The girl in the mirror was a stranger to her. The pale yellow hair was styled like a crown on her head. A few strands were artfully left loose to frame her face. It gave emphasis to her somber gray eyes. Her feet were shod in flimsy sandals with straps that crisscrossed up to her knees. The silver gown the dryad Theona had assisted her in wearing showed more skin than Liyanna liked: the shoulders and arms were bare; the front hung dangerously low, and the slits of the skirt came up to the thighs. It was a gift Kelor-dan had given as a present to match Liyanna’s silver eyes. She decided to accept; to refuse a gift personally chosen by the Devarian Prince – her host, would be inappropriate.
Theona had sensed Liyanna’s apprehension from the beginning which grew after seeing her reflection.
“There is power in beauty, Liyanna.” It was meant to reassure her.
“This is more appropriate for special occasions,” Liyanna said. She hid her trembling hands in the folds of the dress.
“Ah. It is a special day and very important. Our Horldan,” Theona used the Devarian term for ‘prince’, “will reintroduce you to the realms as Liyanna.” She led Liyanna away from the mirror. “Already our people have accepted you as our own. It is time we share you to the rest of the world.”
“I don’t think the Elders will like me for what I am about to suggest.” The Commander of the Black Guard had extracted a promise from Liyanna to sway the Council in their favor. “I doubt they’ll listen to what I have to say when they’re thousands of years older than me.”
Theona gave her a knowing smile. Brushing past the willow’s leaves, the pair curtsied to the broad-shouldered back of the waiting prince. His booted feet turned towards Liyanna and he returned the depth of her bow.
Lifting her eyes to Kelor-dan’s face, she saw a trace of humor in his otherwise polite court mask. He would remain in that position if she did not resume standing. She rose and pointedly ignored his appraisal of her appearance. The boots she studied intently came forward until he was a hand’s breadth away from her.
Kelor-dan lifted her chin, forcing her to look up. He held her gaze. An unidentifiable emotion flitted across his eyes followed by tenderness. The prince’s mouth brushed her cheek. He moved to her left and offered the crook of his arm. She took a deep breath and linked her arm in his.
Appreciative glances and secret smiles turned their way as they traversed the halls leading to the courtyard. The number of people in the palace had doubled in the past week. Warmth crept up Liyanna’s face from embarrassment, unused to being the center of attention. She caught the Prince stealing a glance at her. His lips twitched as he kept a straight face.
Sentries stood at attention in the courtyard at their approach. The black-haired female Sentry was familiar to Liyanna, as well as a few others present. Their captain stood apart from his riding patrol. Of course, who else would it be? She fought the urge to step back.
Pellinor bowed to them, avoiding eye contact with her without being downright rude. The Master of the Horse led Liyanna’s and Kelor-dan’s steeds before the assembled group.
Astride their horses, a look passed between Prince and Captain, and then the procession surged forward to Dur na Valed.
The site had been in their line of sight for a while, gradually increasing in size as they got closer. The Sentries escorted them along the Avenue, the path towards the entry, and dropped back when they reached the first stone, the Heel Stone. Along with their horses, Kelor-dan and Pellinor left their weapons to one of the riders before passing through the ancient wards protecting the area.
Liyanna had felt the probing of the protective barrier. It recognized her instantly for what she is. It spoke of beginnings – its history, the meetings it had watched over the years…
She would have asked what it was waiting for but her attention was diverted to the group inside the ring of stones. Long before she could see their faces, Liyanna could already feel the Council’s eyes follow their procession. Relief washed over her in finding Sara, Reno, and Sola among them.
Before they broke through the trees, Liyanna had covered her head with the cowl of her dress. It would give her sensitive eyes to adjust to strong sunlight. Likewise, the hood would hide most of her face while she spied on the Council of Elders.
A vision of a gathering similar to this but held in the evening interrupted her examination of the Elders. The Prince watched her at the corner of his eye. He had seen her flinch, a reaction when a memory of her past life resurfaces. It had been worse those first two days when memories that didn’t make sense kept flashing in her mind, leaving her befuddled and with a throbbing headache.
As they stepped into the ring of stones, Kelor-dan looked away and steered her to the place reserved for them. Liyanna caught sight of the other Captain in her periphery. Weaponless, Pellinor looked remote and dangerous as ever. The aura around him was just a shade lighter than usual. A testimony of his more tolerant treatment of pureblooded Merleinans and the Elders compared to Halflings and humans. Among those present, he was the only individual who studiously averted his gaze from her.
Despite the formalities performed with diplomacy and smiles, the tension in the atmosphere was palpable. Kelor-dan opened the session, a privilege reserved for the person who had called for the gathering. Liyanna missed the Prince’s speech preoccupied as she was with the many eyes directed at her.
“Liyanna, it is time,” Kelor-dan murmured. He was fully aware of her sensitivities that it was unnecessary to speak in a more audible tone.
Raising her chin, she stepped forward and drew back her hood.
Many gasped and stilled at the sight of her. The man with the mustache staggered to her, making her involuntary retreat to the prince’s side. He had forgotten the Council as his eyes rested on hers.
“Princess,” the Elder whispered, a tear running down his scarred cheek.
“No.” The first to oppose her proposal to the Elders was the last person she had expected. Heads darted towards the speaker, most of them frowning at the interruption. Kelor-dan had oriented her with the rules upheld in a formal session in Dur na Valed. Officially, the Commander of the Black Guards was invited by the Devarian Prince to attend the meeting. Reno would support Liyanna’s supposed cause by sharing the last report his spy Haron had sent prior to the ban of traveling to the third dimension. His man had successfully infiltrated the recently identified organization Riuben United, Inc. linked to the Zertans. The spy had gone with his human employer to a convention, where he learned of another group researching on genetics. It was later discovered that these scientists have been studying a number of subjects with a gene very similar to the human DNA with active strands of three to five instead of two. From the disapproval mirrored in each of the Council member’s faces, the Guard Commander had acted on his own.
The role Reno played at present, however, did not give him the benefit to express his opinions unless requested. Still, he continued: “You are Liyanna. I cannot endanger your life by letting you enter unknown territory.”
“I cannot agree more. In accepting the position of Liyanna, you have not only renounced your name, you have agreed to share your life with your people,” the woman with cropped hair said.
“You are responsible for many – the Devatas, Merleinans, Rituvans, Sorencellians,” a man with multiple braids seconded.
Other members pitched in to dissuade her. Liyanna had offered to help search for the missing Merleinans, not surrender herself to the enemy or lead a group to retaliate against the Zertans. Her abilities were growing, she was confident that she could assist them in tracking down the victims’ holding location without visiting ‘unknown territory.’ She could also give the unit of Black Guards an energy boost before initiating their Merkaba. What was wrong in helping when there are numerous ways she could aid them in the safest possible means?
The Devatas, Sara, and the scarred Elder did not add their voice to the discussion. The high priestess appeared distracted while the man stared at the grass in consternation.
“I understand I carry the obligations of a Liyanna, but I cannot leave them at the mercy of our enemies.” Liyanna raised a hand when one of the Elders would protest. “As you have said, they are my people.”
“Very well. Let us send the Black Guards,” a white long-haired Council member holding a staff said after a long pause. Arguments erupted. They didn’t want to add more people to the list of disappearances. “This will be the last,” he added firmly, looking at every individual present.
Mollified, the Council agreed. Reno would form a team and attempt a rescue within fifteen days. Liyanna would remain with the Forest Folk in the duration of the investigation. When the given time is up, the Guards would have to return empty-handed or not. Failure to comply would result in the end of the Order of the Black Guard.
Liyanna’s part had ended abruptly as intended by the Council. She would have no contribution to solving the case. Liyanna felt that she had missed something important. Why were they so opposed to the idea of her offer of assistance? If only she could speak to someone who would tell her what it is.
The meeting concluded the Council dispersed, returning to their respective countries to resume their duties. Liyanna and her escorts rejoined the Sentries. Upon entering the woods, a voice spoke to her telepathically. She would have ignored the call if not for the mention of her given name in the third dimension.
The Elders’ presence was quickly fading as the distance between them and her riding group lengthened. She steered her horse a little way from the palace. The Devatas mutely followed, accepting the sudden change of course as if this happened on a regular basis. Their complete trust in her would have troubled her in normal circumstances. But now, she used it to her advantage, leading them to Umandir without bothering to explain herself.
The Veil between Merleina and the Devatas are not consistent in density. Certain locales like Umandir serve as portals between the realms. It is knowledge that Forest Folk rarely shared to those not of their kind, save their Liyanna. There are instances, however, that Merleinans and third-dimensional humans, whose affinity to nature is stronger than most, stumble across these secret doorways. It is a Sentry’s duty to wipe their memories of what they had seen beyond the Veil. Sentries encouraged the assumption that Umandir is a favorite place of the Forest Folk to meet with Merleinans.
The area was familiar to Liyanna after riding here weeks ago to meet Arturion and the others. She worried about Arty’s continued silence. He had not returned from the third dimension. Was he looking for his fellow Keepers even after the Council had given up, or—? She shook her head. Liyanna knew he lives, but could not pinpoint his exact location yet.
Her horse slowed. Creatures knew of the portal and felt the subtle sensation of going through an invisible net. She and her company saw the visitor first before the other party saw them.
The sun was still high in the sky. The high priestess had not shown surprise when they suddenly appeared from the shadows. Sara’s gaze focused on Liyanna, barely acknowledging the Prince and his men. The latter did not take it as an affront and kept their distance in order for the Merleinan to speak with Liyanna privately.
“You have decided.” It was not a question but a statement.
Sara must have Seen it recently, Liyanna thought. “The Elders are too keen on closing the cities against ascending humans,” she said aloud. “Why?”
“I, too, am an Elder; my son, as well. I do not always agree with the Council’s decisions. We do not act solely by ourselves and have to abide by the decisions made by the majority. People tend to forget I am half-human. The forbiddance to cross between the third and fourth dimension fills me with sadness. My father dedicated his life to helping humanity. The abolition of the Order of the Gate Keepers would be a fatal blow to him if he was here.” Sara met Liyanna’s gaze. “The founding of the Gate Keepers was primarily to continue a beloved wife’s advocacy.
“But humans will ascend with or without our assistance. They would be welcomed when they come into our world. As for your question, the Elders fear the prophecy and with good reason.”
Your return to the third dimension, Sara spoke in her mind. The future does not show if you will succeed or fail. The high priestess’ arm shot forward and grabbed her. The former’s eyes glazed over as her lips move:
“‘Ware the Darkness eclipse the Light.
Devatas lost to all peoples.”
The prophecy having been spoken, Liyanna barely caught Sara as she fell forward.
The Forest Folk had tensed when they thought the Merleinan Halfling was about to harm their Liyanna. They remained motionless when the air became thick with power for the high priestess had used the Old Tongue.
Then, the chimera swooped down from the sky, his head turned to the west, directing the Sentries attention to another possible threat. A shadow extricated itself from its hiding place. The scarred Elder came forward with arms raised to show that he was unarmed.
“I come in peace,” he spoke.
“Peace,” Pellinor spat the word, his eyes narrowed into slits. “You follow us in concealment yet offer us peace, Rituvan.”
The Elder ignored the Captain’s remark. He bowed to the Devarian Prince and said, “Your Majesty.”
“General.” Kelor-dan gestured for the man to rise.
“Kasador would suffice, Majesty.” He held out his hand. Kelor-dan clasped arms with the Elder warily. “It has been a long time.”
“Indeed. Your object for coming is to speak with Liyanna.” The Prince reintroduced Council Elder Kasador, a general and enforcer of the laws in Rituvan, to Liyanna.
“My apologies for my behavior earlier, my lady,” the Rituvan Elder said, bringing her fingers to his lips.
His manners are like Kelor-dan’s, Liyanna observed. “There is nothing to apologize,” she paused, unsure of how to address this stranger. Then: “I find that my appearance these days elicits different reactions.”
Kasador nodded understanding, his eyes straying to the high priestess beside her. Thin lines appeared around Sara’s eyes, an indication that the prophecy had drained her. They did not exchange words. The Council had not been informed of this secret meeting and would be too late to stop Liyanna. It was no use keeping Liyanna in the dark. She had been subdued at Dur na Valed; but Sara’s prophecy remained unchanged: Liyanna would defy the Elders.
Dropping on bended knee, Kasador said: “I made an oath to protect the first Liyanna with my life. I offer it once more to the present Liyanna. With Prince Kelor, Lord of the Eastern Province and Forest of Merleina, and Her Eminence, High Priestess Sara of the Order of Nurandine, as my witnesses, I vow to protect and support Liyanna until my very last breath.”
Liyanna looked for help. The Devatas waited expectantly for her response; their Prince’s gaze was at the kneeling man, his expression thoughtful; Sara was too weary to ask for counsel. The witnesses the Rituvan Elder had called upon were uncomfortable with the role forced upon them. The vow had been uttered in Old Tongue making circumstances more complicated. He had abruptly ended his career as Elder just to be her Protector. She was unfamiliar with the customs of his land that to release him from his oath might result to losing his honor.
Not knowing how to respond appropriately to the situation, Liyanna gestured for him to rise, placed a hand on his arm, offered a small smile and said: “I am not sure I need a protector but I would like to continue my studies in Indariki.”
He hesitated for a moment at her request; but, eventually, the Rituvan said: “It would be an honor to teach you, Liyanna.”
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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.