found a place where she could hide. Well…nobody would think to look for a fourteen-year-old girl in a place usually reserved for men. Skia hoped not, at least. Restlessness crawled over her as she crouched behind the door, listening to them ask in loud, hurried voices where she could have gone.

“Split up. Check everywhere. Bring her back in restraints.” That sounded like the leader, but Skia wasn’t sure. “This is a task of utmost importance. We will not fail.” The other two voiced agreement. Yep, Skia thought. She was in trouble.

The sense of rising doom only became louder when another voice, this one a woman’s, rang out. “What are you three doing here? You’re supposed to find the little Solfare girl.”

“She’s fast,” the leader’s voice tried to explain. “Ran from us when we approached her.”

“I don’t care!” The woman scoffed. “Your job is to find her and bring her back. Nothing more, nothing less. We need her to draw the older one from hiding. Find her and bring her back!”

“Y-Yes Ma’am!”

Skia tried not to make a sound as the panic welled up in her. They wanted her so they could catch Aspro? But…that didn’t make any sense. Aspro had never done anything wrong in her life. Right? Aspro’s parting words, her grim voice, came back to Skia.

“Never forget that the only way to have control in this world is to fight for it. Fight until your dying breath, because once you begin you’ll be fighting the rest of your life.” She understood now what Aspro had meant, if only a little.

As Skia was dragged away in restraints, an unwelcome understanding of Aspro’s words flowed through her like water, light, and the shadows she was named after.

Distantly, Skia heard the automated voice speaking to the rest of the passengers as the men and woman forced her onto another ship. It faded from earshot as the transfer door shut. The woman used her grip on Skia’s restraints to all but throw her onto a seat. “Stay there or we will make you.” The woman paused as the men took seats across from Skia. “Actually, you know what? I’m not going to flirt with that chance.” The woman grabbed the straps and buckled them tightly over Skia’s chest. They were quite similar in design to those used on the passenger ship, but these were of a higher quality. The straps were stronger, the buckle more secure. “You’re staying there.” The woman raised her voice and turned away slightly to the front of the ship, where the control panel sat. “Album 73! Get us to base!”

“Affirmative. Setting course for Album Base,” another automated voice rang out. This one was slightly feminine, unlike the androgynous voice used by the passenger ship. High funds, then.

The woman sat two seats down from Skia, buckling up and pulling out a cyberpad. “Skia Solfare, age 14, daughter of Asimi and Carreg Solfare, younger sister of Aspro Solfare. Name means ‘shadow’.” The woman looked at her. “Is this true?” Slowly Skia nodded. The woman looked back at her cyberpad. “Skia Solfare, you are not under arrest. However your older sister, Aspro Solfare, has very recently—and by that I mean within the last two hours—become a wanted person for high treason against the Statutes of Light. You are being brought in for questioning on recent behavior, general character, and for Statute purposes. If you comply, you will be in no danger and returned to your family when Aspro Solfare is brought into custody. Do you understand?”

Skia paused. High treason? Against the Statutes? What had Aspro even done? “I, I think I understand everything, except what my sister did.”

“Then you understand everything you need to,” the woman surmised. She paused, looked at something on her cyberpad, and unbuckled her straps, grumbling as she took manual control of the ship. “Hey Operative! Get up here already!” One of the men joined her in the front in response, and as soon as the partition was lowered and they were separated, one of the other men leaned in, not in a predatory way like Skia was expecting but in a ‘Imma tell you this quietly so they don’t hear’ kind of way.

“Look, kid,” he said. Skia glared at him, which didn’t affect him at all. “It’s like she said. You’re not in trouble, the higher ups just need to ask a few questions, and once they’re done, you’ll be free to go home. I promise.”

Then the other one cut in. “Unless you cause trouble,” he joked.

“Yeah, there’s that,” the first allowed. Skia groaned as she leaned back in her seat.

“What did Aspro even do? She’s never done anything wrong before,” Skia mused aloud.

“I don’t know,” the first man sighed. “We weren’t told that, we just had to bring you in. But if it’s high treason against the Statutes, then it’s bad. Nothing good comes out of treason.”

Skia paused as something else occurred to her. “I was traveling with my mother.” Her voice was thick with implications. The first man was the one who answered her unspoken question.

“Protocol states that when bringing in a minor, the parent or guardian who is physically closest must be informed only after the minor is brought in to reduce conflict,” he stated. “By now I’m sure your mother has been informed. Generally a message is sent if the parent or guardian seems to have ready access to technology. Don’t worry, she has been or will be informed of the reasons behind your ‘disappearance’.”

That made Skia think. “Okay, that makes sense, but at the same time, not so much.”

“That’s basically what we think,” the second man laughed, a brief blue glow to his eyes, “but protocol is protocol. And to answer your other question, you’re an innocent teenager. We’ve got no need to be jerks.” Skia’s head whipped around to stare at him. The first man reached across the seat separating the two to slap the other on the head scoldingly.

“Hey, cut it out. You’re going to get in trouble if you keep doing that.”

“Keep doing what?” Skia ventured cautiously.

“None of your business,” she was told gently, kindly. Skia thought back to just before the man had answered a question Skia had never asked nor implied. She remembered the way his eyes had glowed blue. Magic. The potential conclusion brought her pause. That was…highly illegal, under the same laws that said Aspro had done something wrong. Magic was illegal. That was why the Statutes of Light existed.

“That’s…highly illegal,” Skia hedged.

“Yeah well sometimes even the higher-ups don’t play by the rules,” the second man grumbled. He didn’t seem mean about it, more bitter and disappointed, but it wasn’t directed at her, so Skia relaxed slightly. He stabbed a finger towards her. “Look, you’ve been good so far, playing it by the rules, so you’re not in trouble. Don’t get in trouble, girl. It won’t end well for you if you go down that route.”

There wasn’t much more talking as the three brooded over what had just happened. Skia’s brain was going at a thousand miles a second, trying to piece everything together in some meaningful way.

Then her right foot twitched, and the crawling was back. Oh swell. Just what she needed.

Album Base was exactly what the name implied and at the same time nothing like it. It was white, for one. It was full of people wearing white. But the order the name implied was not there—or at least, not in a traditional way.

The ship had pulled into a small bay, which opened up into a great spherical cavern lined with walkways bustling with people; Skia estimated about thirty to forty levels. They were on a level somewhat in the middle, though Skia was quickly escorted to a lower level. Probably about level ten or so, probably just under that but Skia didn’t bother counting.

The four people who had retrieved her brought her to a room, equally white as everything else. “You’ll wait here for your turn in interrogation,” the woman said tartly. She paused. “Don’t hurt yourself.” Skia stared at her in disbelief, and the woman sighed, pinching the bridge of her nose. “You would be surprised at the issues we get sometimes. Look, do you have a cyberpad?” Skia nodded her slow nod again. “Contact your family, let them know you’re okay. I swear, we don’t need another misunderstanding like that last time. But not your sister. That’s for your own sake, it’s legal stuff, if you contact your sister it could easily be a very bad crime.” She pushed Skia into the room. “And stay in here until someone comes to get you. It may take until tomorrow.” With that, the door was shut, and Skia was left alone in the white-dressed room.

It was fairly simple, there was a bed, table with a couple of chairs, and another door which upon inspection apparently led to a restroom. Skia settled herself on the bed. Okay, she thought. Her mom and dad were probably freaking out. Aspro…did she know Skia might get brought in? The last words rang out in Skia’s head again. “Just remember, Skia: They’re wrong. All of them. Never forget that the only way to have control in this world is to fight for it. Fight until your dying breath, because once you begin you’ll be fighting the rest of your life.” Skia couldn’t help but believe what her gut was telling her. By the time they were talking, Aspro had already committed whatever crime she was wanted by the government for. Had she tried to warn Skia? In some twisted, vague way? Or to protect her?

She and Aspro had always been close, practically tied together at the hip, for reasons Skia could never quite understand. Aspro had always been careful to keep her close, and Skia had spent countless night awake wondering why. She had eventually decided it must simply be because they were sisters, though she knew that wasn’t the whole story. But she had never, ever imagined that Aspro would commit a crime so dastardly that Skia would be brought in for questioning. Now she wondered if she had ever actually known her sister at all.

Skia bit her lip as she contacted her mother. “Hey Mother,” she began.

Asimi wasn’t happy, and fair, Skia decided, she had basically been legally kidnapped by the government. A half hour had passed before they finished. A half hour before Skia successfully assured Asimi that she was okay. Skia knew her dad was at work, so there wasn’t much point in contacting him, and she didn’t know if Aspro had her cyberpad with her, probably not, besides she wasn’t interested in actually getting in trouble.

There wasn’t much of anything else to do, so Skia dropped into a different application on her cyberpad, settling down to read about heroes, villains, and stories of light triumphing over darkness. Her current read wasn’t the most…memorable, but it was good. This was a story about a girl who had lost her memory and gone on a journey to save the warrior fighting to hold a great evil at bay. Meanwhile she grew relationships with the people around her, including her travel partner, a kind, loyal, brave woman who had fallen deeply in love with her.

…It was long. Skia liked that part in particular.

It was not-quite midday when Skia had arrived at Album Base. It was mid-afternoon when someone came in. She didn’t recognize the woman, dressed in white just like everyone else in the base. But of course she wouldn’t, she had only seen four people.

“Skia Solfare?” The woman asked as if in confirmation. Skia nodded.

“Yeah, that’s me.” The woman nodded in intense satisfaction, tapping on her cyberpad.

“We found out that you were on your way to a doctor when the operatives came to get you. Is this correct?”

“Ye-es,” Skia told her slowly. The woman nodded again.

“Alright. Because you have not been accused nor convicted of any crimes, you are to receive the medical attention you were originally seeking on the flight.” As she spoke, the woman walked over to the table, taking a seat and gesturing to the other chair, indicating that Skia should do the same. After Skia sat down, the woman turned her cyberpad around so Skia could see the medical survey shown. “Please complete the survey so the visit may be as brief as possible.”

The visit was indeed brief; they quickly directed her to the department which was familiar with the types of symptoms she had experienced, and after answering another slew of questions, and the doctor watching her shift and walk around in a circle for about ten minutes, they made a notation on their own cyberpad, called someone else over for a second and third opinion, and informed her that RLS in teens could be genetic, which was probably the reason her mother was taking her to the doctor so quickly instead of dismissing it right away.

Another notation was made to the cyberpad, and Skia was informed that she was to eat the entirety of her meals for the duration of her ‘stay’ in Album.

Upon being returned to the room, Skia asked the woman why they even cared. The woman paused, but did not answer until they were safely inside the room. “You’re to be interrogated, and they did not know what could have prompted you to be visiting the doctor. It could have been something serious. Besides…they want your trust, it makes you easier to interrogate.”

“…That makes a lot more sense,” Skia decided. The woman didn’t stick around for a moment longer, leaving with urgency in her step.

Okay. So that had happened.

Left alone to her devices, Skia wondered again what Aspro had done that they wanted answers so badly. Skia couldn’t think of anything…she was overthinking it. Time to take the cyberpad back out and keep reading.

The girl’s friend (the one traveling with her) had gotten possessed. It wasn’t fun, but the girl managed to save her. That part made Skia smile if nothing else.

According to the clock on her cyberpad, it was the next morning when someone came to get Skia for the interrogation. A man this time, wearing a blue sash.

“Skia Solfare,” he stated.

“That’s me. Everyone checks, and they never get it wrong,” she told him.

“Protocol,” he grunted. “Come with me.” Well not like she had a choice, because the next moment he grabbed the collar of her shirt and all but dragged her out of the room.

“You know, you don’t have to drag me,” she said. “Especially not by my shirt collar.”

“Protocol is protocol,” he informed her.

“Why is it protocol to drag someone to an interrogation by their shirt collar?” Skia wondered aloud. It was just an odd thing, and weirdly specific. She might as well try to find out.

“Statutes broken. Felon in family. No chances.” Skia’s blood chilled at his words, and yet burned with an indescribable rage. Felon? He dared call Aspro a felon?! More so, he dared imply that Skia herself was a felon for her sister’s actions?!

Something sparked.

Skia blacked out. The last thing she saw was her own arm, moving against her will to grab the man’s hand.

Pain throbbed from Skia’s chest as though it were a heartbeat. It was bright. Brighter than the other places had been…where was she?

Indistinct sounds rang out around her, far away, unimportant, as though Skia was submerged in water. The pain was the only thing close enough to understand. More sounds shifted around her, and something made contact with her shoulders. She was bent forward, and a hand found her back, right between her shoulder blades, no, slightly to the left.

Then bright, blinding pain exploded into her awareness, and Skia screamed. The unmeasurably bright light ripped through her, cascading into the spot in her chest where the hand had touched. Her heart. The pain exploded upwards, and it blazed through her head like a wildfire, throughout her entire body.

Time was irrelevant. There was only pain.

Then, just as quickly as it had come, the light drew back, taking the pain with it and leaving only after-burns, as though Skia had shut and covered her eyes after looking straight at the sun. She gasped madly, feeling for her heartbeat just to reassure herself she was still alive. She found it. It felt like footfalls from a very fast runner rather than a steady, calm beat, but it was definitely there.

Perception of the world began to trickle back in as Skia drew in a breath. The sounds became voices, she was sitting in a metal chair with her wrists bound. The restraints were not enchanted. Wait. Why did she know that? She…hadn’t ever sensed magic before, she could only see it like everyone else. So why did she know the metal cuffs weren’t enchanted?

Before Skia could ponder the subject for any longer, the voice snapped her attention away. “Skia Solfare. Can you hear me.”

“Yes,” she sighed.

“Solfare, what happened in the hallway.” There was a question there, but it was not a question. It was a command. Except…

“I don’t know, maybe you could tell me.”

“Solfare, your behavior is out of line. You must respect authority, and this includes people we send for you.”

“Why would I respect you after everything that just happened?” Skia asked. “He called my sister a felon. Whether that is legally true or not is irrelevant—”

“That is not for you to decide.”

The firm voice made Skia’s blood boil. “This is my sister we’re talking about. You are the one who doesn’t get to decide.”

Something sparked again. This time, Skia didn’t pass out.

It was no longer bright. No, it was dark, dark as night, dark as being buried under multiple layers of blankets with no lamp on at night, and it felt like it, too.

The spark ignited into a dark wildfire, and something pinged, something from far away, and yet inviting. It promised escape. She felt a strange sensation begin in her chest and spreading to her lungs, then back, then out to her entire body, pooling in her head. A sensation like seeking, finding, asking, understanding, offering. Offering escape which Skia dearly needed. She took it without another thought. Suddenly…she wasn’t in that room anymore.

Suddenly, she fell to her hands and knees on a stone floor with black paint on it. Someone walked up to her.

“Hey, hey, it’s fine, we Found you.”

“Found me?” she asked groggily.

“Of course. Just like all other Shadows.” The black-haired woman helped her up, and Skia stumbled, her legs like pudding. The woman’s hands caught her under the arm. “Don’t worry, everyone has a hard time walking when we Find them. Especially the ones from so far away.”

“Far away?” Skia paused. Wariness spread over her, and she braced herself. “Who are you? Where am I? What do you mean by Find? Or by Shadow? I know my name means shadow, but that doesn’t mean anything.”

The woman paused. “My name is Oblivia. You are what’s known as a Shadow, and to explain that now would take a very long time, and skills I do not have. We use magic to Find Shadows, as many places are…well, unaccepting is a kind way of putting it. You’re safe here, Skia. You can be one of us.”

“Why should I trust you?”

“You don’t have a reason to. Trust isn’t built easily,” the woman admitted. “Ah, here we are.” Skia ignored the obvious subject change in favor of looking.

They had emerged from a hall of sorts, and in front of them was…a large, circular room, with pillars surrounding it. Beyond the pillars was only darkness, with no walls visible behind the shadow’s cloak. Tables encircled the room, and in the middle were a few racks, divided into four sections, with cloaks hanging from them. There were not too many people in the room, but those present all wore black cloaks. Most of them had the hoods down, but not all of them, allowing Skia to see that black hair like hers was fairly common here, though she did see a brunet teenage boy a bit older than her.

A girl in her late teens wearing a simple mantle cloak walked over to the two. “Hey, Oblivia! Who’s this?”

“Oriona, this is—”

“I can introduce myself,” Skia cut in. The woman nodded.

“Okay.”

Why did that bother her. “Skia Solfare,” she told the girl. “Why am I even here.”

“Oh, Nebula will be able to explain that,” the girl assured her. “It’s nice to meet you, Skia.” The girl offered her hand as the woman let go. “Come on, Nebula’s inspecting trinkets.” Skia grudgingly took the offered hand, ready to snatch it away if the girl tried anything. She didn’t, and the two went over to the left-side long table to meet Nebula.

“Nebula,” the girl greeted.

Nebula was a shortish woman, seemingly in her late seventies, with a silver hair and brown eyes, which Skia found out upon the woman turning to face her. “Oh, is she new here?”

“Yeah,” the girl said. “She’s got a lot of questions.” Nebula nodded.

“Come with me dear, I’ll try and answer whatever questions you might have,” Nebula told her, and before Skia could object, a strange and unfamiliar yet not unwelcome darkness wrapped around her, and she was pulled away.

Sept. 23, 2022, 1:17 p.m. 1 Report Embed Follow story
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Scaip Scaip
I love this worldbuilding!
September 23, 2022, 22:52
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