She didn’t tell Arturion that Kelor-dan had hosted a feast to celebrate her arrival in Merleina. The prince had been a gracious host, attentive to her needs and comfort. He even played a string instrument to the delight of the Court and had led her through several complicated dances. For the first time in days, she enjoyed herself that Karina had completely forgotten about Kala.
The Devatas called her Liyanna, a being of light and air, yet born of earth. The prince’s eyes had shone at the pet name. Kelor-dan had helped her come out of her shell. She had felt truly at one with herself and with everything.
He delivered his promise to take her back to Merleina at sundown. Before he left her, Kelor-dan had kissed her on the forehead and extracted a promise not to forget him.
Reality returned when Kala almost tackled her on the path, hugging and sobbing, asking if she was alright. Sara followed slowly with eyes full of knowing. Right behind the high priestess, Sola had the look of surprise again. At her daring to break Sara’s rule; risking herself by attending her own celebration; or, for having Kelor-dan accompany her? It would remain a mystery to Karina.
Arturion, however, only blinked once when she told him about the prince. She had thought he would scold her for her lack of self-preservation. In return, she would accuse him of leaving her behind in a world she barely knew. Nothing had gone according to plan. The moment he walked into the archives, she was relieved to see him alive and well. The longing in his eyes when he picked up the vial was her final undoing. All her prepared speeches for the day she came face-to-face with him vanished.
Karina had asked him as casually as possible about her sister and friends. The reaction it created filled her with apprehension. Arturion had flinched at Aly’s name.
“Arty, what did you tell her?”
His tanned face had gone a few shades lighter.
Did Aly do something to him? she wondered. Her sister had a fiery temper and could scare off even the toughest man. Aly’s knowledge of the law didn’t help. She had the habit of spouting it to those who had offended her and her loved ones.
She remembered his expression when he told her about Merleina in her living room. He was wearing it now. Slowly, he recounted the events to her – his encounter with a drone, the assistance of the Black Guards, and her funeral.
“They’re alright, then. As long as I’m…”
“That is correct. The Guards are keeping an eye on the situation. They will do so until the danger has truly passed. Your family and friends are currently under surveillance, as we speak.”
Arturion wasn’t hiding anything anymore nor did he defend his decisions and actions from her. She had met him as a foreigner and became his friend. Now, she saw him in a different light. He had donned the mask of a Gate Keeper fulfilling his job. The manner he used as he told her the details was similar to how an officer would report to his superior.
Her home was gone, along with the people she had loved all her life. The Arty she had known for the past two years had ceased to exist. The dutiful Gate Keeper had replaced him.
“Thank you, Arturion. Please extend my gratitude to the Black Guards, as well. If you’ll excuse me, I need some fresh air.” She didn’t wait for his response. Karina got to her feet and left the house.
Among the trees, her vision blurred with tears. She swiped it away, yet it kept flowing. Karina walked on without any real destination. She stumbled on a tree limb, her arms flailing wide. She landed face first on the forest floor, the carpet of leaves cushioning her fall. She sat up and looked around trying to get her bearings. She was at the center of a large clearing, the trail nowhere to be found. It was eerily quiet.
Sara had allowed her to wander in the forest as long as she stayed on the path. The Devatas were not the only creatures of the forest. There were still wild animals roaming deep within. The footpath was not only for convenience’s sake, it served as a guide away from predators.
The snapping of twigs echoed ominously in the clearing, making Karina jump in alarm. The instinct for fight-or-flight overtook her senses, momentarily sobering her from all the crying she’d done. She groped for any object that could be used as a makeshift weapon and came up empty-handed. If it was a wild beast, she had no means to protect herself and running would only delay the inevitable.
A winged creature with a lion’s head and tail and talons for feet emerged from the foliage. It sniffed the air and licked its chops hungrily. Its eyes rested on hers. She stood frozen on the spot as it approached her slowly.
Suddenly, a shrill note pierced the air. The thunder of hooves advancing towards them shook the earth. An arrow whistled past the trees and struck the ground near the creature’s forelegs.
The beast recognized the danger for its life. It backed away a few steps and took flight.
Men and women on horseback entered the clearing and circled her. They wore the colors of the forest’s greenery. A bow and a quiver of arrows were strapped to their backs. A rapier and a short sword hung at their side.
One of them held his bow across his horse’s withers. He addressed her in a strange language. When she didn’t reply, he switched to Merleinan. The woman beside him spoke in their tongue. She recognized the words human and mortal in the rider’s speech.
“What is your name, child?” The man asked Karina in English, the universal language of her world.
She had acquired a number of names during her stay and had to pick one that would grant her safety.
The riders and their steed displayed an impressive amount of patience and discipline as they waited for her answer.
In a small voice, she managed to say the name the Devatas have given her.
The man nodded his acknowledgment. He turned to the woman, once again, shifting back to their language. The conversation ended quickly. Commands were given. The riders filed out westward, leaving their leader behind. The latter slung the bow on his back and descended from his horse.
“You are a long way from home, Liyanna. Come, I shall take you back to your people.” He motioned to the north.
“I have no home,” she said dejectedly. “They’re not my people.”
“A manner of speech.” He tilted his head, unperturbed. “Is there a place you wish to go?”
“Are you a Devata?” she asked to confirm her suspicions about the rider’s identity.
“We have been called many things. Gods, entities, the Good Folk, nature spirits, elves, diwata, engkanto, Devata. Merleinans call us by that name.” He grinned. His stance straight and proud, he bowed to her with the litheness of a hunting cat.
“Do you know where Kelor-dan lives?”
“Everyone knows he rules these parts, thus he is likely to reside here,” he said mischievously, a nature of his race. His personality had taken a turnabout; from the serious and commanding soldier, he seemed to enjoy playing with her now that there were just the two of them.
“Please take me to Kelor-dan’s palace,” she carefully phrased.
“We are already here.” He shrugged.
Their surroundings became hazy. She had to blink a few times before her vision cleared. Karina’s eyes registered a fountain bubbling happily at the middle of the once empty space. The ground had evened out underneath the carpet of leaves. Flowers bloomed at every tree and bush around her. Its floral scent filled the atmosphere.
The courtyard was the first glimpse she had of Kelor-dan’s palace. All the while, it had been under her nose. Karina sensed invisible eyes on her. This became inconsequential as she heard the quick and light footfalls of a person descending the steps. She knew he could be as silent as a hunter stalking his prey. The sound of his footsteps was an attempt to let her know that the prince himself had come to receive her.
She found her legs again and took the last remaining steps, closing the distance between them. Overwhelmed with relief, she hugged Kelor-dan. The prince briefly stilled at her impulsiveness; then, placed his arms around her. Karina breathed in the scent of sunshine and of the forest, which clung to him like perfume, just to ascertain it was really him. The sound of his deep voice reverberated in his chest. He was speaking to one of his people – the rider, from how he framed his questions.
The rider answered deferentially. He had assumed his previous demeanor.
“Wait,” Karina called when the rider mounted his horse. “What is your name?”
He glanced at the prince. Then, stated: “I am called Pellinor.”
“Pellinor,” she pronounced. “I won’t forget.”
He bowed his head and left.
“You have done well, Liyanna,” Kelor-dan whispered. “In a handful of words, you have won the respect of one of the Sentries’ captains.”
Wattpad code: 58366003
©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.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.