The portal left them right in front of the temple and even though there was not a single soul in sight to prevent their access to it, both she and Valtor hesitated, taking their time to look around.
The planet wasn’t like anything she’d ever seen. There were no plants anywhere to be seen, yet, breathing was not an issue. No source of light could be spotted on the sky above them either and they didn’t even cast shadows on the ground, and neither did the temple. And the soil itself was very bizarre. It was silver and shimmered slightly like fairy dust.
The temple looked like it was made of the silvery soil itself. It was shaped as a giant pyramid in the middle of a lifeless desert. There was nothing else to be seen on the horizon, no signs of other presence, just unsettling peace that was inviting them to leave.
They couldn’t do that. The Ancestresses had told them that that was the most important mission they’d ever had. They’d insisted that it had to be the two of them who’d get it done and they’d even helped them open the portal since that required more than just raw power.
Apparently that planet was a part of the oldest corner of the universe – the place where the Great Dragon had come into existence. It was home of archaic magic that was much more reactive than the one they used. And it had sealed itself away with a barrier that their tamer magic couldn’t go through. Valtor’s Dragon Fire could, though, if used at the proper “frequency”. So his mothers had helped him reach it, his magic vibrating and making everything shake, threatening to tear through space. Which might have been exactly what had happened.
The Witches had told them that the two of them were not to use magic except to destroy the core of the temple. They’d explained to them that their magic would be useless against that of the planet they were sending them to and that the three of them had already taken care of any possible dangers. Though, something about that didn’t feel right to Griffin. If the Ancestresses had already been there, why hadn’t they destroyed the temple themselves? They were more powerful than her and Valtor and they hated to be wasteful whether it came to time or resources. So what was the catch? She didn’t like being thrust in the middle of a game she didn’t understand.
“Let’s go,” Valtor urged gently and she followed him because there was nothing else for her to do. She still didn’t like it, though.
The inside of the pyramid felt weird, somehow empty and off – as if it wasn’t serving its purpose. It felt... less alive than it should’ve been–as if it was barely breathing–and she couldn’t quite understand it.
Speaking of breathing, the air was getting stuffier the deeper they walked in and also somehow... superficial? As if the oxygen in it had been manufactured. It felt unnatural. And it carried traces of something burning like it’d been hit with electricity. Tharma.
Valtor seemed to have reached the same conclusion when she looked at him. Though, he seemed just as puzzled when it came to what it’d been that had made the ancient witch unleash her powers. There were no signs of a battle, nothing was turned to crisp, there was no damage to the walls or the floor. It wasn’t the typical sight that Tharma left behind with her magic.
Still, they kept moving, not letting themselves get sidetracked. If Griffin was right, then Valtor wasn’t any more willing to be there than her. So it was best that they just got their job done and got out of there.
The further they progressed into the temple, the easier it became to breathe as the air returned to normal. The temperature seemed to be dropping, though, and the light was becoming dimmer and dimmer until it was only the shimmer of the soil that allowed them to see where they were going. Normally, Valtor would just use his magic to let them see but that wasn’t an option currently.
They reached something that looked like a gateway with stems–or maybe they were snakes, Griffin couldn’t really tell–strewn all over the floor. They must have been blocking the way which had resulted in Belladonna freezing them until they’d dropped to the floor. They looked completely drained of life and the sight made Griffin’s blood run cold. It was like a battlefield full of corpses. Only, much worse in a way she couldn’t understand. They looked like they’d lost something, something important to them and made her fear the same.
She startled when Valtor pulled at her wrist only to realize that she was hovering an inch or two above the ground. The thought of stepping on the things had been revolting enough to activate her magic against her will so that she could avoid it.
She stepped back on the ground, listening to see if she’d awoken something, some defensive mechanism with the use of her magic. There was only silence, though. As if the temple was dead and just wanted to be left to rest in peace. It was disturbing and made her want to run away.
Valtor seemed to sense that–or he felt the same–and caught her hand, lacing their fingers together to keep her there with him, to keep her grounded. And it made her feel better. Not by much but she felt safer with him by her side so they continued.
The temperature went back up to normal but there was something else missing now, other than the lack of light that was. Griffin couldn’t quite realize what it was until she felt her heart slowing down as if it was forced to. It stopped pounding as the fear was being drained from her. The place was sucking out her emotions. The security of feeling Valtor’s skin was gone too. There was nothing left except for the thoughts in her head. And if she could feel, she’d be in the middle of a panic attack right now. Her emotions were being blocked and she couldn’t do anything to stop it from happening. She didn’t even feel the need to press herself into Valtor because she was only realizing the horror of what was going on on a logical level.
“Mother Lysslis,” Valtor spoke, interrupting the spiraling thoughts in her mind.
“What?” she looked at him, looking to make sense of what he’d said because that was the only thing she had left.
“This is her doing,” Valtor said. “It’s an illusion.” He seemed to concentrate for a moment as he closed his eyes and inhaled slowly. Then he exhaled and opened them. “You have to break free from it, Griffin,” he gave her hand a little squeeze and smiled softly to prove that it could be done.
Griffin followed his example and closed her eyes, focusing on the hand in hers, on his warmth, on the love she held for him. She felt its distant presence as it struggled to come out to the surface against the magic that was holding it back. She reached for it and pulled at the invisible cage that kept it trapped, her mind tearing through the barrier to feel all the emotions flooding back in. There was the fear, yes, but she chose to focus on the love and the relief that it was over.
“How did you know that?” she looked at Valtor. She never would’ve guessed. It was a very tricky magic because without her emotions she couldn’t even use her own powers to detect it.
“I’ve... seen her do it,” Valtor said but the look in his eyes suggested more than that. “It’s one of her most vicious tricks.” And he’d been subjected to it.
Griffin couldn’t help the sadness that filled her. It wasn’t pity. She just wanted to offer him some comfort because she now knew the terror he’d been put through up close and personal. So she let go of his hand and hugged him, wrapping him in her compassion.
It was so good to feel him sink into it and return it without stiffening for a moment like he’d used to do in the beginning. But it’d been so long since then and they’d built trust and love between them. They were like the two parts of one being now.
She felt light through her closed eyelids–and not just the shine of the soil–and opened her eyes to see what was happening. The walls were covered with more of the stems that they’d seen at the gateway and they were shimmering as energy flowed through them. It helped Griffin realize that they weren’t stems at all. They were veins that were probably transporting the energy to the core of the temple. She and Valtor must have renewed the flow of power somehow. Maybe by breaking Lysslis’ spell.
“We’re close,” Valtor spoke as he disentangled himself from her, a predatory glint in his eyes now that their goal was in sight.
Griffin nodded, for she could feel it, too, and walked with him deeper into the building.
She noticed that the veins were covering all the walls now and the glow they were giving off was getting stronger and was changing colors, too. It wasn’t quite silver anymore, but had a pinkish tint. It was a rather dull shade but the color kept changing and intensifying.
Her attention was drawn away by the hall they entered. It was like a giant dome covered in the shimmering silver of the veins that were all over the walls here as well, leaving only the floor clear of them even if it was hard to tell the two apart since the colors blended. And that was all. There was nothing else in there. Just a circle carved in the ground in the middle where the altar was supposed to be. There was no core to be found. It was all one big dead end.
“Now what?” Griffin turned to look at Valtor.
“Well, there has to be something else, something we’re missing,” he said as he walked over to the circle and knelt down to get a better look at it.
Griffin followed the movements of the bright pink energy in the veins that entered the dome and spread all over it, making it look like the biggest neon sign she’d ever seen. It was rather taxing on the eyes but she couldn’t look away because it was everywhere.
She was trying to figure out what was going on when in the very center of the dome the energy changed its flow–and its form–and started falling down like bright pink sparks.
She quickly crossed over to Valtor, tugging at his coat to warn him but the first spark hit her skin right as he looked up at her. It went straight through and in the veins underneath, entering her bloodstream and filling her with heat. It was strange but not necessarily bad. It awoke something deep within. And as more sparks followed, her clothes doing nothing to protect her from them since they went through the fabric and her flesh, it became clear what it was. Desire.
She looked at Valtor as he stood up and found his own want burning fiercely in his eyes. And it was confirmed by his arms that wrapped around her waist and pulled her closer. His lips covered hers and the only thing left in her mind was the need to feel his skin.
She pulled at his coat harshly and hastily to get rid of it and started working on his vest as he returned the favor and started tugging at her dress. Whenever they broke the kiss–either accidentally or by necessity to discard another article of clothing–they attacked each other’s mouths again as soon as possible, not caring for something as trivial as oxygen. The lack of passion would kill them first if they had to stop. So Griffin ignored her burning lungs and the feeling of the temple sucking out her magic as she focused on him. He was more important than anything else.
The moment her fingers touched his skin she felt herself aching to love him until that was the only thing he could remember and his body relaxed in the safety of her arms. All she wanted was to make him happy and give him pleasure. And he seemed to reciprocate, for he didn’t allow her to do anything that would in any way restrict his access to her body and his opportunities to touch her and appreciate the softness of her caress by returning his own.
It was just them and their love and it was beautiful. There was nothing to stop them from giving each other everything they owned, every piece of their hearts and souls. They were free to give each other all the love they had in themselves.
Her whole focus was on him, on finding out how to give him more pleasure and bring him to the brink. And when she came from all his skillful ministrations, the only thing on her mind was doing the same for him, taking him over the edge. She felt far more satisfied when she had him falling into ecstasy, for pleasure would mean nothing if he weren’t there for her to share it with him.
As her high wore off, the details of their situation started coming back, though. They were still in the temple, very much naked and lying on the ground. And the colors around them had changed once again. Purple and orange were intertwining in the veins of the dome and pulsing with striking intensity. It would’ve scared her if she hadn’t realized that that was the beating of her own heart. Or rather, the shared heartbeat of her and Valtor. A single heart couldn’t beat that strongly. Or that beautifully.
She was distracted by the rush of knowledge in her head as everything fell in place. She knew how the temple operated now. It was all on the principle of give and take.
At the beginning of the corridor there was no oxygen so some had to be brought in if you wanted to breathe. You could do that either with plants or in some other way. But Tharma had used her lightnings to turn the molecules of ozone into oxygen, thus taking from the temple’s natural environment.
Next was the gate of veins. It opened when you filled them with their own kind of blood – magic. But Belladonna had used her powers to get rid of them, taking even more of the temple instead of giving back.
And the illusion Lysslis had created had allowed them to get through the emotional blockage but–again–in the wrong way. The way to combat the negative emotions was to give love in return. And her and Valtor’s moment had undone the spell and renewed the flow of energy into the veins. Which, in turn, had activated the last line of defense.
The sparks had brought forth their urges as the last test. And at first, when they’d been clawing at each other’s clothes to get rid of them, it had looked like taking again and so the temple had done the same, draining their energy. But when it had become clear that their intentions were pure and selfless with them giving their most sacred feelings to each other, it had started giving them as well. She felt so charged with energy that she could probably do magic for days without feeling the need for a break. It could’ve been different, though. The temple could’ve killed them by draining their entire life force.
The pulsing became even stronger as the ground in the circle opened and something started coming out.
Valtor helped her up and had them dressed with a simple motion. There was no need to fear using magic now. They had practically connected with the temple and it was feeding from the essence of their feelings while giving them its power in return.
And the thing that appeared just proved that. It was a bundle of veins in no particular shape but it was clear as day that it was a heart, the core of the temple. It was alive and pulsing with their energy, the purple and orange magic flowing through the veins. It was powered by the union between them and the one with it. They were now one with the organism of the temple and they knew all its secrets.
A beam of energy shot right up from it and in her mind’s eye Griffin could see its trajectory. It went out of the tip of the pyramid to power the magic in that part of the universe. The whole planet of the temple was made of magic in a physical form that was activated by the selfless love of two magic users that connected with the temple. Then the beam of energy would shoot out of the pyramid to feed the magic of all the planets above it. It was a breath-taking image.
The air got knocked out of her lungs when she remembered that they had to destroy it, that that was what they’d been sent to do.
Valtor must have had the same thoughts, though his reaction was very different. He stepped forward, summoning the enormous amount of magic he’d received from the temple to destroy it.
“Wait!” Griffin stopped him. “What will happen to us?” They’d connected with it. Hurting it would be like hurting themselves. At least in her eyes.
“Nothing,” he said, the word striking her like a curse. “That’s the best part,” he said, the evil glee in his voice making her nauseous. “We’re not from this magic system so our powers won’t be affected. Everyone else in here will lose theirs forever.”
He turned to the heart and blasted it into pieces without giving her another opportunity to talk some sense into him.
The precious sound of the joined beating of their hearts stopped and she thought there were physical consequences for her as well as the pain ran through her. But he seemed unaffected so it must have been just her own fragile heart that had broken as the purple and orange disappeared and the veins turned dark, not even silver in them, before the dome crumbled on top of them.
Valtor quickly pulled her to him and used his magic to get them out of harm’s way. While a whole magical system was dying, the two of them were more powerful than ever with what the temple had given them. And he proved it as he opened a portal back to their home base.
The trouble was that she’d never felt more like a pawn than at that moment. The Ancestresses had used them and the purity of their love for their own destructive purposes, tainting it with their selfish and cruel intentions. And the easiness with which Valtor had annihilated the symbol of their feelings on his mothers’ orders scared her to death. Especially now that it was confirmed that the three witches were well aware of the truth about the feelings blooming between the two of them.