The activities in Sinta Lake had drawn him away from his troubles. The atmosphere in the area was thick with the water spirits’ Glamour. They flitted about, diving and resurfacing from the water; creating mini rainbows, ice statues, and music while they performed a common Devarian court dance. Merleinans in the audience swayed on their feet following the rhythm of the melody. Several Forest Folk danced at the shore. Others were more daring as they asked Merleinans to be their dance partners. There was a loosening of inhibitions from both races. They were genuinely enjoying themselves; such a thing had never occurred in his lifetime until now.
One of the Devatas caught his eye. There was no mistaking the uniform and the proud features of rider and horse. The Sentry was a few feet away from the crowd, his expression surprisingly pensive. It was impossible to catch that Devata unprepared. To see him in such a mood was…unsettling. Discreetly, he approached Pellinor.
“Commander.” The Devata was not as preoccupied as he appeared to be. His gaze lingered at the scene before him.
“Captain. You’re not with your riders?”
“This is my home. I can do whatever and be wherever it pleases me,” Pellinor said curtly, glancing sideways at Reno. “What do you want?”
“I happened to meet a novice of the religious order. She had asked me to help locate Karina. She was last seen riding on the back of a chimera. The beast flew east.” The Commander doubted what the girl witnessed. Karina would have been frightened of the creature. Hadn’t there been a similar encounter before? He had heard Pellinor had saved her then. It was more likely that the novice had mistaken the animal for a chimera.
“And you think I saw her?”
“I considered it a possibility.”
“No one of her seeming has been seen to enter our kingdom.” Pellinor nudged the mare with his knee.
The pause was enough to suspect the Sentry’s denial. Reno analyzed Pellinor’s reply. He had said ‘seeming.’ The Commander had learned from Kala that Karina’s physical appearance had altered.
“Wait.” The mare stopped. “You have seen the Liyanna.”
The Sentry did not respond.
“I am calling on the wager I won. Take me to her at once.”
“As you wish.”
The earth trembled violently. Reno struggled to keep his balance, momentarily losing his focus on the Sentry. As the quaking gradually stilled, he looked up. Before him stood a palace built as part of the great ancient trees. Staircases, corridors, and balconies made of wood had been sung to shape on tree limbs and trunks. Creepers and flowers decorated the whole area. Devatas in court finery strolled in the garden, distracting themselves in a similar fashion to the water spirits in Sinta Lake. His presence, however, ceased their use of enchantments and Glamour. They stared at the Commander openly.
“If you would care to join me,” Pellinor said in a bored tone. He had left his horse to feed on a bush at the edge of the garden and waited at the foot of the stairs. His complete demeanor had reverted to the cold and fearless Captain everyone knew.
Reno followed his guide into the palace. He was no longer in his territory and trusted only the word of a very moody Sentry to deliver him to Karina.
The Forest Folk’s honor system was confusing to understand making them unpredictable in behavior. Striking a bargain, for example, one must meet the exact requirements of the deal. If it lacks or exceeds what has been agreed upon, the Devata would take umbrage.
Devatas they had seen greeted the Captain respectfully. But, as soon as they laid eyes on Reno, they would fall eerily silent, their features devoid of emotion, and watch the pair go.
Pellinor led him to three staircases and five hallways of varying shapes and sizes. Finally, they stopped before a pair of wooden doors. It was intricately carved, depicting a scene of the forest and its inhabitants. The craftsman who designed the door had masterfully captured the finest details of the actual setting. Reno could not avert his gaze from it as the workings on the wood appeared to come alive.
The door creaked open beckoning them inside.
Reno had never been this close to entering the Devarian Realm, much less the palace. Merleinans usually stayed at well-trodden paths of the forest and never ventured at the heart of Kelor-dan’s domain. The two races have always viewed each other with a certain amount of civility and caution. It was a miracle the treaty between them has lasted for so long. Pellinor, captain or not, was the last person he would trust with his life. Reno’s interaction with them consisted of business contracts and wagers. He relied on these for his Guards’ survival and his own. Sentries and Guards have grown accustomed to one another’s presence and cultural differences when either Captain or Commander threw their lot to work together. Their leaders’ obvious display of mistrust ensured that the half-human Black Guards and Sentries’ working relationship would not evolve to a deeper friendship.
Time flowed differently in each realm. Dimensional plane travelers, Gate Keepers and Black Guards were used to the time lapses between worlds. They accepted it as part of the natural workings of the universe and smoothly adapted to their present environment. So, Reno was not surprised as sunlight flooded the chamber he entered.
Two Devarian nobles stood by the window in deep conversation. The Devarian lord did most of the talking. The words Reno caught were spoken in their native language of the Forest Folk. He could relatively understand the Devarian Tongue when spoken a little slower than how the pair in front of him communicated. From the slump of the Devarian lady’s shoulder and the lord’s gesture, he was apparently consoling the woman.
The Commander wondered about the necessity of waiting on the two Devatas. He stole a glance at his guide. Probably, the Captain had urgent business with them. Pellinor’s conduct had not changed since their arrival at the palace. In spite of his authoritative air, the rigidity of his stance and the set of his jaw could mean he was uncomfortable with the current company he’s keeping; on edge because of the two nobles in front of them are very important people, judging from the immensity of their physical auras; or, perhaps, both.
The Devarian lord was the first to see them. He was clearly not surprised with the arrival of uninvited guests and cared less for what they had just witnessed.
The lady turned from her friend. Small in stature and fair in coloring, she was most likely from another forest in the distant north, and definitely a welcome visitor to the palace. She wore a white dress, a scarf wrapped around her shoulders, and her feet were bare. Her clothing was certainly outlandish in comparison to the Devatas Reno had seen earlier. The way she carried herself, however, was undeniably regal and demanded respect. No doubt, the local Devatas outside would not dare mock her.
Upon seeing them, the lady pulled away from her companion. She frowned as her eyes darted from Reno to his guide.
Pellinor walked a few paces forward and bowed.
“My Prince. Liyanna. The Commander of the Black Guard requests an audience with Liyanna.”
As the Captain spoke to the two people in the room, Reno realized that the man before him was no other than the elusive Kelor-dan. He looked about him searching for Karina but the Captain had addressed the only female present. The Commander looked again at the lady, who remained standing by the window. She was the very opposite of what Karina looked like. The hair and eyes were completely off. How much change had Kala meant?
The Prince was talking to him. Absently, he bowed and replied to Kelor-dan’s questions. His eyes kept wandering to the woman. Eventually, Kelor-dan returned to her side, murmuring words of reassurance that he would be nearby in case she needed him. He kissed her hand and left, Pellinor close at his heels. The Sentry had evidently decided that his task was complete. The doors clicked shut leaving Reno with the lady.
She strode over to him, taking in his appearance as he did hers. Now that she was nearer, he saw the familiar lines of her face and the color of her aura. He gaped at her. Reno’s misgivings that Pellinor had intended to mislead him vanished.
“Karina.” In an effort to hide his discomfiture, he folded his arms and gave her a stern look. “What would the Forest Folk think of us when they catch you in your nightgown?”
“I’m afraid they already have, Guryo,” she replied in her quiet manner. Her mouth twitched then spread into a small smile.
The Commander chuckled and hugged her. The student he had grown fond of was still inside, even if the outer shell had changed. He felt her muscles relax underneath his embrace and vaguely remembered Pellinor’s strange behavior. Reno shrugged it off. The Captain was a hard person to trust and harder still to understand.
Karina stepped back. At that moment, he caught movement at the far end of the chamber. Shifting his gaze from her, he saw an impressive display of large canine teeth from a lion’s head. The rest of it was a combination of limbs found in other creatures.
“Velor’s a friend,” she said.
So, the creature has a name, Reno thought. The novice had been right all along and no wonder she had been frantic. Karina had not only risked breaking her neck, she had also taken a chimera as her means of escape. The creature was rarely seen in the forest and more often figured in history lessons and in stories heard from others.
The beast yawned once more before it laid its head on a foreleg. Its eyes remained open and watchful.
They moved to the sofa. Karina looked at ease in the palace as if she was in her own home. She sat beside him pouring orange juice into their glasses.
“Why have you come here, Karina?” Reno ventured. He could see her purse her lips in thought. After her awakening, Karina could hide her emotions better from those who could feel her aura. The Commander would not be able to gauge her reactions for a while without reading through her mannerisms.
“I needed answers,” she replied.
“Was it very urgent that you could not wait for tomorrow?”
Sensing her reticence, he bowed his head slightly. He would respect her need for privacy. It was the least he could do before asking her a favor that would permanently affect everyone.
“It will take me some time to get used to your new look.” He studied Karina’s right eye. There were still flecks of brown in the iris.
“I cannot seem to grow accustomed to the changes in me as well,” she spoke in the Old Tongue. Her hand flew to her mouth.
“I see what you mean.” Reno arched his brow. “Perhaps these are residues of your spiritual journey. There have been situations similar to yours. What they bring with them in their return gradually diminishes in time.”
“I hope you’re right,” she said wistfully. Karina sat straighter than usual, her fingers smoothing her gown. Her manners were slightly different. Has she acquired a new set of habits and etiquette from where her soul had gone to?
His new assessment of her had not gone unnoticed. The hands folded primly on her lap and her eyes held wisdom and patience she did not possess before the accident. It took effort not to lose focus when the person in front of him continued to shift from the old Karina and the new one. The Commander had only known her for several weeks and found her transformation disconcerting. It would have been amusing to see Arturion’s reaction, if only…
“Guryo.” Worried eyes peered at him. Her insistence on calling him teacher was what endeared him to her first. Childhood and training in Merleina taught him to be detached. It was no use keeping the Liyanna innocent from the problems of the country she resides in. Moreover, he needed her support.
“Guryo,” she repeated. “Is something the matter?”
“I’m afraid I need your help, Liyanna.” The use of the title had the intended effect he expected. The frown of concern she had for his sake smoothened. The mention of it had taken her aback. Though almost everyone called her by that name he had refused to utter it in her presence. But circumstances required the Commander to force Karina to claim her destiny.
“Commander.” The formality was a good sign, she would hear him out.
“While you were comatose, many things have happened. There have been random disappearances in the past. Dimensional plane travelers have long practiced staying in the third dimension for months or years at a time without leaving a word to their families. By then, we have lost fifteen Merleinans. When five more vanished, the Elders had ordered Sola and me to form a unit to secretly investigate on the disappearances. We lost contact to that same unit thirty-two days ago; ten Guards and Keepers all gone without a trace.” Reno reached for the juice and drank. “The Council notified the public of the mysterious disappearances and prohibited travel to the third dimension indefinitely. Those who were still in your world were given seven days to return to their homes.
“The Council sessions Sara and the Keepers’ Commander had been attending before your accident were not only about your ascension and trade concerns that I suspected. The members had been discussing – arguing on how to resolve the issue of the disappearances without arousing fear and worry among citizens. The high priestess and the minority had been strongly opposed to the ban. They wanted to continue the search and bring back the victims to their families. But the Council had already decided and made a full disclosure to the public.” Reno paused and cleared his throat.
Karina had returned to the window, her back turned to him. The chimera’s claws clicked on the tiles as it moved to her side. It was rewarded by a hand smoothing its thick mane.
The Commander’s conscience prodded him to leave her out of Merleina’s predicament. She was too pure to be involved in politics. He wanted to convince himself that seeking her out was not for selfish motives but for the good of all. If she refused, he would have to—
“What do you need?” The leveled gaze directed at him held no trace of his old student. The brown in her eye had entirely disappeared.
The proud woman before him was no other than Liyanna.
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.