Liyanna was restless despite her busy schedule meditating and studying history, politics, ethics and the arts, that training in Indariki became a regular outlet. Her energy spent at the end of the day, there was almost no room for thinking about personal affairs. She had seen Reno the morning after he and his Guards arrived at her doorstep. He had reported that Arty had been captured by the Zertans’ men. He was sure of it now but the rescue mission could not be executed. The Council had blocked travel to lower dimensions.
A hard shove on her shoulder sent her sprawling to the ground. The Rituvan, her new Indariki teacher, did not offer to help her up.
“You are not yourself today, Liyanna. Distraction in the middle of battle can cost more than your life.”
Returning to her feet, she took position several yards from her teacher. She heaved a breath, opened her awareness to her surroundings and focused on her opponent. They bowed to each other. Then, the Rituvan advanced soundlessly and with surprising speed that Liyanna only had time to block and dodge his relentless assault. A fist went past her defenses and stopped short at her temple.
“Liyanna. You cannot continue defending yourself. You must learn to counter your opponent’s attacks.”
The Rituvan waited.
“What if I accidentally kill someone?”
“In a fight, it is either you live or you die.” He was talking about the Bloodbath in Gurmageheim, one of the most brutal incidents in the Atlantean wars. He and three of his compatriots lived to warn their allied kingdom of the incoming attack.
“Is that where you got your scar?” she asked without thinking. The Rituvan didn’t like talking about the war. Many people he knew and loved were taken from him. Before she could apologize, the Rituvan returned to his position.
“Let us make a deal. I shall answer your question if you can force me to use my left hand.”
“There would be no time limit or number of moves allowed?”
The Rituvan’s stance was open. If he had offered this bargain at an earlier time, she would have underestimated her opponent. Liyanna walked towards him slowly, gradually increasing in speed, while she gathered energy within her core. Her subconscious, however, was telling her to rethink her strategy. When she pushed it away, a vision came unbidden, forcing her to a halt.
The ground shifted underneath her weight. Looking down, she saw sand stuck between her toes. A man, stripped to the waist, stood opposite her. He bent down and touched the ground with the flat of his palm. Symbols formed in the sand and disappeared. She felt a tingling sensation and found the symbols glowing momentarily on her skin. When it vanished completely, she spread her arms upward. Similar figures appeared in the air and dimmed. It reappeared on the man’s torso and sank into his skin. They closed the distance between them. Her breath hitched as she realized what the ritual meant. The man’s face changed to Arturion’s. He spoke softly in the Old Tongue.
The scene vanished. Liyanna was back in the present. In her hand lay Arturion’s pendant. It glowed as images flashed before her. An island; a research facility; a laboratory; Merleinans suspended inside liquid-filled glass tanks; Arty.
The world spun around her. She had returned to the man from her earlier vision. They were performing Indariki. He was positioned behind her. Almost touching, they moved as one. A hand slash; a back step right foot, then left; turn; a step forward; a high kick then low; retreat; a twist in midair; and kick.
She woke to the present with the Rituvan pinned to the tree. His left arm blocked her right foot from his throat. Liyanna lowered her leg and moved back. She couldn’t remember what had happened. Was her vision somehow connected to her teacher’s defeat? Her eyes strayed to the scar. A memory resurfaced of his face bleeding from a long gash on his cheek.
“Did I hurt you?”
The Rituvan gazed at her quizzically.
“I just – I have to go.” She bowed to her mentor. Without waiting to be dismissed, she stepped out of the training area and headed towards the audience chamber.
The corridors usually filled with courtiers were empty. It was still early in the morning, the part of the day most Devatas devoted their time outdoors, except for the palace staff and the Sentries. The chamber Liyanna approached was guarded by two stoic Devatas. On a regular day, she would have passed them by without being intercepted. Today, their spears blocked the entrance.
“I wish to see the Prince.” The Sentries would not meet her gaze. “It’s important that I speak with him. Please.”
“The Prince has a private interview with an important guest. He has forbidden anyone to disturb them.”
“When can I see him?”
No response. They had resumed their initial stance and stared past her. Disappointed, she turned about and walked away.
Liyanna sensed their gazes at her back. Once she turned a corner, she made sure no one had followed her and sneaked into a dark alcove. She crouched low and focused on her goal.
She was in another alcove hidden from view by a large flowering plant. Voices echoed in the huge chamber. The predominant was not familiar. Its tone authoritative, teasing and, like any Devata, melodious.
“Your continued absence in the High Court has been noted, Kelor. The High King himself has sent me to see if things are going smoothly in your little kingdom,” the visitor said.
“That is kind of him. I hope their Majesties are in good health.”
“Well enough to have heard of the Liyanna in your keeping.”
“Yes, ah. The whole Court has been abuzz of when you’ll be bringing her to see the rest of our Folk. It’s not usual for you to make so little progress when it comes to women.”
“Things are,” he paused, “complicated.”
“Where have I heard that before? Oh, yes. I remember now. It was unfortunate you never told her,” the woman said, wistfully. “But after her, you became the favorite of the female population. Even Mother loves you.”
“Kelor-dan. A prince cannot rule alone. It is time for you to marry.”
“Is this why you are here? Pray tell, who is the next Devata they have in mind for me?”
“This is a serious matter, Kelor. Marry the person you wish to share your life with while you still can. If you make their Highnesses wait too long, you must be prepared to accept anyone they have selected or risk losing their favor.”
“That is a frightening prospect.”
“I am reminding you what my parents are capable of. It’s extraordinary how lenient they are toward you. But now that Liyanna is in our midst, things are about to change.”
At the mention of her name, she became curious. Liyanna strained to hear the rest of the conversation when an eagle swooped low and screeched. A few moments later, a hand swept her plant to the side.
“You didn’t tell me hide-and-seek is in fashion again, Kelor.” Liyanna stared at blue eyes that danced mischievously at her. “We might as well be introduced.” The blue eyes were directed at Kelor-dan to make the introductions.
Princess Elloria was petite for a Devarian but her size was greatly compensated by her beauty. She smiled warmly at Liyanna and held her hand.
“I have heard many tales about you. Never have they spoken how pretty you are. Yet, you are not as delicate as they say,” she added as an afterthought, eyeing Liyanna’s clothes.
“I’ve been training.”
“It must be very important that you had to dash here and sneak past the Sentries.” Both royalties looked at her. Liyanna could not broach the subject with the Princess around. The visitor, however, sensed her discomfort and excused herself in search of entertainment.
“You remember,” Kelor-dan spoke after the door closed behind the Princess’s receding back.
“Why? Why did you do it?” The tip of the pendant she clutched bit into her skin.
“It was necessary.”
The door swung open, admitting Pellinor. He glanced at her and said, “My lord, is it time?”
“You know what to do.” Kelor-dan rose to his feet.
“Where are you going?” Liyanna had grabbed the Prince’s sleeve. Pellinor’s stance shifted but she had gone beyond the point of caring.
“If you wish to save him, you must go with Pellinor.” Her hold loosened. Until now, the Prince had not mentioned Arturion even once in their discussions. “Farewell, Liyanna. Mother Ethair be with you.” Then, he was gone.
“If you would follow me, Liyanna.” The Captain half-turned to a panel on the wall that slid open.
Pellinor’s eyes would not meet hers as he silently led her within the secret passages of the palace.
“Are we there yet?” she asked. Liyanna missed her old watch. It was hard to track time in underground tunnels. Pellinor decided when to stop and rest and for how long. And she could not ask him when he remained distant to her. “Where are you taking me?”
“We’re almost there.” Pellinor looked unhappy. “I can’t tell you where we’re going.”
“Would you be committing treason if you told me?” she said, making Pellinor pause. “I was kidding.”
After several minutes walking in silence, Pellinor said: “These corridors and the rooms here shift frequently. I rely on the sense I have of the place. This maze was built long ago to safeguard the Devatas who survived after the Great Fire consumed the forest. Kelor-dan would make a better guide than me if his duties were not pressing.”
“I’m amazed he even has time for me,” she murmured. “Would he have befriended me if things were different?”
“Different?” Liyanna looked away. She must be desperate to be voicing her doubts to the most cold-hearted person she has ever met. “The Prince,” Pellinor began. She hadn’t realized he had turned towards her and almost collided with him. “I cannot speak of what I am uncertain of but know this. The Prince has long been hiding his true self for years. It is only now that I see fragments of his old self resurfacing.” Abruptly, he resumed walking.
“Are we friends again?” Warily, she walked beside him.
“We’re not. We are allies driven by a common goal. Allies are better than friends.” He smiled.
Straight ahead, doors unfocused and refocused. A burst of expletives erupted from Pellinor. “Hurry! Their location is about to change.” He grabbed her hand and ran toward the opening at the end of the hall.
A blast of cold air hit Liyanna’s face. She looked behind her. The opening they had entered moved further away until it blinked out of sight along with their only source of light. For a moment, she couldn’t see against the pitch black darkness. The sound of movement caught her ear. Her first thought was Pellinor, but it seemed to be coming from three different directions. She could not access their intent, thoughts, and feelings. And her guide? Missing.
Liyanna tried to transport herself to a safer location but something blocked her. She braced herself. Her three attackers moved in unison. She listened closely and found that they followed a rhythm. They drew closer until she was surrounded on all sides. From the left, an arm was drawn back and shot towards her face. At her right, a fist aimed her kidney. She twisted in midair. Kicked the person to her right and landed her punch at another earning her precious seconds to make a run for it.
The third attacker had not moved. Yet.
The first two recovered and pursued her. By then, Liyanna’s eyes had adjusted to the darkness. She was in a large cavern with weapons decorating the walls. Most of these were deadly but too cumbersome for her to use effectively. At her right, a glimmer caught her eye. She sprinted towards it.
The man who had hung back headed towards the same direction. Her two pursuers were gaining on her. She turned sharply towards them and ran head on. One of them had his torso open. She pretended to take the bait but twisted away at the last second. Before the other man could hit her, she was already where she wanted to be.
The staff’s size and weight was just right that it seemed to have been designed for her. Its roughness was caused by the symbols etched on the weapon. This mesmerized Liyanna which the enemy took advantage by throwing a knife at her. The effect of the blade in the air caused her to look up and sidestepped a moment too late. The sharp blade nicked her cheek before it struck the wall. The man advanced on her, his hands wielding four daggers each. The other two joined him.
Calmly, Liyanna placed her staff between her and her enemies. More than her life was at stake.
She cannot – would not let them win.
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.