I led our group out of the gate of Histrek and looked out into the plains surrounding the city-state. The others pulled their horses and mule up to mine. “Where are we headed to first, Princess?” Lumin asked.
Hiku and Erick glared at the footman, “You are a servant, do not talk to her that way.” Erick growled.
I punched him in the arm, “While we are on this journey, we are all equals. I expect everyone to pull their weight. We also want to tone down the fact that we are royalty. Bandits look for groups like ours to attack, steal and kill.”
Hiku and Erick’s faces paled a little. They finally realized that this was not fun and games, “Look, loves,” I spoke plainly, “This is not an adventure your governesses read to you from story books. This is the real thing; people die every day on these roads. This is your last chance to turn back and stay safe.” I did not want to lie to them, but I also was a little happy that they figured out I was leaving and joined me.
The two Princes looked to each other, then to Lumin and myself. “If you think that you can scare us off, you are deeply mistaken, Sori.” Hiku told me. “We will stay by your side until this journey is over.”
I smiled up to them, “Good.” I looked to the mare. “Do you know where someone who speaks Gaeliious would be?”
The three males looked at me oddly, “Why are you asking the horse?” Erick asked.
I grinned to him, “Do you know where someone who speaks it is?” He shook his head. I pointed to the mare, “She does…” I mumbled. I looked to the mare, “Lead the way, m’lady.”
The mare whinnied and took off towards the Nakara Forest at a ground eating run. The stallions and mule were able to keep up with her pace, though as the sun started to set, we had just reached the edge of the forest. I yelled, “M’lady!”
The mare stopped suddenly, causing the rest of the horses to side to a stop on the wet grassy plain. She looked at me, as she was breathing heavily. “I know you want to get home as soon as you can, but our horses need to rest, as I am sure you do too.”
The mare pawed the ground, but accepted the fact. I looked to the forest, feeling something watching us. I urged the stallion forward to the mare, “Is there a glade immediately inside the forest?” She neighed, telling me her answer. I nodded, “Lead the way, but slowly. We need to reach it before the sun falls.”
She took off into the forest at a trot, allowing the other horses and mule to keep up easily. We arrived in a large glade, where water pooled under a tall waterfall. Small glittering lights shone through the air and reflected on the water. The grass was the brightest green I had ever seen, telling me the health of this part of the forest.
I climbed off the stallion and held onto his reigns, leading him to the water. “Loves, we will be resting here for the night.”
The males climbed off their horses and mule, leading them to the pool of water. I walked over to the mare, “Will we be safe here?” She neighed softly, before laying on the ground.
I patted her on the head, “Thank you, m’lady.” I walked to the males and started to pull the bedrolls off of the mule. Hiku helped me set up the tent, while Lumin set up the fire and Erick went to find firewood. I made sure to place the dream catcher and the talismans where they belonged to stop Estein from invading my dreams.
As the fire lit and the pot was cooking, the males sat next to me, near the pool. “What is she?” Lumin asked me, pointing to the mare.
“Well, it depends on your perception.” I answered.
“Explain.” Erick commanded.
“Have you heard of the story of the Light and Dark?” I asked them, though they all shook their heads. “It is said that when the Gods created Ada and her Moon above, there were two lovers, the Light and the Dark. They were to be wed one day, with the blessing of Ada. The Moon above had seen the Light’s beauty and wanted to keep her for himself. The night before the wedding, disguised as the Dark, the Moon brought the Light to place much like this. He revealed his true form to her, held her down and tainted her. The Light was so ashamed that she has been tainted that she asked to the Gods for the wedding to be cancelled. When the Dark found out, he went to the Light and begged for her to tell him why.”
I looked at the sky above, hating this part of the story, “The Light told him that she had fallen in love with the Moon and that she could not wed someone she did not love. The Light cast the Dark away and the next day, the Light was married to the Moon. The Gods took pity on the Dark and the Light, knowing her true reasons behind the betrayal. On the wedding night, the Moon thought it would be amusing to give the lovers one night together. They spent the night in each other’s arms and when the day came, they had to be pulled apart. As time passed, the Light had learned that she was to bear a child and asked the Gods who the father was. They told her the truth, the father was the Moon…”
I closed my eyes, before looking into the fire, “The Dark was enraged, but the Gods refused to allow him to kill the babe. After the child was born, the Moon cursed her, to assert his dominance, through the night she was to change forms for the coming day. As the child grew older, she realized that there was only one way to break the curse. She begged the Gods for help, and they told her to look into the sky. ‘Though the Moon may hold the Light close,’ they told her, ‘She still reaches for her true love, the Dark.’” I looked to the males, then to the mare.
Erick asked, “How can she break the curse?”
I shrugged, “Nobody knows but the Daughter.”
Hiku looked over to the mare, “How did you know?”
“She told me.” I told them. “When I saw her, I recognized her from when she visited Nevarra. She was a fox the last time I saw her. I had hoped that I would find her again. They say that once she breaks the curse, then she can change her form at will.”
Lumin passed out the food to everyone and we all ate in silence. I did not mean to create a quiet atmosphere, so I did the only thing I could think of. I punched Erick in the arm, “Stop being so quiet!”
He set his bowl of stew on the ground and wrapped his arm around my neck. He ground his knuckles into my scalp, before I bit him on the arm. He yelped and released me. I just grinned at him, “So.”
“So?” Erick asked, raising an eyebrow.
“You said that you make stuff. What do you make?”
He just smiled, before standing up. “I think we need to clean up and head to sleep. I suspect that we will have a long ride tomorrow.” He grabbed all of our bowls and went to the waterfall, using the dirt at the bottom of the pool to clean them.
I looked to Hiku, who just shrugged. He stood up and grabbed the pot and helped his friend clean it. Lumin stood next and helped me to my feet. He was about to douse the fire, but I stopped him. “I will take care of it.” He nodded and went to tie off the horses. I stood in front of the fire, staring into the blaze.
I heard the two Princes set the cleaned bowls and pot next to the mule. They stood next to me, each wrapping an arm around me, “Are you ready to sleep?” Hiku asked softly.
I shook my head, “Not yet. I will be there soon; go ahead without me.” They both gave me a squeeze, before retiring to their bedrolls. Lumin looked at me, but I waved him into the tent, leaving me alone with the animals. I sat close to the fire, staring into its depths.
I felt myself shudder, as I pulled my legs to my chest. I looked above the fire watching the moon rise over the treetops. I looked to the mare and watched her start to glow a little. I stood up and ran towards her, kneeling beside her as she became human. I grabbed a blanket from the tent, making sure not to disturb the sleeping males. I wrapped her in it, before walking her over to the fire. “Good to see you again, my Lady.”
She smiled at me, “I remember you. Did you use to be taller but shorter?”
I smiled to her, “Yes, my Lady. When we first met was on a night like this. I watched you change from a dove to human. We talked for hours as you told me the stories I now know. Then as the morning came, you turned into a fox and ran away.” I looked up at her, “How long have you been a mare?”
“I was not touched by the moonlight in weeks. I am glad to be out of that form.” She looked into the fire. “Why did you lie to them?”
I looked at the sky, “My Lady, it is your journey to become human once again. I can help where I can, but I have a time limit on my mission. I remember you telling me what the Gods had said… When the Light and the Dark are finally together again, will your curse be broken.”
We both looked up to the Moon, “And I am still no closer to the answer to the riddle than when we last met.”
We sat next to the fire, and I pulled my legs to my chest, hugging them close, “My Lady, do you think you will ever find the answer?”
She looked at me, thoughtfully. “I think one day I will.”
“How do you still have hope after all of this time?” I asked her the question that has been plaguing me recently. “If Estein destroys my people, I have nothing left. It seems like my mission is hopeless and I wonder why do I continue? My people are dying because I did not give into his demands.”
She patted me on the back, “Listen closely to my words, child.” I looked up at her, tears streaming from my eyes, “Just as I hope to find an end to my curse, you hope that you will succeed where others have failed. When we stop hoping, we learn that our dreams become nothing but ash. On all of my journeys, you are the only person who remembers me. That shows me that you are stronger and have more wisdom than you take credit for. It takes courage to search and to hope, when it is easier to give in.”
I leaned slightly into her, “My Lady, now that you are free from the stables, where will you go next?”
She smiled down at me, “I will continue my journey for the Light and the Dark.”
I smiled up at her, “Maybe our paths will cross again.”
We both stood up and embraced. “Take care, child. Do not sell yourself short and remember that the Gods, though they sleep, are still dreaming.”
“My Lady, thank you for leading us here.” We pulled apart and we grasped each other’s forearms, “May Kitarr guide your steps.”
She smiled down on me, “May the Light and Dark lead your path.”
We released each other’s arms and I watched her walk away. When she was out of my sight, I climbed into the tent, over the males and into my bedroll. I looked up at the ceiling of the tent and thought about her words. I did not feel myself drift off into sleep.
Someone lightly brushed their lips against mine. I refused to open my eyes from my dream, thinking that this feeling would go away. The feathery light kiss pulled away and I knew the dream had ended.
I opened my eyes to find myself in an empty tent. I lightly touched my lips with my fingers, still feeling the tingles of the kiss. I resisted the urge to lick my lips. “Stupid dream…” I stretched and climbed out of the tent. I looked to my companions, when I realized something was wrong.
They were sitting next to the pool and the horses and mule looked jumpy. I put my arms up in the air, “I know someone is out there.”
The Princes turned and I saw blood dripping down from their eyes. Lumin turned and blood pouring from his eyes, nose, ears and mouth. The horses whinnied loudly, before they exploded in a pile of bones, blood and organs. I stepped away from the gore and felt eyes watching me. I turned around and saw Estein standing there holding the Daughter of Light and Moon.
I tried to run towards him to stop him, but he quickly slashed her throat. I felt like I was drowning in blood, my movements slowed. He walked over to me and smiled, “You are next, little one.” He raised the knife and slashed down into shoulder.
Someone pushed me, waking me up. I felt cold, though I was sweating heavily. Hiku, Erick and Lumin all were looking at me. I felt a rush of relief that it was only a nightmare. I grabbed Hiku and Erick and hugged them tightly. Lumin stood up and handed me a canteen. “Drink this.”
I sipped the water, before handing it back to him. “It was only a nightmare tonight.”
The Princes stretched, “Well, we can continue to ride, since I am sure that none of us will sleep again until tonight.” Erick grumbled as we climbed out of the tent.
Sunlight streamed through the trees and the pool of water looked inviting for me to rinse off the remnants of the dream. I noticed a small area of the pool that was behind some bushes. “I need to get cleaned up, or else riding is going to be a pain.” I went towards the bushes and undressed. I waded into the pool until the water was waist deep.
I took sand and scrubbed my pure white neck, breasts, stomach and thighs until they were a light pink. I then grabbed some more sand and scrubbed my tanned shoulders, arms, legs and feet. I looked at the fading tattoos on my shoulders. The tattooing plants we used gave us a temporary design, until it faded from our skin. As customary, I should have redone them seven moons ago, but I forgot about them.
I dunked my head into the water to clean my hair. I felt someone touch my back, where the permanent tattoos of a pair of wings were. I jumped and slipped on a smooth rock of the pool. Erick caught me before I fell and attempted to drown. He turned my back towards him and wrapped his arms around me, holding me tight to his chest. I tried to pull away, but his hoarse voice stopped me, “Please, do not pull away.”
I stayed close to him, feeling his warmth radiating from his chest into me. He ran his hands over my shoulders, just staying out of reach of anything that I would have hit him for. “Why is your skin dual colored?”
I blushed slightly and was glad I was looking away. I looked at my reflection in the pool. “All Nevarrians are colored as I am, though I do have to admit, that my coloring lines are more distinct. I am whiter than most on my inner body, yet have a darker tan on my arms and legs.”
I felt him rest his chin on my shoulder. “When I first asked you about the princess, you told me that she hates how she looks. Will you explain that?”
I looked into the pool and traced everything that I hated about myself. “Love, I am fat, thicker than all of the ladies at that school. I hate that I am dual colored as harshly as I am. I have hazel eyes, yet have to wear glasses to see anything. My red-blonde hair is not as bright and lively as the rest of my race. I hate my body and everything about it. When I look in a looking glass, I see someone that is fat and ugly and does not deserve to be the princess of Nevarra.”
He rubbed my back, “I see a woman with strong muscles that has caused me bruises.” His hands moved passed my breasts to my stomach, “I see someone with beautiful curves that are appealing, not skin and bones that most of the ladies are.” He moved his hands to my shoulders, before kissing the right one lightly, “I see a beautiful addition to the school, someone who is strong.” He turned me around, and his gaze was intense. He lifted my chin to meet his eyes. He kissed my forehead, “I see someone who is smart…” He kissed my neck, “I see someone who is beautiful…” He lifted both of my hands to his lips, before he kissed my wrists, “I see someone who can handle herself in a fight…” He lowered my hands, though he still held onto them and I felt heat rise to my face, as I knew what he was planning on doing. He leaned in and brushed his lips against mine, asking for an invitation, “I see someone with a beautiful voice and a sharp tongue…” He took me not pulling away as a sign to press his lips against mine.
I did not know what to do with myself. I had never been kissed before, so this was a new experience. He was strong, yet soft, giving and taking, demanding for more, but understanding if I would not continue. I felt the world around me disappear, leaving only him and I alone in the pool of water. I closed my eyes and enjoyed the feelings of him, as I lightly pulled one of my hands out of his and lightly explored his chest.
He threaded his fingers with mine and used his other hand to hold me into the kiss. I heard something move behind us, causing me to jerk away from him. I saw Hiku standing there looking at the both of us. He looked pissed off, and I understood why, but I felt my chest start to hurt.
He stomped away, and I wanted to go after him, but I could not convince my body to move. Erick looked down on me, “You have me here, offering you everything, and you still pull away from me.”
He let me go and I watched him walk away from me as well. I fell to my knees in the pool and cried. I felt my body temperature dropping, but I did not care. I felt my heart ripped from my body and torn into bloody little pieces.
Lumin ran into the pool and pulled me out of it, “Sori, you will catch a sickness.”
I looked up to him and knew my eyes were red from crying, “I do not understand it. The pain in my chest will not go away…”
He hugged me close, leading me from the water, “It is called a heart break. It is what happens when you love someone so much and they walk away from you.”
“Love?” I looked at him oddly, “But I cannot love someone. People I love get are used against me… So I stopped my heart beating for another. I must be sick…” I tried to convince myself.
Lumin shook his head before grabbing me some clothes from my pack. The camp was broken down and the two Princes were ignoring me and each other. I quickly got dressed and grabbed my stallion. Lumin finished tying the supplies to the mule and hopped onto it. I looked to the two Princes and felt my heart start to hurt again. I will need to figure out how I can stop being sick. I placed two shortened blades at my hips, in easy reach if we met anything on this trail.
I climbed into the saddle, and urged the stallion forward. At this point, I did not care if the two Princes were to follow me or not. They were running hot and cold after Hiku found Erick and I. I cannot love them. Love is not something I am capable of doing with one male, much less two.
I led us down a game trail, hoping that we would not catch whatever lurked in the forest. I felt someone watching us, and before I could really think about it, the feeling was gone. “Must be connected with my sickness,” I mumbled to myself. We reached another glade, this one much larger than the other. We paused to let the horses rest and to allow the humans to eat.
Lumin walked over to me and handed me an apple. “Here you go.”
“Lumin, how do you feel about me?” I asked plainly, forgetting my manners.
He took a step back, “Would you like the truth or a plausible lie?”
I just gave him a look, “You know better than to lie to me, love.” In the weeks I was at the Citadel, he and I became close and I thought of him as a brother.
“I think of you as a sister. When we first met, I do have to admit that your smile lit up the room. As I got to know you, I fell in love with you, but I could never feel anything beyond a friend or sibling.” He smiled to me, “Why do you ask?”
I indicated the Princes with my head, “Because they think they love me as a woman. They do not understand that I cannot love another. I like you, but you are right. I look up to you like a brother I never had.”
He wrapped his arm around me, “Do not worry yourself over them. I believe that as the time comes, the truth will be known.” He enjoyed being cryptic to me, but that was part of being an overprotective brother.
I started to say something, but I heard a twig snap. Lumin must have heard it too, because he pulled the bow off of his chest and knocked an arrow. I reached to my hips for the double blades I had been training with at the Citadel.
I saw a shadow move in one of the trees, telling me what was happening. I looked to Lumin and whispered, “Put your weapon back on your back.” I sheathed my blades and watched Lumin put his bow away. I looked back to the Princes, “Put your hands up and do not make any sudden movements.”
The two Princes glared at me, but as I knelt on the ground with my hands in the air, they followed my lead. Lumin knelt next to me, “What is it?”
I smiled, “The Elves found us.” I said loud enough for everyone to hear me. I then looked to Hiku, “You hurt them and I will kick your arse myself.” I looked back forward and found an arrow pointed at my face. I kept a steady gaze at the hunter holding the bow. “I am asking as a traveler that we may speak to your Elder. Do you speak the Common language?” I spoke in the Elvish tongue, using the only two phrases I ever learned.
The main hunter looked to his hunters, before issuing a sharp command to the hunter in front of me. The hunter lowered his bow, before moving out of the way of the main hunter. “You speak in our language, yet ask for Common.” Thankfully, he spoke in the Common language.
“My Sir, my companions and I are on a search for someone who speaks Gaeliious. We ask permissions to navigate your part of the forest and to speak to your Elder.” I bowed my head to him, and raised my wrists above my head. I turned my palms up, exposing the veins of my wrists, showing submission to him.
He grabbed my wrists and yanked me off the ground, “I do not recognize your clothing.” He looked to my companions, “They are from the Histrek, yes?”
I nodded, “Yes, my sir.”
“You are?” He nodded to his hunters, issuing another sharp command.
I tilted my head and looked at my feet, “I am called Sori. I travel from Nevarra.”
He rubbed his chin and while he was thinking, I stole a glance at him. He had the blue-silver hair that most elves I had read in books had. His green eyes reflected someone who was a hardened hunter, but someone who was also soft enough that I thought would have fun in a tavern. He was slightly taller than my five and three quarter feet height, though he was beyond slender, into the skinny range, I knew that he could easily overpower me.
He gave another command, and his hunters moved swiftly, grabbing the horses and mule. Hiku and Erick started to move towards their weapons and before I could stop them, the main hunter had every bow trained on them. “Do not move, humans.” He growled, before looking back to me, “I thought you were smarter than this, human. You seemed to know what to say to get me to lower my guard.”
I shook my head, “No, my sir. I read it somewhere on how to respect the elves who guard the forest.” I looked back to the Princes, knowing they might have destroyed the only chance I had at talking to the elves. “I told you two not to move…”
I watched as two of the hunters used the pommels of daggers to knock out the two Princes. I looked to Lumin, who was still knelt on the ground. I looked at my bound insteps and went back to kneeling on the ground, hoping to salvage the situation Lumin and I put our wrists back into the air, showing their dominance over us, “I apologize, my sir.”
The main hunter nodded once to the other hunters and I felt ropes bind my wrists. I was expecting to be hit unconscious, but I looked to Lumin and saw the ropes around his wrist as well. I felt someone jerk me onto my feet, I looked to the main hunter. He looked serious, “You both showed respect where it was due. You have been granted an audience with our Elder.”
I felt relief pour through me, We just might survive this. “We are at your command, my sir.” I felt someone lift me into the air and I fought the urge to kick, as someone bound my ankles together. I closed my eyes tightly and tried to convince my body that I felt solid ground under my feet. I was set onto a saddle and I used the horse to feel something solid under the balls of my feet. I opened my eyes to see the main hunter sitting in my saddle, holding me onto my horse.
I looked and saw Lumin sitting on the pure white horse, with another hunter keeping him from falling off. The two Princes were bound, gagged and blindfolded on the mule. I looked up to the main hunter, but he indicated that I was to be silent. Someone wrapped a blindfold over my eyes and I figured that as long as I do not speak, I could prevent getting the gag.
I felt unstable on the saddle, but I felt that as long as the main hunter helped me stay on the horse that I would be fine. Stupid Princes and their stupid egos. Why could they not just listen to me?! Why can they not just trust me?! I felt the little voice in the back of my mind, How can they trust you? You keep lying to them… I growled at that internal voice, I have to lie to them. If they had never found out that I was the Princess, they would not have come with me. The stupid voice continued, Do you enjoy being lied to? Can you trust a liar? Why lie now? They know the truth…
Someone ripped the blindfold off of my eyes. I was momentarily blinded, so I closed my eyes and slowly allowed them to adjust to the light. I had not realized that the horses had stopped. The main hunter dismounted and grabbed me off of the stallion. I kicked and luckily missed, before he set me on the ground. I looked around and saw Lumin standing near me. I gave him a questioning look and he motioned to a cart holding the two Princes. I nodded to him, indicating that I understood him.
The main hunter turned and looked at the two of us, before issuing a command to his hunters. Someone cut the ropes tying my ankles together, allowing me to walk. He motioned, “Follow me.”
“Yes, sir.” Lumin and I both answered at the same time
He led the way through the forest, allowing Lumin and I to look at the homes built into the tree roots. Elves watched our procession through the trail, some making signs to ward themselves from us. Children ran to their parents, mothers held by fathers. I stopped looking at the people and looked to the tree tops. There were walkways above us, crisscrossing through the leaves.
I was not paying attention and ran into the main hunter as he stopped. He looked back to me, “Watch where you are going, human.” He was still cold to me.
“Apologize, my sir.” I tilted my head to him. We were standing in front of a large oak tree. It dwarfed the other trees, making me wonder how they were able to get it to grow so big. I took a quick look around and found our group in the center of the elvish village as the main spectacle.
He walked through a door, leaving us to be watched by his hunters. I heard voices coming from inside. I tried to listen, but they were too hushed and in elvish for me to understand. The main hunter motioned for us to come in, and for his hunters to bring the Princes.
The main hunter pulled me into the large oak tree, though I shivered as I felt cobwebs warp around my skin. I looked to Lumin, trying to see if he felt the same thing as I did. He did not look affected by the webs, making me curious about whether or not it was my imagination. I looked ahead to the sir sitting in a chair, smoking out of an odd looking pot.
The main hunter cut my binds, while one of the other hunters released Lumin. I sat down on my knees, with Lumin sitting beside me. “Tradition and History Keeper?”
He nodded to me, his silver hair was tied back, accentuating his wrinkled face. He took a puff through the tubing that was connected to the odd pot. It bubbled and I watched some smoke rise from the bowl above the pot. I watched as he blew the smoke out of his mouth. I was curious about the odd pot, but I had to keep my mind on the task at hand. “Thank you, my sir, for releasing myself and my companion.” I looked to the two Princes, just as they were starting to stir.
Erick yawned as he sat up, the gag preventing him from speaking. His voice was muffled as he tried to talk, “ake is linfol ff of e.”
I looked to the Elder, “Permission to move, my sir?”
The Elder nodded as he took another puff. I walked over to Erick and helped him sit up, before removing his blindfold and gag. “Please do not do anything stupid.”
He spat at me, “How dare you talk to me like that?”
I wiped his spit off of my face and flicked it back to him. “Then I hope you are left here to die, you piece of -”
“Sori!” Lumin warned.
I turned away from Erick, “I have to help your brother.” I gently woke Hiku up and sat him up. I removed his blindfold and gag, “Please trust me. They will not hurt us, as long as we show them respect.”
I felt ice crawl down my arms where I touched him, “Get away from me.” He growled.
I shook my head, my heart slowly going back to the dead state it was when I had first left Nevarra. I sat next to Lumin, “I apologize for their rude behavior, my sir.”
He just smiled to me, as he took another puff. Lumin and I looked to each other, before Lumin pulled out the book and the handheld glass from the satchel at his waist. I looked to him, “When did you grab those from my pack?”
“When I grabbed the apples for lunch. I grabbed them to ask you about them, but when we were captured, I did not want to add to your stress. I am glad I brought them, though.”
I felt happy for him, “Thank you, brother.” He handed them to me, before I turned to the Elder, “My sir, I am looking for someone who speaks Gaeliious and who knows what this glass is for.” I carefully handed the glass and book to the main hunter. I looked up to the hunter, “Now that you know why we are here, you can trust me when I say we mean no harm to your Elder. So whenever they feel privy to speak to us, this fool has wasted enough time.”
Lumin and the Princes looked at me with wide eyes. Hiku warned, “Sori, are you off to get us killed?”
“Stay your tongue or lose it.” I growled to him. “I am not your wet nurse and it is time for you two learn that this is not a game. Neither of you have any right to question me after the stunt you both pulled in the forest.”
I watched the two Princes straighten up and think about my words. The main hunter looked at me thoughtfully, “How did you know?”
“I told you that I read stories. I had access to the greatest Knowledge Repository in Ada. Now, if you can help us, then enough with these games. If you cannot, my companion,” I emphasized the singular noun as a warning to the Princes that I was serious, “and I can find someone who does understand it so I may continue my mission.”
The hunter was not expecting that kind of words from me, but I was growing tired of dealing with people, both human and not. He nodded to me, “I understand, m’lady.” He gave me respect for knowing the truth. “Follow me.” He handed back the book and glass. Lumin started to stand, but the hunter stopped him, “Only her.” He looked to the Elder smoking, “Keep an eye on them. Be watchful, the moon is a magick user.” The Elder nodded and turned to watch the others. The hunter waved his hand over the wall of the oak and a curtain appeared.
He motioned for me to enter the small enclave. I walked through, trusting my instincts and reading about the elves. There were stairs to my left that spiraled up further into the tree. The hunter stopped me from climbing them, “I apologize for the games, m’lady.”
“My name is Sori.” I was curt with him, exhaustion mixing with annoyance just put me in an oh-so-joyful mood. “Now that I have introduced myself twice, it is customary to tell me your name.”
“You are very blunt, m’l-Sori.” He shook his head, “Can you at least pull down your hood so I can see the eyes of the human who knows our games?” I obliged him, since we were out of sight of everyone.
“Your name?” I prodded.
“Are all Nevarrians this impatient?” He tried to joke, but the look in my eyes told him how dangerous I was. “They call me Cicero.”
“Tis a pleasure. Now, can we please continue, so I may attempt to actually sleep tonight?” I mumbled.
He was about to say something, but thought better of it. Smart man, I thought to myself, as he motioned to the stairs. “This way.”
He led the way up the spiral stairs. We passed by several doors that from my reading told me were where the Elders slept. We reached the top of the staircase into a large room. It looked like thousands of candles were reflected off looking glasses and shimmering through crystals. The effect was breathtaking, but as we passed through another doorway to the main room, I ran into more cobwebs, “Bloody hell.” I mumbled, as my voice echoed in the large room.
Cicero looked back to me, “This is a sacred chamber, Sori.” He scoffed.
“I hate cobwebs and that is the second set I have ran into.” I grabbed at the webs on my arms, but there was nothing there. “What the-”
“Sacred!” His voice echoed in the room and I watched an elf turn red.
“Wow. You almost have enough color to be human.” I spoke without meaning to. I stiffened, “That was a spell I ran into, was it not?”
“Yes.” He admitted, but he clamped his hand over his mouth, apparently not having meant to say it out loud.
“Ah. Truth spell. No wonder I have been feeling off since we arrived. There was another one on the door to the tree. That is why the fool did not talk…” I used deductive logic.
“She is smarter than we thought she was.” Another voice, this one female spoke loudly. Cicero led me to a table, where four other Elders sat.
I looked to Cicero, “There is a seat for you, my sir.” I narrowed my eyes as he sat straight across from me, “You are an Elder.”
He nodded, “Yes. I apologize once again for the games. Humans who do not pass them are killed. Since you had the rest of the tricks figured, we will spare you and your companions.”
I handed him the book and the glass, “Do you know what this glass is and do you know someone who can read the book?”
One of the other Elders smiled, “She is very straight forward.” The woman had a kind voice, I had to admit to myself.
“As I told Cicero, I need to continue my mission. My people need me to find the Star so I may destroy the Akiti.”
They all looked at me as if I was mad. “Destroy the Akiti? They are a myth, even to our people who live for hundreds of years.” One of the other Elders told me.
I heard a gruff voice from behind their side of the table, “Hogwash.”
I stood up and bowed, “My sir, I believe you are the one I wish to speak to?”
A bent old man with a gnarled walking stick hobbled towards the table. I ran over and helped him into the chair I had been sitting in. He just looked at the other Elders, “Leaving an old man to hobble around on his own. What is our society coming to that a human stands up and helps me before my brethren.”
Cicero smacked his hand to her forehead, “Grandfather, you are supposed to be sleeping.”
“Cannot sleep with all of this racket. Cursing and yelling in the sacred chamber. Despicable.” He looked to me over wireframed glasses, “So, my dear, you wish to destroy the Akiti?”
I knelt down next to his chair, “Yes, my sir.”
He whacked me on the head, “Grab a chair, watching you kneel like that makes me tired. Cicero!” He looked to the hunter, “Give her your chair!”
The look on Cicero’s face made me laugh, as the mixture between embarrassment and haughtiness made an odd combination on his face. I stood up and leaned against the table, “Do not worry yourself, my sir.” I smiled to the old man, though my smile was hidden by my mask, the laughter in my voice shimmered the air.
The old man had a gleam in his eye, “Now that you are back to what I can tell is your normal self, may I tell you what happened?”
“It would be my pleasure to listen and learn.” I felt at ease around this older male. He felt like my maternal uncle, who had the same kind of attitude to the world. Fun loving and could still drink the rest of my family under the table… I miss you, uncle… May you challenge Kitarr to a drinking contest and win. He had died on one of the last battles with the Akiti, so my memories of him were bittersweet.
“Someone takes pleasure in my being here.” He grumbled before starting his story. “As a Nevarrian, I am sure that you know the Akiti ruler was killed by the Desican Star.” I nodded to him, so he continued, “The son whose mother had created the Desican Star with her tears… What the story did not tell was that he was not fully human. His mother was forcibly tainted by Sinkta, but she still loved the boy, despite his father. The son was forced from the human villages because he was marked as part of the hated race. He was found by another Akiti, a small village that survived the Star. They raised him and from him, the rest of the Akiti rulers were born. As time passed, the former rulers stole young girls from a village at the edge of the Caverns. The last ruler of the Akiti was especially cruel to the girl he stole. He tainted her until her wits were so brutalized, she chose to stay with the Akiti. The girl gave birth to Estein and after years passed, he found himself looking into his mother’s eyes. The story as I heard it, he realized how weak humans truly were and that is when he attacked the Nevarrians.”
I felt cold to the touch, “How do you know this, my sir? My people do not even have this knowledge.”
He grabbed my cold hand and rubbed it gently, “I am the Elder of Magick and History, my dear. The night that he first attacked your palace, I had a dream that foretold you coming to see me. I believe you have a book and a glass that you wish for someone to read?”
I handed him the glass and book, too badly shaking to stop. I pulled my hood up, hiding my face from the elves. I cried silently as I thought of the people I knew who had died. He inspected the book and glass, “My dear, this glass…” He gasped as he jumped up. “I need blood. Your blood! Cicero! A knife!”
He grabbed my wrist and as I tried to pull away, his grip tightened. Cicero handed the old man a dagger. The Elder slashed my wrist and we watched my blood sizzle as it touched the glass. “Mariene, please heal her.”
One of the Elder ladies stood up and walked over to me. “I apologize, my dear. He gets like this sometimes.” She whispered.
“Leave a scar.” The old man commanded her. She nodded and as she pressed her hand to my wrist. I felt warmth pulse through me as I felt the skin knit itself back together. She released my wrist and a thin white line crossed my wrist. “Look, my dear.” He handed me the glass and I stared into its depths.
I saw a place that I had only read in books. A giant reptilian head roared to the sky, as fire blazed from its mouth. I felt the heat of the inferno, but as I touched the glass, it was ice cold. The image shifted to a ship beached on jagged rocks and I heard a soft song. The image changed again, and I saw the Morokian Star, though I could not see anything beyond its brilliance. The image changed one last time to me in a long white wedding dress. I saw the two Princes chained to the walls and I was crying as Estein pulled me towards his bedchambers.
The glass darkened and I felt my body grow heavy. “No…”
The old man snapped his fingers in front of my face twice. “Everything you saw is only how the future could be. You can change it, if you have the wisdom and courage to take on the challenge.” I looked into his eyes, as he held up the book, “The Gaeliious are all dead, my dear. But the dragons hold more knowledge than even the Repository in Histrek. Find them and you will learn the answer you seek.”
I felt numb as he handed me the book. “But since you are here…” I looked down at him, my tears drying on my face, “It is my birthday and we were going to have a ball in my honor.”
“Grandfather, it is not your birthday.” Cicero grabbed my arm to help support me.
“Well, it should be.” He stuck his tongue out at the younger Elder and I gave a watery laugh.
They both looked at me, but I just shook my head, “You two remind me of my cousin and uncle before…” I shook my head hard to rid myself of those thoughts, “They are drinking with the Gods now.” I looked to the older sir, “If you do not mind having four humans at your not-birthday ball, we would be delighted to spend this night to rest here.”
The older man hugged me before going on the opposite side of Cicero, “We will drink, dance, eat and relax. You are safe here, my dear and trust me, an Elven ball is not something to miss.”
The two Elders escorted me into one of the rooms on the staircase. There was a woman inside, but they shoved me in before I could stop them. Cicero called through the door, “We will get your companions cleaned up for the ball.” He looked to the lady, “Would you be able to Cinderella her up for the ball?”
She scoffed, “You gave me little time, Cicero.”
He blew her a kiss, “Catherine, my love, you are the best and I am sure it will be a transformation.” He shut the door, leaving me with the woman.
She was tall and graceful, her hair silver-yet tinged with a hint of gold and her eyes were gray. She tapped her chin with her finger, “I know!” I instantly regretted agreeing to go to the ball.