It can’t be. This couldn’t be happening. Cheska’s mind tried to process what Louis told her. She had talked to Fred only yesterday. “When? How?” she asked, pressing a hand to her temple.
“Last night,” her brother replied. A wary look crept on his face. “He went through the tunnels.”
“What?” Her brows knitted together. “Who gave him access to the tunnels?”
Louis crossed his arms and shook his head. Cheska followed the direction of his gaze. The King.
Their uncle arched a brow at Louis’ accusing glare. He answered Cheska, “The previous Head Guardian accompanied the doctor. He believed it was for a good cause. The guardians and I share fully support their plans.”
“I was overruled by the majority, so to speak,” Louis remarked moodily, which earned him a baleful glance from the King.
“A good cause?” Cheska’s eyes narrowed. “What good is there in letting a person walk to his death…” She paused as a thought occurred to her. Fred didn’t look like the suicidal type. He was gifted. The doctor knew how to fight and could heal himself. She relaxed. Her hand dropped to her side. Fred knows what he’s doing, Cheska mused. Still, it was dangerous to infiltrate a militarized country that’s also suffering an epidemic. He can’t hide his abilities forever. Cheska turned to her brother.
Louis’ Adam’s apple bobbed. He pointedly stared at the floor. “Libya captured a footage of Fred using his electricity to save a guardian. They used the guardian as bait to trap him. They weren’t after his medicine. They had the vaccine hidden somewhere. The plague was just a cover. When that didn’t work, they sent Gerry and the mercenaries after him.”
“And?” Cheska said when her brother’s silence lengthened.
“Fred decided to make them think Gerry caught him.” Louis’ hands balled into fists. “While they’re focused on Fred, Gerry will infiltrate the facility, find the vaccine and grab it. Then he’ll go back for Fred.”
“What if –” Cheska hesitated “– he doesn’t succeed?”
“What I saw will happen.” Louis met her gaze expectantly.
As a rule, she never wanted to hear predictions. Their parents’ fate was foretold by a prophecy passed down in their mother’s line since ancient times. Following tradition, Celestraena told Cheska about it one night:
“Once there was a man who wished to change the world. The Giver, a woman shrouded in mystery, granted him priceless gifts to achieve his goal. Such gifts, however, require a token from the receiver: his heart. But Fate decreed he would fail. He lost his heart to the Giver and hers to him. With the breaking of his vow, it took the life of the Giver along with his heart.”
Alfred Roucan had, of course, heard of the prophecy due to his family’s business transactions with the Uruimethians. To keep him from worrying, Celestraena misled her husband to believe that it was an old tale. She believed prophecies were subject to misinterpretation and caused needless fear to people whose future was foretold.
Their mother had been wrong.
The prophecy came to fruition when Celestraena died. Alfred Roucan became a cold-hearted businessman who had everything except a loving family; he’d estranged his children.
The fulfilment of that prediction had led Cheska to be afraid of her brother’s gift. Now, however, she was more fearful of the unknown. Cheska gave a small nod at Louis’ direction.
The picture her brother painted didn’t sound worrisome. One look at his expression though told Cheska he’d spared her the details.
“What makes you think it’ll happen?” she asked. Louis must be mistaken. Fred couldn’t be dying.
“It will. I had the same vision twice – yesterday and this morning,” Louis replied with certainty.
“He’s gifted. Fred told me his body heals more quickly than the average person. He can fight the sickness.”
His eyes flashed. Louis tore his gaze from her and slowly loosed a breath. His expression smoothed to neutrality. “Father is waiting. We’re going to try to negotiate for Fred’s release. Will you convince the guardians to change their mind?” he tried once more.
“No. The guardians must remain autonomous,” Cheska forced the words out. It was the hardest thing she’d said in her life. I’ve condemned him.
His mouth pressed into a thin line. “If we fail, at least we’ll get to see him one last time.” Louis’ anger dissipated at his sister’s expression. The calm mask she’d put on slipped at his words.
The doctor was his friend, but Fred was more than that to her. Louis didn’t regret having the doctor enter their lives. Cheska was happier and less reclusive when she met Fred. Louis allowed himself to think Fred became a doctor because of his sister. He was only sorry that one of them has to die for the other to live. Louis shoved his morbid thoughts to the back of his mind. There was still a chance. He’ll find a way to keep them all alive.
Louis still couldn’t comprehend Cheska’s decision, but he would try to understand. He laid a hand on her shoulder and thought of how to console her. “I wish I’m wrong, too.”
Cheska’s red-rimmed eyes met his. With nothing else to say, he mentally conjured a portal, bade the King goodbye and entered it.
“What will you do now, child?” the King asked his niece.
She looked at her uncle who gazed at her with an unreadable expression.
“I – I don’t know,” Cheska stammered. The hopelessness of the situation made her withdraw into the darkest depths of her soul. For a moment, her mind blanked and her vision blurred. The second it cleared, she saw the King’s ashen face. When he appeared to be about to topple over, he clutched the ruby hanging on a long chain around his neck. Bright red light peeked between his fingers and enveloped his hand. As the red glow dimmed, color returned to his face. The King sighed in relief.
After several seconds, the King spoke, “You are not whole. Whose life did you save to have halved your own?” His sharp brown eyes penetrated deep into hers, searching for answers.
“My brother,” she said softly.
“The accident,” he murmured. King Cori frowned, his gaze settled on his jade throne.
It was Cheska’s turn to be surprised. “You knew?”
“I heard what happened?” His grip on the stone tightened. “One of my people reported the incident. Your gift manifested when your brother had the accident. With your mother present to guide you, it was considered a minor issue. How hurt was he?”
“There was blood everywhere.” Even after more than a decade, the memory was still fresh in her mind. She could see and smell the blood that pooled beneath her brother’s twisted body. Louis’ dead yellow eyes stared at her. Cheska couldn’t bring herself to describe what she’d seen. “He wasn’t breathing,” she choked.
The King’s eyes snapped toward her. “What happened next?”
“I’m not sure. I tried to wake him…” Her forehead creased as she tried to recall the event. “I passed out.”
“How recovered was he when you came to?”
“He was fully healed. Didn’t your man report it?” Cheska’s frown deepened. They were siblings. Why would the King need someone to watch them?
“The people are loyal to their former queen.” He shook his head. “She only need ask for their silence.” The King said more under his breath.
Cheska caught her mother’s name in the last sentence. The look of disapproval in his features and his white-knuckled grip on the stone made her want to leave. She’d had enough bad news to last her a lifetime. Cheska didn’t want to taint her mother’s memory with doubts about Celestraena’s and the King’s secrets.
“Your Highness, if you’ll excuse me,” Cheska said. “I’d like to go home. Please,” she added when the King appeared to deny her request.
Her uncle reluctantly granted her wish. “Of course, child. I understand. We shall talk soon I hope?”
Cheska nodded and conjured a portal to take her home. She turned and saw the Messenger. He stood a few paces from her, silent and watchful. The Messenger hadn’t moved from the spot since Strago brought her. Cheska didn’t acknowledge him. She walked past the man and into the doorway. For an unknown reason, Strago hadn’t left the throne room after accomplishing his mission; instead, he followed Cheska to her home.
“Your Oracle should have warned me,” King Cori addressed the Messenger after the portal closed.
The feather-cloaked man arched a brow in his direction.
“Yes, yes. You’re only the Messenger.” The King waved dismissively. “What was my half-sister thinking? She should have returned home with her children. They would have been trained to harness their gifts, not run wild with abilities beyond their control.”
“The Lady’s gift awakened at an unprecedented event. Perhaps the former queen has her own reasons for hiding the extent of her daughter’s gift,” the Messenger replied.
“Her daughter would not have suffered if Celestraena remained in Uruimeth. My niece could have been whole again had my sister heeded the prophecy,” King Cori thundered.
The Messenger wasn’t intimidated by the King’s outburst. In his unflappable manner, he responded, “Your niece would not have existed if the former queen stayed in power.”
“The girl has it. The ability to give and take life. I suspect Celestraena had given her the ability to absorb the energies of those around her. She would not have been able to live this long. It may also be the reason Cheska survived the accident eleven years ago.
“My half-sister fought to keep the prophecy from being fulfilled.” The King looked down at the red ruby adorned his index finger; the sister to his pendant. “Alfred Roucan didn’t deserve her.”
“Yet, he’s the man who puts the former queen’s plans to action. The people from the surface is almost ready to know and welcome your people.”
The King offered the Messenger a sidelong look. The man was always prepared to defend Celestraena’s husband. “Is there anything else your Oracle wishes for me to hear?”
“Do you intend to assist the Roucans in Libya, Your Highness?”
“Did the question come from the Oracle or you? Never mind.” He held up a hand. “Until the guardians or our Lady deems it necessary to intervene in Serran issues, Uruimeth will not interfere.”
“Very well, Your Highness.” The Messenger bowed and took his leave. Meanwhile, Prince Noriden emerged from a portal.
“Father,” Noriden called from behind the King.
King Cori turned toward his son. He took Noriden’s hand and covered it with his large ones. “You know what to do.” Father-and-son quietly took in each other.
Noriden nodded solemnly and stepped backward into a new portal.
The faint smell of paint permeated the air. Cheska stared at the rough sketch she’d drawn while Fred recuperated in her room two nights ago. The drawing was created out of a habit she’d developed after she’d recovered the accident that erased her memories. Cheska initially thought it was a dream she’d recreated. The park bordered a dense foliage; a version of herself sat on the grass; while an adult Fred stood before her.
It all came back to her: how they’d first met; why she’d reached out to a person her brother hero-worshipped; how her convictions to stay hidden from the outside world wavered every minute Fred was beside her; and the reason the Messenger approached her that day.
She swayed against the maelstrom of memories and emotions that threatened to engulf her. Hands clasped around Cheska’s upper arms to steady her and bring her back to the present. A black and brown feather lay near the drawing.
“Why didn’t you tell me?” Cheska asked. She twisted to face her visitor and met eyes full of sympathy.
“I tried,” the Messenger said. He had and she’d chased him out. The man didn’t blame her, though.
“If I had listened, Fred wouldn’t be where he is.” Her voice broke at the end of the sentence.
The Messenger had told her to let go of the past, end her days of isolation, reconcile with the world – starting with her father; and, most of all, to accept her abilities.
“It was only a message my mentor wished to convey to you, my lady. It may have provided a brighter future have you heeded it. But it does not secure the doctor’s safety nor prevented the situation in Libya to escalate.”
“The Oracle said that?”
“No, my lady. I speak of another lady who belonged in my home world. A different timeline in an alternate universe.” Longing crept on the Messenger’s face. It was the first real expression she’d seen in him that made her hesitate in asking about his mentor. He, however, caught her inquisitive gaze and smile. “Perhaps, later,” he answered. “There is a pressing matter that needs your attention.”
Surely, there couldn’t be anything worse than Fred’s current state. Still, Cheska couldn’t help feeling more anxious at the Messenger’s grave expression. “Tell me.”
Copyright © 2014-2016 Cecilia Beatriz. All rights reserved.
A/N: Whew! Finally finished the chapter. What do you think of Cheska’s abilities? Would you agree that her powers are one of the most dangerous in their world?
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