An infusion of herbs and lavender welcomed her back from oblivion. Karina’s perception of her surroundings was all wrong. Her bed was not in its original position. A cloth fluttered directly above her. The curtain was slightly pulled back to keep the room ventilated. Her recent memories consisted of people’s faces hovering about her. The last she’d glimpsed were long fingers easing her headache before she fell into a deep sleep. The smell of herbs persisted. She glanced at the tray laden with a teapot and a cup, which emitted the strong scent. Beside it, a person sat unmoving with hands folded on her lap. Karina registered the high priestess’ Order’s robes. The pattern of a flower bud identified the person as a member of the novitiate.
A teary lopsided smile greeted her. No hard feelings there, she thought. Kala, she found, easily forgave than most people. Mindy still hadn’t forgiven Peter for his misdeeds. It wasn’t difficult to picture the former working up into a rage, her curls billowing wildly about.
Kala looked at her askance.
“I just remembered something.” She accepted the proffered cup to warm her hands.
“Perhaps you could tell me all about it later?”
Satisfied, the girl motioned to the cup and gestured for her to drink. Karina complied, wrinkling her nose in disgust. Her companion giggled.
“It tastes better when hot,” Kala announced. She knew Karina would try to delay finishing the medicine.
“How could something taste worse than it already is?”
Kala scooped a spoonful from the teapot and tasted it.
“It’s not that foul,” the girl said.
“May I have a glass of water?”
“You may but you have to promise that you’ll finish what is in your cup.”
“I promise to drink all of it on my scout’s honor.” Karina solemnly raised her hand at shoulder level in the Scout sign. Her palm faced forward, with three fingers pointed upward and her thumb holding the little finger.
Bemused, Kala produced a jug from behind her. She upended the lid, turning it into a makeshift cup, and poured water. Karina watched in anticipation. She had been asleep for almost a day and felt thirsty.
“You will have to empty your cup first,” Kala said. She raised the cup towards her mouth.
“That wasn’t the deal,” Karina protested.
The cup halted mere centimeters from Kala’s mouth and lowered it onto her lap. She shook her head, feigning disappointment then said: “You’re as bad as them.”
Karina frowned at the comment. Reluctantly, she swallowed a mouthful of her tea, scalding her tongue in the process. With a sigh, Kala swapped with her.
“Who’s ‘them’?” The water’s sweetness beat down the bitter aftertaste and quenched her parched throat.
“The Forest Folk,” Kala muttered. “They love playing word games with just about anyone. I reckon they enjoy using it when people make bargains with them.”
“It’s natural for them to turn it into a sort of amusement. They choose their words pretty carefully and expect others to do the same. It’s not like they always gain the upper hand in their business transactions.”
“You should talk to the Black Guards’ commander. He has had dealings with Sentries.”
Karina had heard the rumors at Kelor-dan’s Court. It was observed that the Sentries were at times involved with the Merleinan Black Guards. Each mission together was the result of a contract made by leaders of each party. Both groups were tight-lipped with the details of who had lost and won in the bargaining. Karina’s remembrance of the Sentries treatment towards her was nothing but honorable. The rumor mill, however, stated that the Sentries often had the advantage over the Guards.
Most Devatas she met were friendly and harmless, if not provoked. The prince and Theona had given Karina a potion enabling her to understand the Old Tongue, Devarian, and Merleinan. The Devatas’ and Merleinans’ language were derived from the Old Tongue, the language of creation. The latter was tied to the speaker’s thoughts and emotions that it was impossible to lie. It meant honesty in business transactions; binding a person to an oath; furthermore, it was made for creating life, willing abundance and healing.
Kelor-dan, however, spoke of lower elementals or entities. They abuse the Old Tongue by turning it into a tool for chaos and destruction. By doing so, they corrupt their essence, eventually manifesting physically – deformities like twisted limbs, muscle contractions, and additional appendages. They become monsters in appearance.
There are humans though who dabble in the Dark Arts. They capture and enslave entities to exploit its abilities and to hurt other beings, also known as a psychic attack. In her country, it was called kulam.
A colleague of her mother’s had once been a victim of an entity’s attack. The man was in his prime, but overnight he had aged. He could no longer move his legs because of the pain. Karina’s mother and her group managed to capture the entity and discover its master’s identity. The man was healed, but they kept the elemental with them. They tasked it to do good deeds. As time passed, its features became softer and kinder. Its original form returned and was identified as a dwarf.
“Do you know the Black Guard Commander personally?” Karina asked.
“Yes. Reno used to visit Sara’s home when he and Arturion were children. They practically grew up together. The Commander wanted Arturion to join their ranks. It has been common practice for Black Guards to recruit Merleinans who are partly human. They work undercover. Reno mentioned they are like your world’s intelligence agencies – CIA, KGB, Black Ops? The Guards are similar to the Keepers. But their designation gives them the freedom to use deception when necessary.”
“Why hire those who’re half-human?”
“Most Merleinans cannot stomach some of the Black Guards’ methods. So, I’ve heard.”
“But Arturion’s a Gate Keeper.”
“By choice and by sheer determination.” Kala beamed with admiration. “It’s rare for half-bloods to choose to become a Gate Keeper over Guard. Sola, who commands the Gate Keepers, had doubts with Arturion’s conviction in joining the Order. It’s not enough to pursue a career just to honor your ancestors’ legacy or your late mother, who was a Keeper herself.”
“He was eighteen. Too young by standards; but, as I’ve said, very determined. Arturion had passed the admittance test but he was put on probation for three years because of his age and inexperience. After a while, it was shortened to a year. He was—”
“Good at finding people,” Karina interjected.
“He inherited his mother’s talents,” Kala confirmed. She gave her patient a quizzical glance and started rearranging the bedclothes and fluffing the pillows. Armed with a broom and dustpan, she swept the floor, regularly checking on Karina’s progress with the medicine.
When the cup emptied, Kala still diligently pursued imaginary dust in the four corners of the room. Karina was about to voice her curiosity when the former briskly collected the tray and cleaning materials with a promise to return.
The light outside gave her room an orange glow. A small brown bird twittered by the window sill, a few inches from her. Birds normally kept their distance from human beings. This one flew towards her, dropped a berry on her lap and departed. Three more came in separate intervals bearing small tokens: a flower, a tamarind, and a black plum.
The tap by the doorway sent the last one zipping out the window. Male feet peeked by the ends of the beaded curtain.
When she didn’t answer, Arturion asked: “Kristina, are you awake?”
Why does he keep calling me by that name? Isn’t he breaking a rule or something? she wondered. “Yes. You can come in.”
His long fingers lifted the beads aside. His dark curly head came into view. Arturion sat on the space Kala had occupied.
“How are you feeling?” he asked.
“Better.” He checked her temperature with the back of his hand.
“You still have a slight fever.”
“I think it was an overload. There was this downpour of energy coming through my crown chakra…”
Arturion grasped her hand in his big ones, the touch comforting and strangely familiar.
“Your hands are warm.” He reached for the soles of her feet. “Your feet, too. They are warmer than the rest.” He shrugged. It was one of the ascension symptoms. Certain parts of the body varied in temperature.
“Healer’s hands, Mamá used to say,” Karina smiled wistfully.
“Have you healed anyone before?”
“Occasionally. I heal people secretly when the urge comes to me. I used to heal openly in Mamá’s classes.”
“Why did you stop?”
“Mamá’s friends stopped coming to our house. Then, when she and Papá separated, we moved. She didn’t bother reconnecting with her students. She said the office she worked in was taking a lot of her time.”
“Was there an incident in the last session you participated in?” It was a leading question to a subject that mattered to him. She could almost see the wheels turning in his head.
“I remember healing someone…and the surprise on everybody’s faces afterward, except for Mamá. She looked so afraid back then.” She frowned as it dawned on her. “Does this have anything to do with the Zertans?”
“It could be. Can you recall how you healed the person?”
“No. It happened more than ten years ago. I’ll tell you if it comes back to me.”
“That would be helpful,” Arturion agreed.
They fell silent. Both were reluctant to break the peace; yet, felt the need to rush their next words. “I’m sorry,” they said in unison. Then: “You first.”
Karina inhaled deeply and began again.
“I’m sorry I’ve been behaving selfishly. It’s like my whole world turned upside down ever since I got here. I shouldn’t have run off,” she finished lamely.
“You should be,” Arturion said in a dangerously quiet voice. “Imagine the drama you would have caused were it to occur that the Sentries came a second too late, or a deadlier beast managed to swallow you whole. Our world is more peaceful than yours. Nevertheless, it is fraught with its own dangers.”
“You’re trying to scare me.” She cocked an eyebrow at him.
“I might be.” He leaned back, shifting to a more comfortable position. “It would be easier to keep an eye on you,” he said wistfully.
“What are you? My jailer?” she joked.
“A friend.” His eyes were solemn and intent on her.
A cough on the other side of the room interrupted them. Kala had returned carrying a bowl of soup and a basket.
“You’re awake,” Kala greeted Arturion. In vain, she spied on Arturion’s and Karina’s faces for signs. She had felt something earlier that made her decide to offer Karina a gift.
Have I guessed wrong? she mused.
“Presents,” she said happily, angling the basket to show them the food inside it. “The animals have been leaving it at the front door. I see you’ve gotten a few.”
“The birds gave them to me,” Karina replied. She placed the fruits in the basket.
“Have you told Karina of the new arrangements?” Kala asked Arturion.
“About what?” Karina looked at the two people, who seemed to have forgotten that the subject of their silent discussion sat next to them. She repeated the question.
Finally, they faced her.
A moment passed.
Kala elbowed Arturion.
“Kristina,” he started.
Kala stared at him in disbelief.
Obviously, there is a rule, Karina thought, seeing the girl’s expression.
Arturion ignored her and continued to fill Karina in with Sara’s strategy and the new regimen of psychic and physical exercises to reduce the symptoms of her ascension. In addition, to prevent another imbalance, he would be exchanging male and female energies with her.
“Is there a likelihood that I’ll become a psychic vampire?” Karina knew of people who unconsciously sap a person’s energy when they suffered a low in theirs. Usually, an older person who feels invigorated after being near an active child had unknowingly absorbed some of the latter’s excess energies.
“No.” Arturion’s mouth twitched at the corner.
“How do we exchange energies?”
Kala looked at him expectantly.
“We will do it after the morning’s exercises. I will guide you through the steps,” he said, confidently.
When Kala felt that the important details have already been discussed, she bade Arturion to leave. She further justified that their patient needed to rest.
He frowned in puzzlement at her strange behavior but acquiesced.
Believing him to be out of earshot, she riffled through the contents of her basket. Her eyes glistened triumphantly as she slipped a wooden ring in Karina’s forefinger.
“If anyone asks how you came by this, I gave you the gift as a token of friendship.”
“Thank you.” Karina admired the exquisite carving of leaves and vines on the ring’s band.
“The ring has a special purpose,” Kala added conspiratorially. “There is a spell engraved inside the band. “You can read Merleinan script now, yes?”
The girl finger-wrote the function of the spell on the blanket. Karina’s eyes widened.
“But – I don’t –” she sputtered.
“It wouldn’t hurt to wear it. Everyone receives an accessory with the same inscription when they come of age,” Kala stated practically.
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.