The trees that survived were young. Much of the talks and whispers in the forest were carried by the wind. Today, its silence spoke volumes of the loss of the forest, especially the death of the Old Wood.
“Qihaman may have dreamt of his tunnels, but he had failed to warn us of the destruction of my home and the deaths of my brothers and sisters,” a voice accused from behind her.
“Neither did he predict his death at the hands of my father’s people. Even those who see what will come to pass, cannot foresee everything,” the girl replied, surveying the open sky and the devastation before her.
“Your kind’s insatiable thirst for power has caused this war. How long will it take before it consumes us all?” The rasp of a sword being unsheathed was deafening in the quiet.
She willed herself to stay still. The urge to flee was powerful that she dug her heels into the hard packed earth and squeezed her eyes shut. She waited for the Devata to strike her down.
The breeze shifted, taking away the acrid smell of burnt wood and flesh from her. In its place was the scent of sunshine and of the forest before the Great Fire. She would take this final memory to her death.
The sword whistled as it made its downward slash. The sound of metal striking against metal, however, was unexpected that she jumped in surprise. Apart from that, the rustle of leaves was the only indication of the arrival of another Devata.
“Cease, Pellinor,” the voice commanded.
It was the deep rumble of it that the girl’s head whipped to the side, coming face-to-face with a Devarian noble.
“Nothing good will come of this, with her blood on your hands,” he continued. “Sheath your weapon before our allies learn of your foolishness.”
“Move aside, Kelor-run. She is no friend to Devatas. I would be doing everyone a favor…”
A telltale glimmer at the peak of the mountains caught her eye.
“They’re coming,” she breathed. She whirled to the two Devatas, one trying to kill her and the other defending her and repeated her words. Both felt the urgency in her voice. The noble used his Glamour to disappear. Her would-be assassin, on the other hand, was still visible when the low hum of her father’s inventions reached their ears. Convinced, he reluctantly lowered his sword and vanished.
She returned her gaze overhead. A fleet of Dragon-like machines with enough firepower to eradicate the forest and Merleina from the map dotted the sky. Her father had sent his elite to finish what they started when they torched the Forest Folk’s home. They would only stop when they realize she was in harm’s way.
With all the dignity she could muster, she stepped forward to an open area. The Drogun riders landed a few feet from her. Two riders alighted from their vehicles. They bowed to their waist and addressed her respectfully: “Lady Alena.”
Questions raced through her mind; each clamoring for answers, most of them about her father.
“Where is my brother? He leads this force, does he not?” Alena could not sense her brother among the riders.
The two men stared at her in surprise. The first to recover was the senior among the group, who said: “Your brother succeeded the late king twelve days past, my lady.”
Pain lanced through her heart. The Rituvan king, her father, had died and she had been the last to know. He was at the peak of his health the last she saw him. “Who?”
“A Merleinan spy slipped poison in his drink. Your brother captured the traitor and had the man confess his crime.”
“Were there witnesses during the confession?”
“No, my lady.” The riders were confused where the questions were leading.
“Did he discover the motive?”
The answer was another negative. In a fit of rage, her brother had killed the spy. Then, he formed an alliance with the Zertans to secure their kingdom’s safety.
Rualdor was not a man who allowed his emotions to overrule his judgment. He would not be so careless in interrogating a prisoner. He was hiding something from his men. To Alena’s mind, her brother – half-brother had chosen to ally himself with the enemy to obtain more military power. The Devata. Pellinor. She could just imagine the smug look on his face at being proven right if he could hear her thoughts.
“My lady, His Highness sent us to escort you home. You are no longer safe here,” the young rider said.
“What did my – His Highness offer in return?”
“The kingdom must assist in capturing the human offspring of a Caseer female. The creature is said to be of twenty-one years of age.”
Alena touched the multi-faceted sapphire stone adorning her index finger. The only memento left of her mother.
“We have enemies here, my lady. Let us leave at once.” The young rider stepped toward her. His body language screamed of impatience.
“You will carry out my brother’s orders without question?” She stepped back, her hands curled into fists.
“We have sworn fealty to our king.” The young man frowned.
“My brother knows the identity of the Caseer’s offspring and why the Zertans are desperate to have her.”
“You know her.” He glared at her while the other rider’s expression became inscrutable.
“I am she.” Alena dropped to a defensive stance.
Both riders rushed at her. But, before the young rider could touch her, the older man seized him by the arm. In two swift movements, the latter broke his companion’s neck. The lifeless body dropped limply on the forest floor inches from her.
“Are you alright, my lady?” he asked.
Bewildered but somehow feeling that the man had saved her, she gave him a nod.
He did not attempt to approach her.
“You may have to tell your friends to stand down.” The amusement in his eyes belied his bland face.
She looked around. Friends indeed surrounded her. The beasts of the forest and of the sky had come to aid her, including Devatas she had never met. They were all tensed to attack the Drogun riders. Alena assumed a non-aggressive position. The creatures relaxed and dispersed from the area, save for one chimera. Behind her, the creature lay on its stomach and watched the proceedings.
The other warriors dismounted from their vehicles and joined Alena’s protector, who introduced himself as Kasador.
The Caseer is a highly advanced race from the planet Caser. Humanoid in appearance; their limbs were long and slender; each hand consisted of four fingers; their silver eyes lacked pupils and the ridges in their forehead functioned like human ears.
It was by accident that a small private ship was sucked into a wormhole and transported it to their solar system. The pilot, a Caseer female, learned from other planetary beings the paradise called Ethair. A century later, she discovered Rituvan. Alena’s father was visiting a small village when he and the Caseer Shilahanasa met. A recent widower, he had been charmed by the foreigner’s otherworldly grace and kindness. His invitation to the palace which the Caseer accepted soon developed into something deeper. Eventually, they became lovers and produced a child.
The Caseer died shortly of a mysterious illness and the people began to forget her appearance and origins. The daughter inherited the Rituvan’s features and fair coloring. The heritage the Caseer passed down to Alena was her compassion for all.
Alena’s father had watched his children grow to adulthood. His son from his wife displayed the intelligence and decisiveness of a leader. But he also took from his mother’s side a cruel streak and unforgiving nature. The prince resented his father for taking the Caseer, a foreigner from an unknown planet, as a lover. He demonstrated cold indifference with regards to his half-sister.
The Zertan’s desire to acquire a specimen for their genetic experiments was common knowledge. Alena’s father feared that in his demise, his son would betray his sister at the first opportunity. So, the late king had taken precautionary measures to ensure his daughter’s safety. First, by having the princess trained secretly in the Indariki martial arts by the best teachers. Second, he had entrusted his friend and most loyal subject a mission to be carried out in his sudden death.
“The Caseer is a being of light and air. Ours is of earth,” Kasador explained as they camped in one of the secret caves. “You are a child of both worlds.”
“Why would the Zertans want me?”
“They need your blood, my lady.”
“What knowledge could they possibly glean from my blood?”
“It holds the key to correct a mistake they had made when they experimented on their DNA in the past. At present, they are in league with the Cabal. They continue to create chaos and fear to control humanity. They have also been encouraging the Atlanteans to play god, resulting to the severance of the portal connecting us to the moon. Now, the Cabal has given them and other countries technology to play their war games.”
“Considering that I am an invaluable resource for them, perhaps I can negotiate for peace in exchange for my surrender?”
“Then, you would have condemned all peoples of Mother Ethair,” a familiar voice said. The Devarian noble appeared from the shadows. Heads turned and weapons emerged from hidden pockets.
“Don’t!” Alena shouted. “He’s a friend.”
The warriors looked to Kasador, who inclined his head. They relaxed but kept their weapons in hand.
“They search for you, Princess, because you have not fully awakened to your potential. Their main objective is to enslave us all for eternity.” Kelor-run came nearer and sat beside her, their knees touching. “A creature of light and air but born of earth. To my people, you are Liyanna Mother Ethair speaks of. The Mother has,” he paused, “plans. For the moment, we shall have to wait and see.”
“You hesitate, Devata,” Kasador commented.
“The Mother does not always show her hand,” another masculine voice interrupted. The other Devata, Pellinor, strode to the nobleman’s side amidst the nervous energy of the warriors.
It was Kelor-run who reassured Kasador’s men this time.
“Devatas are attuned to the slightest change in Mother Ethair’s moods and behavior. Your race, on the other hand, has shown nothing but disregard for life and the foolish notion that you control everything.”
“Your friend is quite articulate than most of your kind,” Kasador remarked drily to Kelor-run.
“Please forgive him. He has not been himself ever since the Great Fire,” Kelor-run replied calmly.
Pellinor was about to retort but his mouth remained shut. His eyes widened in confusion. Comprehension followed; he glared furiously at his fellow Devata.
“We have seen the destruction caused by our comrades. We would have done more than voice our grief if our princess was harmed,” Kasador said. Kelor-run glanced quickly at Pellinor. “Please understand that the new king commands our army. We are not allowed to question his orders. By day’s end, our little troop and our families would be forsworn and deemed traitors in Rituvan.”
“We cannot stay here,” Alena said. She watched the glow globes intently, avoiding the warriors’ gazes. “I have outstayed my welcome when the Old Wood burned to the ground.”
Alena could still remember the different stares directed at her: uncertainty, pity, and accusation. She had thought of running away until Pellinor came.
“That is the reason I have come, Princess Alena. Allow me to intercede for you and your people in the next Council meeting.” Kelor-run offered his hand to her.
There would surely be a price for his services but she was now responsible for the lives of twenty-nine Drogun riders and their families. The latter were already in hiding, waiting for someone to fetch them at the border shared between Rituvan and Merleina.
Alena placed her palm on the Devata’s waiting hand.
“Very well, Kelor-run. Intercede for us.”
“I shall not fail you, Liyanna.”
©MC Babasa 2014
A/N: Feel free to post your feedback as this is the first book. Your comments and suggestions may influence the story as it progresses up to the second book.
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