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Distant future? man!Don't worry. The wisps will keep them company and the others can visit them whenever they want.
Aundra has a reason for acting the way she does. You'll find out in the future... the distant future. Sorry, Ancy.
Oh, I forgot to mention that I changed the year when they will meet the next Ilmarian. Instead of 30 years, it will be 50. ^^
Yeah that's what I have it as. BTW, you'll definitely need to revisit especially this chapter in the future; there's quite some typos there. Or if I have time some time, I'll highlight them for you
that's too far! I thought you meant by the end of this book!
It's okay for now, as it's not any major mistakes that alter the meaning of the sentence or anything.
Btw, now that Eloria is dead I can ask this; did you ever intend or think about going down a romantic path with her and Pen?
You'll understand why when you read about it.
No, I mentioned in Ch. 2 that Pen only saw her as a sister; besides he was too busy focusing on taking care of his family. However, she did have feeling for him so it would be one-sided.
---------- Post added July 20, 2012 at 09:36 AM ---------- Previous post was July 15, 2012 at 05:36 PM ----------
Okay, Ch. 5 is completed! Lanskas's background gave me the most trouble out of the bunch, but as soon as I figured it out, it was a breeze. Oh, I added the months in this chapter and I'll add them to the previous chapters when I revise them.
The next chapter title is kinda obvious what the next Ilmarain's power will be me.
Chapter 5: Lanskas - "Well, that was unexpected"
Farth 24, 1771
Lanskas Abeynet gingerly walked around the debris scattered all over the destroyed village and looked around. No survivors – just corpses, he sighed. It looks like the war has claimed more victims.
For the past forty-five years, small kingdoms across Ongera have fought each other for lands and resources. A kingdom would conquer a weaker one, but then it will get defeated by a much stronger one. Several villages he visited have changed hands so many times that he didn’t even know what country he is in now.
After seeing so much destruction and loss, he often has so many thoughts on war. Why is there war? Why does the All-Mother Kejuta allow it to happen? He didn’t bother asking those questions aloud since he knew no one would know the answers.
Without any hesitation, he started to bury the dead and finished in a few hours. Then kneeling before the gravesite, he clasped his hands over his prayer bead and prayed to the All-Mother and her son, the God of Death Pendance, to give those unfortunate souls peace. He thought about it and decided to also pray to her daughter, the Goddess of Travel Marika, for a safe journey. After he was done, he stood up and set off to another village.
Normally no one would be crazy to travel around a war zone, but Lanskas has a reason. He and his fellow brothers of the Abeynet Rectory are looking for survivors so that they tend to their medical needs. Any orphans they find will be sent to the orphanage, which was run by the priests, where they will be raised until they find their families. To make things easier to find loved ones, many families have recently decided to take on a second name to distinguish themselves. Most surnames were taken from names of villages, ancestors, famous warriors, or even the gods themselves.
In fact, Lanskas was one of those war orphans. Some of the priests had found him hiding under a pile of vegetables after a raid has killed almost everyone in his village sixteen years ago. They took him in and adopted him since they didn’t know anything about his family. He was three years old at the time so he barely recalled the event, but the older priests told him that the only thing he told them was his name. Even though he never knew who his family was, he enjoyed staying with the priests and considered the Rectory his home. That’s why he chose its name as his surnames.
Walking through the Kallia Forest, he was on high alert. Several bandits and wild animals roamed in the vast forest. Lanskas wished wistfully that he told his concerns to his superiors, but he knew that they would tell him that as priests, they don’t need any weapons even for defense. He took a deep sigh and ventured into the woods. Hopefully he won’t face any danger.
So far nothing uneventful has happened so far.So far, so good,he thought to himself but he felt uneasy. There was utter silence all around him as if he was the only one in the world. But then, it looked like most of the forest were burnt down, which was probably why not a lot of beasts were around. He scolded himself for being paranoid and continued walking. After an hour or so, he decided to take a break. Finding a clearing, he started a campfire and sat down nearby.
He just sat down when he suddenly heard rustling. Now alert, he grabbed some small stones and got ready to throw them at the noise. “Who’s there?” he shouted but no one replied. As the noise got closer, he started to feel tense as he located its hiding spot. Hopefully it’s not anyone with evil intentions…
That was when the stalker jumped out of the bushes without warning and Lanskas yelped out in surprise. It was a Kallian wolf pup, which was considered a sacred animal to the All-Mother and supposedly guarded her as she traveled across the land. Likewise it was the most dangerous one as well. According to local villagers, the Kallian wolf was quite fast and limber; their teeth were strong as well – it could break a bone with one snap!
At first, Lanskas thought that he was going to get eaten when he realized that the pup was quite weak from starvation. Pitying the wolf, he dropped the rocks and extended his hand. “Hey, fellow,” he said in a soothing voice. “Are you hungry?” The wolf stood frozen at the edge of the clearing and refused to come forward so he slowly placed his hand into his pouch to grab something. The creature eyed him warily the whole time.
Pulling out some dried bits of fish, he tossed it close the wolf. “Sorry, fellow, but I took an oath not to eat any form of meat except for fish,” he explained. “I hope you don’t mind.”
The wolf walked cautiously to the treat and sniffed. It didn’t seem that pleased with the food but knew that it was the only food available. Grabbing the fish, he scurried back to the edge of the clearing and ate it hungrily. Trying to make the wolf feel at ease, Lanskas continued talking, “Where is your mother? Is she dead? I guess that will make you an orphan just like me. I bet you miss your mother. I wish I can say the same, but I can’t even recall what my mother look like. Maybe you’ll find your pack…”
This continued for the next ten minutes until the wolf, which now has the name of Seif, was full. Satisfied, he jumped back into the forest though Lanskas could see his golden eyes looking at him. Deciding that break time was over, he stood up and continued east. Along the way, his new companion followed close behind.
In that same evening, Lanskas encountered another unexpected visitor. He wouldn’t have noticed until he was alerted by Seif’s growling. “Who’s there?” he called out again. The wolf stood guard next to him as his fur raised up.
“Is that you, Lanskas?” a familiar voice responded. “It’s me, Father Ogerra Valunet. Where are you?”
Lanskas perked up. Father Valunet was one of the people he admired the most. He was a popular priest at the Rectory due to his kind and generous manner. He was also one of Lanskas’s mentors while he’s training to become a priest and taught him all about human nature. One day, he wants to be like Father Valunet.
“I’m over here!” he shouted and soon his mentor appeared right in front of him. The middle-aged man looked tired but upbeat and he immediately went over to greet his student. However, Seif tried to charge at him when he tried to do so.
“Seif, stop it!” a horrified Lanskas admonished. The wolf just glowered and ran back to the woods as Valunet just laughed.
“I thought I was going to die there,” he admitted as he wiped the sweat off his head. “Is that a Kallian wolf pup?” The young man nodded. “Incredible! Who would expect it could be tamed? But then you were always good with animals, Lanskas.”
Lanskas blushed at that statement. It was true. When he was little, he was always found taking care of an injured bird or nursing a sick dog back to health. He was also able to handle an out-of-control animal with ease much to everyone’s surprise. Before he knew it, he was in charge of the animals in the Rectory. “Um… where were you heading, sir?” he asked hastily to change the subject.
“To the village of Walen,” the older man answered. “I’ve heard that a raid happened there recently so I’m going to search for any survivors.”
“May I come with you?” Lanskas blurted aloud and lowered his head, mortified by his outburst. His superior probably thinks he’s a child now! However, Valunet just chuckled.
“Of course you can come. The more, the merrier, right?” he just said cheerfully. “Besides, it would be much easier to find survivors if there is more than one person.”
Lanskas felt relieved and smiled. That was another reason why he liked the other man. The other superiors would have lectured him about how he should learn how to restrain himself and act stoic. Gathering his belongings which weren’t much, he stopped and said hastily, “Let me get Seif so he knows that we’re leaving.” He whistled but he didn’t hear any footsteps. After a few attempts, he gave up.
“I guess that wolf pup doesn't like me,” Valunet commented and Lanskas just shrugged sheepishly. “Shall we get going then? I’ll take the lead since I know the area quite well.”
During their journey, they walked past a strange monument. It was a strange, monstrous creature whose many arms were chained to the ground. His expression seemed to be mixture of anguish, fury, and sorrow. At first, Lanskas thought it was a statue of some form of ancient god, but it seemed so alive even though it appeared to be made out of stone. What was it?
“It’s a Shuvyral,” Valunet answered, which caused Lanskas to realize that he has spoken his question aloud. “According to the local villages, it’s a cursed creature that terrorized them for nearly a century. Then fifty years ago, the All-Mother and her children appeared out of nowhere and battled it. They managed to seal this accursed being so it would never cause harm ever again. The villages celebrate the victory annually with a feast and offering to the All-Mother on the 6th day of Ceza.”
“I see…” Lanskas pondered. “Could it escape one day?”
His superior shrugged. “Perhaps but I doubt it. Apparently there are others located across the continent and they haven’t escaped yet so I think we’ll be safe for a long time. Anyway, we should continue on. We’ll close to our destination.”
Nodding, Lanskas followed Valunet down the path to Walen. The howls of wolves soon rang throughout the air. Maybe Seif has found his pack, he thought optimistically. I hope that everything will turn out okay for him.
It was nearly evening when they reached Walen. The once prosperous village has been burnt down to the ground and few bodies lay scattered throughout the street. “The attackers probably were searching for new ‘recruits’ and killed anyone who resisted,” Valunet muttered as he searched around for survivors. “What’s about this? I’ll search the north end while you search the south end of the village. We’ll meet up at the town square in three hours.”
Lanskas agreed and both went their separate ways. As he shouted out for survivors and searched through every knickknack, he thought to himself that there was no way anyone could have survived it unless they somehow managed to escape to the forest, which of course wasn’t safe either. If you stray from the path, you could get lost easily.
He entered the fourth house and glanced around. The furnishings lay tossed and broken on the floor; broken glass was everywhere as well. Seeing the unfinished meals on the table made him believe that the attack happened during supper. “Hello? Anyone here?” he shouted but he felt like it would be no use.
As he stepped into the kitchen, he thought he heard a muffled noise below him. A sudden thought occurred to him that someone may be hiding in the cellar below. But where is the door? That was when he noticed a conspicuous rug lying in the middle of nowhere and pulled it aside. Just as he suspected – a trap door! He lifted the door up and almost got hit by a stick.
“Don’t come closer!” a boy snarled as he pointed his weapon at Lanskas. His younger sister hid behind him as she peeked fearfully. The former seemed to be ten years old while the latter appeared to be the age of six.
Lanskas raised his arms to show that he meant no harm. “Calm down,” he said gently. “I’m not from any army. My name is Lanskas Abeynet and I’m from the Abeynet Rectory. My colleague and I are just looking for survivors. By the way, where are your parents?”
The boy scowled. “They’re dead,” he replied roughly. “As soon as they heard that soldiers were here, Ma shoved Rali and me down the vegetable cellar and told us not to say anything while Pa tried to distract them from finding us. We heard shouting and then something was being dragged outside. Last thing we heard was our parent’s dying screams.”
“I’m sorry for your loss,” Lanskas commiserated, “but you need to leave with me. It’s not safe here and there is no way you can survive here by yourself.”
The boy shook his head. “I’m not that stupid,” he answered. “I’ve heard about you priests. You pretend to be sympathetic and lure orphans to come with you when actually you’re working with the slave traders!”
Lanskas frowned. He has heard rumors about those so-called priests who betrayed the oath of helping others. “I promise that I’m not one of them,” he reassured them.
“How can I be sure?” the boy replied suspiciously. He does have a point, Lanskas admitted to himself. He thought for a moment before giving him a response.
“Is there any relatives who live close by?” he asked. “I can take you to them so they can take care of you. I swear to the All-Mother that I’ll do it.”
The boy hesitated but his sister spoke up, “I think we can trust him, Tenzen. Besides, I’m hungry.”
Tenzen stared at Rali for a second before sighing. “Okay, fine,” he relented and turned to face Lanskas. “We have an uncle named Ruju Ajunean and he’s currently staying at the Zelath Fortress. It’s supposed to be safe haven for the villages to use during times of attack. However if you use any dirty trick…”
They climbed out of the cellar and followed Lanskas outside. “I need to search the other houses so you can follow me or wait out here if you like. If you see someone suspicious, yell out to me and hide somewhere,” he told them. “I’ll try to find some foods as well.”
The children nodded and decided to follow right behind him. Unfortunately, he didn’t have much luck in finding more survivors but he did find some apples that looked good enough to eat. He handed over to the Ajunean siblings who ate it ravenously.
“I’m supposed to meet my superior at the town square so let’s head there now,” he informed them as they walked over there. Father Valunet was already waiting in front of the ruined fountain and looked pleased when he saw that Lanskas has found some survivors.
“This is Tenzen and Rali Ajunean,” he introduced them, “and this is Father Ogerra Valunet. He’s my mentor.” The three shook each other’s hands.
“I see that they’re orphans,” Valunet observed. “We should head back to Abeynet Orphanage then so they can be raised there.”
Lanskas shook his head. “They said that they have an uncle stationed at Zelath Fortress and I promised to take them there,” he explained.
Valunet frowned. “And what if their uncle isn’t there anymore or dead?” he admonished. “You shouldn’t make any promise that you can’t keep.”
“I know, but I can’t break a promise,” he argued. “Besides we can just go to the fortress and if their uncle isn’t there anymore, we can head back to the orphanage. It will take a little longer, but we can manage.”
Lanskas thought his superior would reject his proposal but was surprised to see him nodded. “All right then,” the old man sighed as he rubbed the bald spot on his head. “You win. We’ll head to Zelath Fortress first. Let’s get going then.”
“Let’s rest first,” Lanskas urged. “These children need to get some nourishment so they have enough energy to travel.”
They rested for half an hour before they finally got ready to head out. The children held each other’s hands and followed behind the two older men. As they headed out of Walen, Lanskas felt a hand grasped his and was touched to see Rali next to him.
“Don’t worry,” he told her. “You’ll see your uncle and everything will be okay.” How badly was he mistaken…
They were an only few miles away from the village when Valunet suddenly announced that they should take a break. “Already?” Lanskas asked incredulously.
“I must be getting too old for this. I’m already tired,” his superior admitted. “There should be a clearing nearby if I recall correctly. Why don’t we rest there?”
Sure enough, they found a clearing just like he theorized. Valunet and the children sat down on a log while Lanskas went off to find some kindling. While he was out, he searched around the area with hope of seeing Seif again. However, no golden eyes stared back at him, which meant that the wolf pup was gone. Sighing, he went back to the camp with a small pile of woods. After Tenzen and he started the fire, they sat down and rested.
They were resting for several minutes when they heard someone approaching. Before they could react, ten men appeared in front of them. Lanskas felt uneasy when he saw the men; they looked suspicious and menacing especially with the way some were holding their weapons. “I was wondering when you will show up, Perget,” Valunet exclaimed as he went over to greet the leader of the gang.
“Sorry, Valunet, but we got delayed during one of our shipment,” Perget grumbled as he gave the priest a warm handshake. He looked over Valunet’s shoulder. “Who is that young man standing there?”
The older priest glanced back at Lanskas. “Oh him?” he replied. “He’s my student and his name is Lanskas Abeynet. Pay him no mind; the ones you’re looking for are those two youngsters.”
A shocked Lanskas then finally found his voice and demanded, “Father Valunet, who are these men? And how do you know them?”
“This is Perget Lasigh, a dear old friend of mine,” his mentor said cheerfully. “I’ve been helping him with his business for a long time now.”
“Business?” the blonde man inquired but it suddenly dawned on him. “He’s a slave trader, isn’t he? You’ve been handing orphans over to him and making a profit out of it, aren’t you?”
Instead of denying it, Valunet just shrugged. “It’s just a side business really,” he said nonchalantly. “I still considered myself a priest first and foremost. Don’t look at me that way, Lanskas. How else do you think I was able to raise money to support the Church and the orphanage? Now stand aside and let these men take those children away.”
“I knew it!” Tenzen shouted angrily. “I knew that we shouldn’t have trust you!” He tried to lunge at one of the men, but Lanskas stopped him. “Let me go!”
“Calm down,” Lanskas hissed in a soft voice. “Listen, when I say, ‘Now’, grab your sister and run to the woods. I’ll try to delay them. Got it?” The boy opened his mouth to protest but wisely shut it again. He gave him a slight nod to show that he understood his instruction. Taking a deep breath, the young man stepped aside.
“Smart choice,” a lanky man muttered as he walked toward them. Tenzen immediately went over to his sister and held her tightly. Lanskas could feel the sweat dripping from his forehead as he waited for the right moment to alert the two. Seeing the slave traders and the man he formerly admired caused him great anger and determination though. He said a quick prayer to the All-Mother to give him strength for what he was about to do.
As soon as the man was right next to him, he shouted, “Now!” and quickly tackled the man before he could react. Lanskas could hear the other men shouting angrily as the children escaped into the Kalian Forest. Good! Hopefully he will buy them enough time.
“Get off me, you bastard!” the man said through gritted teeth. Suddenly small fragments of the ground were lifted into the air, surrounding them. A magic user?! Lanskas thought, but before he could react, they slammed into his body. Falling to the ground, he gasped for air and lifted his head when he saw a shadow above him. Looking up, he saw a bulky man swinging a sledgehammer at him.
He was able to move his head slightly out of the way, but the weapon was able to connect to the side of his head. He could hear the sound of his skull cracking and felt it as well. As he fell back to the soft earth, the last thing he heard was Valunet shouting, “Leave him be! Go after those brats and catch them no matter what the cost!”
When he opened his eyes, he found himself in a forest filled with a dense fog. Where am I? He thought. Am I in the World of the Dead?
The next thing he heard was wolves howling all around him. Startled, he stood up and looked at his surroundings. That was when he saw numerous shadows shaped like wolves surrounded him and staring at him. However, all of them sat down all of a sudden. Sensing someone was approaching, he turned around to see a shadow close by. It was hard to see who it was due to the fog, but he could discern that it was a female with long, sharp nails.
Some of the wolves close to the figure came up to her and she petted their head lovingly. As Lanskas watched the scene, she turned to face him and her voice seemed to ring in his head. “So you’re the one who has inherited my power,” she purred in a low and dangerous voice. “How intriguing! I never expected someone so… gentle to be my successor.” She turned to look at one of the wolves lovingly. “Take care of my children, human. They have been without a leader for such a long time so they’ve been getting restless. I’m sure that you are capable of that.”
Before Lanskas could say a word, the fog engulfed the shadowy creatures and they vanished. The fog suddenly dissipated and he soon found himself standing in front of a young man sitting on a throne. The brunette man wore a black robe with gold trimming and wielded a lantern staff. He also appeared to be exhausted but when he turned his attention to Lanskas, he gave him a warm smile.
“Oh, you must be the new member of our group,” he said kindly. “I must inform my mother about this.” Lanskas could only stare back at him with confusion, and he started to feel lightheaded. Everything was getting blurry as well. “Oh? Leaving back to the World of the Living so soon? Well then, farewell. Hopefully I won’t be seeing you here so soon.”
Farth 25, 1771
Lanskas opened his eyes slowly and found himself lying in a bed of white, glowing flowers. Ceraphilis flowers? Why are they here? They’re the holy flowers that healed the wounded and the sick. That was when he suddenly remembered getting killed by the slave drivers. Did the All-Mother sent those flowers in order to save him? But for what purpose?
He sat up so he could gather his thoughts, but he was surprised to see Seif sitting in front of him. Was the wolf pup guarding him the entire time he was unconscious? As soon as Seif saw that he was awake, he came over and licked him though he seemed to avoid his blood for some reason. Speaking of which, he went and inspect his injuries. Gingerly, he touched his head and was relieved to know that his wound has been healed. It was as if there was nothing wrong with him.
In spite of being healed, his head still hurt. Thoughts whirled in his head as he remembered his strange dream. Who was that strange woman? Was that the All-Mother? If so, she wasn’t what he imagined and she didn’t match the statue that was in the rectory. And what does it mean when she said that he inherited her power and to take care of the wolves? Likewise, who was that young man sitting on a throne? He did mention that Lanskas was going back to the World of the Living so was he Pendance, the God of the Dead?
He felt like child who has a lot of questions but no one to ask for answers. A child… Shot! The children! He stumbled as he stood up, which startled Seif who didn’t seem thrilled, but he didn’t pay him any mind. Right now, he needed to focus on making sure those children are safe.
As if he was reading his thoughts, Seif ran over to where the children fled and barked to indicate that he wanted Lanskas to follow him. “Are you going to lead me to the children?” Lanskas wondered aloud in awe and the wolf barked back. “Okay then, lead the way.”
Lanskas still felt dazed as he tripped over tree roots and rocks. It was quite a feat just to keep himself steady as he followed Seif. For some reason, he has a feeling of being watched so he kept looking back but found no one. Unnerved, he tried his best to ignore it and focused on the task on hand.
That was when he heard shouting; Seif started growling as well as if he was warning him of the upcoming danger. Now alert, Lanskas followed the noise and discovered the slave drivers had caught up to the children. Tenzen placed himself in front of his sister protectively as he glared threateningly at their pursuers. “Don’t you dare come closer!” he said angrily though the fear in his eyes betrayed what he was actually feeling. The burly men laughed at his pathetic attempt.
“How heroic of you,” Valunet intoned dryly, “but that won’t stop the inevitable. I’m sure you two would make excellent slaves. Now just give up or do you want to end up like my pupil?”
Seeing his former teacher acting that way filled Lanskas with anger and before he realized it, he came out of his hiding place. “Don’t you dare touch those children!” he warned. Everyone else jumped at the sound of his voice and turned to face him. Their faces turned pale when they saw that was still alive.
“Lanskas... but how?” his former mentor stammered but regained his composure. “No matter. We just have to make sure that you are dead. Besides how are you going to stop us? With that tamed wolf pup?”
The slave traders guffawed and Lanskas became aware that Seif was standing next to him, ready to pounce. Valunet was right, of course. There was no way he could save those orphans and himself without any weapons. I need to protect them, he thought desperately, but how?
As if to answer his questions, wolf howls were heard throughout the forest; it seemed to be all around them. Frightened, the men searched the forest nervously but all of the sudden, several Kallian wolves jumped into the clearing and grabbed three of the men by the arms. Everyone froze in horror as the terrified men were dragged back into the woods and soon the sounds of crunching bones were heard as they screamed out in agony. Then it was silence again.
Alarmed, the slave traders slowly backed away but found themselves surrounded by the wolves. The animals also encircled the children as though they were protecting them. Perget shook off his uneasiness and tried to rally his men. “Come on, men!” he shouted. “They’re just mindless creatures! Just get rid of them and then we can focus on our goal. We’re not afraid of some dumb mutts, are we?”
Shouting out their approval, some of the men tried to charge at wolves but to no avail. The animals were able to dodge their attacks quite easily and attacked them instead. Others tried to reach the children but faltered when they saw the wolves bare their teeth threateningly. Panicking, one of the men pointed at Lanskas, who was watching the whole situation in disbelief, and shouted, “It’s him! He’s the one sending those beasts after us!”
“Preposterous!” Valunet snapped angrily. “How can a mere human control a wild be-”
Before he could finish, the magic user summoned a rock and hurled at the young priest’s head. Lanskas moved to his right out of instinct, but he felt the rock went through his right shoulder. Crying out in pain, he managed to keep standing in spite of the agony he’s feeling. From the corner of his eyes, he could see Seif lunged at the man’s throat and killed him.
Ignoring the blood dripping from his wound, he clutched his shoulder with his other hand and stared down at the men. However, he didn’t expect to see their stunned reactions at the ground below him. Confused, he looked down and was surprised to see the ceraphilis flowers were blooming where his blood fell. “Just what are you!?” Perget demanded as his face turned pale.
Well, that was unexpected, he thought. Realizing that he could use that to his advantage, he returned his attention on the men and ordered, “I want you to swear to leave these children and future war survivors alone. If I ever found out that you dare enslave anyone again, I’ll send these wolves to hunt you down until you’re dead.” The scared slave traders immediately bowed down and swore on their lives that they would.
Satisfied, he turned to his former teacher. “Valunet, I no longer consider you as a priest due to your sins. When you leave this place, I want you to resign from the priesthood and warned the other priests who dare stray from their duty. Tell them about what happened today. Do you understand?”
Valunet’s face was flushed with anger at being told what to do by an inexperienced priest, but he had the sense to realize that he has no say in the matter so he sneered, “Yes, I do. I’ll tell everyone about your gift. But what will you do now? You don’t expect to live a peaceful life, do you? As soon as words spread about you and your strange power, every nation’s armies and the Church will pursue you. One will use you as a weapon while the other will see you as an object to be study.”
Lanskas’s heart sank when he heard those words; he knew that it would be true. However, he chose to pretend that he wasn’t disturbed by them and continued, “Now I want you to leave this place and never come back. GO!”
The men left quickly and disappeared out of sight. Relieved that it was over, Lanskas fell to his knees and thanked the All-Mother that his plans worked. He then felt something soft and furry was nuzzling his hand and looked down to see Seif was looking expectantly at him. “Thank you,” he said as he petted his friend and regarded the other nearby wolves. “Thank you for your help.”
He then stood up and walked over to the children, who were shaken from what they had witnessed. “Are you okay?” he asked gently. They stared at him for a long time so he thought they were frightened by him, but they finally nodded their heads.
“We’re fine,” Tenzen said. “Thanks to you, we were saved.”
Lanskas replied modestly, “No, it was these wolves that save you. I really didn’t do anything really.”
“That’s not true!” Rali protested. “You stopped those men from chasing us and then you called those wolves to save us! It was just like the story mommy told us!”
“Story?” Lanskas questioned and Tenzen just shook his head.
“She said that there is a legend from the village that a person of immortal blood will come and tame the wild wolves of the Kallian Forest so the woods will be safe to travel again,” he explained. “I thought it was just a story, but now…”
The priest turned away, embarrassed. Is he supposed to be immortal then? He cleared his throat and said, “We should go to your uncle. We’re already late as it is.”
“And those men?” Tenzen asked worriedly. Lanskas gave him a reassuring smile.
“They’re being watched by my friends, who are making sure that they are doing what they’ve been told,” he answered. He could sense the wolves’ determination as they followed Valunet and others out of the forest. “Now then, shall we get going?”
Rask 3, 1771
A few days later, they finally reached Zelath Fortress. Approaching the gate, they heard a man shouting from above, “State your name and your reason to be here.”
Looking up, Lanskas shouted, “My name is Lanskas Abeynet and these children are named Tenzen and Rail Ajunean. We’re searching for their uncle, Ruju Ajunean, who is supposedly here. I’m here to inform him that their parents were killed during a raid and need a guardian to raise them. Is he here?”
He could see the man relaying a message to another man, who immediately headed off. “He is!” he shouted back. “Wait for a moment! He’s coming to get them!”
A few minutes past before the heavy gates were opened. A man in his early thirties ran quickly out of the fortress. “Uncle Ruju!” the children squealed with delight and ran over to hug the man. Hugging them tightly, he gave a look of gratitude to Lanskas, who just smiled in return. After saying goodbyes to the children, he headed off to the forest, where Seif and the other wolves were waiting for him.
Rask 10, 1771
A week has passed since then, and Lanskas still found himself wandering in the Kallian Forest. For some unknown reason, he felt that he needed to remain there even though he knew that he should head back to the rectory. Luckily, the wolves and the other animals have been keeping him company. The birds led him to some edible berries while the raccoons would leave fish for him to eat. He doesn’t know if anyone was looking for him; by now, Valunet’s story would have spread throughout the continent.
He got his first human visitors that night. It occurred after he finished setting up camp and was just sitting in front of the fire, lost in thoughts. Seif, who has been by his side the entire time, was lying next to his feet when he suddenly perked up. Soon Lanskas heard voices nearby and became alert as well. “Are you sure he’s here?” he heard a woman asked.
“I’m positive,” he overheard a young man’s voice. “This is the general vicinity that I perceive when I looked into the book.”
“I can see a fire close by so he must be over there,” another woman said. Before he could even stand up, three figures walked out of the woods. They were a young man with gray hair, a dark-skinned woman, and a woman with strawberry blonde hair. Without hesitation, Seif rushed over to them but instead of attacking, he began jumping on them and licking their hands.
The male visitor bent down to give the wolf a belly rub and squealed, “A Merzakian wolf! Well, it’s formerly known as that but it’s now called the Kallian wolf if I remember correctly. From what I’ve read, Merzak has always considered these wolves as her best creation and would always travel with them. Of course, it’s probably because they look similar to her and…”
The dark-skinned woman cleared her throat. “I know you’re excited, Brenton,” she admonished gently, “but we have a task at hand. Besides, our friend over there is probably confused about what you’re saying.” Standing up abruptly, the embarrassed man mumbled an apology and everyone went back to looking at Lanskas.
“Who are you?” he asked curiously. He felt calm and relaxed for some reason; it was as if he knew that that this day was coming. The other woman gave him a welcoming smile.
“My name is Kejuta,” she introduced. “And my colleagues are Marika and Brenton. We’ve been looking for you.”
It took Lanskas a few seconds for him to register what she said. “Wait a minute!” he exclaimed. “You’re the All-Mother!?”
Instead of being serene about it, she looked irritated. “It’s because of that damned Aundra!” she scowled. “The people must have heard her teasingly calling me ‘mother’ and assume that I’m some sort of mother goddess.” Turning to him, she said dangerously, “Listen, young man. I’m only the mother of two Ilmarians.” She pointed to the dark-skinned woman and continued, “Do I even look like her mother?” Lanskas shook his head and wisely decided not to say a word.
Marika touched the All-Mother’s shoulder. “Calm down, Kej,” she soothed. “Speaking of which, how are your children anyway?”
“They’re doing well but are exhausted,” Kejuta answered after taking a deep breath. “Pen told me that Valendor is filled to the brim with the dead and the wisps are working overtime. He hasn’t have time to even rest at all.”
“That’s not good at all!” Marika declared. “I should go there to check on them afterward. Their bodies need some rest!”
“Oh, they should be fine,” Brenton stated matter-of-factly. “Time does not exist in those places so they shouldn’t need sleep.”
Lanskas watched with bewilderment at what he’s seeing and finally spoke up, “Um, excuse me?” They stopped their conversation and looked at him with surprise. “You mentioned that you’re looking for me. Why? Who is Merzak and what is an Ilmarian?”
Kejuta looked at him amusingly before she replied, “It’s a long story so we should sit down first if it’s okay with you.” He nodded and everyone found a spot to sit on. After telling them his name, he listened attentively as the three answered his questions and explained their roles.
Afterward, he summarized their story just to make sure he understood what they were saying, “So Merzak was the goddess who created Seif and the other creatures in the world and I’m supposed to be her successor. An Ilmarian is a mortal being who become immortal due to fact he has been given the gods’ powers before they die. Am I correct?”
The others nodded and Kejuta said, “Right now, I’m gathering the Ilmarians together so we can work together to ensure the future of the world. My son has told me that he saw you appeared in Valendor and immediately informed me to look for a priest. With Brenton and my powers, we were able to determine you were in the Kallian Forest so Marika opened a portal here and that’s how we show up expectantly.”
“I see,” he said. “So what’s the plan now?”
“First, you need to discard your last name. It is not important. Next, Brenton is going with you to Kreesia where you will meet Aundra, the Ilmarian of Magic,” she responded. “She’ll teach you how to use your powers while he will teach you the history of the world. In fact, you should get ready to leave soon. Any questions?”
“Just a couple,” he admitted. He felt nervous asking her but he needed to know. “Why do we have war? Can’t you use your powers to prevent it?”
She thought for a moment and admitted, “I don’t know the answer either. I wish I could use the Chain of Destinies to stop all war but I don’t have the capacity to control everyone since there is over millions of chains. I could only control a select few of my choosing.”
Lanskas nodded. That makes sense. “Just two more questions: May I bring Seif with me? He has been a great companion and I think he would be saddened if I left him behind. Lastly, how may I help?”
“Your friend may come with you,” Kejuta said gently. Seif, who was sitting next to him again, wagged his tail happily. “I’m sure that Aundra wouldn’t mind, but what do you mean by the last question?”
“I want to help you find the other Ilmarians,” he declared. “I think I have the animals help you search for them. They can report to me anything out of the ordinary and I can tell you in turn.”
The other Ilmarians looked at each other and gave their assent. “Very well,” the All-Mother agreed. She stood up and extended her hand, which he shook. “Welcome to the group, Ilmarian of Beasts, Lanskas.”
OMG omg...Ilmarian of the Beasts....after I've read the details of his death...and I've learned of his vision of wolves and a lady with long sharp nail...I knew she must be
"I grow on you like a fungus grows on a nail "
And you're correct.
---------- Post added August 07, 2012 at 09:55 PM ---------- Previous post was July 26, 2012 at 08:10 PM ----------
Soooo... Ch. 6 is much longer than I anticipated so I decided to break it into two parts. This was originally a short story (titled "Catalyst") that I planned a long time ago so that's probably why. Anyway, most of the original concept is still here except with some modifications. This chapter will be also unique since it's entire from another character's POV not the Ilmarian's. In case you're wondering about the locations of places, here is a map I made (not the best but oh well).
Here is the first half. The second part will be posted shortly since I only have at least three sections left. The whole chapter will be posted at my blog.
Chapter 6: Oraji - "Please tell me that you know the difference between an apple and a pear"
Seera 5, 1784
Passeck carefully lifted his eyes while he still bowed before his king. His superiors have told him that he must not look nor even glance at the ruler because he is a lowly Valenki, but he did anyway – discreetly, of course. King Gedimus Leoni Zankanberg II of Sabin was a formidable man who was known to deal with rule breakers swiftly and severely. Passeck studied the king’s face closely. King Gedimus has a sharp chin and a long, skinny nose; even though there were bags under his eyes, he could tell that the king’s brown eyes were still vibrant and sharp.
While he was making his observation, King Gedimus was telling him his new orders, “As you know, our war against Tellervo has taken a toll on our great kingdom. Majority of our farmlands have been decimated due to the fact that they were either used as battlefields or the enemy has burned them to the ground. It doesn’t help that we’re experiencing a famine as well. Because of this, we will most likely have a food shortage and our people will be starving.
“However, there may be good news. There is a rumor that there is a land of bountiful food near our border with Bisaha and Tellervo. If there is such a place, I want to claim it as mine. This is where you come in, Valenki. I want you to scout that area to see if the rumor is true and report back to me what you find. Do you understand what I’m asking you?”
The Valenki frowned inwardly since he was never trained to be a scout before but answered obediently, “I understand, my liege.”
“Good,” King Gedimus sounded pleased. “I want you to leave immediately so quickly grab your belongings and head to that place. May your sword bring glory to you.”
“My glory is your glory, my liege,” Passeck intoned monotonously. Bowing again, he turned around without looking at the ruler and walked out of the throne room.
The first thing he did after he left the throne room was told his commander the king’s order. The middle-aged man seemed quite pleased when he heard the news. “Well done, Passeck,” Jaevi praised. “That means that His Majesty is pleased with your accomplishments and sees great potential in you.”
Passeck remained stone-faced but inside, he was thrilled to hear those words. “Thank you, sir,” he replied politely. “Your words honor me.”
“Just think,” the man mused, “When I first met you three years ago, you were a scared, timid five years old boy. Now look at you – a skilled and proficient killer who can slice an enemy’s throat without blinking an eye. You have the every making of a Valenki.”
Valenki, which means “child warrior”, was a newly created secret army unit that was mostly consisted of orphaned children living on the streets of Tarma, Sabin’s capital. In order to find the best, the children were forced to fight each other to separate the weak from the strong. The winners will be trained to become fierce and skilled warriors, who are loyal to the king, while the losers were used as laborers to help with the war effort. Even though it was in the past, Passeck was still surprised that he was able to win all of his matches since it was true what his mentor said about him. Must be pure luck or something, he guessed.
“I shouldn’t delay you anymore from your mission,” Jaevi’s voice broke his train of thought. “You better get going, Passeck; His Majesty does not like any dallying of any form. I’ll have one of the men drop off a map for you. Good luck and may your sword bring glory to you.”
They both bowed to each other and then the boy took his leave.
As soon as Passeck entered his mostly bare room, he gathered supplies that he would need for his journey. A satchel filled with medicines, a sharpening rock, some coins, and a small bag of food should suffice. He inspected his sleeves where he hid his poisoned needles. Then he went to water basin to look at his reflection. He’s not vain at all, but there was always one thing that he was curious about.
King Gedimus was notorious for being a womanizer and for sleeping around when he was younger. In fact, there were rumors swirling that the children living off the streets were his and the reason he set up the Valenki program was so that he could get rid of any evidence of his wild ways. That could be also another reason why he forbade them from seeing his face. If they see any similarity between his features and theirs, they might realize that he was their father.
Luckily for Passeck, he has a great memory so he could easily recall what the king look like. Examining his face, he could see some similarities; both have the same chin and nose. However, his eyes weren’t as narrow as the king and his ears didn’t stick out that much. That must be from his mother, whom he doesn’t remember quite well except she has brunette hair and smelled like honey.
Sighing, he decided that he best be leaving. Hopefully he packed enough for his journey, but if he didn’t, it would be fine since he knew how to fend for himself. He opened his door and nearly bumped into Baccus, another Valenki.
Both of them stopped and stared down at each other. Passeck has always viewed the other boy, who was only a year older than he, as a rival and vice versa. They also have a strong dislike for each other because both knew that they’re considered the best of the bunch and have the same hope that they’re the king’s sons, which was also another rumor on why the Valenki program was set up. According to gossips, King Gedimus is in dire need of an heir and decided to pick the strongest Valenki as his successor since it is most likely the street orphans are his children.
Before he could demand what his rival wanted from him, Baccus shoved the map against his chest. “Commander Jaevi wanted me to deliver this to you,” he sneered. “Going on a secret mission, I presume?”
Passeck chose to ignore his question and just mumbled bluntly, “Thanks.” He stepped around Baccus and walked out of the building. As soon as he made sure that he was out of sight, he took a peek at the map. It appeared that he needed to head off to the Titalin Region, which was an autonomous area ruled by Governor Izzac Xenus Tashuni of Bisaha. If he does well in this mission, then maybe just maybe His Majesty would acknowledge him as his son. With a determined gait, he began his journey.
Seera 17, 1784
His journey was quite uneventful, which was expected. By now, most of the powerful nations have been established and the only thing that needed to be settled was the border lines. Sabin has signed a treaty with Bisaha that set up the border between those two countries; the only dispute Sabin has was with Tellervo, which wished to have more lands. That was the main cause for them to fight. It has been over five years since the start of the war, and Passeck has hoped that it would end soon.
Almost two weeks have passed and Passeck was sure that he was close to his destination. Along the way, he found some interesting tidbits; his fellow travelers and Sabinites told him stories about the Tatalin region. A lot of war refugees have trekked to the place because of rumors of endless amount of foods. Unlike Sabin, which lands have been parched, that area was green and full of life. Not to mention the fact that they were welcoming anyone no matter what race, nationality, and socioeconomic status. It was, according to them, paradise.
“Paradise, huh?” he muttered to himself. Based on the map, he was close by to this fabled “paradise.” “Let’s see if the rumors are true then.”
He arrived at his destination in the late afternoon. Several refugees had set up camps around the fields and many residents of the region were providing aids to them. Passeck was astonished by the amount of people staying there; it was so packed that he could barely move without bumping into someone. It looked like the rumors were true as well; this has been the very first time he saw an endless land of green and he couldn’t even recall seeing this color in Sabin. How could this area do so well while everywhere else isn’t?
“Excuse me, child, but do you need any help?” a kind and gentle voice interrupted his thoughts. He turned around to see a woman in her fifties looking at him with a warm smile.
“Um… well, I guess so,” he stammered. Taking a deep breath, he lied, “I’m trying to find my family. You see, I got separated from my mum and pop while we were fleeing when our village was attacked by the Tellervans. There was an explosion and well… I knew that we’re supposed to come here so I was hoping that I would bump into them but…” He then pretended to start crying and hugged the woman tightly.
The woman immediately bought the act. “You poor child!” she consoled him as she rubbed his back. “Do you have any other relatives by chance?” He shook his head. The next thing she said was much unexpected. “Why don’t you come with me to the manor? I don’t think it’s safe for a child to stay here all by himself. I’m sure Master Tashuni wouldn’t mind and his daughter hasn’t has any company for quite a while. Besides I don’t think he would feel threatened by you since you’re much younger than she.”
This woman was staffed by the governor himself? What luck! He nodded his head, which seemed to please the woman. “Well then, come along,” she gestured. “You must be tired from your journey.”
As they walked to the governor’s house, he decided to find out more information about him. “So why did the governor decide to take in all of these refugees?” he asked cautiously. The woman, whose name was Gaethi, shook her head and smiled.
“It wasn’t his idea to be honest,” she said. “It was actually his daughter, Oraji Valenti Tashuni. She heard stories about the plight of these people and wanted to take care of them. Her father was fine with it except he dislikes her idea of welcoming everyone in spite of their… backgrounds. However, she knew how to wrap him around her fingers so he relented at the end though he’s still not pleased with it.”
Now he was curious. “So she’s in charge of this whole camp?” he asked incredulously. “What is she like then? Has she ever visited the people she’s taking care of?”
The old woman beamed with pride. “She’s such a sweet angel just like her mother,” she began. “She always treats the staff with respect and rarely loses her temper. She also has her father’s love for music and gardening. Unfortunately, she hasn’t seen any of the refugees since she’s forbidden to leave the manor.”
“Can’t leave?” Passeck wondered. “Why not?”
Gaethi has a faraway look as she reminisced. “It’s because of her father,” she explained. “Master Tashuni lost his wife thirteen years ago when her carriage was robbed by bandits. Mistress Oraji was only three years old when it happened and he feared that he would lose her as well. It also didn’t help that she looks exactly like her mother. That was when he decreed that she would never leave the manor until the day she is married. That poor child has been stuck there ever since.”
“That’s almost like a prison!” he blurted aloud. “How could she deal with it?”
“Well, she reads a lot of books and the staff provides her with information of what happening in the outside world,” she admitted. “Other than that, she usually tends to her garden. The garden is very precious to her. In fact, she doesn’t let anyone to help her take care of it. Oh, did you know that she’s the one who provide the food to everyone here?”
“Really? Huh, that’s very interesting,” Passeck replied. That was very valid information all right. What intrigued him was the fact that this Oraji was in charge of the garden and somehow managed to take care of it by herself so he decided to fib. “I would like to meet her then. I used to help my mum take care of the garden back home.”
Gaethi gave him a warm smile. “I’m sure you will,” she reassured him. “In fact, we’re here.”
The manor was much bigger than he has anticipated. The three-story brick house with sprawling towers was located on a hill and rested on twenty acres of land, which was mostly used for gardening. A towering stone wall surrounded it; several guards were keeping watch along the way as well. As they approached the metal gate, one of the guards blocked their way. “Who is this boy?” he demanded. Passeck immediately sensed that he may have trouble and quickly plotted a way to escape.
Luckily for him, Gaethi saved his hide. She replied briskly, “He’s one of the refugees and he has recently lost his parents. You should understand, Wilden, since you experienced the same thing and Master Tashuni agreed to become your guardian.”
Wilden frowned but relented, “Fine. But, Gaethi, you’re too gullible just like Oraji. Sometimes I think she takes after you. One day, someone is going to use your kindness to his advantage and cause harm to the House of Tashuni.”
“You’re so paranoid sometimes,” she chided. “Don’t worry. I have a good sense of character.” The young man gave her a look but wisely didn’t say anything. Instead he let them in though he gave Passeck a warning look.
“Who’s that?” he asked. He could still feel the man’s eyes glaring at his back. The woman just flipped her hand irritably.
“That man is Wilden Cartelos,” she explained. “From what I’ve been told, he’s a distant cousin of Yulena Tashuni, Master Tashuni’s late wife, and Oraji’s expected fiancée. His mother died of an illness when he was only six years old and then his father died a year ago during one of the battles against Sabin. Master Tashuni took pity on him and decided to become his guardian and ever since then, he always felt indebted to him.”
“So Wilden is a Tellervan then?” he mused. That might cause some complications. There was no doubt that the man knew that he was a Sabinite. Gaethi nodded. They continued walking down the hallway in silence when she suddenly grabbed his arm and forced him to turn a corner.
“Well, there she is!” she beamed. Opening the glass door, she dragged him into the garden. “Mistress Oraji, I brought a friend for you!”
A young woman of sixteen years of age looked up from what she was doing and gave them a questioning look. She has long, slightly curly, orange hair, which was pulled back in a braid, and bright green eyes. She wore a simple lilac sun dress and a straw sunhat. When he first saw her, he thought to himself that she reminded him of a nymph – bewitching but delicate.
“Nana, who is that?” she inquired. It was Passeck’s turn to be quizzical now so Gaethi explained to him that she was her nanny when Oraji was younger and now she’s the head of the housekeeping staff.
“Anyway, this is Passeck,” she continued as she placed her hands on his shoulders, “and he’s going to help you tend the garden.”
Upon hearing this, Oraji looked displeased. “But, Nana, I don’t need any help taking care of the garden,” she protested. However, the older woman wouldn’t hear a word of it.
“Nonsense, Raj,” she scolded. “There is no way that a single person can take care of this much land which supposed to feed an entire town. Besides, he knows how to garden as well so he’s going to help you and that’s final!”
She still didn’t look happy but she conceded. “All right,” she sighed. “Oh, one of the servants was looking for you. Father is feeling ill again so he wanted to discuss with you about the dinner party tonight.”
“I understand, Mistress Oraji,” Gaethi said, curtseying. “By your leave then.” She reached the doorway and paused. “Make sure to include the boy in your activity. As a hostess, you have to make him feel welcome.” Then, with a smile, she entered the house and closed the door.
As soon as Gaethi was out of sight, Oraji spurned around quickly and gave Passeck a sweet smile. “Okay, Passeck,” she said. “So you told Nana that you’re a gardener, correct?”
Swallowing nervously, he replied, “Of course, I am!” Still smiling, she beckoned him to follow her, which he did. They walked down a long and winding path until they reached the vegetable patch.
“I was about to check on the vegetable garden when Nana and you came along,” she explained. “I’m going to plant some more carrots so if you don’t mind, pass me the trowel.”
Passeck gave her a blank look and asked her to repeat her request, which she did. A trowel? He stared down at the tools that were at his feet and examined them. Since she did mention that she was going to plant some seeds, it has to be a tool that helps her dig so…
Taking a wild guess, he grabbed a tool and handed to her. She frowned and pointed out bluntly, “That’s a spade. The trowel is right next to the hand rake.” He must have a confused look so she had to describe it to him. After he finally got the right tool and gave it to her, she thanked him but gave him an exasperated look.
“I see that your gardening skills aren’t as great as Gaethi made it out to be,” she said. “I know! Why don’t you gather some apples in the basket over there while I work?” She paused and begged, “Please tell me that you know the difference between an apple and a pear.”
“I know that!” he said defensively and grabbed the basket. He’ll show her! His basket will be so full of apples that they would topple over the edge. To be honest, he was rather embarrassed that he looked like an idiot. However, he was surprised that she didn’t suspect anything after he failed her test miserably. Anyone else would raise the alarm and call the guards immediately. She couldn’t be that naïve, right? Unless this was just an act just to trick him…
Imagine his surprise when he came back and saw that she was still the only one there. When she saw how much apples he collected, she looked impressed and praised him, which caused him to smile widely. She then suggested that they rest under the oak tree for a few minutes and he agreed. As they sat quietly, she spoke up, “Why don’t you tell me a little bit about yourself?”
“About myself? You mean, about my family and my home?” She nodded and waited patiently for his response. Well, she probably knew that his story was fabricated so might as well tell her the truth – with some alterations, of course.
“I’m originally from the capital of Sabin, Tarma. It’s a pretty large city with tall buildings made out of white stones and-“
“How tall?” Oraji interrupted. The young boy paused and thought about it.
He finally answered, “Well, I guess they’re twice as tall as your house.” Her eyes widened in awe that he wanted to laugh. Instead he continued describing the city such as the busy marketplace, the alleys where he and his friends used to play, and the magnificent palace where King Gedimus lived. His stories seemed to captivate the young woman because she was attentive and asked a lot of questions.
After he told her that the nation was currently in trouble due to the famine, she quietly asked, “What is a famine?” He must have given her an incredulous look because she blushed and clarified in a defensive tone, “I mean I know what a famine is due to my schooling. What I meant was this: how did it feel during that time? What was it like?”
That was when it dawned on him that the reasons she was pestering him about every single details of his life was that she has never experienced anything that he had. Passeck suddenly felt pity for her; at first, he was envious that she has such a carefree and easy life, but now he knew that in spite of it, she was quite ignorant about the world around her. She was like a caged bird which never flies beyond the birdcage that imprisoned it. However, he admitted to himself that he could use it for his advantage as well.
“Well, you know the sensation of being hungry?” Oraji nodded and he continued, “It’s like that except you have that feeling every day. You can’t find any food and if you do find any, it’s not enough to sustain you. Likewise, you have to fight with everyone else just to scrap by. It was pretty hard especially since you know that the nobility has first dibs on the food supplies.”
She was quiet for a long time that Passeck became a little nervous. Finally she said, “That sounds terrible!” That was when she smiled. “I’m glad that you were able to come here. Thank you for telling me about yourself. How’s about this? I’ll teach you how to garden and in return, you tell me stories. Deal?”
Passeck answered without any hesitation, “Deal!” He shook her hand and as they went back to work, he thought to himself that this mission was going much easier than he has expected.
Later that night, one of the servants showed him to his bedroom, which was located on the second floor. He noted that there were guards stationed closed by and smiled to himself. It appeared that Wilden still doesn’t trust him. After he closed the door, he examined his surroundings.
The bedroom was much bigger than he has anticipated. The pale blue room faced the front of the house, which was a good location since he could easily see any fellow Sabinite spies and give them secret hand signals. There were two windows; one faced the front while the other was at the side. Luckily for him, they were easy to pry open since he still wanted to explore the manor. However, the thing he’s most curious about was Oraji herself.
During their garden session, he noticed that one of her flowers was dead and pointed it out to her. He offered to pull it out, but she informed him that she would take care of it. Her comment caught his attention since it was impossible to save a dead plant. Perhaps she has a method that could do that and if she does, that would definitely help his nation.
He waited until it was past midnight to make his move. Creeping out of his bed, he went to the side window and slowly opened it. He looked around to make sure the coast was clear before he climbed out. He jumped down to the roof below and quickly scampered off to the other side of the house. Oraji’s room was on the opposite side if he remembered correctly. He just needed to find out which room was hers and then searched it when she’s not there.
That was when something caught the corner of his eyes and he abruptly stopped. Someone was in the garden but who? He decided to investigate and discreetly climbed down a trellis. He stealthy crept through the bushes toward the sound and was surprised to see that that the culprit was Oraji.
Her back was toward him and she was looking at the dead flower from earlier. She glanced around and became relaxed when she thought that no one was around. The next thing Passeck saw astonished him. The teenager then placed her hand above the flower and a pale glow surrounded it. Then the wilted flower turned upward as if it was reaching toward the sky. When the light disappeared, he was amazed to see that it wasn’t dead anymore; it was as if it was a brand new flower with all of its petals and a lovely color of green.
“How did you do that!?” he exclaimed as he came out of his hiding spot without thinking. Startled, Oraji jumped and turned to face him.
“Passeck!” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here!?”
Oh crap. He forgot that he was snooping around the place. “Umm… uh, well I couldn’t sleep so I was walking around the garden,” he lied. “But anyway, that was pretty amazing what you did. Is that how you tend the garden? No wonder it always seems so healthy and alive!”
Her face turned pale and she confessed, “It wasn’t always like this. I only got this power recently and I don’t know why I’ve gotten them. Why don’t we have a seat somewhere and I’ll try my best to explain?” Intrigued, he readily agreed and they went to their place where they took their break.
Taking a deep breath, she began her story, “It happened a little over a year ago around the time of my sixteenth birthday. I was practicing the cello when I overheard some of the younger maids talking about a festival that was happening in town. Apparently, there was a dance event when girls at the age of sixteen were supposed to request a dance from a boy. When I heard this, I was so curious and excited about it that I asked my father if I can go. However, he denied my request and told me that I was to stay home that night.
“Usually I would just obey his orders without questions, but for some reason, I was so intent on going to that dance, I decided to sneak out. That evening, I opened my bedroom window and climbed onto the oak tree, which was next to my room. Everything was going well until I stepped on one of its dead branches. It broke right under my feet and I didn’t have any time to react. I felt myself falling as I desperately tried to grab anything to prevent my fall. The last thing I remembered was falling onto the hard ground and losing consciously.
“Now this part was the strangest one. I woke up in a garden which seems to have every plant in the world. There were some I recognized; others I do not. While I was walking through the pathways, I heard a voice whispered to me, ‘Tend to this garden and everything that you nurture will grow into fruitions.’ Alarmed, I looked around to find the location of the voice but I found myself in a different location.
“I found myself surrounded by a crowd of strangers in a strange world. The first thought that came to me was that I was dead and that I wasn’t able to attend the dance. That was when a young man tapped my shoulder and asked me what the matter was? I told him my plight and he politely offered to dance with me. He asked me for my name so I told him and I asked his in return. I don’t remember what it was but I can recall what he look like vividly. He has brown hair and wore a black robe with gold lining.
“During our dance, he told me that I wasn’t actually dead and that I was immortal just like him. He said that there were others like us and they called themselves Ilmarians. Apparently each of us was given powers to guide the world. He then informed me that he’s going to send his mother to find me and bring me to a place where I can learn more about my ability. Before he could ask me my location, I felt lightheaded and he slowly disappeared from my view.
“When I woke up, it was nighttime, which was surprising since I thought I was unconscious for a whole day or more. The first thing I saw was the broken branches above me and I realized that I actually DID die. Sitting up, I found myself surrounded by ceraphilis flowers and was frightened. I immediately covered the flowers with dirt and after I inspected myself for injuries, I realized that I was in predicament. I couldn’t go through the back door because no one saw me leave. If anyone noticed that I wasn’t in my room, then I would be in trouble and my father would definitely forbid me from stepping outside of my room. I remembered praying, ‘Dear All-Mother, I need a miracle to happen.’
“However, I suddenly noticed that there was a vine was growing besides me and it seemed to beckon me to grasp it. Amazed, I checked to see it was sturdy enough and it lifted me up to my room. After I went inside, the vine shrunk back into the ground. I was so exhausted from the whole ordeal so I went back to sleep as soon as I climbed into bed. I didn’t think too much about it until the next day when I accidentally used my power to grow a pear. I recalled my dreams and remembered how the voice told me to tend to the garden to help the world. That was when I decided to start the relief organization for the refugees.
“At first, I thought of telling someone about it but I was afraid that everyone would perceive me as some kind of freak so I remained silent,” she paused and looked at him with a look of relief. “I’m glad that I finally got to tell someone about my secret. It was driving me insane not able to tell anyone about it. Promise that you won’t tell anyone else.”
Passeck was still astonished by her story and realized that he has discovered why the Titalin region was flourishing. With her powers, Sabin would be saved and he would be highly honored by the country. Not to mention the fact that there was a high chance that King Gedimus would acknowledge him as his son! “I promise,” he said with a smile. “In fact, let’s pinky swear it.”
Afterward, she helped him back to his bedroom by growing a vine for him to climb. Before that, she informed him that her bedroom was on the third floor and it was the third window from the left. She then bid him good night and disappeared around the corner. Passeck stood by the window until she was gone and went to his bed. He thought he would have trouble sleeping after what he has learned today, but he fell fast asleep as soon as his head rested on his pillow.
---------- Post added August 08, 2012 at 11:05 PM ---------- Previous post was August 07, 2012 at 09:55 PM ----------
Here is the second half. There is a hint for the next chapter in the last part
Seera 22, 1784
“What kind of flower is this?” Oraji looked up from what she was doing and looked at the flower; since he now knew her secret, she has used her powers right in front of him and his job was to keep an eye out for any approaching person. Passeck has grown fond of the flower due to its sweet fragrant and lovely flowers.
She answered, “It’s a tuberose and it’s quite exquisite. In fact, that was my mother’s favorite flower according to Nana.” She became quiet and stared off to the distance. The boy then recognized that she was probably missing her mother. His assumption was correct because during their break, she asked him, “What was your mother like?”
“I don’t really remember much about my mother,” he admitted, “but I know that she has soft brown hair and a gentle laugh. Whenever I was sad, she would tell me silly stories that made me laugh and forget my trouble. Unfortunately, she was also very ill so she mostly stayed in bed while I went around finding food and whatnot. She died in her sleep while I was out one of my excursions so I wasn’t able to say goodbye to her.”
Turning to face her, he inquired, “Do you remember anything about your mother?” She shook her head sadly and stared out toward the garden.
“You know,” she muttered softly, “this is actually my mother’s garden. You probably heard stories already about how my father forbade me from leaving this place. When I was younger, it really didn’t bother me but as I grew older, I realized that I was lonely and didn’t have anyone to play with. Well, to cope, I decided to take care of her garden to keep myself occupied and hope to honor her memory. In a way, this place has become my sanctuary.”
“Why don’t you tell your father or Gaethi how you feel?” he inquired but she shook her head again.
“My father refused to listen and right now he’s been too ill. The doctor has told me not to cause him any stress so I dare not tell him,” she explained wistfully. “I did try to tell Nana and the others once but they told me that they don’t have the power to sway him and just be patient until I’m at the age of marriage.”
“Well, I think what your father is doing is not right!” he declared angrily. Before she could admonish him, he continued, “Why must you suffer just because he refused to accept that his wife is dead? And why do your servants allow this to happen? If I were one of them, I would knock some sense into him.”
She stared at him before she started to laugh. “You would have been fired at the spot!” she informed him. “However, I understand why he did it. I think I would probably act that way if the same thing happens to me.”
“But still,” Passeck argued, “don’t you feel resentful? Because of that stupid rule, you couldn’t experience any fun activities that you’ve read about. Don’t forget that you died after you decided to disobey your father to go to that dance. It would have never happened if he had allowed you to go.”
Oraji was quiet during his whole tirade but finally admitted, “Yes, it’s true that I’m sometimes resentful but I still love my father dearly. Don’t you feel the same way with your father?”
Now it was his turn to feel gloomy. “I don’t know who my father is and my mother told me that he’s dead,” he confessed. A flash of sympathy on her face caused him to add quickly, “but I think he’s still alive and I believe I know his identity. It’s my dream one day that he would finally acknowledge so I’m doing the best I can so maybe I’ll catch his attention.”
She rubbed his back and cheered him up, “Don’t worry! I’m sure you will.” He smiled back in return. Oraji was such a simple-minded girl but that’s one of her traits that he surprisingly found endearing. He was about to say something when he saw Gaethi standing patiently at the door. Oh, right. He’s supposed to help her give food to the refugees.
“I gotta go!” he said quickly as he stood up and wiped the dirt from his hands. The governor’s daughter nodded understandably and waved goodbye as he went with Gaethi.
“Here you go,” Passeck said cheerfully as he handed out a loaf of bread to a mother of three. The woman bowed her head in thanks and gathered her children so they could eat. Watching this scene always caused a feeling of happiness in him and he went along his way in a good mood. That feeling didn’t last long however.
“I’ve been waiting for you for a while now,” a voice hissed. “What took you so long?” A startled Passeck looked up and saw a gnarly Sabinite glaring at him. For a moment there, it took him a few second for him to remember that this man was his handler and they were secretly corresponding with each other. Damnit, he has enjoyed spending time in the Tashuni household that he has almost forgotten his mission.
“Good day, sir!” he said. “Would you like some bread?” He nodded and received his goodies. Passeck continued his conversation, “Oh, I see that you’re a fellow Sabinite! Why don’t we have a little chat somewhere? I haven’t seen my fellow countryman for a while now and I would love to talk if you like.” The man stared at him but was smart to realize that he was trying to speak in code. He agreed and they walked a little distance away. They glanced around to see if anyone suspected anything but no one seemed to notice.
Still speaking in code, the man replied, “While I was walking around, I notice an aerie of nighthawks was waiting in the forest. I was amazed by the sight but I believe that they may go hunting at twilight. In fact, I believe the leader will lead the hunt.” The nighthawk was the symbol of Sabin so that would mean the siege would begin tonight. What was surprising was that King Gedimus was here in person. Passeck’s information must have been very intriguing that he has to come here as well. He nodded to show that he understood his message
“I hope none of their prey would be harmed greatly,” he said with honesty; he has befriended a lot of the refugees and did not want any of them to be casualties.
The older man frowned and answered curtly, “They would not if they learned their place. Anyway, you best light up two lanterns at the highest tower tonight if you wish to see the show. Remember if all goes well, you may be greatly rewarded.” With his message delivered, the man took a bite of his loaf and disappeared into the crowd.
Passeck didn’t feel well that night and couldn’t finish his dinner so he asked to be excused from the table, which Gaethi allowed. Currently he was lying in his bed where he was staring at the ceiling above him. He could feel the butterflies in his stomach as he waited nervously for nightfall. Waves of emotions were swirling inside him: guilt for betraying these unassuming people especially Oraji and a sense of duty for his country. However, if he did what he was ordered to do, then maybe King Gedimus would be proud enough to call him his son.
That motivation caused him to wake up from his stupor. He has become soft, he realized. Why should he care what they think? His loyalty was to the king only and he’s going to prove that he’s the best Valenki to ever serve the king. Right now, he needed to make sure everything was ready for tonight. While he was waiting, he inspected his weapons to make sure that they were sharp before he hid them away. Next he made sure that he has some fire elemental stones with him so he could light the lanterns, which was already inside the highest tower. With a deep breath, he began his exercise regimen until it was time.
When it was time, Passeck gathered his belonging and quietly crept out of his window. Climbing carefully to the roof, he hurried off to the tower. He shouldn’t have any issues with the guards since he has put some sleeping potion inside their meals. Imagine his surprise when he saw Wilden waiting for him at the tower. “I figure you were up to something,” the Tellervan sneered as he pointed his rapier at his throat. “The others may have been gullible by your sob story but I’m not.”
“I’m so proud of your intelligence,” Passeck replied mockingly, “but what are you going to do now? You don’t have any evidence besides your gut feeling.”
Wilden just gave him a calm response, “Oh, I’m just going to stop you of course. After I get rid of you, I can finish my mission without any further delay.”
“Mission?” Passeck was intrigued and the young man just shrugged. It appeared that the man was quite arrogant and believed that he had an upper hand in this situation so Passeck knew that he could use this to his advantage. “Wait a minute; I thought Governor Tashuni invited you here.”
Wilden just burst out laughing. “Oh dear, you actually believe that bullshit!?” he gawked. “I’m actually a minor Tellervan lord sent here to claim this land as ours due to its rumored luscious lands. I’ve been blackmailing the governor by threatening to send an army down to swarm this place if he didn’t obey my orders. One of which was to promise his daughter’s hand in marriage so that when he dies, I have stake on this land. However, to insure that he doesn’t dare try anything foolish, I’ve been slowly poisoning him and making it look like he’s ill. At this rate, he should be dead any day now, which means…” He gave him a wicked grin, which enraged Passeck to no end. “Unfortunately for you, it looks like you’re not…”
Before he could react, Passeck ducked down and shoved the man hard to the ground. Standing up quickly, he went to the lanterns to complete his mission. He was able to lit one lantern before he had to get out of the way of Wilden’s attack. “Come back here, you brat!” he shouted angrily as he swung his weapon at the boy, who easily dodged it. Right now, Passeck knew that he has the advantage because the other was allowing his emotion to get in his way. The problem was that he couldn’t find any opening to counterattack and there wasn’t enough space to maneuver around.
That was when he felt the hard brick wall against his back. Just his luck! He just HAD to jinx himself to this dilemma. His opponent, knowing that he has the advantage now, gloated and prepared to thrust his blade through his check when Passeck shouted, “Wait! Hear me out first!”
The Tellervan lord halted his attack abruptly and the Valenki continued, “You got me so I admit defeat, but I can help you. In a matter of fact, I will swear loyalty to you.” Wilden’s expression changed from anger to curiosity and he gestured for Passeck to go on. “I was sent here on a similar mission as you. My country is suffering a famine as well so my king sent me here to scout out the land so we can claim this land as ours. In fact, the invasion is happening tonight! Here is where I come along; right now I’m supposed to signal to them to commence their attack by lighting those lanterns over there. You said that you’re a minor lord, correct? Well, King Gedimus is going to lead the attack so if you were able to capture or kill him, imagine what honor will bestow on you! ‘Wilden the Mighty Warrior’ – the one who saved Tellervo from the tyrant king, Gedimus.
“So during the attack, you can wait in the shadows and when the king isn’t looking, you can strike. And without their leader, the Sabin army will be at a loss so it would be an easy victory for you! Then during your victory march back home, you will be knighted and your family name will be greatly prized by other nobilities. Of course, everyone especially the Tellervan royalties would want to be in your company too.”
Wilden was rubbing his chin thoughtfully and conceded, “Very well. I accept your servitude. Now then, come along and send out your signal.” He put his rapier away and beckoned Passeck to complete his task. The boy was pleased that his plan had worked; he figured that Wilden’s ego was inflated and used it to his benefit. Now it was his chance to counterattack. Putting an act of submission, he timidly walked by the lord and deftly pulled out one of his needles. He quickly pricked Wilden with it and jumped out of the way before the latter could react. “What the-!?” Wilden tried to pull out his rapier but staggered instead.
Now it was Passeck’s turn to gloat. “What’s the matter? Can’t move at all?” he taunted. “If you’re wondering, you’ve been poisoned by a highly toxic concoction. It will numb your nervous system and cause paralysis. Oh, not to mention the fact that it will slowly cause you to suffocate so I would just relax and watch the show if I were you. Now if you excuse me, I need to sound the attack.”
As he walked away, he could hear Wilden’s shouting curses at him though with a lot of difficulty as he was having trouble breathing. Ignoring the dying man, he lit up the last lantern. He was about to head down to join in the battle when he changed his mind. Instead he decided to watch the outcome from the best view in the house.
Seera 23, 1784
It was a quick battle as everyone has expected. After the battle, Passeck met up with his Commander who was accompanied with Baccus, who didn’t seem very happy. “Excellent job, Passeck,” Jaevi complimented him. “You did more than what you have been expected and His Majesty sent his praise.” The other Valenki glowered at that but Passeck pretended not to notice. Instead he just smiled and thanked him.
“And what happens to the prisoners?” he asked curiously. He prayed that Oraji, Gaethi, and the others were safe and sound.
“They’re being taken care of,” the man replied. “They’re a bit frightened but they knew not to cause any commotion. Unfortunately, it looked like Governor Tashuni has died from his ‘illness’; it was a good thing you were able to stop that Tellervan bastard and foil his scheme. Currently, His Majesty is trying to negotiate with Lady Oraji in the drawing room. Which brings me to this: she has a strange request. She said that she refused to bargain until you are there as well.” He gave the boy a puzzled look, but Passeck was confused as well. Why him? Unless she wanted to slap him for betraying her town like that. That’s the most likely scenario.
“I see,” he said. “I’ll go there then.” After saluting each other, he turned around and walked to his next location. The whole time, he dreaded going there. Even though he didn’t see much of the staff since they were ordered to stay in their rooms, he could feel their glares from the windows. That was expected but the person he wanted to see the least was Oraji. He stopped in front of the doorway, which was guarded by two Sabinites, and stare at the closed doors for a long time. Would her eyes be full of hatred? Does she despise him and wish him dead? What words does she say to him?
Taking a deep breath, he opened the door and entered the room.
When he entered the room, he saw that King Gedimus and Oraji were sitting on opposite caned settees, which faced each other. A terrified Gaethi was there as well and she was serving tea to them. Soldiers were stationed around the room and even though they stood still as statues, their alert eyes told him that they were prepared to attack if anyone dared to attack. As soon as Oraji saw him, her eyes lit up and she gave him a small smile. She gave a brave façade but her slightly trembling hands betrayed her fear.
Upon seeing him, the king of Sabin looked at her and said bluntly, “Now that the boy is here, are you ready to talk?” Oraji nodded and took a deep breath. Happy, King Gedimus then beckoned Passeck to stand next to him, which he did. Oraji’s former nanny came over and gave each of them a cup of tea though he noticed that she refused to look at him.
The king took a sip of the tea and began the proceeding. “Well then, let’s begin. First, you are going to sign this treaty which stated that we didn’t invade your land and instead you requested for help from the invading army of Tellervo. Likewise you will give your hand in marriage to me and agree to relinquish your land to Sabin. Everyone in this land will now be under my country’s protection as well. Sixty percent of the crops will be used to feed my troops. Do you agree to these terms?”
Oraji nodded; what else could she say? She doesn’t have any leverage against him. “However, may I have three requests?” she asked politely. The Sabinite king decided to humor her and nodded so she continued, “First, I want to continue my relief organization. Second, I want you to promise that you will extend your protection to the refugees staying the region. Lastly, I want Passeck to remain at my side.”
Everyone’s eyebrows were raised when they heard the last request. The king cleared his throat and smiled. “But of course!” he promised with a reassuring smile, which gave Passeck an uneasy feeling. “I am curious though. Why do you want to keep the boy? Are you planning to make him your whipping boy since he betrayed you and your people?” In spite of his effort, Passeck felt himself flinched.
Shaking her head, she turned to look at Passeck and said softly, “It’s because he’s my friend.”
Passeck was stunned to hear that from here and he blinked his eyes quickly to prevent the tears from falling. The king just gave a disbelieving sigh and muttered, “You’re such a kind-hearted girl. Anyway, let’s get this over with.” After he handed her a quill, she signed the parchment. “Now then, you must be exhausted and you need plenty of rest when we head back to Tarma tomorrow. Pleasant dreams, Lady Oraji.”
As soon as she and Gaethi have left, the king let out a huge laugh. “What a naïve girl!” he exclaimed. “Does she actually believe that I would agree to those terms!?” Everyone except Passeck, who just shifted uncomfortably, joined in the laughter as well. “Why should I help those cowards? Not to mention, why should I allow my best Valenki become a mere servant boy? Speaking of which…”
He turned his attention to the boy, who immediately straightened up. “Well done, Valenki,” he praised. “Not only did you gather valuable information about this place, you were able to gain the people’s trust. Your help has been greatly appreciated.”
Passeck nodded and waited hopefully to hear the words he always wanted to hear. Instead, the king stated, “You’re dismissed.”
He was so disappointed that he didn’t realize that he was still standing there until he heard the king’s irritated voice, “Are you deaf, boy? I said that you’re dismissed!”
Passeck hastily bowed and exited the room. He thought of going back to his room to rest, but he found himself heading toward Oraji’s room. The guards stationed at her door didn’t blink their eyes as he knocked on the door.
“Who is it?” Oraji called out.
Taking a deep breath, he answered, “It’s me… Passeck,”
The door opened slightly and Oraji’s face appeared through the crack. “Come in,” she said as she opened the door wide enough for him to enter.
“Do you need anything?” Oraji inquired after she shut the door.
“It’s nothing. It’s just…” he hesitated and looked away. “It’s just I’m sorry that I hurt you. I want to give you a lame excuse but I can’t. Besides, you probably hate me so much anyway that you don’t care what I say. If you can’t forgive me, I understand.”
Silence answered him so Passeck turned gingerly to face her. She was sitting on the window seat, which faced the garden, and staring at her lap. He debated whether or not he should leave when she finally responded, “Yes, I’m upset with you about what happened but there is nothing I can do about it, is there? I also think I know why you did what you did.” She looked at his face and continued, “You’re hoping that King Gedimus is your father. I remembered our conversation this morning and how you mentioned that you wanted your father to acknowledge you. During my meeting with him, I noticed some similarities which were the reason why I send for you.”
“It doesn’t matter anymore,” Passeck replied darkly. After his meeting with the king, he has the realization that Gedimus would never reveal his “shameful” secrets because he has too much pride. Oraji gave him a questioning look but he ignored it. “It’s my fault that you’re in this situation. Now you lost your land and forced to be in a loveless marriage. And look at you! You’re supposed to despise me and curse my name! Why are you so damn forgiving!? Not everyone has good intentions, you know!”
He didn’t realize that he was crying when he suddenly felt someone hugged him. Oraji quietly consoled him until he calmed down enough. She led him to a sofa and sat down with him. “I’m a little scared,” she admitted quietly. “I don’t know much about your king and I’m worried about how everyone will be after I’m gone. However, I’m sure that everything will turn out fine.”
Her words comforted him for some reason and he had to admire her for her optimism. If there was something he could do for her… “I know!” he exclaimed. “I’ll help you escape!”
“Escape? But how?” Oraji looked at him with bewilderment so he explained to her his idea. She listened attentively before asking, “I have to admit it’s a good plan but what’s about the others? I can’t just leave them without knowing if they will be all right.”
Passeck shook his head. “This has to be this way,” he apologized. “Any more people would make it easier for us to be captured again. Besides, no one else knew about your powers so who knows how they react when they see it for the very first time? Don’t worry. We’ll escape to Bisaha and ask them for help to recapturing your land again.”
“All right,” she agreed. “Let’s do it. I’ll be waiting by the window. As soon as I see you, we’ll make our escape.”
It was still late at night when Passeck made his move. He reminded himself of the plan: around three o’clock in the morning, he would sneak out of the window and head down to the garden. When he is directly below Oraji’s window, he would whistle a bird sound to give her a heads-up. That was when she will head down as well and they would run quickly to the wall protecting the house. Then she would summon a vine for him to climb up and he would knock out the guards. Afterward, she will join him and they would use another vine to climb down to the other side. That was when they will make their escape.
Everything was going according to plan until they reached the wall. “Okay, I’ll whistle to you after I get rid of the guards,” he whispered to Oraji, who nervously licked her lips and send forth a vine out of the ground. As expected, he easily took care of the guards and was about to tell her that it was safe to come up when he felt a presence closed by. He twisted his body slightly and barely dodged the blade, which flew by his neck.
“I was wondering what you were up to,” Baccus smirked as he emerged from the shadow. Twirling his throwing daggers around his hand, he glanced around the area. “So where’s the lady? I know that you’re hiding her somewhere. Tell me where she is and I won’t alert anyone of your transgression.”
However, Passeck was still in shock. “How did you know?” he demanded as he tried desperately to think of a way to counter his rival. If he remembered correctly, Baccus prized himself with his quickness and his accuracy so he was going to have a lot of difficulty facing him.
The older boy just shrugged. “Unlike Jaevi and the others, I noticed that you were acting very odd afterward so I decided to keep an eye on you. While everyone was asleep, I went into your bedroom and saw that you were gone. Figuring that you’re trying to flee with Lady Tashuni, I deduce that you will be escaping at this part of the wall since it’s the least guarded… and I was proven to be right.” Then he suddenly gave Passeck a wicked smile. “You know what? I changed my mind. I’ll just kill you now and tell everyone about how I stopped you from escaping with the girl. Then I would be praised as a hero and Father would finally recognize me for my efforts. If I were you, I would say a little pray- Omph!”
At that moment, Passeck has run so quickly and tackled the Valenki to the ground. That attack caused his opponent to drop his weapons, which was a good thing. Unfortunately, he didn’t have time to grab his weapon because they were now rolling on the floor and clawing at each other. “Give it up!” Baccus snarled as he tried to wrap his hands around his neck. “I’m much stronger than you!”
“As if!” he replied as he managed to shove the boy off and quickly stood up in a defensive stance. Baccus was leaning against the wall; he probably knew that he was cornered so he would be desperate to do a foolish move. However, he felt drained from all that wrestling and knew that he has only one move left. He had to make it count because Oraji’s counting on him. Discreetly pulling out one of his needles, he charged at Baccus again.
This time the boy was prepared for it and easily dodged the attack; he didn’t expect Passeck to throw a poisoned needle at him though. With barely any time to react, he jumped out of the way and landed on top of the wall. Unfortunately, he didn’t have a good footing and fell after losing his balance. Rushing over, Passeck immediately looked down and saw that Baccus was barely holding on the edge. Seeing defeated rival’s terrified face caused him to feel pity and it dawned on him that he shouldn’t let his half-brother die. “Grab my hand,” he pleaded as he reached out to Baccus.
Baccus stared at him for the longest time as if he was debating whether or not this was some kind of ploy, but he decided to stretch his free hand toward him. Suddenly he stopped himself and smiled. “No,” he declared. “I’ll die as a Valenki and I refuse to betray my oath of loyalty to the king.” Raising his voice, he shouted, “SOUND THE ALARM! THEY’RE TRYING TO ESCAPE!” Then with a smile of triumph on his face, he let go and fell to the ground below.
Cursing with frustration, Passeck hurried to where Oraji was hiding and shouted, “Hurry! We need to leave now!” Already he could hear people shouting in the manor as they became aware that she was missing from her room. She quickly showed up and grew another vine for them to use to climb over to the other side. As soon as they were outside the manor, they scrambled down the hill.
They were arrived at the bottom of the hill when they found themselves surrounded by King Gedimus’s men. “Surrender now,” Jaevi ordered. “You have no means to escape. Raise your hands, the both of you!”
Reluctantly, Oraji and he did as they were told. Passeck noticed that his mentor gave him a disappointing look at him; he knew that the man will be punished later by the king because he wasn’t able to control his student properly. Speaking of which, he saw the soldiers parted way for the king who was storming through the crowd. Displeasure and fury were displayed vividly on his face. He stopped in front of them and said coldly, “I see that my generosity wasn’t appreciated. It appears that I need to make an example out of you two.” He pointed to one of the soldiers. “You, grab the boy and execute him immediately. I want him to be an example to Lady Oraji so she knows what happens if she dares defy me again.”
“No!” Passeck was startled to find the young Bisahan lady has wrapped her arms around him defensively. “I won’t let you hurt him!” she declared as she glared at the king, who gave her a look of bewilderment. It was probably the first time someone dare talk back to him. However, that feeling quickly changed to enragement.
He then replied coldly, “Very well then, since you seem to care so much for the boy, both of you shall die together. I don’t need you anymore to claim this land since you signed the treaty. I will watch with enjoyment as my men kill you both.”
King Gedimus gave a look to the soldiers who bowed their heads and walked toward the two. Passeck gulped and closed his eyes as he waited for his death; he could feel Oraji squeezing him tightly as he heard the men coming closer and closer. Unexpectedly he heard a voice called out, “Am I interrupting something?”
Opening his eyes, he noticed that everyone has stopped what they were doing and turning to face the newcomer. A young man with brown hair stood right behind the troop and he gave everyone a warm smile. Everyone looked at each other in confusion. Who is this man? Is he a refugee? But he couldn’t be because he was wearing an extravagant black robe with gold lining. Maybe he is lord of some sort but from where? Passeck heard Oraji gasped as if she recognized the man. “Who are you?” Gedimus finally demanded after finding his voice. “State your business.”
He turned to face the king and answered, “My name? It’s Pendance and I am the Ilmarian of Death though most know me as the Guardian of the Dead. As for my business…” He turned his attention to Oraji. “I’m here to pick you up. My mother told me that she has a dire emergency and asked if I could get you up. Unfortunately, it has to be quick because I’m not supposed to be here right now. Luckily, Un is taking care of thing back in Valendor but he won’t be able to manage if I’m gone for more than thirty minutes. So then, if you don’t mind me, I’ll get her and we’ll be on our way.”
Rather than agreeing, King Gedimus became furious. “Do you think you can take me as an idiot!?” he screamed. Passeck even has to agree. Didn’t that crazy man know that the Sabinite king does not believe in gods? “Seize that delusional man and bring him to me so I can make an example of him!”
The man just stood there calmly as some of the men walked over to him. “I wouldn’t do it if I were you,” he warned them. “My robe has a magical quality to it and it’s something that you wouldn’t like at all.” They paid him no heed and grabbed him by his sleeves. The moment they did, they fell dead to the ground.
A tensed silence filled the air before the king stammered, “Wh-what did you do!? Who in the hell are you!?”
Pendance just shrugged and answered in a more serious tone, “Didn’t I tell you? I’m Pendance, the Guardian of the Dead. I did warn your men but they refused to listen. Do you expect Death would allow a mortal to touch him in that way? Like I said, my robe has a magical quality – anyone who dares touch it will die.”
Passeck saw that the king’s face was drained but he knew that the king has his wits still. Sure enough, Gedimus decided to use another tactic. “Don’t you dare take another step! If you do, I’ll have my men kill those two with one word!” he threatened.
Instead of being bothered by the fact that he was being blackmailed, Pendance just said, “I agree that words are powerful especially in this situation. For example…” He pointed at the soldier who was only a few steps away from Passeck and Oraji. “…DIE.” The man suddenly gasped for air and fell dead to the ground. All of Gedimus’s men yelled out in astonishment but the fear of being the next victim has caused them to be frozen in place. Even King Gedimus now realized that he was facing an extraordinary foe.
“Listen to me, King Gedimus Leoni Zankanberg II,” Pendance said darkly. “My mother has allowed you to be king for now but she can always change her mind if she heard that you refuse to obey my orders. If you wish to rule another day, then you will allow those two to come with me. Likewise you better follow everything in that treaty you signed. Are we in agreement, King of Sabin?”
The king was deep in thought; no doubt the notion of losing his throne terrified him. “Fine, we’ll have it your way,” he finally grumbled. Turning to his men, he shouted, “We’re going back and I don’t want even one word leaked out, you hear me!?” The murmuring soldiers agreed and they went on their way without even one glance behind them. Soon, the three were left alone.
Passeck let out a sigh of relief and he heard Oraji did the same as well. He turned to the man and bowed his head to show his appreciation. Pendance just smiled and said, “I’m glad that it went very well. Are you two okay?”
“I think so,” Oraji answered and went over to him slowly. “You’re the one in my dream, weren’t you?” He nodded. “I always wanted to meet you in person, but I never expect it be like this!” She suddenly blushed. “Um… so you’re taking me somewhere, right? May Passeck come along as well?”
Passeck felt Pendance examined him closely before saying, “He can come of course. I’ll have a talk with my mother about him. She probably knows what will be best for him. Well, we better get going. Are you ready to go?”
The two looked at each other and grabbed each other’s hands. The realization that they’re going to travel to another land excited them. “We’re ready,” Oraji announced.
Passeck found himself sitting in a strange room. According to Pendance, this was the Ilmarians’ meeting place. When they first arrived there, the Guardian of the Dead told them to make themselves comfortable while they wait for his mother; he then apologized, saying that he has to return to Valendor immediately and bid them farewell. After he left, they decided to look around the room and admire its aesthetics before they decided to sit and wait. Their wait wasn’t too long, however, because the All-Mother Kejuta arrived soon after and after introduction, she left with Oraji to discuss something, which left Passeck alone with a strange man.
For some reason, the man made Passeck very nervous. Maybe it’s because the black-haired man seemed to be pouting about something by the way he crossed his arms or the fact that he has a dangerous aura around him. He tried to befriend the man by talking some small talk but the man glared at him so he quietly retreated to a seat further away from him. Brenton, who came by to check on him, noticed and tried to cheer him up. “Oh, don’t mind him,” the young boy said cheerfully. “He’s just upset that he lost his bet.” Hearing that, the man scowled even more, which made Passeck feel like he was in more danger.
“Passeck, I’m back!” Oraji called out as she walked back to the room. Passeck rushed over to her; he was so glad to see her!
“How was it?” he questioned.
She smiled and said, “Wonderful! I talked to Kejuta and the others and they told me everything about my powers. They also give me the title, the Ilmarian of Nature, since I can control plant life. I think the first thing I will do is to help alleviate the famine that is devastating our homeland. Does that sound fine with you?”
“That would be great!” Passeck agreed; he was so happy for her but he was worried. “But what about me?”
“I asked Kejuta and she decided that right now, you will be living in Kreesia for a while,” Oraji explained. “She believed that you need an education and she said that the other Ilmarians would be willing to teach you. When you’re old enough, she will send you to a place that needs you.” Beaming with pride, she continued, “She told me that you’re destined for great things, Passeck!”
“I am?” Passeck was in awe. He has always figured that he wasn’t good enough for glory but this? She nodded and hugged him. He hugged her back in return and whispered in her ears, “You were right, Oraji. Everything turns out to be okay.”
looking forward to reading it....probably Monday evening
"I grow on you like a fungus grows on a nail "
Ch. 7 is finished and I'm halfway completed with the first book.
Anyway, school has started already so I'll be busy with work. Expect some delay for chapter release. ^^
Chapter 7: Zentran - "Why should I help the humans who are terrified of me?"
Lunsk 23, 1784
“It’s lunch time, Zen!”
The young man immediately placed his hand over his eyes so he wouldn’t be blinded by the sudden burst of light that appeared whenever the boards that covered the entrance to the pit were removed. He squinted as he could perceive a basketful of food was transported down by a pulley; soon the smell of freshly-made bread and baked ham filled the air, which caused him to swallow his saliva. Standing up, he wiped the dust from his pants and walked over to where his lunch will be delivered.
As soon as the basket was in arm’s reach, Zen grabbed it and headed back to the spot where he was originally sitting to inspect his meal. Let’s see… a thick slab of glazed ham, a small bowl of honey glazed carrots, a small loaf of warm bread, and a large pouch full of water. Not bad. At least they remembered to give him silverware this time.
He ripped a piece of bread off and ate it as he watched the men above him quickly put the boards back in place. One of the men made eye contact with him and immediately pressed his hand on his forehead, mouth, and heart as if he was warding evil, which was pretty laughable. Chuckling to himself, Zen cut himself a slice of ham and chewed it slowly to savor the succulent juice. Before he knew it, he was eating in the dark though a small stream of light shone down from the tiny crack. It’s somewhat funny how he has gotten quite used to living in the dark even though he has been in the pit for almost three months now.
At first, he was furious and would curse aloud so everyone could hear it. But now, he has been resigned to his fate and didn’t bother to fight back… at least he wanted them to think that anyway. Closing his eyes, he bent his head back and reflected on how it happened.
Ceza 12, 1784
It all started when Puloog has insulted his father. “You take that back!” he has snarled as he lunged at the other man’s throat. The other boy has claimed that Zen’s father was not a hero at all, which was such a big lie since he has proof that he was.
“What’s wrong, Zenny boy?” Puloog taunted as he dodged the attack and swung. “Don’t want to admit that your father loved to take credit for something that wasn’t true?”
Luckily for Zen, the other boy was a slow hitter so he easily avoided the punch and counterattack by slamming his fist into Puloog’s stomach. While he was sprawling on the floor, his friends immediately rushed over to his aid. Some helped him to his feet while a few tried to challenge Zen, who knew it was futile. After all, many considered Puloog and him as the best fighters in the village.
He just finished giving a boy a black eye when he heard someone shouting, “Zentran Gruong! What on earth do you think you’re doing!?”
Turning around, he saw his mother and the leader of the village, Jarkfi Buli, glaring at him. Everyone immediately stopped fighting and stood up. “Teaching them a lesson,” he said bluntly. Both of them still frowned at him so he added, “What? They deserved it! They claimed that father was a fake!”
His mother shook her finger at him. “I don’t care, mister! You don’t go around beating people up,” she admonished him. “Now I want you to head home right now. I’ll have a nice chat with you about this later.” He tried to protest but she gave him a “you know that I mean business” look so sighing, he did what he was told.
As he walked away, he heard his mother’s apologizing, “I’m sorry about my son’s behavior, Buli. I don’t know where he got that short temper of his. His father didn’t act that way at all.”
“He’s at that age, Huthi,” the Jarkfi replied. “I’m sure that he’ll calm down soon. Anyway, you best be going soon.”
Sighing exasperatedly, she agreed, “You’re right. I think this is the fourteenth time that I have to apologize to those children’s parents for Zen’s behavior. Honestly, I don’t know what to do with him sometimes…”
He didn’t bother hearing the rest and sulked back home. After slamming the door shut so hard that the walls shook, he marched to his room and lay on his bed until he felt better. Then he reached over to the night table and grabbed the memento that his father has left to him before he died. It was the Aerian crest, which was given to his father by the Aerians as a sign of appreciation. It was a shape of a shield with a spear on top of it made out of sapphire and gold. As he traced his finger on the edge, he recalled his father’s heroics.
According to his mother, his father, Destan, was walking back home one day after a long day of hunting when he stumbled upon a group of men who were possessed by some possessor Duermons. He overheard their plotting to ambush a squad of Aerians located nearby and alarmed, he immediately ran to the angels to warn them. Not only that, he also asked if he could help them attack the Duermons, but they forbid him, saying that he already put himself in danger already by what he did and that he should home to his family.
Instead of listening, he hid himself in the forest and watched the battle. Most of the demons have retreated after they were easily defeated by the angels; however, while the Aerians were celebrating their victory, Destan noticed that one lone Duermon pretended to be dead and discreetly aimed an arrow at the leader's heart. Alarmed, he lunged on top of the bowman and smashed his head opened, killing the possessed man and the Duermon. The Aerians were startled when they saw it and they immediately rushed over to where his father was. After inspecting him to make sure that he wasn't possessed, they praised him for his fighting prowess, and as a token of gratitude, gave him the Aerian crest.
When Destan came back home that night, he didn’t brag to everyone about what he did. Instead he went straight home to his new wife, who was waiting anxiously for his return, and sat her down at the kitchen table. There he placed the crest on the table and told her everything. At first, she didn’t believe him and thought he was telling her a tall tale just to humor him.
Her opinion changed when some Aerians arrived at the village to get some supplies a few days later. Seeing these protectors around was – and still is – a big deal in any place in Sendoa so a crowd including Destan and his wife has gathered just to see a peek at these mysterious creatures. As the angels were leaving, one of them noticed Zen’s father and approached him.
He told his father that he recognized him from the other day and wanted to thank him again for his help. Everyone in the village immediately started murmuring with excitement as they wondered what the Aerian meant by that, but before anyone could ask, he was called away for another mission. Instead, they asked Destan, but he was very modest about it so Huthi had to tell the story to everyone.
The villagers were quite impressed by his heroics that they decided to have a banquet to honor him. He refused, but they insisted that he finally relented though he was embarrassed by all of the attention he was getting. Everyone in the village was filled with pride that one of their own was able to help the Aerians defeat their hated enemy, the Duermons, and now whenever a traveler stays at the village, they would tell him or her about Destan’s exploit.
Zentran has heard the story about his father several times now that he knew it by heart. He was always so proud about his dad and always viewed him as his hero. In fact, it was his father who taught him how to fight and told him to be an honorable warrior no matter what. That became difficult though when he got bullied by Puloog and his gang, who claimed that his father has exaggerated what he did. They knew that would provoke him, and he would immediately got into a fight with them. Whenever that happened, he would receive a lecture from Jarkfi Buli and his parents about his behavior.
One day, when he was nine years old, his father pulled him aside and had a chat with him as they trained. “Why do you keep getting into fights with that boy and his friends?” he questioned as he dodged one of Zen’s wild punches.
Blocking his father’s counterattack, he remembered replying, “They claimed that you’re a liar and that you didn’t help the Aerians like you said you did.” His father frowned and stopped fighting so he did the same.
Finally, his father smiled and said, “Is that why you’re angry about? Son, I know what some people say about me, and they won’t change their mind no matter how hard you try to convince them. Do I care about what they think? No, because I don’t give a damn about their opinions. I’ll continue to do my best to protect my home and my family. That’s what important in my life. You should remember that, Zen.”
“Protect my home and family, huh?” he muttered. Looking at his dad, he beamed, “Of course I will! I’ll protect this place just like you did with the Aerians!” His father laughed and ruffled Zen’s hair as they headed back home for dinner.
Unfortunately, two years later, his father became suddenly ill and was bedridden. His mother summoned the village doctor and a local exorcist to examine him. Zen remembered waiting apprehensively outside his parents’ bedroom while they were tending to his ailing father. Meanwhile his mother was pacing back and forth in the hallway and she was biting her fingernails, which was a nervous habit of hers. Finally, the two men came out of the room so his mother asked, “How is he?”
The men looked at each other before they shook their heads. “I’m sorry, but he doesn’t have much time left,” the exorcist apologized. “I’ve checked but there is no sign of any Deurmon – Possessor or Parasitic – inside him. Based on what the doctor has seen, his body is slowly failing him. We believe that he only has a month left. We’re so terribly sorry.”
Upon hearing the news, his mother collapsed on the floor as he sat on his chair, stunned. His father was dying. The person he admired the most won’t last long for very long. Finally, he stood up and ran toward the men. Pounding on the doctor, he cried, “That’s not true! My dad is not dying! He just can’t! Isn’t there something you can do!?”
The doctor, pitying him, consoled the boy, “I can give your father some medicine to ease the pain. Other than that, there is nothing else I can do. I know that you’re upset, but you need to be strong for your parents’ sake as well. Please, Zentran. Your father has raised you to be a strong pillar for your family. Help them in any way. Understand?”
Sniffling, he nodded and the doctor smiled. “Why don’t you see your father right now?” he offered. “I think it would be comforting to see you.” Wiping his tears, he opened the bedroom door and put on a brave face.
Destan was staring sadly outside the window when he entered the room. His father was now as thin as a skeleton and his face was so gaunt. It was hard to imagine him as a strong and muscular man. Approaching the bed, he timidly whispered, “Dad?”
His dad slowly turned around and even though there were tears in his eyes, he gave a welcoming smile to his son. “Hey, Zen,” he croaked. “Do you need anything?”
He shifted his feet uncomfortably. “No, it’s nothing,” he replied as he looked down. “I just want to talk. That’s all.”
“I see,” his father said. They looked at each other awkwardly as both of them knew that they were trying to pretend that nothing has changed between them. The news of Destan’s dying was too much to bear.
After a few minutes of silence, Zen had enough and blurted, “Why were you looking out the window?”
His dad looked startled about the question and admitted sheepishly, “I was looking for the Aerians in the sky.”
“Why?” Zen’s curiosity got the better of him and he climbed onto the bed next to his father to see. His father wrapped his arm around him and pointed with his free hand to something flying in the azure sky.
“Seeing them filled me with peace,” Destan confessed and he wore a soft smile as he remembered what he did. Turning to his son, he said, “Zen, I know that I don’t have much time to live so I would have a request for you.”
He nodded. “I know,” he replied, “I’ll take good care of mother. I’ll do the best I can, I promise.”
His father looked happy and added, “Of course I know you will. However, I know that there will be times when you feel down or angry at the world. Whenever you feel like that, I want you to look for the Aerians in the sky and imagine that I’m flying there with them. Remember, no matter what happens I will always be here.”
Looking at the Aerians, Zen realized that he did feel a little bit better. “Thanks, dad,” he said as he hugged him tightly. He felt his dad did the same as well.
Five years have passed after his father’s death and it was still tough for him especially when Puloog and his friends kept harassing him about his dad. It didn’t help that Zen felt like he was singled out by the village elders since it seemed like he’s the only one who got reprimanded. Once he complained about it, but they told him it’s because he should have known better, which frustrated him more. Whenever that happened, he would go to his room and look out the window to search for a sign of any Aerian flying by. Whenever he saw one, he imagined his father was there and felt better.
With that thought in mind, he sat up and looked out the window to check for any sign of Aerians. Unfortunately, there wasn’t. Sighing, he was about to head back to his bed when he heard the door opened. It seemed like his mother has come home. “Zen,” he heard her called out. “Zen, are you in your room? We need to talk, dear.”
Annoyed, he dragged himself out of his room and walked down the stairs. “Yes, mother?” he said sarcastically, but seeing her disappointed face made him feel bad about it. He looked at her apologetically and continued, “I know! I know! I messed up again, okay? I can’t help it! Those… jerks kept insulting dad and that pisses me off! What do you want me to do about it? Just grin and bear it?”
Instead of answering, his mother sat down at the table and wrapped her hands around her head. Zen became concerned and walked over to her. “I don’t know where I went wrong,” she sobbed; her words were so soft that he could barely hear her. “I thought I did everything right to raise you, but every time you mess up, I feel like I’m a horrible parent. I wish your father was still around because he would know what to do.”
Feeling bad, he placed his hands on her shoulders but she shoved them aside. Realizing that there was nothing he could do to make her feel better, he decided to leave the house and take a walk until his mother cools down. That turned out to be a huge mistake.
He was walking around the outskirt of the village since he figured that not a lot of people would bother him there. He made sure that he stayed inside the fenced in-area because that was where the barrier was; Jarkfi Buli has placed talismans on the fence to insure that no Duermon could enter the village. During his walk, he reflected about what his mother said and recalled what his father has told him.
It was getting dark when he figured that his mother has calmed down and was about to head home when someone threw a pebble at his head. Annoyed, he turned around and saw that Puloog and his friends were standing there. All of them were holding different sizes of rock.
“Hey, Zenny boy,” Puloog taunted, “what are you doing here out at night? Don’t you know that this is when the Duermons are the most active?”
“I can ask the same to you as well,” he pointed out. “Besides, if you paid attention in school, you would know that statement of yours isn’t true at all.” Puloog’s friends guffawed, which caused him to glare at them until they stopped. Zen smirked to himself and began to walk back home. Another rock, much bigger this time, hit his shoulder. He didn't need to turn around to guess who the culprit was.
"What's the matter, Zenny?" an angry Puloog shouted. "Are you too chicken?"
Ignoring the pain, Zentran remembered what his father has said and replied without looking back, "No, it's not that. I just realize that it would just be waste of my time."
He smiled to himself after he said that because he finally understood what his father's words meant. He should focus more on what matters, not on the trivial things. As he continued his walk, he felt someone slammed against his back and fell down to the ground. Grunting, he forced the person off his back and stood up immediately in a defensive pose. Puloog looked at him with rage as he also struck a fighting pose. The others gathered around them to form a circle though they seemed to be uneasy about it.
"I see how it is," Puloog sneered. "You're too good for me now, right? You think so highly of yourself because your father is a so-called hero even though he supposedly warned some Aerians about an ambush. Well, guess what? You and your father are pathological liars who like to brag about things that they never did!"
Zen just wanted to laugh. He and his father were full of it? How ridiculous! Everyone knew that Destan Gruong was a very private and modest man. It was so obvious that Puloog was trying to provoke him, but it wouldn't work this time. Unfortunately, it looked like there was no escape since he was surrounded. He looked around his surrounding to see if there was any opening in the circle he could burst through.
He stared at the people surrounding his opponent and him and studied their expressions. Most wore stony faces of indifference now so he knew that they would block his way. When he was about to lose hope, he noticed that there was one person who has scared look in his face, which means that he could easily push his way out of this mess. Now he just needed a plan.
"So you want to be beat up again?" he asked softly that everyone has to strain their ears just to hear him. Puloog smirked as he lifted his fists to show that he was ready. "Okay then, don't say that I didn't warn you!"
Zen charged at the boy, who immediately dodged just as he has planned. Instead of turning around to face his hated rival, he continued running toward the weak point in the circle. The terrified boy, upon seeing that Zen was heading straight toward him, quickly jumped out of the way. With a triumphant grin, he escaped the group, who was yelling angrily at him.
Nevertheless, he knew that it was going to be short-lived. Though he was considered to be quite strong, he wasn't the fastest boy in the village and he knew that the others know that as well. Unfortunately, the village was still several miles away so he had a long way to go. Cursing to himself, Zen wondered why he decided to walk so far.
Thunderous footsteps told him that Puloog and his goons were catching up to him. Out of the corner of his eyes, Zen noticed that they were near the area in the fence that was being mended. Piles of sharpened wooden posts were stacked haphazardly next to fence since the workers wanted to hurry back home and rushed through the job. Good, that meant that he was almost home. His legs felt like lead as he forced himself to continue running. Come on, Zen! He urged himself. You can do it!
That was when he realized that someone was closing in on him. Before he knew it, Puloog was running next to him. "Miss me, Zenny?" he taunted before he shoved Zen, who lost his footing. Stumbling, he saw that he about to land onto the pile of wooden stakes and tried to brace himself for impact. That was when he felt something piercing his chest. Zen looked down in horror to find one of the sharpened posts was protruding through his chest. Warm blood was pouring down the wooden board to the ground below.
He could barely hear people shouting out in horror when they saw what had happened. "You killed him, Puloog!" someone cried out. "What are we going to do now?"
Puloog said something that was inaudible, but Zen could barely hold his concentration. Everything was getting blurry and black. Closing his eyes, he took his last breath and thought ruefully that this wasn't how he expected to die.
When he opened his eyes, he found himself surrounded by clouds. Where was he? Was this heaven? He stood up and began walking around. "Hello?" he shouted. "Is anyone here?"
A bustling wind seemed to answer him and he shielded his face with his arms. Suddenly, he felt a presence was nearby and he turned around to face whoever it was. A shadowy figure stood there silently, which unnerved him. It appeared to be a young man with short hair with strands of beads dangling from it. He wore a long robe that covered his feet. "Who are you?" he demanded. There was something about that person that told Zen that he could be very dangerous.
"I am called Fuera, child. I am the one who created the sea life that you see," the man answered though Zen felt like he was being admonished. "I have come to pass on my power to you, my successor."
"Successor?" Zen was now confused. "What do you mean by that? And what power?"
A lightning bolt struck near his feet, which caused him to swear aloud. "That is your power now," Fuera replied in his booming voice. "Use it wisely, child, or else you will live in a world where everyone will fear you."
"Wait! What do you mean by that?" he shouted but the stranger has disappeared in the cloud. There was a sudden flash of light and Zen found himself standing on a platform. A sea of people was standing right below him.
"You must be the new recruit. I didn't expect another Ilmarian until a couple of years from now to be honest," a voice said behind him. Startled, he turned around to find himself facing a young man, who looked around his age, sitting on a throne. He wore a black and gold robe and has a bemused look on his face. A lantern staff was leaning against his body. At first, Zen thought that this man was Fuera, but then this person wasn't wearing any beads in his hair and was taller than the man he just met.
"What's your name and where do you live?" the man asked. "Based on your appearance, you must be a Sendoan."
"Yes, I'm a Sendoan, but why should I tell you who I am or where I live?" Zen questioned. "Why don't you tell me yours and where I am right now? Then perhaps I’ll tell you mine."
Sighing, the man replied, “My apologies then. My name is Pendance and you’re currently in Valendor.”
“Valendor?” Zen’s eyes widened. “Wait a minute, isn’t that the World of the Dead? Does that mean that I’m dead!?”
“Not quite,” Pendance answered simply. “You’re only here temporarily. You’re an Ilmarian just like me, which means that you cannot die and have been bestowed an extraordinary power. Anyway, I have told you my name so now it’s your turn.”
“But why?” Zen questioned suspiciously.
Pendance scratched his head tiredly; he must be getting irritated by the fact that Zen was delaying him. “Right now, my mother is gathering all of the Ilmarians together so we can protect the world, and I need to find out information about you so it would be easier for her to locate you,” he explained in a patient voice. Then he has a look of surprise on his face. “Damnit! It seems like you’re waking up soon so you need to hurry and tell me something!”
“Wait! What do you me-” he began, but then a sudden wave of dizziness hit him so he collapsed to the ground. He felt Pendance grabbed his shoulders and looked up to see that the man looked worried but at the same time, panicked. “My name is Zentran Gr-,” he managed to say before everything disappeared into a burst of light.
When he woke up, Zen found himself in excruciating pain. Looking down, he found out his answer – the damned wooden stake was still sticking out of his chest. With a deep breath, he grabbed it and forced himself to pull it out of his body. It took longer than he has expected because he had to take a break to regain his strength after moving the post a few inches. Large beads of sweat dripped from his head each time he pulled the beam. Finally, he was able to pull it out completely and afterward, he collapsed to the ground, which was covered with strange, glowing, white flowers.
He would have thought he would die again due to the fact that he has a gaping wound on his chest, but he felt a warm light throughout his body. Opening his eyes slowly, he was amazed to see that the flowers were offering some of their light to him and that his body was being healed. The hole in his chest was slowly closed up and before long, it was gone. He touched it gingerly and was relieved to see that he was as good as new.
What was going on here? He recalled what Pendance has told him, but lingering questions were still bothering him. Unfortunately, he didn't have Pendance or Fuera around to answer them and he didn't feel like dying again. From what he has experienced, dying was very painful and he didn't want to go through that again.
Speaking of which, he recalled how Puloog pushed him down and caused his death. He wondered to himself whether that boy and his friends have sent for help. Based on the position of the moon, he has been dead for quite a while now, but no one has come for him, which probably meant that the others didn't tell the village elders about the incident. Well then, it was probably meant that no one knew that he's dead, which was probably a good thing, because then he didn't have to answer any questions. Standing up unsteadily, he slowly walked back home.
As Zen approached the village, he could hear people's shouting. Curious, he hurried back to see what the commotion was about. He noticed that a large crowd has gathered in the village square and that Puloog was standing next to the Jarkfi. Deciding not to reveal himself yet, Zen hid behind some crates and watched the scene.
"So you're saying that you know what happened to Zen, Puloog?" Buli questioned. The young man glanced at his friends nervously and nodded.
"Yes, sir," he replied timidly. "My friends and I were just hanging out when we saw Zen was walking by himself near the fence. We tried to warn him not to stay to close to the edge, but he didn't listen. Instead, he swore at us and threatened to hurt us. I tried to calm him down, but he refused to listen to me. That was when he started to be belligerent and tried to fight me. I just wanted him to stay away so I pushed him gently, but he stumbled. That was when he got impaled by the wooden stake. I swear!"
Zen could hear his mother wailed when she heard the news and everyone was muttering in shock about his supposed death. It was very heartbreaking to see his mother that way; the last time he recalled her that devastated was when his father died. However, he was more incensed by the fact that Puloog was acting like he was upset that he was dead and was trying to comfort his mother. Storming out of his hiding place, he shouted angrily, "That's not true and you know it, Puloog!"
Everyone in the crowd gaped in surprise when they realized that Zen was still alive. Puloog's mouth was wide open and he gawked at a perfectly healthy Zentran, who was marching toward him. "Z-z-zenny!" he squealed as his face turned pale. "You're alive! That was some cruel prank you pulled on us, huh?"
"Prank!?" Zen roared; it took him so much effort not to knock that bastard down. He could hear thunders booming in the distance, but he paid no mind. "Getting pierced by a fucking piece of wood is not my idea of prank. Why don't you tell the truth about how you and your friends tried to gang up on me? Or how I was trying to escape when he shoved me down to that pile of wooden stakes?"
"W-w-what are you talking about?" Puloog said as everyone's questioning eyes were turned on him and he wiped his sweat from his forehead. "I didn't do it!"
'"Damnit! Stop lying, you bastard!" he screamed as he charged at him. That was when it happened. Before he could even punch the liar, several lightning bolts encircled both of them. "What the?" Zen stopped dead on his tracks as he and everyone stared in confusion at the spectacle. Every hair on his body was raised up and a sense of uneasy filled him. Then his right arm felt tingling so he looked down at it. Imagine his surprise with he saw that blue sparks were coming out of his right hand. The hair on his
He was still staring at his right hand when he heard Puloog shouted, "This is his work! He's a demon! That's why he's still alive even after I killed him!"
Startled, Zen looked up to find the other boy pointing at him. His scream has also alerted the others and soon they were staring at him in horror. Some cowered at the sight. "That's not true!" he protested as he raised his hands, which were now covered completely with the strange sparks, to show his innocence. "I didn't do this and I'm not a demon!"
Unfortunately, the sparks from his hand scattered all over the place when he did it. A few bystanders were hit by the lightning but the ones that got the most damage were the houses. Soon fires were burning throughout the village and majority fled for their lives. A few brave men grabbed some buckets and hurried to the river so that they could stop the fire from spreading. None dared try to get close to him least they got risked getting electrocuted.
The entire time it was happening, Zentran could only stare in horror at what he did. Devastated, he fell to his knees and watched everything getting destroyed. There has to be a way to save the village! As if his prayers were answered, he slowly felt the sparks diminishing on his arms and soon big, fat raindrops were pounding his body. He heard men's shouting as they realized that the rain was helping stopped the fire. Before long, some of the big, bulky men were brave enough to confront him once they realized that he wasn't a threat anymore.
"Zentran, please give up and come with us. We need to find out what has happened to you," he heard Jarkfi Buli pleaded. Nodding his head, he raised his hands and surrendered. In his head, he could hear Fuera's warning: "Use your power wisely, child, or else you will live in a world where everyone will fear you."
Ceza 19, 1784
“So, Zentran, tell me what happened again,” one of the elders asked.
He sighed irritably; this was the umpteenth time he had to tell his story again. “Like I said, after I got killed, I met a person named Fuera, who claimed to be a god and told me that he has given me his power. The next thing I knew, I was suddenly in Valendor and met another guy named Pendance. He told me that I’m an Ilmarian just like him,” he repeated.
“But what is an Ilmarian?” another one interrogated.
“I don’t know,” he confessed. “He just said that I’ve been given an extraordinary power and that I cannot die.”
The village council murmured to each other after what they heard and eyed him suspiciously through the bars that contained him. Since the incident a week ago, he has been imprisoned in the jail, which has talisman stuck on the door to prevent him from causing any mischief o men guarded him to make sure he did not try to escape, but he did not even bother. He was such a model prisoner! To be honest, he was more confused about his newfound power and he was hoping that maybe one of the elders would know.
“Perhaps an Ilmarian is a new type of Duermon?” an elder suggested and the others muttered in agreement. That notion made Zentran vivid. He could hear thunders rumbled in the distance, which caused everyone to look at him uneasily.
“That doesn’t make sense at all!” he argued. “If that were true, then why didn’t the exorcist find any presence of Duermon inside me when he examined me?”
They gave him a condescending look. “It may be because you’re a new Duermon so he wouldn’t have any information about you,” one of them stated matter-of-factly.
“But why would Pendance tell me that I supposed to use my power to protect the world?” he asked. “That doesn’t make sense if I’m a Duermon! Wouldn’t I want to destroy this village and use everyone as feeds for the Possessor and Parasitic Duermons?”
“Are you implying that you’re a god and that you can lord over us!?” they said derisively. “Your arrogance is sickening. Besides, why would the gods care for us, Sendoans? If they did, the Duermons wouldn’t have existed to harass us.”
Sighing irritably, the teenager gave up trying to convince them. “What is going to happen to me?” he asked quietly.
“Of course, we will have a trial to determine how to deal with you. We will set it up tomorrow then,” one of the council members decided.
As they started to leave, Zen pleaded to the Jarkfi, “Please, Jarkfi Buli, you got to believe me! I’m not a Duermon!”
Buli halted and looked at him uncertainly. “We will find out whether that is true or not,” he said simply and walked away. In spite of what the Jarkfi said, Zen’s heart sank. He knew that the leader believed that he was a demon and that there was no way to convince him otherwise. His fate has already been decided tomorrow.
Ceza 20, 1784
He could have escaped if he wanted to, but Zen decided to stay put. Either way, it was a lose-lose situation for him though now that he thought about it now, maybe he should have fled.
The courtroom was packed with people including those from faraway villages, who have heard the rumors about a new Duermon. Because it was full to its capacity, the village council decided to move the court out to the village square much to everyone's relief. Those in the back stood on their tiptoes and small children sat on their father's shoulders so they could watch Zentran, who was in shackles, be paraded around the village. It was so infuriating to him, but he grinded his teeth. Right now, he needed to concentrate so he won't accidentally blast everyone into smithereens though he really wanted to do so right now because of the way everyone was pointing at him as if he was a freak show.
At last, the guards led him to his destination. After they reached the center of the square, they forced him roughly to his knees. Looking up, he saw that the village council members stood in a semi-circle right in front of him while witnesses were standing behind him to his left. As soon as everything was ready, Jarkfi Buli gave the spectators a stern look to silence them and began the proceeding.
"We are here today to determine whether or not Zentran Gruong is a dangerous creature," he began. "We have witnesses who have seen the destructive power that he has and the damages that he has done to our village."
The first person called up was Puloog. After swearing an oath to tell the truth, he told his version of what happened. "I saw Zen trying to destroy the fence," he testified. "I tried to stop him, but he fought back. Frightened, I pushed him and he impaled himself on a wooden stake. My friends and I checked to see if he was dead and he was! His demonic power must have brought him back to life!"
"That wasn't what you told them a week ago!" Zen blurted out angrily and the sky above them began to rumble. Everyone in the audience murmured when they saw it.
"Silence, demon!" a guard said as he hit Zen between his shoulder blades with a baton. The black-haired teenager grunted, but he composed himself before he did anything devastating. After making sure everyone was settled down, Jarkfi Buli thanked Puloog for his testimony and dismissed him.
One by one, each witness told similar account on how he summoned lightning bolts to strike the village though they embellished about he ordered the lightning to attack them. During this whole trial, Zentran bit the side of his mouth to prevent himself from screaming at them; the taste of blood was soon in his mouth. However, the worst part has yet to come.
"We would like to call our final witness, Huthi Gruong," Jarkfi Buli declared. Zen immediately perked up when he heard his mother's name. He saw his mother walking toward the court apprehensively as everyone looked at her and whispered.
"Mom?" he whispered, stunned. However, his mother refused to look at or even acknowledged him. Instead, she looked straight ahead at the council and waited to be questioned.
“State your name,” one of the council members instructed.
“Huthi Gruong,” she stated with a stone face. Zen has an uneasy feeling about this and he shifted his body uncomfortably.
“And what is your relationship with this young man?” she was asked.
Taking a deep breath, she shuddered and answered, “I am – no, was – his mother.”
Zen raised his eyebrows in confusion. What did she mean by “was”? However, the questioning continued. “Did you know that your son have these strange powers beforehand?”
She shook her head and wiped the tears from her eyes. The interrogator inquired, "Do you have any idea on how your son got his power?" His mother hesitated so he urged her, "Please, Huthi, tell the people what you have told us in private."
Trembling, she finally spoke, "I believe that my husband had a Duermon inside him when I conceived Zentran so then the Duermon passed his power to my baby. The baby I gave birth to is a half human and half Duermon. In other words, he's an abomination."
"And what's about the story about how he saved the Aerians?" another man asked.
"It was a lie," she declared; her voice was getting stronger and more determined. "He just told me that story to trick me so I wouldn't suspect anything."
Zentran's world fell apart after he heard what she said. He could handle being slandered but to drag his father into this mess? Everyone was in an uproar; people stood up and screamed curses on Destan Gruong, the man who brought ruins and destruction to the village. At first, he was devastated but a fury soon overwhelmed him. How dare his mother make his father a scapegoat!? He wasn't even around to defend himself!
He could no longer contain his rage and confronted his mother. "Why are you lying about Father? About your husband? Father is rolling in his grave right now because of your actions!" he yelled as the thunders roared and lightning sparked above. "Did they tell you to say that story just so you can save your own hide!? Did they promise you leniency? You're not my mother then if you did! You are dead to me!"
His mother flinched as if his accusation has slapped her physically, and she began to sob again. Jarkfi Buli and the other village council members tried to maintain order, but everyone was in panic mode. Finally, someone shouted at the guards, "Knock him down!" That was when he felt the baton hit him on the head, which caused him to see stars. As soon as it happened, the storm subsided, and everyone was calmed down again.
"I think we have seen enough," Buli said quietly. "It is now time for sentencing..."
"Wait! Don't I have the right to testify as well?" Zen protested. The council grumbled, but they knew that it was true so they relented. Without wasting time, Zen pointed out the inconsistencies in the witnesses' testimonies. "You said that I was trying to destroy the fence, but why in an earlier account, you said that I was standing too close to the edge. Why is that?" he asked Puloog, who just sputtered.
Before he could reply, the Ilmarian turned his attention to the others. "It is true that I have caused the fire in the village, but it was an accident. However, didn't I also summon the rain to stop it from spreading?" They remained silent and shuffled their feet shamefully.
"And to all of you," he said as he looked out to the crowd, "how would you explain the Aerian who recognized my father and thanked him for what he did?"
Murmurs spread through the audience, but Jarkfi Buli announced dryly, "It was most likely a humanistic Duermon who disguised himself as an Aerian. After all, the wards that protect our village only prevent Possessor and Parasitic Duermons from entering."
"And the Aerian crest?" Zen challenged. "How did he receive it then?"
"It's a fake," he replied roughly. "He had it made. He asked a metal smith to make it for him."
Zentran thought about what he has said and finally he asked, "And how did you find out about it?"
"Cingu came forward and confessed," the older man explained; Cingu was the town’s metal smith. "He said that your father came to his shop some days before his supposed ‘heroic feat’ happened."
"And where is Cingu now?" he inquired as he looked at the crowd, but the Jarkfi shook his head.
"Unfortunately, he couldn't make it," he apologized, but Zen knew that it was a lie. In fact, this whole trial was just a show! "Any more questions, or are you ready to be sentenced?"
"Just one," Zen said simply. "Why couldn't the barrier block my father from entering if he has a Duermon inside? Likewise, when he was ill, why didn't the exorcist find anything wrong with him? Don't tell me that the exorcist was in cahoots with my father."
The council members glanced at each other before Buli answered, "Like we said before during your questioning, it was a new Duermon that used your father as a host, which was why we couldn't detect it. Now are we done?"
He clenched his fists but nodded grudgingly. He realized now that no matter what he asked, they have figured out how to counter. The whole village was in on it; they were going to condemn him even if they knew he was innocent.
“We have decided that Zentran Gruong is a Duermon and hereby…” the Jarkfi announced as the crowd cheered approvingly, but Zentran tuned him out. Nevertheless, he could still vaguely recollect what was said. Usually a person who has a Duermon residing inside him was sentenced to death, but since he was a “special case”, he would instead be imprisoned for the rest of his life. Meanwhile they will send a small band of men to the capital of Aonghus, which was a three-month trip, to request one of the Head Exorcists to come down to study him. The council has also decided that Huthi Gruong was ignorant about her son so she was pardoned, and that Puloog would be greatly honored for discovering the new threat, which still irritated Zen to this day.
He knew that justice wasn’t served that day.
The next thing he knew, he was being dragged away to his prison. As the crowd parted out of his way, some tossed rocks and food at him. He glared at them angrily, and the alarmed village leaders quickly told everyone to stop because they feared that provoking him would cause him to awaken his destructive power again so they obeyed reluctantly.
Instead of being led to the prison, he was surprised that the procession was heading toward the outskirt of the village. As they came closer to the fence, Zen noticed that a large pit was recently dug and had a sinking feeling about it when they stopped right in front of it. It was twenty feet deep and ten feet wide. “What is this?” he demanded while the guards unshackled him.
“This will be your prison,” Buli explained. He raised his eyebrows. “Did you actually believe we would let you stay in the village?” Zentran remained silent so he cleared his throat before he continued, “Any last request before you go in?”
Thinking for a moment, he replied, “I want the Aerian crest that was given to my father.”
Buli nodded as if he expected that answer. “Very well, you can have it then,” he agreed and turning to the guards. “All right, we’re ready.”
Without any warning, they shoved him down the pit. Landing hard on his back, he slowly sat up and rubbed his head. Out of the corner of his eyes, he spotted something was hurled closed by to him. “Here’s your trinket,” one of the guards sneered.
Zen quickly scooped it up and wiped the dirt off. Staring at the crest, he remembered his father’s encouraging smile, and his determination grew inside him. He looked up at the people above as they placed boards on top of the opening and shouted, “You won’t break me! I’ll survive and I’ll prove my innocence! You will regret what you did to my father and me!”
He continued shouting at them even as the sky disappeared above him; only a small stream of sunlight peeked through a crack between two boards. Standing up, he slowly waited until his eyes got used to the darkness. Then he walked over to a wall and sat down. He leaned his back against the dirt wall and held the Aerian crest tightly in his hands. As he traced its edge, he vowed to himself that he would escape one way or another.
Ceza 22, 1784
At the beginning, he was terrified staying in this awful hellhole. It was chilly at nights and it was very uncomfortable sleeping on the hard, cold dirt floor. It was also unnerving since he could hear the people possessed by Duermons tried their best to enter the village; their scratching against the barriers sounded like nails against a blackboard and their ghostly wails as they begged to be let in haunted his dreams.
The only thing that comforted him was the Aerian crest. Looking at it, he remembered his father and happier times. Sometimes he glanced up and imagined some Aerians flying above him. Maybe if they saw something suspicious below and went down to investigate. Then they would discover him, and he would explain his plight. After hearing his story, they would help him and convince the villagers that he was safe. It was a wistful hope, but it was better than nothing.
The village children especially Puloog and his friends would visit the pit at first. They would pull aside the board and taunted him by chanting, “Demon, demon, demon! Not so tough now, aren’t you, Duermon?” Then they would hurl rocks at him before covering the pit again. At first, he would curse them while they laughed, but then he decided that since he was supposedly a demon, he was going to scare them instead.
The next time they did it, Zen was ready. Before they could even finish their chant, he concentrated and blasted them with wind, which knocked them to the ground. Startled, they stared at him and quickly ran away when he gave them an evil grin. After that day, no one dared try to provoke him again. His only visitors now were the guards who came to check on him and gave him his meals. Not even his mother came to visit him. Most likely she believed that he would kill her if she did.
Since he has too much time on his hands, he spent most of his day trying to figure out his newfound ability. As he theorized, his power depends on his moods. He could summon lightning and thunder whenever he was angry; rain and snow when he was sad or depressed; and sunny when he was in a good mood. Winds varied on the other hands. When he felt confused, a huge gust of wind occurred but if he felt calmed, a mild wind blew through the village.
Enju 2, 1784
Speaking of which, he also discovered accidentally that his power has a wide range as well. One day, he was practicing using the power of wind when he heard the boards above him being removed. Looking up, he was surprised to see Jarkfi Buli and other members of the council. “Are you trying to destroy this village?” the leader accused him angrily.
Giving him a confused look, Zen replied, “I have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“Don’t play dumb with us!” the older man snapped irritably. “We know that you’re causing these bizarre weather conditions around here. People living within six miles have been complaining about it was sunny one minute then stormy the next. The only explanation is that you’re the culprit!”
Zen wanted to laugh. Who would have thought that his power has such a wide range to it? “So what if I am?” he said as he shrugged to show that he did not care. “What are you going to do about it? Place me in a deeper hole?”
He swore he saw Buli’s face twitched, but the Jarkfi calmly said, “Are you trying to blackmail us? If so, you are badly mistaken. We will see who has a stronger will, Duermon.”
Then he ordered the guards to cover the hole up again and stormed off. Shaking his head, Zen continued training himself by summoning a windstorm. Five minutes later, he heard the boards opened up again. “Fine, Duermon, you win,” Buli huffed. “What do you want? Don’t expect us to remove you from your prison though!”
He smiled at Buli and the others. “Of course you won’t,” he said, “so I won’t bother with that. However, here are my terms: first, I want better foods. The food that you’ve been serving is something that not even the pigs would eat. Second, give me a blanket at least so I won’t be freezing to death during the night.”
“That’s all?” Buli eyed him suspiciously.
Zen nodded and answered, “Agree to those terms and I won’t cause any more trouble… intentionally.”
The men grumbled but understood that they had no choice. “Very well,” Buli consented. “We will abide to your proposals starting today, but mark my words, if you think of breaking your promise, we won’t be that lenient!”
The boy just bowed his head, which infuriated the council members who left in a huff. As the guards sealed the opening again, he started to laugh, which caused the weather around him to be sunny. Just as they have promised, Zen’s dinner was delicious that night and they gave him a warm blanket. Pleased, he made sure that the weather was very calm. He kept getting edible meals every day after that so he did what he said he would do. Of course, in order to do that, he had to practice meditation to make sure that the village has tranquil weather every day. It was very ironic actually. The very power that caused him so much trouble was now helping him control his temper.
Lunsk 23, 1784
He has been living in that condition for almost three months now. He knew because he has been keeping track by making tally marks on the wall. By now, the emissary sent to Aonghus has probably arrived there and was seeking an audience with the King. Even though he knew that it would take another three months for them to arrive back home, Zen knew that he needed to hurry. Otherwise, he was going to be studied and perhaps dissected by the Head Exorcists, who would wish to analyze him.
During his imprisonment, he has put up a façade that he has given up and accepted the fact that he was going to be stuck in the pit for the rest of his life. Likewise, he was providing good weather to the village due to his calm demeanor. Of course, the villagers would not acknowledge that he was helping them; instead they told visitors that they have found a way to control “that vile Duermon”. Normally that would irritate him, but he let it slide. Compare to what he was planning, that was a minor issue.
He caught a big break when the guards checked on him late that night. For some reason, he couldn’t sleep so when he heard them removing the boards, he quickly pretended to be asleep. He felt the warmth of the light from the lantern as the men peered down at him as one pulled the empty basket up. “Good! He’s asleep,” one of them said, relieved. “Now let’s hurry up and go home!”
As they were working, Zen eavesdropped on their conversation. It was mostly mundane topics such as council business and medical issues, but his ears perked up when one of them mentioned, “Do you think that storm will hit us?” The other man must have been alarmed because the person reassured him, “Don’t worry. The Duermon is asleep so there’s no way he could have hear us.”
His friend must have calmed down because he answered, “I hope not. From what I’ve heard, it’s pretty bad. A lot of the villages that were hit were pretty damaged. By the time the storm arrives here, maybe it won’t be as bad.”
Zen couldn’t hear the rest of the conversation since the men were walking away, but it didn’t matter. So a terrible storm was about to hit the village, huh? This was the chance that he was waiting for. Smiling, he knew the next step of his plan has finally arrived.
Seera 5, 1784
The storm came a few days later. Zen could hear the rumbling of thunders close by so closing his eyes, he remembered the anguish he felt after being mistreated and soon a light rain appeared; he wanted to make sure that the storm would seem naturally to avoid suspicion. He could hear the people in the village shouting to each other to hurry inside their home before the storm hit. That was when he caused the rain to drizzle harder and harder. Soon a torrent of rain poured down, and the water began to drain down into the pit, turning the dirt floor into mud. Zen had to stand up and walked around to make sure that his feet didn’t get stuck in the muck.
Before he knew it, the water level was to his knees. However, instead of stopping, he increased the intensity of the rain and reawakening the anger that he felt, summoned lightning. A few minutes later, the water was up to his chin so he started to swim to keep afloat. It was more exhausting than he expected, but he refused to give up. He will escape no matter what!
Finally, he felt the boards above his head, and he pushed hard against them. Unfortunately, they didn’t budge. Damnit! They must have placed something heavy on top to ensure that the woods would not move. That meant he had to do something reckless. Activating lightning on his right hand, he carefully made sure that he did not touch the water so he would not be electrocuted, and using all of his might, he slammed his hand against boards and blast them.
Pieces of wood scattered through the air, and Zen was freed! He swam toward the edge and crawled out of his prison. Unfortunately, he was so drained from the whole ordeal and he did not have any energy to go on. Looking around, he found a hiding place behind some tall bushes and quickly ran there. Once he got there, he collapsed and soon fell asleep.
Seera 6, 1784
The sound of screams woke him up from his slumber. Bewildered, he discreetly peeked to find out what the commotion was about. That was when he saw a group of men were walking toward the pit. The only person he recognized was Jarkfi Buli but the rest he did not know. Did the envoy arrived back home with the Head Exorcists already? Curious, he decided to stay a little while to find out what was going on.
“Please spare this village, Duermon!” Buli begged. “What do you want from us?” Zen became alert; Duermons? Then those people with the Jarkfi were possessed, but how did they manage to enter the village?
“We’ve heard that you have imprisoned a man who has an intriguing power,” one of the men said darkly. “Our master wished to have him and send us here to retrieve him. Unfortunately, we were delayed because of that accursed barrier, but luckily for us, the storm last night destroyed a part of the fence so the talismans protecting your village became useless.”
He accidentally destroyed the fence during the storm? Oops! “So Zentran has sent for his brethren to rescue him?” Buli said resignedly.
“Did you believe that he’s one of us?” another man retorted and the others laughed. “It’s possible, I suppose, since our master is similar to him if the rumors are true. We have delayed long enough! Show us where you kept the prisoner.”
With a shove, the Jarkfi led them to the pit… only to find it full of water and the boards covering it to be blown to pieces. His eyes widened and he turned pale as a ghost. “Im-im-impossible!” he stammered. “How did this happen!?”
“How indeed,” one of the possessed men sneered. “At this rate, he’s most likely long gone by now. Our master would definitely be displeased by this development.”
“What should we do now, Lithu?” another man asked worriedly.
Turning to face Buli, he smiled and without any hesitation, stabbed the Jarkfi in the stomach. “Our mission wasn’t a complete disaster,” he said as the dying man crumbled to the ground and gave out a new command. “Kill anyone who is physically weak and old. Take everyone as our prisoners; they would make excellent hosts for the other Possessor and Parasitic Duermons who need bodies to call their own.”
Zen watched in horror at what he saw and wanted to do something about it. The possessed man did not know that he was close by so he had the element of surprise. He slowly lifted his hand to blast them, but something has stopped him. A voice in his head whispered, “Did these people deserve to be saved?”
He hesitated and recent memories of what happened to him flooded his mind. Then he remembered about his father’s selfless deeds and what he told him so very long ago. Destan Gruong has told him to use his strength to protect the ones he loves. However… there was no one whom he loved in the village. Closing his eyes, he lowered his arm and turned away. “I’m sorry, dad,” he apologized as he looked up toward the clear, sunny sky. “I’m not like you. I cannot forgive them for what they did.”
After making sure that the Possessor Duermons have left, he stood up and looked at the village one last time. The screams began again as the Duermons began their attack on the villagers. Spitting on the ground, he mumbled angrily, “I hope you all suffered like I had suffered.” Then he turned around and fled toward the woods.
Seera 23, 1784
For the next few weeks, Zen has been on the run. He didn’t dare approach any villages or towns during the day because they most likely heard stories about him and would immediately try to kill or capture him. Likewise, he stayed away from the path because he knew that the Duermons were after him as well. He did find one perk about being an immortal though; he did not really need food to survive though he felt a little lethargic after not eating for more than a week. Whenever that happened, he would sneak into a nearby village and steal some food from an unknowing villager.
He had to admit though that he didn’t have any plan on what to do next. Zen knew that there was no way he could live in the wild with the Duermons. Likewise, he could not stay in a village because he might accidentally reveal his power and cause the same mess again. Perhaps he could go across the Jaquan mountain range to Ongera, but the border city of Mermia was heavily guarded and he needed papers just to go through.
When he was about to lose hope, he suddenly remembered the Aerian crest. That’s right! Maybe he could go to the Aerians and ask for asylum. They didn’t know about his strange power so they would not judge him harshly. Besides, he might as well try. Now with a plan, he headed south to the Aerian Territory.
He only took three steps when he was suddenly surrounded by gateways of some sort. “What the?” he exclaimed as he looked around. That was when he saw a strange group of people standing right in front of him. A woman with braided hair, a blond hair woman with a revealing dress, a dark-skinned woman, a priest, and a boy with gray hair looked at him as if studying him. Zen became wary; are they Duermons of some kind?
“Who are you?” he demanded as he prepared to attack them.
“We were about to ask you the same question,” the first woman answered dryly. She must be the leader of the group. “You might not remember, but my son told you that I was looking for you. It took us awhile to locate you since Zentran is a very popular name around here.”
Son? What was she talking about…? Then it dawned on him. “Pendance told you about me,” he said and she nodded. “All right then, what’s your name and what do you want from me?”
After introducing themselves to him, Kejuta answered, “We want you to join us to maintain the world and protect its people. That was what the gods have given to us as our task before they died.”
“Protect its people, huh?” he muttered thoughtfully as he rubbed his neck. “I just have one question though. Why should I help the humans who are terrified of me? The ones who accused me of being Duermon and tarnish my father’s good name? The ones who abused and taunted me? I’m sorry, but I can’t join you guys if that is so.”
“Did those idiots actually believe that you’re a Duermon?” Aundra snorted and rolled her eyes. “The Sendoans can be quite ignorant sometimes. They have never changed. Well, that’s a problem, I suppose, when you kept your country isolated from the rest of the world. Knowing them, they probably don’t know what has been happening for the past centuries or so.”
Zen felt insulted by her statement and a lightning bolt struck close by. “Oh?” she gave him an amused look. “From what you said earlier, you didn’t care much for these people.”
“I don’t,” he claimed defensively and quickly changed the subject. “Anyway, I decline your offer so I guess this is goodbye.”
He tried to walk away, but when he entered one of the portals, he found himself back in the same position. Bewildered, Zen tried another one and discovered that he was back where he started. Finally, he realized that one of these Ilmarians must have the power to control dimensions. He looked at them accusingly, but they just smiled.
“Sorry, Zentran,” Marika apologized as she lifted her hand to signify that she was the guilty party, “but we can’t let you go. We need you to help us.”
Sighing, Zen commented, “I guess this is a stalemate, huh?”
“I guess so,” Kejuta agreed, and they stood looking at each other as they wondered how to convince the other.
That was Zen made this suggestion. “What’s about this? We’ll have a duel to determine the outcome,” he proposed. “If I win, you will let me go on my way and leave me alone. If you win, I’ll join you. Do you agree?”
Kejuta and the others didn’t look that thrilled about it. “We’ll have to discuss it first,” she said simply and they turned to confer. In spite of their efforts, he could hear every bit of details.
“This is not good,” Lanskas said worriedly. “A nighthawk just warned me that Oraji is endangered. Someone needs to come over there to save her!”
“What should we do, Kej?” Brenton asked as he nervously held his book. “From what I’ve seen, if we don’t get her now, it would impossible to retrieve her ever again.”
The leader cursed aloud, and Zen noticed that her hands were fidgeting. Finally, she decided, “I’m going to send Pendance to get her. I’m sending a message to him now.”
“But what’s about his duty?” the priest wondered, and Kejuta just shook her head.
“Unfortunately, this is the best option,” she explained. “I’m sure he’ll figure out what to do. Besides, King Gedimus needs to be put into his place; a little fear won’t hurt him after all. But blast it! I was hoping that we would finish the matter over here quickly to go get that girl.”
“Sometimes things are just out of our hands,” Marika commiserated. “So, let’s get back on topic: are we going to have a duel with him then?”
Kejuta scowled, “Do we have any choice? It’s either that or we’re going to be stuck here until one of us admit defeat. All right, let’s get this over with.”
Turning to face Zen, she replied, “We accept your proposal. Now then, let get it started now.”
He smiled and struck up a fighting pose. “Okay then,” he said confidently as he looked at each and every one of them, “who is going to represent you?”
Looking at his opponents, he figured that they would send the priest out since the other male seemed too young to fight and there was no way they would send a woman to fight against him. Based on the priest’s physique, Zen could easily beat him.
Imagine his surprise when Aundra stepped up. “I will,” she said with a bemused look on her face. Then she looked back at Kejuta and added, “Is this why you ask me to come for this excursion? You and Brenton must have seen that this one would be a difficult child.”
Zen felt irritated again. That was the second time she insulted him! “I see how it is,” he snapped. “You’re hoping that I would hesitate or go easy on you because you’re a girl. Well, sorry, but I won’t.”
Aundra bowed to him mockingly. “I sure hope you didn’t,” she teased. “Otherwise, I would feel insulted. Now, enough chit-chat! I’m ready whenever you are.”
He thought to himself on course of action he should do. He didn’t know anything about her and vice versa. She didn’t look like a fighter of some sort, but then looks can be deceiving. Okay then, he’s going to use a lighting strike nearby and while she’s distracted, he’s going to charge in to attack. He’s just going to hurt her enough to get the wind knock out of her. That sounds like a good plan.
Feeling slightly cocky, he grinned and warned her, “You’re going to regret challenging me!” Then, he quickly launched a lightning bolt only a few feet away from her. Just as he expected, she turned to the direction of the blast. That was when he charged at her. As he came closer to her, he swung back his right hand and readied his punch. Watch out, he thought gleefully, this is going to hurt!
He could hear her friends’ cries as they tried to warn her, but it was too late. He aimed his fist at her chest and swung when…
He couldn’t move anymore. Confused, Zen tried in vain to move his body, but it just wouldn’t budge at all. “What on earth!?” he exclaimed. That was when he noticed that Aundra was smirking at him.
“It was a thought-out plan though it wasn’t original,” she praised him. “Oh, in case you’re wondering, I put a paralysis spell on you so you can’t move at all. Not even an inch.”
“What!? You bitch!” he screamed. She can use magic!? Damn it, he should have thought of that! Wait a minute… he could use his own power against her! Two can play that game. “Not bad,” he conceded, “but I’m not done yet!”
Releasing his fury, he called upon a fierce lightning storm to strike her down but… nothing happened. “Confused?” Aundra asked. “Of course, I forgot to mention that I also sealed your ability.”
“But how?” A stunned Zen questioned, and she gave him a knowingly look.
“Based on what I’ve seen, your power is to control the weather,” she said casually. “If I remember correctly, that was one of Fuera’s abilities. He must have handed it down to you. Likewise, my power has been given to me by one of the original gods, which was the Goddess of Magic. In other word, I can control any magic that exists in the world at will. Why else would I be known as the Ilmarian of Magic?”
The Ilmarian of Magic? That means… “You cheated!” he accused her as he tried to force himself to move. She raised her eyebrows at him.
“Cheated?” she replied darkly. “I did not cheat and I feel greatly hurt that you accuse me of that. Did you expect me to go easy on you?” Walking toward him, she leaned and whispered in his ear, “I win.”
That was when he felt her right hand on his stomach and the next thing he knew it, she blasted him with a magic ball, which sent him sprawling roughly to the ground. He gasped for air and saw that the others have surrounded him. “Well, it looks like you lost your duel,” Kejuta said with satisfaction. “Now would you come with us?”
Glowering, he muttered as he stood up, “Do even I have a choice?”
Afterward, Marika opened a portal using one of her “portal rings” and led them on their way. He was positioned in the middle of the group. No doubt that they worried that he would try to escape, but their fear was pointless. He would honor his promise even if they DID cheat.
“Stop pouting, Zen,” Aundra mocked gently. “It’s unbecoming of you.” Of course, that pissed him off more. He was not pouting!
“Great news,” Kejuta, who was ignoring them, said. “Pen said that he was able to rescue Oraji and she brought along a friend. He had dropped her and a human boy off at the meeting place. He also said that they’re fine.”
“That’s good to hear,” Lanskas said. “I’m glad that they’re okay.”
“Agreed,” Brenton smiled and glanced at Zen. “I’m curious about her. Hopefully, she won’t be as difficult like this one.”
If Zen wasn’t that tolerant, he would have stormed off and left these idiots. However, he just let it slide though he was tempted to punch someone.
They went through the portal and Zen stood with amazement at the impressive room that they entered. He had never been to a place with such expensive materials! Looking around, he noticed a young woman with orange hair and a boy with dark hair looking at them. She must be the other Ilmarian that they were talking about. From the way she looked, she lived a privileged life.
“You must be Oraji,” Kejuta said gently as she walked over to welcome her. Oraji nodded and curtsied before she introduced her friend as Passeck. The Ilmarian of Fate smiled at the boy and shook his hand. Afterward, she introduced the others as well.
“We’re going to have a small chat with Oraji so why don’t you have a seat?” she offered to Zen. “You can relax until we’re done with her.” Then she and the others left without waiting for his reply.
Frowning, he went over to the couch and sat down patiently. An hour or so later, he was still waiting for them. For a “small chat”, they were taking forever! He sighed impatiently and noticed that Passeck was staring at him nervously.
“Um… hello,” the boy said sheepishly. “My name is Passeck. What’s yours? What kind of power do you have anyway? Oraji can control plants, which is pretty amazing!”
However, Zen wasn’t in a mood to talk so he just stared at him until the boy fled. That was when he heard Brenton’s jovial voice behind him, “Oh, don’t mind him. He’s just upset that he lost his bet.” That reminded him that the little bitch cheated him, which put him in a sour mood. From the way Passeck was looking at him, he was probably giving the boy nightmares.
That was when he heard Oraji’s voice calling out to the boy, who immediately ran off in a hurry. Heh, he better apologized to the kid later. “Sorry about the delay,” Kejuta said as she came into the room.
“Took you long enough,” he grumbled. “Now what is next on your agenda?”
“Well, Aundra knew that you’re still upset about what happened so she decided to give you something to cheer you up,” she replied. She motioned him to follow her so he did.
They walked down the corridor until they reached a door made out of bronze. Opening the door, they entered the room, which turned out to be storage room for weaponry and armors. Rows of weapons lined up one side of the wall and on the opposite side, shields were mounted. Impressed, Zen forgot his frustration and asked, “What is this place?”
“This is where the gods and goddesses store their collections of weapons and armor,” Aundra announced as she appeared out of the corner. In her hands was a pair of bronze gauntlets. “This was Fuera’s. It was rumored that he was the best fighter out of all of the gods and he could even beat Versen in a match, which was quite impressive since Versen was a formidable man. Anyway, I want you to have it.”
Grabbing it carefully, he asked, “Are you sure? I mean, this belonged to a god!”
“I’m sure,” Aundra reassured him. “This is what Fuera would have wanted. Besides, it would be very pointless if it was just lying around here.”
He put them on his hands and found out that they fit quite well. “Thanks,” he said with a smile. “I’ll make sure that they will be of a good use.”
“I hope you do,” Kejuta agreed as she held out his hand. “I know that we came off on the wrong foot, but I – no, all of us – wish you help us fulfill our duty. Would you, Ilmarian of Seasons?”
Ilmarian of Seasons, huh? “Of course,” he said as he accepted her hand. “I lost, didn’t I? Well, I said that I would join you if I did so I intend to keep my promise.”
---------- Post added September 09, 2012 at 08:41 AM ---------- Previous post was August 26, 2012 at 07:31 PM ----------
Ch. 8 is completed and it has actually less pages than Ch. 6 & 7 (a little more than 23 pages ). LOL
Anyway, the first part introduced some concepts that will be seen in the second book. I also felt bad because Adia hasn't been seen much since Ch. 4 so she made an appearance here.
Chapter 8: Hessin - "So this is our burden"
Dezmi 16, 1844
“So are we in an agreement then?”
Kahlin Hessin Soleri Ostrom of Ishara looked at the other world leaders and waited for sign of approval. They all sat at a large, round table in the meeting room for a leadership summit. After almost a century of fighting, many were wearied of battles and readily accepted his offer of peace. Sitting in the room with him now were Prime Minister Zelis Prishu of Bisaha, Archcanon Tennon Kristal of Doran, Chief Eskar Sarguchi of Eirenida, King Kelvin Forsyte of Fravashi, Ambassador Rylea Culent of Kreesia, Queen Luceia Swynn of Lycia, King Rextin Allani Zankanburg of Sabin, Duke Pulus Vu of Sendoa, Chancellor Gregios Vegas of Tellervo, Consul Burick Quient of Thyrca, and President Callen La Saix of Xavia. The only leader who did not show up was from Enkrum, but then that area was always known to be unstable.
"I believe we are," Queen Luceia said as she glanced at the others, who nodded. "The treaty sounds just about right and everyone seems to be mostly pleased with the terms. So the border lines have been set and we have set up a uniformed currency system. I believe the merchants would be thrilled with that one since they don't have to worry about the confusing rate system anymore."
"Agreed," Archcannon Tennon stated but gave Hessin a questioning look. "However, I am most curious about the international police organization that you want to start up. It's a bold and noble concept, but I have some qualms about it." Hessin motioned his hand so he could continue.
"First, how would we know or trust that this police force won't be used against us? For all I know, this could be a political ploy just to put us at ease, and when we least expect it, you can use them to conquer us," he said but added hastily, "Not that I mistrust you, Hessin, because I know that you're a good man. Unfortunately it could happen in future generations."
Nodding his head, Hessin gave him a reassuring smile. "I have thought of that scenario," he said, "and I think I found a solution. As you have seen in my outline plans, this police organization will be separated into different divisions: peacemakers who act as mediators, medical workers who provide aid to anyone in spite of their country of origin, and trackers who search for missing people and fugitives who escaped across the border. In each division, people would be divided up into teams which will consist of people from different countries. Therefore a person from Llinos would not be placed into a team who already has a Llinan, Likewise they will take an oath discarding allegiance to one nation and that they will serve all people. They will not get involved in any war or political spat of any kind. I hope that answer your question."
"It does," the leader of Doran replied. "By the way, what will be the name of this organization and who will be its first leader?"
"My advisor and I thought long and hard about it and we decided the name would be Bartheomos. All of you know about this bird, correct?" Hessin explained. Everyone nodded. It was common all over the world and was known for its bravery. This brown-feathered bird would keep watch while the other animals would feed and rest. If there was any danger, it would alert them and would distract the predator by attacking it until the other beasts have fled.
"And as for its commander," he continued, "I would like to nominate General Passeck Valentus. He's an honorable man who is well-respected by his peers. I'm sure that everyone has heard of his exploits and valor so I think he would make the best candidate."
All of the leaders murmured with agreement. Passeck was famous all over the world for his amazing leadership skills but at the same time, he was very modest about it. He would make an excellent leader.
"By the way, where will its main headquarter be?" the Kreesian representative inquired. Everyone turned to look at the leader of Ishara curiously; they also wanted to know that answer as well.
Hessin and Callen glanced at each other and smiled. "We thought it would be best if it placed in Xavia since it is in the middle of Ongera," the leader of Xavia answered. "Don't worry though. I'm going to declare the land on which it stands as a neutral ground. Likewise, any land that a Bartheomos building stands will be neutral as well."
"Does that assuage everyone's fears?" Hessin asked and everyone nodded. "Good! Now let's sign the treaty and let our people know that a new era of peace has arrived!"
After seeing his guests off as they retired to their bedrooms, Hessin went to his private study to relax. Reclining against the maroon cushioned armchair, he closed his eyes and breathed a sigh of relief. The meeting went better than he has anticipated. Maybe he should ask one of the servants to bring some red wine so he could celebrate. Perhaps a Sabinite win would do since it was considered the best quality out of all wines.
A sudden knock on the door alerted him. “Come in!” he shouted as he sat up. The door opened and his advisor, Maruk Bapiste, entered the room. The gray-haired man wore a traditional robe of green and black, which were the royal colors, and a gold belt. A ring with a blue elemental stone was on his left ring finger while one with a green elemental stone was worn on his right hand.
“Well? How did it go?” he demanded so Hessin just beamed at him. Seeing Hessin’s expression, the old man laughed with joy and slapped his knees with joy. “I knew you could do it! Your father would be so proud of you if he were still around. So did they agree on everything including the shipment of elemental stones?”
“They agree on almost everything,” the king conceded. “They approved the established borderlines and the unified currency system. They also liked the Bartheomos concept, but I don’t think they were thrilled that I wanted to ship limited amounts of elemental stones to their countries.”
Maruk chuckled. “Of course they would!” he exclaimed. “They probably believe that there is an endless supply of elemental stones in Mt. Rangelon and that you’re hoarding them for yourself.”
“Most likely,” Hessin mused. “I did explain that we were not sure how much elemental stones are buried in the mines, and I wanted to insure that we have enough of those precious commodities that future generations can use them. I think I was able to reason with them though they’re still not happy about it.”
“You can’t please everyone,” his advisor demurred, “but they will get used to it eventually. Anyway, when will these leaders head back to their homes?”
“Tomorrow,” Hessin answered. “The meeting was very draining so they wanted to rest before they go off on their journey.”
“I see,” Maruk answered. “And what will you do for the rest of the day? There is still light out and I think a little fresh air will be good for you.”
Hessin looked out at the window and thought about his friend’s suggestion. True, it was very nice out today and he had been cramped inside the castle for several days now. “I think I will,” he decided. “Get a small escort of soldiers ready at the gate. I will meet them there after I get ready.”
By the time Hessin arrived at the gate, Maruk and small band of soldiers were waiting for him. Everyone except for one soldier was on top of their horses; the lone person was holding the reign of the king's black horse, Balthen. The magnificent stallion kicked his leg impatiently and Hessin smiled. His horse must have missed galloping around the city and hated staying in the stable for the past few days.
Stroking Balthen's head affectionately, Hessin offered him some oats, which was his favorite treat. While the stallion munched on it happily, the Kahlin turned to his men. Strange, he did not recognize any of them, but perhaps they were new soldiers. It was odd that Maruk would send inexperienced men to escort him, but then Ishara was a relatively peaceful country. Maybe he wanted the men to have some experience.
“Passeck’s not coming?” he wondered. His now-former general usually loved to accompany him during his ride.
His advisor shook his head. “Unfortunately, he could not,” he replied. “A childhood friend came unexpectedly to visit him so he’s spending time with her at the moment. He offered his apology and said that he would join you next time.”
“I see,” Hessin said understandably. “I’m sure that they have a lot of catching up to do then. Knowing Passeck, they’re getting drunk to celebrate his new promotion.”
As he got on his horse, Maruk asked, "Where will we be heading today, Your Majesty?"
"I think I would like to check out the ruins that were discovered recently," Hessin said. "I'm curious on what those archaeologists have found so far. It would be interesting to find out more about the people who lived here so long ago and their customs."
His advisor's face turned pale. "Are you sure that would be a wise decision?" he prodded. "It is rumored that the place is cursed, and the archaeologists told me that a strange spirit haunts the area, preventing them from entering farther in. I also heard a rumor that if you see this spirit's true form, you will be bewitched by her and will spend the rest of your life doing her bidding."
Hessin let out a boisterous laugh and tried his best to hold on his saddle to prevent himself from falling. "I'm sorry, Maruk," he apologized as he wiped the tears from his eyes. The other man was scowling at him with displeasure. "It's just that... I never expect you to believe those old wives' tales. I'm sure that my father would be shaking his head seeing that his friend like this. Besides, there has to be an explanation behind all of that nonsense."
"And what would it be?" Maruk huffed. He was still annoyed by the king's tease.
Holding up one finger, he explained, "One - it's probably a sandstorm or another natural occurrence." Then he held up two fingers and continued, "Two - there is an elemental spirit roaming the place. Maybe her summoner was buried there and she stayed there to protect his grave until she could find another master. After all, it’s well-known that Isharans are quite skilled in summoning elemental spirits to help them."
"If you say so," the other man grumbled as he fidgeted on his saddle.
Seeing the man's discomfort, Hessin asked, "Are you still coming then?"
Maruk shook his head. "No, I think I'm good," he replied. "I'll just ride around the city and head back to the palace. I'll have dinner set up by the time you get back."
"Very well," the Kahlin nodded. "I'll have some of the men go with you then." However, Maruk declined, stating that he should be safe riding around the capital, and wished him a safe journey. Then urging his horse forward, Hessin turned and bid farewell.
"I'll be back before dusk!" he called out as Maruk and the others fade into the horizon.
As they rode out the capital of Soleri, many of its citizens came out to see and greet their king. “Kahlin!” they shouted as they waved their hands with hopes that he would acknowledge them. He smiled and raised his hand to the crowd, which caused them to cheer louder. Even though they have lived through years of war and hardships, one thing was certain – the people of Ishara love their king.
“Watch out, Hanzo!” a young boy suddenly cried out. That was when Hessin noticed a little girl, who looked like she was three years old, was standing in the middle of the road right in front of him. She stood frozen in shock as she realized that the horses were nearly on top of her. Then an older boy, who appeared to be seven years old, pushed through the horrified crowd and tackled her to the side. Full of relief and concern, Hessin stopped his horse and got down to check on the two.
“Are you all right?” he asked worriedly and knelt down to examine them for any injuries. It looked like they only suffered scrapes and bruises.
The boy nodded and bowed his head embarrassingly. “I’m sorry, Your Majesty!” he begged. “My sister is deaf so she didn’t hear the crowd or the approaching horses. She just noticed a stray kitten in the middle of the road so she wanted to grab it before it could get hurt. It’s my fault; I should have kept a better eye on her. If anyone should get punished, it should be me!”
That was when he noticed that the girl was holding a small, thin brown kitten in her arms. She looked at him with large, bright, brown eyes, which was full of fear. Most likely she worried that her brother would get punished for her actions. Before he could speak, one of his guards grabbed the boy by the arm and jerked him up.
“Shall I flog him to make an example out of him?” he inquired as he glared at the boy and tightened his grip on the riding whip, which caused the children to flinch. However, before he could whip him, Hessin placed his hand on the soldier’s arm to stop him.
“Why should I punish the boy for trying to save his sister?” he demanded. “In fact, I should praise him for his bravery and his quick wits because he risked his life to save hers. Now put that whip down! My soldiers are not brutes and do not bully the young and weak.” The man complied though he scowled. Hessin made a mental note to have a talk with his commander about his behavior. Turning his attention to the children again, he asked, “What are your names, and where are your parents?”
“Lezak and Hanzo Tewari,” the boy answered. “As for our parents, they’re dead, but our grandmother is raising us.”
“Well, Lezak,” Hessin said as he slipped an emerald ring off his finger, “I’m going to give you this for your bravery. If you need anything from me, please show your ring to the palace guards and they will let you in.”
An awed Lezak took the ring carefully and whispered, “Thank you, Your Majesty! I’ll treasure your gift for the rest of my life!”
The Kahlin smiled and ruffled the boy’s hair. Standing up, he ordered his men back to their horses and got ready to ride again. As they rode off to the main gate, he turned around to see a crowd has surrounded Lezak and his sister so they could have a closer look at the ring. The children then looked up and waved at him so he did the same as well. Maybe he will have children like them one day.
The rest of the journey was very uneventful and they reached their destination in the afternoon. Most of the archaeologists have already packed up for the day and were heading back to the campsite located a few miles away. However, the leader of the team, Tippet, was waiting for them.
He knew the archaeologist when he first asked him about the royal sword, which was rumored to a gift from a god, a few years ago. The one-handed broadsword has a gold hilt with an emerald on its pommel and it was in a black scabbard, which has intricate designs. The strange thing was that no one could unsheathe the blade no matter what. Because of that, it was mostly used as a scepter of some sort.
“Good afternoon, Kahlin Hessin,” he greeted as the king and his bodyguards got off their horses. He gave him a formal bow. “How was your ride here?”
“It went very well, Tippet,” Hessin answered. “And how’s the excavation so far? Find anything interesting?”
Tippet shook his head. “Unfortunately no,” he admitted. “Something or someone keeps blocking our attempt whenever we tried to enter one of the areas. We even sent for a spiritual leader down there to try to appease the spirit but to no avail.”
“May I check out that place then?” the king asked. “I’m quite curious about this ‘spirit’ that haunts it. Don’t worry. I won’t touch anything and will be careful where I tread.”
“I suppose,” the archaeologist said hesitantly. “Would you want one of my team members to accompany you? I rather have someone who knows the location well with you.”
Hessin declined the offer. “It’s fine,” he replied. “I already studied the map so I know the gist of it. Besides, your men seemed tired so I don’t want to burden them with any more duties. Not to mention I have my guards to protect me if anything happened.”
“If you say so,” Tippet sighed though he didn’t seem happy with it. No doubt he worried that if something befell the king, he would be in great trouble. “Anyway, let me point to you where the exact spot is before you head out and get lost.”
A few minutes later, Hessin and his escort were walking around the ruins. They were careful to make sure not to disturb their surroundings or else Tippet would be upset with them. During their travel, the Kahlin admired what he saw. In spite of the crumbling buildings, he could see their beauty and imagine the lives of the ancient people who once lived there. What happened to them and why did they decide to leave this place?
Though some may have viewed learning the past to be pointless, Hessin thought otherwise. How else would he know the mistakes that his ancestors had made in the mistakes and ensure that he won't do the same? Likewise he could study noble and beloved rulers from the past to see how he could exemplify their behaviors. As his late father used to tell him, "To serve the people is our duty. We are chosen to lead them and therefore, we must consider their needs before we think about ours."
He has and still agreed with his father. Even though Kahlin Wuhlen Soleri Ostrom died three years ago, his memories would live on through the people. Hessin silently thanked him again for the lessons that he taught him and continued on his way.
Finally, they reached the supposedly cursed location. One of the guards inspected the tomb and then informed him that it appeared to be safe. "Look like there is nothing suspicious around here," he stated. "I believe that the area is safe to explore, Your Majesty."
Hessin was pleased. "Well then, shall we?" he asked as he stepped into the tunnel.
Surprisingly the tunnel was quite spacious and airy. At first glance, he thought it would be cramped due to the size of the entrance. "Remarkable!" he gasped as he looked at the hieroglyphics that adorned the walls. Despite his education, even he could not decipher what was written down. What kind of language was this?
"Your Majesty, look!" a guard exclaimed and pointed to something in front of him. Hessin turned to look, and his mouth dropped at the sight. The tunnel has led out to an oasis of some sort. A large lake full of fresh, clean water was surrounded by soft, luscious grass; more water pour from the aqueducts above. Frogs jumped on and off of lily pads while tadpoles swam below the surface. Awed, Hessin walked to the edge of the lake and touched the water to make sure that it was real.
Who would have thought such place exist here? Imagine Tippet's face when he sees this! But then, something was amiss; it was as if this place was manmade. If so, how? That was when he heard a bird's wings flapped above him. Looking up, he saw the most beautiful bird that he has even seen sitting on a broken down wall.
A grayish-blue bird with large, round black eyes was looking at him curiously. It has three long tail feathers, which were green, red, and purple respectively, and the tip of its wings had the same color pattern as well. There was something bewitching about that bird because he felt drawn to it. Walking toward it, he raised his hand with hopes of petting it. "Hello, little one," he said gently. "I won't hurt you."
The bird leaned closer to him and was only a finger's length away when it suddenly flapped away with alarm. Startled, Hessin turned around to see that one of the guards was about to strike him with his sword. With no time to react, he quickly dodged though he felt his arm got cut. Leaning against the wall, he grimaced and confronted the man. "What is the meaning of this!?" he demanded as he quickly pulled his sword out.
"It's nothing personal, Kahlin Hessin," the man replied in an unfamiliar accent. "In fact, I actually admire you for your strong beliefs and bringing peace to the world, but business is business. And unfortunately for you, my client wants you dead."
Hessin's eyes widened in shock. An Enkrum assassin!? "Who hired you?" he wanted to know. Out of the corner of his eyes, he noticed that the other guards were surrounding him as well. Damnit, that meant that his entire escort was compromised, which could only mean... "It was Maruk, wasn't it?"
The assassin grinned. "Ding! Ding! Ding!" he said as he applauded. "Though to be honest, I have no idea why he would want you dead, but too bad for you, you won't be around to ask him why."
The Kahlin returned his grin. "Unfortunately for you, I don't intend on dying today," he retorted and charged at the man. Their swords clashed as Hessin forced the man to move back. However, the others came to their comrade's rescue so the king has to focus on fighting more than one at a time. He was doing very well in spite of being outnumbered and managed to injure two of them. Then all of a sudden, a wave of dizziness struck him and caused him to fall to his knees.
"Feeling dizzy?" the assassin's voice pounded his head, which gave him a headache. "It seemed like the poison has finally took effect on you, Your Majesty. We have heard of your sword skills so we didn't want to leave it up to chance. Now, if you don't mind, but Maruk has asked us to cut off your head. But since I like you so much, I'll make it less painful for you."
Hessin's body jerked when he felt the sword pierced through his chest, and then his body became limp.
He opened his eyes and found himself surrounded by light. "Where am I?" he asked himself and squinted. This was definitely not the ruins or any other place he recognized. Hmm... If this was heaven, this was not how he imagined it to be.
"I never expect to see this old thing again," a bemused voice said right behind him. He spurned around to see a white-hair man standing there. He wore a white robe with a green outer layer. In his hands, he held the Isharan scepter.
Hessin stood up and faced the man. "Who are you and how did you get the scepter?" he wondered. The man laughed.
"A scepter?" he chortled. "I would have never expected you human to make my sword into that. But then my creations always amaze me by their ingenuity and talents."
Having said that, he easily pulled the sword out of its sheath. The blade shone as brightly as the sun itself. "This is the Sword of Palenthor," he continued. 'It's a sword made by the heaven itself so that only a god can wield it. However, that day has come when someone else will become its new owner."
He put the sword back and tossed it to a bewildered Hessin, who caught it. "You, Hessin Soleri Ostrom, are my successor," the mysterious man stated. "You have been chosen to become one of the Three Judges who will determine the fate of Samara's people. For that, I've given you some of my powers to help you in your new role."
“Powers? I don’t feel anything different though,” he confessed as he examined his body.
The stranger just smiled and waved his hand. That was when something odd happened. The light just… “danced” around Hessin before it was absorbed into his right hand. As the Kahlin stared at his hand with amazement, the other man said, “That is one of your powers. More will be revealed to you in time.”
“Wait! What do you mean by that?” Hessin demanded as he rushed toward this “god” and grabbed him by the front of his robe. “Who are you and how did you know my name?”
Before the man could answer, Hessin’s right hand began to glow and a burst of light blinded him. When he opened his eyes again, he found himself in a different place. He was on a platform and far below him was a sea of people; nevertheless, he thought he recognized one as his father.
“Welcome to Valendor, Kahlin Hessin Soleri Ostrom,” another voice said behind him. Turning around, he noticed a different man was sitting on a throne and surrounded by light orbs. The man has brown hair and wore a magnificent black robe. He stood up and offered him his hand, which Hessin shook. “My name is Pendance and this is my domain. You must be wondering what is going on so allow me to explain.
“First of all, yes, you’re dead but only temporarily. You are immortal just like the others and me. Second, my mother is searching for you and a few remaining others so we can fulfill our duty to sustain the world. Luckily for her, we know who you are and where to find you so that makes thing easier.” He chuckled as if he remembered a joke. “Maybe it’s to make up for the last two. Anyway, it looks like your time is up. I’m sure that you have a lot of questions, but I’m sure that my mother will provide you some answers when you meet with her. Until then, farewell!”
The next thing Hessin knew, Pendance and his surrounding began to look blurry. Then he felt himself being lifted up as he was floating into the sky and everything was swallowed up by the darkness.
Hessin woke up gasping as he sat up abruptly surrounded by ceraphilis flowers. He immediately touched his chest and was relieved to find it unscathed. As for his head, it was still attached to his body. Thank goodness! But what happened to the assassins? They were nowhere to be found. That was when he felt someone caressing his hair. Startled, he looked up and found himself captivated by what he saw.
A beautiful woman with pale blue skin and hair looked back at him affectionately. She wore a long, flowing dress, which covered her feet... if she has feet anyway because she was floating in the air. "Are you all right?" she asked. Her voice sounded otherworldly and seemed to echo. "Don't worry about those men. I chased them away before they cut off your head."
Hessin felt his heart skipped a beat and placed his hand on the girl's cheek to make sure she was real. "Who are you?" he managed to say.
She smiled and answered. "My name is Istra and I'm a water spirit," she introduced herself. "I've been waiting for you for over two thousand years."
"Over two thousand years?" Hessin was amazed. "How did you know that I will be here? Or that I'm supposed to be your new master?"
"My mistress, Neria, has the power of foresight and saw that I needed to be here to meet you. She ordered my summoner, who was her loyal worshipper, to stay in this place until he died. Then she told me that I needed to guard this location until 'a man with the sun on his head' arrives." She pointed to his crown, which lay haphazardly on the grass next to him. Now that she mentioned it, the points on the crown did look like sunrays. "That man, she told me, will be my new master and that I was to aid him. That's why when I saw you, I KNEW it was you and stopped my attacks on the people trying to disturb my master's resting place. I also warned you of the ambush but unfortunately couldn't stop your death."
"You warned me?" Hessin wondered and then it dawned on him. "You're that bird I saw, weren't you?" She nodded and transformed into the exotic bird before changing back to her human form. "But I thought you're a water spirit. Why did you pick a bird form?"
Istra gave him a bemused look. "It's because I can't get around as much if I were a fish or any aquatic creatures," she said dryly. "As a bird, I could go wherever I please. Any other questions?"
"Yes," Hessin began. "Why me? Surely you can pick any other summoner to be your master. Likewise, I met someone who told me that I receive new powers. Do you know anything about them?"
"That is true," she admitted, "but we spirits only serve masters whom we love and who love us in return. Do you remember hearing stories about men and women bewitched by spirits upon seeing them? Likewise, the same thing happens to us. Well, that is how we know who our masters will be. When I saw you, I just KNEW that you're the one and the way you look at me, you feel the same way too. As for your new powers, I don't know unfortunately. You would need to ask someone else about that. Sorry."
"It's all right," he said. "I think I now know why most summoners never married now though my advisor wouldn't be plea-" He stopped himself as he recalled what the assassin has claimed and stood up quickly, which startled Istra. "I need to go back to the capital. They most likely think I've been dead or..."
However, his legs felt weak and he stumbled to the ground. Istra placed her hands on his shoulders and soothed, "You're still haven't recovered completely yet from your injury. You need to rest first before you can head out. Don't worry; I already created a barrier to prevent anyone from entering. Now rest while I keep watch."
He did as he was told and lie back down among the healing flowers. Closing his eyes, he wondered what was going on in his kingdom while he was away.
Dezmi 18, 1844
By the time he came out of the tunnel, the ruins were full of soldiers and archaeologists. The former searched every nook and cranny for the missing king while the latter grimaced and begged them to be careful not to damage the historical site. One of the soldiers finally noticed him standing there and shouted for the others. Before long, Hessin was surrounded by the large group. "Your Majesty, are you all right?" a soldier asked. "We were so worried about you! Maruk and Passeck has sent us here to look for you and we were about to lose hope."
"I'm fine. Thank you for everything," the Kahlin said gratefully, "but tell me: what happened while I was away?"
"The capital is in an uproar right now," another soldier reported. "When you didn't come back, everyone began to worry so we searched all over the city since we thought you must have gotten lost. However, someone sounded the alarm when we found five dead bodies in a storage unit, and a few of us recognized them as fellow soldiers. Then a group of soldiers brought in some witnesses who claimed to see five men dressed as Isharan soldiers at the harbor, and that two of them seemed to be wounded. They discarded their uniforms and went on board on a ship to Enkrum. That was when Maruk realized that the escort he sent with you must have been assassins hired to kill you and accused one of the international emissaries of the crime."
Hessin perked up. "And what happened to the emissaries?" he inquired.
"They're still in the palace," he replied. "There is a lot of tension right now because everyone is accusing the others of the deed. They are also paranoid about whether or not they would be the next victim."
"I see. Thank you for your report, soldier," the Kahlin said. "Do you, by chance, have a spare horse? I need to get back to the capital as quickly as possible."
"Yes, we do, Your Majesty," the soldier replied. "Shall we send someone ahead to tell the people the good news?"
"No, let's not," Hessin decided as he petted the bird perched on his shoulder. "I think I rather make this a surprise."
Hessin has decided to arrive back to Soleri discreetly by dressing up as a soldier so not to get any attention; besides, his traveling clothes, which were packed into a bundle, were too bloodied. He sent Istra on ahead so she could provide information on him about what was going on in the palace. According to her, Maruk, Passeck, and his guests were in the throne room and were in a heated debate. She also noticed that his guests also brought in their personal soldiers, who looked like they would strike anyone who dares come close.
As he entered the city, he noticed the people peeking out the window curiously as they rode by. No doubt they have heard the rumor of his untimely demise. When he arrived at the palace gate, the guards immediately recognized him, but he quickly forbade them from announcing the news to others. Then, with a few trusted men, he marched toward the throne room and stopped in front of the door. He motioned to one of his escort to open the door slightly so he could observe.
"How dare you accused me of killing the king!?" Passeck's enraged voice could be heard through the opened door. Hessin noticed that he was standing right below the throne, which was occupied by Maruk. Behind the throne was a large golden birdcage, which was two-story high and half as wide as the room. Over a hundred black, menacing birds that snapped their beaks hungrily; one could see the salvia spewing out from their mouth. The cacophony of their cries and banging against the cage were so loud that it was hard for everyone to hear.
"If you were more observant in your duty, you would have noticed that those men were Enkrum assassins not Isharans," his advisor accused. "You are originally from Sabin, correct? Perhaps you wanted to seek favor from King Rextin that you were willing to kill the man you once served!"
Passeck's face flushed with anger and the King of Sabin bristled at that theory. "You of all people know that I denounce my homeland and became an Isharan citizen! I spent the last forty years serving his father and him faithfully. In return, they have treated me with respect and kindness. Why would I betray him like that?” the gray-haired general yelled. “What's about you, Maruk? You were the one who chose the men to ride with him that day. That can't be coincidence! Not to mention the fact that you’re sitting on the throne as if it was your own!"
"Don't make any accusation against me, Passeck!" Maruk shouted angrily. "How would I know that those men were not Isharans? They put on disguises to trick me. As for the throne, someone needs to rule until we find out what happened to Kahlin Hessin. Now we have no time for this! I know that one of you hired those men and no one will leave this place until we found out! I'm sure that we will find evidence in one of your belongings!"
The guests began shouting out with frustration and anger as they proclaimed their innocence and that they needed to come back to their countries so that they could govern. Watching the spectacle, Hessin muttered disgustedly to his guards, "I've seen enough. Open the door now. It's time that everyone sees that I'm alive, safe and sound."
Everyone spun their heads toward the doors as they banged open and Hessin’s men entered the room. Their eyes widened with surprise and relief when they recognized the man walking in middle was Hessin himself, alive and well. No doubt they were thrilled that he was still alive because that meant that they could go home now. One of the leaders’ personal guards – a Thyrcan, he believed – ran out of the room and shouted the good news, which quickly spread throughout the palace and most likely throughout the city.
“Your Majesty, you’re alive!” General Valentus gasped as he bowed before his king. Hessin smiled at his faithful friend and nodded.
“How did you survive?” Zelis wondered as he stared at him with amazement. “It’s well-known that no one has ever survived an Enkrum assassin’s attack before so I’m rather impressed.”
Hessin paused to think and then motioned a soldier to hand him the bundle of bloodied clothes. Tossing the clothes onto the middle of the floor, he admitted to the stunned audience, “I did not though it was by the gods’ divine powers that I still live.”
Then he turned his attention to Maruk, who slowly moved aside from the throne. “Do you know what I found interesting?” he said quietly. “As I surrounded by those men, one of them told me who hired them. He told me that it was you.”
Everyone in the room turned to look at the culprit, who turned quite pale. “P-p-preposterous!” he stuttered as he backed away from the angry mob. “Why would I betray my king? My best friend’s son?”
“Why, indeed,” Rylea purred angrily as she flicked her fingers and flame sparked out. Hessin noticed that that Gregios was fingering his dagger dangerously as well. In fact, everyone appeared to get ready to draw out their weapons; they were probably incensed that the man who accused them of murder was actually the one to do the deed.
“But wait!” Maruk exclaimed. “How would you know that it’s me? I could have been set up! That assassin might have said that to trick you in case you survived the attack so you would place the blame on me, and the true culprit will escape scotch free!”
The Kahlin hesitated. That was true, he had to admit. It was Maruk’s words against the assassin’s and the latter wasn’t here to defend himself. That was when he saw something astonishing. There was an image of him standing behind Maruk. The only difference was that this doppelgänger was bloodied and pale. “He’s the one who ordered my death,” his ghostly image declared as he pointed accusingly at the advisor.
Hessin blinked at what he saw and looked to see if anyone else saw it. Based on their still hateful expression, no one did. Was this one of his new powers that the stranger told him about? If so, that meant that his advisor was the one who hired those assassins. Now he was certain that he was right about his allegation, but how he could prove it? He couldn’t say that his bloody image told him so. Without evidence, Maruk would escape justice, and the traitor knew this as well.
Just then, one of the palace guards dashed into the room. “Your Majesty!” he shouted. “There is a boy who wished to see you at once! We didn't want him to disrupt your meeting, but he showed us your ring. He also claimed that he has evidence that revealed the person who planned the hit on you!”
“Bring him in at once!” Rextin ordered roughly. “I’m curious about this evidence and whether or not it would exonerate this culprit.”
Imagine his surprise to see Lezak approaching the room. The thin boy gaped when he realized he was in presence of every leader in the world and stood there in awe until General Passeck cleared his throat. "You say that you have proof on who tried to assassinate your king," he began. "Do you have it with you?"
"Yes, sir," Lezak responded as he pulled out a folded parchment, which was slightly crumpled, and handed it to a guard. The guard then gave it to Hessin, who examined it with great interest, while Passeck looked over his shoulder.
After making sure it was authentic, he asked the boy, "How did you come about this?"
"It happened two evenings ago, Your Majesty," Lezak confessed. "I was walking home for dinner when I overheard two men talking in the alley. Curious, I hid behind some crate and eavesdrop on their conversation. It was too dark so I couldn't see their faces but I could hear everything that they said. One man asked if the 'deed' was done and the other, who has a strange accent, said that was though there were complications. The first man, who was an Isharan, wanted to know what they were, but he just said that it didn't matter since the 'deed' was done. He also said that his men needed to leave immediately so they wanted their payment now before they go. The Isharan said that he had the money and handed him a small pouch, which the foreigner took readily and counted them carefully to make sure he had the right amount. Afterward, he thanked the Isharan for his business, shook his hand, and left in my direction. I held my breath and made myself as small as possible so I wouldn't be seen. Then the Isharan walked away in an opposite direction.
"After waiting a few minutes to make that they were not around, I decided to follow the stranger. I don't know why, but something in my guts told me to. Anyway, I followed the man to the harbor where I noticed that he was discreetly tossing aside papers into the water, which I found to be odd. Then he boarded a ship and waited. Twenty minutes, a group of Isharan soldiers pushed through the crowd as they took off their uniforms and entered the ship, which immediately left the board when the last one set foot onboard. While everyone was distracted by what happened, I noticed that one of the papers didn't land in the water, which the man had hoped. Instead, it landed between two boxes located on the lower dock. I jumped down and stretched out to grab it.
"Unfortunately, I'm not a good reader so I didn't know what the letter said, but I decided to keep it just in case. Then I heard the rumors that you were dead and I realized that I must have encountered the men who planned your death. At first, I didn't know who to report this to because I did not want to accidentally tell your killer about what I've seen and heard. That changed as soon as words spread that you were alive and well. I immediately rushed over here and begged the guards to let me in. At first, they refused until I showed them your ring and told them I had proof of the assassination attempt. That's all, Your Majesty. I hope it's enough to help you."
The Kahlin gave him an appreciative smile and answered, "Yes, it has. Thank you, Lezak."
"What did it say?" Eskar asked curiously. Everyone looked at Hessin and the letter with great interest.
Clearing his throat, he said, "From what I've read, it mentioned that I was supposed to meet with other leaders of the world for a peace agreement. During that time, the writer wants the assassins to kill me so that suspicions would fall on any of people, which would mean the peace accord would be unsalvageable. He said that he would lure me away so I would be ambushed and killed. After my death, the assassins would cut off my head and deliver it to him. Then he would place my head into one of the emissaries' luggage so that they searched the premises, they would discover it and cause another war. Unfortunately, the person did not sign his name. However..."
Then he turned his attention to his former advisor, who inched farther away from the group. "You proclaimed your innocence, Maruk," he said as he glared at the man, who froze in place, "but why did this boy, who has nothing to benefit from this, found a letter which was written in your handwriting and have your seal? I doubt anyone even the most skillful conman could make a perfect forgery. What do you have to say about that? It makes sense now why you refused to go with me to the ruins. It's not because you were scared of some 'ghost'; it's because you don't want to reveal yourself in case the assassination attempt was blotched!"
Maruk hesitated and glanced around the room to find himself surrounded. "Your Majesty," he began slowly, "it was not my intention to harm you. I just..."
Suddenly he activated his green elemental ring and blasted the marble floor. Shrapnel scattered everywhere and the guards protected their leaders by using their bodies as shields. A coughing Hessin sat up and wiped the dust from his clothes. Looking around, he saw several dead soldiers lying on the ground; some has their limbs torn away. Worried about the others, he saw that his guests have minor injuries and much to his relief, he noticed that General Valentus has shielded a scared Lezak. "Are you all right?" he asked them, and they nodded. Luckily for them, the blast did not damage the birdcage or otherwise, they would be torn to shred by the carnivorous birds.
A movement out of the corner of his eyes caught his attention, and he quickly looked up to see Maruk trying to flee through the exit. Using the sunlight that was beaming on the floor, he manipulated it into becoming several jagged lines and placed them in front of the doorway to block his escape. The traitor almost tripped as he tried to stop and swore an oath. "What on earth did you do!?" he shouted incredulously. The room was silent except for the moans of the injured and the dying. Everyone in the room stared at Hessin and his new powers.
"It's quite simple really, Maruk," he replied coolly as he approached the prisoner. "Because of your attempt on my life, you awaken my powers, and this is one of them." He then quickly moved the light so that it surrounded the man and formed a prison. During his recuperation, he had practiced controlling the light and found out interesting things about his power. First, it could only work if there is a light source close by. Second, the strength of his power depended on how strong the light was. Lastly, he could not curve the light though he could reflect it if he used a mirror.
"Remarkable!" Maruk breathed. "Who would have thought you would have great potential? However, I refused to surrender just yet!" He then threw a handful of sands into Hessin's face. Distracted, the Kahlin lost concentration as he tried to wipe the sand from his eyes and felt his power disappeared.
His former advisor grabbed him by the hair and slammed his face to the ground. He could hear Maruk sneered, "Since those buffoons failed to complete the job, I guess I will have to do it myself! I also might as well kill everyone here. With all of the leaders dead, the world will fall into disarray and I'll be the one to bring the world together! Farewell, Hessin. It was nice serving you, but my time has come to rule!"
Hessin tensed his body for the attack, but nothing happened. He slowly opened his eyes and blinked since sands were still stuck in them. Istra has come between the two men and formed a shield to protect him. "What the!?" Maruk shouted annoyingly as she glared angrily at him. "A water spirit?"
"Thank you, Istra," the king said graciously. She smiled and wrapped herself protectively around him. "I'm all right."
The traitor frowned unhappily. "Now you're a summoner as well!?" he said with disbelief. "My, Hessin, you performed a lot of amazing feats these past few days. But how long would it last? Since her elemental is water, I can't use my blue elemental ring against her, which means..." He pulled out a red elemental ring from his pocket. "I'll have to use fire."
Alarmed, Hessin ordered, "Istra, get out of here now!" She complied and fled as a fireball blasted toward her direction. Now that she was gone, Maruk refocused his attack on his former king. Seeing that, Istra then transformed herself into a bird and tried to swoop down on Maruk to try to distract him, which seemed to work.
"Stupid bird!" Maruk cursed angrily as he tried to blast her and Hessin at the same time. However, his attacks kept missing though Hessin knew that he needed to end it now. Sooner or later one of the bystanders could get hurt by one of the blasts. That was when it dawned on him that fire was a source of light and he could use it against Maruk.
Istra, he quickly commanded mentally, I want you to provoke him so that he would make a huge fireball. Got it?
Understood, she replied and increased her attacks on her opponent. She would peck at him and pull some hair from his head, which infuriated Maruk. Finally he had enough and just as Hessin anticipated, created a large fireball that was twice as big as his fist.
“Let’s see if you can dodge this, water spirit!” he crackled as he was about to hurl the fiery orb at Istra. Remembering what happened in his dream, Hessin caused it to explode, which caused a flash of light that blinded everyone.
Hessin walked over to the unconscious Maruk, who lied collapsed on the ground. His elemental rings were shattered to pieces – useless trinkets now. When the man stirred and opened his eyes to find the Kahlin standing above him. He must have noticed that Hessin has only the royal scepter on hand because he quickly tried to pull out a dagger hidden inside his robe, but the king was much quicker. Pulling the Sword of Palenthor out of its scabbard, he pointed the sword at Maruk’s throat; the whitish-blue tip of the blade only a mere centimeter away. “Give it up, Maruk,” he said softly. “You lost. Admit defeat now and I may consider mercy on you.”
Maruk just laughed bitterly. “You’re full of surprises, aren’t you?” he finally answered. “Who would have thought you would be able to unsheathe that godly sword too? All right, I surrendered.” He raised his hands and some of Passeck’s men seized him roughly.
They pulled him up and quickly searched him for more hidden surprises. “He’s clean, Your Majesty,” one of the guards announced. “What shall we do with this traitor?”
Normally, the law stated that all traitors would be executed. However, Maruk has served his father well and he was a good advisor to him before he tried to kill him. Hessin pondered for a minute and then said, “Before I pass judgment on you, I want to know why you want me dead. I doubt it’s because you wish to rule the world.”
“It’s because you’re too idealistic,” the older man answered resignedly. “You think that once you solve every problem in the world, you will have peace. While you talk of world peace as if it is so easy to achieve, I worked in the shadow to pull strings and make compromises to ensure your dream come true. You only see the big picture without thinking about the little details that helped you achieve your goals! And in the end, you will be credited for ending the wars and I will be remembered for nothing even though I deserve the recognition!”
Hessin listened with a sense of pity and bewilderment. “You’re a fool, Maruk,” he muttered. “I would have honored you, but you ruined that chance.”
Exhaling deeply, he announced, “I have decided your punishment. Due to your countless help with my late father and me, I won’t sentence you to death. However, you will be marked and exiled to the Loredan Desert. You are no longer allowed in the kingdom of Ishara and I doubt no other countries will welcome you with opened arms.” The other leaders concurred with that statement. “In fact, they would most likely hunt you down and execute you once you leave the country so I decided to give you a fair chance. I will have my men give you enough supplies for you to survive at least two days in the desert. Afterward, you must depend on the desert folks for aid though I’m not sure if they’re willing to help a marked man. Thus, that is my decision. I’m sorry that it has to be this way, Maruk, but you left me with no choice. I’ll try to remember the good side of you. Now take him away.”
The Isharan soldiers dragged the former advisor away so he could get his face tattooed. Now whenever someone sees him, he or she would know that he was punished for something grave. As they watched the scene, King Kelvin inquired, “If you don’t mind, Hessin. I would like some of my men followed them just to make sure that he did not try to do any funny business.”
The Kahlin relented and other leaders gave permission to their soldiers to follow as well. Facing his guests, Hessin apologized, “I’m sorry about this incident. If I have known about th-”
“Nonsense, Hessin!” Callen exclaimed as he slapped his friend’s back. “None of us saw this coming. Not to mention the fact we got to see your amazing sword skills and your new abilities!”
“Agreed,” Rylea smiled as everyone murmured with agreement. “I have never seen that form of magic before. I’m sure Lady Aundra would be most curious about you.”
Hessin nodded and slowly walked back to his throne, which was still intact surprisingly. He looked back to the birdcage to find the birds were still and quiet; their black feathers were mottling to the ground. "You must be wondering about these birds," he said aloud. "These are known as Quentis, and they are used to determine if a war is brewing or not. You have seen their black form, which meant that the birds sense that time of chaos draws near, but..."
Some of the birds began to perk up and fly gracefully around the cage. Instead of being black, they were now white with a pink undertone. They sang a cheerful melody and were docile enough that the king could pet them. "When there is a time of tranquility, the Quentis transformed into their white form. As you can see, they are much less aggressive and much easier to handle. They had helped the rulers many generation before me know when there is unrest or peace in the country. They are a valued asset to this country."
Then he sat on his throne and looked at everyone. Upon sitting on it, he realized how exhausted he felt. "You must be tired from what happened," he said. "Why don't you all retire to your rooms and get ready to head back home tomorrow? You need enough energy for tomorrow. Oh, have one of the servants prepare a guest room for the boy. He will be handsomely rewarded for his actions."
Having saying farewell, everyone except Passeck left. "Is something the matter, Passeck?" Hessin wondered. The general hesitated and scratched his face though he was careful not to touch the large scar that was on his left cheek.
"It's just..." he paused. "I never expected that I would encounter another Ilmarian especially one who is a king."
"An Ilmarian?" Hessin asked as he felt Istra perched on his shoulder. "What is that?"
"He or she is someone who has been gifted with immortality and extraordinary powers, Your Majesty," the general explained. "In fact, you're the second one I met."
"Tell me more," the Kahlin sat up straight as he listened attentively. He knew that the water spirit was interested as well based on the strong grip on his shoulders.
Passeck just chuckled and said, "It's a long story so bear with me. It started fifty years ago when..."
Lunsk 7, 1844
A week or so has passed since then. By then, many of the palace staff was interrogated to make sure that no other conspirators were still around though it appeared that Maruk acted alone. Since that incident, everything went mostly back to normal though there were a few changes. First, the palace has more security and every person was inspected to make sure that he or she does not have any hidden weapons on his or her person. Likewise, all ships that arrived at the harbor were to be searched thoroughly to make sure that no assassins were on board.
As for the Kahlin, General Passeck has ordered more guards, who must undergo a security check beforehand, to protect him though Hessin thought it was unnecessary because he has Istra around. However, the man insisted so the king has no choice but to relent. Most likely the old man felt terrible about what happened and wanted to make up for it. Due to the fact that Hessin managed to “survive” his assassination attempt, many people has begun to call him by his nickname, “The Immortal King”, which was very ironic since it was true. Passeck has a laugh about it and teased him about at whatever chance he has.
Meanwhile, all of the international officials had returned home and started to set up Bartheomos headquarters in their lands. Hessin hasn't heard words on Maruk's whereabouts though he was probably wandering the desert. Knowing the man, he would be quite resourceful in finding foods and shelter. As for Lezak, he was given a medal of honor by the king himself and was paraded around the city while everyone cheered his name. In fact, he and the boy have been corresponding ever since, and Istra was quite fond of his sister and him. Hessin has also grown to view Lezak and Hanzo as his children in a way.
That night Hessin was in the throne room by himself though Istra was perched fast asleep on a golden perch, which was shaped as a growing vine, next to him. He had snuck into that room without the guards because he wanted to be alone with his thoughts. For some reason that he could not explain, the king knew that something amazing would happen tonight.
Sure enough, the air in front of the throne shimmered before a large circle appeared. On the other side of the circle, he could perceive a lush forest, which looked it was from Kreesia. Before long, a line of people walked through the gateway though he only recognized Lady Aundra from a meeting he had with her once. Other than that, he noticed that a Xavian with strawberry blonde hair, one of the Loredan Desert dweller based on her clothing she wore, a Kreesian boy with gray hair and inquisitive eyes, a Doran priest who has a dog with him, a Bisahan woman who appeared to be from some nobility, and a Sendoan who looked around the room suspiciously.
As soon as everyone entered the room, Hessin spoke warmly, "Welcome to my kingdom. You must be the Ilmarians whom Passeck told me."
"That is correct, Kahlin Hessin Soleri Ostrom," the Xavian consented as she curtsied. She must be the leader of the group. "My name is Kejuta and I'm known as the Ilmarian of Fate though the people called me the All-Mother. You already met Aundra, who is the Ilmarian of Magic, and this is Brenton, the Ilmarian of Time. Over here is the Ilmarian of Worlds, Marika. Lanskas is the Ilmarian of Beasts, Oraji is the Ilmarian of Nature, and Zentran is the Ilmarian of Seasons. There are two more, but unfortunately they cannot make it. They are my children, Adia and Pendance. You already met my son, who is the Ilmarian of Death when you died. He was the one who told me about you, but you haven't met my daughter, who is the Ilmarian of Life, yet. If you don't mind, would you come with us to a more private setting?"
"Of course not, but please call me by my name. You don’t need to be formal with me," Hessin said quickly as he stood up and walked down the steps. He heard Istra woke up and flew down to perch on his shoulder. Aundra watched the bird with great interest. "I hope you don't mind if Istra come along."
"Not at all," the Ilmarian of Magic told him as she petted the bird. "An elemental spirit must follow its master wherever he or she goes."
Marika bowed her head formally to him before piercing her index finger with a ring of some sort. After making sure that the ring was covered with her blood, she threw it in the air where it stood suspended in the air and became bigger. Hessin noticed that there was field on the other side. "We're going to Corawell, where the Pillar of the World is located," Kejuta explained. "This is where my daughter currently lived."
As they waited to go through the portal, Oraji walked toward him and curtsied. “I want to thank you for being so kind to Passeck,” she told him. “He’s a dear friend of mine, and he has told me how wonderful and kind you are.”
“You must be his childhood friend he mentioned about,” he answered. “Passeck has also told me he was quite fond of you.”
“Of course he would,” she smiled. “Though to be honest, I wished he would settle down.”
Hessin chortled. “Unfortunately, he is not the marrying type,” he told her. “He’s the type who marries to his work and would make his wife sick with worries.”
Oraji sighed. “I supposed you’re right,” she acknowledged wistfully as they entered Corawell, “though it would be nice if there are little Passecks running around.”
The Pillar of the World was nothing like he has expected. "All of my life, I thought the Pillar would be made out of stone," he admitted as the group sat underneath the umbrella acacia tree. He just met Adia, who was a cheerful little girl though she didn't talk at all. "Who would have thought it would be this tree?"
It's probably because Allaura, my predecessor, wanted to sit under the shade while she was working. It can get hot working underneath the sun all day, Adia said amusingly. Hessin stared at her with bewilderment. How was she about to talk in his head?
"In case you're wondering, I cast a spell so she could communicate with us mentally," Aundra answered with a smile as she stroke Brenton's hair. That reminded him, there was something odd about those two, but Hessin could not put a finger on why exactly.
Kejuta coughed slightly to get his attention. "Now that you're here," she began, "let me explain why we exist.”
After telling him the story of their existence, she asked, “So what do you think?”
He pondered for a little bit before answering, “So this is our burden. While I don’t fully understand the gods’ reasoning, I think I’m ready to accept their challenge. However, I think it’s somewhat sad.”
“Sad? What do you mean?” Oraji asked curiously.
“Well, I just think about all of my loved ones who will die while I can’t,” Hessin confessed. “Thinking about that is depressing if you ask me.”
She nodded and was lost in thought. He figured that she was thinking about Passeck, who has aged significantly since she first met him. Likewise, the others except for Zentran had a faraway look as if remembering those who passed away.
He must have a questioning look on his face because the Ilmarian of Seasons grumbled, “I don’t have any loved ones whom I missed.”
Sensing that the young man had a rough experience, Hessin decided not to pester him about it. Instead he then added, “Though I’m glad that there are others like me. If I am the only immortal in the world, I think I would grow mad.”
“Indeed,” Aundra said wholeheartedly and snickered. “At least we got each other for company. We’re a bunch of interesting people, aren’t we?”
“We should get back on topic,” the Ilmarian of Fate stated dryly as she glared at the other woman, who pretended not to notice. “We wished to know what you see and hear in your dream after your death,” “It usually leaves you a clue or so about what your role as an Ilmarian will be."
After telling his story to the group, Hessin watched as they pondered what it meant. "The man must be Versen," Marika decided, "since he said that he was amused by his creations' ingenuity."
"I agree as well," Lanskas said, "but what does he mean that Hessin is supposed to be one of the Three Judges? I haven't heard anything like that during my lessons."
"It's a children story long ago," Brenton answered dreamily. "During the Caeculum Wars, the people tried to replace the gods by making up stories. One of the stories was used to teach children to be good citizens or else face the consequences. That story is known as 'The Three Judges'."
"How did that go?" Oraji asked curiously. Aundra looked at him encouragingly so he stood up and recited it:
Listen well, my children, and pay heed.
Be good in heart and soul
lest Three Judges will come down
and punish thee with merciless punishment
if thou art wicked in thought and mind.
The angel stands watch above
as she stares at the earth below
and observes the wicked liars
Then grasping the truth, she shall swoop down
and cut through the lies thou has made.
The king sits on his throne
watching the scale of justice
move back and forth
The cries of the oppressed fill his ears
and he should answer their pleas.
Justice shall be heard once more.
A child walks in the darkness.
His blade bloodied and stained.
He seek the wicked and their blood
for Judgment has come for them.
Woe to those who meets this child
for death has come to claim them.
Now thou must repent and confess thy sins
lest thou seek the Three Judges' wrath.
Afterward, Brenton sat back down and said, "In my opinion, one of the gods must have heard that story and liked it so much that he or she decided that three of their successors will have these roles."
"Make sense," Lanskas agreed. "Based on the description, we now know that there are three Ilmarians who will fulfill the roles. Hessin must represent Justice because of the lines mentioned that word a lot."
"So my master is the Ilmarian of Justice then?" Istra wondered as she embraced him. Hessin had to admit that the name has a nice ring to it.
"You're correct," Aundra said. "That means that we have the Ilmarian of Truth and the Ilmarian of Judgment to locate."
The first one should be easy to find, Adia replied. She must be an Aerian since that's the only race with wings so we can easily narrow her location to somewhere in the Aerian Territory.
That was when Hessin noticed that Zentran, who sat mostly quiet through the whole matter, perked up. Strange, but then Sendoans have always held these winged protectors in the highest regards.
Of course, the Ilmarian of Judgment must be a child, the Ilmarian of Life continued, but where would we find this person?
"Enkrum, most likely," the Ilmarian of Seasons deduced. "From the rumors I heard, the assassins have been trained since childhood to become coldblooded killers."
Hessin scowled at the news. The thought of working with murderers especially the ones who tried to kill him did not really appeal to him.
"It looked like we have figured out where the next two Ilmarians would be located and what their jobs will be," a pleased Kejuta said.
"But what’s about the Duermon that Zen mentioned about?” Lanskas asked. “We need to search for him as well.”
Turning to the Ilmarian of Fate, Marika questioned, “Do you have any luck finding him, Kej?”
She shook her head. “Unfortunately no,” she sighed. “For some reason, I’m not able to detect him. Such a sneaky little devil! Brenton and I have theorized that he probably became an immortal before Pendance took over Seitha’s spot since my son recalled not seeing a Duermon fitting the description.”
Brenton looked into his book and announced, “The Duermon will have to wait. According to my vision, we need that Aerian in order to capture him. We should focus on getting the Aerian and the child Ilmarians first before focusing on him.”
“It looks like we have decided our next move,” Kejuta stated. “Are you ready, Hessin?”
“Not quite,” he replied. “I won’t be able to join you just yet. I still have a country to govern, and I can’t abandon them until I find a suitable replacement.”
“Understandable,” she said. “Take your time, Hessin, and when you’re ready, you know where to find us. Marika will give you one of her rings so you can travel to our location. Meanwhile, Aundra and Brenton can come visit you for your lessons. By the way, have you decided who your new heir will be?”
Smiling, he answered, “I have someone in mind, but I’m sure that you know who it is already.”
Lunsk 8, 1844
Lezak must have been surprised to open the door to find Hessin and his guards standing right in front of him. “Good morning, Lezak,” he greeted. “May I come in?”
“O-o-of course, Your Majesty!” Lezak gulped as he let them in while two of the guards stayed behind to guard the door. Even though the house was cramped, Lezak’s grandmother has found a way to make appeared roomy and comfortable. Speaking of which, the poor old woman almost fainted when she saw that the Kahlin himself was standing in her home. Luckily, two of the guards were able to catch her in time and gently placed her in a chair. On the other hand, Hanzo was thrilled to see him and rushed over to hug him. She then began to stroke Istra, who nudged her back affectionately, and showed her the kitten that she named Issie.
As soon as Hessin and Tewari family were seated, Lezak’s grandmother inquired nervously, “What brought you here, Your Majesty?”
“You’re not in trouble if you were wondering,” he reassured her. “I just want to know if you and your family would like to live in the palace with me.”
All of the Tewari family members’ eyes widened. “Wait, you want us to live in the palace with you?” Lezak finally squeaked. Hessin nodded, and the family whispered to each other in amazement.
“In fact, I also wish for you to be my heir,” he continued. “Based on what I’ve seen of you, I’m sure that you’re most qualified for the job.” That announcement caused the children’s mouths to drop wide and their grandmother to faint.
“Me, a prince!?” the boy exclaimed. “But I don’t know anything about politics! Besides I don’t even know how to read and write. I would be a terrible ruler!”
“That’s why I’m going to hire the best tutors to teach you,” the Kahlin explained. “I know that this is quite a shock for you so I’ll give you some time so that you and family can discuss my proposition. When you have decided, please come to the palace and let me know.”
Then he stood up and the others follow suit as well. After saying goodbyes to them, Hessin left back home. Even though he knew Lezak was hesitant about taking the offer, he was sure that the boy will make the right decision.
Toov 3, 1864
A sense of restlessness has been bothering Hessin for some time now. He first felt it three years ago but chose to ignore. However it has lingered and grew until he could no longer deny it. He must have shown it because one day, Istra asked him, “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted and stared blankly around the throne room. The Quentis chirped softly behind him, but he did not pay attention to them. It took some struggles and effort, but the world was finally at peace. Likewise, the Bartheomos project was now up and running though there were a few hiccups, but Passeck managed to fix them. “It’s just… I feel like I have done everything for the kingdom, but I can do much more. Not to mention the fact, people are spreading rumors since I haven’t aged a bit for the past twenty years.”
“Perhaps it’s time to join the others?” she suggested as she stroked his olive-skinned cheek. “After all, Lezak is old enough to take over as the next Kahlin and I think he’s ready for the challenge.”
“You’re right. He’s been trained for the role and he’s old enough to rule on his own,” Hessin agreed. “However, we need to make a plan. We have to make sure that everyone will accept that Lezak will be the new Kahlin and that I won’t be here to disrupt his rule. After all, we don’t want people to wonder if I will try to seize power away from my adopted son.”
“Are you implying that you’re going to fake your death?” Istra mused as a cool desert wind blew through the opened windows.
“Indeed,” he answered. “In fact, I have a plan, but I need to contact Aundra and the others to help me.”
Toov 6, 1844
A few days later, Kahlin Hessin and his adopted son, Kahzin Lezak, decided to ride around the outskirt of the capital. As they were traveling along the gate, a harmless unron snake slithered in front of Hessin’s horse, which was startled by it. The horse sprung up and flung the ruler of Ishara, who was trying to calm him down, off. As the Kahlin fell on the stone pathway, he landed on his head and lost conscious. Immediately, his adopted son and their escort immediately sent for help as they tried to tend to the king’s injuries. Istra tried to help as well but stated that her master’s injuries were too severe for her healing magi to be effective.
Some soldiers hurried back with a stretcher and placed the unconscious king on top of it. Then everyone quickly rushed back to the palace where a doctor was waiting for them. As they traveled through the disquiet city, many citizens looked on and worried. Is the Kahlin going to die? If so, who would have thought it would be from a freak accident?
They arrived at the palace in minutes. As soon as Kahzina Hanzo saw the king’s body, she collapsed and wailed so her brother has to come over and comfort her. Meanwhile, the doctor ordered the guards to place the king in one of the first floor bedrooms and quickly tried to treat his injuries. He also forbade anyone except for the nurses and some of the guards from entering the room so everyone waited anxiously outside.
While this was happening, the citizens of Soleri walked to the front of the palace gates and prayed that their king will be alive. However, their hopes were dashed when they saw the king’s water spirit flew away from the palace a half an hour later. Then the announcement was made – Kahlin Hessin Soleri Ostrom has passed away. The Immortal King was no longer in this world.
Toov 13, 1844
The mourning lasted for the whole week. Kahzin Lezak Tewari Ostrom has ordered all flags to be flown half-staff, and any festivities would be cancelled until further notice. The citizens of Ishara rubbed their face and hair with dust to show that they were in mourning. Many world leaders have sent condolences once they heard the news and stated that they will attend his funeral, which were to be on held on the last day. Bartheomos’s Head Commander Passeck Valentus also sent his sympathies to Lezak and Hanzo but unfortunately couldn’t attend the memorial due to his duty. However, he stated that he would keep them in mind and pray for them.
On the day of the funeral, Hessin’s coffin was paraded through the city so everyone could see their king once last time before it was arrived at the temple for the funeral service. There, Kahzin Lezak delivered a beautiful eulogy, praising the Immortal King for bringing peace to the world and saying that he hopes to meet his adopted father’s expectation when he becomes the next Kahlin in the upcoming days. Afterward, the funeral procession marched onward until they reached the Hessin’s final resting place.
The mausoleum, which held all of the past rulers of Ishara, was a large building made out of white stone. They entered the building and entered the rotunda. Then the pallbearers carried the coffin out of the wagon and placed it on top of a marble altar, where it would stay for a few more days so that well-wishers could visit and pay their respect.
Walking up to the coffin, Kahzin Lezak announced as he choked on his tears, “My sister and I wish to be alone with our father for a few minutes.”
“Of course,” the priest replied understandably. Everyone nodded and left the room as they shut the door behind them.
Lezak waited for a few minutes before saying, “You can come out now.”
Hessin walked out from the shadows and smiled. Istra sat on his shoulders and stretched her wings indifferently. The siblings embraced their adopted father and he did the same. He had told them about his secret and swore them to secrecy. Looking at his coffin, he commented, “It looked everything went according to plan.”
“It did,” Lezak agreed, “though I was nervous that someone would suspect something or believe that I plot to kill you. However, it looked like my worry was for nothing. I have to admit that I didn’t expect that snake to show up like that. It even gave me a heart attack when I saw it so I think I knew what your horse was going through.”
“You have to thank Lanskas for that,” the former king said and opened the coffin, which contained his replica, “and Aundra for this copy.”
Examining the fake king’s body, the young man observed, “Her skills are very impressive! It looks and feels so real. Even I was tricked by it despite the fact I knew that you were still alive.”
He closed the coffin and looked at his adopted father. “So what will you be planning to do from now?” he wondered.
The Ilmarian of Justice smiled and replied, “I’m going to join the others and fulfill my new duties. To be honest, I’m somewhat nervous about it.”
“You will do well, Hessin,” Lezak reassured him. “I should be the one worried. Everyone has high expectations of me, and you’re a hard act to follow.”
“You can do it, Kahlin Lezak,” Hessin said as he clapped his hands on his successor’s shoulders. “I have faith in you.”
“Don’t worry. I’ll make you proud,” he smiled and added, “Oh, before I forget, Hanzo also wishes that you would attend her wedding to General Razh Culao.”
If Hessin recalled correctly, General Culao was Passeck’s replacement and his protégé. “Of course I won’t,” he told his adopted daughter as he hugged her. “I wouldn’t miss it in the world! Now I should get going. The others are waiting for me.”
After saying farewell one last time, he turned around and grabbed Marika’s ring from his pocket. Piercing his finger, he activated the portal to the place where he was supposed to meet the others. As he and Istra were about to step through the gateway, he looked back at the two siblings and said, “Good luck to you two! I wish you good blessings and a happy life!”
Then the former Kahlin of Ishara disappeared through the portal and started his new path in life.
Chapter 9 is going to be pretty long so I decided to divide it into two or three parts. Oh, I imagine the Aerians to live a Spartan lifestyle.
Here is the first part.
Chapter 9: Alethea - "What else can I do?" Part I
Mazu 11, 2107
A soft knock on the door interrupt Alethea’s relaxation. “Alethea, don’t take too long with your bath,” her older sister, Cyline, called through the door. “Otherwise, it will take forever for your feathers to dry!”
Alethea sighed irritably. There went her chance to unwind! And the best part was that she was the only one taking a bath at the moment. “Geez, Cyline!” she complained. “I’m 221 years old now! You don’t need to treat me like a child!”
She swore she heard her sister laughed as she walked away. At first, she wanted to stay put in the nice, warm water just to annoy her sister but she hated to admit that Cyline was right; her wings were getting soaked. Getting out of the bathtub, she dried herself with a towel and fluffed her wings. Afterward, she got dressed and examined herself in the mirror to make sure that everything looked all right.
She wore a black skintight triangle-top romper, which has a bare back so her wings can move easily, and a white underskirt with two layers of flounces on top. Everything seemed to be in order, she decided and let her long, white hair down to comb it. Once she was done, she walked up the flight of stairs (her wings were still damp) and went through the door.
Unlike their human counterparts who usually lived in one spot, Aerians do not have a permanent home. Instead they stayed at forts, which were assigned numbers, between every mission. These forts mostly consisted of smooth, elongated, and circular towers, which were assigned letters that have no doors on the ground level. Rather, the doors with small platforms were scattered all over the walls so that the Aerians would just fly to one of the doors, landed on the platforms, and entered through the threshold. There they would meet the person in charge of the tower so they could be assigned a room. Each room consisted of five hanging beds and since each floor have twenty bedrooms, that meant that there were a maximum of 100 Aerians usually staying on each floor. The ground floor was used as a lounge where exhausted Aerians could relax while the public bath was in the basement.
Of course, there were a one-story building or two where human guests could stay in, but then they rarely have visitors so the buildings were mostly used for storage.
Currently, she was staying in Fort #2-C24, which meant that she was staying in the third bedroom on the twenty-fourth floor. Her sister was waiting for her in her bedroom that was assigned to her. Cyline was sitting on the hanging bed and held her one year old baby boy on her lap. "Say hello to Auntie Alethea!" she gushed as she bounced the happy child, who squealed in return. The sky blue-haired boy looked at Alethea and waved happily. She couldn't help but smiled back. Raylin was such an adorable Aerian boy!
"Watch out, Ray-Ray! The tickle monster is coming to get you!" she teased as she ran up and tickled him. As he laughed uproariously, Cyline smiled.
"You know what, Alethea?" she mentioned as she patted her son's hair down with her fingers. "You would make a great mother."
"You think so?" she asked doubtfully. "I'm not sure if I would be one."
Cyline rolled her eyes. "Of course I am!" she insisted. "Just look at you and my son! You're a natural at it. Even Jensem agreed and you know how often we disagree on things!"
She sighed but gave her sister a small smile. “If you say so…” she relented. “I have to admit that I am envious of you because you don’t have to do any missions for a while now because you’re on maternal leave.”
At first, Aerians age the same way as humans but as soon as they reached the puberty, the aging process slowed down. That meant was in spite the fact that Alethea has lived in the world for 221 years, she has an appearance of a twenty-two years old human. Her sister, who is forty-eight years older than she, looked like she is only twenty six years old.
“Not true,” her sister countered. “Even though I love my son, I do miss all of the actions. Not to mention, it can be lonely when you’re all by yourself since everyone else is off on their missions. Jensem is who knows where battling some possessor Duermons at the border while I’m stuck here! Too bad you’re not pregnant; otherwise you can keep me company. It’s unfortunate that Mikail has become a Fallen… Oh! I’m sorry, Alethea. I shouldn’t have mentioned his name.”
Mikail. That was her fiancé’s name. Her parents and his parents have arranged their engagement ever since they were babies and introduced them as children so they could get to know each other. Ever since then, the two have become close friends and enjoyed each other’s company. All of their comrades have told them that they would make a perfect couple. But was it love? Alethea knew that he loved her deeply based on the way he looked at her. However she hasn’t told anyone her secret, but while she cared for Mikail, she didn’t love him that way. Instead, she has always viewed him as a brother. She wanted to tell someone about how she felt, but she knew that words got out about it, it would be scandalous.
Imagine her shock and confusion when she heard that her fiancé has betrayed the Aerian Oath. When Duermon created the Parasitic and Possessor Duermons to harass the humans living in Illica, Lady Aerius decided to ingrain an order in her creations’ minds that they are supposed to protect humans no matter what. That has become known as the Aerian Oath and all Aerians knew about it once they reached self-awareness. However, if one defies the Oath, he or she would become a Fallen; his or her wings would turn black as the night itself and forbidden to enter Aerian Territory. Likewise they would be hunted down and killed.
She found out about it after returning from one of her missions. Cyline was waiting for her anxiously, which she was found to be strange, and informed her of the news. According to a human eyewitness, he saw Mikail attacking some terrified merchants though he hasn’t seen the whole thing. Afterward, his wings changed from white to black, and then he fled into the sky.
In fact, all of the Aerians were stunned by the revelation since Mikail has always loved the humans he was protecting and would never hurt them. So why did he attack them? Why did he suddenly decide to betray the Aerian Oath? Those questions have been in Alethea’s mind, and she wanted desperately to search him to find out why. However, how could she find a Fallen if he does not want to be found?
A sudden shout interrupted her train of thoughts.
“Grandpa Fulong is here!”
She and her sister immediately rushed over to the window to see the scene happening outside. Below them, they could see a human troop was being led by General Ven Fulong. The sixty-seven years old slightly plump man got that nickname because of his jovial nature and his grandfatherly appearance. As usual, he greeted the Aerians with a warm smile and boisterous laugh.
"Well, it took him long enough," Cyline grumbled as she bounced her baby in her arms. "He was supposed to bring us supplies a few days ago!"
One of the agreements between the Sendoans and the Aerians was that the former will provide them food rations and clothes in exchange for the angels' protection. None of the Aerians were interested in farming the lands since it is mostly rocky soil and many have considered the job to be beneath their stature.
"I'm sure that there is a reason for his delay," Alethea said, trying to give him a benefit of the doubt. That was when she noticed that her commander was whispering something to the general and both of them along with some higher ranks set off to a building by themselves. "I wonder what is going on there. It must be something important because otherwise they wouldn't have a private meeting like that."
Her sister suddenly has a grave look on her face. "It's probably because of that strange attack on us," she answered.
She looked at her older sister with bewilderment. "Strange attack?" she questioned. She has been gone for so long in her mission so she wouldn't know what was happening here while she was away.
"You don't know?" Her sister gave her a strange look before it dawned on her. "Oh right, you were on a scouting mission in Idilarys. Anyway, a strange light that has being striking down from the sky and hitting the Aerian Territory for almost a month now. We don't know how the Duermons are doing it, but whatever it is, they have been every effective. From what I've heard, almost half of the Aerian population has been decimated but that was two weeks ago so I'm sure that the death rate has increased by then."
Alethea began to worry when she heard the grim news. "Have you heard from Father and Mother? Your husband? Or Arren?" she asked. Arren was their little brother and he was just beginning his military service. If something terrible happened to them...
Cyline shook her head sadly. "Unfortunately, I haven't heard any words from them but I'm sure that they're fine," she said hopefully. Then she gave her sister a stern look. "Aren't you forgetting something?"
"Oh shot! I almost forgot!"
She quickly grabbed her black knee high boots and put them on. As she hurried out of the door, she shouted, "Bye, Cyline! I'll see you later!"
"Be back before dark!" she heard her sister shouted as she flew out of the door. "We don't want you to get in trouble if you get caught sneaking out!"
Fortunately for Alethea, she was able to sneak out easily since everyone was distracted by General Fulong's arrival. But then, she was trained to be that way as a scout for the Aerian army. If she wasn't that discreet and cautious, she would have been dead many times over.
After traveling over several miles, she finally reached her destination, which was a cliff which overlooked a field of tall grass and flowers. A young man was standing there and he looked relieved when he saw her. As she landed on a nice patch of soft grass, he came over to her.
"I'm glad you make it," he said in a teasing voice. His roguish look took on a playful appearance as he stuck out his tongue. "I thought you would never come!"
"I wasn't THAT late, Dalin" she replied curtly but smiled as she embraced him. Whenever she looked at him, she couldn't stay that mad at him. "Besides, I haven't seen my baby nephew in a while now so I got distracted."
"How is your family anyway?" he asked as they both sat down with their legs dangling over the edge. At first Dalin was nervous about doing it until she pointed out that she could easily catch him if he falls.
"They're... fine." She decided that he didn't need to know about the strange attack on the Aerians. Otherwise he would be worry to death about her safety and she didn't need that right now. "How is your patrol? Found any more possessed humans?"
He was in a troop that guards near the border of the Sendoa and hunt down any humans who have been possessed by Possessor Duermons, who were considered the most dangerous out of the three types. The Humanistic usually stayed in within Idilarys so they were considered nonthreatening while only concern about the Parasitic ones was that they drained the hosts' souls to use as nourishment. Fortunately the latter usually stayed within their land because they can have their corporeal forms there for some reason. However, if they cross the border, they would become unsubstantial. It was an odd phenomenon but at least that discouraged them from trying to invade Sendoa too often though they only ventured out to get food.
He shook his head as he pursed his lips. "No, not really," he admitted. "It's strange though. Usually we discover around four or five trying to cross the border each day, but now we just barely see one! My comrades and I think that there is something suspicious going on, but we are too scared to think about what it could be."
"That's strange all right," she agreed. She wondered to herself whether there was a connection between the two incidents. She turned to ask Dalin his opinion but wanted to laugh when she saw his face. He wore a pensive look on his face as he was pondering about something and his expression made him look.... well, constipated.
He must have noticed that she was looking at him because he asked, "Why are you staring at me like that?"
"Oh, I just remember the time we first met," she lied. It has been over a year now, hasn't it? Nevertheless, she could still recall that eventful day.
Keju 14, 2106
She just has finished her scouting mission near the Duermon city of Astraea earlier than she has expected. As she waited for the coast to be cleared to make her getaway, she debated whether or not she should follow a lead that supposedly has Mikail's location. It has been eight months since he has betrayed the Aerian Oath, and she hasn't had any luck finding him. If this clue was right, she would be able to confront him about his decision but if it was a trap...
Alethea hesitated. She has never disobeyed an order before nor has she ever questioned them. Ever since she was young, she was trained to be obedient and not to question authority. She was supposed to act, not think. Likewise she was told not to allow her emotions to get the best of her and that they were pointless in the battlefield. "They cloud your judgment and make you lose focus," one of her instructors told her when she got upset after Mikail got "injured" during a battle practice.
So she has suppressed her emotions and put on a stoic face even when she was with her family or now former fiancé. The only time she was able to be herself was when she was with her sister, who did not judge her at all. But even then, she still has to put her guard up because Cyline still expected her to act like a typical Aerian.
Sighing, she decided to head back. It was probably pointless anyway. Even if she did find out why he became a Fallen, there was no way he could turn back. With a heavy heart, she headed back to the border.
It was only ten miles or so to the border when she first noticed him. At first she didn't pay attention until she looked down and saw someone was waving at her. Squinting to get a better picture, she realized that it was a Sendoan soldier. Why was he wandering in Duermon territory? Cautious, she got her spear ready and headed down to see him.
As she landed close by, he rushed over to see her while she folded her wings behind her back. "Thank goodness you saw me!" he said with great relief. "I was afraid that you couldn't spot me since you were so high up in the sky."
Instead of saying a word, she studied him. He was slightly shorter than she and has a muscular build. His black hair was so unkempt and his brown eyes were wide with fright as if he hasn't slept for days. His dark green military uniform was tattered and dirtied. Due to his baby face, she couldn't determine how old he was though she assumed that he has to be more than eighteen years old since that was the legal age to join the Sendoan military. However, she didn't sense any Duermon residing inside him so he must be safe. "State your name and tell me why you are doing in Duermon territory," she demanded in a firm voice and pointed her spear at him to show that she meant business.
He stopped running and raised his hands in the air to surrender. "My name is Dalin Kiwa and I'm a soldier in the Sendoan army," he stated. Alethea wanted to roll her eyes. It was so obvious based on his clothing. Sometimes she wondered if her colleagues were right - humans can be so stupid sometimes. "It's a long story, but... well, two days ago, a few of my comrades and I were patrolling the border when we got ambushed. We were unprepared so most of us got captured. Luckily during the chaos, I managed to escape and ran to get help. However, it was dark so I didn't know where I was going. Wait a minute - did you ask me why I was in Duermon territory? I'm in Idilarys right now?"
"Yes, you're currently in Idilarys," the Aerian said patiently. Goodness, no wonder humans needed them to help them. They wouldn't have lasted that long against the Duermons if the Aerians weren't around to protect them! Sighing, she flipped her hair back irritably. "It was a good thing I found you because you were sticking out like a sore thumb. I'm surprised that the Duermons haven't discovered you yet."
Dalin gave her an affronted look. "I'm not that stupid," he replied angrily. "I know from my lessons to stay away from objects, animals, and humans just in case they have a Duermons residing in them. I also know to stay hidden and the only reason I came out in the opening was because I saw you flying around like it's nobody's business! If you ask me, YOU'RE the one sticking out like a sore thumb! A Duermon could easily shot you down. All of you Aerians are alike! You are so self-righteous, condescending, and stuck up!"
Alethea gaped with astonishment. No human has ever talked back to an Aerian before. Usually they would be apologetic and docile whenever they got admonished by an Aerian for making a foolish mistake. She immediately decided that she did not like this Dalin fellow and was tempted just to leave him there to rot. Unfortunately, the Aerian Oath has forbidden her to do such a thing unless she wanted to become a Fallen, which she has no desire to do so. Besides, that would be an embarrassing reason if anyone found out. She could imagine it now.
"How did Alethea become a Fallen?"
"Oh, a human talked back to her and hurt her feelings."
Scowling, she took a deep breath and composed herself. She has always prided herself for her calm and collected demeanor. Before she could speak one word, she heard voices close by. Damnit! It seemed that the stupid boy's loud voice has gotten the Duermon's attention. Quickly grabbing him by his arm, she dragged him away.
"Hey! Where are we going?" he asked as he tried to keep up with her pace.
"Out of here," she said simply as she scanned the area. "It appeared that the Duermons have found us so we need to find a hiding place for now until it's safe to move about again."
"How's about there?"
She stopped and looked at where he was pointing. It took her awhile to find it, but she did eventually. It was a small underground cave, which was covered with thick vines. Of course, there might be some hidden "surprises" in there, but there were no other options since their pursuers were coming closer. By the sounds of the footsteps, there were more than twenty Duermons of different variety after them; too much for her to handle alone.
"That will do," she said hurriedly. "Come on, we better get in now!"
He came inside first while she took the rear. Crouching down, she barely covered back the entrance when the enemies appeared right in front of them. She quickly muttered a spell to camouflage their scents.
"Where did he go?" One of the possessed humans asked as they searched the area. "He couldn't have gotten that far!"
"I wouldn't be surprised," muttered another. Alethea could feel Dalin's hand tightened around her arm as if he recognized that voice. Peeking between the vines, she could determine that the speaker was wearing a Sendoan uniform; most likely he was one of Dalin's comrades. "That bastard has been evading us for days now!"
"Find him," another voice ordered. "He can't just disappear from us. Split up into group of four and search the general vicinity."
Based on how his eyes shone like sapphire, he was a Humanistic Duermon and thus, the leader of the group. If she remembered her lesson correctly, all Possessor and Parasitic Duermons obey and follow a Humanistic commander. This is going to be troublesome! Sooner or later, they are going to discover this hiding place and capture them.
She looked at Dalin and mouthed, "Do you have any weapons?"
He gave her a sheepish look and mouthed back, "I accidentally lost my rope dart during the ambush so all I have is my dagger."
"Great," she muttered to herself. She turned her focus back to the problem at hand. Right now they needed a distraction so she closed her eye and muttered a spell. If this works, then maybe they will have a chance to escape.
In the distance, she could hear some rocks rolling down the ground. "Do you hear that?" one of the Parasitic Duermons asked as he moved his pincer rapidly.
"It must be him," a Possessor Duermon suggested. "It looked like he's trying to reach the border by crossing that cliff."
The leader sneered with amusement. "What a foolish human! He is taking the long way to the border. Have some of the men follow him while the rest of us will take the shortcut and cut him off. By the time he found out that he's surrounded, it would be too late!"
The other Duermons chortled as they hurried to follow the plan. Alethea and Dalin waited for a few minutes with abated breath until they heard silence before they relaxed. The former quickly used her magic to scan for any lingering Duermons but found none. She looked at her human comrade and told him the good news.
"Okay, it's safe to come out now."
After getting out of the cave and wiping the dirt off their clothes, they looked around the area. The only living things were them. As the Aerian tried to gather her thoughts, Dalin's voice interrupted her.
"What do you mean by that?" she wondered.
"Well, we can't go to the border that way because they are expecting me to be there and we can't use that shortcut that Duermon was talking about so how are we going to escape?" he demanded. "And I doubt you can fly and carry me at the same time. No offense but you don't seem to have the upper body strength to lift me."
"I'm not an idiot," she snapped. Did he honestly believe she thought she would carry a dead weight like him around? "You know, there are other ways to the border besides the ones that Duermon talked about."
Dalin's face lit up. "Of course you would know!" he exclaimed. "You've been scouting this area for a while now, right? So what's your plan?"
Alethea has to smile. At least he's not that dumb. "We'll have to backtrack first," she began. "Then we'll head north until we reach the border, which should be a three or four days walk. If I remember correctly, there is a river that separate Idilarys from the Aerian Territory. As soon as we cross it, we will be safe. Well then, we better get going before they realized that they've been duped."
She turned around and started to walk back when she heard Dalin shouted, "Wait."
She paused and looked back questioningly. He shifted his feet and bowed embarrassingly. "I just wanted to say sorry for calling you a stuck up," he apologized. "Um... you probably think I'm a pain in the ass, but I promise that I won't be a burden to you. I know we came off to a bad start, but we're going to have to stick together for a few days so we need to work together."
After a minute or two of reflection, she replied, "You're right. I should apologize to you as well. I shouldn't have criticized you like that. I would probably have panic if the same thing happened to me. Not to mention, you're very resourceful and observant. I would have never spotted that hiding place."
"Let's start over," he suggested as he extended his hand. "My name is Dalin Kiwa. What's yours?"
"My name is Alethea," she answered as she shook his hand, "and I promise you that I will get you out of here."
At first they mostly walked in silence due to the fact they were listening for any signs of the enemies lurking around. After an hour or so of dead silence, Dalin said exasperatedly, "This quietness is driving me crazy! Can we at least talk?"
The angel hesitated but she did have to admit that she has the same feeling as well. '"I suppose we can," she relented. "I haven't sensed any Duermons for a while now so I think it's safe to talk. However, we have to use a soft voice just in case."
"Gotcha. Let me start then - tell me a little about yourself."
"Myself?" Alethea looked at him curiously. "What do you mean?"
"You know." He raised his hands as if it was obvious what he meant by that. "Your family, hobbies, your plans for the future, and whatnot - those kinds of thing."
"Oh, I see." She thought for a moment and then began, "My family consists of my parents, my older sister Cyline, my younger brother Arren, and me. My parents and I are not that close but then I haven't seen them since I started training over a hundred and ten years ago. However, my sister and I are best friends and I do keep in touch with my brother. I also have a brother-in-law named Jensem, who is a stern but loving husband. I almost forgot but I'm an aunt as well. My sister just gave birth to a baby boy and he is the cutest little Aerian ever! As for hobbies, I don't have one. To be honest, we Aerians rarely have time to relax at all. Most of the times, we just train and prepare for battles."
"That sounds really mundane and sad," he commented.
She laughed. "Now that you mentioned it, it does. As for my future, I'm not sure yet. I mean, I was supposed to get married in four years but that changed when..."
Alethea abruptly stopped in midsentence when she remembered MIkial. Dalin must have noticed the change in her expression because he asked worriedly, "Do you want to talk about it?"
She nodded. Maybe a human would have a better understanding on it than an Aerian. "I don't know if you know about Aerian traditions, but we have arranged marriages. My parents has planned my marriage to Mikail (he's my fiancé) when I was only a baby. Anyway, I just found out recently that Mikail became a Fallen so my engagement has been... broken off to say that nicely."
"I'm sorry to hear that," he said sincerely, and she realized that he really meant it. "What was he like?"
"MIkail? Well, he's kind and gentle. He always protects the weak and never belittles anyone though he can be stubborn at times. He also likes to keep an eye on me to make sure I'm safe and all right, but sometimes he can be too much. We sometimes get into a fight because I complained that he was treating me like a little kid even though we are almost the same age. However, he said that it was for my own good. Sometimes he can be so aggravating but he's a good man."
"I bet he is," Dalin agreed.
"Now it's your turn," she told him.
He rubbed his nose and said, "It's nothing much really. Before I joined the military, I lived my parents and nine siblings."
"Nine siblings!? That's a lot!"
"Tell me about it." He rolled his eyes. "My mother wanted a large family so my father complied to her wishes. Anyway, I'm the third oldest of the bunch so I had to help keep an eyes on the youngsters. When I turned eighteen, I decided to join the military just to do my civic duty. Unfortunately, due to my boyish look, it took forever for me to get enlisted. All I can tell you is that bureaucracy is a pain in the ass. Back on topic, I finally was able to join the military after a year of trying to convince them that I was of legal age and has been at the border ever since."
"If you don't mind my asking, but how old are you?" Alethea inquired.
"Twenty? I thought you were at most fifteen."
He looked irritated but amused at the same time. "That is what they always said. It can be annoying especially when you tried to enter some places."
Alethea decided not to ask him what he meant by that. "So what are your hobbies?" she decided to ask instead.
"Simple, I like to swim," he answered matter-of-factly. "Of course, I also enjoyed reading especially about historic events. Oh, have you ever tried swimming before?"
"No, I haven't, and I don't think swimming sounds interesting," she said dubiously. "Water is just for drinking and bathing anyway."
He gave her an incredulous look. "Don't tell me you don't know how to swim!"
"No, why should I?" She wanted to know. "Besides, the feathers on my wings will get wet and it will be difficult for me to fly around then."
"That makes sense, I guess. But what will happen if you crash into the water? How will you escape then?" he countered.
She opened her mouth but shut it again. "I'll think of something," she just muttered and stalked away. She thought she heard him guffawed but chose to ignore it. However, she thought to herself that she probably appeared to be sulky and smiled. "Um... it's getting late. Why don't we find a place to rest for the night?"
They found a spot a few meters away from the path. It was behind a rock wall so they could stay hidden from any prowling creatures. As they sat down, Dalin said, "This is probably wishful thinking but is it possible to have a fire?"
"I think we can," Alethea agreed. It was getting somewhat chilly. "It has to be a small fire tough just in case there are Duermons close by."
Luckily Dalin has some fire elemental stones with him so he easily has a fire started within a few second. Watching him, the Aerian realized that he must have been hungry. "Do you need something to eat?"
"A little bit." His stomach rumbled loudly. "Okay, I'm starving. I haven't eaten since this morning."
"Here." She gave him some of her food ration, which wasn't much. "We probably need to ration the food since it won't last for the journey."
He nodded. "Thanks for the food. To make up for it, I'll keep first watch for the night and then I'll wake up you when it's your turn."
"Umm..." Alethea looked up from staring at the fire and glanced at Dalin, who gave her a hopeful look. "I heard that Aerians know some exorcism spells so do you think it's possible to save my friends?"
"Unfortunately, it is impossible," she said truthfully. "If the possession has started a day ago, I could but after three days, the host's soul would be overtaken by the Possessor Duermon. Then the only way the host's soul could be saved if the Possessor Duermon is WILLING to relinquish its control, which has never happened before and I doubt it would happen anytime soon."
"Oh." He looked disappointed. "It was worth a try though."
He must have come to an understanding that he might have to kill his comrades and that unnerved him. Feeling sympathetic toward him, she walked over and held his hands. "I know this must be tough on you, but they are no longer your friends. They are now Duermons wearing their skins. If we somehow bump into them, I need you to focus no matter how hard they tried to convince you that they're fine. By killing them, you will free their souls from the Duermons' grasp."
"You're right." He gave her a grateful smile. "I'll try not to get my feelings get in the way."
They ate in silence as they were lost in thoughts about the upcoming days. Alethea was worried about how to conserve their food supplies and the best route they should take while Dalin wondered to himself if he was ready to kill his friends.
Finally he looked at her and asked, "What would you do if you accidentally bump into Mikail?"
"That's an odd question. Why did you ask that?"
"Well, if I remember correctly, all Aerians are supposed to kill their fallen brethren, right? So if you see him, would you kill him?"
Alethea stared at him for the longest time. "I don't know," she admitted. She has never thought of that before. "I guess I would no choice but to do so, but why ask me that right now?"
"It's because I think we have the same dilemma," he sighed, "though Mikail seemed to do it voluntary. We both may be forced to kill someone we know and I'm not sure if I'm ready to do that."
"Same here," she agreed. The sudden talk about killing former friends made her melancholic. "Let's try not to think too much on it. Being depressed won't help us survive this journey so let's talk about something else. Why don't you tell me about your childhood?"
Keju 17, 2106
"We are close to the border," Alethea announced as she flew down from the sky. She could barely see the river through the fog. Dalin looked relieved.
"Thank goodness!" he exclaimed. "I was getting tired of sleeping on the hard ground and eating stale bread!"
She raised her eyebrows. "What? You don't enjoy my company?"
"O-o-of course I do! It's just that... I would rather meet you under different circumstances," he stated simply before both of them burst out laughing.
During their journey, they have become fast friends after discovering that they have similar interests. They felt more comfortable teasing each other and giving each other advice. Even though they knew that safety was just only a few miles away, they realized that they may not see each other again. Alethea hated to admit it, but she was going to miss him.
"Listen, this may sound like a crazy idea, but-" Dalin began but suddenly she signaled him to be silenced. "What's the matter?"
"There are Duermons close by," she hissed back as she tightened her grasp on her spear. "I don't know how many but they're near."
Alarmed, he pulled his knife and got ready to attack. "How far?"
Closing her eyes, she concentrated and cursed. "Only a few meters. Damnit! One of them must have the power to conceal their presence until it was too late. Listen carefully. I want you to hide someplace because I don't want to accidentally attack due to this heavy fog. When it is safe, I'll alert you and we have to make a break to the border. Got it?"
He nodded though he didn't seem pleased with the plan. "I'll hide behind these rocks," he said, pointing to some huge boulders. After he hid, Alethea took a deep breath and unfurled her wings again.
Flying in the air, she shouted, "Come out, Duermons! Come out and fight!"
A javelin was hurled toward her, which she easily dodged. Through the mist, the Aerian could see three dark figures standing below her and went down to confront them. Two Sendoan soldiers, who were possessed by Duermons, and a Parasitic Duermon, which looked like a giant centipede, waited for her. The former took a more demonic appearance. Their skins have turned pale green and their eyes seemed to glow a reddish-yellow color.
"Ha! I knew that bastard wasn't using that cliff to escape! Though I didn't expect him to find an Aerian to save his sorry little ass!" one of the Possessor Duermons grumbled as he eyed her warily. The other one traced the edge of his chakram and studied her.
The Parasitic snapped his pincer as if he was snapping her head off. "I didn't know you two are scared of one, puny Aerian," he sneered as spikes appeared out of his body. "With the three of us, we can easily beat her and we can force her to tell us where that boy is."
Hearing that, the others felt more at ease. "That’s true," the other Possessor Duermon agreed and now gave her a hungry look, "and I still haven't gotten used to this body yet. Maybe after we forced her to reveal the boy's location, we can have our way with her even if she's an Aerian."
Alethea flinched in spite of herself. She has heard stories of what Possessor Duermons do with prisoners and they were quite brutal. No way would she let them touch her body like that! The enemies must have noticed because they began laughing.
"What's wrong, Aerian?" the first one taunted. "Afraid that we will be rough on you? Or is this your first time? Don't worry, we'll be gentle."
Instead of answering, she muttered a spell, which blinded them. As they rubbed their eyes and screamed profanity at her, she charged at them and targeted the Parasitic since he seemed to be the most dangerous and she didn't know the others' demonic powers were. She heard the Duermon screamed out in agony as she quickly stabbed him in the abdomen.
"Damn you Aerian!" he screamed as he swung his tail as her. Luckily she barely pulled out her spear in time and jumped out of the way. With his dying breath, he released his spikes, which was sent flying all over the place. She immediately covered the front of her body with her wings, which activated a magical shield, and quietly thanked Lady Aerius for enchanting Aerians' wings to create barriers so physical shields wouldn't be necessary.
One down, two to go, she thought as she went to face her next opponent. The two possessed Sendoan soldiers looked baffled at first but began to grin slowly. Their crazed smiles unnerved her.
"Seems like we underestimated our little winged friend, Engum," the first Possessor Duermon said candidly.
"Agreed," Engum assented and got his weapons ready. "Shall we up the challenge then, Burber?"
"I think that's a good idea." Burber raised his arm to eye level and began chanting. Suddenly the fog became thicker and Alethea's eyes widened when she realized what he was doing. Without any hesitation, she went after the spell caster but hit nothing but air.
Something sharp went past by her face and gave a slight cut on her right cheek. Wincing, she touched the blood on her face and barely ducked as the charkram were sent flying at her again.
"What's wrong, Aerian?" she heard Engum mocked as another chakram nipped her in the arm. "I thought you were going to defeat us!"
Alethea tried to keep a calm composure, but inwardly she was panicking. How could she defeat them if she can't see where they are hiding? Not to mention the fact that every time she thought she figured out their location, another chakram showed up to distract her. The chakram... of course!
This time she stood up and did not even try to scramble around. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw the chakram coming toward her from the left. She quickly dodged it and lunged toward her left side. The Duermon looked startled and tried to escape; however it was too late. As he fled, she pierced him through his back and her spear went through his chest.
Panting, she pulled the weapon out of the corpse and looked around for the last enemy. He's going to be a tricky one since he could control the fog. That was when she decided to go to higher ground to get a better view. She was only ten feet off the ground when she felt something around her right foot. She barely had time to register that it was a flying claw when she was immediately pulled back to the ground.
She gasped for air after she slammed to the hard, rocky ground. Before she could even get up, she felt a finger on the back of her head and a triumphant voice whispered, "Dreine."
At first, she felt a tingling sensation all over her body and she tried to turn around. That was when she discovered that she couldn't move at all. That bastard Duermon must have used a paralyzing spell on her. She felt him grab her by the shoulders and turned her over so that her back was on the ground. Then he held something underneath her nose that reminded her of licorice and caused her to feel dizzy.
"Feeling the effect of the krassa root?" Burber asked amusingly; his voice sounded so far away even though he was right in front of her. "It will cause the victim to reveal all of his secrets. Unfortunately, it takes a minute or so for it to work so I'll just chat until then. I have to thank Engum for distracting you while I set up my trap though it was a pity that he was killed. Oh well, I guess I will get the reward for not only capturing that Sendoan but for capturing an Aerian all for myself. Not to mention forcing you to reveal all of the Aerian military secrets would be icing on the cake!" She bristled but he just snickered as he tipped her chin up. "Oh, are you ready to talk now? First thing first, where is that Sendoan soldier?"
Dazed, Alethea tried to refuse to answer him, but she heard herself saying, "He's right behind you."
The Possessor Duermon looked stunned by her response and spun around to see Dalin stabbing him through the heart. She felt him fell on top of her and grunted. The Sendoan soldier realized what happened and immediately pulled the dead body off her. He lifted her up and lightly slapped her cheek.
"Thea! Thea!" he shouted desperately. "Snap out of it!"
She slowly lifted her hand and touched his face; it seemed like the Duermon's paralysis spell was no longer working now that he was dead. She smiled and closed her eyes as she welcomed the darkness. The last thing she remembered before losing conscious was saying, "I'm so glad you're here."
Alethea woke up a few hours later. She felt sore and has a headache that felt like a hammer was pounding her head. Gingerly, she sat up and looked around. The camp was set up under a cliff, and based on the dark sky, it was night. She glanced around to search for Dalin but he was nowhere in sight. Maybe he's scouting the area, she thought but after a few minutes, she began to get concerned. She was about to go out to look for him when he appeared climbing down the slope.
He immediately rushed over to her when he noticed that she was standing up. "Whoa!" he said as he gently sat her back down. "You should take it easy after that rough battle."
She wanted to protest, but a wave of dizziness hit her so she reluctantly sat back down. "How long have I been unconscious?" she asked softly.
"At least five hours." He handed her a canteen of water, which she drank readily. "I had to carry you until I found a spot that was safe for us to rest for the night. Fortunately for us, no Duermons were around so I think we're safe for now."
He became quiet and looked away awkwardly from her. The Aerian was puzzled by his mannerism and the first thing that came up in her mind was that he was possessed. "Come closer," she commanded him. "I want to make sure that Duermon didn't do anything to you when you did that crazy stunt."
Dalin obliged and much to her relief, he was fine. However, that still didn't explain the change in his behavior. Finally, she decided to just ask him directly. "Is everything all right? You seem distant for some reason."
The Sendoan's face turned bright red and he pulled away from her. "Umm... it's just that..." he stammered. “To be honest, while you were unconscious, you were still under the effect of that drug so you were blurting out all of your secrets to me and..."
Now it was her turn to feel embarrassed. "I told you all of my secrets!?" she squealed. That meant that he knew that she didn't have feeling for Mikail and other things she hasn't told anybody about.
"Pretty much." He gave her a strange look. "So is it really true that you would miss me after this is over and that you wanted to see me again?"
Alethea felt like she wanted to die right then and there. "Just shut up!" she sputtered as she used her wings to block his view of her so he could not see her horrified face. If she ever sees that spiteful Duermon again, she would make sure to stab him over and over again!
She heard laughter and lowered her wings so she could glare at him. "What's so funny?" she demanded. Her annoyance got the best of her.
"Nothing," he managed to reply through his giggle fit. "It's just that I never expect an Aerian to behave like a human."
"What do you mean by that?" she asked with a huff.
"Well, I always thought Aerians were supposed to be stoic, proper, and calm all of the times, but who would have thought you guys have the same problems like us? But again you probably have it tough since you're not allowed to express yourself openly."
"Oh." She never thought of it that way and gave him a pleadingly look. "You won't tell anyone about what I said, right?"
"Of course not! We're friends after all and..." Dalin took a deep breath and admitted, "...I felt the same way too."
The Aerian blinked at him with surprise. "I see. Um... I'm glad," she told him and blushed again. Looking down at her feet, she traced her fingers on the gravel.
"Me too. I'm glad that I finally met the real you."
"Pardon?" She stopped and looked at him again.
"To be honest, you seem to be uptight and guarded even though we got to know each other better," he explained.
"And what is the true me then?" she asked curiously.
"Well..." He raised a finger each time he listed her characteristics. "You're a very caring person who worried about everyone. You are also disciplined though you sometimes get flustered especially when things don't go your way. However, you are determined to get the job done no matter how difficult the situation is."
"And you know that by hearing me talk?" She raised her eyebrows quizzically.
"Somewhat, but it also based on what I've seen so far as well," he admitted. "I know that you're going to do your best to get me out of this mess by the way you are acting, and I believe that you can."
"Huh? Is that so? Then it's my turn." She gave him a mischievous grin. He took a step back nervously.
"Oh, I hope it's good," he said in mock horror.
"Maybe, maybe not," she teased. "In my opinion, you're very stubborn and sensitive about trivial things. On the other hand, you're quite resourceful and a type of person who refuses to give up. Not to mention, you're really reliable."
"You really think so, huh?" He gave her an appraising look and she nodded.
"It's the truth, and I should thank you for saving me back there. If you weren't there on time..." she paused. "...I would probably blab everything to him and who knows what else he would do to me." She shuddered, remembering the conversation he had with his comrades. "By the way, how were you able to find me in that fog?"
He gave her a sheepish grin. "Um... to be honest, it was pure dumb luck," he confessed. "While I was hiding, I heard you fighting against them and then the fog thickened. Then I saw a figure standing close by and at first I thought it was you until I realized that it was one of my possessed buddies. I think he was so intent on capturing you, he didn't realize that I was right behind him. Anyway, I saw him swung the flying claw into the air and the next thing I knew, you came crashing to the ground.
"Then Puan - that was his name before he was possessed- rushed over to you and did something to you because you weren't moving at all. I saw him turned you over and put something under your nose. I worried that he poisoned you so right then and there. I realized that I needed to do something or else you would be dead. I got my dagger out and snuck up right behind him. As I came closer, I overheard his conversation and knew what he did to you so I was somewhat relieved that he didn't harm you yet. I was about to stab him when you revealed my location so I panicked and stabbed him before he could react.
"Afterward, you passed out so I had to half-carry and half-drag you here to safety. During the time, you were blabbing to me all of your secrets and you know the rest of the story," he concluded.
Alethea nodded to show that she understood. She didn't need to know the rest. "Thanks again."
"It was nothing really," he protested. "I was just lucky that I was able to kill him. I should be the one thanking you because you freed two of my friends' souls."
"I was just doing my duty," she explained matter-of-factly. "Anyway, I'm glad that you're safe and nothing bad happened to you. Why don't you rest for now? I'm wide awake so I'll keep watch for the night. Based on the location, we will reach the border by the morning."
"Okay." Dalin found a comfortable spot and laid down to rest.
He was about to close his eyes when Alethea remembered something. "Wait." He opened his eyes and gave her a questioning look. "Before I went unconscious, you call me 'Thea'."
"Oh, yeah," he recalled. "I was panicking and couldn't really remember your name except that it ends with 'thea'. I hope you don't mind."
"No, I don't," she reassured him. "It's just that no one ever calls me that before; everyone else just calls me by my full name."
"Well then, may I call you that instead?" Dalin asked curiously.
"Sure, you can," she said with a smile.
"That's good. Well, good night, Thea," he said and closed his eyes again.
"Good night." She stared up to the sky and thought to herself that this was the first time she truly felt so happy.
Keju 18, 2106
The rest of the journey was uneventful and before they knew it, they have reached the border. As they stood near the river, Alethea motioned him to stop. "Wait here," she told him. "Let me check to see if there is any hidden danger."
He nodded and she flew above the water. After surveying the area, she came back and announced, "It's safe so let's get out of here."
Dalin cautiously stepped into the water, which reached to his chest, and waded through while Alethea flew above him and kept watch. Every now and then, he would stumble so she would grab his arms and help him up, which he was grateful for. Finally, they reached the other side and with a sigh of relief, collapsed onto the wet ground.
"I'm so glad we made it out alive!" Dalin exclaimed as he stretched his arms. Alethea stretched too and glanced back. She wondered to herself what their pursuers were doing right now and whether or not they realized that they have been duped. However, she shook her head. That didn't matter anymore since they're safe.
"Sendoa should be over that cliff over there," she pointed. "Just cross that field of angel's teardrop flowers and go over the cliff I mentioned. Then you should be able to find your troop. Any questions?"
"Ummm... yeah." He looked at her expectantly. "Do you want to meet up again if it's possible?"
She felt ecstatic inside, but she kept her composure. "If you like," she said simply.
"That's great! How's about we meet at that cliff you pointed out?" he suggested. "It has a great view of that meadow and it is located close by to my camp. Whenever I have some free time, I'll try to meet you there. Is that a deal?"
"Of course," she agreed and shook his hand. "It's a promise."
Mazu 11, 2107
"And here we are," Dalin commented. "I remembered those days. You were a jerk back then."
"Excuse me?" Alethea gave him a dirty look. "And what do you mean by that?"
His eyes twinkled with mischief. "Well, you were nagging me the whole time." He then used a shrill, feminine voice. "'Don't touch that, Dalin!' 'Watch where you're going!' 'Don't look at me that way!"
"First of all, my voice is NOT that high pitched," she admonished. "Second I wasn't nagging you and lastly, you were bad as well. You kept complaining to me. 'Are we there yet?' 'How far is it to the river?' 'What's taking so long?'"
They looked at each other and burst out laughing. "Man, we're pretty childish, all right," Dalin guffawed. "If anyone has seen us now, they would never expect us to be dating."
The Aerian became silent and pointed out softly, "Of course they wouldn't. We're not even ALLOWED to be together. If we do get caught, both of us would be in trouble."
It was an unwritten code that Aerians and humans do not mix. If anyone was caught in an interracial relationship, they would be severely punished. Dalin would most likely be sent off to another part of Sendoa while Alethea would be sent to a disciplinary committee where they would decide her fate.
Unbeknownst to everyone else, they have started dating two months after they first met. At first, she was reluctant because she was worried about the consequences, but she finally relented after Dalin convinced her that it would be fine. Not to mention the fact she has fallen madly in love with him and she realized that she would make a terrible mistake if she decided to break the relationship off.
"But what's about Cyline?" he countered. "I thought she knows about me."
"I just told her that we're comrades who just tell each other information about Duermons," she admitted. "She may be more open-minded than the others, but if she found out that I'm dating you, she would drag me deep into Aerian Territory and forbid me from ever seeing you again."
He paused. "That's a problem all right unless..." His eyes twinkled whenever he thought of some crazy idea. "Why don't we elope and move someplace else?"
"Elope?" Alethea gaped at him. "And where are we exactly supposed to live? We can't stay in Aerian Territory or in Sendoa because we would get caught sooner or later. Besides, how am I supposed to stay hidden for that long? My wings will make me stand out like a sore thumb!"
"I guess that's true," Dalin sighed. "Can't you make your wings invisible or something?"
She shook her head. "If I knew, I would have done it by now," she said dryly.
"Well it was worth a try." He shrugged. "But we need to figure out what we should do for the future. I can't stand pretending that we're something we're not. Wait a minute! What's about that story you told me long ago? The one about Aerius's falling in love with a human?"
In the story, Aerius went down to Samara to check on her people when she noticed a young human man and fell in love with him. She taught him many things and in return, he made her an enchanted spear, which would never be dull and always hit its mark. That spear became known as Aerius's Spear, which unfortunately was lost during the Caeculum War. Unfortunately, the man she loved was killed during a Duermon raid and she grieved for a long time. Out of pity, her sister Puria created a flower out of her tears. That flower was known today as angel's teardrop because it was of its shape and its color - white petals with pale blue tip.
"That's different," she insisted. "Lady Aerius is a goddess and I'm not. She has more leeway."
"Sometimes I wonder if you actually want this relationship to work out," Dalin grumbled mostly to himself. Alethea felt hurt by that comment and glowered at him. "Whatever. I'm sure we'll think of something. It's getting dark so we should head back. See you later, Thea!"
He kissed her lightly on the cheek, but she thought that it felt impersonal. He must be mad at me, she thought sadly as she watched him walked down the slope. She needed to make it up to him somehow. Maybe there was a way for them to be together, and she just has to find it. Sighing, she unfurled her wings and headed home.
She was halfway home when she heard a rumbling noise above her. Looking up, she was horrified to see a strange circle of pure light that almost covered the sky. It crackled and sparked like lightings. What on earth was that thing? That was when it dawned on her that it could be that Duermon's attack that her sister has warned her about. She looked at what was below the light and was horrified to find out that it was the fort where her sister and nephew were staying.
Panicking, she urged herself to fly faster as she hurried home to warn the others. Alethea was only five hundred meters away when the attack begun. The light suddenly gathered into a huge orb, which appeared to be like a second sun, and blasted down into a straight beam, which struck the base. All of the Aerians staying in the area didn't have time to react and were killed instantly in the blast. All of the buildings crumbled and dissipated into dirt while debris was scattered everywhere. Many of the trees and plants that were close to the explosion were knocked over by the aftermath.
During that time, Alethea tried to turn back to flee but she was got by the aftermath. When the blast struck the ground, it barely missed her by a few centimeters but the resulting explosion sent her flying through the air and knocking her unconscious. The last thought on her mind was that she was never going to see Dalin again and apologize to him.
---------- Post added September 30, 2012 at 11:19 PM ---------- Previous post was September 26, 2012 at 08:00 PM ----------
I'm almost done~
Chapter 9: Alethea - "What else can I do?" Part II
Mazu 11, 2107
She was falling.
Alethea opened her eyes slowly and saw that the sun growing farther and farther away from her. Desperately, she stretched out her arms to grab that last piece of light but no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't. When she was about to fall into despair, a hand grabbed her and slowed down her plummet.
"Don't be afraid, child," a stern woman's voice chided her. "Everything is all right now."
She squint her eyes to see who has helped her and didn't recognize the Aerian who saved her. The stranger has short black hair and deepest blue eyes she has ever seen. She wore a blue and gold breastplate, a blue skirt, and gold gladiator sandals. She has a determined look on her face and seemed like the type who demands perfection. It only took Alethea a few seconds to figure out who she was.
"You're Lady Aerius, aren't you?" she gasped. The other woman nodded and Alethea felt faint. "Why are you here? I thought you were dead!"
"I am dead, child," Aerius informed her. "What you are seeing right now is an imprint of my last will. I came here today to give you a new command. You will no longer hunt down Duermons; now you will be in charge of seeking the truth."
"Seek the truth? What do you mean by that?"
The winged goddess just smiled at her. "You will understand soon enough. In order to help you with your new duties, you will be given new powers and will be stripped of your old ones."
As soon as she said that, Alethea felt a warm light within her and a part of her disappearing. Alarmed, she jerked away and touched her chest as she wondered what has happened. Nevertheless, her creator did not seem offended by her action.
Instead, she said simply, "Now go, child of Aerius. Become the spear that will cut through the lies and bring redemption to Samara!"
Before Alethea could even open her mouth, the goddess let go of her hand and she fell straight to the earth below.
When she opened her eyes again, she found herself surrounded by fellow Aerians, who looked shocked like she was. Standing up cautiously, she looked around the crowded room to see if she could recognize anyone. Much to her relief, she saw a disbelieving Cyline holding a whimpering Raylin off in the distance and pushed her way toward them. She was about to call out to them when she heard a frantic voice.
"What on earth is going on here, Un?" Alethea turned around and saw a young man walking among the Aerians, who were hounding him for answers. He appeared to be harried and confused while small light orbs followed alongside him. "Why is the entire Aerian population doing in Valendor? What kind of sorcery can kill a whole race like that? This is madness! Do Mother and Aundra know about this?"
Valendor? Isn't that the Land of the Dead? Alethea's eyes widened in horror when it dawned on her that she and every Aerians that she knew were dead. She quickly scanned through the crowd and realized that her whole family was there as well. Before she could react to the news, she heard the man cried out, "It's you! You're the one we're looking for!"
Alethea jumped and saw that he was staring at her with amazement. What did he mean by that? She then noticed that everyone has become silent and was staring at her at well, which made her feel rather uncomfortable. That was when she noticed the strange man was approaching her. Frightened, she backed away before sprinting in the other direction.
"Wait!" She heard him shout, but she refused to listen. The light orbs tried to block her way to no avail as she easily pushed them aside. As soon as she built up enough speed, she spread out her wings and flew away. To where? She didn't know. All that mattered was that she needed to get away somehow. Looking up, she noticed an opening and headed there. When she reached it, she was consumed by a flash of bright light.
She woke up immediately as she sat up, gasping for air. Looking around, she found herself surrounded by strange, glowing white flowers among the blacken earth. The smell of burnt woods and ashes were everywhere. Alethea coughed and slowly stood up. "Hello? Is anyone out there?" she cried though she knew it was in vain. There were no Aerians left except for her.
Running footsteps came toward her and a relieved Dalin rushed over to her side. "Thanks the gods you're alive!" he exclaimed as he embraced her. "I was walking back to camp when I saw that explosion and immediately came back. I thought I saw your body being thrown to the air and began searching for you around area though it was pretty dangerous since the blasts kept coming!"
"Dalin..." She closed her eyes and hugged him tightly as she sobbed uncontrollably. "My family... my friends... they're all dead."
He consoled her by rubbing her back. "Are you sure? I mean, I'm sure that some of them have to survive somehow."
"I'm sure!" That dream she had was true. She was sure of it. "Why did it happen? How could the Duermons do this!?"
He suddenly stopped comforting her and gave her a disturbed look. "Thea, it wasn't the Duermons," he told her hesitantly. "It was the Exorcists who did this."
Alethea stopped crying and stared back at him with shock. "The Exorcists!? But why!? How can you be so sure?"
"I recognize their type of magic since I saw them in action before, and this is definitely their work."
Hearing those words, she felt her world falling apart. "But that doesn't make sense at all! Why would the Exorcists turn against their only ally?"
"I don't know, but maybe they got possessed. The only unit with Exorcists around here is General Fulong's so that would mean..." He stopped and quickly pulled her up when they heard people shouting. "Shit! They're coming! We have to run now!"
They scrambled and hid behind some burnt bushes. Before long, some Sendoan soldiers and some Exorcists came marching through the area. "You heard the general's order," one of them shouted. "Find any living Aerians and kill them!"
The others roared in response and went in different directions to begin their search. Alethea and Dalin were in shock when they heard the command. Why was General Fulong doing this? Has he gone mad?
"This is not good," Dalin breathed. "Sooner or later, they're going to find us and kill us! If only we have a way to escape or maybe disguise you..." His voice lowered as he muttered his thoughts to himself. She didn't bother to listen to his ramblings; right now she was feeling dazed as she watched the flickering fire from the search party made shadows on the ground. Light and darkness... she thought as she felt herself drawn to them.
Dalin's yelp woke her up from her stupor and she stared at him. "How did you do that?" he asked in awe.
"Do what?" For some reason, her voice sounded deeper and masculine. He pointed to her so she looked down at herself and was amazed to find herself disguised as a Sendoan male soldier. Instead of her usual clothing, she wore military attire similar to Dalin and her body appeared more bulky. Her pale skin has become tan as well. As for her wings, they disappeared. Dalin touched the air where her wings were supposed to be but felt nothing. It was as if they have become invisible and insubstantial!
Before they could comprehend what happened, one of the soldiers appeared in front of them and demanded, "What are you two doing here?"
Luckily, Dailn reacted quickly. "Looking for Aerians, sir. Just like the general told us to do."
Just when he said it, Alethea noticed a string appeared from his chest and was drawn to her hand. However, she didn't think too much on it because the soldier narrowed his eyes suspiciously at them. Alethea felt her heart stopped and worried that maybe he could see through her disguise. Finally the man spoke, "All right. However, I don't want you two to be horsing around again. If General Fulong got wind of this, all of us would get in trouble, you hear?"
"Loud and clear, sir." Dalin said as he led her away. They headed west for a while as they pretended to look for Aerians until they made sure the man's eyes were no longer staring at their back. When the coast was clear, he let go of her arm. "Okay, we're safe. Now will you tell me how you were able to perform that trick? I thought you told me that it was impossible to do!"
"It was!" she insisted as she examined herself in a puddle of water. Her face was more rigid and hard. Instead of her usual sky blue eyes, brown eyes stared back at her. Likewise her long, white hair was now short and black. "I don't know how to explain it without sounding crazy but I have a dream..." She explained everything to him: her meeting with Lady Aerius, the goddess's new command, seeing all of the Aerians in Valendor, and the strange man. He listened intently before making his conclusion.
"So Aerius gave you new powers?" he said thoughtfully. "And one of them allowed you to disguise yourself perfectly? Huh. Must be nice. What other powers do you have?"
"Well..." She pulled the thread, which reminded her of a spider web for some reason and continued, "When you told that soldier that lie, I noticed that a string appeared from your chest and it landed in my hand." She accidentally snapped it, which caused Dalin to wince in pain.
"Ow! That hurts! It felt like a wasp has stung me in the chest," he groaned as he writhed in pain. A panicked Alethea knelt down and helped him back to his feet.
"Are you all right?" she asked worriedly. He nodded though he stared at her warily. "Geez, it was an accident! How would I know that snapping that thread would hurt you?"
He grunted. "I know, but that still hurt like hell! For the gods' sake, why did she give you that power?"
"She did say that I was supposed to seek the truth. Whatever that means. Maybe that power is supposed to help me with that task?"
"So seeking the truth means that you're supposed to torture people that way? Man, I'm going to make sure to be truthful to you from now on. I don't want to deal with that pain ever again!"
"Oh, quit being a baby!" Alethea rolled her eyes. "Besides, I keep telling you it was an accident."
"I know, I know," he grumbled. "Anyway, let's recap. You died and met Aerius, who gave you a new order and powers. Then you arrived in Valendor where you found out all of the Aerians are now dead and you met a crazy man who claimed to be searching for you. Then you woke up and found yourself alive. Correct?" She nodded. "Then your new powers allowed you to disguise yourself and use the Web of Lies against people."
"Web of Lies?" She looked at him questioningly.
He shrugged. "I thought that was a good name for it based on your description. Too bad I can't see it since it sounds interesting. Anyway, can you do your chameleon-like spell again? I want to see how you did it and maybe I can figure it out."
It took Alethea a while for her to figure out how she did that trick. Finally after the umpteenth time of failing, Dalin questioned, "Can you recall what you were thinking when you first did it?"
"Let's see..." She thought contemplatively before it dawned on her. "I was watching the fire from the soldiers' torches and all I was thinking was how the light was lighting the darkness when you noticed it."
"Okay then, try thinking that same thought."
Doubtful, she did as he suggested and was amazed to see the light from the moon and the shadows on the ground converged together. Then they surrounded her like a smoke and before she knew it, she appeared as a Sendoan female Exorcist. Dalin whistled, impressed.
"I think I figured it out," he began as he walked around her and studied her. "I think you use light and darkness to create an illusion of some sort to trick a person's mind and eyes in believing what you want them to see. Hey, let's see if you can use that spell on me."
Unfortunately, no matter how hard she tried, she couldn't do it. He just raised his hands in defeat and said, "Oh well. I guess it only works on you."
"That's good to know, but what are we going to do now?" Alethea sighed. "Not to mention the fact that you should go back to your troop before you will get in trouble."
"No can do," Dalin said grimly. "I think that soldier was still suspicious of us since he knows that we are definitely not a part of Fulong's unit. When they figure out which troop I belong, they would interrogate me. Besides, I can't leave you by yourself. I would worry myself to death wondering if you're okay or not."
She felt touched and went over to give him a peck on the cheek. He gave her a goofy grin in return. "That reminds me - do you have any weapons with you?" he asked.
Alethea shook her head. "No, I didn't bother to bring my spear with me because I thought it wasn't necessary since I was just meeting you. You?"
He held out his rope dart. "I always brought it with me after what happened during that incident, and I still have my dagger. If you want, I can give my dagger to you."
The Aerian was about to agree when suddenly a part of the moonlight appeared in her hand and shaped itself like a spear. Since she could control light and darkness...
"Hmm, I wonder..." she muttered and summoned a shadow from a shrub. She merged it with to the spear tip and caused it to curve so the spear changed into a naginata.
"Not bad," Dalin praised. "I guess we don't have to worry about you then.”
"But are you sure it's okay that you're going AWOL?" she inquired. "I want to make sure that you're prepared to live a life on the run."
"Of course I am," he insisted. "I love you and that's all that matters."
She didn't need her powers to know what he was saying was true.
Keju 2, 2107
The capital of Aonghus was packed as usual. Alethea still felt amazed seeing the bustling city full of natives and foreigners as they navigated through the streets. There was nothing like this in the Aerian Territory! Some were heading to the marketplace while others were going to the pagodas to pay respects to their ancestors. Some Sendoans went to the Crystal Palace, where they hoped to seek an audience with the King; others went to the military headquarters to file complaints about Duermon activities or to join the army. Meanwhile, Exorcists and police forces patrolled the areas to keep the peace and to make sure no Duermons were lurking in the city.
The last group was the one she was worried about. By now, Dalin would be a wanted man for deserting his post and not to mention the fact that General Fulong's men were most likely still looking for them. Luckily for them, they seemed to pay no attention to the two, but then they were not looking for a Sendoan minor noblewoman and her bodyguard. Alethea wouldn't have gone to the capital but Dalin insisted, claiming that he wanted to check something out. Unfortunately, the thing he was interested in was located in the Secret Archives in the Sendoan National Library and only a few were allowed to be in there.
That was why she was disguised as one of the upper class. It took Dalin and her a few attempts to work out the kinks, but she finally looked like the part. Likewise, Dalin spent most of his money to buy some expensive clothing for himself though Alethea wasn't happy about that. She pointed out that he didn't have enough money for foods and shelter, but he just said that he could get more from the bank. She just bit her tongue and decided not to say any more on the issue since he could be stubborn as a mule.
When they were ready, they headed to the library and went straight to their destination. As they approached the guard guarding the Secret Archives entrance, he asked to see her insignia so she showed him her ring, which was supposedly to display a symbol from some minor House that Dalin knew. The bored guard barely gave her a glance before letting them in.
As soon as they entered the vast archives, Dalin began his search for the information while she just watched him since he was vague on what he was looking for. Finally, she announced that she was going to take a walk outside the library because she realized that it was going to take a while. Still searching a large stack of documents, he mumbled to her to enjoy her walk so she left though she felt a bit annoyed.
Sitting down on a bench, she decided that she enjoyed people watching. It was nice to see how the people of Sendoa were able to live in peace because of the combined actions of the Aerians and the Sendoan military, she thought to herself. The thought reminded her that there were no Aerians left in the world and caused her to feel depressed. She and Dalin still haven't figured out why General Fulong wanted to kill Sendoa's only ally and it frustrated her to no end.
Stop it, she admonished herself. Self-pitying will get you nowhere. Dalin is doing his best in this situation and you can too!
Feeling more determined, she was about to go back to help Dalin with his search when something caught her eyes. A group of foreigners were standing in the town square as if they were looking for someone or something. Usually she wouldn't pay attention to them, but the fact was that they seemed to be odd together. The group consisted of a woman with strawberry blonde hair, a dark-skinned woman, a boy with gray hair, a Dorian priest, and a Sendoan. For some reason, she felt drawn to them and somehow she knew that they were looking for HER. She was about to walk toward them when she felt someone placed his hand on her shoulder.
"There you are!" Dalin said as he held a bundle of papers with him. "I found the information that I was looking for and copied them down. Come on, let's go find someplace quiet where I can tell you what I found."
As she followed him down the street, she glanced back one more time at the group, who was still searching, and walked away.
"So what did you find?" she asked as they sat down on a low brick wall. She has decided not to tell Dalin about the strange group since she thought she was imagining things and did not want him to worry.
"First thing first," he began as he dug out a piece of a paper. "Remember that strange, glowing flowers you were lying on when you woke up from that strange dream?" She nodded. "Well, I remembered hearing a rumor that something similar happened to a Sendoan living four hundred years ago. It occurred in a small village near Mermia and the person accidentally got killed. Anyway, he came back to the village, alive and well, but the strangest thing was that he claimed to be immortal and received strange powers from the old gods themselves."
"But I don't want to be immortal!" Alethea protested angrily. The thought of living alone for eternity without Dalin, her only friend in the world, at her side terrified her.
"Hang on, Thea. I think I found a solution to that problem." Dalin's eyes twinkled. "Remember the Caeculum War? Supposedly, the Sendoans were the ones to instigate it. They apparently developed a spell which makes the gods into mortal beings."
"Did it work?"
He shrugged. "I don't know. I tried to find out if they used it or not but couldn't find any information on that. Maybe it did since the gods are dead. However..." He pulled out a folded piece of paper from the inside of his jacket and handed it to her. "I did discover the spell that they used."
Amazed, Alethea read through the document repeatedly and looked up at him. "This is amazing! It sounds complicated though. We need six ingredients and I don't think we will be able to find all of them. Sure, we have an Aerian feather since we can pluck one of mine, and you probably still have some fire elemental stones. But where can we get newstone powder, a danith fang, a lorena flower, and a kressa root?" She frowned when she read the last ingredient; she still has unpleasant memories on that one.
"Not quite." He coughed nervously. "I didn't want to tell you, but after I killed that Possessor Duermon long ago, I took some of the krassa roots with me. Now don't give me that look! I thought it might be useful if I have to interrogate someone. Besides, you should be glad that we won't have to go back to Idilarys to get one now!"
"I supposed you're right." She sighed. "Just don't put that thing near me! Now where can we find the rest?"
"Easy. We have to go the black market. Come on, I'll show you where it's at."
Before they headed to the black market, Dalin has told her that they needed to blend in so he changed his clothes back to his usual ones sans the military top while she got rid of her noblewoman camouflage. Alethea, who was now disguised as a comely peasant, was surprised to find out the secret location was actually located a respectable weapon shop not a seedy rundown place. As soon as they entered the place, the blacksmith gave Dalin a warm welcome. "Hey, Dal!" he greeted. "Do you want the usual?"
"Not today, Tiju," he replied cheerfully. "Do you have anything more antique?"
Tiju winked at him. "Of course I do! Why don't you and your friend follow me to the back?"
She noticed a thread appeared but before she could say anything about it, Dalin said, "Sure." Without any choice, she followed the two men to the back. There, the weapon smith opened a trap door, which led to the black market. "Remember, when you're ready to leave, tap the door three times," he reminded them as they climbed down the steps and closed the door afterward. "Oh, watch out for the rats! They've been extra feisty for the past few days." Imagine her surprise to see a large area full of shops located in the sewers below the city!
Unlike the hectic and busy marketplace, the black market was more discreet and subdued. Many merchants and customers kept their guards up as they haggled for deals. She was impressed to see some rare but illegal items being displayed and some vendors tried to lure her to their shops by complimenting her. However, she kept close to Dalin, who ignored their shouts and went straight to the shop located at the far end. One thing for sure, there were a lot of liars in here.
"Hello, Othi," Dalin said cheerfully. "I'm looking for some ingredients and I'm sure that you have them."
"Oh?" The old woman squinted at him. "And whatever could it be?" He handed her the list and she read it. "I see... I do believe that I have two of the items, but they are rather expensive. Perhaps you would want to trade something?"
He handed her his expensive bodyguard clothes. "Would this do?"
She inspected them thoroughly before making her decision. "Perhaps, but I think you will still be a little short. How's about that young girl there? My son is looking to hire another girl for his business and she is somewhat cute."
Alethea felt her face turned red and her boyfriend shouted angrily, "No! She will not be part of the bargain!"
Othi just chortled. "Relax, dear. I was just joking though you two make a cute couple. You two are dating, correct?"
"It's none of your business, old hag!" Dalin snapped and the old woman continued to snicker. "Anyway, are you accepting my offer or not?"
"I might as well. I'll just take the shirt since it is good quality, but I'll give you back the rest since you would probably need them to trade with the other merchants." She placed the shirt inside a large basket next to her and handed Dalin his merchandise. "Now if you want to get a lorena flower, you should go see Wedna. His shop is located three stalls down."
As they were about to leave, Othi shouted, "Wait, Dal! I need to have a word with you." Dalin gestured for Alethea to go on ahead of him and handed her his clothes to trade.
While the two of them were having a low and quiet conversation, she followed the directions and arrived at the place. Haggling with Wedna wasn't as bad as she thought it would be, but then he was somewhat drunk so he was willing to trade anything with her. Relieved that they have gotten all of the necessary supplies, Alethea hurried back to Dalin. Unfortunately she didn't look where she was going and accidentally bumped into someone, causing her to fall on the floor.
"I'm so sorry!" she apologized as she helped the woman up and gathered her supplies.
"It's all right," the dark-skinned woman said warmly. Alethea's eyes widened as she recognized her as one of the members of the group. "Just be careful next time. Oh, you seem to drop this." She handed her back the lorena flower. "That is a pretty flower. What are you going to do with it?"
"Oh, it's just for medicine," a panicked Alethea replied.
The woman arched her eyebrows. "That's strange. I never heard of using a lorena flower for medicine. Usually it is too potent and deadly to digest."
"Really? Then someone must have told me wrong," she said with a nervous laugh. Shit, this woman must be a healer! "Thanks for warning me about it. Too bad I already bought it so I'll just put it in a vase as a decoration."
The woman just nodded though she eyed the Aerian curiously. Could she see through her disguise? Another strange thing was no threads appeared at all. Either this woman was very truthful or something was blocking her magic. Alethea then decided to change the subject. "Anyway, why are you here?"
"Hm? Oh, I'm just shopping for some rare medicinal herbs. I've heard that this is the best place to look for them," the woman explained. "And so far, my sources have been proven to be right. I have to make a mental note to visit this place another time."
"Is that so?" Alethea smiled. Something told her that she was going to like this woman. Before she could continue their conversation, she noticed Dalin's motioning to her to go. "I'm sorry, but I have to go. It was nice talking to you..."
"Marika," she said as she shook the Aerian's hand. "And yours?"
"Ale- I mean, Xien." She scolded herself for almost revealing her name. However, her new friend appeared not to notice.
"Well, Xien, it was nice meeting you. Perhaps we will see each other again another time." Marika waved farewell and walked the other way.
As soon as Alethea met up with Dalin, she noticed that he has a worried look on his face. "What is it?" she asked.
"Othi just told me that words have spread about the Aerians' destruction so the government is trying to cover it up to not alarm the people. They're in damage control," he began. "Then there are rumors spreading that there is only one Aerian survivor left so the Sendoan government is trying to locate him and capture him. Apparently they want to have him in safekeeping."
"That's not good!" The thought of being trapped in an undisclosed location didn't appeal to her at all.
"It gets worse." His expression became grimmer. "Apparently, General Fulong is in charge of the search party and some of his men are already in the city. Othi warned me that I needed to be careful because they're looking for me since they believe I'm hiding the Aerian."
She cursed softly to herself. "What are we going to do now?"
He combed his fingers through his hair before placing his hands on her shoulders. "Simple. First, we have to get out of here. Then we will have to sneak out of the city before nightfall. Afterward, we will find a place where we can perform that spell to transform you back into a mortal being again," he stated with a firm conviction. She couldn't help but admire his positive outlook so she complimented him on it. "Thanks, but I'm nervous like hell on the inside. I didn't expect Fulong and his men to be here already; words must have spread real fast. Anyway, we better get going before anyone notices us."
With a quick nod, they grabbed each other's hand and headed back to the exit.
Kejuta waiting patiently with the others at one of the city parks. They were sitting at a gazebo, which looked over at a pond, where lovely swans swam among the locusts and water lilies. Lanskas was having a conversation with one of the birds while a frowning Brenton kept staring at his book. On the other hand, Zen was standing by himself as he watched the people walked by. She made a mental note to thank him for being their guide and recommending this place since it was remote and peaceful. Sipping her tea, she noticed the air in front of her shimmer and Marika stepped out.
"Well? Did you find her?" she asked. Due to Brenton and her visions, they could see that the Ishan healer would have encountered their newest immortal member.
The Ilmarian of Worlds shook her head. "Though I did bump into a strange Sendoan girl," she added. "She seemed surprised to see me as if she recognized me from somewhere though I don't recall ever meeting her before. However, I didn't see any wings on her so I'm not sure she's the one we're looking for. Oh, she did buy a lorena flower and lied to me about what she was going to use it for. I think she is planning to use it for some kind of spell."
"Lorena flower?" Brenton looked up curiously. Marika nodded. "Hmm... it's rarely used for magic, but I'm sure Aundra will know what she is planning. I'll be right back." Using his ring, the Ilmarian of Time disappeared
"Are you sure you didn't see her?" Kejuta pressed her friend, who nodded her head. She sighed with frustration. She was sure - no, positive- that Marika's visit to the black market would be the best lead to find the Aerian, but it turned out to be a red herring. "This is getting us nowhere! Where on Samara could that Aerian be hiding?"
"That's not true," Zen pointed out as he joined them. "We are not sure what powers she has been given. Maybe one of them is the ability to conceal herself?"
Marika, Lanskas, and she glanced at each other. The Ilmarian of Seasons just looked at them as if it was very obvious, which made them feel very foolish. That made perfect sense!
"In that case, the girl I told you about must be her," Marika muttered.
Kejuta immediately asked, "Is she still there?"
"Unfortunately no. She left with a young man, whom I assumed to be her boyfriend, soon afterward."
"Do you have a description of her and her friend?" Lanskas asked so she described them to him. "Maybe one of the sewer rats can help us." He closed his eyes and soon Kejuta could hear scrapping noises as a rat came up from one of the underground pipes. He made some chattering noises at the Ilmarian of Beasts, who nodded intently.
"Thank you for your help, little one," he told the rat as it scurried back down to its home. "Okay, he confirmed to us that she is the one we're looking for. According to him, the two were discussing a rumor that someone named Fulong is after them so they're planning to escape the city."
"All right then, we'll try to catch them as they make their escape," Kejuta decided.
"That's not all, Kej," Lanskas gave her a serious look, which raised her concern. "The rat also mentioned that they were talking about a spell which makes any god a mortal. Apparently, they have gotten all of the ingredients needed for the spell and they're going to try it out tonight!"
Everyone looked at each other with alarm. Taking a deep breath, Kejuta tried to maintain order. "First, we're going to need to inform Brenton and others about this. Meanwhile, Lanskas, get the animals to keep an eye on the Aerian and her friend. Once we know their exact location, we're going to stop those two lovebirds from doing something reckless," she decided as she frantically searched for the right chains to manipulate. "There is no way I'm not going to allow that to happen!"
Alethea watched patiently while Dalin mixed the ingredients together to make a fine powder. They left the city without any incident and now were hiding out in a dense forest. Upon discovering a small opening, they have decided to perform the spell there. "Okay, I'm done!" he announced. "Now I have to make the arcane circle and then we can begin the spell."
However, she was beginning to have second thoughts about it and finally voiced her concern. "Listen, Dalin. I don't know if we should go ahead with it," she said. Dalin stopped what he was doing and came over to her.
"What's wrong, Thea?" he asked worriedly.
"It's just... Lady Aerius has asked me to perform a task for her and I'm obligated to fulfill my duty," she explained. "I can't just abandon my orders just because of my selfishness!"
He nodded. "I understand," he replied, "but did she say that you have to do it alone?" She paused for a moment before shaking her head. "Maybe she meant something else when she told you your new duty."
"What do you mean?"
"Maybe she meant was that you and your children are supposed to 'seek the truth'," he suggested. "I mean, maybe you will pass down your powers to your children and they will continue your work."
"I guess so..." she said doubtfully. Alethea laughed embarrassingly. "I bet you think I'm a coward and don't want to be with you."
"Don't be silly," he admonished her and held her hands. "You're just nervous and I don't blame you. I would be scared as hell right now. We have people after us and all these strange things happening. It's pretty damn confusing now that I think about it."
Hearing those words put her at ease and she told him, "You're right. A lot of things have happened in the past few weeks and I was stressed out by them." Exhaling a deep breath, she informed him that she was ready.
Taking her by the hand, he led her inside the circle. "Now all you have to do is to chant this spell," he explained, handing her the sheet of paper. "I think anyone can perform a spell so we don't need an Exorcist. Any questions?"
"Just one. This has been bothering me for a while now, but how did you know about the black market?"
"Um... you see, during my military training, my friends and I would sneak out of building and go there to get drunk," he confessed. "Sendoa has an age restriction on alcohol and we were underage..."
She just shook her head. "I don't know what to do with you, Dalin Kiwa."
"You can deal with me later. Right now, let's take care of business. Whenever you're ready, just begin."
Glancing at the piece of paper, she found the spell to be rather simple. She raised her right hand to chest level and whispered, "Allo cortans malogu orsta. Huwevi antogu envitus hora!"
While she was reading it, she noticed that the arcane circle began to glow a pale white color and white smoke appeared. The smoke wrapped itself around her body and she felt a strange ticklish sensation. As soon as she finished the spell, the earth shook violently, which caused the forest to tremble and some of the trees to fall over. Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw Dalin trying his best to keep his balance. She tried to reach out to him, but she was immobilized by the spell. Before she knew it, she was having difficulty breathing; it was as if the vapor was strangling her.
She was about to breath in her last breath when suddenly the arcane circle's light faded away and the mist dissipated into the air. Likewise, the earthquake has stopped as well and everything was eerie quiet again. A wide-eyed Dalin looked around astonishingly before rushing over to her side. "Are you all right?" he asked as he helped her to her feet. She nodded since she was still gasping for air.
After looking her over to see if she was injured, he inquired, "Did it work?"
Alethea looked at him and smiled. "I think it did. However, I'm not going to do that again!"
He looked at her with surprise and laughed. "Me either. Come on, we better get out of here. I'm sure our little spectacle got the whole country's attention!"
As she ran alongside him, Alethea thought to herself contently that she wished to be by his side for the rest of her life.
---------- Post added October 05, 2012 at 05:24 PM ---------- Previous post was September 30, 2012 at 11:19 PM ----------
The final part is up.
I feel kinda bad for some of the characters. I only introduced them just to kill them off.
Chapter 9: Alethea - "What else I can do?" - Part III
Keju 2, 2107
They ran for several miles until they were exhausted. After finding a large, smooth stone to sit on, they sat down and rested. At first, they didn't say a word to each other as they tried to catch their breath and drank some water from the canteens.
After gulping down some water, Alethea turned to Dalin and asked, "Where are we heading anyway?"
"We're going to Ongera. It's not safe to live in Sendoa anymore since we're wanted people so we're going to try to smuggle our way out of here," he said, wiping his mouth.
"But how? We can't go through the Mermian Way since that place is heavily guarded, and we can't enter the Aerian Territory since a lot of Fulong's men are most likely patrolling the area. Not to mention, we're heading north for some reason."
He smiled. "That was my intention. Here's my plan. We're going to the northern border of Sendoa to one of the harbors. There we will hitch a ride on a ship traveling to Fravashi. Afterward, we're in the clear and we can settle down somewhere we can live in peace."
"Sounds like a good plan to me." She gave him a peck on the cheek. "Anyway, how long until we reach our destination?"
"Based on my estimation, it should be around a week or so. Don't worry about supplies. I think if we conserve our food supplies, we can manage." Standing up, he offered her his hand, which she gladly accepted. "Are you ready to go?" She nodded. "Okay then, let's head out!"
They walked for a while in silence as they kept an eye out for any danger. Finally, Dalin stopped and questioned, "Are you sure that the spell worked, Thea?"
She halted and answered, "I'm positive it did. While I was chanting the spell, I felt a tingling feeling all over my body and that smoke tried to kill me. Why do you ask?"
"I just wanted to make sure. That's all."
Alethea pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Hand me your dagger."
He obliged and she deftly slit the palm of her hand, allowing the blood to drip on the ground. They watched in awe as the mysterious glowing flowers grew where her blood splattered. Sighing, she mumbled, "Maybe the spell didn't work after all."
"That may not be true." She looked at Dailn questioningly. "Maybe your blood is still different, but you're a mortal now. I think the only way we would know if you died and can't come back to life."
"I'm not going to kill myself just to see if that stupid spell work!"
"Of course I'm not suggesting that you commit suicide, silly!" Dalin gave her an admonishing look. "I'm just saying that we have no choice but to wait and see."
"Well, let's hope it doesn't happen soon." She looked behind her. For some reason, she felt like someone was following them but all she saw was an owl staring at them. "Come on, we better go."
Nodding, he shifted his bundle and led the way. The thought of dying lingered in their minds.
Brenton examined the tiny patch of ceraphilis flowers growing in the small woods. "They were here all right," he told Kejuta and the others, who were examining the woods.
The Ilmarian of Fate just nodded absentmindedly as she used her power to try to locate them. No doubt she was still upset that she couldn't prevent them from activating the spell. By the time, she finally located their Chains of Destiny, it was too late. They immediately felt the earthquake, which caused mass panic all over the world, so the other Ilmarians, who were not involved with the search party, went off to survey the damage and provide aids to the people.
While that was happening, Kejuta managed to locate the spot, but by the time they got there, the two have already disappeared. However, they encountered some Sendoan soldiers who immediately attacked them. It was a quick skirmish, and let's just says that Zen had a good workout.
"Okay, the owl just told me that we just missed them by only a half an hour," Lanskas announced as the bird flew north again. "I have him track them down again so we can figure out where they're going and intercept them."
"They're heading to one of the northern harbors," Zen informed them. "Most likely they're planning to escape to the Ongeran side since they're running away from the Sendoan army. Unfortunately, there are a lot of towns located near the sea so we will have difficulty determining which one they're planning to go."
Kejuta nodded and turned her attention to Brenton. "Are you able to figure out where they are heading?"
Opening his book, he placed his hand on one of the empty pages and immediately saw several visions. Most of them were very grim, and he realized that the Aerian and her friend's attempt would end in tragedy. "Yes, I have but we better hurry. Something terrible is going to befall on them unless we get to them on time."
The urgency in his voice must have been loud and clear because the Ilmarian of Fate told the others in a serious and determined tone, "Then we better find them quickly before that happens."
Keju 4, 2107
So far they have been making progress without any incident. It seemed like the only living things in the world were just them and the owl, which seemed intent on following them for some reason. Dalin joked it's because it was hoping that they would give him some food, but Alethea thought otherwise. Her gut feeling was that someone has sent the bird to spy on them. However, they haven't encountered any other traveler so they paid no mind to the nocturnal bird.
After traveling for the whole day, they decided to rest for the night. While Dalin started the fire, she got the bed and meals ready. When everything was set up, they sat down around the campfire and ate quietly. Just four more days until freedom...
She shook her head. "Who would have thought that we would be on the run again? First, the Duermons, and now the Sendoan government. Fate is so cruel sometimes."
"Let's think of the bright side. At least we have each other and we haven't encountered any enemies yet," Dalin pointed out. "Not to mention, the sky is clear and the weather isn't too chilly. It's a good thing that it's summer time or else we would be freezing our butts off."
"You're always the optimist, aren't you?" she teased as she laid her head on his shoulder. "Though I wonder what will happen if we bump into Fulong's men..."
"You're thinking about the Aerian Oath?" She nodded. "Maybe if you just hurt them, you won't become a Fallen?"
"Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. I'm forbidden not to HARM any human, which means no hurting and killing them," she explained unhappily. The fear of becoming a Fallen has been ingrained in every Aerians' minds at a very young age. In fact, majority of them including she were terrified by that fate. "So if we're under attack by his men, then I don't know what to do."
"I'm sure we can think of something," he said, trying to cheer her up, though even he looked troubled. "I hate to say this, but Aerius sounds like a pain in the ass with that oath."
She has to agree on that point, but she felt obligated to defend her creator. "She did have a good intention though so you can't really blame her on that one."
Dalin just grunted but didn't say anything else about the issue. Instead he just said, "We should better get some rest. We're going to have a couple of busy days and we want to be ready for anything."
"I'll keep first watch for the night," she offered. He nodded and after finding himself a comfortable spot, went to sleep. She watched his sleeping body for a moment before taking a quick walk around the campsite. The thought of whether or not she was strong enough to break her oath filled her mind.
Keju 7, 2107
"We're almost there! I can see the city in the distance!"
Alethea immediately scurried up the hill, where Dalin pointed out an outline of a port in the distance. Out of all of the ports lining around the coast, he decided to go to this one because of its notoriety for supposedly smuggling illegal goods. He grabbed her hands excitedly, which took her by surprise. "Isn't this exciting? We're close to freedom and you no longer have to be in that disguise as soon as we reach Fra-"
"Watch out!" She pulled him toward her and used her wings to cover them both as fiery arrows rained down upon them. Pulling her wings back, she was horrified to find out that numerous Sendoan soldiers were blocking their way.
"We figure that you would be using this port to make your getaway, Aerian." Her heart pounded with dread when she recognized Fulong's cheerful voice. He marched through the lines of soldiers with his bodyguards and studied them like a cat watching a mouse. She noticed that his eyes, which were once full of laughter and joy, were now full of hatred and bloodlust especially when they aimed at her. It was hard to imagine that this was the same man whom the angels have lovingly called "Grandpa Fulong"! The worst part was that she couldn't sense any Duermon inside him at all! Was he finally showing his true colors?
He fingered his sheath obliviously to what he was doing as he signaled his men to surround them. "Now, I just want to make this real simple," he began as he turned his attention on the two again. "There is no need for bloodshed after all. First thing first. Dalin Kiwa, return to your post this instance. We will pretend that this insubordination never happens and it will not be on your record."
Dalin narrowed his eyes suspiciously. "And Thea? What are you going to plan to do with her?"
The Sendoan general gave him a warm smile, which bared his fangs. "We will take good care of your little friend. Don't you worry about her.”
She immediately saw the threads appeared in front of her eyes and squeezed Dalin's arms to warn him. He barely glanced back at her as he answered, "All right. But first..."
Before anyone could react, he deftly swung his rope dart, which wrapped around the old man's arm, and pulled him toward Alethea and him. Then Dalin placed the stunned general's free hand behind his back while she and muttered, "Tell your men to stand down." As this was happening, the Aerian created a glaive using her power and aimed it threateningly at the soldiers.
"Or else what?" Fulong scoffed. "Your friend is going to kill me? Is she so willing to break her oath to her goddess?"
"Of course not," Dalin whispered in his ear. "However, I don't have to worry about the Aerian Oath so I can kill you." He twisted the general's arm tighter, which caused the man to wince in pain.
"Fine. You win for now, boy," the general conceded. Then he turned to his men. "Put your weapons down and let them pass!"
The men obeyed reluctantly and glared at them as the two along with their prisoner walked by them. As soon as they passed through the last row of soldiers, they made a run for it.
"Now what?" Alethea asked while she glanced back. The soldiers haven't moved at all, which really disturbed her.
Dalin scowled at their hostage, who was dragging his feet, and forced him to stand up. "We'll hurry to the port and as soon as we get on a ship, we'll drop this garbage into the sea, where he can drown for all I care."
"You think you can use me to escape?" Fulong taunted as they ran. "My men will continue to hunt you down even if you kill me. Oh, here they are now!"
Distracted, they turned around to check. This was the opportunity the general was looking for. He immediately tackled Dalin to the ground and the two men started to wrestle each other. In spite of the fact Dalin was much younger and energetic, it seemed that Fulong has the advantage. He seemed more energized and powerful as if he was some kind of beast. As they were rolling on the ground, Alethea watched helplessly, not wanting to hurt her loved one.
Suddenly, the fighting stopped and it appeared that the general was triumphant as he had pinned Dalin to the ground. Somehow he managed to steal Dalin's dagger and was about to thrust it at his chest when the younger man grabbed his wrist when it was only a few inches away. "Kill him, Thea!" he shouted in desperation as he struggled to stop the general.
She summoned a throwing dagger and was about to throw it when the thought of being a Fallen stopped her. That moment of hesitation was enough for Fulong and he broke Dalin's grasp on him. With a gleeful shout, he stabbed the young man in the chest. Dalin's eyes widened in disbelief as he gingerly cupped his hands around the dagger.
"Dalin!" Alethea cried out as she threw her weapon at the general's face, but he easily dodged it. Hearing her voice, Dalin turned to stare at her and stretched his right arm toward her. Through his dying breath, he seemed to be trying to say something to her. Panicking, she hurried to him, forgetting the fact that Fulong was standing and watching close by.
Devastated, she fell to her knees and cupped his face. "Dalin! Dalin! Look at me! Hang on!" she pleaded as she tried to keep him alert; his eyes kept rolling back. Why did she have to think about the blasted Aerian Oath? "Please don't die!"
His bloodied hand grabbed her arm and he tried to tell her something. However, only gasps came out of his mouth as blood dripped from his mouth. Finally he looked at her one last time, and with his dying breath, he managed to say her name. "The...a," he whispered before letting out his last breath. She quickly checked his pulse but found nothing. He was dead. The only person in the world she cared about was now gone and she was all alone.
Grieving, she barely noticed the general approaching her. Instead, she stared at her lover's wide-opened eyes; it was as if he was asking her why she didn't kill Fulong when he told her to do so and now he was dead because of her inaction. A sharp pain in her wings woke her up from her shock so she looked up to see that her one of her wings were bended crookedly. "Get up," Fulong sneered, "and don't try to fly away. I broke your wings to make sure of it."
Alethea felt herself being forced to stand up as Fulong's men arrived at the scene. "You know, you caused me a lot of trouble, Aerian. To make it up to you, I'm going to make your death very slow and torturous," the general decided. "Give me my whip. You two grab her arms and make sure she doesn't move."
Two soldiers grabbed her arms and pulled them apart. She watched numbly as the general tapped the cat o' nine tails thoughtfully before striking her across her chest. She flinched at each lash struck her body, arms and legs over and over again. She could feel the blood dripping from her wounds, but she didn't bother to resist. Right now, she just wanted to die.
"Have enough, Aerian?" The general's mocking voice penetrated through the quiet day. "I still have enough energy to continue this, you know."
She finally looked at him straight in the eyes and asked the question that has bothered her the entire time. "Why?"
"Why? You have the nerve to ask me why?" Fulong once began his relentless assault on her. "I'll tell you why." He whipped her after each spoken word. "You Aerians always feel like you're superior to us. Always acting high and mighty especially when you reminded us on how we betrayed the gods while you stayed by their sides. How we must depend on you for survival and forcing us to act servile toward you. Well, guess who high and mighty now?"
During his spiel, Alethea watched him closely and realized what he was saying was true. He actually felt that way toward the Aerians and hid it from them the entire time. So when he was joking with them and being friendly, he actually despised them so much to wish for genocide? "You know what I think I'm going to do?" he mused. "I'll deliver your rotten corpse to my superiors and say that your lover boy killed you before I could stop him. That would be his punishment for not taking my offer like he should, and the best part is that no one will know the truth. Farewell, Aerian. It's time to take your last breath."
He was about to swung the whip at her when a gust of wind blasted him several feet away. Before anyone could react, a pack of wolves appeared out of nowhere and attacked them. Bewildered and frightened, the men panicked and scattered in several directions. Alethea felt the men holding her arms let go and she collapsed to the ground. Before she could touch the grassy field, she felt someone caught her and moved her gently so that she was facing upward. She found herself looking up at a Sendoan young man, whom she recognized as one of the members of that mysterious group.
"Hang in there," he urged as he held her tightly. From the corner of her eyes, she barely caught a view of a priest who seemed to be coordinating the attack on Fulong and his men, who came back to rally. She thought she heard Marika's talking to another woman, but she was slowly losing conscious. Everything started to appear blurry. As she closed her eyes, she heard the Sendoan shouted in an urgent voice, "Kej, we're losing her! Come here, quick!"
She woke up to find herself in a clean, white room with pastel blue trimming. She was lying in a canopy bed with a soft, cushy mattress and a fluffy pillow; a thin white blanket covered her body. The sheer drapes embroidered with silver stars were pulled back so she could look around the room. Reluctantly, Alethea sat up and studied the unfamiliar surroundings. There were windows so she didn't know whether it was day or night outside. A blue table with a large vase full of flowers was across from the bed while a blue cushioned chair, which appeared to be used recently, was next to the bed. The strange thing was that there was no doorway.
One thing for sure, this was not Valendor. Does that mean that she was alive still? But how? She was sure that the spell had worked; she felt the magic working on her. Did something go awry?
"Oh, good. You're awake," a familiar voice said. Startled, she turned around to find Marika and her Sendoan rescuer standing in front of a circular doorway. The former looked at her thoughtfully while the other stared at her in awe. Feeling suddenly shy, she didn't say anything and just looked at them questioningly. Marika didn't seem to mind at all. Instead she turned to her companion and said, "I'll inform Kejuta and Aundra, Zen. I'll be right back."
Zen nodded so she walked through the portal and disappeared from view. As soon as she disappeared, he turned to look at her again. "Umm... hello," he greeted her awkwardly. "Feeling better?" Her tongue was stuck in her throat so she just nodded slowly. He gave her a friendly smile. “I know this is confusing and I bet you have a lot of questions. It was the same for me when I found out that I was an Ilmarian."
Ilmarian? What is that? Before she could ask, he continued, "Erm... anyway, there is something I have that I like to show you. Long ago, my father received something from your people, but the people in my village told me that it was a fake." He walked over to her and handed her something from his pocket. She immediately recognized it as an Aerian crest. "Can you confirm whether or not it's genuine?"
She examined the object carefully as she traced her fingers around it. Seeing the crest reminded her of her loss. "Yes, this is a true Aerian crest," she finally said and handed it back to him. A look of vindication was on his face, which made her curious. "How did your father come about it?"
Before he could answer, Marika arrived back with two women. Alethea recognized the first woman as one of the people who was searching for her but this was the first time seeing the other blonde woman, who wore a light blue flowing dress. "Please wait outside, Zen," the first woman ordered. "We're going to talk to her privately."
He nodded and patted her hand softly to reassure her that everything was going to be fine before leaving. Once he disappeared, the portal closed shut and appeared as a tiny ring, which Marika grabbed and placed in her belt. The Aerian could only watch with amazement when she saw it. Whoever these people are, they were formidable.
"Allow us to introduce ourselves," the woman began. "My name is Kejuta and this is Aundra. You already have met Marika, I believe." She nodded cautiously. "What is your name?"
She didn't reply so Aundra cracked, "Cat got your tongue, I see? It seemed like our newest Ilmarian is very bashful."
"Or cautious," Marika replied thoughtfully. "I believe she is quite confused on what is going on. Imagine waking up in a strange place and people you don't even know come pestering you. I would be nervous too."
She looked at the dark-skinned woman gratefully and felt more at ease. "Alethea," she answered quietly. "My name is Alethea."
"Welcome, Alethea, the Ilmarian of Truth," Kejuta said in a friendly manner. Alethea assumed she was the one in charge so she turned her attention on her. "First, let me apologize for my son's behavior. He was a little bit too forceful when he first found out that you're one of us. He said that he was sorry that he frightened you. Oh, don’t worry about those men chasing after you. We handled them so they won’t bother you anymore. Anyway, I know you must be wondering who we are so let me explain. As you know, our creators are dead so before they died, they..."
She listened intently as Kejuta explained how the gods gave their powers and immortality to certain individuals so that Samara could survive after their untimely demises. Apparently, these people called themselves "Ilmarians" to distinguish themselves and to remind themselves that they were regular beings once. Each of them has a certain role. For example, Kejuta was the Ilmarian of Fate since she could see people's destinies while Aundra was the Ilmarian of Magic due to the fact she controls all forms of magic. They even figured out what her role was based on an ancient children story. The only feeling that she felt was astonishment. Why did Lady Aerius choose her out of all the Aerians?
Speaking of which, she asked Kejuta hopefully, "If it's possible for your daughter to bring my people back to life?"
She shook her head. "Unfortunately, she can't. Her power is limited in bringing purified souls back to the world of the living, and she can't create life. Since not even one Aerian couple is currently living right now and you're sterile, it's impossible to bring back your race. I'm sorry."
"Oh." That was disappointing all right. It looked like she would be the only Aerian left in the world then.
After a brief awkward silence, they asked her about the dream she had when she died and she told them everything that she could remember. They listened attentively and then had a private conversation among themselves. She thought it was rude to eavesdrop on them even though she knew they were discussing about her.
"Now then, may you tell us your powers? I'm curious about what they are," Aundra requested after they finished talking. "Brenton has already told me that you can conceal yourself, but I'm sure there are more."
"Well..." she began. How could she describe them? "It’s true that I can use light and darkness to disguise myself but I can also use them to make weapons." She demonstrated for them so they could see. “I can wear my disguise even when I lose concentration. Whenever I want to discard my disguise, I just wish for it to disappear. The same goes for my created weapons."
"I see." The Ilmarian of Magic nodded. "Her ability to use light is not as strong as Hessin though. The same for her ability goes to control darkness. I bet my life that our next Ilmarian will be an expert on manipulating the darkness. Anything else?"
"Yes, there is one more. For some reason, whenever someone tells a lie, a clear thread is formed from his heart and appears in my hand. If I break the thread, I caused immense pain on that person." She stared at her hand with wonderment and smiled softly. "Dalin called it 'Web of Lies'..." She froze suddenly as she remembered his dead face staring at her.
Confronting the women, she demanded, "Why didn't the spell work? I thought I was a mortal again so I can live the rest of my life with Dalin! Now he's dead and I'm still alive!"
"It's simple," Aundra explained matter-of-factly. "That spell was a dud to trick the Sendoans. Do you actually think Clarise would allow a spell that makes her siblings and her mortals to exist in the world?"
"But I felt the magic working on me!"
The other woman just looked at her simply. "It has to look believable. The Sendoans are very gullible after all."
"It's a good thing Zen isn't here or else he would throw a fit," Marika said amusingly. "Of course, he would probably not bother to argue with you since you know what happens the last time." They smiled as if remembering a funny joke.
Kejuta cleared her throat. "Anyway, you have a similar duty as Hessin, the Ilmarian of Justice. You are one of the Three Judges who will determine the fate of those living in Samara. You are supposed to find the truth to determine whether or not a person is innocent. Once you do, you will decide that person's fate."
"But what's about the Aerian Oath?" Alethea questioned. "If I break that oath, I would become a Fallen!"
That was when the room became eerie quiet. She noticed that her visitors gave each other worried glances before Aundra finally talked. "While you were unconscious, I examined your body and discovered that the Aerian Oath spell has disappeared. My theory is that Lady Aerius removed it from you when you encountered her in your death dream."
Alethea was stunned by the revelation. "What are you saying? What do you mean the Aerian Oath has been removed? Does that mean... oh god!" Her eyes widened in horror and she quickly looked down. She could have saved Dalin. His death could have been prevented then. If she has known that she no longer has to obey that vow, she would have killed Fulong and saved him. She squeezed her eyes shut to stop the tears from falling and tightened her grip on the blanket that her knuckled turned white. She was not going to cry in front of these strangers!
She felt someone clasped her hands and she looked up to see that Kejuta was kneeling next to the bed. "I know that you're hurting," she comforted her. "I too lost someone I cared about and that pain will never go away. However, you shouldn't blame yourself for your lover's death."
"If I wasn't a coward, I could have stopped Fulong from killing him," she said, heartbroken. "It's my fault that Dalin is dead. What else can I do?"
"Go see him," the Ilmarian of Fate said simply and Alethea just stared at her with bewilderment. "I'll have Marika open a gateway to Valendor where you can see him again before he gets reincarnated."
That offer was tempting and she was ready to accept it when the image of Dalin's accusing eyes got stuck in her head. She couldn't face him. What would he do when he sees her? Refuse to acknowledge her? Tell her that he hates her because her indecision cost him his life? Those thoughts caused her to be filled with dread. Shaking her head, she declined, "Sorry, but I can't."
Kejuta gave her a reproachful look as if telling her that she was making a foolish mistake. Instead of admonishing the Aerian, she said as she stood up, "If you insist. Now that we have been acquainted, I have a mission for you though you will probably dislike it. When you have fully recovered, I want you to..."
She was right. As soon as the Ilmarian of Truth learned about her task, she was displeased.
Keju 12, 2107
Argus watched lazily as a tiny lizard scurried by. As soon as it walked by him, he quickly slammed his hand on top of lizard's tail before it could escape. Dangling the reptile by its tail, he smiled a broad smile. "Sorry, little guy, but you're my dinner tonight." Then he sank his teeth into its body and sucked its soul. It wasn't much, but at least he won't be as famished like before. Being a Parasitic Duermon meant having a difficult life sometimes.
Who would have thought the great Argus would be forced to survive on meager meals? It was his fault though. Whenever the Emperor or Empress of Idilarys died, his or her offspring would immediately ask him to join their side in the Succession War because whoever side he joined, he or she tend to win and become the next ruler. According to them, he was their good luck charm.
At first he enjoyed the battles, but after several centuries of fighting, he felt wearied. At the end of his last involvement, he informed the newly crowned Emperor that he was no longer participating in any more Succession Wars and retreated to the border, where he could retire in peace. Unfortunately, the princes and princesses still wanted him to join their sides and refused to take "No" as an answer. Finally, he was forced to relocate to different locations so he could live in peace.
In spite of the fact that he enjoyed the peace and quiet, he was now having difficulty finding enough nourishment to survive. His children, who were created through asexual reproduction like other Parasitic-type, were finally frustrated by his lack of ambition that they have left him and searched for better opportunities. The last he heard from them, most have been killed off though there were a few who were doing well.
Sighing, he examined his emaciated black-skinned body. He has a snake tail with a hook at the end, which was used to latch onto a host's soul, and four once-muscular arms. His four hundred red eyes could watch out for danger from any directions; while he napped, he could leave some of his eyes open to keep guard. Golden-colored scutum adorned his body and face, which protected him as an armor. Argus then opened his mouth to inspect his teeth. Three rows of teeth (long in the front row and short in the back row) on both top and bottom were still sharp and clean.
Hmm... At this rate, he was going to starve to death. Maybe he should have accepted that boy's offer when...
Suddenly, he smelled someone was close by. It was a strange smell - one that he didn't recognize. Unlike Humanistic and Possessor Duermons who used their sight to identify friends or foes, Parasitic ones used smell. Their fellow Duermons usually smelled rather plain while their hated enemy, the Aerians, smelled like rotten egg. Humans, on the other hand, varied. The healthy ones smelled like roasted meats while the sick ones smelled like spoiled meats. However, this smell was unlike any that he has ever sniffed before. It was like a freshly ripen fruit. His curiosity got the best of him and he crawled out of his cave.
Imagine his surprise to see an Aerian waiting for him. He tried to hide his disappointment and sneered, "What do you want, Aerian? Did you come here to put me out of my misery?" Based on her appearance, she must be an inexperienced one who thought she could best him.
The Aerian looked at him with displeasure but answered, "No. I have come here to ask for an alliance of some sort."
An alliance? Now he was intrigued, but he said in a bored manner, "And why should I form an alliance with you? What could you offer me that the others cannot?"
She sighed irritably. "I will offer my soul for you as nourishment. As you can sense, my soul is different from the others'. It's because I am immortal, which means that you will never go hungry as long as you're living inside me. In return, I want you to become my armor."
"You're offering me your soul? An Aerian of all people?" he scoffed. He has to admit that her soul was different from other Aerians' whom he has met before. "So you claimed that you're immortal like Duermon and the other gods. Well, prove it."
The girl just raised her hand and a small knife made out of light itself appeared. She slit her hand and let the blood dropped onto the ground. Small, white flowers that glowed appeared from where the drops splattered. "Ceraphilis flowers..." he murmured, amazed.
"Now then, will you accept my offer?" she demanded. "If not, I'll do my duty and kill you just to put you out of your misery." She pointed her spear at him. "You may not recognize this, but this is Aerius's spear. Its tip is always sharp and it will never miss its target so don't bother trying to escape.."
"As well as never hurt the wielder’s loved ones," he added and was amused to see the Aerian's surprised expression. "What? You didn't know that? I thought your creator would have told her people that part as well."
"How did you know?" she inquired. She looked at the blue and gold weapon curiously.
"Simple. Duermon told me back when he was alive."
"You knew him?"
"Of course. I may not look that old, but I've been around since the dawn of creation." He stretched his arms and lie back onto the ground. Now that he thought about it, he missed that man. Duermon has always told him that he was his best creation and lamented the fact that he didn't have a body to call his own. "We used to be drinking buddies. We would talk about various topics, and one of them was that spear. If I reveal everything I know about it, you would be shocked."
"I see." She tried her best not to look impressed but failed. "Anyway, what have you decided?"
"Sure, why not? Your offer is intriguing, Aerian, and I'm sure you will entertain me." Argus gave her a warm smile, but she didn't seem thrilled even though he accepted her proposal.
"Well? Are you going to do it or not?" she snapped unhappily. Ha! What an impatient girl! She reminded him of his 1,000 offspring. There was no doubt in his mind that this wasn’t her idea so who was the one that sent her?
He rose to make himself formidable just to show off; at over eight feet tall, he loomed over her in spite of her tall stature. "Of course." He gave her a big grin, which revealed his first row of sharp teeth, which were as long as her forearms. She winced when she saw them but held her composure. "Now this might hurt a bit..."
Before she could respond, he dove down and bit her neck as he held her down. Usually he would be more discreet but since this was a mutual coexistence, he didn't bother. She gasped as he slowly became intangible and prepared to enter inside her body by shrinking his size to a size of an apple. Then he went inside her. First thing he did was to latch his tail into her soul as soon as he found it and wrapped his body around it. Next he sank his teeth into the soul and drank hungrily from it until he felt like he could burst. It tasted like honey!
During this time, he was able to sense what she was feeling and he could see through her eyes. Apparently she was grimacing in pain but then she was not used to this sensation. "I have kept my end of the bargain, and now it's your turn," she reminded him as she slowly stood up on unsteady feet.
"Relax, I haven't forgotten." He closed his eyes and released his powers. She watched with amazement as golden armor appeared to come out of her body. The next thing she knew, she was wearing a visor, a breastplate, gauntlets, and armored boots. "Well? What do you think?"
"It's impressive." He could sense that her feeling was genuine all right and was pleased by it.
"What?" She was distracted from admiring her new armor.
"That's my name. It's Argus in case you didn't listen the first time," he repeated. "Since we have formed a partnership, I think it's for the best if we know each other names. By the way, you can talk to me mentally now. Otherwise, you look like some sort of nutcase if you're talking aloud to yourself."
"Oh, I see." She sounded embarrassed. "My name is Alethea."
"Well then, Alethea, I hope this alliance will be beneficial for the both of us."
Argus smiled to himself. He has a feeling that things were starting to get interesting.
I'm going to post a snippets of the upcoming chapters to make it less daunting to read. ^^ The whole chapter will be posted over at my blog.
Chapter 10: Torryn & Weiss - "Friends are meaningless"
Anth 3, 2200
Weiss Nadea licked his lips nervously as he tracked his prey down. Next he slowly grabbed an arrow and placed it in his crossbow. Eyeing the target, he muttered to himself as he aimed, “Steady, Weiss, steady.” Then, with a deep breath, he fired and hit the pheasant through its neck.
“Yes!” He immediately scurried to where the dead, plump bird lie and picked it up. They're going to have a nice dinner tonight. Pleased, he met up with his father, who was hunting as well. His father seemed very impressed with his work.
“Good job, Weiss!” he complimented the boy as he inspected the dead bird. "It was a clean kill and you didn't waste any of your arrows. Not to mention, it's just the right size. Well, we better head back so your mom can cook us a nice meal."
He patted Weiss on his head and both walked back to the campsite in silence. Even though there was a path through the forest, he and his father went off the trail and wandered through the trees. After all, they mostly lived in there due to their business and thus, have memorized every location in the forest. The only noise in the air was the critters chatting as they scampered around doing their business.
Weiss glanced around as he tried to locate some of the animals to train himself on observation. After all, he needed to be on alert at all times for any surprises. “There's a chickadee. Over there is a fox and a chipmunk just scurried close by,” he thought to himself. “The Marden Forest is full of life today.”
The Marden Forest covered almost half of the continent and was located in the central region. It was famous in Enkrum due to its thick, wide trees, which reached toward the heavens, and dangling vines, which could be used for climbing and swinging. People living in the forest used these big trees as homes by hollowing out the fat trunk and making a large room inside them. To climb up to the canopy, they would make rope ladders out of the vines and tied them to the branches above. Weiss and his family have visited some of these villages and he has to admire their ingenuity.
Right below the forest was the Marden Swamp, where bizarre creatures and plants reside. Giant mushrooms and carnivorous flowers could be found there as well as poisonous ones. There were also many rare medicinal plants located in the region. Very few dared to venture into the marshes, but then it was rare for anyone to come back alive. The Nadea family was one of those brave folks. Of course, they knew that they needed to pay close attention to their surroundings and to watch where they were going.
"We're back and we got dinner!" Weiss announced when they arrived at camp, which was a small clearing in the woods. A horse-drawn wagon, which contained all of their belongings, was located at the edge. A clothesline full of damp clothes dangled closed by. As soon as he said those words, his twin sister, Torryn, stuck her head out of the wagon. It looked like she was putting the laundry away.
“Did you remember not to use any of your poison-dipped arrows like the last time?” she asked dubiously as she wrinkled her nose. Weiss has accidentally killed a wild pig with one once, and the whole food was contaminated with the poison that they had to discard the meat.
He scowled. Weiss hated to be reminded of it since it was a foolish mistake on his part. “Of course I did!” His sister nodded with approval. Even though she was only four minutes older than he, she acted like she was much older and loved to boss him around, which was very irritating.
His father, who pretended not to hear their bickering, asked his daughter, “Where is your mother? We have a dead bird that needs to be cooked.”
Before Torryn could reply, Weiss felt someone wrapped her arms around him. Elegans Nadea was a beautiful woman who looked like she belongs to a wealthy family. Her hair was tied into a bun and she wore a white dress with ribbons wrapped around her arms. However, she has no trouble living in the woods, which was like a second home to them.
“I was gathering some fire woods so while Ryn and I prepare the meal, you boys can get the fire started.” She kissed her son on his forehead and reminded him, “Don’t forget to wash your hands afterward.”
“I know, Mother!” He wanted to roll his eyes but dared not to do so. His mother would whack the back of his head if he did. Grabbing the bundles of sticks, he and his father went off to make the fire.
As they ate dinner, Weiss thought to himself that they looked like a typical family who was camping out. Yet they were no ordinary family – they were assassins. In fact, he and his sister were the seventh generation to run the business. The Nadea family took great pride in the fact that they have never missed a target. Well, except for one that happened over four hundred years ago. Their ancestor failed to kill a king in a foreign land and that brought great shame to the family name.
The twins’ parents no longer worked as assassins since they were now focusing on training their children and the business aspect. Rostami Nadea now worked on finding clients who were willing to hire them. Meanwhile Elegans Nadea educated her children in schooling as well as proper etiquettes. “We may be killers, but we must still learn how to behave properly,” she always lectured her children in a firm voice whenever one of them asked why. “Likewise, I’m not going to raise my children to be idiots.”
“How was your training today?” Rostami asked Torryn as he grabbed a piece of meat.
“It went very well, Father,” she answered politely. “Mother said that I have beaten my record of cutting down the sticks by three seconds.”
While Weiss's training was hunting, Torryn's was to practice striking sticks that was thrown at her until there were none left. According to their father, they were supposed to work as a team - Weiss was supposed to be on the lookout so he needed to be observant while Torryn was supposed to make the quick kill, which was why she trained on her agility. In Weiss’s opinion, they were a good tag team; he would lure their victim to his sister by shooting at him or her and then she would go for the kill – if she wasn’t in a playful mood all of the times.
“That’s good to hear,” he praised her. “You and your brother have improved greatly. In fact, I think you two are ready to do your first assignment by yourselves without your mother or my help.”
The twins gave each other an excited look. Their very first assignment without any adult supervision! “What will it be?” Torryn asked eagerly.
“We’re going to visit Tomas to find out,” Elegans answered. “That’s why we’re heading to Anka. Now it’s getting late so after you two finished cleaning up, get ready for bed.”
Even though they were thirteen years old, their mother made sure that they went to bed by nine o’clock because they needed to be well-rested according to her. “Yes, Mother,” they replied automatically. They knew not to make her angry unless they were dumb enough to face her wrath. After they finished their meals, they completed their chores and prepared to go to sleep.
---------- Post added October 15, 2012 at 09:08 PM ---------- Previous post was October 13, 2012 at 10:14 PM ----------
Torryn couldn’t sleep. She stared at the wall for the longest time before turning over to try to find a more comfortable position. Imagine her surprise to see her brother looking back at her. “Can’t sleep?” he whispered in their twin made-up language.
She nodded. “You too?”
“Yeah, I’m too excited and nervous about tomorrow,” he confessed.
Torryn swallowed her saliva. “Same here. Our very first mission on our own! I hope we will succeed and make Father and Mother proud.”
Weiss smiled. “Don’t worry,” he encouraged her. “I know we will. Besides, we get to see Uncle Tomas and maybe Aunt Emila. Remember the last time we saw them?”
“Yeah, it was fun playing with Aunt Emila’s children especially her littlest one. He was the happiest toddler I’ve ever met,” Torryn recalled. “Her husband was also nice to sneak us some sweets too.”
Uncle Tomas and Aunt Emila were not really their relatives but their parents’ friends. Like their parents, they were former assassins but were no longer involved in that profession anymore. Instead, they lived in the newly stabilized kingdom of Anka, which was located in the northern part of Enkrum and were now members of the elite Ankan society through bribery and blackmail. However, they still kept in contact with the Nadea family and helped them with their business. Tomas acted as the middleman and helped them find jobs while Emila provided them information about their targets.
“Umm… can you place your hand on top of mine?” she asked as she moved her hand onto the space separating the beds. He agreed and positioned his hand on hers. It was a habit they have since they were young. For some reason, it helped them sleep more easily; maybe it was because they knew that they were close to each other.
“Night, Tori,” he mumbled as he stifled a yawn.
“Night, Weiss,” she replied and closed her eyes. Soon, both of them dozed off to sleep.
Anth 5, 2200
“Hello, Mister Phellen, hello, hello. Hello, Mister Phellen. How are you today?” Torryn sang as she danced with the three years old boy. Her voice wasn’t too shabby and if she weren’t an assassin, she would probably be a singer instead. The boy squealed with delight as his parents watched with amusement. Meanwhile Weiss was playing a game of tag with the two older children.
Emila Fosten smiled as she sipped her cup of coffee. “It’s so nice to see the children getting along with each other. Your children have grown much since the last time we saw them, Elegans.”
“Thank you, Emila,” she replied. “Your children have grown a lot as well. Mika and Viela have become lovelier as ever. And little Phellen is such a happy little boy! I hope he doesn’t cause so much trouble for you.”
Her husband, Brocken, laughed. “He’s a handful and troublesome at times, but we still love that little stinker!”
“Speaking of which, I think our little boy is making Ryn exhausted. Why don’t you spend some time with the children?” Emila suggested when Rostami and Tomas arrived to join the group. “Maybe a nice walk around the woods will help them go to bed? We have to discuss business.”
“Will Ryn and Weiss be coming along as well?” Brocken inquired as he headed down the steps.
“Not this time. They need to know how to run their family business so they will be staying,” Elegans informed him. He nodded and gathered his children before departing for the woods. Unlike the others, Brocken wasn’t involved in the assassination business and thus was unaware of what was going on. Instead, he, like so many others, was led to believe that the Nadea family was into the textile business.
As soon as they have disappeared from sight, Rostami turned to the others. “Now then, shall we begin?”
“Are you enjoying your stay in my manor?” Tomas Ceendan asked as he made himself comfortable in one of the wicker chairs. They were currently were staying at his stone-walled mansion, which was located in the countryside. The Nadea family also has a manor nearby though it was much smaller and simple since they rarely stayed there. Likewise the Fostens were neighbors as well.
“Yes, verily,” Elegans said as she handed him a cup of coffee. “It’s been a long time since we got to sleep in a nice, warm bed.”
“It’s also a good thing that we’re having a mild winter or else you all would be freezing your asses off!” he quipped. “Oh, have you heard the latest news from the capital?”
“No, we haven’t,” Rostami replied and looked at his old friend curiously. “Does it involve us by chance? I heard rumors that the government wants to seize control of the assassination business.”
Torryn fidgeted in her chair. Why were they wasting time with idle chat? She caught her brother’s eyes and he shook his head to warn her to be on her best behavior. “Stuffy face!” she signed to him. He just gave her a smirk, which irritated her.
Finally, she asked, “So when are we going to find out what our job will be?” As soon as those words came out of her mouth, she expected one of them to slap her. However, Uncle Tomas just gave out a hearty laugh.
“What an impatient girl!” he guffawed as he slapped his knee. “I see someone who is really eager for her first grown-up mission.” He cleared his throat. “Very well, here it is.”
Torryn leaned forward with anticipation and noticed that her twin brother was doing the same. “There goes his manners,” she thought amusingly.
“Someone in the high society wants a rabble-rouser named Refans Ulium killed due to his radical ideas of providing help to the poor and allowing them a voice in the government. He or she fears that if more of the poor listens to him, it will cause an uprising and the country will be in disarray again. Your job is to silence him before that happens. Emila will give you some important papers that contain valuable information on your target. You need to kill him within five days. Do you understand?”
The twins looked at each other. This was it – their very first mission. They have to do very well on it or else they would have to wait for another year or so until their parents decided that they’re ready again. Weiss wore a grave look on his face as he nodded at her and she licked her lips nervously as she returned her nod.
Then they looked at the adults sitting across from them and said only two words:
---------- Post added October 18, 2012 at 07:06 PM ---------- Previous post was October 15, 2012 at 09:08 PM ----------
Anth 6, 2200
They arrived in Anka’s capital of Sollum the next day. The capital consisted of two districts: the Kengen District and the Merrium District, which were also known as the poor and the rich areas respectively, and was designed into a shape of a wheel in Torryn's opinion. The Kengen District was the "rim", which surrounded the Merrium District. The "spokes" were the streets that led to the palace, the "hub".
It seemed that the kingdom of Anka, which was considered the youngest nation in the world since it was just created over two hundred years ago, has finally found "peace". It took several tries to establish a government since so many politicians got assassinated and were replaced by their rivals, who in return got killed. However, the current monarch, King Asyras Rothlem, wised up and once he became the new ruler of Anka, he killed off all of his enemies and their families to ensure that no one dared challenge him. He also upheld several martial laws that everyone considered him a tyrant though they did not dare say that out unless they have a death wish.
Nevertheless, he kept the citizens occupied by having prisoners fight against each other in the coliseum. Many including Torryn enjoyed the spectacle since it helped them escape the harsh living conditions that they were living in. Weiss though did not care much about it and claimed that all of the bloodshed was a waste of time and effort. But then, he did not know the meaning of “fun”.
As the wagon drove down the streets in the Kengen District, Torryn watched through the windows at the bystanders. They spent most of their times begging for money or food from wealthy Ankans traveling by. Other times, they searched the ground with hopes of finding scraps to eat or anything that was sellable. It always amazed her that none of them thought of leaving and living in the forest where at least they could live free, but then there was the saying, “Only the weak lives in Anka.”
They went through the slums and came upon the gate, which separated the rich from the poor. “Show me your documents,” the guard ordered as he held out his hand. Rostami grabbed the papers from his shirt pocket and handed them to the man.
After inspecting the credentials and them thoroughly, he gave them back and said roughly, “All right, move along. Oh, welcome back to Anka, Mr. Nadea. I hope you had a profitable business during your journey.”
As a front, Rostami pretended that he was a traveling merchant who sells clothing made by his wife though he should be actually considered the merchant of death. The head of the Nadea family nodded and urged the horse forward after the guard ordered the gate to be opened. As soon as they crossed, the gate was slammed closed again.
Unlike the slums, which were crowded and filthy, the much wealthier district was more spacious and clean. The landscapes were kept in impeccable conditions and the water was pure as snow. Likewise the brick townhouses were in mint condition unlike the ones in the slums, which were crumbling. They stopped at one of those houses, which was their home whenever they stayed in the capital. “Well, we’re here so we better unpack,” Mr. Nadea announced as he climbed down the stage wagon. Torryn immediately grabbed her bags and followed her family up the steps.
After her father unlocked the door and opened it, they went inside the house. “Put your things away and meet us in the living room when you’re done,” her mother instructed. “We’ll discuss your mission then.”
She and her brother nodded and carried their luggage to their room. They climbed the three flights of stairs in silence. The trip was very exhausting and they felt stiff from sitting all day. As soon as they arrived on the third floor, the twins went to their rooms, which were next to each other. Unlocking their doors, they entered their rooms without a word.
Torryn immediately inspected her room, which has wallpaper of red rose banquets on top and dark red paint on the bottom. It appeared that it was neat and tidy so their housekeeper must have cleaned the house while they were away. Her bed was placed between two windows, which have maroon curtains. The night table was next to it; a porcelain pitcher and a shallow bowl, which were used to wash her face, were on top of it. A golden-framed mirror hanged above it. The mahogany armoire stood against the right side of the room and the writing desk was on the opposite side. The door, which was led to her brother's room, was next to it. Weiss's room looked similar to hers except his has green-and-orange stripes wallpaper and furniture was made out of cherry wood. There was nothing much, but then most of her belongings were back in the manor. This house was only used whenever they stay in the capital, which was very rare.
She dumped her bags onto her bed and opened them up. She has brought some extra set of clothes, some toiletries, and a journal. Her mother kept their weapons hidden just in case one of the guards decided to search their wagon. After putting her things away, she checked under her mattress and was relieved to find her small box full of trinkets were still there, safe and sound. Good! The housekeeper wasn't smart enough to look there. Unlocking the chest, she examined all of the items inside. To others, they might like junk, but to her, they were reminders of all of her missions she completed. After every job, she would take something from the victims whether it was something expensive or not.
Torryn put her treasure box away and stared at her nice, comfy bed. She was tempted to go under her warm, magenta comforter and take a quick nap. However, Mother has said to meet in the living room and tardiness was frowned upon even if one was tired so with great reluctance, she headed back down the stairs.
By the time she arrived, everyone was waiting for her. Her parents were sitting on the cream-colored loveseat while Weiss was on top of a red ottoman, which was across from them. A coffee table was between them. As soon as Torryn took her spot on the green ottoman, the meeting began.
“You have read the information about your target, correct?” Rostami asked and the twin nodded. “Then you know what you have to do. You are to kill Refans Ulium within five days and you must do it without being seen. Likewise, you have to make sure that it appears as a robbery so that no one would raise suspicions. When you have completed the mission, you will receive the last half of your payment. Any question?”
Weiss swallowed his saliva nervously and questioned, “What will happen if we fail?”
“You won’t fail,” Elegans said firmly. “Your father and I have taught you well. I understand how you feel though. I was nervous as hell on my first solo mission, but in the end, I did fine.” She laughed. “Your grandmother would disagree. She kept reminding me that I forgot to close the window when I made my getaway and that I was somewhat sloppy with my kill. However, I’m sure you will do a much better job than I did.”
Torryn felt her nerves calmed down after listening to her mother, but she was surprised that her mother made some mistakes. It was hard to imagine, to be honest! Elegans was so beautiful and graceful especially when she performed her kill.
Her mother continued, “Now to celebrate your first solo missions, your father and I have a little something for you two.” She grabbed a yard of fabrics and unfurled it. Inside were two cutlasses and a quiver of arrows. “Go on. Take them.”
“Thank you!” Torryn and Weiss said at the same time. The twins grabbed their gifts and admired them with awe.
While they examined their weapons, Rostami explained, “I asked Uncle Tomas to get these for you. They’re made of the finest and strongest materials. Make sure to thank him as well when you see him again.”
His wife nodded. “Now that part is done…”
She held a corner of the cloth and flicked her hand, which caused the material to be folded nicely. No matter how many times she saw it, Torryn also was impressed and envious. Unlike her husband and her children, Elegans has magical powers and her assassination style was to manipulate fabrics. During her time as an assassin, she would seduce her marks before strangling them with her ribbons. Another thing she could do was to hide weapons inside the folds of the clothes and with a quick flick of the fabric, she would send a knife flying at a person. Apparently, it ran through her side of the family but it didn’t pass down to her children unfortunately.
“You two will be now on your own,” she continued. “Remember you have only five days to complete your job. Don’t forget that Aunt Emila has provided information about his routine so use it wisely! Also remember your lessons and remain calm.” She stood up and walked over to them. As she kissed them on their foreheads, she whispered, “No matter what happened, we will always love you. Never forget that.”
Torryn looked at her mother straight in the eyes and knew for a fact that she meant it. Nodding, she announced, “Don’t worry, Mother. Weiss and I will make Father and you proud. Once we finished this, the Nadea family name will be remembered by other assassins as being the best of the best.”
---------- Post added October 21, 2012 at 10:03 PM ---------- Previous post was October 18, 2012 at 07:06 PM ----------
Anth 10, 2200
The roars from the coliseum filled the air. From his perch on top of a building across from it, Weiss watched with disgust. On the other hand, his sister was clearly entertained; her eyes were full of excitement as she jumped up and down, cheering silently. He shook his head. Doesn’t she know that the fights were rigged? The most dangerous criminals would always win because they’re the more infamous than the nonviolent ones and the crowds loved to see if an underdog would finally win, which would never happen. Once he tried to tell her that, but she refused to listen. “Who cares?” she just snapped. “It’s fun!”
Looking at Torryn, he could only wonder where she got her bloodlust from. Both their parents didn’t act that way at all even when they were working on a job. Perhaps one of their ancestors was like that? It still amazed him that they were related to each other to be honest. Tory was more hotheaded while he was calm. Likewise she would jump into action headfirst, but he would think about his course of action before fighting. That was probably why Father has always assigned them together. Weiss was the voice of reason and his twin listened to him most of the times anyway.
“Don’t forget why we’re here,” he reminded her. “We’re not here to watch the show, remember?”
His sister glowered at him. “I know that!” she snapped as she rolled her eyes. “However, it’s boring watching that old fart preaching to the crowd all the time. I might as well be entertained while I’m waiting. Besides we’re not going to kill him here of all places.”
Rafans Ullium was currently preaching his message outside the entrance of the coliseum to anyone who was willing to listen. It seemed that he has gathered a large amount of the population since the time they first followed him. At first, it was only a dozen who paid attention, but now it appeared to number to almost a hundred. If this continued, it would probably reach over the half of the Kengen District’s population by the end of the month.
After stalking him for the past three days, Weiss has memorized his routine. Every morning, he would leave his home in the Kengen District and order a small cup of hot coffee and bread from a street vendor. Then he would deliver his message in the middle of a plaza to a small crowd before visiting the poor and handing them food. Afterward, he would have lunch at home before meeting with some influential people to try to persuade them to his cause. Later he would have light dinner and then head out to the coliseum where he would attempt to convince the general public to demand for their rights. Lastly, he would head home and began again another day. Though tonight would be different – he won’t be coming home alive.
To be honest, Weiss has to agree with Refans’s message after listening to it. The people’s living in the Kengen District deserve better. Living in shitty conditions and being treated like dirt were horrendous way to live. The wealthy lived their lives without a care in the world and didn’t care that their way of living depended on the sweat and blood of those “beneath them”. Despite the fact he agreed with the man’s ideas, Weiss knew that he has to kill him. It didn’t matter to any assassin if the target’s beliefs were similar to his or her. A target was still the target.
Suddenly, Refans started to leave his post. Now alert, Weiss signaled to Torryn to get ready. “Good luck,” he signed to her as she jumped off the roof to her position. She nodded and disappeared from view. Keeping an eye on the man, Weiss followed inconspicuously above him. The oblivious Refans kept walking through the dimly lit streets by himself. What a foolish man! Didn’t he know it’s dangerous to walk alone at night especially now? Shaking his head, Weiss got his crossbow ready and grabbed an arrow. Getting into position, he aimed his weapon toward the target and muttered, “Sorry, pal, but tonight is not your night.”
He fired his bolt and it nearly hit Refans in the head. Startled, the man spurned around as he tried to locate where the bolt came from. Nevertheless, he didn’t have time to look because Weiss released a volley of bolts upon him. Panicking, the man scrambled down the streets to avoid getting hit. “Someone, please help me!” he screamed to no avail. A majority of people were still at the coliseum and the few who were still around would refuse to help. Their lives were more important than his.
Finally, Refans found a building, which was abandoned due to its crumbling state, and pushed through the door, which was ajar. As soon as he entered, Weiss stopped his assault. Their target has done what he wanted him to do. Now it was Torryn’s role to finish the job. Hopefully she won’t mess up. Deciding not to take any chance, Weiss hurried down the roof and sprinted off to the location.
Torryn could hear the man’s pathetic screams long before he entered into her brother’s trap. Before long, she heard his pounding footsteps as he entered the townhouse and staggered inside. She could see his silhouette as he bended over, panting quite heavily. Unfortunately for him, he didn’t notice that she was hiding in the shadows close by and the fact that all of the other rooms were locked shut. Quietly, she closed the front door and locked it.
Alarmed, Refans stood up immediately when he heard the lock. He shouted nervously, “Who’s there? Show yourself!”
She smiled. Let the fun begins! Drawing out her swords, she dashed by him and cut his small pouch of money, which scattered throughout the floor. “Tag! You’re it!” she said in a singsong manner as she disappeared into the shadow once again. “Now you have to catch me!”
Torryn wanted to laugh out loud when she saw the man grabbed a wooden rod and looked around the dark room to try to determine her location. Seeing his bleeding body thrilled her to no end. He was going to amuse her all right. She charged at him again and cut him on the arm. He attempted to hit her but failed. “Miss me, miss me!” she taunted as she sliced his cheek. Every time he would try to hit her and each time, she would give him another cut. Before long, his whole body was covered with small slashes.
Now this was starting to get pathetic. “Booooring!” she whined as she swung her swords back and forth. “You’re boooring! You disappointed me.” She grinned widely, bearing her teeth. “Let’s make this more exciting, shall we?”
Before he could respond, she stabbed him in the shoulder before scurrying away. “You bastard!” he cursed through clenched teeth. She laughed. Then she stabbed him in the other shoulder. Afterward she pierced through both his thighs, one at a time. His blood now dripped from her sword tips so she shook them, scattering the blood all over the place.
Now where should she hit next? Just as she made her decision, she heard her brother’s voice in her ears. “What are you doing?” he hissed in their twin made-up language. “Stop fooling around and get the job done now!”
She sighed. He must have entered through one of the opened windows. As usual, Weiss the party pooper ruined the fun! “Fine,” she said and charged at Refans one last time. His eyes widened in shock when he realized that she was only a child. Before he could open his mouth, she thrust one of her cutlasses through his chest; his stunned expression was still clearly on his face. “It was nice playing with you,” she thanked him happily as he let out his last breath.
However, she didn’t let Weiss have his way; she didn’t pull her sword out of the newly dead man immediately. Instead, she let his blood flowed down her sword and dripped down onto the wooden floor for a few more seconds. Then she placed her leg on his chest and drew her weapon out while kicking the corpse aside.
Turning around, she noticed that her brother’s quiver was full of bolts again. “Don’t tell me you went around and grab all of your bolts,” she said in disbelief. He just shrugged.
“Yeah, so?” He arched his eyebrows. “Remember what Father said: ‘Never leave a tiny bit of evidence lest you want to raise suspicions.’ That reminds me…”
He went over to Refans’s body and picked up the ripped money pouch. Placing it in his pocket, he explained to a confused Torryn, “We need to make it look like a mugging, right? Well, I’ll toss his empty wallet somewhere in the alley and give his money to some beggar far from here. Then we’ll head home.” Inspecting the body, he shook his head. “I don’t know how this supposes to look like a mugging. It appears like he was being used as a pincushion.”
Torryn felt offended. “The soldiers will probably believe that he was tortured before the muggers robbed him,” she said defensively. Weiss just gave her a stern look but didn’t say anything. Instead, he gave her his weapon.
“Here,” he said as he handed her his quiver. “Go on ahead and make sure you’re not seen. I’ll try to clean this up and make it more believable. I’ll see you at home, okay?”
She nodded. “Be careful, Weiss.” He nodded and she unlocked the back door. After making sure the coast was clear, she ran off into the darkness.
It took Weiss over a half an hour, but he thought he make the crime scene more presentable. He had cut the man’s clothing into shred and scattered a copper coin or two nary the body. When the guards come to investigate, they would be led to believe that Refans has encountered some crooked men, who dragged him into this abandoned townhouse and tortured him to find out whether he has any more money on him. After finding out that he has none, they killed him to avoid any witness. Hopefully, it would work anyway.
Making one last inspection, he nodded approvingly to himself and used the same exit that his sister used. He walked casually down the street to make himself less suspicious. By now, the citizens of Anka would be leaving the coliseum and heading home so he blended into the crowd. As he came near the gate, a beggar stretched out his hat toward him. “Here you go,” Weiss said cheerfully as he handed him Refans’ money. “Enjoy your hot meal!” The old man continued to thank him gratefully even as the boy disappeared from view. At the gate entrance, he showed his ID to the guard who let him in.
He debated whether or not to have a nice nightly stroll through the neighborhood, but he changed his mind. His parents were probably waiting for him so he headed straight home instead. The house was dark as if they were asleep, but Weiss knew otherwise. He unlocked the door and entered the home.
“How was it?” his mother asked quietly. She was waiting in the foyer along with her husband. Both of them were sitting on cushioned chairs. Weiss could barely make out their silhouettes.
“We succeeded without any incident,” he answered. “Though Tory was a little bit too enthusiastic with her kill.” His parents nodded; they knew about his sister’s eagerness. “Where is she anyway?”
“In bed,” his father replied. “She told us that you were cleaning up when she came home. Your mother told her to clean up the weapons and take a bath before going to bed. I would recommend you do the same.”
“Understood, Father.” Weiss did feel exhausted. Perhaps it was because the adrenaline rush was over now that the job was done. “Good night.”
“Night, Weiss,” Elegans and Rostami said softly as he headed up the stairs.
After washing up, Weiss entered his room. He flopped onto bed without bothering to cover himself with the forest green blanket. Stuffing his face onto the white pillow, he barely registered that someone opened the door. “What is it, Tory?” he mumbled.
He felt her sat down on the bed. “Nothing,” she replied as she fixed her pale pink nightgown. “I just wanted to check on you.”
“Yeah right, you just wanted to talk about the job.” He turned over and gave her the look. She gave him a guilty look. Sighing, he asked, “So what do you think?”
“I think we did well,” she began. “I mean, we didn’t make any obvious mistakes and no one saw us. Not to mention that you make sure that we didn’t leave anything that would lead the soldiers to us so that’s a good thing, right?”
Weiss nodded. “Yeah, I made sure that none of our shoeprints were on the floor and grabbed anything that would make Refans’s death suspicious. I also agree with your assessment. I think we did a great job for our first mission though didn’t it seem to be a little bit too easy?”
“What do you mean?”
“Well…” He sat up and continued, “There was the lack of guards for one thing. Usually there are more soldiers around Kengen, but I didn’t see many tonight.”
Torryn dismissed his concern. “You must be imagining things. The government always put more patrol around the coliseum since majority of the population are there and they’re needed to break up any fights that may occur.”
“I guess you’re right,” Weiss consented. “Maybe I thought the job would be more difficult, but then they won’t give us a hard task for our very first mission after all.”
“You’re always so paranoid, Weissy Pie,” his sister teased him as she stood up and walked back to her room. “Anyway, night. We’re going to have a busy day tomorrow.”
He listened as the door clicked shut. Then he turned off the kerosene lamp next to his bed and went to sleep.
---------- Post added October 22, 2012 at 03:28 PM ---------- Previous post was October 21, 2012 at 10:03 PM ----------
Anth 13, 2200
It was good to be home. Torryn stretched and leaned her back against the wall of the sun room. She was currently sitting on the window seat and was reading a good book about a girl who went on an adventure. So far she was enjoying it and she was glad that Uncle Tomas recommended the book to her. This might sound somewhat silly, but she loved to imagine that she was the main character. She would go off to some exotic places and fought off monsters and villains. Now that she thought about it though, she was going on an adventure anyway due to her lifestyle.
Meanwhile Weiss was sitting at another window seat and reading a book about military history, which she found to be boring. Her brother loved anything that involves the past. He claimed that he learned much from the books especially battle strategies and careless mistakes that generals made, and he could use them for their missions. She just smiled and nodded though she didn't really care at all. Let him worry about planning, she decided. I'll focus on killing.
“How are the birthday boy and girl?” Uncle Tomas inquired as he came into the room. Today was the twins' birthday and they would be thirteen years old. Torryn grinned and closed her book after putting a bookmark at her spot. She came over to give him a hug and a peck on the cheek while Weiss just gave him a handshake.
“We're fine," her brother answered. “And you?”
"Just dandy," he replied and then lowered his voice. "So how was your first solo mission? Your parents said that you did an excellent job and that they wouldn't have done better themselves."
Torryn felt so much pride swelled in her. "It was great," she told him. "We were able to lure the target to our trap and easily kill him. Weiss should get most of the credit to be honest. He was the one who thought of the plan and the one to make the scene more believable."
"That's not true," her brother insisted, waving off the praise. "You're the one who performed the kill; I just led him to you."
"How's about I give both of you the credit?" Tomas laughed amusingly. He placed his arms around both of them and continued, "I heard that there was a bit of an uproar afterward."
When the soldiers discovered Refans's body the next day, small riots broke out all over the Kengen District and King Asyras has to order troops to squash them down. He also issued a warning to the residents of the Merrium District, telling them not to leave the area until order has been reestablished. Likewise, he ordered his men to search every nook and cranny for the murder weapon. That meant they would search every houses and wagons in both districts thoroughly, but they treated the homes in the wealthy area with better respect than the ones in the slums. In the latter, they would push over every furniture and smash everything on sight.
During that time, the Nadea family was getting ready to leave back to their manor when someone knocked on the door. Opening it, Rostami found himself face-to-face with some soldiers, who politely informed him that they needed to inspect his house and wagon for possible evidence. Of course, he welcomed them in and they searched around the home while the family watched. They knew that there was no way they would find the weapons since Elegans has hidden them in the textiles again. As expected, the men didn't find anything suspicious. After apologizing them for the inconvenience, they bid the family a good day and took their leave.
Some hours later, it was announced that they have arrested some suspects in the Kengen District. Three unfortunate men, who were in the wrong place at the wrong time, were charged with Refans Ullium's murder and were sentenced to serve as gladiators for the rest of their lives. They proclaimed their innocence, but no one paid any heed. They were petty criminals after all and they didn't have a lot of money to bribe the officials. In fact, majority of the population knew that they were innocent and that they were being used as scapegoats. However, no one dared lend their hand lest they wanted to be charged as well.
Now that the murderers were apprehended and everything was back to normal, the king proclaimed that it was safe to travel again. As soon as the Nadea family heard the news, they packed up their belongings and left the very next day. The guard at the gate waved them off without a glance and they traveled through the capital without any incident.
“Yeah, there was but it calmed down real quickly especially when they caught the ‘suspects’,” Torryn recalled. The older man nodded.
"That's good to hear," he said as he led them away. "To celebrate your birthday and your first successful assassination, I have a surprise for you."
"Is it a pet?" Torryn has always wanted a pet, but her parents told her no. They reasoned that they traveled everywhere and that they wouldn't have time to take care of the poor animal. However, she would still beg and once try to convince them to let her have a pet buitton snake for a pet. She argued that Weiss could use its venom for his bolts but to no avail. No pets - end of discussion!
Uncle Tomas laughed. "You're still intend on having one, little Tory? Unfortunately for you, there isn't any but..." He opened the door to the parlor and suddenly several people popped out of their hiding places.
"SURPRISE!" Aunt Emila and her family shouted. "Happy birthday, Ryn and Weiss!"
The twins were happy to see their friends and embraced them. "Aunt Emila! Uncle Brocken! You all made it!" Weiss exclaimed. "I thought you said that you were going on vacation."
"And miss your birthday?" Brocken asked. "We made it up so we could surprise you. Your parents help with the planning as well."
As soon as he said that, the twins' parents came into the room with a birthday cake with lit candles. Placing it in front of their children, they said, "Now make a wish."
Torryn thought long and hard on what she wanted the most before making her decision. She turned to look at her brother, who gave her a look telling her that he was ready. Then they took a deep breath and blew out all of the candles while their family and friends cheered.
"What did you wish for?" eight years old Viela inquired.
The twins gave each other a wink and replied mischievously, "It's a secret."
That night, Weiss was sleeping peacefully. The celebration was so much fun and everyone has a great time. His gifts were currently on his desk, but the best gift of all was Mika's. During the party, she gave him a kiss on the cheek and wished him a happy birthday. To be honest, he has been having dreams about her recently. It was nothing indecent; his dreams were mostly about starting a family with her and living a content life. Likewise, it was hard for him to carry on a conversation with her even though he didn't have problem in the past and every time he looks at her, he started to blush.
He wondered if Tory was experiencing the same thing, but then she rarely thought about anything but killing. Maybe he should ask his dad about it; he probably has good advice. If not, he could always ask Mother. However, the thing that troubled him the most was the fact he was actually thinking of quitting the family business. Was he willing to stop killing and live a life as a law-abiding citizen?
Suddenly he heard something crashed through one of the windows downstairs. Alerted, he immediately sat up straight and listened intently. Were they being robbed? More sounds of windows breaking were heard. Finally, Weiss had enough and decided to investigate. Whoever it was, they were idiots trying to rob a home of assassins. However, when he opened the door, he was stunned to find the first floor and the stairway was on fire. He quickly slammed the door and it dawned on him that his parents were still in the parlor, relaxing after a hectic day. Did they manage to escape?
He scampered over to the window and was allayed to find them outside, safe and sound albeit coughing due to smoke inhalation. He opened the window and was about to shout at them when he noticed a number of men was coming toward the house. Rostami shouted at them and begged them to help save his children.
Instead of answering, they aimed their bows at him and fired, covering his entire body with arrows. Horrified, Weiss watched his mother opening her mouth in anger as she used her ribbons to strike at them. Nevertheless, the men nonchalantly shot her down before she could even make her first move.
Weiss was startled to find out that it was Torryn who was screaming not him. He was in a state of shock that he was frozen in place. That changed when the men, hearing his sister's enraged screams, turned in their direction and launched arrows with fiery tips at them. Shit! He quickly dodged their attacks, but unfortunately his room was now on fire. Coughing, he crawled to the door but based on how hot it was, the hallway wasn't safe either.
"Weiss! Weiss! Are you there?" he heard Tory cried out in spite of her coughing fit.
"I'm right here! Hang on for a moment! I'm coming," he shouted as he crawled through the floor to the door connecting the rooms together. He was relieved to find the door to be somewhat cool to the touch and stood up temporarily to open the door. Getting on his knees, he pushed the door open and entered his sister's room.
Her room wasn't in bad condition like his though there was a lot of smoke in her room. He could barely see anything and had to move his hands in front of him to see where he was going. "Tory! Tory!" he called out in the fog. "Where are you?"
That was when he saw her. She was lying unconscious on the floor near her bed. No doubt she collapsed from breathing in too much of the smoke. "Tory! Wake up! We need to get out of here!" He immediately hurried toward her when suddenly he felt the floor shook violently. Damnit! The fire must have burned down the support beams. The whole house was collapsing! Panicking, he quickened his pace and only an arm length away from her when the floor broke below him.
"TORY!" he shouted as he made a desperate reach toward her and barely touched her fingertip. He could only watch in horror as he fell down toward the fiery pit below.
---------- Post added October 24, 2012 at 06:55 PM ---------- Previous post was October 22, 2012 at 03:28 PM ----------
Torryn opened her eyes and found herself surrounded in darkness. Frightened, she sat up and looked around the room. Where was she? As a matter of fact, where was her family? She suddenly recalled hearing a story that murderers and rapists were sent to hell after their death. Was she in hell?
“Hello! Is anyone here?” she called out. “Mother? Father? Weiss?”
Silence. It was getting unnerving now. Standing up, she decided to walk around and hopefully bump into someone. Unfortunately, it appeared that she was all alone. Just when she was about to lose hope, she felt someone’s eyes were on her back. Spurning around quickly, she almost scream in fright when she saw two red eyes that shone like rubies staring back at her. Instead, she tripped over her own two feet and fell hard on her butt.
“Owww…” She rubbed her injury gingerly. Please don’t be a bruise! She turned her attention back to those dreadful eyes and noticed that they were still in the same place. Whose eyes are those? Then she recollected one of her mother’s lessons about Duermons and their famous feature of gemlike eyes. So this person must be a Duermon!
Before she could ask for the demon’s name, he said, “Welcome, Child of Darkness. Don’t be frightened by what is around you. For this is your power and you will need it to hunt down other Children of Darkness.”
“Child of Darkness? What do you mean by that?” she demanded but the Duermon ignored her.
“The darkness is a useful tool,” he continued. “You will have a lot of fun with it.” He grinned widely as if he remembered a joke. “I know I did.”
Suddenly tiny hands were being formed from the shadows and grabbed onto her body, dragging her into the ground. Alarmed, Torryn tried to pry them away from her, but they were like glue. Soon, only her face was above the ground. As she was being pulled down, she heard the Duermon, who was merging with his environment, said amusingly, “Bye bye!”
Instead of being consumed by the darkness, she found herself on a stone platform and surrounded by bright, white orbs. Torryn glanced around the room but couldn’t figure out where she was. In front of her was a throne of some sort and on the floor below her was a crowd of people though it was hard to discern.
While she was looking, a voice startled her. “The next Ilmarian is twins!? Well, this is a first. Mother is going to have a shock when she hears the news.”
She turned around and was astonished to see a young man standing next to the throne with a small fairy fluttering next to him. Where did he come from? The most surprising thing was that her brother was right next to her though and he seemed to have the same reaction as well. One thing for sure, she was glad to see him.
“Who are you?” Weiss wanted to know as he watched the stranger warily. The man didn’t seem to mind.
“My name is Pendance, and I am in charge of this domain,” he introduced himself. “Currently, you’re in Valendor though you’re not dead. In fact, you’re immortal like me.”
Now it was the twins’ turn to be bewildered. “Immortal? You mean we can’t die?” Torryn inquired. He nodded. The twins glanced at each other with amazement. “Why?”
Pendance scratched his head. “It’s hard to explain, but all of us have a role. Mine is to help prepare the souls of the dead for the next life. I don’t really know what yours is, but when you meet my mother, she will explain better. That reminds me that I should ask for your names.”
“Why?” Weiss narrowed his eyes suspiciously at him. However, Torryn has taken a great liking to him. He seemed like a cool older brother in her opinion.
“My name is Torryn Nadea and this is Weiss,” she said, pretending not to see her brother’s disapproving look, and held out her hand. “In case you’re wondering, I’m four minutes older than he!”
“Nice to meet you two,” Pendance replied as he shook her hand and nodded politely at Weiss. Then he paused. “It seemed like you’re heading back to the World of the Living. Be on a lookout for my mother because she will be searching for you. She has strawberry blonde hair, which she braided, and wears a yellow dress. I’m sure you will recognize her since she will look out of place in Enkrum. Until we meet again, farewell!”
Sure enough, Torryn felt like she was floating away. She tried to look at her brother but all she saw was a blur. Feeling lightheaded, she closed her eyes and fell unconscious.
Anth 14, 2200
She woke up, gasping for air. The smell of burnt woods and ashes were all over the place. It appeared that the roof was on top of her as well. Not to mention a patch of strange glowing flowers were near her too. Luckily for her, it seemed that she was near the surface (it was probably because she was on the top floor when the house collapsed) so with some effort, she managed to break free. Exhausted, she stared in disbelief at the destruction that lay all around her. How could this happen?
A scratching noise got her attention. It appeared to be from debris somewhere close by. That was when she remembered the strange dream she had and that meant…
“Weiss! I’m coming!” she shouted as she pulled some broken wood pieces aside. She has to dig deeper, but after a few moment, she managed to reach him. His legs were pinned down so she had to use all of her strength to lift the broken wooden beams up until he was able to move away. Then she helped him up to his feet though he was somewhat shaky. “Are you all right?”
“Yeah, I think so.” He looked around his surroundings incredulously. “What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know, but Mother and Father are dead. We’re the only ones who survived somehow.”
“That reminds me. I just have a strange dream and you were there…”
“Did it involve a Duermon and a man named Pendance?” Torryn interrupted abruptly. He stared at her before nodded. “Then it was real! The whole time I thought I was having a bizarre dream or something. Wait, Pendance claimed that we’re immortal so did we survive the fire because of it?”
“Maybe,” Weiss answered doubtfully.
“But who started the fire and wanted us killed?” she asked desperately. Her brother always seemed to have the answers for everything.
He hesitated before answering, “It has to be an assassination job. Someone hired those men to kill us for some reason.”
“I don’t know, but for now, we should get out of here,” the teenager decided. “Those men may come back just to see if they finished the job and we don’t have our weapons with us.”
The thought of being defenseless terrorized her. If she remembered correctly, Mother has hidden their weapons in the woods close by. “Should we go and get them?”
“No, it’s too dangerous. Those assassins may be lurking nearby and I don’t want to risk it. We should head to Uncle Tomas’s and tell him what happened. He’ll probably know what to do.”
Torryn smiled. That’s her brother all right! Always calm and reasonable even in time of trouble! “Of course!” she exclaimed. “He and Aunt Emila will help us find out who those murderous scumbags are and then we’ll exact our revenge!”
“All right then.” Weiss patted down his body to get rid of most of the ashes. “I think I’m able to walk without falling now so shall we get going?”
Imagine Uncle Tomas’s surprise to find two ash-covered children knocking at his door early in the morning. “Tory! Weiss! What the devil are you doing here especially this late in the hour!?” he exclaimed; his face was pale as if he saw a ghost.
“We were under attack,” Weiss explained breathlessly. The journey took over two hours especially since they were traveling on foot. “Someone sent assassins to kill us, and we’re the only ones to survive. We need your help, Uncle Tomas!”
He stared at them for the longest time that Torryn thought he would refuse, but he finally let them inside his mansion. “Of course,” he responded and shook his head. “Rostami and Elegans are dead!? I can’t believe it! They were one of the best assassins in the world and to get killed like that…”
Shaking his head, Tomas muttered quietly to himself as he led them to the washroom. “Go ahead and clean yourself,” he told the twins. “There are clean towels in there already. It’s a good thing my housekeeper is a heavy sleeper or else she would have a fright seeing you two like this. I’ll be waiting in the parlor.”
After washing themselves, they headed down to the parlor where they found their uncle sitting at a circular wooden table. They took their seats and Uncle Tomas began the meeting. “Tell me what happened,” he said. The twins looked at each other and nodded. Taking a deep breath, Weiss told him everything while she added some missing details. The whole time the older man listened attentively without showing any emotions at all.
“How horrible!” he finally said with disgust. “Don’t you children worry! I’ll find the bastards who did this to you. Anyway, it’s pretty late and you must be exhausted. It’s a good thing I still have your guest rooms in order so you two can stay there. We’ll make our plan tomorrow. Now then, come along!”
They followed him into the room, which was located on the third floor. Since they stayed over at his place almost every day, he has given them their own room and joked that they acted like they own the place. He opened the door and turned on the kerosene lamp, which was located between the two twin-sized beds. “While you were taking your bath, I prepared your room,” he explained as they made themselves comfortable. “If you need something, just let me know. Good night!”
He turned off the light and closed the door, locking it.
As soon as Torryn heard the lock, she was wide awake. She also noticed that Weiss was alert as well. Uncle Tomas has never locked the door before. Something is up and she was determined to find out what. She was about to get out of her bed, but Weiss motioned her to stay put, which she did reluctantly. A few minutes later, she heard footsteps walking down the stairs. Most likely Tomas was waiting at the door to make sure that they were fast asleep.
After counting to a minute in her head, she crept to the door and turned the knob slowly. Yep, it was locked. Perhaps they could sneak out the windows… Weiss must have read her mind because he was at the windows, trying to pry it open. “No good,” he whispered, frustrated. “He must have nailed them shut.”
“But why?” she whispered back.
Weiss just gave her a strange look. “I think Uncle Tomas is hiding something from us. My gut feeling tells me that he knows what is going on and that he doesn’t want us to find out.”
“What are we going to do then? We can’t just stand here doing nothing!”
“We need to find a way to sneak out and spy on him.”
Torryn gave him a derisive look. “How? The door and windows are locked!”
“I know that!” he snapped angrily. “Let me think…” He sat on his bed and muttered to himself. She could only watch helplessly; she wanted to help but she didn’t have anything to offer. Frustrated, she leaned against the wall and let out a sudden yelp, which startled her brother. His eyes widened when he saw that she was being sucked by shadows that were on the wall. He quickly rushed toward her, but it was too late. She was gone.
“Tory, are you all right?” he asked worriedly.
“I think so.” She looked around. “I can still see you though.”
He let out a sigh of relief. “How did you get inside the wall anyway?”
“I'm not in the wall, silly. I'm on the wall,” she corrected and paused. “I think I've merged with the shadows.”
“That's ridiculous!” Weiss retorted.
Torryn felt irritated. “It's not! You saw it happened so you can't deny it,” she pointed out. He sighed.
“Okay then, how did you do it and why?”
“I dunno. I just lean against the wall and the shadows pulled me in.” However she didn't have a clue on how to respond to the second question, but the answer dawned on her. “Remember that strange Duermon?" Her brother nodded. "Well, he said that I can use the power of darkness. Maybe that is why I can do it, and I bet you can too if you have the same dream like me!”
He looked at the wall dubiously and relented. “All right. Let's see if this works.” He touched his hands on the wall, but nothing happened. “Guess I'm not lucky.”
“You're touching the area where the moonlight is shining,” she told him. “Touch a spot where there is nothing but shadows.”
He tried it once again and followed her instructions, and sure enough, the shadows dragged him in. Before she could even blink her eyes, Weiss was standing right next to her. “This is incredible!” he breathed and added, “Though a bit odd.”
She agreed. Her eyes gleamed with mischief. “On the other hand, we did find a way to sneak out and spy on Uncle Tomas.”
Her brother gave her a confused look but smiled when he comprehended what she meant. “You're right! We better get a move on then!” Without a word, they slid under the creak under the doorway and headed downstairs.
Still hiding within the shadows, they waited near the stairways for over thirty minutes when they heard the knock on the door. They saw Uncle Tomas hurried over and opened it. “What is the meaning of this?” Aunt Emila demanded as she removed her hooded cape. “It's pretty late for you to deliver a message so it better be urgent! I had to tell my husband that it was an emergency business meeting so he wouldn't suspect something.”
“It is!” he hissed back as he tilted his head toward the ceiling. “The children somehow managed to survive the attack!”
Emila gaped in astonishment. “What!? That's impossible!”
“Quiet! They're currently sleeping upstairs.”
The woman regained her composure. With a cool voice, she said, "Then tell me what happened." He motioned her to follow him to his private study and didn't notice two shadows stalking behind them. The adults sat down at the table while the twins hid in the table's shadow. The latter listened intently as Tomas summarized how the children arrived at his home and what they told him. When he finished, Emila groaned with frustration.
“This is not good at all!” she moaned. “If the others found out about this, we would be ruined! They will definitely refuse to give us our rewards like they promised us. All of our prestige and wealth will be taken from us too!”
“Not to mention our lives,” Tomas said dryly. “What should we do then?”
She glared at him. “Kill them, of course. We've been ordered to get rid of any evidence that would link Refans's death to us and the others. In fact, why don't you kill them now while they're asleep?”
“No good.” Tomas shook his head. “It's almost dawn, and my staff is about to wake up soon. They will be alarmed to find blood stains all over the stairways and will report them to the police. I don't need that. No, I'll lure them to the woods and have my men ambushed them. Then I'll make sure that they stay dead.”
Emila nodded approvingly. “You better make sure that the job is done thoroughly. Otherwise, I'll have to kill you myself if you fail.” Then she leaned closer and whispered worriedly, “Are you sure they're asleep upstairs?”
“Positive.” He waved his hand matter-of-factly. “If you want, you can go upstairs and check up on them. Besides they can't do anything if they were awake. The door is locked and I nailed the windows shut so they can't escape.”
“No, I trust you.” She patted her sandy hair down and took a deep breath to calm her nerves. “I just want to get it over with. During the party, did you notice how the Nadea boy kept looking at my Maki? There is no way I would allow a murderer marry my daughter! She deserves someone better!”
“You mean a nobleman of higher status?” Tomas mused, but the woman just stared daggers at him. “I know what you mean. Little Tory is a fearsome being. Have you seen her fight before? Once I decided to accompany Rostami and the twins during one of the jobs and what she did was atrocious! She made it into a bloody sport and I swear I heard her giggle about it. And the worst thing was that Rostami did nothing about it! After that, I always get so nervous around her especially when she’s holding a knife in her hand. What if she decided to make a game out of me?”
“I’m glad I’m not the only one who saw how dangerous she is.” Emila shook her head. “I don’t know what Rostami and Elegans were thinking. They should have quitted the assassination business and joined nobility like us! Don’t they realize that the business is going to be long gone after King Asyras get rid of all assassins?”
“They were foolish,” Tomas replied tartly. “They cling onto traditions and deny the fact that the world was changing. Even I could see that and you did too, which was why we retire. However, you can’t convince stubborn mules no matter what.”
“Unfortunately, that’s true,” she agreed. Standing up, she shook Tomas’s hand. “Anyway, I best head out; little Phellen will get cranky if his mommy isn’t there to wake him up in the morning. Remember: get rid of those two and make sure the job is finished. Otherwise…”
The whole time Torryn barely could hear a word. She was full of fury when she heard that her beloved aunt and uncle were the ones behind their parents' deaths and the attempt on her brother and her lives. They wanted them dead because they wanted more powers and say in the Ankan government!? Whatever happened to being loyal to your friends? The thing that most enraged her was that they did not feel any regret one bit about her parents' death. They acted like it was business as usual.
She was about to emerge out of the shadows and kill them right then and there. That was when she felt her brother grabbed her arm. “Wait,” he signed to her.
“I won't let these traitorous bastards get away with this!” she snarled back. He refused to let go nonetheless.
“No, now is not the time,” he urged her. “Emila mentioned about the others so we need to find out who else is involved.”
He was right. She did mention that there are more people involved. She relented grudgingly and stood next to her brother again. Tomas and Emila were still discussing, ignorant of what was going on close by. “Now what?”
She looked at him straight in the face and his expression stopped her heart cold. Even though he showed no emotion on his face, she felt a silent rage was flowing from him. She rarely saw him this pissed, which meant that he means business. Did Emila’s words about Mika and him bother him that much? To be honest, she didn’t care what others think of her but if they messed with her family…
“First we'll head back upstairs. Next we'll plot our revenge,” he gestured coldly. Then he headed back upstairs without waiting up for her.
---------- Post added October 27, 2012 at 12:23 AM ---------- Previous post was October 24, 2012 at 06:55 PM ----------
“Are you kids ready for your walk?” Tomas asked cheerfully. They have just finished eating brunch and were relaxing. During the meal, they had a lively and friendly discussion about the twins’ future. It was if the event that happened late last night never happened.
Weiss gave him a curious look. “I thought we’re going to discuss what to do next.”
“That is the plan. We plan our next course of actions in the woods because there is more privacy there,” he explained. “I don’t want any of the housekeeping staff to accidentally eavesdrop on our conversation.”
The twins nodded understandably. “All right. We need to get dressed first though,” Torryn replied as they stood up to leave. “We don’t want to ruin our lovely clothes walking around on the muddy trail.”
Tomas followed suit. “Of course! I’ll meet you in the foyer when you’re ready.”
As they walked back to their room, Weiss thought to himself that he was amazed how calm he felt right now. Maybe it was because he already knew what he must do and he’s just waiting patiently for the most opportune time. The same could be said about Torryn. He has to admit that he felt very proud of her for keeping her cool in spite of everything that happened. Knowing her, she would probably have ripped those bastards’ heads off if he hasn’t stopped her. To be honest, he wanted to do the same, but his rational side prevented him.
He was putting his shoes on when he heard his sister asked, “So how do I look?”
He turned around and saw that she has come out from behind the wooden screen, where she has changed her clothes. She was wearing a black and red short dress with matching gloves, boots, and headband. Heh, I guess even a cold-blooded killer can still act like a typical girl, he thought amusingly.
“You look nice, but isn’t that dress a bit too short? It barely covers your hips! You’re going to freeze your butt off!”
“Yeah so?” She arched her eyebrows as she patted down the pleated skirt. “I like this dress because it’s easier to walk around. Besides, since when you did care about how I dress? I don’t criticize what you’re wearing!”
Weiss felt affronted. “What’s wrong with my clothing?” he demanded as he examined himself. He was wearing a brown sleeveless shirt, black pants, brown gloves, and black hiking boots. In his opinion, he was dressed for the occasion unlike his sister.
“Nothing, I was just making a point.”
“Oh.” He cleared his throat. “Anyway, let’s head down if we’re set.” Then he spoke in a soft voice using their secret language. “Don’t forget our plans.” Torryn nodded and they went downstairs.
Tomas was sitting on a chair and immediately stood up when he saw them. He stared with bewilderment at his sister’s dress choice but didn’t say anything about it. Instead, he asked, “Are we ready to go then?” The children assented. “Okay then, let’s go!”
Opening the door, he ushered them through the door and locked it. Then they walked toward the woods where death awaits them.
“So where are we going, Uncle Tomas?” Torryn asked innocently. They have been traveling through the woods for a while now and were currently in the deepest part. The man didn’t answer at first due to the fact that he was hacking down some vines.
Wiping the sweats from his forehead, he finally answered, “Since you mentioned that you believe assassins were the ones to kill your parents, I figured we should find a place that is hard to locate to discuss our next course of actions. No one would dare look in this area.”
“What if we get lost then?” Weiss questioned. “Your staff won’t be able to find us if what you said is true. By the way, where are they? I didn’t see them at all after brunch.”
“Oh, I told them to take a leave since today is a holiday. Don’t forget that today is the Festival of the All-Mother so I informed my staff to visit their families and go back to work tomorrow. As for not being found…” He suddenly halted when they arrived at a small patch of grass. “Well, that was the intention.”
Before the twins could react, they found themselves surrounded by ten assassins. “What is the meaning of this, Uncle Tomas?” Weiss demanded angrily.
“I’m sorry, kids, but I’ve been ordered to kill you,” the man apologized mockingly as he stood face-to-face across from them.
Torryn’s eyes flashed with anger. “So it was you who sends those assassins to kill us!”
He brushed through his grayish-brown hair with his fingers. “It’s nothing personal. It’s just that my life is more important than yours.”
“You won’t get away with this! Won’t your staff realize that we have disappeared?”
“I’ll just say that you thanked me for your hospitality and decided to move back to the capital.” Smirking, he continued smugly, “To be honest, I won’t miss you too much. In fact, I’m going to enjoy watching you die right in front of my eyes. Farewell, you brats. I’m sure hell is waiting for you with open arms.”
Their reactions startled him however. Instead of looking stunned and horrified, the twins just smiled. “You’re right, Uncle Tomas,” Weiss said sweetly. “Someone will die today, but it won’t be us. It will be you, and we will very much enjoy watching your death.”
Then they crouched down and placed their hands on top of the shades formed by the trees. Everyone’s eyes widened with amazement when they saw that the children suddenly submerged in the shadows and disappeared. “What are you doing, you fools!?” a panicked Tomas shouted. “Fan out and find them! They can’t get away so easily!”
His men scanned the area thoroughly; their eyes darting back and forth as they warily walked around. All of a sudden, a shadow erupted from the ground like a geyser and lifted one of the assassins, stabbing him through the chest, before falling back. Before his corpse landed with a thump, the darkness grabbed three of the men and pulled them in. Losing their nerves, the others tried to flee but to no avail. Three more got skewered while another got sliced into tiny pieces. One assassin was abruptly lifted from the ground; a thin rope of shadow was around his neck. His body swayed from a tree branch as he hung. The last killer, realizing that he was the only one left, armed himself in a desperate attempt. It was in vain. The shadows slowly emerge from the earth, surrounding him. Then they swallowed him up; the sounds of his body being crushed could be heard in the eerie quiet woods.
Tomas watched the scene with dread. This was not what he has expected by any accounts. Emila needed to know about this! He backed away slowly but realized that he couldn’t move any further. Looking down, he was horrified to find out that his feet have been implanted to the ground. The darkness has grabbed them and refused to let go; it then forced him down to his knees. A rumbling noise alerted him to look up and he watched helplessly as the corpses of his men were lifted by the shadows above him. Their dangling bodies formed a ring, which surrounded him. Then the Nadea twins came out of the shadows from the ground and appeared right in front of him.
“What’s wrong, Uncle Tomas? Didn’t expect kids to beat a bunch of grownups?” Weiss gloated. The man just glared at them and refused to answer. “Cat got your tongue, eh? No matter, you will talk and tell us everything.”
“Go to hell!” he snarled but the children just laughed. Torryn sauntered over to him slowly and knelt down so she was at eye level.
“We know that Aunt Emila and you were the ones who planned the attack on us,” she purred, “and we know that there are others involved. Give us their names and we may make your death quick and painless.”
However, the man didn’t say a word and the girl sighed. “Very well,” she said, shaking her head. “I see that you want to make things more difficult. Oh well, I haven’t have fun lately so you will do.” Standing up, she walked away before stopping and turning around. “Do you know that the human body has 206 bones? I wonder how it will feel if each and every one of them was broken?”
She has the shadows seeped into his boots and wrapped themselves around his toes. “Let’s start with your littlest toe. This little piggy went to the market…” She snapped her fingers. Crack! Tomas screamed out in agony as the bone in his smallest toe was crushed into pieces. Seeing him that way made her feel very giddy.
“Well, are you going to talk now?”
“I’ll get you for this, you bitch!” the man cried out and continued throwing expletives at her. His face was covered with sweat, and tears were flowing down his face.
Torryn just tsk and shook her head. “Being stubborn, huh? I don’t mind because that means more fun for me. Let’s see… this little piggy stayed home!” Another cracking noise was heard and the man screamed in pain once more. “This little piggy…”
A stone-faced Weiss watched the scene without saying anything. Normally he would have stopped his sister before she went too far, but he’s going to let her have her fun for now. Besides he was distracted by what he saw. Staring at the traitor, he noticed that he saw something glowing inside him. It was an orb of some sort except it was blackened and dull. What could that be?
That was when he remembered his strange dream. Didn’t that Duermon called him a “Child of Darkness” and that he has to hunt others like him? Does that mean Tomas was a “Child of Darkness” too? It suddenly dawned on him what that demon wanted them to do.
“That’s enough, Torryn,” he told her finally.
A weakened Tomas was clenching his teeth; his mouth was filled with blood due to the fact that he was biting down the side of his mouth to prevent himself from screaming. He looked at the boy warily. No doubt he knew that Weiss has already figured him out.
“Why not? I haven’t even started yet!” his sister argued furiously.
“He won’t tell us anything because he has nothing to lose,” he said simply. “Besides he already knows that we’re going to kill him anyway since that is what we were taught to do.” He turned to face Tomas. “Isn’t that right?”
The man just stared at him before he finally nodded. “I guess I have underestimated you,” he said ruefully. “Your parents would be very proud. Very well, get it over with. I’m ready to accept my death. I’ve been trained for this moment after all.”
Tomas straightened his back and held his head up high. He looked at the twins defiantly and waited. Weiss hated to admit it, but he had to admire the man for facing his death without any fear. He glanced at Torryn and nodded. “Do it.”
The girl nodded back and used her power to bend Tomas’s back. However, he still lifted his head to look at his murderers. Then Torryn formed a sword from the shadows and raised it up above her head. “Any last words?” she asked softly.
“Yeah, I’ll see you in hell.”
She just smiled and used all of her energy to slice the man’s head off. Soon his head fell down to the ground and landed on small pile of leaves. Tomas Ceendan, the man whom the twins used to lovingly call him their uncle, was now dead.
“What should we do with the bodies?” she asked her brother, who was walking over to her.
“Leave them here for the scavengers. Their bodies can rot for all I care.”
Torryn nodded though a part of her was saddened by Tomas’s death. She remembered all of the fun times she had whenever her family visited his home. But then, she recalled the conversation from last night and became angry again. No, Torryn Nadea would not allow her memories to betray the fact that man killed her parents! That man deserved to die for what he did!
She wondered if her brother felt confused as she was but based on his expression, he probably did not. Feeling exhausted all of a sudden, she sat down on a log. “What do we do now?”
Her brother sat next to her, and she noticed that he seemed tired too. Using their newfound powers must have drained their energy. “First, we’re going to rest for a little bit to regain our strength. Next, we’ll head back home and retrieve our weapons.” He suddenly gave her a wicked grin. “And then, we’re going to pay visit to Auntie Emila’s house.”
---------- Post added October 30, 2012 at 08:34 PM ---------- Previous post was October 27, 2012 at 12:23 AM ----------
Emila Fosten should have known something was amiss. First, Tomas hasn’t sent any message informing her about the twins’ deaths. She rationalized that he must be busy getting rid of the evidence. Besides, he was notorious for sending his messages late. Second, her butler didn’t greet her at the door when she got home after meeting with the others to reassure them that everything was going according to plans. But then, today was the Festival of the All-Mother so perhaps Brocken sent them home to see their family, she reasoned as she walked toward the dining room. It was half past noon so they were probably still eating. Imagine her horror as soon as she opened the doors.
Her family was strung up in the air by ropes of shadow above the table; their limbs were spread apart. Those strange strings also held their heads up and gagged their mouths. As soon as they saw her, they started to squirm and tried to call out to her. Their eyes widened with terror as they attempted to warn her of something, but the gags muffled their voices. “What on earth…?” she breathed.
A sudden click behind her caused a lump to be caught in her throat. “Don’t move, Auntie Emila, if you don’t want to be shot in the chest,” Weiss warned her in a cold voice. Her heart stopped. If he was still around, that would mean…
Her mouth dropped when she saw the shadows on top of the table began to rise up and form a shape of a young girl. They dispersed, revealing Torryn who sat on top of the table. Her cutlasses lay next to her. “What’s wrong, Auntie?” she asked innocently. “Didn’t expect any visitors today? By the way, Uncle Tomas couldn’t make it so he sent his regards.”
Wait a minute, did that mean Tomas is dead? Finally found her voice, she asked coolly, “You murder him, didn’t you?”
Instead of answering her, the girl turned and looked up at the hostages, who immediately stopped struggling and glared at the twins. “Oh, don’t look at my brother and me that way. You’re only in this situation because Emila brought it to herself,” she mocked them and then smiled devilishly. “Why do you look confused? Didn’t she tell you? She used to be one of us – an assass-”
“Don’t you dare speak another word!” Emila shouted angrily as she charged at that bitch, but something flew by her head and almost hit a terrified Mika. The bolt just brushed by her cheek and cut off a few strands of her honey-colored wavy hair.
“I told you not to move,” Weiss stated; his voice was cold as ice. “If you do it one more time, I won’t miss.”
Reluctantly, she stood down and settled on looking at the Nadea girl with hatred. “What do you want?” she demanded. “Money? Jewelry?”
Torryn laughed sarcastically. “Puh-lease! We’re assassins not thieves.” She bended forward as she kicked her legs back and forth and looked at Emila straight in the eyes. “We want the names of the people who were involved in our parent’s murders. We know that Uncle Tomas and you are one of them so don’t bother to feign innocence. Tell us and we may let you and your family live.”
How did they know? No matter, she won’t betray her colleagues to these brats. “Why should I tell two killers their identities? You’re going to kill me anyway after I do,” she said nonchalantly. She turned to her oldest daughter. “See, Mika? This is why I didn’t want you to spend time with Weiss. He’s going to make your life miserable and you would always have to watch your back just in case he will try to kill y-”
Another bolt almost hit her second daughter, Viela. “Stop rambling, old hag,” Weiss growled as he reloaded his crossbow. “If you’re being stubborn, then I guess we will have to do it the hard way. Every time you refuse to give us their names, I will use your loved ones as target practices.”
“You wouldn’t dare!” she challenged him. “They have always been your friends since you were young. Not to mention the fact that you love Mika! You wouldn’t hurt her, would you?”
He hesitated, and Emila smiled inwardly. Even though she hasn’t been an assassin for over twenty years, she was trained to use the act of seduction and knew how to use people’s emotions to her advantage. Of the twins, she always viewed the boy as the most vulnerable and she planned to exploit him. Now to convince him to let her family and she go. She opened her mouth, but he shot his bolt, which hit Mika in the shoulder. The girl cried out in pain while the others began to panic again.
“Don’t patronize me,” he replied and shot a projectile at her husband’s leg. “I meant what I say. Now tell us the names or else…” He aimed his weapon at Phellen, who immediately cried out for his mother. “…I will hit your son right between the eyes.”
Normally she would call his bluff, but her only son’s life was at stake. Did the boy actually mean it what he said? Was she willing to risk Phellen’s life just to save her pride? She, not knowing what to do, hesitated. For the first time in her life, Emila realized that she was not in charge of the situation. Her silence must have irritated Weiss because he sighed and said, “I guess your son means nothing to you then.” He started to pull the trigger, but…
“ALL RIGHT! YOU WIN!” she screamed in anguish. “Here are those damned names like you asked!” She closed her eyes and listed them from memory. Opening her eyes, she noticed that Torryn studied her to determine whether or not she was trustworthy before she nodded approvingly. She took a deep breath and groveled. The feeling of being submissive was oppressive. “Well, are you happy now? Now free my family like you promised.”
“Of course,” Torryn said with a smile and snapped her fingers. Instead of freeing them, however, the shadows pulled their limbs until they were ripped apart, and they squeezed the hostages' throats until their heads popped out like a cork from a champagne bottle. The blood splattered all over the room and the occupants as the bodies fell down with a thump around the girl, who continued to smile broadly at the sight.
To Emila, time seemed to slow down as she watched the scene in stunned silence. However, she snapped out of it immediately and scrambled over to her family’s corpses. Collapsing down to her knees, she gingerly touched her son’s fingers before crying out in distress. Her husband and children’s eyes were still opened in horror as they realized that they were going to die. “Why?” she demanded, confronting the two children who walked over to her. “You said that you would let them go if I told you the names!”
She gasped all of a sudden as she felt a tendril of that dreadful darkness wrapped around her and forced her to look at Weiss straight in the eyes. Her blood froze upon seeing the icy fire in his eyes. “We never promise you that,” he taunted. “You must have gotten too soft, Emila. We are assassins – we don’t leave any witnesses. You of all people should know that.”
Emila started to laugh halfheartedly that the twins looked at her with alarm. “I guess you have officially become full-fledged assassins,” she said wearily. “Your parents would be so proud. Well then, get on with it.” Right now, she didn’t feel any fear because she knew her family was waiting for her on the other side.
However, the boy shook his head. “Death would be gift to you. No, I have something else intended for you.” She began gasping for air as the shadows began to tighten around her waist until she felt her back snapped like a twig. “First, I’ll make sure you will never move again to insure that you won’t go after us. Second…”
This time a thin vine of shadow appeared in front of her face and she screamed with fright. As soon as she did, the shadow shoved down her throat, which caused her to gag. Out of instinct, she tried to grab it but how does one grab something insubstantial? She could hear Weiss’s voice continued, “… you will never be able to speak one word to anyone of what happened here.” That was when her vocal cords were crushed. Instead of screaming in pain, she could only wheeze.
“Next, I’m going you to make sure you won’t be able to see or hear ever again. I want the last thing you see and hear to be us,” he said as the darkness began to cover her eyes and enter her ears. Her vision began to darken and her hearing was becoming muffled. “This will be your punishment for betraying us. You will continue to live, trap in a husk of a former able body. I want you to live with yourself, knowing that you have caused the deaths of your loved ones because of your greed. Lastly, I want you to live with fear because one day, we will come back for you and have a little ‘fun’.”
He began to chortle and held his sides. “Look at what you made me do. You’re making me do something that Torryn would do. However, I can see why she does it now. It is fun, but I think I have enough for today. Until next time, Emila Fosten.”
With those words, he dropped her like a rag doll and merged with the shadows with his sister following right behind him. They didn’t bother to look back at the bloody scene where a broken grieving woman lies on the ground surrounded by her dead family members.
It took a few hours later for someone to discover the scene. The gardener just came back from visiting his sick mother when he has a sudden feeling that something bad has happened. He noted the eerie silence when he usually heard the children laughing. Not to mention the fact, Mr. and Mrs. Fosten would usually greet him from their seats in the back yard. Likewise he would have seen the other servants bustling along. The thing that alarmed him the most was the fact that the front door was wide open. Frightened, he entered the house in spite of himself and called out, “Mr. Fosten? Mrs. Fosten? Anyone home?”
At first he heard nothing so he let out a huge sigh of relief. Must be my imagination, he thought to himself. They’re probably went out somewhere and forgot to close the door.
However, he discarded that thought when he thought he heard a wheezing noise from the dining room. The gardener opened the door and was disturbed at what he saw. A moaning Mrs. Fosten was lying on the floor surrounded by her family, whose limbs and heads were separated from their bodies. Blood covered the intricate carpet and walls. “Mrs. Fosten, what happened?” he cried out as he rushed over to her and held her.
She panicked at first even though he tried to reassure her that he was a friend. She tried to scream but no sounds came out of her mouth, which caused him to realize that her vocal cords were damaged. Likewise, she didn’t seem to see and hear him at all. The gardener also determined that her back was broken since she was having trouble moving. After a few seconds, she calmed down and grabbed his shirt with her bloodied hands. He wanted to stay there to comfort her, but he knew that he needed to go out to seek help. Reluctantly, he stood up and laid her on the ground. Mrs. Fosten started to cry again, but he patted her to calm her down. Then he quickly left the house to alert the police.
An hour or so later, the Ankan security force arrived at the scene. They took Emila Fosten away for medical treatment and searched for survivors. Someone located the housekeeping staff in the cellar so the police immediately interrogated them. All of them have the similar story: they were performing their duty when someone snuck behind them and knocked them unconscious. When they came to, they found themselves locked in the cellar.
Based on what they’ve heard and seen, the police determined that assassins were involved in the gruesome act. However, they couldn’t figure out why. The Fostens were a very popular family and didn’t have any enemies. When they decided to interview their closest friends, they were startled to find out that Tomas Ceendan was missing. According to Mr. Ceendan’s servants, he informed them that he was going to take a walk in the woods with the Nadea children. However, he and the children never came back. Did something terrible happen to them? Disturbed, the police went over to visit the Nadea home only to find it burned to the ground with no signs of survivors. What was going on here? What was the connection?
Before long, words spread throughout the countryside and all nobilities became fearful. They immediately packed up their belongings and headed to the safety of the capital. As for Emila Fosten? Her sister-in-law decided to bring her into her home and hired a nurse to tend to her needs. She has to depend on her caretaker to feed her, bathe her, and give her medicine to ease her physical pain. Unfortunately, nothing could ease her emotional pain and she always has terrible nightmares of her family’s murders that would wake up the whole household. Likewise any noises would cause her to panic so that people have to reassure her that everything was fine. While these events were happening, two young assassins watched in the shadows.
Anth 21, 2200
A week has passed and everything has become relatively back to normal. The police has finished their investigation and headed back to the capital since it appeared to be a cold case. There was no way they could catch whoever did the crimes because how could one catch a professional killer? After doing one last check on the Nadea home, they packed up and left.
At nightfall, Torryn and Weiss came out of the shadows to see their home one last time. They stopped in front of four smooth stones, which were used as tombstones, that were placed in front of the burnt manor. They stood there in silence as they prayed for their parents’ souls and reflected what has happened. Finally, Torryn spoke in a monotonous voice, “Friends are meaningless, brother. They pretend to be nice to you just so they can exploit you and use you for their advantage. As soon as they don’t need you anymore, they discarded you like trash. That’s why we can only trust each other because we’re family and we’re the only ones we have left.”
Weiss nodded, agreeing with everything that she said. Until then, he has always wondered why his twin and he were the only ones to survive, but now he knew. Looking at his sister, he understood that she would be emotionally unstable if he wasn’t around to be her rock. He probably would be more resilient but he has to admit that he would be lonely without Torryn’s presence too. He went over and hugged her tightly just to show her that he would always be there for her. Finally, he asked, “Torryn, may I borrow one of your swords?”
She gave him a questioningly look but handed him her weapon. Walking over to their parent’s graves, he slit his palm and let the blood drip onto the ground. He heard Torryn gasped with amazement as the white, glowing flowers appeared. “How did you do that?”
“These are ceraphilis flowers,” he explained as he returned her weapon. “I remembered reading a story about how these flowers are formed by the gods’ blood, and since we’re immortal, I figured it will work.” Looking back at the graves, he continued, “I thought it would be nice if these flowers would be used to remember our parents. That’s way there will always be flowers blooming here for all eternity.”
“That was nice of you, Weiss,” Torryn assented and began walking back to the darkness. “By the way, where should we go next? Back to the capital to find those responsible for our parents’ deaths? We already confirmed Emila’s words to be true.” In the past week, they observed the people on Emila’s list to see how they would react when they heard the terrible news. Based on their reactions, they were indeed the culprits. Weiss shook his head.
“Not yet. We want to lure them into a false sense of security first before we make our strike. Besides I think we should get more supplies so we don’t have to go back and forth. I want their deaths to be swift so we can bring fear into the city. Then no one would dare mess with us again. Does that make sense?” She nodded to show that she understood. “Good! Let’s head to the Marden Swamp then.”
So I'm starting chapter 8...but I had to comment on ch 7 before I forget....the story of Zentran is absolutely amazing. I enjoyed reading about his personal drama and I identified with him at so point...powerful stuff there...keep it going Riki!
"I grow on you like a fungus grows on a nail "
Glad you like it, Ancy.
I have to admit he was the toughest one to write emotionally since I wanted him to feel bitter about the whole thing.
Oh, here are the designs for the exorcists:
As for Ch. 10, I think I have at least two parts left. ^^
I WANNA GO BACK TO READ IT Ç.Ç
November 11 seems so far away T.T