part I

Mars. The Temple of Empyreal Provenance. 2188. 308.03.12.

A purple fire flickered atop a stone pedestal in the center of the darkened room. The shadows of the cloaked figures surrounding it danced through the thick, grey smoke onto the walls towering behind them.

All was still save for a young woman who was floating, her back arched and her eyes white, in mid-air above the flames. Her long, bushy blonde hair and crimson gown swayed gently beneath her, as the firelight illuminated her pale, motionless face.

Her outstretched form revolved silently through the smoke, only the occasional pop from the flames echoing within the stone chamber, until, without warning, she reared forward, gasping violently for breath, and the fire went out.

Tanith Govend splashed water onto her face and blotted it dry over a basin sink nearly half an hour later. The color had returned to her dark eyes, and a weight of sleeplessness hanging beneath them. She stared at her reflection in the circular mirror then yawned.

“How’d it go?” a voice asked behind her.

She turned to find, Alva, her younger sister peeking into the room and motioned for her to enter. Alva stepped inside carrying a tray with a plate of food and a kettle atop it. The modest stone space was laid out much like a studio apartment with a small bed and wardrobe on one side, a neat desk and table on another, and the vanity tucked into a corner.

“I thought you might want something to eat,” Alva said, setting the tray gingerly onto the table, as Tanith approached.

“Thank you,” Tanith said stifling another yawn and hugging Alva, who shared Tanith’s blonde hair and pale skin but was nearly a foot shorter.

“So?” Alva asked, expectantly, pouring a dark tea from the kettle into two small cups, as Tanith took a seat.

“Nothing,” Tanith replied, darkly, picking at some kind of meat from the tray. “But we go again at midnight.”

“Any new artifacts or...”

“No, that was different. Like a message they left for us to find. I don’t think Dr. Redrick’s found anymore, at least from what I’ve been told. Now, we’re trying to see deeper, beyond it, to see what’s...” Tanith cleared her throat, swallowing the bit of unease that had crept into her voice. “But nothing seems to be working.”

Alva nodded, apprehensively. “Did they say anything?”

Tanith shook her head, chewing some of the food. “No. But I can tell they’re... getting impatient.”

“Figures,” Alva muttered under her breath.

“Alva,” Tanith said sternly.

“Well,” Alva scoffed, “It’s been six months since the old--you, whats-her-name, died and you were chosen, and here they are, you’re under all this pressure, and they still treat you like--like--dirt.”

Tanith sighed, rubbing her tired temples, “Alva, I appreciate the support, but how many times do we have to--”

Alva bristled, cutting her off, “--I just don’t see why they won’t share more with you--”

“It’s... not an exact science, alright, so just--they have their reasons. It’s more complicated than it seems.”

“Well, you’d think by now they would’ve divined a way to be less snooty about it.”

Alva,” Tanith nearly shouted as she suddenly stood up, stifling a look of panic.

Alva raised her hands in defeat, “Okay, sorry, that was--“

“Nine...” a voice sounded from behind causing Alva to nearly jump.

Standing in the doorway was an arresting middle-aged woman with long, dark hair wearing a crimson gown very similar to Tanith’s. Her green eyes had an ethereal, piercing quality, as she stared, unreadable, at the sisters.

“Three...” Tanith bowed her head in acknowledgment, as Alva quickly rose to her feet beside her and silently did the same.

“May I have a word?”