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This is my first attempt of writing a novel so this should be interesting. I'll try to post a chapter once a month. Anyway, enjoy! Please write any critiques and review in this thread and not in my MtM one please.
To make things easier, I have made a blog to archive my stories.
PS I'll try to make the other chapters not that long as the first chapter.
- Chapter 1: Kejuta - "The blood of the gods is nourishment for the land"
- Chapter 2: Pendance - "Don't be so reckless!"
- Chapter 3: Aundra - "Like time, magic is infinite"
- Chapter 4: Marika - "My role is to guide the Seeker"
- Chapter 5: Lanskas - "Well, that was unexpected"
- Chapter 6: Oraji - "Please tell me that you know the difference between an apple and a pear"
- Chapter 7: Zentran - "Why should I help the humans who are terrified of me?"
- Chapter 8: Hessin - "So this is our burden"
- Chapter 9: Alethea - "What else can I do?"
- Chapter 10: Torryn & Weiss - "Friends are meaningless" | Part II | Part III | Part IV
- Chapter 11: Shintra - "Love can easily be transformed into hate" | Part II | Part III | Part IV
- Chapter 12: Resphyr - "In dreams, no one dies" | Part II
- Epilogue: "It has begun"
- Side Story: Welcome Home
Chapter 1: Kejuta - "The blood of the gods is nourishment for the land"
Kejuta turned to look at the speaker and slowly nodded. She knew that the time has come again when her captors needed her to do her duty. Based on the conversations she overheard from the other slaves, she figured that the crops were dying once again. Knowing the Merzakians, they were praying futilely to their beloved goddess for a miracle, which will never come. Don't they realize that the gods had forsaken them over several centuries ago? Kejuta couldn't help herself but smile bitterly over that fact. Not to mention the fact that they...
One of the Merzakians cleared his throat and she realized that they were giving her an impatient and stern glare. Kejuta just ignored him and continued to braid her daughter's hair. They wouldn't dare punish her; she was too precious to them after all. After she tied a ribbon in Adia's hair, she kissed her daughter's forehead and whispered, "Take care of Pendance, okay?" Adia nodded to show that she understood and went to her little brother, who looked at his mother with solemn eyes. The woman looked sadly at her; it has been three years now. Adia whose joyful voice brought a smile to everyone's face hasn't spoken ever since that incident.
She wished that her husband was here to keep an eye on the children. Thesben was most likely working in the fields or tending the animals. Who wouldn't blame him? He hated this part as much as she does. "When your father comes back, tell him that that dinner is done already but it's needed to be heated up," she reminded Adia. “Oh, do you have my necklace for safekeeping?” Her daughter put her hand in her apron pocket and held out a red pedant necklace to show her that it was safe. Then she put it back in her pocket again and patted it.
Kejuta tried her best to make it seem like a normal, typical day but it was pointless effort. Nevertheless, she and her children put up the facade just to hide the fact that they were scared. Giving them a kiss one last time, she walked toward the group of men and nodded to show that she was ready. Then they walked out of the door without looking back.
The procession continued quietly on its way to the destination. They walked past by the slaves' quarters and the fields where the crops were being harvested. Kejuta noticed that people, who were in the lodgings, were discreetly peeking through the raggedy curtains while those working in the field turned to look at them as they walked by. However, as soon as they realized that they were spotted, they quickly looked away as if they were worried that one glance from her will curse them. She pretended that she didn't notice their reactions; it has been that way for thirteen years now so she has gotten used to it. Even though she didn't want to admit it, Kejuta was still bothered by it. Luckily, her children haven't experienced any discrimination from their fellow colleagues... yet, but then she and her husband did their best to ensure that.
The journey continued that way until they reached their destination - a crumbling stone foundation of a once-renown temple. According to legend, the Merzakian enemy, the Purians, burned down the building when they invaded the country around a millennium years ago. The guards led her to the center of the temple where the High Priest awaited for them. In spite the fact the ground was arid and cracked due to the lack of rain; a patch of flowers with white leaves and stems was able to survive. But then, there was something different about those flowers - they glow a pale white light, which gave her a comforting and peaceful feeling whenever Kejuta walked in them, and they didn't need the usual nutrients that other plants needed to live.
When everything was in place, the High Priest began the ceremony. "Oh, Great Goddess!" he beseeched as he raised his hands toward the heavens. "Please hear your people to whom you promised..." Kejuta tuned the man out; she had heard that spiel so many times now that she memorized it by heart. From what Thesben told her, a priestess called the Maiden was supposed to perform the ceremony. However, the Maiden was a follower of Puria so the Merzakians would attempt to kidnap her and force her to follow Merzak through tactics that had been lost. The bitter fight continued for several centuries until one day, the 43rd Maiden claimed that she has received a vision from Puria. According to her, the patron goddess was weary of fighting so she commanded her people to move east to a place where they wouldn't be bothered though in Thesben's opinion, the Maiden was probably tired of the attempted kidnapping so she used that excuse to convince her people. Of course, they listened to her and that night, they left without a trace much to the dismay of the Merzakians.
"Please open your heart and listen to our cries, Great Goddess! We are mere insects compare to you." the priest pleaded in a loud voice. Kejuta sighed irritatingly. The old man loved to hear himself talk. Looking up at the sky, she estimated that it was nearly thirty minutes now. At this rate, she would probably be home by midnight - not in time to tuck her children to bed.
"For the gods' sake, got on with it," she grumbled. As if he had heard her, the priest quickly finished his prayers, which was still reminding Merzak about her promises to her people. Then the priest turned around and walked her; he clasped a dagger so tightly in his hand that the knuckles were white. As she lifted her head up, Kejuta swallowed nervously in spite of herself. The priest soon stood right in front of her and without warning, slit her throat before she could even react. Falling toward the ground, the woman that this was the twenty-second times she has died.
This was the part that she dreaded the most - the dream of her past. It always began when she first arrived as a prisoner in the Merzakian town.
She was twenty-five years old when the Merzakians attacked her village. They had caught her people by surprise and easily defeated the men who tried to defend the village in vain. After killing off any defiant captives and burning down the town, the invaders tied the prisoners together with rope and led them away.
The Merzakian soldiers had dragged their newest prisoners into the village. When she first arrived, Kejuta felt scared but at the same time, relieved. At least none of her family will have to suffer; her mother died during childbirth while her little sister died soon after and her father was killed fighting off the Merzakians when they attacked her hometown. In a way, they were lucky.
Soon, the Merzakians separated them into groups; Kejuta assumed that they didn't want any people from the same village together to ensure that they wouldn't dare to start a revolt. Afterward, they led the groups to the slave quarters where they were taken to different lodgings. Her group's new home was located near to the stone wall, which protected the village from invaders. "Get settled in, maggots," one of the Merzakian guards sneered as he shoved them into the building. "This will be your home for a very long time."
Her fellow captives quickly found empty beds and placed what little belongings that they had left on them. Among strangers, Kejuta felt uncomfortable as she walked down the aisle looking for a place. She noticed an empty bed at the corner and walked over there. Plopping onto the bed, she wondered to herself what was in store for her. "Hi, I see that you're one of the newest 'recruits," a voice said. Startled, Kejuta opened her eyes to see a young man with brown hair and eyes looking at her.
"My name is Thesben," he introduced himself as he offered his hand. "I was from the village of Cront. What's your name and where are you from?" She sat up on her bed and shyly pulled her hair behind her ears. He has a beautiful smile and seemed friendly. Blushing, she answered as she shook his hand, "I'm Kejuta and my village was called Alethesia."
The young man frowned slightly when he heard it. "Alethesia?" he pondered. "I thought they have tan skin and dark hair, but you have pale skin and strawberry blonde hair."
"It's because one of my ancestors was not originally from the village," Kejuta blurted quickly. "According to my grandmother, he arrived in the village with his sister. He told the villagers that they came from a place far from there and that they wanted to escape from a religious war. Apparently, his sister was traumatized from the war so he decided to flee even though it would mean death for him. After hearing his story, the villagers pitied them and took them in. After a while, my ancestor settled down and married one of the village girls. As for his sister, she was taken care of by the village until her death."
Thesben nodded when he heard her story. "I see," he said. "That explained it. I noticed that the Merzakians were looking at you curiously. It's probably because you look similar to them or the long gone Purians. Maybe your ancestor was a Purian; I highly doubt a Merzakian will be willing to leave home. Well, Kejuta, I guess we're going to get know more about each other in the upcoming days since we're stuck in this rut. I'll most likely see you in the fields so see ya!" He turned around and waved without looking back as he walked away.
"See you tomorrow then," Kejuta replied softly. She felt herself smiling; she had made a friend so at least she won't feel that lonely in this imprisonment. Since there was nothing else to do, she lowered herself back to bed and after a few restless hours, she managed to fall asleep.
The next day, she began her work in the farming fields. Striking the rocky soil with her trowel, Kejuta thought to herself that the job was pointless. The famine has been going on for several years now. She pulled up a tiny onion and sighed. It looked like this earth is going on its last run. Tossing the vegetable into her satchel, she suddenly noticed three guards walking through the fields. Confused, she and the other new slaves stopped what they were doing and watched the scene.
The guards stood in front of an old, feeble man who was on his knees. "Congratulations, old man," one of the guards mocked as he roughly pulled the man up his feet. "You've been chosen." The old man's eyes widened with fear as he sputtered to protest, but another guard kneed him in the stomach before he could even say a word. Then the Merzakians dragged the weaken man away while everyone watched helplessly.
After watching what happened, Kejuta turned to some of the experienced workers whom she befriended. "What's going on?" she asked them quietly as they worked. Resma, a slender woman with black hair, glanced around scrupulously to make sure that the slave drivers weren't watching before replying, "He's going to be offered as a sacrifice to their goddess, Merzak." She spat on the ground as soon as she named the goddess; Kejuta almost forgot that Resma was a follower of Versen.
"Why?" she inquired curiously. She didn't know how the other clans worship their gods but then her village didn't have a preference to a god or goddess. Petite Pilur rolled her eyes as she explained, "Those simple-minded idiots believed that if they sacrificed a person, Merzak will hear their prayers and provide them with a good harvest. You would think after a hundred tries with no successes, they would have the bright idea that it doesn't work."
All of a sudden, a scream was heard throughout the village but it was abruptly ended. "May his soul find peace," Mathes, a red-haired young man, murmured in a prayer as he continued digging indifferently. However, Kejuta was shaken by it that she stopped what she was doing. "What are you doing!?" Resma hissed. "Keep working! Do you want to get punished!?" Kejuta shove her trowel hastily into the ground and looked for more vegetables. She wanted to know why was Resma so heartless after hearing that man's scream, but she kept her mouth shut. Her colleague didn't seem like she wanted to talk more on the matter so she kept herself busy.[/i]
"So how was your first day?" Thesben asked when he sat on the edge of her bed. Kejuta rolled over to face him; she has been lying on her bed ever since she came back from work. The scream of that old man still haunted her. The look on her face must be telling because he said understandably, "Not good, huh?" She gave him a slight nod and turned around to face the wall. She didn't feel like talking at all today.
Kejuta felt his hands rubbed her back. "Hey, I heard what happened. Do you want to talk about it?" She wanted to tell him no, but instead she found herself sitting up and asking him, "How do you deal with it?"
The young man scratched his head, which she later found to be an endearing habit of his, as he thought about it. "You know, that's a tough question," he admitted. "I was pretty alarmed when I first saw that too. I guess since it has happened so many times that I've been here that I pretty much got used to it unfortunately." He gave her an apologetic look as he sheepishly continued, "The other slaves are pretty upset about what happened to that old man but at the same time, they're relieved that it wasn't them. No one really wants to die after all."
She nodded to show that she understood what he was saying. "But still..." she murmured as she leaned her head against his shoulder, “I can't forget the way he looked as he was being dragged away and that scream..." She shuddered. "It's so barbaric what they're doing!" Thesben just continued to rub her back while listening to her talk. Her telling him about her feelings made Kejuta feel much better about the whole thing. It was nice to have someone to talk to.
Their quiet conversation lasted until late into night. Soon they talked about their family and reminisced about their childhoods. During their conversation, Kejuta was shocked to found out that Thesben's mother was chosen as a sacrifice a week after she arrived in the Merzakian town and that she put up a brave face because she didn't want her son to worry. Likewise, Thesben was very intrigued to find out that she rarely got sick or injured even though she was a risk taker. They would have chatted more, but people were starting to blow out the candles to get ready for bed.
"I guess we should rest since we'll have a busy day tomorrow," Thesben coughed embarrassingly as he stood up. Kejuta followed suit and held his right hand. "Yeah, we should," she said as she pulled a strand of hair behind her left ear. "Umm... I enjoyed our talk so if you don't mind... could we have it again tomorrow night?"
The young man smiled. "I would love to," he replied. "I'll see you again tomorrow then. Well, good night!" He gave her hand a squeeze before heading off to his bed. Kejuta waved goodbye to him and then lay down to bed. Talking to him has lessened the fear inside her. Her eyes began to feel droopy and soon she fell asleep.
For the next year, Kejuta and Thesben had their nightly talks in which they talked about their day, their fears, their hopes, and dreams. Then, one night, Thesben asked out of the blues, "Hey, Kejuta, how do you feel about me?"
She looked at him speechlessly before she could sputter, "Wh-what did you just ask?" Patiently Thesben repeated his question and waited for her answer. Her feelings? Toward him? She really enjoyed his company and his affable personality. Not to mention he was very patient and supportive of her whenever she felt depressed or lonely. "I really... enjoy having you around," a blushing Kejuta finally replied. “Why do you ask?”
Upon hearing those words, he gave a look of relief. “It’s because I feel the same way as well,” he confessed. “If you don’t mind me for being nosy, but I have two questions. First, do you like me as a close friend?”
Kejuta smiled and answered, “Of course.” She felt herself blushing for some reason so she hid her face behind her hair. “Next?”
Thesben took a deep breath and inquired, “Do you like me more than a close friend?”
“Yes, I do,” she blurted out without thinking. She covered her mouth in surprise. Oh gods, what was she saying? What if he doesn’t like her that way? “Ummm… why are you asking these questions?”
He placed his hands on her and gave her a warm smile. “It’s because I feel the same way too,” he explained. “Kej, after spending times with you, I realize that I…” he gulped and continued, “I really care for you! If it’s all right with you, may I spend a little more time getting to know you?”
“You mean be a couple?” Kejuta squeaked and he nodded. “I-I don’t know what to say! This is so unexpected!”
“Please say ‘yes,’ he pleaded, which caused her to laugh. His puppy eyes look was so adorable that she couldn’t resist.
She finally declared, “Yes, I want to be with you. Are you happy now?” He responded by kissing her on her lips; she could still feel the warm presence of his mouth on her lips after he pulled away from her. It was a nice sensation and she didn’t want to forget it. Before he could react, she placed her arms around him and kissed him in return.
Despite the fact that they couldn’t see each other during the day due to the harsh work condition, the two lovebirds continued to see each other during the nights and talked. During their conversation, they would hold each other’s hands and give each other a peck on the cheek a couple of times. Other times, they would just sit there and contemplated; both didn’t feel like talking at all, which was fine. Sometimes, they just needed some private times to think.
Another year has passed when Thesben asked a random question, “Kejuta, do you still feel the same way about me?”
Kejuta frowned. “Of course, silly,” she teased. “I always enjoy having you around.”
"That's good," Thesben smiled and ventured, "And would you enjoy my company if we're with each other for the rest of our lives?"
Kejuta gaped. "Are you implying what I think you're implying?"
He just gave a chuckle and confessed, "Yes, I'm asking if you want to marry me. I wanted to propose to you but didn't want to make it too sapp-" Before he could finish, Kejuta flung her arms around to embrace him.
"Of course, you idiot!" she cried. This was the happiest day of her life! "Oh, but we need to tell the others and determine the date..."
Thesben gave her a sly look and told her, "In fact, they've already known. As for the wedding date, would tonight be fine with you?" She smiled and gave him a peck on the lip as an answer. "Well then, shall we begin?" he asked as he helped her to her feet.
The ceremony was very simple and small. Resma and Pilur placed tiny white flowers in her hair and fussed over her, making sure she looked "pretty enough" for the groom. Since she didn't have her father to walk her down the aisle, an old man graciously offered to do so and they walked gracefully down to the center of the room where Thesben awaited. Then the leader, who was usually the oldest person in the quarter, presided over the wedding. "Would you, Thesben, accept Kejuta as your wife? Would you protect her, provide for her, and love her for the rest of your life?"
"I do," he replied and then the leader turned to new bride.
"And do you, Kejuta, accept Thesben as your husband? Would you tend the household, bear his children, and love him for the rest of your life?" he inquired. Kejuta turned to look at her beloved's face and saw love in his eyes so she knew her answer.
"Yes, I do," she confirmed in a firm voice. Nodding approvingly, the head of the slave quarter declared, "May the gods bless this happy union and may this couple enjoy eternal bliss!" After the words were said, Thesben and Kejuta kissed each other on the lips while everyone cheered. Soon everyone came over to congratulate the newlyweds, who beamed with joy and gratefully accepted their well wishes. In spite of the hardship that they have experienced, Kejuta realized that this occasion was important to everyone - for just one moment, they could forget about the situation that they're in and instead, focused on a happy time.
They celebrated until the sky grew dark. As people slowly went back to their beds to prepare for tomorrow, the happy couple was still talking softly to each other. "This will be one of the happiest memories in my life!" Kejuta sighed blissfully as she leaned her head on her husband's shoulder. She didn't want the day to end but unfortunately, there was nothing she could do about it.
"One of them?" her husband teased. "What do you mean by that?" Kejuta just smirked at him as she twirled her finger on his chest. "Oh, you know..." she replied slyly as she stuck her tongue at him and he gave her a big grin.
"Too bad we won't have any privacy," he lamented. "Perhaps if we kick everyone out..." They laughed - it would nearly be impossible since the guards would make sure that never happened. '"Well, I guess we should go to bed then." They walked over to their beds, which were pushed together, and laid down (Kejuta made a mental note to thank the person whose bed was next to her because he switched places with Thesben). As she lay contently with Thesben's arms wrapped around her, Kejuta thought to herself that nothing will ruin their happiness.
A week has passed since then and the daily routine began once again. Pulling up a shriveled up beet, Kejuta worried about how the latest harvest was supposed to feed the Merzakians and the slaves. At this rate, there will be a lot of starving people this winter. She has overheard both sides grumbling about it and a slave revolt may be imminent based on the spreading rumors. The slave masters might have heard the gossip as well because they would immediately punish anyone who dares protest against them even if it was something minor.
Soon she heard footsteps storming through the fields. It was that time again. Thesben was right - after a while, she's gotten used to the ritual and ignored the pleas from the chosen sacrifices. She hated herself because of it. Her past self would probably be disgusted by her. Kejuta kept on working when she noticed shadows covered her. She looked up from what she was doing and dread filled her heart when she realized that the group of Merzakians was standing right in front of her.
"Congratulations," one of them announced with a smirk on his face. "You've been chosen to be the next sacrifice. You should be honored. In fact, consider this as a belated wedding gift." She wanted to scream in protest but no words came out of her mouth. Horrifying terror kept her frozen to the spot. The guards just laughed at her pitiful display and quickly grabbed her arms. As they pulled her away, Kejuta thought she heard yelling behind her.
She turned her head and saw that her husband was chasing after them. "Let her go, you bastards!" Thesben screamed desperately as he tried to evade the slave drivers. Unfortunately, they managed to tackle him down and restrain him. Some of them began to beat him up due to his insubordination. "Learn your place, maggot!" one of them lectured as he kicked Thesben in the stomach.
"Thesben..." she whispered. Seeing him that way snapped her back from her stupor and she began to struggle against her captors. However, they were a lot stronger than she so her efforts were in vain. The guards just proceeded to walk away without even a flinch as they ignored her resistance. They marched onward to their destination passing by the dried up crops and stone houses. During the journey, Kejuta noticed that the most of the slaves lowered their faces to avoid looking at her though a few gave her a sympathetic look and murmured a prayer for her soul.
Finally the procession stopped. Even though it seemed to last for hours to Kejuta, the walk was only ten minutes. She examined around her new surroundings. They were on a field with dried grass and right in front of them was a crumbling foundation, which she later learned to be an ancient temple. The Merzakians then dragged her through the entryway where three men were waiting for them at the center of the room. "Is she the latest sacrifice?" the oldest man asked. The others nodded so the man stated, "Then let's us begin. As the High Priest, I will assume command right now."
The man turned around and faced an altar, which was made out of slab of rocks layered haphazardly on top of each other. He was shouting some words aloud, but Kejuta couldn't hear anything. She knew that she was there physically but she felt like she was someplace else. In a way, she was having an out-of-body experience. Knowing that she was going to die, she could only watch helplessly while waiting for her demise.
"Oh, Great Goddess, please accept the sacrifice that has been offered to you," the High Priest announced and turned to face her. He was holding a blood-stained dagger. Kejuta flinched and subconsciously stepped back as the old man approached her; the guards who stood behind her blocked her way unfortunately. "No... stay away," she pleaded but her words fell to deaf ears. The stone-faced priest stared down at her and without hesitation, he grabbed her by her hair. Pulling her head back, he placed the dagger on her throat and slashed across her neck in a blink of an eye.
She could hear the waves crashing against the shore. Opening her eyes, she realized that she was on a beach. Was this a dream? Kejuta pulled herself up and glanced around. This wasn't Alethesia, that's for sure. "Where am I?" she wondered aloud. She stood up and decided to walk around the area to find some clues. Maybe she is in the Land of the Dead? Though she thought it would look different based on the stories that her grandmother told her. That was when she noticed something strange in the waters.
Something or some things were glowing a mile off shores. It was too foggy so she waddled in the water to get a closer look. Thirteen golden flames floated above the water and seemed to glow brighter when she came closer. Suddenly she heard a voice in her head saying:
"THOU SHALT SEEK THESE FLAMES AND BIND THEM TOGETHER"
Kejuta spun her head around looking for the source of the voice but saw nothing. "What do you mean by that?" she shouted but nothing answered. She then felt a hot sensation on her face and turned to see that the flames were burning brighter. She was able to shield her face in time before the flames erupted. The last thing Kejuta saw was a flash of light.
She opened her eyes and realized that she was on her bed back in the slave quarters. Why was she here? Didn't she die? Kejuta gingerly touched her neck and was surprised that there was not even a scratch on her. How was that even possible!?
Kejuta then felt something wet on her forehead and looked up to see Thesben looking at her worriedly. "Thesben? Why am I still alive?" she asked quietly. "I should be dead! Or was it a nightmare?"
Instead of answering her, he muttered to himself, "I can't believe it. I always thought Grandmother's stories were just myth but..." He turned to look at her intensely; she could almost feel the tension in the air. "I don't know how to say it, but you DID die," he confessed as he scratched his head. "However, something strange happened according to the Merzakians.
"From what they told me, as soon as your body hit the ground, something odd happened. White, glowing flowers sprouted wherever your blood fell, and they seemed to be healing your wound as well. The Merzakians were startled by what they saw and they dragged me over to that place to demand answers. I couldn't answer their questions though when suddenly there was a shout from the fields.
"One of the slave drivers came sprinting toward us and excitedly proclaimed that the harvest suddenly was bountiful. All of the vegetables and fruits were healthy and ripe. Everyone was so confused by these turns of the events and began to believe that your death was the main influence. We looked down at your body and were shocked to find out that you were breathing again. That was when they assumed that Merzak must have given you as a gift to them. The 'Eternal Sacrifice' is what they're calling you now."
He laughed mirthlessly at those last words; he grabbed the towel from her forehead and placed it in a bowl of water nearby. "Who would have thought the Cursed Ones really do exist?" he mused as he wrung the towel
Kejuta listened in silent shock. "Wait," she finally said. "What do you mean 'Cursed Ones'?"
Her husband stopped what he was doing before replying, "According to my grandmother, our ancestors did something unforgivable - they waged war against the gods. They ultimately failed and the gods, angered about this rebellion, cursed them. They declared that a certain number of their descendants will pay for their crimes. Their descendants will roam the earth for all eternity until the gods are appeased. To let everyone knows who the Cursed Ones are, their blood will cause the earth to bloom. That is what I think happened when I saw those strange flowers."
"What do you mean about the blood part?" she inquired curiously. "Why is my blood special?"
"From what my grandmother told me, the blood of the gods is nourishment for the land because they used their blood to create our world," he explained. "My theory is that since the gods had left us, the Cursed Ones are supposed to take their place until they come back."
"I see..." she said softly. Then a thought came to her head. "Where are the others? Have they come by to see me?" Thesben hesitated and looked away.
While avoiding her eyes, he answered, "Everyone in the quarters is... terrified of you. When they heard what happened, they were fearful that you might spread the curse to them if they even go nearby you. In fact, no one wanted to sleep nearby you, which is why there is a huge space around us. Some of the men even warned me to stay away from you because they worried that I would be cursed."
"And are you afraid of me?" Kejuta asked softly. Her dear husband, whom she loved with all of her heart, confessed, "I don't know. I'm confused on what is going on right now, but I do know that I love you no matter what." He stood up and grabbed the bowl of water. "I'll be back. I need to get some fresh water now."
She wasn't completely satisfied with his answer; it was like he was avoiding the question altogether. In spite of it, something in her heart told her that he was telling the truth that he does love her. That thought comforted her. Maybe she could convince her friends that she was still the same woman and not a danger to anyone despite the strange facts about her blood and immortal status. By the time Thesben came back, she was already asleep.
The next day was the worst day of her life. Kejuta decided to go back to work even though she should spend the day recuperating because she was feeling restless. Not to mention the fact that she needed to talk to her friends to reassure them that she's harmless. As she walked through the now green fields, she noticed that the other slaves scurried away from her and they would stare at her with gaping mouths when they were at a safe distance from her. Trying to ignore them, she pretended that she wasn't bother by their behavior and continued to search for her friends.
Finally, she found them gathering carrots. They were talking and laughing as they plucked the vegetable from the ground. Suddenly, Pilur looked up and saw Kejuta approaching them; she tugged at Mathes's sleeve and pointed at her. Her friends then became quiet and subtle while they continued doing their work. Kejuta waved at them and they returned her wave, albeit halfheartedly. At least they acknowledge me, she thought hopefully and went up to them.
"Hey!" she greeted. "Do you guys need any help?" Instead of answering, they glanced at each other and immediately walked away. Troubled, Kejuta called out to them. "Wait! Where are you guys going? If it's because of what happened, I just want you to kn-"
Resma spurned around so quickly that Kejuta took a step back in surprise. "Listen!" she hissed tersely. "We don't want you to be near us. You're a freak! One of the Cursed Ones! We don't even want to be associated with you so stay away!" With that, her former friends stormed off.
Kejuta just stood there, stunned - even her friends were afraid of her. To make the matters worse, they refused to listen to her when she tried to reassure them. She recalled what her husband had warned her; he was right after all. Everyone in the slave quarters was frightened of her. She felt something wet rolling down her cheeks and upon touching her face, she realized that she was crying.
A strange feeling filled up inside her and it took her awhile to figure out what it was. Even though she was the only Alethesian in the group, she never before felt this isolated. Kneeling down on the ground, she tried to ignore the pain while she dug the dirt. Kejuta felt people staring at her but she didn't care. Right now, she was alone in the world and there was nothing she could do about it.
She was waiting outside the lodging when Thesben arrived back from work. "We need to talk," she told him before he could even open his mouth. He must have noticed that she was upset because he nodded. He glanced at the young Merzakian who was guarding the home but the man just shrugged so they walked to a small clearing where they could talk in privacy. Kejuta was grateful for it because she didn't want any nosy people eavesdrop on their conversation. "So what is it?" Thesben questioned.
Kejuta paused for a moment and finally sighed, "I think I know what you meant by what you said last night. I will understand if you-"
"If I what?" Thesben demanded as his face darkened.
She gave him a pained look. Oh, she loved him so much, but... "I understand if you want to leave me!" she shouted as she pounded her fists against his chest. "Like you said, I'm one of those goddamn 'Cursed Ones'! A freak of nature!"
She expected him to push her away and leave her in her sorrow; instead he grabbed her by the shoulder and shook her. "Leave you!?" he screamed. "Just because you can't die!? I don't give a damn about whether or not you're a 'Cursed One'! You're my wife, first and foremost. Didn't I make a vow to love and protect you for eternity?"
Upon hearing his declaration, she collapsed into his arms and sobbed. How foolish she was to think that he would consider abandoning her! During the whole time, he hugged her until she calmed down. "Listen," he consoled her. "I promise that I will always be here for you. I'm not scared of some stupid curse. In fact, to prove my love for you, I got you something..." He fumbled around in his pocket and pulled out a necklace. It was a simple one: a reddish-brown carnelian pedant with a simple gold chain.
"I had to bribe one of the Merzakians to get that chain," he confessed. "I wanted to give it to you as your wedding gift, but it wasn't ready..." She touched the necklace and picked it up cautiously.
"I love it," she smiled softly. She unclasped the necklace and handed it to him. "If you don't mind, may you put it on me?" she requested shyly. He smiled and did so. They found a large stone and sat down next to each other. The couple gazed up into the sky and watched the star twinkled above them for a couple of minutes.
Leaning against him, Kejuta apologized, "I shouldn't have doubted you. It was just… today was... rough on me."
Thesben nodded and queries, "Do you want to talk about it?" After taking a deep breath, she told him everything that happened in the fields. His expression became grim upon hearing what happened.
“Tch!” he murmured angrily. “Let me have a talk with them and knock some sense into them.” He was about to storm off, but Kejuta grabbed his arm.
“Don’t,” she told him. “It won’t make any difference even if you try. They have already set their own mindset about me and a little ‘talk’ won’t convince them. Besides, you’ll get in trouble for it. Everything will be okay because I know that at least I have you.”
Thesben didn’t seem too pleased with her reason, but he stopped. “I guess you’re right,” he said reluctantly. “Well, how about this? Since those idiotic Merzakians know that I’m your husband, they somewhat revered me. I’ll pull some strings and see if something can be done.”
“Please don’t do anything rash,” she warned him. “If they get punished, they will think it was because of my doing and will blame me for it.”
He just shrugged. “Who say that it involved them? Anyway, I’ll take the blame if they are not happy about it since it will be my idea.” Kejuta wanted to object but decided against it. Thesben could be stubborn as a mule.
“Let’s change the subject to something more cheerful,” she suggested instead. “Speaking of which, how many kids do you want?”
“It’s a baby girl!”
The midwife, Tyleo, happily placed the crying newborn on Kejuta’s chest so the baby could begin suckling. The joyful mother held the baby and gazed at her in awe. It took Thesben and her several tries before she was finally able to conceive. At first, they were discouraged because they thought that maybe she was sterile after being sacrificed for the first time, but when they found out that she was pregnant, that notion was discarded.
Thesben then entered the bedroom by pulling aside the curtain which separated the room from the eating area and kitchen. After his talk with the Merzakians, he told his wife that they decided that she needed a place for herself. It took the Merzakians several months to build it, but the hut was finally completed. It was pretty small but quaint house; there were only two rooms – the kitchen with an eating area and the bedroom. A simple, plain cloth separated the rooms from each other.
“How are they?” he asked worriedly to the midwife as she was washing her bloodied hands in the water basin. Even though she looked youthful in spite of her graying hair, she was actually sixty-one years old. She was recommended by both the slaves and the Merzakians as being the best midwife out there.
She gave him a reassuring smile and answered, “Both of them are doing well. Congratulations on becoming a father, Thesben.” Drying her hands, she turned to look at Kejuta. “I better leave you three alone so you can bond. If you need anything, you know where to find me.” Waving goodbye, she let herself out of the house.
As she watched Tyleo walked back to the slave quarters, Kejuta noted, “I like her. She’s the only one who is still friendly toward me and doesn’t care that I’m ‘different.’ If we have another child, I hope she will still be around to help.”
Her husband agreed, “She’s a great help all right. By the way, how is the baby?” He knelt down next to her and held out a finger so the baby could grasp it. Her bright blue eyes gazed up curiously at her father while he stroked her silvery blonde hair.
“She’s doing well,” Kejuta beamed as she rocked the baby. Who would have thought something this small can be so wondrous? “In fact, she looks actually like my sister. She even has her eyes and hair.”
Thesben then inquired, “What was your sister’s name?”
“Adia,” she answered. “It means ‘joyful’ in the Alethesian language if I recall correctly.”
“‘Adia’… I like that. Why don’t we name her that?” he suggested.
“I would love that,” she replied kindly. Kejuta handed the newly named baby to her husband who gingerly held her.
Looking into her eyes, he whispered, “Welcome to the world, Adia.”
Just like her namesake, Adia was a happy and outgoing girl. By the time she was six years old, she would follow her mother around while Kejuta worked in the Merzakian chief’s kitchen, where she was transferred after the Merzakians determined that she was too “valuable” to work in the field. Even her new coworkers were not pleased that she was there with them, they were at least courteous to her. It was probably because their masters were close by for them to do anything.
While she was in the kitchen, Adia would sometimes help out by delivering ingredients from the garden or carrying out the food to the grand dining hall where the Merzakians ate. However, most of the times, she would entertain everyone by skipping around the kitchen and singing silly songs about the birds or flowers outside. Her angelic singing voice would bring a smile to everyone’s faces and make the day go by easier. Other times, she would pluck flowers nearby and randomly hand them out to a Merzakian or a slave walking nearby. In other words, everyone adored her.
The Merzakian ladies especially loved her. They would sometimes brush her long, silvery hair, commented on how soft it was, and how envious they were. Sometimes, they would take her into their room and dress her up like a doll. Kejuta knew that Adia always hated it, but she took it in stride because that was what her parents told her to do.
“Maybe you can marry one of our sons, Adia,” they would say wistfully as they played with her. “Then you don’t have to work in the fields or kitchen just like your parents. You would have a nice life.” She would just nodded with a bored look and let them ramble. When Kejuta and Thesben found out about it, they laughed and announced that it would never happen.
One day, Kejuta was dicing up vegetables when she heard a commotion. One of the kitchen slaves exclaimed, “Oh, Adia! Watch where you’re going! You almost caused me to drop a pot of boiling water!” She must have noticed how upset she was because she declared, “What happened? You look pale as a ghost!”
Unexpectedly, she felt something slammed against her back. Looking down, she saw a clearly shaken Adia clutching her waist and crying softly. “What’s wrong, Adia?” she asked, alarmed. It took a while for her to calm down, but her daughter was finally able to tell her what happened.
She was picking up some baby’s breath and wax flowers when she saw a fellow slave walking by. The slave seemed exhausted as she carried a garden hoe back into the shed. Maybe some flowers will cheer her up, Adia decided.
Adia ran up next to the slave, who has black hair matted with sweat. “Here you go!” she beamed as she handed the flowers to the slave.
Instead of being thrilled, the slave tossed the flowers to the ground and trampled them with her feet. Stunned, Adia just stood there while the slave gave her a tirade. “Don’t you dare think some stupid flowers will make my day, you spoiled brat!” she berated. “Just because your mother is so ‘special’ doesn’t give you a right to flaunt how lucky you are to live a privileged life!”
Adia was frightened by this strange woman and she finally got enough strength to hurried away back to her mother. “Go ahead! Run away, you scared little girl! Maybe your mommy and daddy will make everything a-okay!” she heard the woman shouted as she ran away.
She listened to her daughter’s story and frowned. Who could that be?
“It must be Resma,” Dena, who was nearby, determined. “She always complained about you and your family. She thinks you are receiving special treatment since you have your own place to live and now work here instead in the field. We tried to point out that you have extra guards guarding your hut and that you couldn’t even leave the place except for work and when you’re needed to… be killed, but she refused to listen to reason. In my honest opinion, I think she’s jealous that you were able to have a child while she’s sterile.”
Kejuta listened intently. She knew that there would be some slaves who would think that way, but she would have never thought Resma, her former friend, would be one of them. She was surprised to learn that her ex-friend was sterile though; the last thing she heard was that Resma and Mathes got married recently.
Turning to Adia, she comforted her daughter, “Listen, Adia. Sometimes some people are just mean and nothing can cheer them up. Don’t let it get to you, okay?” Adia nodded as she wiped her eyes. “Now, would you like to help me put the diced vegetables in the pot?”
While Adia was helping her with the meal, Kejuta had a nagging feeling that something bad might happened. Resma wouldn’t do anything terrible, right? She didn’t seem like the type who would. Brushing her feeling aside, she focused on the task on hand.
A couple months had passed after that incident and they have forgotten about it. Kejuta, now eighth months pregnant with her second child, was relaxing at home with her daughter. Tyleo has recommended that she should have bed rest until she gives birth. She was pretty content with that since it was getting difficult to waddle around the kitchen with her big belly, but the best part was that she was rarely needed now for the sacrifice ritual.
The Merzakians would usually sacrifice her twice a year (one before the planting period and one before the harvest). However, the earth has been thriving lately that the Merzak’s followers believed that her blood must have replenished the land quite enough that she was no longer needed. Besides, they didn’t want to kill her while she was with child because they didn’t know what the consequences would be if they did.
The door opened. “Daddy!” Adia squealed as she jumped into her daddy’s waiting arms. Thesben swung his daughter around while she shrieked with delight. After he placed Adia back onto the ground, he walked over to Kejuta’s bed and kissed her on her forehead. His once youthful look has been replaced by a mature appearance. There were some bags underneath his eyes and his skin was tanner due to being under the sun the entire day. On the other hand, she hasn’t aged at all – was it the result of being killed the first time?
“And how is the expecting mother?” he murmured as he placed his hand on her belly. Kejuta grimaced as she tried to find a more comfortable position.
“He or she has been kicking all day,” she complained, wincing. “I barely have enough sleep. Adia was such an easy baby compared to this one.”
Thesben patted her shoulder. “At least you only have a month left,” he said. “Too bad you won’t be able to catch up with your sleep though.”
She chuckled. “By the way, how was work today?” Her husband scratched his head before he gave his response.
“Some of the crops have disease and the others are complaining that a few is showing signs of rot,” he told her.
Kejuta became worried. “The crops are dying already?” she asked. Talk about bad timing! She rubbed her belly and mentally wished that the harvest would survive for another month.
Sensing her anxiety, Thesben comforted her, “I talked to the Merzakians and they reassured me that they can wait for a month before you are needed again.”
That gave her some comfort. At least the Merzakians kept their words… majority of the times anyway. “Well, there is nothing that we can do but wait, I guess,” she sighed. Looking out of the window, she prayed wholeheartedly that the earth could survive for another month.
Two weeks has past and none of them thought too much about the harvest. As soon as Kejuta give birth, she would be sacrificed, they’ve agreed. Based on reports that Thesben has heard, the crops were mostly doing well except for a few bad ones here and there. Everything was going according to the plan, it seemed.
Kejuta remembered that night quite well. Her family and she were eating dinner when suddenly there was a pounding on the door. Alarmed, Thesben went over to the door to open it. He was immediately slammed to the side as a group of Merzakian soldiers barged into the house. “What is the meaning of this!?” she demanded as she stood up to confront them.
“There’s no time,” one of the Merzakians growled. “We heard disturbing report that all of the crops have been spoiled – even the ones we salvaged!” Kejuta and Thesben’s mouths dropped. How was that even possible?
“Please wait!” Thesben begged as they walked toward her. “Her expectant date is almost here! Can’t you just be patient for a few more days?”
“We’re not interested in your wife, old man,” another Merzakian explained. “We want her.” Instead of grabbing Kejuta, two of the men grabbed… Adia. The girl became frightened and started kicking and screaming.
For a quick second, a shocked Kejuta stood there before trying to stop them. Unfortunately, a couple of Merzakians held her back. “Let her go!” she screamed as tears fell down. “She’s only a child! Take me instead!”
She noticed that Thesben was also trying to reach for Adia as well. “Damnit!” he cursed. “Why her!?”
The Merzakians looked at each other uncomfortably before someone finally answered, “We’ve heard that she would make a great alternate since her mother’s blood should flow in her as well. If it works, then our harvest can be saved. If not…” He shifted his feet before heading out of the door abruptly. The others quickly followed.
The last image she saw of Adia on that dreadful night was that she was stretching her arm toward her father and her fingers barely touching his as she was swept away. “Mommy! Daddy!” Adia shrieked while she was kicking and clawing. Kejuta could still hear the screams in her nightmare.
The next thing she remembered was that her water broke. Collapsing onto the ground, she barely heard someone shouting, “Shit! Someone get the midwife! She’s going into labor!”
By the time Thesben came back with Adia, Kejuta was holding a baby boy. After placing Adia in her bed, he went over to his wife. “How is she?” she overheard him asked Tyleo worriedly. The midwife shook her head sadly.
“She’s still the same,” she answered. “She refused to acknowledge her son and just sat on her bed. She hasn’t talked at all since what happened to poor Adia.” She hesitated before continuing, “How is that poor child?”
Thesben glanced at his daughter. “She’s fine,” he replied. “She’s just like her mother – she can’t die.” Upon hearing the news, Tyleo gasped but looked away awkwardly. Who couldn’t blame her? She probably didn’t know whether or not to be relieved that she didn’t die or be sympathetic because she is one of the “Cursed Ones”.
“If it brings any closure,” the midwife cleared her throat, “the other slaves found out who told the Merzakians that terrible rumor about your daughter. From what I’ve heard, Resma was the culprit. Apparently, she was jealous of your wife and decided to make her suffer by using Adia.”
Kejuta’s husband gripped his fists tightly and cussed out her former friend. He turned to leave but Tyleo’s firm voice stopped him. “I know what you’re thinking, but don’t bother,” she informed him. “The other slaves have already punished her. Even though most of them feared your wife, they still love Adia. After all, she is your daughter, too.”
Rustling from the bed nearby told them that Adia was stirring. Thesben rushed over to her and held her hand. “Adia?” he whispered. “Baby, how are you doing?”
Adia slowly opened her eyes and looked at her father. She began to speak but no words came out of her mouth. The only sounds were some squeaks. Frowning, Tyleo went over to examine her. “What’s wrong with her?” an apprehensive Thesben questioned. “This never happened with Kej!”
“I think the experience of being killed put her into a state of shock,” the midwife theorized, shaking her head. “She could talk but the whole ordeal traumatized her greatly that she subconsciously refused to do so. I don’t know if she will ever talk again. It will be her own decision if she wants to talk or not. There is nothing that neither of us can do about it unfortunately.”
“She will always be the same,” she finally said aloud. Startled, they turned to see that Kejuta was talking though she has a faraway look in her eyes. Thesben cautiously walked toward her and sat down beside her.
“What do you mean?” he asked.
Without looking at him, Kejuta grieved, “She will never die and age. She will always look like seven years old as the years go by.” Finally looking at her son who has chestnut brown hair and brown eyes just like his father, she announced, “His name will be Pendance because he will only bring sorrow to us.”
Thesben then asked, “Why is that?”
She looked at him and with tears in her eyes, informed him, “Because they’re going to do the same to him just like they did to Adia.” Afterward, she turned to face the window and became silent once more.
Something must have snapped inside him. “Please keep an eye on them, Tyleo,” he ordered the midwife. Without waiting for her response, he left his house and slammed the door. She could hear his confronting one of the guards and demanding, “I need to meet with your chief right now!”
He didn’t come back until late in the afternoon. By then, Tyleo was finishing cleaning up the dishes. It took some encouragement, but Kejuta managed to eat and feed the baby as well.
“What happened?” the midwife interrogated. “You have me worried sick! I imagined the worst case scenario and thought it was so irresponsible of you to leave your wife and children behind. What if you have gotten yourself killed?
“Relax, Tyleo,” he convinced her. “Nothing of the sort happened. I just had a little ‘chat’ with the Merzakian leaders.”
He went over to Kejuta and knelt before her. “Hey, Kej,” he murmured. “The Merzakians has a preposition and they want to know if you’ll agree.” He waited for her reply but she didn’t say anything so he continued, “They agreed not to use our children as sacrifice as long as you agree to be sacrificed twice every year.”
“Why?” she demanded. “How would we know that they’ll keep their promise unlike the last time?”
Thesben replied, “I think they would this time. They seemed uncomfortable with the fact that they just killed a child. Not to mention the fact that their wives were vivid about what they did. Anyway, they said that you can take as long as you want to de-”
“Tell them that I agree to their deal,” Kejuta answered quickly. “As a mother, I would rather die than let any of my children be harmed.”
Nodding, her husband said, “I understand. I’ll let them know about your decision then.” He kissed his wife and children before he left again.
That was when the dream ends. Waking up, she found herself back in her bed. Thesben was sitting on the chair next to her and watching her intently. “How long have I been asleep?” she asked.
“It’s past midnight now,” he replied and held her hand. “The kids are asleep right now. They wanted to stay up until you wake up, but they fell asleep around nine o’clock. We have considerate children, huh?” He turned his head slightly to point out the sleeping bundle in the bed nearby. After having Pendance, they decided not to have any more children since they didn’t want to risk having another child being immortal, and it was also a painful reminder of what happened to Adia.
“Of course we do. We raised them right after all.” She smiled as she scooted over to let Thesben lay next to her. Placing his arms around her body, she snuggled in his warmth of his body. “Anyway, how was work?” she asked.
“Typical,” he shrugged. “The harvest is still thriving and we have plenty of food to go around.” Kejuta frowned at his response. It was as if he was hiding something from her, but she decided not to question him more about it.
“We should get some rest,” she said instead. “We’re going to have a busy day tomorrow. Well, good night.”
After a while, she could hear Thesben breathing softly, which told her that he was asleep. Rather than falling asleep, she lay awake the whole time and watched the embers in the fireplace died out.
"Tell us the story of how the world was created again, Dad," Pendance begged as Kejuta tucked his sister and him in bed. Her husband smiled amusingly. The young boy always loved that story and asked for it a dozen times. It also helped that Thesben was a great storyteller.
"All right," he said gently as he sat on the edge of the bed. "This story was told to me by my mother, whose mother told her and so forth and so forth. Anyway, some of the gods' names have been lost due to the passage of time, but I'll try my best to recall them.
"A long time ago, eight deities gathered together and agreed to create a world to set their creations in. Each of them offered a drop of blood, which was collected into a small cup. Using their powers, the gods changed the mixture into a sphere, which became the foundation of our world. Then each god and goddess gave gifts for this new creation. Puria gave the world plants so that it would be covered with beauty while Merzak made the beasts to roam the land. Fuera gave the world water and Neria created the merfolk. Versen developed human beings whose thoughts and actions were their own. Aerius created the angels - winged ones that fly throughout the heavens. Duermon in turn formed the demons - pale-skinned humans with eyes that glistened like gems. When all was finished, the last goddess gave life to all of her brothers and sisters' creations.
"However, they realized that the animals and humans would overpopulate the world so the last god suggests giving their creations lifespans. Each god would tell him how long they wish for their creations to life. Versen wanted up to 100 years for his; Aerius, up to 700 years for hers; Duermon, up to 750 years for his; and Neria, up to 900 years for hers. Upon hearing that decisions, the last god granted their wishes and the world was finally completed. The gods decided to name their creation, Samara.
"Afterward some of the gods and goddesses came before their creations and taught them how to live in their new home. Puria taught them how to grow crops, Merzak taught them how to hunt, Fuera showed them how to fish, and Versen taught them the art of crafts. Soon humans divided themselves based on whom they worshiped. Followers of Merzak were called Merzakians, Puria's followers were called Purians, and so forth. The angels became known as Aerians while the demons took the name of their creator and the merfolk are known as Neriads. Before long, most of the creations were able to perform magic, which was taught by a new goddess who was born on this world.”
The young boy then bombarded his father with questions, “Then what happened? Why is there no magic anymore? How come we don’t see the Aerains or the Duermons around here?”
"Well, everything was right in the world. Unfortunately, the humans, Aerians, Duermons, and Neriads began to take their creators for granted and started to rebel. They waged war against the gods and their followers. They battled for several centuries but in the end, the gods won. However, it was at a huge cost. The gods were mortally wounded and before they disappear, they punished their creations. They separated the land into different continents and created barriers to hinder travels. Magic would no longer exist in the world as well. Lastly, they decreed that certain descendants will be cursed. They will become immortal like their creators and their blood will provide life to the land. They will watch helplessly while everyone around them die and they will continue living until the day that the gods are appeased."
Pendance listened intently before finally asking, "So are Mommy and Adia two of the cursed descendants?" Kejuta and Thesben glanced at each other hesitantly before he answered, "I'm not sure."
"Why not?" her son persisted, "Both of them cannot die and none of them have aged at all ever since they were sacrificed! Why are they being punished for something for our great-great-great... lot of greats grandparents' actions!?"
"Hush now," Kejuta admonished as she brushed Pendance's hair with her fingers. "You can't go to sleep if you're getting agitated. You shouldn't dwell on questions that cannot be answered." To be honest, she thought a lot about those questions as well but she didn't want anyone to know what she was feeling. Her son opened his mouth to protest but quickly shut it when he saw her stern look. Adia just observed the whole scene from her bed and smiled much to her parents' amusement. Pendance might be too curious but at least he knew how to make his big sister smile.
As her son lay down and started to close his eyes, he mumbled, "Good night, Mom. Good night, Dad. Good night, Adia." His sister blew kisses to everyone to signal good night. Then Thesben and Kejuta kissed the children on their foreheads and blew out the candles. "Good night," they whispered softly as they drew the curtains separating the room from the kitchen.
“Pen is such an inquisitive boy, isn’t he?” she observed as she handed a cup of hot tea to Thesben. He just nodded and drank his tea. Sitting across from him, she asked, “Is there something wrong? You seem to be pondering something.”
Sighing, he scratched his head and admitted, “I was thinking about what Pen said about how it was unfair that you and Adia are being punished and I agreed that it isn’t right. The thing is that I can’t do a damn thing about it!”
“Is that what bothering you?” she asked softly. It has been three months since she was last killed and she knew that in two months, she will need to get ready again.
“Yes!” he pounded the table with his fists so hard that the tea spilled over the edge of the cup. “Here I am supposed to be a man who supposed to protect his wife and children and I can’t do a damn thing about it! I have to watch while you are being led to your slaughter. Do you know how I feel when I couldn’t do anything to save Adia from that fate!? I wanted to kill that bitch Resma but Tyleo knocked some sense into me. Every day I feel helpless and uncertain because I’m stuck in this situation where there is nothing I can do to help my family!”
Kejuta looked at her anguished husband and went over to hug him. “We’re doing the best we can,” she comforted him. “Didn’t you convince the Merzakians not to harm our children? Isn’t that good enough?”
He shook his head. “But still…” A scream from the bedroom interrupted their conversation. Startled, they rushed over to the bedroom to find Pen crying while Adia was patting his back.
“What’s wrong?” Kejuta asked while she sat next to her son. Adia signed back to her, He was having a nightmare.
“A nightmare?” Thesben pondered. “Do you remember what it was about?”
Pen shook his head, but he recalled, “I don’t remember except something terrible happened to daddy. I think daddy was dead!”
“There, there, little guy,” Thesben hugged him. “I’m alive. See? I’m right in front of you. That scary dream isn’t real at all!”
Nodding, he sniffled and asked slyly, “Umm… may I have a nice cup of warm milk to help me sleep then?”
Kejuta gave him a stern look but relented, “Okay, I’ll bring you a cup. Adia, would you like one as well?”
Yes, please, Adia gestured. After giving them each a cup of milk and tucking them back to bed again, Kejuta and Thesben went back to the kitchen.
“Do you still want to talk about it?” she asked. Thesben just shook his head.
“No, I’m fine right now,” he replied. “I just wanted to vent, that’s all.” He suddenly stood up. “I’m going to take a walk to cool my head. You don’t have to stay up and wait for me.” Giving her a peck on the cheek, he left the hut.
Kejuta watched him walked the dark path outside the window and disappeared. He has been doing that a lot lately, she thought. After half an hour of waiting, she stood up and poured the now cold tea away. Blowing out the candle, she went straight to bed. She didn’t know when her husband came back, but the next day, he was sleeping right next to her.
She should have known that Thesben was up to something. If she has listened to her hunch, she would have put a stop to it.
On that fateful day, she was preparing for the ritual. The snow was melting, which means that the planting season is approaching. She had requested that they began the ceremony earlier in the day because she didn’t want to miss eating dinner with her family and they luckily granted that request.
After taking off her necklace and placing it on the side table next to her bed, she inspected herself to make sure that she looked presentable. She could hear some noises in the dining area. “Pen,” she called out, “you’re being too noisy! Why don’t you set up the table for dinner tonight?”
Only her son was in the house right now. Thesben was in the field and Adia was with the Merzakian ladies. Since her daughter doesn’t age anymore, the woman now viewed her as a doll of some sort and liked to dress her up. It irritated her, but she held her tongue since she didn’t have a position of power to stop them.
Kejuta then entered the kitchen and went to inspect the piece of beef that was slowly cooking. Meat was considered a luxury item to the slaves, but the Merzakians were more willing to give her a meager piece because of her “gift.” By the time she got back, it should be cooked.
She noticed that Pen was looking out the window as if he was looking for something. “What are you looking for?” she asked curiously as she stirred the vegetable soup.
Without turning around, he answered, “The fairies. Adia told me that she could see fairies flying around the village and picking up something.”
Amused, Kejuta prodded, “And what do these fairies look like?”
“She said that they have wings like butterflies and that they have pointy ears,” he described. “She also mentioned that they were carrying a pole with a lantern dangling from it and that they were surrounded by a pale, glowing light.”
“And where exactly did she see them?” she inquired.
Pendance bit his lips before finally answering, “She usually sees them nearby a person or animal that is dying. Isn’t that odd? I thought they would be fluttering around flowers or something. Oh, may I go to the barn? Adia told me that the cat is going to give birth today.”
“How does she know that?” Kejuta replied in disbelief. “The cat might have her kittens tomorrow.”
Her son just shrugged. “I don’t know,” he admitted, “but she always predicted everyone’s birth correctly so she should be right on this one. So may I?”
Sighing, she consented, “All right, but you need to fix something first.” Pointing to the table, she continued, “You only set three plates; you need four.”
Her son gave her a confused look. “But we only need three today,” he replied.
“Don’t forget that I’m going to eat dinner too,” she reminded him but he shook his head.
“But dad won’t here tonight,” he argued. Now it was her turn to be confused.
“Did your dad tell you something that he forgot to mention to me?” she questioned. Pendance shook his head and gave her an odd look.
“I don’t know, but I have a strange feeling that something bad will happen to dad so he won’t be able to eat dinner with us,” he confessed. Kejuta began to worry; she recalled her son’s nightmare two months ago. She had asked him about it, but he didn’t remember anything even the fact that he woke up screaming. Was he having a premonition?
Clearing her throat, she ordered, “I don’t care. Just add one more plate and then you can go.” Grumbling, Pendance went over to the shelf and did what she asked. As she watched him set up the table, she felt the nagging feeling of dread in her heart.
The ceremony began without a hitch. A bored Kejuta stood there while the High Priest once again said his spiel. When will it ever end?
Abruptly, there were screams in the field. Alarmed, everyone stopped what he or she was doing and stared at the direction of the screams. Smokes were drifting into the skies and the smell of fire filled the air. “What’s going on there?” one of the Merzakian soldiers wondered nervously.
As if to answer his question, a multitude of slaves carrying tools as weapons came storming into view. A bewildered Kejuta immediately recognized the person who was leading the charge – Thesben. Recalling her conversation with him on that night, she realized what he meant. He was so ashamed about the fact that he couldn’t protect his family that he decided to do something so dangerous. That would also explain his late walks and his vague replies whenever she asked him about his day.
She needed to stop him before he and the others get killed. Kejuta tried to run toward the angry mob, but the soldiers restrained her. “Stop it, Thesben!” she begged. “You’re going to get yourself killed!”
“Someone, call the guards quickly!” the High Priest yelled as he came toward her with the knife. “Everyone else, try to prevent these blasted savages from reaching here while I finished the ceremony!” He pulled her head up while she was trying to resist and placing the dagger on her neck, cut it opened. Her last vision was of Thesben running toward her as a wave of Merzakian reinforcement arrived to clash against the rebels.
No, not this dream again! Not now! She tried desperately to force herself to wake up. My husband needs me! She pleaded with herself. Just wake up!
However, the dream continued until the part where she was in that unfamiliar beach. The thirteen golden flames still lingered in the water, but the voice had a different command:
AWAKEN THY POWER AND CHANGE THY WORLD’S FATE
Change the world’s fate? What does he mean by that? Before she could ask her question, a flash of light burst from the sky and engulfed the scenery.
Kejuta slowly opened her eyes and found herself back in her bed. The sun beaming from the sky told her that it was almost noon. She lay there motionlessly until a sudden thought occurred to her. Thesben! She literally jumped out of the bed but was pushed back by gentle hands.
Tyleo looked relieved to see her awake. “Thank goodness!” she exclaimed. “I thought you would never wake up. You’ve been asleep for nearly two days now.”
The panicked woman ignored her. “Where are my husband and children?” Kejuta demanded. “Are they safe?”
“Your children are safe and are playing quietly in the next room,” the midwife reassured her. “Unfortunately, your husband is locked up in the prisons right now for insubordination.”
Kejuta felt a lump in her throat and was afraid to ask her next question, “What happened while I was asleep?”
Her friend sighed wearily as she wiped the tears from her eyes. “I’ll try my best to explain from the very beginning. Your husband had convinced the other slaves to revolt against their slave masters a year ago. For the past few months, they would secretly sharpen their tools so that they can use it as weapons. As for the date when the rebellion should occur, Thesben decided it will be the day of your sacrifice since he reasoned that most of the Merzakians will be occupied during that time and that they would be too surprised to react.
“He was proven partial right on that fact. On his signal, they quickly overcame the slave drivers on the field and charge toward the village. Unfortunately, no one expected the Merzakians to be so resilient. The Merzakian army swiftly arrived and clashed with the slaves. Due to their superior weapons and armors, the Merzakians easily defeated the rebellions. Most of them were killed and others have been captured. Right now there is an ongoing trial though everyone knows the result already.”
“And what was the decision?” a horrified Kejuta whispered.
The midwife gulped and announced, “Everyone who was involved in the rebellion will be executed. Any boy over the age of 14 will be killed as well to make an example of what happened if anyone of us decided to revolt against them again. However, they are still deciding on what to do with Thesben since he was the ringleader.”
Hearing that, Kejuta became more frightened. “I need to see him,” she decided as she climbed out of her bed. However, a scared Tyleo jumped in her way.
“I don’t think it would be a good idea, Kejuta,” she recommended. “Right now, your family is the most hated family among the slaves. They blamed you and your husband for what happened, and they want your blood. That’s why there is heightened security around your home. I was only allowed to see you since the Merzakians know that I wouldn’t harm you.”
“Is that why we’re in chains?” Kejuta whispered. She glanced down at the chains that tightly wrapped around her arms and body.
Tyleo looked at her incredulously. “Chains? What are you doing about?” she wondered. It was Kejuta’s turn to be confused.
“Don’t you see them?” she examined Tyleo’s chains and noticed that while there were several chains around the midwife, they were much looser. Tyleo shook her head and muttered to herself that maybe the young woman was in shock.
“Maybe you should have a cup of tea to calm your nerves,” the midwife suggested as she sat Kejuta down on a chair. “I’ll make one for myself as well.”
She just nodded and pondered about the chains. They seemed to disappear into the sky and had no ends. Curious, she touched a tiny chain on Tyleo’s body and saw a vision. In it, she saw that the midwife decided to make herself chamomile tea. Now even more curious, she touched the chain next to it and this time, Tyleo wanted black tea instead.
She could hear Tyleo’s muttering to herself as the latter speculated on what tea to make. Kejuta decided to break the first chain to see what happened. “Ah, I’ll just make myself black tea then,” she overheard the midwife announced.
Kejuta then recalled the voice in her dream. Was this what he meant when he told her to change the world’s fate? Was that her power – to control people’s destinies with her own bare hands? If it was possible, could she save her husband then?
Suddenly, she heard shouting from outside and stood up to look out the winder. What she saw caused her to hold her breath. The Merzakian soldiers were dragging her badly beaten husband from the prison to the Merzakian chief’s home. Along the way, slaves and Merzakians would jeer at him and tossed rotten fruits and vegetables at him. Her heart broke seeing him that way. Maybe there is a way to help him, but there were only two chains on him.
Taking a deep breath, she grasped the first one and saw that in this one, the Merzakians decided to give him a swift death and killed him immediately after sentencing him. They also forbid him from saying goodbye to his family. She pulled herself away before she could see him about to be beheaded.
Shaken, she reluctantly held the last chain and was even more horrified at what she witnessed. The Merzakians have ruled to give him a slow and torturous death. His screams rang inside her head as he slowly was dismembered one finger at a time. Then it was his toes and next his fingers. However, he was able to see his wife and children and told them goodbye.
Kejuta wanted to cry aloud. Damnit, she couldn’t save him at all! How useful is this newfound power if it can’t do anything to rescue Thesben from a terrible fate?
Immediately she pulled herself back together and thought quickly. What if she broke both chains at once? However, she found out that both chains refused to budge, which meant that she could only break one chain at a time. How frustrating!
“Hey, I think they’re going to make a decision soon,” a soldier outside told his buddy. “Want to bet on their decision?”
That was then she recognized the fact that she was in charge of her husband’s death. Which one should she decide? Kill him quickly so he wouldn’t feel the pain even though that would mean that she would never see him again? Or let him die slowly so he could see his family one last time even if his body was so mutilated?
CHOOSE. CHOOSE. CHOOSE.
That voice echoed in her head as she held both chains in her hand. What to choose?
“They’re announcing it right now!” the soldier exclaimed excitedly as a prominent man went on a makeshift podium and began to open his mouth.
Screaming, Kejuta squeezed her eyes shut as she broke a chain and made her decision.
Finished reading this first chapter and it was captivating, particularly near the end with the revelation of the children's and Kajuta's powers; I'm really keen to see that explored and explained further.
Question though, has Kajuta's powers gotten stronger as she's died or just as time has gone by?
Probably have a few more things to write about or explain...will come back...
And Thesben is so stupid! why would he do something like that when you have young children at home? I mean I understand why but did he not think of what he was leaving behind and what his absence would do to his family, especially since they're not exactly loved by the other slaves and can only count the midwife as their closest friend. I guess feeling useless and unable to protect the things you love drives a person to extreme measures.
Finished with Chapter 2! And yes, it has less pages than ch. 1 (only 16.5 pages). Ugh, putting Adia's thoughts in italics is pretty annoying though and the ending isn't up to my standard but oh well. Anyway, enjoy!
FYI, Chapter 3 title has a couple of hints. If you're curious about the time, please head to the archive link.
Chapter 2: Pendance - "Don't be so reckless!"
“Is it true that you have a sister?”
Pendance glanced up to find two young boys looking at him curiously. He didn’t recognize them so they were probably new slaves. “Yes, why do you ask?” he wondered as he picked up some more fire woods.
“Oh, that’s what we heard,” one of them said quickly, “but we didn’t see her around so we weren’t sure if we were being tricked or not.”
The boy just smiled and explained, “It’s because she is usually spending time with the Merzakian noble ladies. They considered her as their ‘personal servant’.”
The others murmured with understanding looks. “That makes sense,” the other agreed. “I’ve heard that she is very cute. By the way, how old is your little sister?”
That was when Pendance began to smirk. “Let’s see… right now, I’m thirteen, which means…” he paused for a dramatic effect as his audience drew closer to him, “… she should be twenty years old.”
And with that, he left the two confused boys behind him as he walked back to the camp with his bundle of sticks.
Pendance felt somewhat bad for acting like a jerk, but he reasoned with himself that his action was reasonable. Those boys wouldn’t want to hang out with him as soon as they learned more about his family. He could imagine it now; they would ask the more experienced slaves back in the slave quarters why he and his family stay in their own place while they don’t. Then the others would tell them some half-truths and about the failed slave revolt that was led by his father. After they learned about it, they refused to be near him since his family is ostracized by every slave.
He could still remember his first time working in the fields last year. When he announced to his mother that he wanted to work instead of being idled in the house, she was adamant that he didn’t and if he wanted to work, he should work in the Merzakian village where he’ll be at least safe. She worried that the other slaves would try to hurt him since they still carried a grudge against them. However, he stubbornly refused and after talking with one of the Merzakian slave masters, started working in the fields.
His mother was right, he later admitted to himself. The other slaves would intentionally tripped him as he walked by or knocked his bags filled with crops over so he had to pick them up. However, they immediately behaved whenever a Merzakian was nearby the vicinity.
The worst part was the bullies. There was a group of older, bulkier boys who would gang up on him and beat him up whenever they were left alone. At first he took it in stride, which failed, so he tried to fight back. Unfortunately, a lanky boy did not have a chance against those with a lot of muscles. Not to mention, the other slaves turned a blind eye and did nothing, which didn’t improve his view on them.
After one such incident, he came home with a lot of bruises. When his mother saw him, she immediately demanded to know what happened. Knowing that his mother would have talk to the Merzakians about it, which would NOT improve the situation at all, he lied by claiming that he tripped over some rocks and fell. She probably knew that he was lying but luckily didn’t discuss more about the issue. Pen knew that he had to deal with his bullies when an idea suddenly popped up in his head. He quickly asked his mother if he could borrow a water bag. Then he filled it up and waited.
The next day, a Merzakian slave driver asked for volunteers to get water from the well, which was a long distance away. Pen immediately volunteered for the job and as he predicted, his bullies did as well. Since no one kept an eye on the well, they probably figured that they could easily beat him up there.
As they were carrying their bucket to their destination, the boys, who were walking behind him, would taunt him by saying that they would dump him into the well and that no one would find him. He ignored them and kept on walking until he reached a lone oak tree. Without any warning, he tossed his bucket toward them to get them off-guard and ran.
He was a couple of yards ahead of them when he heard them finally going chase. Fortunately, two things were going well for him: he’s pretty fast and since he was allowed to explore the Merzakian village when he was little, he knew where everything by heart. So when he reached the crossroad, he turned left to the lake instead of going right to the well. If he memorized the schedule correctly, those bullies will get a surprise that they didn’t see coming.
After running for couple miles, Pendance reached the most difficult part of his plan – running uphill. Taking a deep breath, he started up the hill. He was almost exhausted when he reached the top and took a little break. Turning around to see his pursuers, he noticed that they just reached the hill and started their journey upward. Waving goodbye, he immediately headed down.
As soon as he reached level ground, he hid among the tall grasses that surrounded the pathway. He lay there while waiting patiently for the others to pass by. A few minutes later, he could hear the boys huffing and puffing as they gingerly stepped down the hill. When they reached the bottom, they quickly sprinted down the path. Pendance mentally counted each boy as he ran past by his hiding spot.
One…two, three…four…five, he frowned. Where was the sixth one? Did he figure out that he was hiding close by? Suddenly, the last boy went by. “Wait for me, you guys!” he wheezed as he scurried after his friends.
After waiting for a minute or two, Pendance stood up and immediately headed back. As he jogged down the hill, he began to worry – did he forget the schedule? Sudden female screams told him that he wasn’t mistaken; those bullies would “accidentally” interrupt the Merzakian ladies while they were taking their baths in the lake.
Since he knew that the boys will be “preoccupied” due to the aftermath, he took his time as he walked back to fetch his pail. He estimated that it supposed to take at least half an hour to reach the well and he has twelve minutes left. When he reached the oak tree, he grabbed it and went over to the hiding spot where he hid the water bag full of water. After he poured the water into the bucket, he inspected himself to make sure he looks presentable. Then carrying his full bucket, he went back to the fields.
The slave driver watched him come back by himself and demanded to know where the others went. He feigned ignorance and claimed that he lost them and didn’t know where they went. The Merzakian didn’t seem happy about it and was about to get some others to look for those wayward boys when two soldiers came in with them.
The boys were beaten badly because they apparently were caught peeking at the ladies while they were bathing. They claimed that Pendance was the one who led them there, but the ladies claimed that they didn’t see him. The slave driver also backed up his claim since he came back in time with the water. During the whole time, Pen just acted bewildered, which made him more believable to everyone who was there.
The embarrass slave driver apologized to the soldiers for the boys’ behaviors and declared as punishment, that they would be flogged twenty times. While they were getting flogged, Pen gave them very pitying look, but he was gloating inside. After that incident, the boys never bullied him again. And whenever someone tried to cause him any problem, he would secretly pull a prank on him or her until he or she stopped. In time, no one really harassed him. The lesson he learned that day was that he just needed his brain not muscles to beat those bullies.
At the end of the day, Pen headed back home. As he approached the small cabin, he could smell the rosemary and lamb pervaded the air and caused his stomach to grumble irritably. Before he could enter the house though, he needed to wash up. His mother insisted that he cleaned up before he could go inside because she didn’t want the house to be messy so she left a barrel of water outside the door to remind him. Sighing, he got a small pail, filled it up with the cold, clean water, and poured it over himself. After drying up, he went inside.
“I’m home!” he shouted. Adia popped her head from the bedroom and greeted him with a wave. She was probably remaking his bed since he always left it untidy. He thought it was pointless – wouldn’t the bed be messy anyway when he go to sleep that night?
His mother, who was turning the lamb over, turned to look at him in order to inspect him. “How was work?” she asked. “No one bother you?” He shook his head as he plopped down at the table and grabbed a roll to munch on. The women in the house gave him a stern look but didn’t say anything so he kept on eating. Finally, his mother announced, “Dinner’s ready so let’s eat!”
While they were eating, Pen recalled asking his mother once about the fact that they still receive a chunk of meat. He thought that they lost that privilege because of dad, but she just simply told him that she had her “methods”. When he asked about it, she didn’t inform him; Adia must have known something about it because she just told him it was a “woman thing”, which didn’t explain a lot.
He quickly gobbled up his meal; he wanted to finish early so he had plenty of time to head out. After putting his dishes away, he went over and gave a peck on his mother’s forehead. “I’m off to see Tyleo!” he shouted as he grabbed a banquet of flowers, which was set aside for the occasion.
“Be back before dark!” he heard his mother yelled as he closed the door and ran down the path.
By the time he reached the cemetery, the sun was about to set. Pen preferred to go there during the evenings since the other slaves usually headed home to rest at that time, which meant that he has privacy. Reaching Tyleo’s grave, he placed the flowers at her gravestone and said a little prayer. Even though the old midwife was very stern and strict, he missed her. She was one of the few rare people who would say hello to him and didn’t treat his family like dirt. Tyleo was also nice to tell him stories about his father as well.
Speaking of dad, he wished his mom told him more about it. He was quite young when his dad died so he barely recalled much about him. Whenever he questioned her about him, she would become depressed and refused to talk. Other times, she would just look at him sadly and cried. When he asked his sister about it, Adia would tell him that he was quite similar to father since both have the same mannerisms and appearances. She also told him that she heard that father died a swift and painless death when he was executed and that mother blamed herself for it for some reason.
Once, when he was much younger, he tried to place a makeshift headstone for his dad in the cemetery, but on the next evening, he found it was destroyed probably by another slave. After several tries, he finally gave up. He doesn’t need a tombstone to remember his father, right? However, he wished that his mother would tell him more information about his dad.
He stood in front of Tyleo’s grave for a few more minutes to collect his thoughts. Finally, he bid farewell to his old friend and headed back home.
On his way back, he noticed something strange in the fields. In one of the fields located farthest away from the Merzakian village, he saw a person was digging up the crops. Why would a person be in the field this late? Deciding to investigate, he headed off to that direction.
The mysterious stranger was a girl who looked around his age. From the view of her backside, she has short auburn hair and her clothes were stained with dirt. He snuck up behind her and asked, “What are you doing?”
Startled, the girl spurned around and held her trowel out as a weapon. Now it was his turn to be stunned; she was a Merzakian! Why would a Merzakian be digging vegetables when she has slaves to do the dirty job? Pen looked around quickly to see if there were other kids lurking but didn’t see anyone else, which meant that it wasn’t a dare. The other possibility was… “Are you an outcast?” he inquired. A Merzakian, who is an outcast, is forced to live in the wilderness located outside the village due to violating a law or causing disorder in the community.
The girl stood her ground still as she answered defiantly, “So what if I am? Are you going to do something about it?” He looked at her incredulously; he had expected her to be submissive and begged him not to snitch on her. She’s pretty impressive all right.
“Nothing,” he decided, “but do you want some help?” The girl looked at him suspiciously but gave him an extra trowel for him to dig. They worked on their task in deathly silent until Pen got annoyed by the eerie quiet.
“So… why are you doing this? Isn’t it risky if you got caught?” he asked as he glanced around to see if there is any guard around. Luckily, there was no one in sight.
The girl placed an onion into her bag as she replied, “My father is having difficulty farming the land, and my mother isn’t much help at all. She just moped around the house because she’s grieving the fact that we’re in exile. I didn’t want my family to starve so I decided to sneak here to grab some vegetables. I picked the late evening since the guards wouldn’t bother to watch the fields with the slaves back in the quarters. Since I’m just getting enough to feed my family, I figure that no one will notice. If I got caught, well so be it.”
Wiping the sweat off her forehead with her light blue work shirt, she continued, “Now it’s my turn. What are you doing here so late?”
“Well, I went to drop some flowers at my friend’s grave when I saw you,” he explained. “You need to be more inconspicuous. Next time, wear earth-colored clothing so you won’t be easily seen.” She smiled and assented with that suggestion. “Umm… if you don’t mind my asking, but why was your family exiled?”
She stopped digging and paused to reflect. “My father used to be a minor leader in the council and he made a proposal that incensed the other members. He suggested that we stopped performing the ritual of human sacrifice since it looked like it is no longer needed. However, the others denied his request. Apparently, there are other clans who heard rumors that we have a woman who cannot die and desire to have her. The council believed that if she and her family leave, the other clans would seize them and would use them for their own purpose.
“Anyway, my dad still persisted so the chief finally had enough. He accused my father of causing discord among the clan so therefore declared that he and his family be considered outcasts. And there’s my story.” She stood up and wiped the dirt off her clothes. “I think I have plenty so I better head back.”
Grinning, she suddenly asked, “Hey, do you want to see how I snuck in?” Curious, Pen followed her though it was somewhat difficult to see with the dimming sunlight. The Merzakian girl led him through many twists and turns until finally they reached the fence located in the backside of the village, which was used to dump trash and wastes.
Motioning to a spot near the fence where some bushes grew, she announced proudly, “I found some loose soil under the fence there so I dug a tunnel. It was sure darn luck that the bushes hid the entrance so it’s easy for me to sneak in and out. Well, I better be off now.” She held her hand out. “I almost forgot but thanks for helping me out here. My name is Eloria. What’s your name?”
Pendance took her hand and shook it. “It’s Pendance, but you can call me Pen if you want. Just as long as you don’t call me Penny, then I’ll be fine.” His bullies started calling him that to try to provoke him and he hated it. Eloria smiled.
“It was nice to meet you, Pen,” she told him. “I usually go here once a week so maybe I’ll see you again? Well, good night!” And with that, she disappeared into the bushes.
“Night, Eloria,” he whispered. He enjoyed helping her out and secretly wished to see her again. It suddenly dawned on him that it was pretty late. Shit! Mom is going to kill him! Cursing himself, he sprinted back home.
It was dark outside and Pen hasn’t come back yet. Kejuta frowned as she tried to keep herself occupied by putting the dishes away. That blasted boy! He always knows how to make her worry! She was about to ask Adia to go look for him when the door opened and he quietly went inside. “Where have you been?” she demanded before he had a chance to sit down. “It’s nighttime now!”
“Sorry,” he mumbled, “I was helping a friend that’s all.” She stared at him incredulously. A friend? Pen didn’t have many friends among the slaves since he claimed that he wouldn’t bother befriending anyone who insulted his family. If this was one of his excuses, this one was a poor one.
I bet he has a girlfriend, Adia teased as she unbraided her hair. Her son scowled, “For the last time, I do not have a girlfriend!”
“Now, Adia, leave your brother alone,” Kejuta admonished. Pendance gave his sister a triumphant grin while Adia stuck her tongue in return. As she was putting the plates on the shelves, she asked her son matter-of-factly, “Is your friend cute?”
He shrugged. “I guess she’s somewhat cute…” He suddenly realized that his mother has tricked him and covering his face, he blushed embarrassingly. “I mean… how would I know!? I don’t think about those types of things!” Now it was Adia’s turn to gloat.
Penny has a girlfriend! She pranced around the table in glee while Pen yelled at her to stop using that horrible nickname. Kejuta just smiled. At least Pen finally made a friend. “What’s her name?” she inquired.
“Her name is Eloria, and she’s a Merzakian,” he told her before quickly adding, “but she is an outcast so that’s okay. Apparently, her family was exiled from the village because her father wanted to stop the ritual. Anyway, her family was starving so she snuck back into the village to gather some excess crops to feed them. I was helping her, which was why I was late.”
Adia’s eyes lit up. I know her, she exclaimed as she used her hand signals excitedly. She was pretty nice to me and didn’t treat me like a baby. She even taught me how to read and write!
Kejtua listened intently at her children’s stories. Pen didn’t need to mention the fact that his friend was an outcast as if she would be angry with him for having a Merzakian for a friend. It was also nice to know that the girl treated her daughter well. Not to mention the fact that Eloria’s father wanted to stop the rituals. However, if the girl’s family was starving…
“Are you planning to see her again?” she wondered even though she knew his answer. Pen looked at her hesitantly before nodding. “Good! When you see her again, please give her a bag of breads to feed her family.”
Her son gave her a confused look. “Wh-what? But why? What if we got caught by the guards?”
She gave him a sweet look as she explained, “Well, you want to help her, right? Besides, we have plenty of bread to share. As for the guards, I’ll make sure that no one will notice.”
Staring at the infinite chains that seemed to spread across the lands, she gently touched one and smiled. She has been using her strange powers for her family’s benefits. No one except Adia knew that it was her powers that convinced the Merzakians to still provide them with slabs of meat and to decrease the number of guards guarding her house. As she broke a minuscule chain link, somehow she knew that her son’s budding relationship might be beneficial in the future.
For the next two years, Pen went out each night to help Eloria gather foods. In return, Eloria’s family gave him tiny trinkets such as ribbons and wild berries as a sign of gratitude. In spite of the dangers, he was surprised that they were never caught by a Merzakian or a slave. He suspected that his mom was the main culprit, but he couldn’t figure out how she did it. He couldn’t ask Adia either since she just simply signed back that it’s a woman thing. Pen wistfully wished that his dad was still around; maybe he would know, but he highly doubted that his old man has the answers though.
Speaking of Adia, when he told Eloria about his sister, she seemed very excited and wrote a small note to her. Before he knew it, the two girls began to send letters to each other while he was the courier. He has a feeling that they were writing about him, but he didn’t dare peek at their messages. Girls somehow know when a boy read their letters, and they make sure that he will be punished severely for doing so. It must be a woman’s intuition or something.
The day’s work was also improving as well. Boys and girls around his age started talking to him and inviting him to join them during break time. Even though Pen enjoyed their company, he suspected that they only did it because they wanted to annoy their parents. After all, they were at the age where they want to push their parents’ buttons just to see their reactions. He admitted that he does that as well with his mother, who just took a deep breath and muttered that she’s going to be grateful when “that phase” is over.
“Hey, I got you the thing you wanted,” Eloria announced, which interrupted his thought. He must have a blank look because she informed him, “The razor that you wanted so you can shave? Father found an extra one and sharpened it for you so be careful.”
He carefully took her gift and placed it in his pocket. “Thanks,” he acknowledged. He needed to hide it somewhere Adia won’t see it. His older sister has a deathly fear of sharp blades ever since she was sacrificed sixteen years ago. She used to help mother out in the kitchen but because of her phobia, she avoided the kitchen at all costs now.
After collecting enough food supply, he walked with her back to her tunnel and bid her farewell. He waited for a few minutes until he was sure that she was gone and then headed back. Instead of going home immediately, he went back to the oak tree and knelt down after making sure that no one was around. Pulling out the razor, he stared at it apprehensively. If his theory was right, then…
Pen took a deep breath and slit across the palm of his left hand. He watched intently as the blood dripped onto the ground. What he saw caused him to smile. Now he knows for sure that his plan is going to work.
“How’s Eloria?” Kejuta asked as soon as her son came in the door.
“She’s doing well,” he replied as he took his shirt off and flung it into the pile of dirty laundry. She frowned at him; she hated it when he did that since she suspected that he only did that just to show off his physique. She has to admit though that her son has grown quite handsome though. Working in the field has built up his muscles and given his skin a tan. It was hard to imagine that he used to be a lanky, pale boy who liked to spend time with his family.
Of course, the young women in the village noticed his change in appearance. Both Merzakian and the slave girls would sometimes walk by the house and peeked inside to see if he was there. If he wasn’t, they would drop love letters from the bedroom and hoped that he would notice. Pen must have enjoyed the attention because he would usually compliment his admirers, which made them go crazy. Who would have thought he could be such a flirt?
Does Eloria have anything for me? Adia asked eagerly as she sat next to her brother. He grinned and pulled out a folded piece of paper, which was snatched quickly by Adia. It must have been funny since the girl was grinning widely as she read the letter.
“Eloria said that her brothers found some edible mushrooms so she got some for us,” Pen said as he unwrap a small package. “She thought you will like it.”
Kejuta took the offering and smiled. “Tell her that I say thank you. By the way, what’s in your pocket?”
He just gave her a nonchalant look as he rubbed his chin and said, “Oh, it’s just a razor so I could shave. I prefer to be clean shaven after all since the girls like it that way.”
She and Adia looked at each other and rolled their eyes. Men! Thesben has never been that vain. The sudden thought of her late husband caused an ache in her heart. She still blamed herself for his death. If her powers have awakened much earlier, she could have prevented him from organizing that rebellion and he would have lived to see Pen grow up to be a man, which reminded her of something important.
“You have only three years left until you have to leave this place,” she said sadly. As soon as Pendance turned eighteen, he would have to move out of the hut and lived in the slave quarters. Even though Adia was currently twenty-three years old, her daughter was excluded since she is “special” like her.
Her children became quiet when she reminded them. They didn’t want to think about it either. Maybe we can find a way for him to stay, Adia suggested halfheartedly, but she knew that there was no option. Pen smiled as he stroked his sister’s long silvery hair.
“There’s nothing we can do about it so let’s not think about it,” he comforted them. “I know what can cheer us up! I have a funny story from work today…”
As she and Adia laughed at his story, Kejuta thought that he was right. She should focus on the present and not worry about the future for the time being. Right now, she wanted to spend every last minutes with her son until the time has come.
Fall was arriving again when Pendance decided finally to tell Eloria his plans. They were digging up some crops when he got enough courage and announced, “I won’t be able to be here next week so Adia will probably come over and help out.”
His friend stopped digging and stared at him. “Why not?” She questioned as she pulled a strand of hair behind her ear.
“Promise you won’t tell anyone, but…” he told her his plans. She just stared at him and listened as he told her everything. After he finished, he looked at her and asked hesitantly, “Well? What do you think?”
Her response was a hard slap on his cheek. “What are you thinking!? That is the idiotic, dumbest, foolish plan that I’ve ever heard in my life! Haven’t you even considered what your mother and sister feel if something go wrong?” she yelled. “Don’t be so reckless! This is your life after all!”
Pen expected that reaction, but it still stung. Rubbing his cheek, he scowled, “I know what I’m doing. I tested it out just to make sure and it turned out fine. Beside I’ve already made my decision so don’t think of trying to convince me to stop.”
Eloria looked at him angrily but just huffed, “Fine. It’ll be our secret.” However, Pen sensed that she was still fuming mad at him since she refused to talk to him. She still gave him a silent treatment as they walked to the back of the village. As she about to enter her secret tunnel, she suddenly turned around and shoved something against his chest.
“I almost forgot, but this supposed to be a birthday present for you,” she muttered angrily. “Happy birthday, you jackass!” Then she stormed out into the darkness. Pen just gaped at her as she disappeared. He never thought she would remember that his birthday was today. That was unexpected, he thought as he slowly opened his gift. It was a handful of wild berries that he liked. Smiling, he grabbed one and ate it along the way home. Pen knew that Eloria won’t stay that mad for him for long, but it’s his family he worried about…
A few days past, and it was time for the ritual again. Kejuta tried to calm her nerves by preparing dinner. A nice pot of beef stew and freshly made bread will do, she decided as she cut the meat and vegetables. Adia, who was making the beds at the moment, could handle the rest since she knew the recipe. On the days of the ritual, her daughter was allowed to stay home to tend the house.
On the other hand, she didn’t expect Pendance to stay though. Usually he would still go work in the field, but today he claimed that he wasn’t feeling well. She thought he was lying at first, but then he hasn’t been eating at all today. Not to mention he seemed a bit pale.
Suddenly there was a knock at the door. It looked like it’s time. “I’ll get it,” Pendance said as he abruptly rushed over to open the door. A group of six muscular Merzakians appeared at the entryway.
“Are you ready?” one of them asked and she nodded. Imagine her surprise that they didn’t go to fetch her but her son.
“What’s the meaning of this!?” she demanded. “Why are you taking my son? Don’t you remember the deal?”
“We know of the deal,” a Merzakian replied dryly, “but your son volunteered to take your place instead. There is nothing in the bargain about that. Beside, your son is old enough to make his decisions.”
She turned to face her son, who avoided her glare. “I know what I’m doing,” he tried to reassure her though it looked like he was having second thoughts. “Don’t worry, mom. Everything will be fine.” He looked at Adia, who was observing the scene behind the curtain door. “Make sure to put flowers on Tyleo’s grave, okay?” Adia nodded understandably though she looked displeased about the whole matter; Kejuta knew that was the code to help Eloria out.
“Well, I better be off then,” he said shakily. “I’ll see you this evening.” The soldiers and he quickly left the house before she even has a chance to open her mouth. Rushing to the door, she searched for the chains that bounded her son and was horrified to find only one, which was wrapped around his neck. Touching it revealed that he was supposed to die today and that there was nothing to prevent it. She could only stand helplessly at the doorway as she watched her son marched toward his death.
Adia watched as her mother paced around the room. She has been doing that all day long now. “How could he do that to his poor mother!?” she griped furiously. Every now and then, she would stop and check on the stew that was simmering. Other times, she would look out the window and watched for any sign of her son. Adia understood how she was feeling; she wanted to do the same as well. Her mother suddenly looked at her and asked, “Did you know anything about it.
The girl shook her head. I just found out just like you did, she signed truthfully. She wished those fairies would have told her about her brother’s death so she would have told her mom, but she seemed to know more about someone getting born than someone’s dying. Death is something that still mysterious. Her mother studied her for a minute to determine if she was lying and after deciding that she believed her daughter, started fuming again.
“If he gets home alive, I’m going to kill him as soon as he wakes up!” her mother declared angrily. Adia smiled and volunteered, I’ll help you too! She was very upset that Pen has worried them so much that a nice kick or so would probably teach him a lesson.
That brought a smile to her mother’s face. “Oh no, Adia,” she replied, “you’re too nice to do that, but thanks anyway.” Finally, she sat down next to her daughter and hugged her. “This is the worst part, isn’t it? The waiting.” Sighing, she held Adia’s hand. “I hope Pen knows what he’s doing…”
Suddenly, the door opened with a bang and two Merzakians carried Pen’s slump body in. “How is he?” her mother asked anxiously as they placed him into his bed.
“He’s fine though he seems to have a fever,” one of them said gruffly. “His blood has satisfied Merzak greatly. We will have a rich harvest yet again.” With that said, they left as they slammed the door.
The women rushed over to the young man. “Adia, grab a bucket of cold water and a towel,” her mother ordered her as she gently touched her son’s forehead. “His head is too hot and it needs to cool down.” Nodding, Adia rushed outside to get a pail of water.
As she filled up the bucket, she suddenly realized what her brother was planning. Since it has been discovered that he cannot die, the Merzakians would let him stay with them. Likewise, he probably decided to be killed now since he’s old enough to be independent but at the same time, he’s able to help his family around the house. Her brother was pretty clever after all! Stupid but clever. Smiling, she rushed into the house and helped her mother tend Pendance back to health.
The stars were shining when Pendance woke up. He felt something damp on his forehead and opened his eyes slowly. Adia was wiping his forehead while his mother was getting a fresh towel ready. “How long have I been out?” he asked weakly.
Adia looked at him sweetly and answered, Only six hours. Don’t worry; your supper is still here though a bit cold. He gave her a weak grin, but at the moment, supper is the last thing on his mind. Do you want to talk to mom? His sister asked and he nodded. I’ll go get her then.
His mother came over immediately. “What is it?” she wondered as she replaced the towel on his forehead with a new one.
“Are you still mad at me?” he wondered. She stared at him for a moment before nodding. Pen sighed; he expected that. “Sorry for making you worry, but I had to do it. Something in my guts told me that I needed to die at this age so I planned this whole thing for a couple of years now. I wanted to tell you, but I know that you would stop me because you wanted me to have a ‘normal’ life. But… we’re not normal at all.”
Kejuta agreed, “No, we’re not. However, you’re still in hot water with me. As punishment for what you did, you have to chop twice the number of fire woods, wash the dishes for a month, and patch the roof.”
“Fair enough,” Pen nodded. What else could he say? His mother’s words were final and right now, his life is in her hands. Dying wasn’t fun and he didn’t want to try it again. His stomach began to rumble. “Umm… may I have something to eat?” he asked meekly. “I’m getting kinda hungry now.”
While Kejuta was wringing the towel, her son suddenly spoke, "While I was... dead, I had a dream." She stopped what she was doing and turned to look at him. Pendance was staring at the fire contemplatively while stroking his older sister's hair gently. A dream? Kejuta always has one when she died so why shouldn't he? Wiping the sweat off his forehead, she whispered softly, "And what did you dream about?"
"I was in a strange land where no sounds seem to exist," he began slowly. "Maybe it was because I was dead, but everything seems to be black and white. Millions of people were walking around me so it was hard for me to move around. I was so confused on where I was so I decided to talk to them. However, they just averted their eyes and continued on their way. Not knowing what to do, I looked up and saw a man sitting on a throne with a familiar man standing beside him. For some reason, I knew that I needed to go there so I walked toward them. As I was walking up the stairs, I suddenly realized who the man standing was – it was father."
Kejuta froze when she heard those words. Her son's dream was much, much different from hers - she dreamed of her past but her son was dreaming of another place. Finding her words, she inquired hesitantly, "A-and... what did he say?"
"He said that he was happy to see me and was impressed by how much I've grown," Pendance answered quietly. "He told me that he was waiting for me to arrive because he was supposed to introduce me to a very important person and pointed to an old man with a beard sitting on the throne.
“The strange thing is that while everything was monochromatic and hazy, I could see him clearly and with colors. The man wore a worn-out black cloak with gold trimmings, which reached down to his feet. There was strange text on the trimmings so I didn’t even recognize the language at all. He seemed very tired and looked like he was in so much pain. However, he still smiled and welcomed me to his domain.
“He introduced himself as the Guardian of the Dead and told me that he was waiting for me since I was supposed to be his successor. I asked him what he meant and he informed me that his job was to prepare the souls of the dead to be reborn again. Unfortunately, he isn’t strong enough to continue this task anymore since he’s dying. He said that he needs me to take over his role because I have the same gift as well.
“I questioned him then about my ‘gift’ so he explained that my power is death. I know when someone supposes to die or if there is a likely chance that someone is in danger. However, my true power is to cleanse the soul so that it can go back to the world of the living. He mentioned that Adia is supposed to be in charge of that role. Unfortunately, he won’t be able to teach me about my power so he told me to cross the Sea of Storms to reach an island, where I need to seek a person named Aundra to teach me more about my powers.
“Suddenly, I felt myself being lifted up. I must have looked frightened because the old man told me that I was about to wake up. He said that since my powers have been awakened, I would be able to see the ‘fairies’ that Adia talked about. As I was leaving the place, father shouted that he wanted me to deliver a message to you.”
Kejuta held her breaths as her son continued, “He said, ‘Don’t blame yourself for my death. You didn’t have a choice in that matter. I had made my decision on my own and knew of the consequences. The only thing I regret was that I caused you and our children so much pain and heartache. Remember that I will always love you and I want you to promise to do one thing – live.’ That was when I woke up.”
He looked at her to see her reaction. “What did he mean by that?” he inquired. However, she turned away so he wouldn’t see her wiped the tears from her eyes. Thesben didn’t blame her at all and he still loves her! That guilt that weighed heavily on her seemed to be lifted as soon as she heard those words.
“It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try my best,” she finally said as she sat next to her son. “I guess I have something to confess as well. You’re not the only one with a ‘gift’. I’ve been keeping this a secret from you, but I think you’re ready to know about it now…”
A couple days past and everything went back to normal. Pendance went back to work in the field, Kejuta worked in the Merzakian kitchen, and Adia continued as job as a hand servant to the Merzakian noble ladies. Once a week, he would pretend to visit Tyleo’s grave but instead helped Eloria, who was no longer mad at him, collected food for her family. However, there was something different in the routine. As soon as Pen came back, he and his family would spend the rest of the night to discuss about their powers and the strange dreams that they have.
“So you have a dream that you’re on an unknown beach and saw thirteen gold flames floating above the water while Adia mentioned that she was under a strange tree that bears orbs of light instead of fruits,” Pendance summarized. “On the other hand, I was in the land of the dead where I learned that I’m supposed to be the new Guardian of the Dead. My dream is self-explanatory, but we need to figure out what your dreams are trying to tell you.”
Well, since that strange man told you that my power is the exact opposite of yours, I bet I’m supposed to be in charge of bringing life to the world, Adia surmised. It makes sense since I’m able to sense when something or someone is about to be born. Not to mention I heard a lady’s voice telling me “to bring life to the world.”
Kejuta and Pendance nodded with agreement. “That’s true,” he replied. “Let’s try to figure out what mother’s dream mean. You said that you heard a male voice giving you two commands. One was to ‘seek the flames and bind them to together’ while the other was to ‘change the world’s fate’.”
“The last one is most likely related to my power of seeing the ‘chains of destiny’ and choosing which one to break or save,” Kejuta answered. “However, what does the flames supposed to represent?”
Suddenly, an idea popped up in Adia’s head. What if there are other people like us? She theorized. Think about it. Maybe the flames supposed to represent those who are in the same situation as us; they cannot die and most likely has strange powers as well. Maybe mother is supposed to find these people and gather them together for a purpose.
“That makes sense,” Pendance consented, “Since three of us probably represented three of the flames, there must be ten flames left for you to find.”
“Well, that takes care of that mystery but now we need to figure out about that beach,” Kejuta noted.
The teenage boy smiled. “I think I know. Remember how the old man said that I need to go to an island to seek Aundra? Maybe you’re in that island. But who is Aundra? Is she one of us?”
“Most likely,” she answered. Kejuta was curious about this “Aundra”. “She must have some knowledge about our abilities since she supposed to teach us.”
That reminds me. The Merzakians ladies were talking about rumors of people was able to use magic again, Adia added. However, they thought it was mere nonsense.
They have heard about that rumor as well, but so far they haven’t seen anyone with magical power in the village. Well except for them of course, but they kept it a secret from the others.
“Well, I guess we finally figure out what to do,” Pen decided. “The only thing left for us to do is figure out how and when to escape this place so we can reach that island, which we have no idea where it is. The only clue we have is that it is near the Sea of Storms.” He turned to his mother and asked, “Any luck?”
She shook her head. “Unfortunately, I viewed every possibility but each time, we get caught and it becomes difficult for us to find another way to escape. At this rate, I think we would need an outside source in order for our plan to work.”
An outside source? Adia mused. You mean someone from outside the village? That would be difficult since it’s rare for someone to enter or leave the village on his or her own accord.
Pendance sighed. “I guess we will have to delay our escape plan until we find a new opportunity,” he relented. “Now we just have to wait.”
Everyone nodded. Ever since they have revealed their secrets to each other, the family has become much closer. Now they know that they need to each other more than ever and that somehow, in order for their plan to work, they need to work together.
Three years past when a sudden opportunity arrived. A minstrel and his slave arrived at the village one day and announced that he wished to entertain the people. The villagers and the slaves, eager for a song or two, agreed and welcome the musician in. The newcomers were in the village for almost a week when Pendance came in from work one day.
“One of the slaves told me that the minstrel’s servant wanted to tell the slaves something important,” he told his family. “He told me to invite you as well since we’re in the same situation. The meeting is at the slave quarters tonight.”
That night, they arrived at the slave quarters and stood at the back. The others just looked at them as they entered but otherwise ignored them. At least they’re not trying to insult them, Pen thought dryly.
“Is everyone here?” the minstrel’s slave asked loudly and after he got a confirmation, he continued, “My fellow human beings, how many of you are wearied of working like mules for those ingrate Merzakians?” Many people began murmuring angrily. “How many of you are tired of living in fear of punishment for defying your masters?” More murmurs were heard. “Well, I have good news! My colleague and I are not really what we seem. We are actually scouts from an army that plans to liberate you all!
“The army of Castia is planning to attack this small kingdom in three days, but we need your help. On that day, instead of heading home, we want you to distract the enemies by burning the crops. While they are distracted, we will launch a surprise attack. For helping us, we promise to free you so you can go back home. Is everyone with me?”
The screams of approval rang through the air. However, the only ones who were not in agreement were Pendance and his family. Instead, he stepped up and asked, “And how would we know that we can trust you?”
The scout just shrugged. “Don’t you trust me? Are you waiting for those so-called gods to save you? Wake up! They have abandoned us, which is why we Castia decided to give ourselves a new name so we wouldn’t be bound to the old ways. Unless you’re implying that you rather stay in servitude with the Merzakians?”
“Of course he would!” a middle-aged woman with black hair shouted angrily. Her whole body was covered with burnt marks. “His family probably does not want to lose their life of luxury since they are ‘special’! Isn’t that right, Pilur?”
“You’re right, Resma,” her friend agreed. “The only reason that you’re treated nicely is because you and your family can’t die! Besides, I think this plan will work unlike the last time.”
Pen opened his mouth to argue back but stopped when he saw his mother’s stern look. She shook her head as if she was telling him that the slaves have already made their decision and there was nothing she could do about it. Clenching his mouth, he stepped back down and stood next to his mom while the others taunted him. He noticed that the stranger was now studying at Adia, his mother, and him with great interest now.
Normally, he wouldn’t have said anything, but he saw something that alarmed him. The fairies were buzzing around the room so eagerly, and some were even perching on the slaves’ shoulder. All of these people are going to die and there was nothing that he could do to prevent it.
“But what’s about that Merzakian family that lived outside the town? What if they warned their people of the attack?” one of the slaves asked. Pen perked up as soon as he heard the questions.
The scout just smiled. “Don’t worry about them,” he reassured them. “We’ll strike at them beforehand so there is no chance that they have time to sound the alarm. Now… who is with me?”
Sounds of cheers rang throughout the room as the slaves made their decision that would lead them toward their deaths.
“What’s wrong?” Pendance turned to look at a worried Eloria. He had avoided looking at her the entire time because he felt helpless knowing that she and her family will die.
“It’s nothing. I’m just…” he suddenly stopped speaking and stared at her. The fairies were flying around her all right except they didn’t seem that interested in her, which means… “You don’t have to die!”
“Um… excuse me? What on earth are you yapping about?” she asked him as she gave him a weird look.
He grabbed her hands and began, “Let me explain. I know that it’s going to sound weird but…” She listened intently to his story as he revealed to her about the impending attack and about his family’s strange powers.
Finally she squeaked, “Wait… Are you telling me that those fairies are flying around me right now!?” She immediately stood up and started slapping herself so he had to calm her down.
“Relax,” he told her. “They’re just flying around you but seem to be ignoring you. That is how I figure out that you and your family may have a chance to survive. I think it should be best that you guys leave tonight just in case the Castians change their minds and attack tomorrow. Better pack lightly so you wouldn’t be burdened in your journey.”
Eloria nodded. “Yeah, I’ll tell them as soon as I get home,” she determined. “I guess I should pack enough food for the journey so we better hurry.” He nodded and they continued digging up the vegetables.
Afterward, they walked back to her tunnel. As she was about to head out, she abruptly turned and said, “Can you come here later tonight? I want to say goodbye one last time.”
“Sure, I come by tonight,” he promised. She smiled as she waved farewell to him. After she left, Pen immediately rushed over home. He needed to tell his mom the news so she would make sure no one would interrupt them when they meet one last time.
He was waiting for her outside the tunnel entrance that night. “So what happens?” he asked curiously as soon as he saw her.
“I told my family about the attack so they were panicking at first,” she began, “but luckily father calmed everyone down. We packed up a few of our belongings that we carried and are going to head out soon. My parents decided that we are going to move north since they heard the land is very fertile.” She gave him a hopeful look. “Why don’t you and your family come with us?”
Pen sadly shook his head. “We can’t unfortunately,” he told her. “If we disappeared, the Merzakians would notice and give chase. We will bring trouble to your family if we went with you.”
She pursed her lips. “I thought you might say that,” she sighed. “I guess that mean this will most likely be the last time we’ll see each other, huh?” She pulled out something from her pocket and placed it in his hand. Opening his hand, he saw it was a brooch shaped as a laurel branch. “It was my grandfather’s so I wanted you to have it as a way for you to remember me.”
He touched her gift and looked at her. “Thank you,” he managed to say. He then noticed that there were tears in her eyes. Embarrassed, she wiped them away quickly.
“Well, I better get going,” she said hastily. Eloria rushed over to him and gave him a kiss on his cheek. “Goodbye, Pen. Take care, okay?” Then without looking back, she went through her tunnel and disappeared.
Pen stood there, stunned. As he touched the cheek where she kissed him, he suddenly realized how much he cared about her. She was always like a sister to him so to see her leave caused a great deal of sadness. His only true friend was gone now. His biggest regret was that he hasn’t given any memento to her so she could remember him by.
The Castian scout’s promise of attack came true. The smoke from the field and the sounds of battle rang through the town. Kejuta and her children stayed in their house and watched from the window. “It has begun,” Pendance said softly. He has decided to be at home instead of work today because he knew that the family needed to stay close together during this time.
Kejuta nodded as she nervously grabbed the chains that wounded around her body. The visions caused her to gasp and she immediately turned to her son. “Pen, I want you to be on high alert no matter what,” she ordered him. “That would determine whether our plan will be successful or not.”
Before he questioned her about it, the door was swiftly broken down and Castian soldiers marched into the house. “Hands up and don’t move!” the squad leader shouted as the men pointed their swords at them. They obliged and did what they told. “Now follow us!”
However, Adia just stood there frozen; her phobia of knives and swords has overwhelmed her. Knowing that the impatient men would harm her, Pen immediately swept her up and carried her. Kejuta gave him a grateful look in return.
As they passed the devastated town which was set on fire, they could smell blood and burning flesh. Screams of the dying filled the air, which caused Kejuta goose bumps. She silently said a prayer for the dead and hoped that they found peace in the afterlife.
Finally, they have arrived at their destination, which was the back of the village. Pen’s eyes widened as he recognized the place but wisely stayed silent. All of the slaves and Castian soldiers were there as they celebrated their victory. A few of the Merzakians were there as well though they were bound and badly treated by the victors.
Suddenly a man of great stature arrived and stepped on the makeshift stage. The bald man has olive-skinned and looked like he was in his mid-fifties. He immediately introduced himself as General Clausen. As soon as they heard his name, the slaves immediately let out a cheer to show their appreciation to their liberators. “So I’ve heard that there is a family that is immortal,” he continued happily. “Where are they?”
As if on cue, the soldiers escorted them to the podium. “Good!” the general exclaimed then suddenly turned gravely serious. “Now as for the rest, kill them!”
Looks of bewilderment and alarm appeared on the slaves’ faces. “But why!?” someone shouted.
The middle-aged man smiled as he explained in a smooth voice, “Because we got what we wanted. The rest is just extra baggage.” After he said those words, his men rushed over and began killing everyone in sight.
In midst of the chaos, General Clausen then turned his attention toward Kejuta and her family. “Well then,” he said as he held out his arms in a mockingly welcome manner, “so this is the famous family whose blood brings life to this godforsaken earth!” Pointing to Kejuta, he ordered his men, “Bring me the woman.”
They grabbed her and pulled her toward him. Clausen examined her and then said, “Hand me my dagger.” One of the soldiers obliged and gave it to him. Kejuta glared at him as he grabbed her hand and slit her palm. “Those stupid Merzakians were so blinded by their faith that they didn’t even think of drinking her blood to become immortal themselves! Imagine that! I’ll be the first mortal to become a god!”
As soon as he heard those words, Pen tried to run over there but the other soldiers used their short fauchards to block his way. “Don’t!” he warned as he quoted one of his father’s stories. “Anyone who dares drink the blood of a god will live as a cursed damnation for all eternity.”
However, everyone just laughed. “I would have thought you still wouldn’t believe in those old wives’ tales since you’re a young man,” Clausen jeered and held Kejuta’s bleeding hand to his lips, “but I guess I’ve been mistaken. Let me show you that I’m not afraid of that silly story.”
Then he licked the blood from her hand and smiled. “See?” he said triumphantly. “Nothing bad has hap-“
Suddenly he collapsed on the floor as if he was in pain. “Sir! Are you all right?” one of the alarmed soldiers asked. Someone shoved Kejuta aside as the Castian soldiers sped over to help their commander. She barely noticed the push though because she was staring in shock at the sight of General Clausen.
Black ooze was streaming out of his eyes. “My eyes!” he groaned as the black secretion began to drip from his mouth. “I can’t see!” Kejuta just stood there horrified. What was happening to him!? The worst part was that the chains around his body were tightening around him as if they were trying to bind him.
Then she felt a sudden tug. “We have to get out of here!” Pen hissed as he pulled her away. He looked very terrified as if he knew what was going on. Luckily, no one tried to stop them as they sprinted away from the scene; but then, everyone stopped what he or she was doing and stared at the once-proud general writhing in pain.
“Over here!” Pen said as he led them to the bushes. He brushed the leaves aside and showed them Eloria’s tunnel. “You go first, Adia. Then it will be mom’s turn and I’ll be the last one.” The little girl shakily knelt down and crawled into the tunnel. Facing her, Pen then informed her, “Now, it’s your turn.”
She was about to enter the tunnel when suddenly the general let out a loud scream. They stopped and turned to look. Clausen’s back was arched and the ooze was now pouring out of every orifice in his body. The strange slime seemed to be forming a tail of some sort. Some of the men then have the courage to approach him but when one of them touched him, the tendril coming from the general’s body swung at the men, which sent them flying across the town. Seeing that caused the others to wake up from their stupor and immediately everyone tried to flee through the main entrance.
“Shit! We need to leave NOW!” Pen shouted as he pushed Kejuta into the tunnel. He immediately followed her and together, they quickly hurried down the underground path. Kejuta mentally thanked Eloria for giving them a way to exit. Adia was waiting anxiously on the other side. After Pen got out of the tunnel, they fled into the woods.
They were a couple miles away when they heard the explosion. “What was that!?” Kejuta shouted. They paused and looked back at the burning Merzakian village. What they saw shocked them – a black figure over ten feet tall dominated the sky. Long, black tendrils wiggled around the ground and they seemed to continue to grow from the oozing liquid. The terrifying part was that they could see General Clausen’s agonizing body.
Only his upper half was still visible; the rest was covered by the black ooze. His eyes were no long there since they covered with the secretion. He tried to lift his arms but he had difficulty since it was covered by the mysterious fluid; it was as if he was in quicksand. All of a sudden, Clausen looked up at the sky and screamed, “Help me!” Unfortunately, his plea was not granted and he was soon engulfed by the strange liquid.
The frightening creature let out a beastly cry and sniffed the air in order to look for something. It turned and looked their direction. It seemed to smile, which caused Kejuta to realize in horror that it was looking for them. “Run!” she shouted and everyone, who probably has the same notion, did. She could hear the monster screamed in pain but she didn’t dare to stop to look back.
Finally, all of them were exhausted so they stopped to take a break. Kejuta looked back nervously to see if they were being followed by that thing. There was nothing so far luckily. “I think we lost it,” Pen said between breaths. “If I remember father’s story correctly, that creature is scared of fire and since the village is like a huge bonfire…”
“What on earth is that thing?” Kejuta wondered. She shudder just thinking about it.
“I believe it’s called a Shuvyral,” Pen answered. “It’s like a creature of shadow that supposed to wander the earth for all eternity. Apparently it is always in pain and the only way to ease it is to drink more of the god’s blood. Of course, that leads to more problems to the creature. I don’t know how the gods knew about that damnation or how they were able to defeat it unfortunately. I don’t think it will follow us though since it probably lost our scent.”
Kejuta sighed with relief. “That’s good!” she declared. “If that thing showed up again, I think I can use my powers to delay him hopefully. Now we need to figure out where to go.”
Closing her eyes, she touched a chain from all three and examined the visions. Which way is the Sea of Storms? Finally, she opened her eyes and smiled. “We need to head southwest,” she advised her children. “There is a port located there and it will be a four days walk so we should leave as soon as everyone is rested. Luckily, we are in the forest so we should be able to find food along the way.”
After resting for ten more minutes, everyone stood up and continued walking. They are going to meet this Aundra and perhaps she will tell them about their strange existence, Kejuta thought to herself. She felt someone grabbed her hand and looked down to see Adia looking at her happily. Pen was guarding the rear but he smiled when he saw that she looking at him.
Seeing her children happy and free filled her heart with joy. No matter what happened or where they go, they would always be a family. With that knowledge tucked into her heart, she led her family toward their destination.
I read all this chapter on the dreamwidth link; I find it easier to read from there.
Really good chapter, though I would've like to have read a bit about the confrontation between the Merzakians and the Castians instead of just coming to it when it was already all done. And that Shuvyral creature sort of seems like it came out of nowhere, or maybe I forget and it was previously mentioned?
I really love Kej's ability and her mission to bring together the flames to change the world's fate. The concept of chains of fate isn't new to me but brilliantly used, how did you come to use it in the story?
Will we meet all the immortals within this book or span to the next also?
Well, Kejuta and her children decided not to get involved in the battle since they already knew the outcome. Not to mention Adia is going to spazz out if she saw the fight due to her phobia. Maybe I'll add a battle scene if I edit the chapter later on.
As for the Shuvyral, it's actually General Clausen's transmuted body after he drank Kejuta's blood. He's now been cursed into that creature that lives in excruciating pain for all eternity; he cannot die and the only way for him to ease its pain is to drink more of the blood, which of course leads to the same problems. A Shuvyral is a creature that has the audacity to drink an immortal's blood and is cursed for its hubris. Maybe I should clarify it since I probably rushed the ending.
My inspiration for Kejuta's powers? Umm... a part of it was from the part in Bleach where Ichigo was surrounded by those ribbons when he was trying to become a shinigami. I thought that was a cool scene and thought what if you can pick and choose what destiny to pick? In a way, it makes sense since in real life, we have to make choices that would change our destiny so I visualize it as we have different chains of fate and our decision will have an effect on the other "chains". '
Originally I intended that Kejuta would offer a person several choices aka chain and he or she will decide which one to choose. Then I changed it so that only she could see it since it's supposed to be her powers and having her make the decisions will reflect on her overprotective motherly instinct since she thinks she knows what's best for everyone. ^^
Yes, we will meet all of the immortal in this novel and the epilogue is supposed to lead to the second novel. Let's just say it would be unexpected.
Thanks for clearing that up about the Shuvyral and I'm guessing we bump into it later on too . Now I think about it, I remember that about Ichigo in Bleach
About Kejuta's powers, since she controls the chains and changes people's destinies, how does the whole "butterfly effect" side of it come into play here? I mean does it significantly affect another character's fate further down the line? I think I may just be rambling and overthinking things....
Yes, it will affect another character's fate as well. You will probably see it in the in another chapter and probably in the second book.About Kejuta's powers, since she controls the chains and changes people's destinies, how does the whole "butterfly effect" side of it come into play here? I mean does it significantly affect another character's fate further down the line? I think I may just be rambling and overthinking things....
BTW, since it's easier to read the chapters in dreamwidth, would you rather I just post the link here whenever I updated?
If I were you I'd keep both, as some people may prefer to not wander off MH but I'm using the dreamwidth to link to friends and such to read .
Well, omg O_____O didn't realize one chapter of your is so long. I gonna get back once I finished reading chapter one. For now, I gonna just read one third of a chapter at a time. To be honest, I thought the beginning was slow. But as soon as your first sacrifice, I am quite awake So I thought, is this how she setting up the mood for the whole story? The bit about bonding under hardship was cute. I get really attracted to the red hair boy. Until I realize time flied like super fast and they married Noooooooo. I was wondering where are you taking the story until she chosen for the sacrifice. So yeah, the next part will be tomorrow. And once I finished all section, I gonna do an overall response.
Thoughts on the second part, so where I left of before was before she discover her power. Hmm, I never really interested in female characters or about labor. But what happened to Adia is very interesting, I would love to see how her character progressed. So I am glad the other kid was a boy. But overall, right now I am really hoping that after chapter 1, we will have a new setting. And I can't wait for what sort of villain you will have install for this story. And whether the cursed ones' power are more varied. So for the second part, I ended with the birth of the son.
Okay, Ch. 3 is finally completed! It took awhile since I kept revising a couple of scenes so if there is any mistakes, please let me know~ Sorry, but this is mostly a talking chapter so not a lot of action is going on (the same will be for Ch. 4 as well). FYI, I tried to make the Kreesian architecture to be similar to ancient Greek/Roman. Too bad my scanner is acting up or I would have drawn a sketch.
I'm going to work on the side story next since I'm working based on chronologically order. It's going to focus on Roku and Kyah (from The Maiden of Puria so read that if you're interested) and how they settled in Alethesia. The side story is just for you, goldb and Ancy, since you guys kept nagging me about them.
Anyway, here's Ch. 3!
Chapter 3: Aundra - "Like time, magic is infinite"
Brenton has always enjoyed fishing.
There was something about this solitary hobby that appealed to him. Perhaps it’s because fishing was very relaxing and calming. Maybe it’s because it gave him time to think and reflect on life’s greatest mysteries like “Why are the female Neriads more outgoing while the males are bashful?” or “Why am I able to catch a lot of fish one day but not the next?”
“You’re doing it again, dear.” He sat up immediately and turned to see who interrupted his thoughts. A tall, beautiful woman with long, blonde, and wavy hair looked at him as she stood on top of the slope; she wore a long, pale blue, strapless, and flowing dress with gold embroidery of intricate designs and a long slit on the left side. Her aquamarine and gold jewelry seemed to sparkle from the sunlight.
She has an amused smile on her face and pointed gently to the water. Confused, Brenton looked at his reflection and laughed. “I guess I did it again, huh?” he chuckled as he fixed his looks. “What would I do without you, Aundra?”
The woman rolled her eyes. “You wouldn’t survive at all,” she teased. “Oh, by the way, do you remember what today is?”
It took a couple of minutes for Brenton to recollect what his friend was talking about, but it suddenly dawned on him. “Oh right!” he exclaimed. “We’re supposed to meet them today.”
A pleased Aundra nodded and reminded him, “Aren’t you supposed to get ready?”
“I suppose,” he sighed, “but I’m stumped on what my appearance should be. Am I really fine like this?” He stood up and spun around so she could inspect him.
“Oh, stop whining,” the woman rolled her eyes. “I think you look fine so don’t get too flustered. Now, you better clean up since we want to make a good impression after all. Beside we need to make sure the preparation is complete too.”
Brenton did what he was told reluctantly; he was hoping that he would have caught at least one fish today. Oh well, maybe next time. As they walked back to the spacious and open-spaced palace that they called home, Brenton pondered aloud, “I wonder if any of them like to fish.”
Pendance leaned against the ship railing as he stared out toward the sea. A year has passed since his family arrived at Port Beldever. It was a quaint but boisterous town filled with fishermen, merchants, and of course, sailors. The first thing they did was find information about the Sea of Storms and the mysterious island that they seek. What they learned really intrigued them.
“The Sea of Storms?” one villager told them. “It’s a sea southwest of here. It got its name because of the numerous storms that occurred in the area.”
An old woman enlightened them, “My mother told me that there is an island that existed beyond the Sea of Storms. It supposed to be the place where magic first originated from and where the Neriads resided. It supposedly has lush forest and waterfalls. Apparently it is a place of paradise!”
However, when they asked for a ship to travel to sail to the island, they had a lot of difficulty finding volunteers.
“Are you kidding!?” an old sailor exclaimed after Pen asked him. “Young man, going there is like suicide! Thousands of sailors attempted to sail through those waters and lost their lives. In fact, the last group of ambitious sailors tried it thirty-seven years ago and had never been heard or seen from again. I warned you – don’t do it!”
Just remembering the hassle of trying to recruit sailors caused Pen to have a minor headache. Luckily for them, his mom was able to “convince” some young and ambitious ship crew, albeit drunk, who were willing to listen. It was a good thing that mother has that special ability or else they would be stuck there for a long time. That would be a problem as well since the people who grow suspicious of them due to the fact that they never age at all.
“Enjoying the view?” his mother asked as she and Adia went to stand next to him. He shrugged since there was nothing really special to see except for the water and the foggy skies. “I talked to Captain Wexen and he informed me that we will probably reach the Sea of Storms soon.”
As if he has heard his name, the captain of the ship, Valenia, came out of his quarters. He was in his mid-thirties and was considered by the ladies to be a dashing man. “Good morning!” he greeted. “And how are you three this morning? I’m impressed that you haven’t gotten seasick yet even though this is your first time at sea!”
Kejuta beamed, “It’s probably because of my genes. I used to live near the sea when I was young.”
“Really?” A pleased Wexen looked at her curiously. “We must swap sea stories one day then. Anyway, I almost forgot, but I just come out to tell you to go below decks right now because we’re close by to the area. I don’t want any of my passengers to fall overboard now.” He chuckled as if he was telling a joke. “Anyhow, pray to the gods of the sea that we will survive this.” With a wave, he left and began giving orders to his crew.
“Pray to the gods, huh?” Pen’s mother murmured softly that only he and his Adia could hear. “Perhaps my powers will be the bit of help that the captain needs?”
The storm didn’t begin immediately. At first Pendance heard the rumbling thunder and the blowing winds, which caused the waves to strike against the ship; then the rain began pouring down gently. Then the rain began coming down harder and harder while the winds became stronger. He could see flashes of lightning through the cracks. His mother hugged Adia tightly as she concentrated on trying to influence Captain Wexen’s decisions to insure that the ship will make it out safely.
Before he knew it, the waves were crashing against the ship, which caused it to rock violently back and forth that he and his family were tossed around like bags of barley. Likewise, the bustling winds howled and the thunders roared so loudly that he could barely hear the screaming crew above them as they tried their best to hold on to dear life. Grabbing onto one of the ship beams, Pen thought to himself despairingly, We’re not going to make it. While his mother can control a person’s destiny, she could not control the weather.
All of a sudden, the storm stopped as if something or someone has stopped it. Even though the storm lasted only for an hour, it felt like it was happening for a day. A bewildered Pen stood up unsteadily and looked around. Most of the supplies were lying around haphazardly and some of the crates were burst open so its content was sprawling around the floor. His mother and Adia were leaning against the ship walls as they caught their breaths. Walking toward them, Pen noted that they looked like they only suffer minor cuts and bruises, which could be easily mended. As soon as he reached them, they immediately hugged him as they laughed with relief that somehow they survived the terrible ordeal.
The sailors above must have felt the same way because he heard their yelling and screaming with joy. The floors shook as some of the men jumped up and down while other danced. Then someone must have remembered that there were people below the deck because the door was swung open and one of the sailors shouted as he beckoned them forward, “Come on then! Come take a look and let’s see what lies beyond that godforsaken sea!”
The sun was shining brightly as they came out the door. Pen and the others looked around their surroundings in awe. The sea was calm and peaceful as the waves rolled lightly against the ship. A gentle breeze blew through the clear blue sky as the seabirds flew overhead. It was as if the storm never happened at all.
“It’s a miracle!” Captain Wexen shouted as he climbed down the stairs leading to the ship’s wheelhouse. “I thought we were going to die in that wretched sea, but somehow we survived!”
“Any casualties?” Pendance inquired even though he knew the answer. Wexen nodded his head sadly and placed his cap over his heart.
“Unfortunately yes,” he replied. “Five of my men were swept overboard. May their souls find peace in the next one, I pray. Hopefully, we won’t have any more trag-”
Without warning, several splashes were heard nearby the Valenia. The confused crew rushed over to the railing to try to figure out where the sound was coming from. Finally someone from the larboard shouted, “Over here! I can’t believe my eyes but there’re mermaids here!”
Everyone came running over to the left side of the ship to see the unexpected creature when another sailor exclaimed, “They’re over by the starboard as well!” Upon hearing that, some of them rushed over to the right side of the ship instead and looked in awe at the mysterious creatures.
Pen could only stare in shock as the Neriads swam close by the ship. The mermaids’ hair and fins were the color of the sea – blue, green, white, and a mixture of these colors. Two fins as long as their arms were on their back. Their pale blue skin seemed to glisten as the sun reflected on the water droplets from their skins. However, that was not the reason why the men were ogling – it was the fact that they were topless. Pendance blushed embarrassingly and looked away; he noticed that Kejuta immediately covered Adia’s eyes as well.
The awestruck crew murmured to each other during the time. “By the gods, the stories about the Neriads were true!” one man exclaimed in disbelief. “The whole time, I thought my poor ma was just telling me silly stories just to shut me up so I would go to bed. Wait until my friends hear about this!”
“Look at their swimming so naturally!” another commented, “It makes my swimming skills look amateurish!”
A young man agreed, “They’re amazing all right! Not to mention a sight to see if you know what I mean.” The men roared with laughter with that statement.
“Aren’t they acting a little strange though?” another pointed out. Everyone stopped chatting and studied the sea creatures once more. They kept stopping and tilting their heads left before swimming off again. It was like they were trying to tell them something, but what?
“I think they’re trying to lead us somewhere!” one of the crew said in realization. Captain Wexen, who was leaning against the railing, stood up straight after hearing that answer and immediately began to give out orders.
“Come on, men! Stop staring at them all day. We need to get busy now!” he yelled as he walked around the Valenia. “You hear him, didn’t you? Those Neriads are trying to guide us to land. I bet all of my money that it’s that legendary island from lore!”
The men quickly followed their captain’s orders while Wexen steered the ship in the directions that the Neriads were leading. Pen and his family stood at the bow and watched the mermaids showing them the way. It seemed to him that they were looking at his family curiously as if they knew about their secret. That thought led to another nagging question – who sends the mermaids anyway and why?
A couple miles later, a sailor in the crow’s nest shouted, “Land ho!” and pointed to an island coming closer to view. Just like the rumors have stated, the island has a lot of lush forests and cascading waterfalls among its many hills. Several buildings made out of marble and stone were scattered throughout the hills. A small mountain loomed in the northeast where it seemed to dominate the land. It must be the center for the islanders because a path led up to the highland and a stairway was built so people can climb up to the top, where a prominent building was built.
As the ship was moving closer to shore, the Neriads suddenly dove underwater and disappeared. A trail of mall splashes showed that they were heading to the rocky cove located in the western side of the island. No one has time to think much of it since everyone notices that a lone woman was waiting for them at the dock. She wore a long, white robe with yellow trimmings and yellow sandals. She also looked to be in her early twenties, but the oddest thing about her was that her hair color was cyan.
She spoke after the Valenia was docked and everyone got off the ship. “Welcome, travelers, to the island of Kreesia, the land of magic,” she welcomed. “My name is Elvena. We have already provided everything for your needs since you are most likely exhausted from your journey. Some of my people will meet with you soon to show you to the lodging after you finished unloading.” Then, turning to face Pendance’s family, she smiled. “As for you three, please come with me. Lady Aundra has been expecting you.”
Adia could only stare in awe at the marvelous spectacle that surrounded her. As soon as they left the harbor, they have entered the town of Draia, which was bustling with activities. The citizens kept coming in and out of two-story or three-story stone buildings, which she assumed to be their homes, to go to the nearby bazaar. There, merchants promoted their ware by shouting over each other while the customers did their best to haggle for a good discount. Caged animals, some of which were familiar and others, exotic, cried out and added to the cacophony.
The thing that really intrigued her was the people themselves. They were definitely different from anyone she has seen so far. Their hair were wild and outlandish colors – blue, green, purple, pink, orange… in other word – all the colors of the rainbow! The women wore clothing (or should she say lack of?) that revealed a lot of skin while the men wore fisherman pants and open vests. Elvena, who was a knowledgeable guide who was willing to share her knowledge, must have notice her curious look because she immediately spoke even before Adia could ask the question.
“Legend has it that magic first appeared in the world many millennia when the Neriads and the Kreesians mated,” she explained. “While they have human features, they also have some Neriad characteristics which are the hair colors, extended lifespans, and the ability to swim underwater with ease. However, the most important part was that they were the first to use magic. That was when the first goddess of magic approached their children and showed them how to use their newfound powers.”
Smiling, she continued, “As you can see, the marketplace is quite busy. It was different in the past, however. When the goddess of magic disappeared from this world, we couldn’t use any form of magic at all so we couldn’t use any spell or develop any concoctions. Business faltered and we felt lost without our power. In a way, we lost our identity. Luckily, Lady Aundra showed up recently, and everything is prospering again!”
“Speaking of Aundra,” Kejuta inquired, “who is she?”
Elvena answered, “In a way, she is the ruler of the island, Lady Kejuta. She has a vast amount of knowledge of all forms of magic in the world. If you want to learn more about her, you can ask her yourself when you have your meeting with her.”
Stopping at the base of the mountain, she pointed up to the top of the mountain and said, “Lady Aundra is waiting at the top of the mountain. Since there are fifteen flights of stairs, I would recommend that we better start climbing. We wouldn’t want her to keep waiting after all.”
Meanwhile, Aundra and Brenton waited patiently at the very top. While the former sat on the edge of the center oval fountain and examined the fish that swim in it, the latter was lying on one of the benches, which were located on either side of said fountain, and reading a thick book. Sighing, Brenton stood up and stretched.
“Are they here yet?” he asked irritably. He wanted to get the meeting over with so he could go back fishing; he has left the fishing line in the water before he left. What if he caught something and it escapes before he came back?
Aundra just laughed softly. “Not yet, my dear,” she told him. “It will probably take a little longer because they have to climb over 300 steps and I don’t think they’re quite used to it. Remember when you had to do that the first time you came here?” He nodded, remembering how tired he was. Tapping the spot next to her, she added, “Why don’t you sit next to me? Seeing you walk back and forth is annoying me.”
Giving her a goofy grin, Brenton did as he was told; however, he placed his head in her lap and lie down. As he opened the book, he confessed, “I’m somewhat nervous meeting them. What if they don’t like me? What if they make fun of me? What if they’re mean and cruel?”
“I’m sure that they will like you,” she reassured him as she stroked his hair. That was their pastime – he would use her lap as a pillow while she played with his hair. “I like you after all. I doubt that they will be mean because I’m positive the gods would make consider which mortals to choose to pass down their powers.”
Suddenly, she looked up and announced, “They’re almost here so we better get ready to welcome them.” Brenton stood up and walked over to the edge to see. He immediately recognized Elvena and noticed that there were three strangers walking with her; they were almost done climbing the twelfth flight of stairs. Rushing back to the fountain, he looked himself over for one last inspection. His ash-color hair was in place and not even a strand of hair was sticking out. He wore a long camel-colored tunic, brown pants, and brown moccasins. It was nothing fancy, but then, that wasn’t his style. Pleased with his appearance, he went over to the top of the stairs where Aundra was waiting.
As their guest slowly made their way through the thirteenth flight of stairs, Aundra murmured in his ear, “Remember what I told you, all right? We want to make a good impression.” Brenton nodded as he crossed his heart; any slipup might reveal too much and they didn’t want that to happen. Taking a deep breath, he held his book tightly and waited nervously.
By the time they reached the fourteenth platform, Kejuta was exhausted. She went over to one of the benches that lined up the sides and sat down. Her children followed suit as well; Adia was tired after climbing the fifth flight of stairs that Pendance has to carry her for the rest of the journey. While they were panting and sweating, Elvena seemed to have no problem as all. She just stood there patiently as she waited for them to catch their breath. She wasn’t even sweating at all! Kejuta hated to admit it, but she was getting envious.
She looked around at the buildings that were scattered over the hilly regions. Several pathways led to these white stone structures and to the forest as well. From what their guide told them, each building has a witch who is willing to share their knowledge. If someone was interested in learning, he or she would go to said building and become an apprentice to that witch. The apprenticeship could last for a year or even twenty years!
Elvena also explained that the forest contained plants and other materials that were necessary to make magical concoctions or help develop new spells. However, wild and dangerous beasts lived in the area as well so many witches teamed up together whenever they go to gather new ingredients; while one collected the supplies the others would guard. Sometimes though, they would hunt down these creatures in order to tame them or to get some organic materials such as bones or fur.
Even though she disapproved of the Kreesian fashion style, Kejuta had to admit that she really like this place. The people seemed welcoming and open-minded compared to those in the mainland. Not to mention the fact that she felt a sense of belonging here for some reason. Nevertheless, there was still one nagging question that bothered her.
“Elvena, I have a question for you,” she asked; Elvena looked at her and nodded so she continued, “Why do you insist on calling me ‘Lady Kejuta’? Likewise calling my children ‘Lady Adia’ and ‘Lord Pendance’?”
The blue-haired woman gave her a warm smile. “It’s because you and your children are the same as her, Lady Kejuta,” she answered. “We Kressians see you in the highest esteem due to the nature of your existence. I would like to tell you why, but I think Lady Aundra will provide a better answer than I. Speaking of which, would you like to take a breather for a few more minutes still?”
“No, I think we’re ready,” she replied so she and her children stood up and started walking again. As she started up the last flight of stairs, Kejuta mused on how each platform was different from the last. The first four platforms were like the marketplace in the town except people were trading goods instead. There were some people lingering around on the fifth and sixth landings, but they were having debate and discussions about different forms of magic. By the seventh platform, there were only two or three people standing around; then there were no one around except for them.
When they were near the top of the stairs, Kejuta noticed that the last landing was different from the rest; while all of them were spacious, this one was extended from the mountain wall, which has an enormous opening that was as wide as the platform, and has a roof on top, which was supported by six columns. The front of the roof depicted nine people having a discussion. Benches lined up between the columns and pots of small fir trees were set on either side of them. A square fountain made of marble was built in the middle of the platform.
She also noticed two people were waiting for them near the fountain. There was a young man who looked like he was in his teenage years. His ash-colored hair was combed down neatly and his clothes seemed to be very comfortable. He has a gentle face, which put her at ease, and he also seemed like an idealist due to his dreamy look in his eyes.
The other was a tall, beautiful woman with blond, wavy hair that reached past her shoulders. Her light, tan skin has a healthy glow too. Her long, pale blue dress except for the thigh-long slit was very elegant. She reminded Kejuta of a goddess, and Kejuta realized that she was becoming self-conscious of herself. She and her children were wearing drab clothing from the time they escaped the Merzakian village; the last time they’ve gotten a real bath was before their journey.
When the young man saw Adia, he moaned softly to the person next to him, “Oh, I had a gut feeling that there will be a child! I should have listened to my instinct!”
The woman admonished, “Hush! You don’t want to be rude, my dear. Besides you know you can remedy it later.” He sighed and didn’t say anymore though he seemed to be a bit upset about it still. His friend frowned at him disapprovingly. “Now stop pouting! It’s unbecoming of you and you’re not going to make a good impression with that face.”
Elvena cleared her throat, which caught the two bickering couple’s attention. “Lady Aundra and Master Brenton,” she began after she curtsied, “your guests have arrived.” She pointed at them as she introduced, “This is Lady Kejuta, Lady Adia, and Lord Pendance.”
“Thank you, Elvena,” Aundra said graciously. “You may take your leave now.” Their guide bowed her head and gave a slight bow before walking down the stairs again. Then their hostess turned to face Kejuta and others and said, “You must have a lot of questions about your powers and me. Why don’t we continue our conversation inside?”
Aundra looked with amusement at her guests’ amazed reactions when they entered the cave’s interior. Instead of being in a dark and murky place, they found themselves instead in a warmly, lit square room. Fourteen gold-embroidered tapestries of various colors hung from the off-white walls; each were between two columns. There was a small stairway which led to a wide, circular bench made out of marble. Cushion and throw pillows lay on top of it. In the center of the bench was a small, raised, and circular pool filled with a mysterious foggy liquid.
“What is this place?” Kejuta wondered as she looked around the room. Her mouth was gaping widely at the sight.
“This is the forum for the gods,” Aundra responded. “It existed outside the world of Samara so no mortals could enter. If anyone dares, he or she will just see an empty cave. I’ll explain why we are able to be in this place later, but first, why don’t we have a seat?”
She led everyone to the bench and indicated that she wanted them to sit down. As everyone was getting comfortable, she studied them to try to figure out their personalities. The woman has a comely appearance; she seems to quite motherly as well. The loose braid, which was flipped over a shoulder, showed that she had a simple but hard life. That would probably mean that she might be quite stubborn and determined if necessary.
On the other hand, the young girl was quite cute and seemed to have a bubbly personality. She reminded Aundra of a porcelain doll – pretty but yet fragile. However, she doubted that the girl has a weak spirit in spite of her appearance. In fact, she sensed a strong potential in her little guest.
Likewise, her brother seemed to be strong as well – physically and mentally. It looked like he took it upon himself to be the man of the household based on how he was making sure that his mother and sister were comfortable. A mommy’s boy, perhaps? He also appeared to be a hard worker, which would be good depending on his role in the world. Not to mention, he’s quite handsome… Aundra suddenly noticed that Kejuta was giving her a stern look and smiled. Oh dear, it appeared that the woman was overly protective of her children. Luckily for Kejuta, her son is not her type.
She decided to begin. “So tell me a little bit about yourself,” she suggested as she leaned back against the cushion.
After Kejuta finished her story, she watched closely as Aundra sat there thoughtfully. Brenton just stared at his book during the time she was telling her tale. “How barbaric what the Merzakians did to you!” Aundra finally declared. “I would have thought that ancient practice would have been out of style by now. However,” she added, “they have unknowingly saved the earth through their stupidity though.”
“What do you mean?” Pendance asked. He leaned forward as he waited for her response.
Aundra smiled and explained, “Remember the story of creation? The gods used their blood to create the world so to insure that the world and its people would depend on them, they had it so that their blood would sustain the land. By offering their bloods, the land will flourish and everyone would be dependent on them. That was the covenant between the gods and the world. Since the gods are now gone, your… I mean, OUR bloods are now the one sustaining this planet. However, only a few drops were necessary so your and your children’s sacrifices should last the land for several millennia now. As the saying goes ‘The blood of the gods is nourishment for the land’.”
“But why us?” Kejuta argued. “Why did the gods abandoned their people and forced us to take over their place?”
That was when Aundra and Brenton gave each other a look before the former said flatly, “The gods are dead.”
Kejuta was in shock. The gods are dead!? “Impossible!” she gasped. “How could someone who is immortal die?”
That was when the Aundra’s friend spoke, “Have you ever heard of the Caeculum War?” Everyone shook their heads. “It happened over a millennium years ago and it was when the creatures of the world rebelled against the gods. The war lasted for little bit over a hundred years and a lot of people died. Even though the gods won, they were mortally injured and soon disappeared from this world. Before they did, they bestowed their powers to certain mortals.”
“And that is how we come about,” Aundra continued. “We’re supposed to take over their roles of taking care of this world.” Turning to face Pendance, she told him, “Seitha told you that you will be the new Guardian of the Dead, right? That means that you will replace him as the new god of death. Based on the description of little Adia’s powers, she will be the new goddess of life. It makes sense, doesn’t it? We can’t die, and we received those messages after we died the first time.”
“The old man in your son’s dream must be Seitha, the god of the dead,” Brenton assumed as he pursed his lips thoughtfully. “He has a twin sister named Allaura, who is the goddess of life. However, I’m surprised that he’s an old man though since he was usually depicted as a young man.”
Aundra answered, “It’s probably because he was using up all of his energy in order to maintain his existence so he could deliver his message to your son. It was most likely that he was the last of the gods left in this world, and he will probably be dead soon. That wouldn’t be a good thing either.”
Pendance looked at her worriedly and asked, “Why not?”
“Well, according to legends,” Brenton explained, “these two are in charge of the life cycle. Seitha is supposed to cleanse the souls of their sins before they are delivered to his sister. Allaura then would bring the souls back to the world of the living where they are born again as babies. If they’re gone, then the world’s population will be stagnant.”
So I’m supposed to create life? Adia signed, which was interpreted by her mother, but the new goddess of magic shook her head.
“Not quite,” she said as she used her magic to create a figurine. “Can you create life out of this clay butterfly?” Adia shut her eyes tightly as she concentrate but nothing happened so she shook her head. “I should clarify. I think the gods wanted us to be the maintainers of their creations. We’re supposed to insure that the world will continue to thrive for a long time.”
“But what’s about mother?” Pendance inquired. “I’ve never heard of a god who can see a person’s fate, and I don’t see how she supposed to maintain the world using her powers.”
“That’s true,” Aundra agreed. “My theory is that when certain individuals received the gods’ power, some developed new abilities. It was probably based on the gods and their creatures’ desires. I think Kejuta’s power was based on the gods’ desire to have control over their creations after the war and to have a sense of order.”
“I guess that makes sense, but what’s about him?” Kejuta gave Brenton a suspicious look. “Why is he here anyway?” she interrogated him. Instead of being bothered by her reservation, Aundra just brushed it aside and grinned.
“It’s because of his powers,” she purred as she stroked his hair affectionately. “He has the powers to go in time and to control time as well. His purpose is to insure that we learn the past mistakes of our predecessors.”
“So he could time travel?” Pendance looked at Brenton curiously. “Could he change time as well?”
“Not exactly, I don’t physically go to the past or future per se. It’s more like I see it; it’s almost like a vision in a way,” he clarified. “When I go to the past, I could only observe and do nothing else. However, I could see bit and pieces of the future since it is not set in stone… yet so I could make some alterations though I haven’t tried. I could also slow and quicken time as well for a small duration, but Aundra recommends I didn’t since there might be some unforeseen consequence for that actions.”
“How are you able to do that?” Kejuta wondered aloud. The ability to go into the past and future was amazing all right!
Brenton just shrugged. “It’s simple really,” he replied and tapped his book. “Aundra gave this book to me and told me that I just need it. It supposed to help me focus whenever I use my power.” He opened the book and Kejuta noticed that the pages were blank. “To you, the pages appeared to have nothing written in it, but I see hundreds or maybe thousands of words. All I have to do is to think of a person and touch this book to see his past. In other words, this book IS the history of the world itself. When someone or something dies, its memories will be gathered and collected inside this book.”
“Speaking of dying, if you don’t my asking, but how did you die?” Pendance questioned as he looked at the two people across from him.
Aundra volunteered first. “It happened thirty-seven years ago. I was looking for some rare herb in the forest when I was attacked by a wild beast and mortally injured. However, when my comrades found me, they discovered that I was barely alive but unconscious. I was in a coma for fifteen years. During that time, I met a woman who introduced as the goddess of magic and that she wished for me to bring magic back into the world. She passed down her knowledge to me and showed me how each magic type work. After I received my training, I woke up; that was probably when your power awakened.” She looked at Kejuta apologetically. “If I woke up sooner, then maybe you could have used your power to stop your husband.”
Kejuta just shook her head. “Don’t blame yourself,” she reassured the other woman. “You didn’t know. So your task is to return magic to the land. That sounds difficult since magic died out. How did you do it?”
“How should I say it?” Aundra pondered. “I guess I become magic itself. As long as I live, magic will be in the land, and since I’m immortal now. However, you’re mistaken in your belief that magic died. Like time, magic is infinite. When the goddess of magic died, magic became… dormant and resided in the world of dreams. It just needed a catalyst to bring it back to the people.”
“So you’re saying that you’re magic personified?” Pendance suggested. She nodded. “By the way, what was the goddess’s name? How many types of magic are in the world anyway?”
“Her name?” She paused to think. “It was Clarise. And yes, you’re correct in your assumption that I am the personification of magic itself. I don’t have the exact number but there are hundreds or maybe thousands of magic in the world. Some of which have not been discovered yet.”
Satisfied with her answer, Kejuta turned to face Brenton, who gave her a sheepish grin. “My death was pretty embarrassing,” he confessed. “It happened sixteen years ago. I was playing a game of catch with my friends when one of them accidentally overthrew it. I went after it without looking and ran off the cliff. I was an airheaded kid.”
“And you’re still are,” Aundra said dryly. “After his parents found him, they immediately rushed over here and asked if I take care of him because of his strange condition that he was having. They were pale as ghosts when they begged me to be his teacher.”
“What condition?” Pendance asked curiously. Brenton just grinned.
“It’s hard to explain so I’ll show you,” he declared and suddenly, his body changed, which startled everyone except Aundra. Instead of a young man, a ten years old boy appeared before them. “Besides my power of seeing the past and future, I somehow can change my age as well though I try to avoid changing myself into a baby or an invalid since I like to be independent.”
“Extraordinary!” Kejuta whispered. Seeing someone age rapidly before her eyes startled her. No wonder his parents were alarmed. “What age do you normally appear as?”
He just shrugged. “Whatever age Aundra wants me to be,” he said with a goofy grin. “She likes to pamper me a lot so I’m usually around the age of ten to fourteen.”
Now that he mentioned it, they did appear to be very friendly to each other. “Are you two dating?” she asked, but she didn’t expect them to laugh.
“Oh no, not at all,” they said. “It’s nothing like that. We’re just friends.” However, Kejuta doubted it by the way they looked at each other with a sly expression, but she decided not to press the matters. Instead, she said, “Since you are the new goddess of magic, you’re supposed to teach us how to use our powers, right?”
Aundra nodded. “That’s correct. By the time I finished with your training, you will be ready to fulfill your roles. I think it’s best if we continue our conversation in a better location.” She waved her hand and a doorway appeared on the left side of the room. “I’ll take you to the place where I usually train Brenton. Now then, should we go?”
They appeared in a meadow full of flowers. A sycamore tree stood solitary in the middle of the field. “This is where I worked with Brenton,” Aundra said. “It’s pretty peaceful here so it’s easy to concentrate.” Pointing at Kejuta’s children, she announced, “Unfortunately, for you two, I won’t be able to teach you to your full potential because your powers aren’t fully awaken yet. I can do some minor lessons, but other than that, no luck.”
“What do you mean?” Pendance wondered.
“Your true powers only work in certain places,” she explained. “Yours is in the World of the Dead while Adia’s is where the Tree of Life located, which is unknown sadly. However,” she turned to Kejuta, “I can work with you.”
Kejuta frowned. “I think I know how to use my powers correctly,” she said dryly, but Aundra gave her a smirk.
“True, but have you ever given any thoughts on the consequences of your actions?” she challenged. Kejuta opened her mouth to answer, but Aundra continued speaking, “Think about it. What if you didn’t receive those special privileges such as the free meat from the Merzakians? You might have gotten some sympathy from the other slaves, and they might have helped you escape before that attack on the village occurred. Then that damned Shuvyral wouldn’t have to exist!
“Or what about those five sailors that died during the voyage? What if one was supposed to become a renowned explorer who discovered a new land or what if he has a child who did?”
Pendance immediately jumped to his mother’s defense. “That is a lot of ‘What if’ scenarios,” he challenged. “Mother did the best she could to take care of us under the circumstances. Besides why did the gods create the Shuvyral if they know how dangerous it is?”
Kejuta noticed that Aundra gave him a grin as if he was confirming a notion that she has of him. “The gods didn’t create the Shuvyral,” she said in a condescending tone. “According to an ancient text, it was an accident. When one of the ancient gods was offering his blood to the world, a few drops fell on a stone. A wild beast licked it and suddenly transformed into that thing. Unfortunately, it also gained immortality so the gods couldn’t destroy it. Instead, they sealed it away.” Turning to Kejuta, she ordered, “The first thing I will teach you is how to make a seal. That way when we go to confront that Shuvyral that you created, you will have the dirty work of sealing it.”
Pendance bristled, but Kejuta put her hand on his shoulder to tell him to stop. She hated to admit it, but that woman was right. “You’re right. I guess I didn’t think about my actions,” she admitted embarrassingly.
The other woman nodded approvingly. “That is why I’m going to remedy it,” she said. “Just as your children will need to work together to continue the life cycle, you and Brenton will work together. I have an idea that might work: when you see one of those ‘chains of destiny’, place one on Brenton’s book so he could see a possible future. Likewise it will probably work the same if you touch several people’s chains at the same time. Then maybe you will have a full picture of different possibilities. After all, one person’s actions affect the others.”
“I think I understand,” Kejuta replied. “So that way I would see the short-term and long-term effects of my power. I will be more careful from now on.”
“Good! By the way, does everyone know how to read and write?” Aundra asked.
“Mother taught us some of the Alethesian language and Adia showed us how to read and write Merzakian,” Pendance responded. “Why?”
Aundra opined, “As the new gods of this world, I think we should know how to communicate with the people by knowing their languages. Brenton is a genius in that matter so he will teach you the different languages of the world and the history as well. So here’s the plan: while I teach one of you magic, the others will be learning from Brenton. Each lesson will last three hours with breaks in-between. Then we will switch after lunch for another three hours lesson with breaks as well. Does that work with everyone?”
Everyone nodded, but then they didn’t have a choice in the matter. “We need to begin quickly. According to a vision that Brenton saw, the next Ilmarian should appear thirty-seven years from now so I want to make some progress before his or her arrival,” she lectured. “Brenton, why don’t you take Adia and Pendance while I take Kejuta?”
As everyone was about to go their separate ways, Kejuta felt bother by an issue. It must have been on her face because Aundra noticed. “What’s wrong?” she asked.
Kejuta hesitated before confessing, “It’s… just I feel uncomfortable with the fact of being called a ‘god’. IT sounds pretentious. I always imagine the gods as being lofty characters who don’t live with their people. Not to mention the fact, gods are not usually created by another god.”
“Understandably,” the other woman nodded. “That’s probably why the gods choose us. They realized that they were too standoffish, which caused their creations to feel neglected. If the gods are with their people, then maybe there won’t be another Caeculum War.”
“Why don’t we call ourselves, ‘Ilmarians’?” Brenton suggested. “It means ‘immortal keepers’ in the ancient Neriad language. In that way, we’re not calling ourselves gods.”
“Ilmarians…” Aundra mused. “I like it! Is that fine with you?” Kejuta thought for a moment. It wasn’t a bad name and she liked the sound of it so she gave her assent. “Well, now that is taken care of…”
“I almost forgot, but I need Adia to come forward,” she commanded so the child did. “I need to communicate with you without depending on your family to interpret what you’re saying so…” Aundra placed her hands on the girl’s head and muttered a spell. Then smiling, she declared, “Okay! I’m done!”
“What did you do?” Kejuta worried.
The other woman just beamed and said, “Oh, I just gave her another way to communicate. Instead of using sign language, she can know speak telepathically. It will make life so much easier for everyone until she’s ready to talk again. If you’re wondering why I didn’t cure her, I can’t do it unless she wants to be healed.”
Can you really hear me? Adia whispered nervously. Kejuta wanted to cry tears of joy. She finally could hear her daughter’s sweet and gentle voice again! Embracing her daughter, she nodded and felt her son did the same too. That was when she realized that this was the first time Pendance hears his older sister's voice. She also heard Brenton told watching Aundra, “What’s a touching moment! I feel bad if we interrupt it right now just to do some schooling.”
Aundra agreed, “Let’s give them a moment to celebrate. Then we will begin. After all, we have all the time in the world.”
Good chapter riki, finally we get to meet other Ilmarians(love the term and meaning by the way) and I really dig the way Brenton's ability works. I wanted to ask, is there any particular importance of the different stair platforms? and I'm right in assuming that the room where they are training time doesnt lapse there?
Crap, I had other questions but I've forgotten them.... but I also don't want to ask too much and spoil the plot for myself. Looking forward to the rest
Oh, for the platforms, I just wanted to show how the higher up they go, the less busy it is. It supposed to represent the facts that the gods, who originally lived there, were supposed to be distant and ruled from faraway to show that they are above their creations. I don't know if I mentioned it in the chapter, but when a mortal see the huge cave opening, they will just see an empty,dark, and damp cave instead of the room that Aundra and the others saw.
I haven't thought about time lapse for the training rooms. I guess they would since Brenton could control time and they do have a lot to learn.
Yep you mentioned it, and it was explained about there being less and less people the higher you went; I just thought there was another reason for this. Guess I'm just reading into things too much.
Oh I thought you'd already have that figured out Just thought that 37 years of training was a long time and then I realised just as I was typing this that they were immortals nevermind me...lol