Atlantin's Heart

Countless islands sprinkled the oceanic world Atlantin like crumbs, but Arryn had no memory of which one she had been born on. The isle of Zathia was the only one she knew, the only one she remembered. She had been found over a year ago, wandering the shore during one of the frequent squalls that passed over Zathia, clad in a simple shift.

Arryn couldn't remember anything about her past or from where she'd come, only her name. But she was certainly not Zathian. All Zathians were black-haired and copper-skinned with almond-shaped eyes. Arryn's hair, which had the texture of fine silk threads, was a brilliant silvery white and her enormous eyes were a dark yet incandescent purple. Her skin, when she was first found, had been eerily diaphanous, a shade that had since been darkened by the twin suns into a dusky rose. Arryn was tall and slender, just beginning to develop womanly curves, so the islanders figured that she was in her early teens. It was rumored that she had been the lone survivor of a ship that had sunk and had lost her memory in the accident. She apparently belonged to an unknown race, from an island that no local explorers had yet heard of or visited.

Arryn was placed in an orphanage where she was given clothes, food, and a cot in a small room that she shared with others. She attended daily lessons in the mornings and completed chores in the afternoons. Arryn was frequently ridiculed for her strange appearance but befriended Geneth, the smallest child in the place, who was often bullied. She protected him from the other children.

"I think your people have magical powers," said Geneth one evening as they made their way back from the Dusk Hills where they had spent the afternoon exploring after all their chores had been completed. The first sun, turning into a solid carbuncle, was dipping into the surrounding Sapphire Sea while its twin blazed several degrees above.

"Why do you say that?" Arryn looked down at Geneth's eager, upturned face.

His onyx eyes glinted. "I've seen you move objects without touching them. And remember that dog from the other day? I thought it was going to attack us but you merely stared at it for some time and it just ran off."

Arryn flushed. It was true she could do these things at times but her abilities didn't always work. "It looks like you discovered my secret," she said, ruffling Geneth's hair. "Would you like to see me try something?"

He nodded eagerly.

Winged lizards lay on rock shelves, sunning themselves in the fading sunlight. Arryn slowed her pace and crept toward one. She sang softly to it; her voice carried a strange, trilling melody that some Zathians claimed could enchant. Perhaps her song would bewitch the lizard, enable it to understand her. It cocked its head, the upraised eye glinting. Good…this is working! she thought as her excitement swelled. She reached toward it with an outstretched hand. Her fingertips nearly touched the delicately scaled hide—

The lizard spread its mist-translucent wings and leaped away.

Arryn stepped back, crestfallen, and sighed. "See. I told you. It doesn't always work."

Geneth placed a small hand on her arm. "That's all right. I've seen you do more magic than anyone else."

Arryn playfully pushed his shoulder. "Come on. We'd better get back before we miss supper. You know what old Marri says, that she won't keep anything warm for us if we're late and if we go to bed hungry then it's our own fault."

Geneth laughed worriedly. "Then we should hurry." He dashed ahead into a run. "I'll race you."

"That's no fair," Arryn called, running purposely slow. "You got a head start."

"I need it. Your legs are longer than mine."

"I'll give you that," she said, lingering a few paces behind.

The first sun had vanished and the deepening light of the last clung to the hills. That, combined with the brightening cerulean glow of Mother Moon, Atlantin's largest, dyed the peaks a rich purple. Evening's shadow began to sweep across the valley as Arryn and Geneth made their ways toward the cone-shaped edifices that formed the village.

A tall, ethereal man stepped onto their path. They stopped abruptly, their breathing rapid. A biting chill seemed to emanate from the stranger. Arryn grabbed Geneth and pulled him toward her. She found she couldn't move as the man stepped closer.

His hair, which reached his shoulders, was the color of sea foam against his dark cloak and robe, his skin crystalline. Large, glowing eyes shifted color like the sea against his sharp-featured face as he studied Arryn.

An elusive memory stirred in her mind but then receded. Had she met this man before? Was he one of her people? But he seemed to have no more substance than a shadow.

"Who are you?" she whispered, clutching a shivering Geneth. "What do you want?"

He raised a long-fingered hand and gingerly stroked her hair. A numb chill spilled through her entire body. "Don't be afraid." His voice was raspy yet strangely gentle. "I have something to ask of you, a favor."

Before she could question this further, he pried Geneth from her grasp and grabbed her arm. A chill wind swirled around her, stirring her long hair and slipping through her thin, cotton tunic. She heard Geneth yell, a sound that instantly silenced.

She blinked and noticed that it seemed to be much later, the middle of the night. The three moons, Mother and the two smaller ones, Brother and Sister, were higher in the sky, all thick, waxing crescents, spilling down a silver-blue light. Stars gleamed amongst them. The sea still roared nearby, but Arryn saw that she was no longer in Zathia.

Crumbling structures, some square, others domes or spires, stretched before her and scattered the surrounding hills. Perhaps they were once grand temples and palaces but now they were merely skeletons of those things. Curling vines tangled most of those structures. They were covered with large, sharp leaves that held a dusky purple glow. A sea-tainted wind moaned, sweeping through hollow, empty windows and out again, whistling, wailing. Arryn shivered in spite of the night's warmth.

"Welcome to my kingdom," said the stranger in a toneless voice that held a hint of bitterness. "Or what is left of it."

Arryn blinked up at him and stepped back. "W-who are you? Where have you brought me?" Could this simply be a dream? she wondered fleetingly.

Through the corner of her eye, she could see others emerging, flickering suddenly into existence. Their skin was a transparent as that of the one who had brought her here; moonlight slipped through them as if they were made of glass.

"We nightwraiths can travel like the wind, disappearing from one place and reappearing in another." Nightwraiths? The word chilled Arryn from the inside. It was a familiar word, one that had been whispered in ghost stories amongst the orphans.

Nightwraiths, the claim went, were evil creatures that stole children and forced them to perform magical feats. Those who failed were thrown into a deadly lake that dissolved them instantly. "My name is Jasmar," he continued. "And you are Arryn."

She swallowed, stunned. "How do you know my name? Are you my kin?" A faint flicker of hope stirred within her. Certainly those stories about them were wrong. Weren't they? "Am I a nightwraith too?"

Jasmar's incandescent eyes shifted from blue to pale green. "In some ways, yes. But not completely. You can apparently withstand sunlight." He ran a fingertip over her arm, indicating her ruddy skin. His touch was bitingly cold. Arryn trembled. "We fall to dust in the sunlight so must travel to where it is night during the long days here. But that is something I hope to change, with your help. Follow me."

With a quick glance to the other nightwraiths, who continued to linger in the shadows, Arryn followed Jasmar. He led her to a black lake that didn't even reflect the moonlight; it seemed to lead eternally down into nothingness. The surface didn't ripple when the wind blew across it.

Curious, Arryn kicked a pebble into it. It fell without even a splash but floated upon the surface for several moments before crumbling into dust-like particles that trickled deeper into the water, vanishing in a tiny sand-fall.

"This lake, called the Circle of Fire, will instantly destroy anything that touches it, as you can see." A stab of nausea struck Arryn's stomach. A lake that can destroy. Could those stories be true? "But it contains, at its bottom, Atlantin's Heart, an artifact that would enable us to withstand sunlight like Atlantin's other creatures."

Arryn frowned, confused. "You want me to retrieve that…that Heart, knowing that it would destroy me?"

Jasmar grinned, an icy expression. "Yes. But first you must transform the waters, turn the Circle into an ordinary lake."

"But that's impossible. How am I supposed to do that?"

Jasmar shrugged and started to walk away, his cloak flapping behind him like the wings of a large, black flying lizard. "I am hoping that you can figure that out. You won't be returning to Zathia until you do."

Anger and frustration stirred in Arryn. She started after him. "You can't do this. They will miss me at the orphanage. They—"

He turned suddenly, his eyes flaring a nearly blinding amber. "Will they? They won't even know where to begin to look. Atlantin is covered with thousands upon thousands of islands of varying sizes. And I can assure you that you are countless miles away from Zathia. Only we nightwraiths can travel from place to place in an eye blink. It is a bit more difficult for you mortals. So it looks like you are stuck here until you can figure this out. I will personally take you back when you do."

Arryn trembled with rage. She fought an urge to throttle Jasmar. What good would that do? She would still be trapped here. She was hungry and beginning to feel tired. It had been a long day. Perhaps, after she ate something and slept, she would be clear-headed enough to think of a plan.

She sighed. "I will work this out in the morning." She struggled to keep her voice from cracking with frustration. "But, if you insist on keeping me here, you could at least feed me and give me a place to sleep."

Jasmar snorted and tossed his head. "You mortals. I forget how much trouble you are. Very well. Come with me."

She followed him toward a structure that once might have been a grand house. It formed a square around a courtyard with broken flagstones. A gargoyle statue stood in the center, standing upright upon a short pedestal. Its extended wings painted even sharper shadows upon the ground and one wing was severed. The face was nearly gone, worn away by time.

Most of the rooms of this edifice had crumbled away, but there was one that had three walls. "You can sleep in there, if you like," Jasmar said, pointing to it.

Arryn scowled. "There isn't even a cot, or furniture."

Jasmar shook his head and whispered, "Mortals," in an exasperated tone. "We nightwraiths make due without such comforts. So can you."

"And what about food?"

He jerked his thumb toward the gargoyle. A tangle of curling vines and glowing purple leaves entwined the pedestal and its hind legs. Plump though wrinkled berries, as black as Jasmar's cloak, peeped from behind those leaves. "Help yourself. Moonberries will cure both your hunger and thirst. I'll now leave you to sleep. When you awaken in the morning, you will not be able to find either me or my kin. When daylight comes to our island, we must travel to where it is night. But we will return the following evening to see if you have made any progress with the lake." He vanished.

Arryn choked back a startled scream. She was alone. Where had Jasmar and the other nightwraiths gone? The warm wind continued to howl, growing even stronger, whipping the waves beyond into froth and tangling her hair across her face. Tears prickled her eyes but she forced them back. No. I won't give Jasmar the satisfaction, she thought. Somehow I'll have to figure out how to return to Zathia. That may not be my true home but at least it was nicer than this place.

She crept toward the gargoyle. Did Jasmar expect me to eat these berries? Are these really the only food here? She cautiously plucked one and placed it into her mouth. A sharp, acrid taste burned her tongue and throat. She fought an urge to retch.

No. I cannot eat those, she thought, pulling several glowing leaves off the vines and carrying them into the three-walled room. She created a nest-pallet out of those leaves and settled down into them. They were surprisingly soft, like flower petals. In spite of the disturbing thoughts that tickled her mind, and the strange feel of her makeshift bed, she fell asleep quickly.

Arryn awoke to the glare of the first sun. She sat up slowly and winced; her entire body ached from sleeping with only a thin layer of moonberry leaves as protection from the hard ground. The intense amethyst glow had faded from those leaves. They were now a dull, waxy gray. Her stomach felt hollow and her throat was dry.

Running her fingers through her hopelessly tangled hair and pulling on her sandals, Arryn slipped from her dilapidated shelter.

The ruins looked forlorn in the sunlight, less haunting. Perhaps that was because she knew that Jasmar and the others had left the island for the day, seeking night's darkness elsewhere in the world.

Melancholy filled Arryn as she looked out toward the sea. The vivid blue waters that lapped the sandy shore could have been the same ones she'd seen every day in Zathia. The second sun was rising, its rosy light battling with the blinding glare of its twin, splitting shadows into twos, and transforming the sea into molten gold. The wind from last night had calmed and the briny air was already becoming oppressively hot.

Arryn searched the tiny, ruin-scattered island for something else besides moonberries to eat but couldn't find anything. Those fruits and their leaves were the only life. She didn't even see any birds or insects. What about fish? she wondered, eyeing the sea that continued to sigh and stir as if it were a living, breathing creature. Although Arryn had cleaned and gutted fish plenty of times as part of her chores in the orphanage, she had never learned how to catch them. That had been the job for the village fishermen who daily went out to sea in their boats, dragging their nets.

I suppose I'll have to settle for moonberries, she thought weakly. She forced herself to eat a few, nearly gagging from the bitter taste. She was surprised when they filled her with an inner strength and made her feel strangely satiated.

Still, that only turned her focus on her frustration at not being able to leave. Is what Jasmar is asking me to do even possible? she wondered, making her way to the Circle of Fire. But if I can, he will send me home. Or so he promised.

The lake was still shadow-black, even against the glaring suns; it not only didn't reflect the sunlight but seemed to absorb it. Arryn settled on the bank and stared at it. How am I to transform those waters? she wondered. I have a little magic, it is true, but it is so inconsistent. Jasmar's request is just impossible!

She devoured more moonberries and was surprised to find that they no longer tasted so bitter. In fact, their juice filled her mouth with a pleasant sensation that tingled her tongue and slid down her throat with a velvety smoothness. She felt giddy afterwards. She noticed that the deep rose flush seemed to be fading from her skin, returning it to its former diaphanous state. Arryn huddled in the shade for she felt as if she were burning in the sunlight.

Evening brought a cooling relief, along with Jasmar, who joined her by the lake after the final sun had set.

"I see you have discovered the pleasures of moonberries," he said, popping a few into his mouth. "They are our only sustenance."

Arryn nodded. She was surprised to find that she didn't want to leave his side and was actually happy that he had returned from wherever it was he had been. She figured that after that long, lonely day, she simply welcomed the company, any company.

She tilted her head back and gazed skyward. Mother Moon, the first to rise, was barely peeking above the horizon, her deep blue form nearly blending with the dusky, star-filled sky.

"Do you know anything about the Ancient Ones?" Jasmar's whispery voice startled her.

She nodded. "That was part of my lessons, how they came from a world much further than the moons, one with a single sun. It was they who brought life to Atlantin."

She saw Jasmar nod from the corner of her eye. "You have been well taught. Some of these newcomers were people of great knowledge; they had gifts to heal, create and make life grow from barren soil. It was through these gifts that they were able to form many of Atlantin's creatures, make the soil fertile, and fill the seas with life.

"The Ancient Ones taught their children to appreciate this new world and live in peace. But a few of these descendants became greedy, wanting more that their fair share, and rebelled. Through their evil thoughts and dark magic, they created helpers, the nightwraiths. We filled the world. Over the centuries my kind taught humans to invent weapons and fight amongst themselves." If Jasmar felt any remorse for this, he didn't show it.

"As if in anticipation of this, the Ancient Ones, at the beginning, had pulled special elements from the heavens and placed these within a crystal, which they called Atlantin's Heart, and hid it at the bottom of the Circle of Fire. It is this Heart that can heal any being that needs it."

"And you think you need it?" Arryn said. "Why? Is it because you were created from evil?"

"Do not mock," he said. "For you are created as well."

"What?" Arryn stared at him in disbelief. "I am not. I'm human; I was born of a mother."

"Is that so? Then what memories do you have of her?"

Arryn studied her faded skin. A sickening feeling crawled in her stomach and she feared she might retch all of the moonberries she had eaten. She shook her head. "I don't remember anything since before Zathia," she whispered.

Jasmar grinned. "Of course not. That's because I created you, the same way that the descendants of the Ancient Ones formed my kin."

"You lie," Arryn whispered. The words tasted bitter in her mouth. She looked up.

"Another one of my nightwraith gifts is the ability to do this. For the longest time, I kept many species of birds and flying lizards, which I would collect on my nightly excursions. It was centuries ago when I started doing this. If you must know, we nightwraiths are immortal, unless, of course, sunlight touches us. I kept them to torture and study for my own personal pleasure."

"Why are you telling me this?" Arryn snapped.

"In the tropical, southern regions," Jasmar continued, as if he hadn't heard her, "I had found a particularly exquisite breed of flying lizard. They were larger than any you've seen in Zathia or anywhere else, the size of night wolves yet exquisitely beautiful, covered with a pearly transparent skin. Their wings were finely boned and silky so I knew those would be perfect for the skin and bones of a special being I would create."

"Me?" Sickness filled Arryn.

Jasmar nodded. "Your bones are their bones, your flesh their flesh. I colored your eyes with the nightly glows of moonberry leaves," his own shifted to that color, "and your hair consists of filaments I wove from the white light of Brother and Sister Moon."

"No," Arryn whispered, studying her hands. The fingers were long and delicate: moonlight slipped through them as if they were moth wings. "No," she uttered again, uncertain. "You lie. I am not one of you, not a nightwraith. I am mortal. A living creature."

Jasmar's eyes paled, became blinding white. She had to look away. "You are mortal, that is true. And eventually you will die if you remain so, as all mortals must. The other nightwraiths don't know what I've done. This is just our secret. I gave you a little of my nightwraith magic in the hope that it would develop. Develop enough for you to transform the Lake. The moonberries increase that ability. I placed you in Zathia shortly after your creation so you could live among mortals and learn their ways until I reclaimed you." He placed a hand beneath her chin and forced her to look into his color-shifting eyes. His touch was no longer so cold. "You won't be a disappointment to me now, will you?"

Arryn swallowed and found she couldn't answer.

She couldn't sleep that night. The moonlight flooding the room from the missing wall seemed to be as bright as sunlight. She constantly touched her soft, tangled hair as her mind churned with Jasmar's disturbing story. This was really spun from that light? He actually created me? She forced herself to remember something, anything, about her parents, or an island with people who looked like her…besides Jasmar and his nightwraith kin. Nothing came to her.

Over the next few days, as Arryn continued to feast on moonberries, she found that the sunlight was becoming unbearable. It seemed to seep through her skin, which was now as diaphanous as that of a jelly fish, like a devouring fire. She began to spend her days huddled in the shade and was tempted to beg Jasmar to take her with him during their daily jaunts. She also noticed that she needed less sleep. It was at night when she stood at the Circle's edge, wondering how to transform it. She would stare at it for hours, sometimes imagining the waters changing, other times mentally speaking to it as she had sometimes done with creatures on Zathia. Nothing worked. Jasmar, checking on her progress, would merely shake his head in disappointment, his eyes deepening to a murky maroon, and walk away.

One evening, Jasmar appeared before her on the Circle's shore, clutching a small, squirming form.

"Let go of me!" the child gasped, struggling to pry himself from the wraith-man's clutches. "You're colder than the winter frost!"

"Geneth!" Arryn shuddered at the whispery tonelessness of her voice. Her eyes burned with tears that she could no longer shed and her heart felt as if it had lodged in her throat.

"Arryn!" His dark, almond eyes grew enormous. He dashed into her arms but she barely had time to embrace him when he abruptly pulled back. "Y-you're as cold as he is. And-and you look so pale. I…I can see right through you. What happened? Are you a spirit? Are you dead?" Tears spilled down his child-round face. "Are you one of them now?" He glanced at Jasmar and the other nightwraiths.

"Geneth, I—"

Arryn stepped toward him but he backed away. Her eyes continued to burn. She blinked and swallowed, afraid if she said more her voice might break.

"Grab him," Jasmar said to the two wraiths closest to him, a man and a woman. They silently obeyed his order and clutched the child by both arms, one on either side. His face contorted with pain, most likely from the chill of their touches.

"Leave him alone!" Arryn tried to shout, finding her voice once again. "What do you want with him? Send him back to Zathia where he belongs."

Jasmar grinned and paced close to Arryn. "I've always thought mortals were useless beings," he said, his tone mocking. "Until now. They form attachments, which can often be their downfall. The moonberries have been transforming you into one of us, a nightwraith, as you can see." Nausea filled Arryn. "But you also still have quite a bit of human in you as well. I designed you that way. I believe you love this little human, as if he were a young brother." Jasmar practically spat those words out. "Both of you formed a connection in a land of people who cared little for you, isn't that right? Let me see if you are more human or nightwraith." He paced, his eyes growing iridescent, blending pastel colors that whirled with pleasure. He faced the two nightwraiths holding Geneth. The small boy had stopped struggling and stood limp in their grasps. "In a few minutes, when I give you the signal, throw him into the lake."

"No!" Arryn screamed. "You can't. It will—"

"Destroy him? I know. But not if you change the water." Jasmar chuckled, a cold, mirthless sound.

Arryn glanced helplessly at Geneth. The blending blue and white moonlight shimmered against the tear trails on his cheeks.

What am I to do? Arryn sank down next to the waters. She closed her eyes and listened to the whisper of the sea beyond. She had often swum in the waters back in Zathia, sometimes dashing into the waves without warning, when the urge struck her. They'd felt warm and silky against her skin. Sometimes the waves were fierce, knocking her over, causing stinging salt to slip through her nose and down her throat. And how, at night, she'd fall asleep to the wave-songs. It was such a familiar sound that she couldn't imagine a life without it.

A melody, resembling the sea's eternal restlessness, came to her. Although her moonberry-faded voice no longer carried a lilt, she sang anyway. A tingling, glowing sensation spilled through her body. Do I alone have the magic to transform the Circle? she briefly wondered as she continued to sing.

Arryn stopped when she heard a splash. Horrified, she opened her eyes. Geneth's small head was bobbing upon them, his small limbs thrashing. The lake shimmered in the moonlight.

"He is a lucky boy," said Jasmar. Arryn glared at him. "You transformed it just in time. Now, dive for the Heart."

Arryn kicked off her sandals and jumped into the water, not at Jasmar's command but to rescue Geneth. "You'll be fine," she said to him, pulling him into her arms and dragging him to the shore. As he crawled onto it, she noticed a golden-blue luminance emanating from the lake's bottom. She knew what it was instantly. Atlantin's Heart.

An intense desire to possess it filled her. Even before Jasmar could say anything else, she dove toward it. Its light caused the deep, surrounding waters to shimmer around her. The Heart was several feet below, wedged between two rocks. Arryn felt her lungs burn, but she refused to give up until the Heart was in her hands.

It was blurred through the rippling waters but, even so, she could see that it was tetrahedral in shape, a perfect crystal filled with that mysterious light. Her lungs nearly bursting, she pried it loose. Euphoria spilled through her as she darted upward, broke the surface, and scrambled ashore. She was surprised to find that she was nearly dry.

Although the glow filled her with comforting warmth, the nightwraiths, except for Jasmar, backed away.

"Please girl, hide that light," one of them wailed.

"I thought you wanted this," Arryn said, feeling triumphant as she held it up. Geneth ran to her and threw his arms around her waist. "Have you changed your minds?"

"I haven't," said Jasmar, stepping tentatively toward her. His crystalline skin had turned opaque, reminding Arryn of melting wax. He glanced back in exasperation at the other nightwraiths, most of who had collapsed to the ground. "The Heart holds a healing light. Come, girl. Give it to me."

"The Heart isn't yours," Arryn found herself mocking. Anger filled her. How dare he ask for it after he had nearly killed Geneth! "I retrieved it. It is rightfully mine and I will use it to return Geneth and me home."

Jasmar flew at her, grabbing for the Heart. In desperation, Arryn flung it at him. Its pointed edge deeply cut his left cheek and made a soft thumping sound as it struck the damp ground.

"Curse you!" he shouted as a silvery fluid trickled from the gash on his face. Nightwraith blood? Arryn wondered as he collapsed unconscious at her feet.

The Heart's light continued to increase, flooding the ruins with a warm, comforting glow that overpowered the moonlight. Arryn found herself growing sleepy and settled onto the ground with Geneth cradled in her arms. He was deeply asleep. Her suddenly heavy eyes fell closed.

A fragrant zephyr brushed against Arryn's face and stirred her hair. She could feel sunlight on her face but it didn't bother her. She opened her eyes and sat up. She gasped. Both suns had already risen several degrees into the sky. The ruins still scattered the island but they were interspersed with lush ferns and trees weighted with thick leaves and fruits. Insects with colorful wings flitted by and she could hear birdsong in the trees. Grass and brightly colored flowers surrounded the now vivid blue lake.

Geneth was still sleeping by her side. Several others, also asleep, scattered the newly verdant land. They wore the black robes and cloaks of the nightwraiths, but were distinctly human. Arryn glanced down and noticed her skin was once again the rich shade of cinnamon.

What happened? Was this the work of the Heart? She stood and stretched, then picked up the crystal where it had fallen last night. It was no longer glowing and lay beside a handsome youth with wavy, deep red hair and golden-brown skin. A trail of slowly drying blood dripped from a deep scratch on his left cheek.

Did I do that? she thought, kneeling beside him and gently shaking him awake. His eyes fluttered and opened. Arryn's stomach became tense. Those eyes were a misty green, brilliant against the darkness of his skin.

"Jasmar?" she whispered.

He sat up slowly and pressed the tips of his fingers to his injured cheek. "I…bleed." Although his voice trembled, it sounded rich yet vaguely familiar. He studied his hands and arms then smiled at Arryn.

"It looks like you are no longer a nightwraith," she said, noticing with relief that her normal voice had returned. She ripped a shred of fabric from the hem of her tunic, hurried to the lake's edge to moisten it, and then returned to clean Jasmar's cut.

"No." He took her free hand and held it tightly. The others were coming awake around them, gasping in delighted surprise that they were once again human. "Thanks to you."

"But how? I don't understand. I thought you were created."

"I was one of the immediate descendants of the Ancient Ones," he said. Arryn detected a flush beneath his dusky skin. "I had a twin sister named Arryn." She tensed and swallowed. "But she died when we were still quite young when a plague swept across our island. Several of us, in our desire to avoid the sickness and death, had used an old and forbidden spell to make ourselves immortal. This turned us into cold, unfeeling nightwraiths. So, in a way, what I had remembered was true. We created ourselves. We no longer mourned those we had lost, although perhaps on some level I missed Arryn. That was why, centuries later, I formed a replacement for her."

"Me?" Arryn whispered although she already knew the answer.

He nodded. "Even though centuries had passed since I'd last seen my twin, I remembered her perfectly. I modeled you after Arryn and gave you her name, in the hopes that…that I could also make you immortal, a nightwraith. So that you could be the sister I could never lose." Tears misted his eyes. "Still, I wanted you to experience life as a mortal human so I placed you on Zathia. But I also created you for another reason. You see, the Ancient Ones, concerned that human evil might eventually fill Atlantin just as it did with the planet they had escaped from, had created the Heart and placed it at the bottom of the once dead Circle of Fire. It was this Heart that would heal and restore balance where such was needed. But only one who was free from the initial evil to begin with could retrieve it." Chills tingled across Arryn's skin in spite of the warmth. "And that person was you." He leaned forward and kissed her cheek.

"Didn't I always tell you that you had magical abilities?" said Geneth, now awake and scrambling into her lap. Arryn held him close.

Jasmar laughed, a rich sound that was so different than his icy nightwraith voice. "That you do. But I and the others have most likely lost some of ours. We can't return you to Zathia in the way we could have as nightwraiths." He picked up the now plain crystal Heart and placed it in her hand. It now felt cold, like an ordinary stone, after having served its purpose of healing this island and its people. "If you still want to go back, you will have to wait until we've built proper boats. But I am hoping that you opt to stay." His gaze slid to Geneth and then back to Arryn. "We will need all the help we can get to rebuild our island."

Geneth looked up at Arryn with shining eyes. "Does this mean we now have family?"

Arryn smiled as Jasmar ruffled the child's hair. "Yes. I suppose it does," she murmured. A warmth, reminiscent of the Heart's light, filled her.

The End