The woods were thinning before her. She could not remember how she came to be in the forest. Her memories were nothing but fragments. Karina had no control over her actions. Her body moved on its own accord. She didn’t know if she should freak out. Her emotions were in turmoil, the most predominant were sorrow and confusion.
The building panic subsided as she seemed to have no difficulty navigating the woods without the Forest Folk guiding her. She walked confidently and purposefully, the land rising gradually as she neared her destination.
Reno had, on a rare occasion, described the location of his headquarters. He had called it Qihaman Mountains, a part of Merleina’s borders. She had only seen its silhouette from her window. This time, she knew this was the same mountain he had spoken about as she found one of its tunnels.
The markings at the boulder looked like dirt to the untrained eye; in truth, it bore a riddle in cipher. The tunnel’s entrance remained concealed until the person, who wishes to gain entry, states the answer to the puzzle. This entryway was also the nearest to the Devarian Realm.
Karina stopped a hundred paces from it. Her awareness sharpened as she let her Sight and extended auditory and olfactory senses take over. It registered the familiar sounds and smells of the forest – or, what was left of the eastern part of it.
The combined stench of burnt flesh and wood drifted to her. The Great Fire had consumed a greater portion of the forest. The Old Wood was no more. The barrenness in the area was a testament that the ancient trees would no longer shelter creatures against nature’s harsh elements. The knowledge had come unbidden from deep within her along with renewed grief.
Then, she heard a voice behind her speak of Qihaman. It was familiar but angry.
Whatever this is – a dream or a vision – she was trapped inside a girl, whose thoughts and feelings meshed with hers. Karina, an unwilling witness, only hoped that there was a good reason why she needed to see these events unfold before her.
The moment she woke to the sensation of having a handful of people present in her room, Karina had a sinking feeling that her position in Merleina had risen once more. A part of her wanted to go back to sleep. The more logical side of her, however, dictated that there was no point in further delaying the inevitable.
Cracking an eye open, Karina realized that she had levitated a few inches from her bed. Landing softly on the mattress, she blinked a few times letting her eyes adjust to the brightness of the room.
The memories of the dream she had were fading fast from her mind. Still, Karina was aware that the abilities she possessed in the dream stayed with her.
Sara’s face came into view, then Kala’s. The apprentice’s expression was the opposite of the high priestess’ calm composure; but, both a welcome sight in her awakening.
“What’s going on?” Karina asked as Sara and two others began a thorough examination of her body.
“You had an accident in the bath. You’ve been asleep for nine weeks,” Kala said, arranging the bed Karina had vacated. Cheerfully, she added: “Thankfully, you are not in the third-dimensional plane. I’ve heard from the Guards that the medical field has not yet reached our level of advancement. Is it true that those who have been asleep for longer periods have to undergo a particular therapy to–?”
“Kala, you may continue your questions tomorrow. Let our patient rest for now,” Sara spoke gently. To Karina, she asked: “Is your eye bothering you?”
“No, but it feels different.” Karina opened and closed her eyes.
“Let me see.” The priestess checked the right eye. “There is nothing wrong with it.”
Next to her, Kala stood transfixed at their patient’s eye. Suddenly, Kala jerked back and announced that she would inform the others of the good news to Sara’s approval.
Kala and the others retreated from the room. Once they were alone, the high priestess explained what had happened after the accident. Karina’s soul, which had left her body, returned two weeks prior her awakening. In the meantime, her condition had spread like wildfire across their world. Sara, Sola and the Council of Elders could no longer deny Karina’s existence from Merleina’s neighboring countries.
Gifts filled every nook and cranny of the house. Temples filled with people praying for her. A day had not passed that someone would approach the priesthood inquiring about the would-be Liyanna. Creatures never before seen in Merleina had come and kept vigil outside the house. It was only today that the number of visitors from the animal kingdom decreased and Sara became certain that Karina would regain consciousness.
The high priestess’ instructed her to rest but flashes of a distant past kept Karina awake. Giving up on sleep, she wondered about Arty. Is he alright? She had been disappointed when Sara told her that he had returned to the third dimension to fulfill his duties.
Another memory jolted her. Karina began pacing the room. Her senses had sharpened further, exceeding Arturion’s. Her ascension had done that to her. Sara had been uncertain if the ability was temporary or not. For now, she would have to learn to live with it. If it became evident that the change was permanent, they would have to look for someone to teach her how to control it. The high priestess did not mention anyone in particular, but it was obvious that Arturion would have been the first choice. The soft tread her ears picked up came directly from below. It was the novice Sara had assigned to keep an eye on her.
Karina wanted to leave the house and have somebody explain these visions to her. Outside, the flap of wings caught her attention as it grew louder. Her ears registered that its wingspan was large for a bird. The smell of it was harder to distinguish. She moved to the window to see what kind of creature it could be.
The chimera was approaching from her right. Its eyes regarded her with intelligence. It moved closer to the window, their heads a hair’s breadth from touching. Its gaze sparked a vision that told of a similar encounter. A name formed on her lips: “Velor.”
In response, the creature licked her cheek and moved its side to the opening as near as possible with its broad feathered wings. Karina could not decipher what Velor wanted her to do until its lion head gestured to its back.
“You want me to climb on your back?” Karina said incredulously. She looked down and regretted her mistake. The ground was a long way down from where she stood. “You have got to be kidding me.” She half-turned from the window and realized there was no way she could escape the novice’s notice. But her questions could not wait any longer.
She closed her eyes and attempted to levitate.
Sighing, Karina hiked up her nightgown and stepped onto the windowsill. Thank the Mother nobody had thought of installing glass in the window, she thought.
The chimera sensed her predicament and maneuvered himself so that she could reach him by the neck. Karina stretched an arm out. Her fingers had brushed his hair when she felt herself tip forward. The ground surged up to meet her. Frantically, she grabbed the window with her other hand and pulled herself back on the windowsill. She stayed in a crouch, her heart pounding wildly at how close she could have fallen to her death.
“Holy Mother!” Karina saw a head peeking from a window below her. The novice had heard the chimera and may have wondered why it lingered.
With one arm reaching for the creature, she pushed her legs out and grabbed his thick mane. For a few painful seconds, she hung on the chimera’s hair. His eyes were trained on hers and suspiciously held bemusement. Suddenly, he rose upwards and dove. Karina lost her grip and felt herself flying in midair. Then, he swooped again, precisely positioning himself underneath her. She slid to the side. This time, Karina was ready. She snatched at his mane again and pulled herself up on his back. She encircled her arms around the creature’s neck, her heart drumming in her chest.
Then, she remembered the novice. The girl had watched the whole incident with fear and…fascination? While she stood dumbstruck, Karina took the opportunity to make her exit.
“I’ll be back,” Karina said, breathlessly.
The chimera seemed to know where she wanted to go. They flew eastward, to the heart of the forest. To Kelor-dan’s palace.
The courtyard was visible to the naked eye. From what she could see, they have been expecting her. Devatas and beasts mingled by the fountain. Several of them made room for her flying companion to land. They did not cheer as they touched the ground but bowed formally to her. A Devarian noblewoman removed the scarf she wore and offered the silken material to their Liyanna. Karina became conscious of her appearance and blushed with embarrassment. She must look like a madwoman to the Forest Folk. When she made no move to accept the gift, the noblewoman draped the cloth over her shoulders and hung back. No one commented on Karina’s state of undress nor the redness of her face.
They waited. To do what? Her mind recalled the Devarian court protocol. Hierarchy was important. The higher the rank of the Devata compared to yours, the deeper the obeisance. She managed a general bow accepted in all circles. The effect was immediate, the animals relaxed and the Devatas straightened. Then, the men were bending at the waist and the females were dipping a low curtsy again. The leaves rustled behind her. Karina turned around and saw Kelor-dan smiling at her.
She imitated the women in greeting the Prince. He bowed slightly to her. Kelor-dan had never done that to her in public before. The gesture meant he was acknowledging her as an equal.
“Liyanna,” he murmured close to her ear and kissed a cheek. He stepped back and studied her face. His smile now held a trace of sadness.
“You have questions,” he observed. “You have brought new knowledge in your awakening. Alas, you do not understand it.”
“I’ve been having visions. It’s all jumbled up. Some of it has one Sentry and you, Kelor, in it.” Another distant memory flashed before her: the Prince talking to her privately when Pellinor interrupts them. “Why do I keep seeing you? Whose life am I seeing?”
Kelor-dan offered his arm, which she silently accepted. He led her to the dormant fountain and bade her sit beside him.
“You called me Kelor,” he said. “It has been thousands of years when a young woman called me by name alone. She said, ‘Titles are of no importance when the world is falling apart. Friendships, however, are priceless and lasting when it is built on honesty, trust, loyalty and love.’”
“Who is she?”
The Devarian Prince twisted around, gazing at the clear pool of the fountain. The moon and stars illuminated the night sky. Its reflection in the pool, however, was not the subject of his attention. She followed his gaze. The woman looking directly at her had pale hair and skin. Her eyes were also light. The right eye’s iris though had two colors – gray and brown. Karina lifted a hand to her face. The woman in the pool did the same. Her shock was mirrored back to her.
“How can this be?”
“There are things in this world that cannot be explained by words alone. But I am certain of one thing. You and Alena share one soul.” Kelor-dan did not look at her or even attempted to comfort her.
They were alone in the courtyard. The Forest Folk had left discreetly during their conversation, except for one horse and rider. Karina had noticed them nearing the palace grounds from the west. They had halted just behind the fringes of the clearing.
“Pellinor, what brings you here at this hour?” The Prince had noticed Karina’s reaction when she recognized the Captain.
“Someone called me, Prince,” Pellinor drawled, emphasizing on the first word. He led his mount to the fountain. Karina turned to the side letting her hair cover her face. The Captain paid homage to his Prince.
“I did not summon you.”
“I was compelled,” he sniffed indignantly. In a softer note, he continued: “By the Liyanna herself. She is here.” Pellinor’s eyes roamed at the shadows for the wisp of a woman-child with black hair. “I have heard she has risen from her sickbed quite recently. Where is she, Kelor-dan, that I may scold her for pulling me away from my patrol?”
“I didn’t call you.” Karina faced Pellinor fully.
“Alena,” he said sharply. The Captain’s reaction was a stark contrast to the reception she had received moments ago that Karina had the urge to laugh and cry at the same time. Here was somebody who felt as bewildered as her.
A set of memories flooded her mind. Her eyes settled at the sword hanging from Pellinor’s belt. She quickly looked away only to find him scowling at her. He had completely recovered from his initial shock.
Pellinor was still upset and he was accusing her of the summons. Karina was forced to review her exchange with the Prince.
“I didn’t. I just said that you and Kelor keep appearing in my visions.” Pellinor’s gaze hardened, leaving her more confused than ever.
“She does not know,” Kelor-dan said.
“What is it that I don’t know?”
Pellinor did not answer. Instead, he folded his arms and glared at his horse’s withers.
“Maybe I did summon you unconsciously,” she admitted. “And since you’re already here, Captain, can you tell me why I just saw you trying to kill me?” she demanded, frustrated with everyone’s reluctance to explain things to her. She quickly regretted her outburst as soon as the words were out of her mouth.
The Captain of the Sentries flinched as if she had slapped him in the face. Kelor-dan turned his head towards her.
“I didn’t mean—” Karina started.
Pellinor bent forward, addressing them as Prince and Liyanna. He excused himself saying that his duties in the west can no longer be delayed. He leaped onto his horse and disappeared from view.
The Sentry rode his horse at neck-breaking speed as far away from the palace as possible. He stopped at Sinta Lake to let his mare rest after the abuse he had done to her. With the cloudless sky and the moon showing her face to the world, the water spirits have put on a performance. They invited everyone, Forest Folk, and Merleinans, nearby to watch. He would have appreciated the production more in another time. At the moment, he could not shake away the ghost of Alena standing before him after countless years of peace.
Every one of the Devatas who had survived the Atlantean Wars and the Shift recognized the presence of a powerful Liyanna when the Keeper Arturion returned from the third dimension with a human female. He had been glad for it meant a change in many aspects, particularly in preparation for the new era.
In the past months, concern for the Liyanna had been palpable throughout the Devarian Realm. While the energies flowing out of her unconscious body had benefited the many, others remembered a similar occurrence after Alena’s passing.
He had been young and angry then. He blamed the humans for everything that had happened. Alena, a Halfling and former Princess of Rituvan, was a friend to almost everyone. She had very nearly convinced him that her race was worth saving. In the end, she had betrayed him and he had paid her in kind. Revenge is sweet until one realizes the foolishness of youth. He had been blind to many things but no more.
The memories of his youth had faded over the years that Pellinor had failed to detect the signs. The chimera’s reappearance had not been a coincidence. The creature had adopted Alena as his own ever since her half-brother Rualdor ascended the throne. It had scented the Liyanna in the woods and recognized her soul.
Pellinor dreaded what the present Liyanna has been remembering. Her eyes had been unseeing before it landed on his sword hilt. Pieces of her past life’s memories have been haunting her.
If she remembers everything, would she still see me as a friend? he thought. Already her influence among his kind grows stronger. He had never been overly concerned of how the Devarian court and humans viewed him. Now, it seemed he wanted a human to accept him.
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©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.