Loven spoke no words; he simply nodded, his eyes looked beyond Lily’s face to a large mirror hanging from the temple wall close by. Its surrounding was of intricate floral patterns on the surface of fine gold and seated before it, lost in the sight of her own reflection, was Lily’s sister. Frances’ hands rested neatly in her lap, her back was straight and her unblinking eyes did not leave the surface of the mirror.
Lily raced over to Frances and shook her shoulders. Though Frances’ head moved slightly from side to side, her eyes would not look away from the mirror. When Lily forced Frances to face her she found no life, purpose or recognition in her sister’s eyes, only a forgotten wasteland bereft of life and left to pass into history.
‘Frances?’ Lily said, continuing to shake her sister. ‘It’s your sister Lily. Don’t you recognise me?’
‘It’s no use,’ Loven interrupted, his reflection appearing in the mirror to rival that of Lily in her desperate attempts to rouse her sister.
Lily let go of Frances and immediately wept as her sister turned back to face the mirror and, once back in position, was statuesque once more. It wasn’t long before Frances’ seemingly empty eyes sparked into life, growing wide with comprehension and terror. Her reflection, once amaranthine and flawless, had now degenerated beneath the greying hair and wrinkled skin of old age. The sudden transformation was too much for Frances who collapsed to her knees, her trembling hands hiding her face from the rest of the world.
‘What has happened to her?’ Lily asked. ‘What has she done to deserve this?’
Lily flinched as Loven put a reassuring hand on her bowed head. ‘I am sorry, Lily,’ he said, betraying a glimmer of compassion. ‘Your sister was blinded by beauty – not that of countless admirers but by her own visage. For her, life was being beautiful. You remained more Frances’ reassurance of her own superiority than the dutiful sister I see before me. When Frances spoke of Amarstrea I could hear the tremor in her voice and knew that she wasn’t worthy. She was frequently distracted by her reflection in that mirror so I offered her eternal beauty. I promised Frances that her face would be unblemished by maturity and would forever retain the perfection of youth. Your sister was so shallow that, once blessed with my gift, all her attention became focussed on the mirror, so I added a nice little touch to it. Every day she spends hours in awe of herself but then has to experience the reality of decay. To see her beauty erode into distant memory is the punishment Frances deserves. I have no time for someone so vain and selfish.’
Having absorbed the revelations and failures of Frances, Oliver and Terence, Lily fell to her knees. Only when her eyes could not muster another tear did she stand and face Loven. ‘Is there no hope for them?’ she asked.
‘The only hope they have is if you were to find Amarstrea,’ Loven replied. ‘If you succeed it would grant your every wish, including liberating your friends from these eternal sentences of their own making. However, if you want Amarstrea you must agree to the test.’
Lily looked ahead at the sunlight as it shone through the temple entrance and crept along the stone floor to the tips of her feet. Her mind was a maelstrom of indecision. She could turn back and bring no joy to her family save her own safe return, or she could face the test and, if successful, bring everyone home.
Lily took only seconds before turning from the warmth of the sunlight and stepping back into the cold shadows. ‘I accept your challenge,’ she said.