Copyright © 2015 by Yelena Lugin
All rights reserved
The blazing sun was cloaked by the lush dark vegetation overhead, providing a cool shelter for the creatures of the forest. Gigantic ancient trees covered with bright moss and flowing vines surrounded Eveline Casteel and her men. One would think that such growth of the vines would weaken the timeworn trees, however, the trees seemed to endure the beautiful vermin vines without difficulty. It was a shame that more Madonians would not witness this vast ancient forest out of fear of its proximity to the border.
Eveline fingered the bark of an old tree while following the course of a vine with little purple flowers along its length. The sweet honey scent of the flowers filled her lungs with every breath. She adored these lands and the small little town of Gorthyn that was nestled within. This was her original home and where only brave Madonians lived.
The Madonian and Rami were ancient races; each had unique gifts setting the two apart. In the forgotten times of the past the races used to cohabitate and work together, living together in harmony under the rule of a great king. But those times had long been forgotten. Years ago a bloody war waged by anger and jealousy of a few, ended with the division of the lands. Now each race lived apart from the other, filled with fear and hatred of the other.
The town of Gorthyn never had any problems with the Rami people despite its location. The town was small in size, well nestled in between the mountains, and under protection of tree cover causing it to be easily hidden from any threat. Still people from outside towns were troubled by the proximity to the Rami and very few ventured into the town, or the wilderness that surrounded it. Eveline always thought it a true shame that such a majestic place would go unappreciated by so many.
A small break in the canopy above allowed for a ray of light to touch a patch of moss on the ground and from the center of the patch grew golden chanterelles. Eyeing the golden patch, Eveline reached down and picked the mushrooms that the forest seemed to courteously point out and tossed them in an already filled brown leather bag that hung from her shoulder. She turned to Victor, her personal bodyguard, and indicated that they make the hike back to Gorthyn, pleased with the amount of chanterelles she had been able to collect.
Victor was a tall man with strong broad shoulders and a weathered face accented with deep hazel eyes. He was an older man with a strong silent wisdom that flowed through him, more than making up for his lack of youth and vitality. Victor and Eveline had traveled together for many years, he had given an oath to watch over her and protect her ever since her Aorra was taken away from her.
Aorras are mystical creatures that took the form of an animal and were forever bonded to their person. It was not known where exactly Aorras came from, it was simply the way it was. Not all Madonians were gifted with an Aorra, but those who were were truly blessed with a soul mate.
A Madonian and their Aorra had the ability to communicate through thought. The Aorras helped to shift the flow of energy that naturally flowed through every Madonian, allowing their person to better wield various forms of power. Aorras could be killed, such as Eveline’s was, for they have a mortal form. However, if they were allowed to live in peace that an Aorra would only cease to exist when its Madonian did.
After Eveline’s Aorra was ripped from her life she was forced to accept Victor as her guard. He would lay down his life for hers. She hadn’t liked the man much at first, finding his constant silent presence a little unnerving. She hated that he was willing to take such an oath for her, someone he didn’t even know. However, as time went on she had learned to understand Victor. His silent presence became a welcomed one, and over the years they had built a strong friendship.
“It’s beautiful here, don’t you think?” Eveline casually spoke to Victor as they began their walk back to Gorthyn.
“I guess, if you find thrill in wandering about deadly and dangerous woods… Though I find it senseless, if you ask me.” Victor replied, keeping his guarded hazel-eyed gaze on the surrounding forest.
Eveline rolled her green eyes before snapping them to Victor. Her blond hair whipped around her at the sudden turn of her head.
“Senseless? Don’t offend the magic of this place. I used to play in these woods when I was young; there are no other forests quite as enchanting. Maybe you aren’t as wise as you think you are old man, to miss the entire beauty of it.” There was an edge to her words, laced with a hint of sarcasm that only Victor knew was there.
As soon as Eveline entered Gorthyn she was provided three Gorthynian guards to protect her along with Victor during her time in the small city. The three men silently followed behind her and Victor as they strolled through the woods. The guards shifted uneasily, unaccustomed to the nature of Eveline and Victor’s relationship. They could never imagine speaking so freely to a Council member as he did, to call her senseless. It was not a way people would ever speak to her.
Taking notice of the tense guards and seeing a chance to alleviate boredom Eli, Victor’s black beast of an Aorra, took the opportunity to growl, a low and vicious sound, in an attempt to increase their unease. As if to voice his distaste in the councilwoman’s words towards his Madonian.
Eli always reminded Eveline of her husbands Aorra. He had bright jet black eyes and large ears that stayed on point, always alert. Just like Victor, Eli was weathered and wise. He had a distinct battle scar that wrapped around his ear and down his right rib cage. His fur was coarse with greying edges that only intensified the menacing look of the beast. His piercing eyes peered back at the three guards behind as he grumbled. Eli certainly was a fierce looking beast. If Eveline didn’t know any better she would fear such a big wolf like creature.
The snarl worked.
It had the guards trailing behind shuffle uneasily, one of which made the slightest yelping sound.
Victor glanced at Eveline, even though he didn’t speak, his eyes did. And they said, such a brave bunch of lads you have protecting you. Then he released a mighty laugh at the guards’ expense. It was a sound that was quite rare and oddly beautiful. It boomed through his entire being and out, spreading to all that was near. It was the most contagious sound.
Trying her hardest to suppress her laughter, Eveline attempted to show some form of authority and grace in the situation. A council member, her fierce bodyguard and a dangerous looking beast were toying with those poor guards who had no Aorras of their own. How inappropriate, she thought.
The rest of their hike was mostly silent as Eveline took comfort in the beautiful surroundings. Enjoying the memories of where she grew up as a child. Everything about the woods felt right to her, from the way the earth felt beneath her feet to the fresh scent in the air. She loved everything about it.
Victor and Eli trailed close behind Eveline, allowing for her to lead them through the woods. They gave her enough room to enjoy the freedom of the forest, but Victor never took his eyes off of her and their surroundings. The three other guards traveled closely behind them.
Tonight was expected to be a special night. Eveline envied her husband for being able to greet her daughter on her arrival day, but she reveled in being able to cook her daughter’s favorite meal. Her stomach fluttered with excitement and anticipation. One moon cycle away was truly too long of a time for a mother to be apart from her child, especially at such an important time of a child’s growth.
She found herself day dreaming about what it would be like to hold her daughter again, how tall she must have grown, what she had learned, what it would be like to have her family whole again.
The thoughts of their happy future came to an abrupt end as screams ripped through the air. Coming to an immediate stop, Eveline didn’t dare even breath, not sure if what she had heard was real. As the air around her calmed another horrendous scream cut through the stillness, sending a sickening kick to her stomach. Her eyes met with Victors for only a second. Her heart sank and she began running through the forest towards Gorthyn.
Eli immediately took the lead, running a few steps ahead of Eveline. The forest blurred in her peripheral as she raced through the woods. Sudden fear seeped in and she began chastising the false feelings of safety she had felt only moments ago. She should have never left the town in the first place.
Eveline had been obligated to attend important council meetings in Gorthyn, which originally prevented her from being able to accompany her husband to get their daughter. She had to stay behind as a representative of the Selvirian council to overlook papers being written for the creation of a small army quarter in Gorthyn. Of course she should have been on high alert, especially being so close to the border. However, her adoration for this place and comfort with the surrounding forest caused her to misjudge the dangers lurking near by. Her feelings of home and safety forced her poor decision.
They all ran as hard as they could, but to Eveline it felt incredibly slow. With every passing moment something horrible was happening to her people, she just knew it. It was a feeling in her gut, those she swore to protect, those who she loved were crying for help. Yet she was not there to help for they were beyond her reach. Uselessly she pleaded for her body to go faster.
Eveline could smell the burning of Gorthyn before she saw it.
By the time she and the guards broke through the forest, Gorthyn in the valley below, was ablaze. The sight caused her to stumble back a few steps, the image sending a kick to her gut. Mindlessly she placed a hand over her stomach as she and her guards took in the scene.
Homes were infused with angry flames that engulfed the wooden structures as they climbed the trees around thirsting for more. She could hear the gruesome sounds of men, women, and children all being viciously cut down by blue flashes. There were snarls and howls as those with Aorras bravely fought a losing battle. The small quaint town was now a hot blaze of fire and lightning with columns of black smoke rising from it. It made for a horrific scene. How could this have happened?
Feeling the energy pulling from her core, Eveline drew it into her palm as a simple silver dagger formed in her hand. Could I have been any more careless she thought, cursing herself for not even bringing something to defend herself with.
As the blade solidified its presence in her hand she made her way down the hill to the town, hair blowing behind her in the suddenly bitter wind. Lines formed across her forehead as she approached the town. Apart from the angry flames still licking their lips, the town suddenly seemed too still, too quiet.
Victor now stood at Eveline’s side, sword drawn as he took in the gruesome scene. His Aorra stood a few steps ahead, bearing his razor sharp teeth and the three Gorthynian guards encircled them from the back, swords drawn. They stood in silence awaiting direction from their councilwoman.
Eveline noticed that the house that was her living quarters for her stay in Gorthyn, a cottage under a grand tree, seemed untouched. Something was out of place. She took a step towards the house as Victor’s hand went out in front of her.
“We need to get you to safety.” His words were urgent, almost pleading.
Turning her gaze to him, she shook her head. “No” she simply said and he understood, this was her home.
Lowering his hand, the two of them walked towards the cottage together, followed by the guards. The scent of fire burned their noses. None of them made a sound as they moved, even the guards, whom this town was home too didn’t dare speak.
Swallowing her unease, Eveline forced herself to keep moving. This was where she had grown up as a child and her family was heading right for it. There was no way she would turn her back on Gorthyn and flee, risking her husband and daughter arriving to danger. She had no choice but to move forward.
Fires still burned a few of the town’s structures. Eveline and her men avoided the flames, keeping their distance from the dying fires, yet their skin still stung from the heat. Making their way to the house they passed the bodies of those who had perished.
Eveline tried not to look at all the faces of those burned and butchered in the streets, trying to stay strong. She couldn’t help but notice the little fingers of a child’s hand from underneath rubble. It was such a small hand. Her heart constricted and she forced her eyes forward, gluing them to the cottage.
The door to the cottage was still shut. The scene did not fit in with the rest of the smoldering town. It was oddly disturbing that the cottage seemed completely untouched, as if frozen in a different time. She reached for the door but Victor’s large arm grabbed her wrist, stopping her.
“Better I and Eli take the lead,” He spoke, sadness lingered in his eyes, deep behind his fury.
Nodding in acceptance, she allowed him to step in front of her. It tore at her, she hated putting her friend in harm’s way especially when she felt responsible. She should have never gone out into the woods.
Eli let out a grotesque growl. Anger fueled both him and Victor as they fed each other with strength and rage. A feeling and a bond Eveline had once had in an Aorra and a loss she will never cease to mourn.
Pushing the door open, Victor and Eli entered with Eveline and the guards following closely behind. The small common room was untouched. Victor made his way around the corner, sword in hand and Eli at his side.
The hair on Eli’s back raised and Victor’s grip on his sword tightened. Eveline felt him tense before he turned, whispering, “Wait here.”
Through the time she had spent with Victor and Eli, she had learned to read when the two spoke to one another. Something was wrong and it infuriated her that they kept her out of the loop. Despite Victor’s request to stay put, she followed them around the corner to the kitchen, the three Gorthynian guards following her.
There at the table sat a large muscular man drinking a glass of ale. His hair was an unnatural shade of fiery red. He wore a brown vest that hung open without a shirt or any form of armor. This was the way of the Rami. They liked to show off their physical strength, as if muscles could possibly be an indicator of true strength. They were the more primal of the two races.
“Welcome! It took you some time to return to this little ash pile of a village.” The Rami said with a disturbing smile.
Eli snarled, showing his teeth as he paced back and forth between the Rami and Victor. Eveline stepped forward, tightening her grip on the dagger while using her strength to keep a hold on its. She had to concentrate on its form, to keep it from falling to silver dust in her palm. Her green eyes analyzed the Rami in front of her before she spoke.
“Why have you come here? This is a break of our treaties.” She said with an essence of authority, trying her best to stay calm and confident.
“Oh Eveline, I was invited. Besides who follows those trivial treaties we have anyway?”
How does he know who I am? Eveline tried to suppress the shudder that went down her spine. A feeling of danger slithered through her, coiling in the pit of her stomach. This man repulsed her more than anyone she had ever met.
Eli snarled again, picking up on Victor’s similar feelings towards the Rami.
“You seem shocked that I know who you are, oh powerful and respected council woman of Selviria.” He said in a mocking tone. “I must say, for a Madonian woman, you are much prettier than I had imagined.” The red headed brute grinned, attempting to provoke them.
“You said you were invited. May I ask by whom?” Eveline was doing her best to remain composed.
The Rami’s smile widened into a laugh. “Wouldn’t you like to know. Sadly, I mustn’t speak of it. I can tell you this, you probably won’t live long enough for it to matter.”
“If you think that I will not live long enough, then what is the risk in telling me?”
The Rami shrugged. “Rules are rules. It is a shame to have to kill you though. I would have enjoyed a few moments alone with you.” His demeanor was calm, there was no fear behind his eyes. Eveline found his calm terrifying.
“ENOUGH!” Victor bellowed. “Children play with words when they are too afraid to make a move, so I suppose I have to show you how adults handle little red maggots such as yourself.”
Just as Victor finished speaking the Rami let out a bright bolt of lightning from the palm of his hand. In a flash Eli interfered, blocking the electric shards from them with an invisible shield. “Huh, your dog seems to have mastered the art of protection from little sparks. Sadly…”
There were gasps from behind, followed by three thumps as three bodies fell to the ground. The red head continued as he rose to stand from the table. “Sadly, those fools you have guarding you, council woman, were too curious with that was going on up front to pay attention to what was going on behind.” The Rami said with a bright smile.
“Aorraless FOOLS!” Victor let out, dropping to Eveline’s back while Eli stayed in front with her. This way Victor could keep an eye on what was going on within the whole room. Eveline glanced behind them where there stood three Rami, all well-built men with the same shirtless brown vests. They were cornered. These men were not the only ones around, Eveline was certain of that.
As if her thoughts summoned them, three more men entered through a door behind the Rami. Pulling on her strength, Eveline allowed the blade in her palm to grow bigger, into a full sword. It was difficult to concentrate on holding the energy. Her head lightly spun from the effort. Ever since her Aorra’s death, Eveline had nearly stopped using her power, until now.
Without a word the Rami men charged all around them. Eveline’s sword fought off the blue fire from the palms of the men surrounding them. Victor stuck his blade into one of the Rami’s guts, but as the one fell three more entered the room and then three more. They were vastly, hopelessly outnumbered. This was going to be a slaughter.
“STOP!” Eveline managed to scream out. To her surprise the room stilled. “If it’s me you need, take me, but let them go.” Her eyes met with the redheaded Rami’s.
“I WILL NOT LEAVE YOU!” snarled, Victor.
“You swore your allegiance to me! You will do exactly as I say.” Eveline only glanced over at Victor, not wanting to take her eyes off of the Rami.
“Not if it means your life.” Victor’s words were soft, meant only for her. There was more behind the words than his simple duty. He would not be able to live with himself for following that order. His deep hazel eyes were locked on her, gripping her.
A chuckle came from the red head, pulling Victor’s attention back to the Rami. “Isn’t this just so touching. I would love to help you Eveline, I would. Think of it as a dying wish… that I will not grant.”
A howling scream came from Eli as the black beast began convulsing. One look at him and she knew that Eli was not reacting to anything that had happened directly to him. Eveline’s eyes widened as she turned to Victor. Blood dripped from his neck as he fell to his knees.
“NO!” she screamed, tears lining her eyes.
The Rami spoke, finishing his thought, “But I just cannot leave your handy man to try and avenge you now, can I?”
Dropping the hold on her sword as it fell away to a shimmering dust, Eveline went to Victor, kneeling beside her dying friend. His hazel eyes grew wide, he wanted her to fight, even though they both knew that there was no hope. Victor wanted for her to at least try, grasping on to a sliver of a chance that she would come out of this alive. But she knew the truth.
She was defeated.
For just a moment, her gaze fell back upon Eli. It was long enough for her to see him be pierced by a Rami blade, before his body vanished into dust, the way her Aorra’s had when it too perished.
Eveline’s hand grasped Victors as he bled out, his eyes remained on her. His callous hand gripped hers as they stared at one another. A tear ran down her cheek, she had done this to him. Her noble guardian, her friend, was going to pay for her mistakes with his life. She would have given anything to have spared his life.
“My husband will kill you for this, there will be no mercy.” Her voce was calm as she spoke. Knowing what would happen next, there was no point in fear. Her death would be avenged, she knew it in her bones.
“That is exactly what I am hoping for.” The redhead replied with a grin and a wink.
Eveline looked back down at Victors fading hazel eyes as she held his hand. The sound of the Rami’s footsteps approached from behind. She felt a single pull at her throat, as her dress became stained red.
2 moon years later
(4 human years)
She felt intense nausea as if she had eaten rancid meat. It rose up from her core, bubbling up to her throat. Lana ran her hand absent-mindedly over her stomach as she stared into her own eyes through the reflection of the gold-framed mirror. Deep troubled green eyes stared back with a tense burden behind them. Today is going to be a long day she thought to herself as she adjusted her long brown hair. Pulling the few strands around her face back with a butterfly pendant, allowing for the rest to naturally flow free in loose waves.
You look beautiful. A familiar voice entered her thoughts and despite the heaviness of the day, a small smile spread across her face at the compliment. Lana wore an emerald green dress that brought out the color of her eyes. Though the dress was a simple one it was made of a luxurious material, framing her body perfectly.
“Thank you, Ardin.” She said, turning to see her Aorra sitting in the open doorway. She eyed the beautiful green medallion that hung around his neck, matching her emerald colored dress. “I see you brought out your jewels for the occasion,” Lana raised a brow at the pendant.
Ardin was a wolf form Aorra. Most wolf Aorra’s tended to be black or dark in color but not Ardin. He was all white with light grey accents. He was beautiful.
Ardin walked over to Lana’s side, his large paws made a soft sound with each step against the cold marble floors. He paused, looking out the window next to her. Today is an important day. Aorra’s of the council members are expected to stand out from the others. I am wearing it for you. His liquid blue-grey eyes turned to meet her gaze.
Lana looked out the window beside her mirror. She averted her eyes up in an attempt to find the small moon, but it was not within sight.
“I had a dream last night. It was so vivid. I haven’t dreamt of him nor our time at the moon in years.”
What happened in the dream? Ardin probed, his eyes watching her while she stared out the window.
“I was a child in a large room, it was unfamiliar and I woke there. My first instinct was to find you but I couldn’t feel or reach you. I began to panic. I began running down the halls with blinking lights but there was no one there. Then I fell upon a room where a boy was facing away from me and at his feet laid a white wolf pup. He was just about to turn but then I woke, before I ever even saw his face.” Lana turned from the window to Ardin. “What do you think that means?”
Your stressed, I don’t know Lana. It has been ages since you even spoke of your time at Ucu. Maybe it’s because you’re worried about the Rami people and so your subconscious brought him into your dream? You should just focus on what’s going on today, that is important. Your dream is just a dream, nothing more. Ardin’s words ran through her mind, bringing her back to the troubles of the council meeting that dreadfully approached.
I hate politics, especially when it involves the Dukrans. She replied mentally, not wanting anyone to overhear her open distaste for the day.
It’s a part of your duty. We get to go home in a few days and then you can return to your people in the Selvirian lands. Ardin replied, keeping his eyes on hers.
Lana turned her gaze out the window. How badly she wanted to be out there, in the open, breathing fresh air instead of being within these walls. “We both know what Arkhip wants from this gathering. He feeds off the violence and destruction. Today will be long and grueling.” He’s a monster she added through thought.
Life is difficult, especially for a leader who loves her people.
There is that word. Leader. Lana didn’t like being seen as a leader. Her parents had always been leaders, but she had not. She loved doing her own things and not having to worry about the meaning behind every little move or choice that she had made. She wished to be free of the title.
“I am going for a walk, I need to get some air,” Lana said as she turned to leave her lavish room in the city of Abder. She walked through the winding white stone castle’s many hallways before finally finding her way out of it. The castle was the most beautiful and overly extravagant place she had ever been. It was over sized, well crafted, and well maintained. Once outside Lana paused, taking a moment to look at the huge fortress.
The castle was built on a stone cliff, meeting the ocean below. It had enormous white towers that grew out of the sea cliff. The towers had sharp edges, matching the jagged cliffs it was built upon, and from a distance the tower’s marble peaks sparkled in the sun like the glistening ocean. Enormous windows were built into the fortress, providing magnificent views of the world around. Lana could see the ocean through the immense archways in the center of the fortress, which divided the castle into two sides. To one side the Sterlings lived in their private quarters and to the other side were their guest rooms.
As beautiful as the marble castle was, it was a cold dwelling and Lana felt out of place there. She was used to her home in Olbi and missed the comfort of the woods that surrounded her there. After she finished drinking in the castles enormity, Lana turned towards the town. She needed to put distance between herself and those within the castle. It was an attempt to get away from the troubles of the day, if but for just a moment.
Children and city folk passed Lana while she strolled through the streets, brooding over her own thoughts. Her mind was racing with the possibility of starting war with the Rami. The thought of it made her feel sick. Arkhip Dukran had yet to announce that this was what the meeting was for, but she had her suspicions. There was not much that would cause Arkhip to call a gathering. More than anything he wanted war with the Rami race. He would paint pictures of the evil Rami who needed to be stopped at all costs, but Lana knew the Rami were not all bad. A long time ago she had even known one of them. They were people just like the Madonians were. Just because some were evil it shouldn’t condemn a whole race, if the Rami judged her race by the family of Arkhip Dukran, then Madonians were no better.
As she walked the twisting cobble streets of the city, a very familiar laugh broke through the brewing storm of thoughts going on inside Lana’s head. Her eyes snapped up in the direction of the voice, Kirill Dukran. She took a few steps towards the sound and froze, staring at the man through the large window.
Kirill sat at a grand wooden table next to an open window with a long cloak that was proudly draped for display over the back of his chair. The cloak’s original color was no longer visible due to the excessive amount of Rami blood that had seeped into its seams, and like Kirill it almost seemed to thirst for more.
Of course he would wear that ridiculous cloak to the gathering today, Lana absently thought to herself before she was aware of Ardin’s sudden presence beside her.
In front of Kirill sat two boys, one older with dark hair and the younger with a light brown color. The boys sat on the edge of their seats, listening to every word their idol had to say.
Kirill took a large gulp of his ale and sat the mug down with a thud, proceeding to run his hand through his shoulder length blond hair. He twisted his angular face into a thoughtful expression followed by a serious one. He leaned forward towards the boys and the boys, with large unblinking eyes, too leaned towards him, barely managing to not fall out of their seats.
“You are both still young but I see greatness within you boys. A greatness I don’t think I have ever seen before. Perhaps someday I myself will ask you to join me in battle. However, you must truly become as great as I assume you can be.” With a hint of a smile, Kirill took another large gulp of ale, amused with how easy it was to influence the youngsters.
The younger of the two boys shrank back a touch, wisely frightened, but the older enthusiastically responded, “What can we do to prove our greatness? I promise I will not let you down. I will kill every Rami I ever encounter and will defend my people and….”
Anger flared in Lana as she listened to Kirill and the boys. It clawed at her from within, trying to get out, yearning to imbed its claws deep into Kirill Dukran. Her blood felt as if it were about to boil. Without even meaning to, her hands balled up into fists at her sides. She was about to take a step towards them when a voice spoke in her head.
Perhaps it’s best if we stay out of this. Startled for a moment by Ardin’s presence in her thoughts, Lana stilled and peered down at him while he sat by her with a silent thoughtful look in his eyes.
He does the same thing everywhere he goes! In our own city of Olbi, through out our Selvirian lands, he plunders our youth for his armies. He thinks he can just come here and spread thoughts of glorious battle, molding the minds of the easily influenced to his selfish will. Everyone knows that joining his battles is a likely death sentence. He is farming for future replacements and my people are not to be farmed like cattle, nor are these boys in Abder! The person he has become is disgusting.
Ardin rose to stand next to Lana’s side, knowing there was no talking her out of it. Once she found herself a purpose she became willful and didn’t like to listen to reason.
These are the people of Sterlings, we are in their city. Maybe you should let them deal with Dukran, if they wish to. Ardin peered at Lana and sighed before continuing. He knew there was no getting her out of her determination to talk to Kirill right then and there. At least be wise with your words, you will see him soon in the gathering. Try to remember that as children, you were once friends.
We have not been friends for a very long time. Lana shot back at Ardin as she made her way towards Kirill.
“Are there no people left in Morgas that you must travel to Abder and pollute the minds of the young here?” Lana said lightly when she approached the table Kirill sat at. To a passerby it may have seemed as though she is merely teasing an old friend, though that was far from it.
Kirill’s gray eyes flashed up at Lana, they were akin with the steel of a blade, cold and powerful. He leaned back against his chair, allowing for the sun to hit his angular face. It was a very handsome face, framed by shoulder length straight blond hair.
“Oh Lana, I am simply grabbing a drink before the gathering of the council and these two lads wanted to know all about what battle is like. I don’t mind the company and it would be unkind of me to just shoo them away. Wouldn’t you agree?” He said smoothly while taking another gulp of ale.
Kirill not only had a gift for killing, but he was also very quick witted and charismatic, constantly drawing people to him. It drove Lana crazy. A murderer should not possess both charisma and authority. Of course children would join his falsely glorified battles.
“ Of course not, but ---” Lana replied through gritted teeth, only to be interrupted.
“No buts! Of course I could not be so rude to such respectable young men as these lads!” The two boys beamed with such a compliment. “Besides I think you would approve of my recent venture. I was helping to protect the good people of Gorthyn from a Rami attack near their city. We wouldn’t want history to repeat itself and have Gorthyn burn a second time.” His steel blue eyes never left Lana. He knew exactly what he was doing, the right words to say.
An uncomfortable chill ran down Lana’s spine, coiling around her bones. The feeling was quickly followed by fiery rage. How dare he? Lana thought, squeezing her hands into fists, burying her nails into her palms in an attempt to prevent herself from acting too hastily. As she took in a deep breath, Lana felt her rage being pulled away by Ardin. He was attempting to calm her.
Lana, walk away. Ardin’s words pleaded, briefly running through her mind, but it was too late. Kirill had brought up the one thing Lana could not walk away from and Ardin knew this. Kirill brought up Gorthyn, the town where her mother had lost her life.
Smoothly Lana schooled her features and turned to the two boys, addressing them as calmly as possible. “You two, run along and go enjoy the day outside. Kirill must get going soon.” The two boys nodded in understanding and ran off, happy to have been called respectable young men by the great Kirill himself. As soon as the boys were outside of ear shot Lana turned to Kirill’s angular face. A slight amused smile played on his lips and her blood began to boil.
“Are you insinuating that we don’t protect our own?” She said to him with fire in her green eyes.
“Of course not, after all we both do what we can to protect each other against the Rami. I am simply making an effort to make sure no more Madonian lives are lost due to the cowardice and incompetence of others.”
Lana felt a jolt in Ardin as he too began to anger. He is trying to get a reaction don’t give it to him. We should leave. Ardin’s words left Lana’s thoughts just as quickly as they had entered.
“And who’s incompetence are we speaking of?” Lana quickly shot back, knowing exactly whom he was referring to. She was daring him to say it, so that there would be no mistaking his words.
A smile spread across Kirill’s handsome face. “No one anymore. The woman responsible for those lands at that time paid with her life. I am just kindly making sure that history not repeat its self, by looking out for you.”
Rage exploded within Lana. It started in the pit of her stomach and radiated into every limb, every muscle, and every cell of her being.
“How dare you insinuate that my mother was incompetent?” Her voice was threateningly low. Ardin dug his nails into the soil underneath his large paws and released a growl too low to hear but Lana knew it was there. There was a flash of emotion on Kirill’s face. Remorse? No, Lana pushed that foolish thought aside. He was not capable of empathy. Then he leaned back in his chair, tilting his chin up, the mug casually resting in his hand. He was a picture of calm.
“Look at you, so threatening, better stick to picking mushrooms and prancing through the woods, leave the art of war and protection to me.” His words were as sharp as the steel of his cold eyes.
His words slapped her across the face. Sorrow washed over her at the memory of seeing her mother lying on the ground. A satchel, with mushrooms spilling out of it, lay in a red pool beside her. Lana was taken aback by Kirill’s knowledge of such small intimate details of her mother’s last day. Some things she must have mentioned to him during their last moments of friendship.
Lana’s breath was caught in her throat. There wasn’t enough room for her to breath, the muscles in her chest constricted with aching pain. It was an emotional assault. Kirill was using some of her most private memories against her. Anger surged from within her. It was scorching hot, evaporating her pain into nothing, till she felt nothing but a pungent disgust towards Kirill.
For a moment Lana shut her eyes, concentrating her anger in her core, controlling it, thinking. Her green eyes opened steadily, looking at Kirill who sat in front of her with a new smile on his face.
Kirill prided himself on power and terror. However, Lana knew he had a fault. Most Madonians, especially those with Aorra’s, were able to pull on the energy that flowed through them, able to create things in solid form. Though every Madonian was slightly different Lana knew this was where Kirill fell short.
“Eveline had the competence to wield her power into anything she chose, and I too am gifted with such talents.” A smile spread across Lana’s face, not because she was happy, but because she knew it would make Kirill angry.
She used the anger to fuel her and drew strength into the palm of her hand where, with a glow, she formed a simple silver butterfly. She gripped its form with an invisible hand, holding on to it, keeping it from falling back into silver dust. The butterfly floated into the air with a flap of its dainty wings and flew into the side of Kirill’s face, where Lana released her hold on it and it vanished to dust. The strength it took for Lana to hold the butterfly’s form as it drifted through the air caused her head to lightly spin. Luckily it was not enough for Kirill to notice.
Kirill’s jaw clenched, his body tensing before she spoke again. “Kindness is power of its own, a power you could never have due to your blind hatred. You stupidly follow in your father’s footsteps because of that hate. I refuse to use my strengths to hurt those who have done nothing to harm me, for no reason but your disgusting pleasure. If the council believes that war is the only option, then I am more than capable of power. But for you Kirill, it is truly sad that you hide behind your hideous cape of blood in an attempt to hide your incompetence at wielding true Madonian power.”
Kirill stood up with such force that he shook the table, knocking over his nearly empty mug of ale. Jett, Kirill’s Aorra, who had been overlooked while he was lying between Kirill and the wall, suddenly sprang to Kirill’s side. Jett was a black Aorra in the form of a wolf with cold silver eyes that perfectly matched Kirill’s.
“I have true power! You idiotic woman. I alone have slayed more Rami than anyone, while you what? Can create a silly butterfly?”
“I hear you cannot even communicate with your Aorra, or is that just another wolf that daddy made? Are you pretending to have an Aorra?” Lana said coolly. She had brought him to the edge and seeing him so angry brought her a dark satisfaction. There were rumors that Kirill did not actually have an Aorra of his own. Lana didn’t care much for rumors, but she could not resist using this information now. The fury in his eyes was worth it.
“I seem to be communicating just fine!” Kirill said as Jett snarled by his side.
“Yes you seem to be doing just fine…” Lana didn’t budge while they stood face to face. Kirill’s chest was rising and falling along with his quick angry breaths.
“They say that I am fated for greatness! While you are nothing, you come from nothing, you are capable of nothing. What of you, Lana Casteel, what of your miniscule fate?”
“We make our own choices. Fate has nothing to do with what happens.”
“HAH. Says a simple woman.” The words snarled out from him. His neck was taunt with cords, pulled tight by her words.
“Says a simple woman.” Lana nods. “To a man with a fate to not wield any real Madonian strength.” And with that Lana turned and walked out before more could come of the conversation. She could hear Kirill flip the table and curse behind her. A sliver of pleasure warmed her from within at the sound.
You handled yourself well in the end, considering the circumstances Ardin entered Lana’s thoughts. Though to avoid the whole thing would have been best, your father will be quite angered.
Her father, indeed he was going to be fumingly angry. Lana was supposed to be on good behavior, she was supposed to play nice. This day had hardly begun and had already taken a bad turn.
I need a break from this walk. Lana mumbled in her mind. She tried to calm her emotions while making her way through the town. Her hands were shaking from the encounter. She hated Kirill for using her mother against her, speaking of her as a weak woman. Lana could not believe she and Kirill had ever been as close as they once were, that there had been a time she confided in him, a time she had considered him a friend.
Lana walked through the winding streets of Abder with Ardin at her side. The buildings near the Sterling’s castle were all nice and clean, made of stone which matched the cobblestone of the streets. In the large square there was a fountain and all around people were going about their daily business. Sounds of merchants selling goods, children playing, people talking, created a steady buzz that drifted through the air, around every nook and cranny of the square.
We are being followed.
By who? Lana glanced to Ardin beside her. They continued at the same pace so as not to alert their followers.
It seems to be two children.
Children? Very well then. Lana and Ardin slowed their pace and came to a stop. After a moment she turned to face a small girl with a pixy cut and an even younger boy standing a step behind. Both of the blond headed children looked up at Lana with matching massive brown eyes.
“It seems you two have been following us.” Before the children could reply Lana continued, “Is there anything I could help you with?” Her tone was kind but laced with the air of formal authority.
The pixy haired girl eyed Ardin a moment before she took a small step towards Lana. “My name is Nadina and this is my brother Alex.” The girl gestured back to the boy who did not take his giant brown eyes off of Ardin.
“It’s very nice to meet you two.” Lana greeted them with a kind smile.
Lay down I think you are frightening the boy. She directed at Ardin and he thumped down on to the ground, trying his hardest to make himself appear smaller.
“Now what can I do for you two?”
“Oh, nothing really… I just wanted to let you know that we very much support you and your father.” The girl kept a steady voice that Lana appreciated. A lot of people seemed uneasy around council members, they feared the possibility of showing disrespect in any way. Naturally people tended to keep at a distance and none openly shared favoritism of certain members over others, especially when all of the council was gathered in the same place.
Lana bent down to the girl’s eye level. “I appreciate your support, but I do not recommend you speaking so freely. Others may feel jealous that such a strong confident girl not support them as well.” Lana replied, somewhat jokingly, but with a wary word of advice attached.
“But, grandfather always taught us that it is only appropriate to speak the truth especially to those who you support and respect.” The pixy girl replied confidently.
“I suppose that is true, but one never knows who may be listening.” Lana said in an overly cautious tone. She had to suppress a smile while the boy standing behind the girl urgently proceeded to look around, making sure no one was eavesdropping. The girl however stood still, looking at Lana and Ardin, that is when Lana noticed the small fox like creature peaking out from just behind the girl. Golden eyes gazed up at her from behind the girl.
Lana peered down at it. The small creature leaned out from behind Nadina, making its self more visible. It had pointed ears and red fur with a bushy tale. Its eyes were large, childlike, and yet clever.
“Is this your Aorra?” Lana asked the girl.
Nadina nodded “Her name is Nila.”
Lana held out a hand while Nila cautiously examined it.
“It is nice to meet you, Nila.” Lana spoke to the little fox.
Nila looked up at Nadina and the girl released a small giggled. “Nila said she likes you.”
Lana smiled. She, in all her moons of life, had only seen a fox Aorra a handful of times. The last time she was within such proximity to one was when she was only a child. They were Aorra’s known to be very clever and quite rare. Suddenly she had a yearning urge to spend more time with this little Aorra.
“Would you like to walk with me?” Lana asked the children, knowing they would likely not refuse. She should have left them and parted ways, but being in the presence of Nila and the children managed to take her mind off of everything that had been bothering her.
The girl enthusiastically nodded, “Yes we would love to!”
The boy remained silent, not portraying any eagerness or opposition at Lana’s offer for them to accompany her. However, his eyes grew larger as Ardin rose from the ground. Lana wasn’t sure if he was breathing.
“Alex is it?” The boy’s enormous eyes darted to Lana’s face. She knelt down beside Ardin, placing a hand on the white wolf. “He will not harm you, there is no need to fear him.” She said gesturing to her Aorra.
“I am not afraid.” The boy simply stated.
“Would you like to meet him? Ardin is a very gentle and noble creature.” The boy took a few timid steps towards them, stopping just out of reach of Ardin. Lana’s Aorra was about the size of the boy. “You could touch him if you want to, he won’t harm you.”
“Its okay, I don’t need to.” Alex shoved his hands into his pockets.
Enough, we must get going or you will face the wrath of your father for returning so late in the day. If the boy does not wish to be close to me I will walk up ahead of you. But be mindful of the time.
“Okay shall we? Unless you must get home?” Lana said as she stood up and fixed the fold in her dress.
“No, we can walk with you some. Grandfather will be excited to hear that we met you.” Nadina replied with a happy smile. Her bright brown eyes almost looked gold as the morning sun hit them. The four of them began walking and making small talk while Ardin took the lead. Nadina walked beside Lana with Nila by her side. The boy cautiously walked to the other side of Nila, keeping mostly to himself.
Lana learned that Nadina and Alex’s parents were murdered a little over a moon ago in a Rami attack on their home. They have been living with their maternal grandfather, who they said was a very funny yet wise old man.
They all supported Lana and her father’s stance on the relations with the Rami and wanted peace. This surprised her, for more often than not, people who came from families that had suffered due to a Rami attack tended to seek revenge. However, their grandfather believed war was only a cause of more pain and anguish. He thought that each side was bitter, each side had suffered loss and the only way to put a stop to the pain would be for peace. Lana was impressed that young children could have such insight and understanding.
The children walked Lana all the way to the guards outside the Sterling’s castle, where they were not permitted to go past. Lana thanked them for their company. Alex waved goodbye, Nadina surprised Lana with a hug goodbye and as swiftly as they had appeared, they were gone.
Sweet girl, Lana thought to herself as she watched Alex, Nadina, and her little Aorra disappear down the cobble stone road.
You felt something when you saw the young girl’s Aorra?
I did. Lana replied to Ardin. He remained silent, waiting for her to continue, his blue gray eyes quietly watching her.
Lana placed her hand on the door to the castle but paused. Before my mother had been taken from me and before I had been blessed with you, I was a child younger than that boy we saw today. My mother had an Aorra, it was a fox. Her Aorra was killed before you came along; so you never met her and the loss hurt my mother deeply, so we never talked about it. The girl’s Aorra reminded me of my mother. Ardin nuzzled Lana’s free hand. While they stood there, she let him into her thoughts, sharing with him her feelings whilst he sent her comfort.
When Lana and Ardin entered the left wing of the castle, Earmon greeted them, sitting in the center of the hallway. He was an Aorra in the form of a black wolf, large enough for Lana to ride when she was a child. His eyes were unnaturally light blue and intense, they gave the impression of being able to see into the soul.
Earmon stood in the entrance hall and grumbled to himself when he saw the two of them approaching. He turned, escorting them to Valdor’s room. Lana glanced down at Ardin, who followed in silence. We get an escort? Father must be furious.
Ardin peered at Lana. Biting her bottom lip in nervousness, she stared at the floor moving beneath her feet. Her mind raced along with her rising pulse. He could feel that she was anxious and it amused the wolf.
You show no fear or hesitation with the blood soaked power hungry Kirill Dukran, who you will be locked in a room with later today, but your own father makes you tremble, he observed.
Lana continued walking, pretending not to have noticed Ardin’s remark. They walked down the halls, which felt infinitely shorter then they had earlier that morning. Lana hated upsetting Valdor, and it didn’t help that he had a way about him that caused her to feel truly small. She was dreading this. His thoughts on the mornings events were bound to be unpleasant.
A guard outside her father’s room took note of the three of them approaching and silently opened the door. Earmon entered immediately, while Lana paused outside, taking in a deep breath before entering her father’s room. Ardin followed closely behind.
The curtains in the room were pulled back, allowing for sunlight to brighten the otherwise dark space. Valdor sat at a large desk which was littered with papers, maps, and various important things. The room had stone walls and tall bookshelves stood to the side of the desk, filled with books which belonged to the Sterlings. The bed was off to the side and that entire area remained dark despite the large window behind the desk. It looked almost like two separate rooms, yet there was nothing concretely separating the two.
As they entered, Valdor’s brown eyes shot up and he stood from his seat. With a painfully slow stride he walked a few steps around his wooden desk, proceeding to casually lean on the edge with one hand casually clasping his other wrist in front of him. The sun glistened off of his dark hair, further highlighting the grey in his temples. His brown eyes were focused solely on Lana. For a breath the room was entirely still.
“Lana, my darling, my wise daughter. What have you been getting into this morning?” The kindness laced in his voice was particularly misleading.
Lana’s throat went dry, we are in trouble, she thought.
No, you are in trouble. Ardin corrected.
She wanted to kick him, but instead began trying to explain with a soft voice, “Father I decided to go on a short walk to clear my head befo…”
“And is it?” Valdor interrupted.
Lana stood before him with a confused expression, loosing her train of thought. Her father continued, “Your head, has it been cleared?”
Heat rose to her cheeks and her face flushed as she looked at the ground “yes” she gave a small reply.
Ardin simply sat off to the side watching the exchange. He was amazed how Lana, one so willful and strong could be weakened and frightful of the one person she could be sure would never harm her. She had transformed from a strong woman to a small child in one short morning.
“Oh really? You think having a public outburst with Kirill Dukran is something a person with a clear head might do?” He asked with a calm questioning voice, as if this were truly a question that he hadn’t known the answer to.
Lana kept her eyes down, avoiding Valdor’s powerful gaze. “I didn’t mean to…”
“You very much did mean to. For the love of our lands Lana, today of all days, you do realize the Dukrans are a very powerful family? They are powerful, gifted as Madonians. Many greatly admire and respect that family an—”
“They are monsters!” Lana blurted out, unable to stop herself. Hearing her father tell her how loved the Dukrans are was unbearable. She felt sick with hate for that family.
“Enough!” Valdor slammed his large hand on the wooden desk “You will never say that out loud again!” his voice boomed throughout the room.
Both Ardin and Lana flinched. Valdor’s hand reached to his temples, rubbing them for a moment with closed eyes before turning back to Lana. With an even tone he continued, “You are not a child Lana, nor are you a stupid girl. At the very least I didn’t raise you to behave in this manner with a member of the Madonian council. So, why would you act like you did this morning? It baffles me. There is no point in telling you what you did was wrong, nor is there much time for nonsense.” His brown eyes pinned her while he spoke. There was such power behind his gaze, it was unbelievable. “You and Kirill were friends a long time ago. If anyone had some form of persuasion with him, it may have been you. You don’t have to like him Lana, but you shouldn’t be building enemies. Nor should you belittle him in front of an audience! The Dukran are a proud family, you know this.” Valdor paused. His thick brows pulled together as if in thought.
Lana didn’t know what to say so she simply stared at a small wooden wolf figurine on his desk, avoiding eye contact. She felt guilt, for disappointing her father, anger because of the Dukrans, and incredible frustration for everyone referring to her childhood friendship with Kirill. As if the distant friendship some how made everything better or more important. As if she and Kirill could ever be friends again. Lana felt that their entire once upon a time friendship was completely irrelevant to the events of today.
Only when Valdor sighed did she allow herself to again meet his gaze. “You have ten minutes to go gather what senses you have lost this morning. You will keep to yourself in today’s council meeting unless you are directly spoken to, and even then you are to speak as little as possible. I do not need to worry about you today.”
Lana was looking at the ground again. Tears had begun to pool in her eyes. She glanced up at her father. “He said mother was incompetent and a coward.”
Valdor exhaled a long breath, looking at his daughter a moment before replying, “Your mother was a great woman. What anyone else says about her should not affect you. She wouldn’t want her memory to be the reason you are made a fool.”
Lana simply nodded in response. For a moment her eyes held Valdor’s gaze. Neither one moved or said a word. The space between them was filled with dust that glimmered in the light seeping in from the window. The dust danced in the silence between them. Moving in every direction the current of air carried it. It was not weighed down by gravity, by the world. What freedom, to be able to float through the world, to glimmer in the sunlight.
“You look more like her every day,” Valdor said in a soft tone, looking at his daughter for a moment with an unusual gentleness in his eyes. The soft pause lasted only a moment before Valdor turned away, returning to the work at his desk. “Now go, I’ll meet you in the Grand hall in ten minutes, and make sure your head’s on straight.”
He sat in the simple chair provided for him as though he was sitting on a throne. Soon all of the lands would be under his command. Soon he would become king and no one would ever dare to stand in his way.
Spinning the ring on his finger around and around, he smiled to himself, admiring his trophy. The ring was gold, engraved with the sigil of the family he had single handedly butchered. It was a proud moment indeed, one that provided a valuable stepping stone for the future that he saw for himself. The Madonian Council was too naive to ever realize what he had done. They had been completely oblivious to the truth that had always been in front of them. He laughed to himself, at how easy everything was going to be for him.
War was about to begin. All of the pieces were falling into place so perfectly. No one, not even the idiotic Casteels would be able to stop what he had in store, and if they dared to try then he was going to make sure that it would be the last time they ever stood in his way.
With a smile he gave the ring a final spin, centering it on his finger, and stood. With the flick of his hand two black wolves formed before him. He smiled at the glorious beasts.
This day was going to go down in history, this day was going to be the start of the war that would change everything. He was going to create his kingdom on the blood and rubble left behind.
Lana looked out over the ocean while the warm sun glistened over the waves. Ardin sat beside her on the balcony, in the great archways of the heart of the castle. The two of them existed near one another in a relaxed and welcome silence. Watching the rhythmic movement of the ocean next to her Aorra was therapeutic, soothing to her racing mind.
“Do you think there’s anything out there?” Lana asked Ardin in wonder. Her eyes scanned over the ocean.
Our people have sailed the seas and have not found anything yet.
“But what about beyond the sea, the stars.”
I know no more than you? Why do you ask? Ardin shifted his gaze from the glistening ocean to Lana.
“I just sometimes wonder. The small moon is the school we went to years ago. I remember speaking to the instructors there, learning from them. One of them once mentioned that they were not from our lands, surely there might be more things out there.”
Ardin nodded in understanding. He gazed at Lana while she was deep in thought. She’d had a rough morning but her day was far from over.
The instructor was probably just telling you a story. But we can speak all philosophically about this after the council meeting is over. He tried to reel her in, get her focused on the meeting that was only minutes away. I will give you a moment to yourself. I will wait for you out front.
Lana felt Ardin leave her mind as he walked back through the massive archway that separated the two castle sides and she was left alone. She breathed in a deep breath, filling her lungs with salted air, holding her breath for a moment before releasing it with a sigh. It felt as if heaviness had enveloped her and there was no escape. Over the past few days it had seemed that everything she did was somehow important and yet always wrong.
Out of the corner of her eye Lana saw something move. She turned her attention to a small lizard. White with black markings striped its small body, the tip of its tail was red and the top of its head was also red. She watched the little creature bravely make its way to her and stop at the railing near her hand. It appeared to be looking right into her eyes.
“Odd little thing,” Lana commented, moving her hand closer to the small creature. A small tongue flicked out of its mouth, tickling her finger. She giggled slightly and removed her hand, still looking at the peculiar little lizard. Never having seen a lizard like this in her lands before, she mused over where it must have come from. It must be one that was found only in the southern lands. If she had found the little guy when she was a child she surely would have tried to catch it and keep it as a pet.
“Be careful that you don’t get stepped on or eaten by a bird, little lizard,” she whispered to it. As if it understood, the creature scurried across the railing and began climbing away on the castle’s stonewall. She watched it until it disappeared from her view and her eyes turned back to the sea.
Lana took one last look at the horizon, where the massive ocean met the even larger sky. She turned her gaze to where the small moon could be seen in the distance. A small wave of emotion came over her at the sight of it, followed by the memories that accompanied that place. Lana pushed the thoughts away with a small shake of her head, returning her attention to the water below. This was not the time to think of her past, to wonder what could have been if the world were different. Now, she had to remain calm and collected.
After one final look over the water, Lana turned and walked towards the front of the castle, her dress blowing in the salty breeze behind her.
Ardin lounged, basking in the sun while waiting for Lana to join him.
Ready? She asked him when she approached.
Born ready. He replied lightly and they started towards the grand room, located on the Sterling’s side of the Castle. Lana saw her father standing in the hall with Earmon, waiting for her and Ardin. When she approached they began walking without word till they reached a massive doorway. The double doors leading into the room were made of dark wood, carved with an intricate weaved pattern. They were already open on their arrival. Two guards with hawks engraved on their steel chest plates stood like statues outside the doors.
Lana entered the grand room with Valdor, their Aorras following at their heels. The grand room was smaller than Lana imagined, due to Cyra Sterling’s customary overly grand rooms and castle. However, it was true to its name as grand, with walls taller than the room was wide. It was a round room, which Lana found odd, being in a room without corners. The round sky light in the ceiling was the only window to the outside.
The entire space seemed to be made of marble infused with gold veins. Gold fabric hung from the ceiling, flowing down against the wall, providing a softer touch. Between each drape there was a cut out in the stonewalls where white candles provided additional light. In the center of the room stood a massive round table, made from a single tree slice. It had smooth but uneven edges around its boarder, which was created from the trees natural growth.
Lana finally brought her attention to the Madonian’s at the table. The Laderic brothers, Lathe and Maksim, sat straight ahead of the wooden double doors. Despite being around the same age, Lana never really knew the brothers. Their parents had been friends with hers, but were killed when the boys were just babies. The boys were then raised by their aunt, away from others until they became of age to take their rightful place on the council.
The brothers were happily engaged in conversation with each other, not paying any mind to Lana or her father’s arrival. The brothers were brunette, average height and average build. Their Aorras, Faolins, were too large to sit at the table so they stood behind them, looking massive compared to the sitting brothers.
Faolins were horse like creatures, except much smarter and faster. They had huge ears, wide noses and armored heads and backs. Small tusks framed their armored nose, and long whip like tails brought up the animal’s rear. Faolins could come in varieties of colors but theirs were both grey. These were one of the only Aorras known that can be ridden.
To the left of the Laderics sat Iria and Lionel Maddox. The Maddoxs controlled a majority of the coastlines in Madonia along with the islands to the West. Iria was leaning in towards her husband, deep in conversation. Glancing up only to acknowledge Valdor and Lana enter the room before quickly cutting whatever was being said short and flashing a big smile at them. The Maddoxs were both short, with dark hair and slender bodies. They looked similar enough to be confused for brother and sister instead of husband and wife.
Beside Iria sat a Vesper, perched on a stool. This was the first time Lana had ever seen a Vesper. Before this day they seemed mythical to her. The Vesper was about a third of the size of Ardin and had scaly blue skin with a short nose. A-top its head it had a fin crown and a long tail with more fins at the end. They were creatures known to be great swimmers and preferred water to land. It was a great fit for a costal Council member.
Next to Lionel sat a Great Cat. It was white with a few black spots on top of its head and back with large paws and a lion-like tail. Great Cats were known to be highly adaptable creatures, able to live in all climates. Lana always found it strange that Great Cats had never been found in the wild. Some said that was because they do not exist outside of Aorra’s, others said that they were too wise to ever allow for themselves to be seen in the wild.
Next to the Maddox’s were two empty spaces for Lana and her father. Next to their open seats sat Kirill with the awful bloody cape she knew he would have draped proudly over his chair. Next to him was his father, Arkhip Dukran. Arkhip sat tall in all black with long gray hair.
Around Arkhip’s dark slim figure sat three large black wolves. One was Jett, who supposedly belonged to Kirill. The other two were clearly Arkhip’s. There was no reason to have the extra in a meeting of the council, other than to show off. The third wolf was there purely as a show of Arkhip’s power. It was so typical of him, never missing an opportunity to flaunt his strength.
Arkhip Dukran was an especially talented Madonian, he had the ability to create wolves. Most Madonians who could create things, could so in a silver color, not lifelike. However, Arkhip didn’t just create figurines or silver wolves, he was capable of creating extremely lifelike black wolves, that moved and behaved like natural creatures.
He had been seen using as many as five wolves under his command before. Lana had no idea how many he ever had at one time or which one was even his Aorra. This made the Dukran family feared, for the things Arkhip was capable of doing without the drain of his strength was, before him, unheard of.
After acknowledging all who were in the round room Lana began making her way to the two open seats left for them. Valdor greeted Lionel Maddox with a strong handshake. The two were somewhat long time friends. They were not close, for council members tended to keep each other at an arms length. However, Valdor had gone fishing with Lionel once, which was more than what Lana had ever seen from the others and her father. Lana’s father took the seat next to Lionel, putting her in the seat next to Kirill.
It will be fine. Keep moving, people are beginning to stare. Ardin gave Lana a gentle mental nudge. She stopped brooding a moment and observed everyone’s eyes on her. She hadn’t even noticed that she had stopped walking. Heat rose to her face as she blushed, hurrying to her seat.
Ardin sat between Lana and Kirill, his head well above the table. He gazed around at all who were in the room before turning back to her. Lana too observed the room, taking note that the Sterling’s were the only ones missing.
The Sterling’s were a mother and daughter team, to whom this castle was home. Always trying to make an entrance and make everyone wait for them Lana thought to herself.
Yes, well you know…women. Ardin commented about the Sterling’s.
Hey! Rude. Lana shot back at Ardin, trying to stifle a small smile. Suddenly she became uncomfortably aware of who sat near her, just on the other side of her Aorra.
Kirill was sitting next to them and she could feel him, his eyes on her. She turned away from Ardin, trying to avoid eye contact with the monstrous Madonian sitting next to her Aorra. But she could still feel his gaze searing into her skin.
Before Lana could turn to Ardin to see what he meant she felt a hand touch her arm. It was a brief touch, meant to only get her attention, yet her body recoiled from it anyway. She turned to Kirill. His blond hair was pulled back and his steel eyes were focused directly on her. Lana sat there looking at him, her pulse quickened, she didn’t know what to do.
Kirill leaned over and gestured that Lana do the same. They leaned towards one another, behind Ardin.
Play nice, everyone can see. Ardin’s words entered her mind as she leaned in behind him.
“Listen, what I said about your mother was out of line. I apologize, it was wrong of me. I am not sure what came over me.” Kirill spoke softly.
Lana’s eyes slightly widened in surprise, what was she to do with this? He better not have been expecting any apology from her in return. Giving Kirill a small forced smile and a nod of her head, she leaned back into her seat. She glanced over at her father who was watching her intently out of the corner of his eye while making small talk with Lionel Maddox.
Well that was unexpected… he probably did it just for show, in front of everyone. Lana was thinking to herself more than Ardin, he answered anyway.
Perhaps, but no one could hear what was said. For all everyone knows he could have just insulted you.
Lana only had a moment to ponder this before her attention was drawn to the open entrance of the great room. The sound of approaching heels echoed off of the walls, as if they were small messages sent out to announce the Sterlings arrival. Cyra Sterling and her daughter Elysia entered gracefully, their gowns flowing like silky water in their wake.
Cyra’s gold gown with black embroidering flowed behind her, her daughter’s dress was similar to her own but contrasting in color design, black dress with gold embroidering. Their gowns were as extravagant as was their castle and slightly over the top considering the occasion. Cyra’s dark hair, streaked with grey, was pulled back loosely while Elysia’s blond hair was left to naturally flow, cascading over her shoulders in golden waves.
They walked to their seats but remained standing as two hawks suddenly flew in through the door, each finding a perch to the side of the Sterlings.
After a pause Cyra addressed everyone, “Elysia and I are happy to welcome all of you to our home in our great city of Abder for this council meeting. As you all know, normally when we all gather it is custom to have a ceremony and grand introductions, I truly apologize for the lack of this grand gesture. The one who called the meeting asked to be quick and discrete about it. So without prolonging the introduction” Cyra turned her gaze to the tall slender dark man sitting to the side of her “Arkhip Dukran, the floor is yours.” With a smooth liquid movement, the Sterling’s took their seats.
Arkhip waited for everyone’s gaze to turn to him before he stood. “My friends.” He began and paused. “It saddens me that such unfortunate circumstances bring us together. It is no secret that the Rami continue to attack our people and our lands. They paint our streets red, leaving echoes of dying screams and the stench of burning Madonian flesh in their wake. So why do we only fight them when they have already begun cutting our own down? All of us have made a promise to protect our people, our lands and we have failed. Men, women and even children who are under our protection are left to be murdered. Why? Because of some treaty that only our side seems to be trying to uphold? Zakran, king of the Rami, lets his men have their way with our women and kill our children and we do what? Nothing.”
Valdor spoke up, wanting Arkhip to get to his point. “And what is it that you expect us to do Dukran? Why have you called the meeting?”
“For us to bring the Rami scum the war they so desperately want before they bring it to us while we are ill prepared.”
“For us to give you our men and armies for you to do with as you see fit?” Valdor clarified, exactly what it was that Arkhip was asking for.
A Laderic brother now chimed in. “Our code for war calls for us to choose one amongst ourselves to lead the unified Madonian army during a war. However, we do not wish to forfeit our armies to your rule, no disrespect.”
“You are a strong man Dukran, but you are also a ruthless man. I too do not wish to hand over my men to you. And I find it extremely unlikely for you to hand yours over to me” Iria Maddox voiced.
Arkhip smiled slightly. “Yes we will have a vote as to who will be the lead during this time of war”.
Rumbles came from everyone in the room.
“You are mad!” Valdor erupted. “We have not even agreed to a war and you are speaking of a vote for us to give you our men. I will not allow for you to lead my men into a slaughter you call war. More good and innocent men will die under your lead than with the way things are.”
“Some loss now will make up for safety later, Casteel.” Lana noted that he had held back on the name, trying to make it sound less like a sneer. “Sacrifices, must always be made for the greater good. And who is it that always helps all of you against the Rami threat? Whenever any of you are in need of assistance it is my worriers who come to your rescue, perhaps if I stopped sending you all help then you would understand how dire the situation is.”
“So why not stop sending your gracious help Dukran?” Valdor asked.
Arkhip smiled, yet his eyes remained incredibly cold as if there was no life in them. “Because then there would be nothing left, no one to help me against the Rami. And as talented that I am I can not take down the entire Rami army on my own.”
If it were not for the thick tension in the room Lana would have laughed at that. Arkhip admitting to needing help, as talented as he was? It was as if she were sitting in a theater and Arkhip was the grand performer.
“You think us completely incapable of protecting our own?” Lathe Laderic spoke to Arkhip, a hint of annoyance in his voice. He did not seem to like Arkhip’s threat of pulling back aid against the Rami. Didn’t like the insinuation that he single handedly was the reason that the Madonian lands had not yet been overtaken by the Rami.
“No. I think you are all quite capable, which is why I am asking for your help in this.” After a pause he added, “I also do not wish to lead your men, but for us to lead together. If we go to war, we must all go.”
Everyone sat in dumbfounded silence. Lana looked over at her father who seemed to be taken a back by the comment. Arkhip was dangerous and power hungry. For him to not use the opportunity to gain more power, to gain Madonian control, he must have some angle.
“To change the code written by our ancestors—” Iria Maddox began before getting cut off by Arkhip.
“Would be the smartest thing we have ever done. Nothing good is coming from leaving the code as is, it must be modified.”
“I agree” Maksim Laderic shifted his weight towards the table. He was being pulled in. This was Arkhip’s goal, start a war and worry about his control later.
Can Dukran do this? Lana asked Ardin, who silently watched the exchange.
If enough of the council agrees. The laws were made long ago, back when the lands first fell apart and the first treaty was forged. Our ancestors had reason to choose one to lead all the lands. It kept each party from fighting against each other in the decisions of war and gave the reigns to one, for the best interest of the people. Back then the families were much less divided. Now the council seems to have grown apart and each of you more deeply connected with your own lands and people. If Dukran wants war, this may be his best way of achieving an agreement from the council.
Lana looked to the Sterlings who have yet to voice an opinion. She watched them, trying to gage which way they were leaning. Cyra kept her gaze moving liquidly from one speaker to the next, portraying no emotion. Only once did she give a slight nod of her head and her white hawk flapped his wings and took off through the sky light at the top of the room. Cyra didn’t even glance at her Aorra as it left. Lana wondered if Cyra nodded in agreement to something in the conversation or to her Aorra.
Elysia Sterling was even less responsive to the meeting and seemed more interested in the Laderic brothers than the conversation. She kept smiling at the brothers, her eyes finding their way over to one of them every time she attempted to look away. She only seemed to perk up and actually listen when one of the brothers spoke.
We are on the brink of war and she can’t stop making bedroom eyes at the Laderics. Lana muttered in her head, returning her attention to the whole table.
The council bickered back and forth for, getting nowhere. They danced in never ending circles. The Laderic brothers leaned toward war. The Maddox’s also seemed willing but more cautious. The Sterlings stayed silent, as if weighing all options before giving a hint as to where they stood. Valdor appeared to be the only one truly opposed to starting a war. While the blood thirsty Arkhip Dukran pushed for full out war. No one seemed to be going anywhere too quickly. Arkhip needed a majority vote and for the time being he hadn’t gotten it yet.
Cyra abruptly stood from her seat, her chair nearly falling behind her from the force. The room stilled at once, all eyes fell on her in the sudden silence. But Cyra’s eyes were elsewhere, as if she were staring past the room, at something that was not there. Swiftly she straightened, looking at the council before her. Lana noted something odd in her eyes as the rest of them stared at her, waiting for her to say something.
“They are here.” Cyra spoke, her voice hollow. Goosebumps ran up Lana’s body, as she recognized the look in Cyra’s eye, it was fear. The council stared at her without understanding. “The Rami, they are just outside of Abder, they are on our lands.”
In an instant the room erupted in chaos. Everyone questioned Cyra’s certainty. Aorras stirred uneasily, council members were yelling at each other in a panic. Some of the faces portrayed fear, some glimmers of excitement.
Lana kept silent through it all, watching with wide eyes. She could feel her pulse in her temple while her heart raced. Her mind tried to run off in panic as she asked herself why the Rami had come. Were they warriors, were they a threat, would the war start here and now? She shut off the flow of thoughts and willed her mind to be silent, willing herself to just listen, to not panic. For now, all that she could do was gather as much information as possible.
“Enough!” Arkhip’s voice echoed off the tall walls of the room. “We all believe what Cyra’s Aorra saw. Now we need a plan of action. One unified plan. We do not know what the Rami know so we must assume the worst, that they know the whole council is here.” Arkhip ended with his eyes meeting Valdor’s. Lana was surprised at how open Arkhip seemed with coming to a unified plan. Working together was not something the Dukran were known for. They were lone wolves, the kind that could not be trusted.
“Agreed, we should proceed with caution.” Valdor reluctantly said. Lana knew he did not want to work with Dukran, but Madonian lives were now in danger and helping to protect those lives was her father’s priority, even if it meant having to work with Arkhip.
“However we don’t know anything about how they got here or why, they could be running from their King and happened to land here.” Valdor added.
“And if not? We need to attack now. What better chance will we get!” Arkhip’s voice filled the room, dripping with excitement while his eyes were filled with lust for battle.
“We could send a messenger, to find out why they have come, offer them a chance to leave before we do something drastic.” Valdor suggested. His was scanning the room trying to gauge where everyone stood.
“What’s the point? Of all days the Rami have come today! As if it’s a sign. Our Lands thirst for blood!” Arkhip bellowed in anger and excitement.
“I agree that an opportunity like this is rare. We can make a great stand. They don’t know what they are up against!” One of the Laderic brothers chimed in.
“Opportunity?” Cyra’s voice finally cut through the bickering. “This is my home. These are my people who are in harm’s way! The threat needs to be taken care of immediately. I must first get my people to—”
“There is no time!” Arkhip interrupted in almost a snarl. “Some lives may be lost but the strong will prevail, stronger than ever.”
“You are in my home, Dukran. If war is what you want, it won’t start here unless I am the one to give the order.” Cyra spoke in an even tone. Her brown eyes held Arkhip’s deadly gaze. She did not back down, making it clear that this would be her call, not his, these were her lands, not his. Cyra had a boldness and strength within her that was more than the frilly pretty painted shell Lana had thought her to be. Valdor had always seemed to favor Cyra and Lana had no idea why, but now she understood. Cyra didn’t tremble or avert her gaze from Arkhip, she remained strong, Valdor appreciated that.
“Of course, your right.” Arkhip replied kindly, though Lana could see the irritation behind his dark eyes.
“I will try and get my people to safety, leave if you wish or you can stay and help, the choice is yours, but I must go meet with my General at once.” Cyra Sterling spoke to the Madonian council as she rose from her seat, Elysia mirroring her mother.
Arkhip turned to Cyra, placing a thin cold hand on her shoulder, “I will stay and help you and your people, we all are Madonian, and a threat to you is a threat to us all.” He spoke in a surprisingly calm voice.
“Thank you.” She said as she and her daughter walked out the wooden doors.
A chair screeched against the marble floor as Valdor stood. “I will stay too.” He spoke to the council left in the room.
“As will we,” the Laderic brothers added.
“We will move outside of the city.” Iria Maddox voiced, “We did not bring a lot of our forces nor do I wish to lose unnecessary troops unless war is the path we decide.”
“War at this point is our only option!” Arkhip yelled out.
“It is too soon to know that Dukran. I’m going to go help the Sterlings get their people to safety.” Valdor began to turn away from the table. His eyes glanced to Lana and she silently stood, following her father. She could feel Arkhip Dukran’s heated stare on her way out.
Once in the hallway Valdor turned to his daughter and placed a heavy hand on her shoulder “You and Ardin are going to go with the Maddox’s”.
Lana’s eyes grew wide, “What? No! I have—”
“This is not up for discussion. These are my orders. Arkhip is an uncontrollable man and this very well may lead to war. I will see what I can do here but you are leaving this city at once.” Lana knew opposing him would do more harm than good but she could not agree either. So she just looked at him with hard angry eyes.
“Now go, I will tell the Maddox’s to wait for you.” Valdor said pointing down the darkly lit hall.
As Lana walked through the halls to her room she could feel Ardin pulling the anger from her in an effort to calm her. Your father is trying to protect you. With the way things were going and Arkhip’s pushing, this will lead to war. There is a chance the Rami here are refugees but if they are not, if they are an army, your father is trying to protect…
I don’t need his protection. I understand I was out of line this morning, but to be thrown out like a child!
Ardin came to a stop and sat down in the hall. Lana reluctantly turned to face the handsome white wolf.
He didn’t do this only to protect you, Lana. He did it to protect your people. If the decisions made today cause a war and the Council’s firsts fall then the next in command for the Selvirian lands would be you. You are the one to lead your people and getting you away now, keeping you away in this moment will keep you safe for your people’s sake. That’s why you were taken out of the equation. If something were to happen to both you and your father what do you think will happen to your people? Arkhip or any of the others would be more than happy to swoop in and make things worse.
Lana stood there a moment, looking into Ardin’s large gray blue eyes. I didn’t even think of our people in this. How could I have been so thoughtless? Then another realization came over her. If father is sending me away then he must think that we are going to go to war today and that there is true danger for us, true danger for him.
Ardin’s ears sagged as his voice calmly entered Lana’s mind. That’s a safe assumption.
Lana’s green gaze fell from the great wolf to the floor. Her chest tightened, causing her to feel suffocated and trapped. After her mother’s death, it was just she and her father left. Leaving him now, to stand on his own against Arkhip and Kirill didn’t feel right. It felt like she would be running away while the world would be left to burn. She couldn’t just leave things like this.
“We know nothing of what’s going on with the Rami people. Cyra won’t send her Aorra for fear of them noticing and acting before her people are safe and Arkhip won’t want to wait to find out anything he will grow impatient and…” The sound of approaching footsteps silenced Lana.
She turned to see a blond man approaching, cape blowing behind him in his wake. Making eye contact with steel eyes, her pulse jumped. The bite of Kirill’s words still stung, resonating in her mind. He seemed to slow when he got closer, as if he may stop. But then his steel eyes moved to something further down the hall and he walked past her without taking another look in her direction. Lana could feel the air shift. It seemed to move out of his way, blowing at her when he strode past.
They will not wait to kill. Lana spoke to Ardin, regarding the Dukran who just strolled by. For all we know these could be innocent refugees fleeing their Lands for their king is horrible and the Dukran are looking to massacre them all. He will never allow anyone to find out the truth before they attack. Something must be done to prevent the start of the war.
NO! Ardin’s voice rang in her mind before she was able to even clearly think her thoughts. Absolutely not! Lana are you crazy? This is madness! How will you ever get close enough to find anything? Your Father—
My father and all of the Madonian people will be safer going in to this if I find something out. I cannot just stand aside and wait for something terrible to happen, allowing Arkhip Dukran to start a war. He will never allow for this to go any way but the way he wants it. He will push until all Rami are either killed or enslaved and he is made the dictator of all the land. With that a mental wall was put up in her mind. She cursed herself for thinking so openly, allowing for Ardin to understand her intentions before even she had.
“You can stay here in the hall or come with me. I’m going to change.” Lana said calmly to her now furious Aorra. “I can’t just do nothing.” She gave the wolf a pointed look, before turning to head to her room. Ardin reluctantly got up and followed her, unaware that her plans involved for him to stay behind.
Lana threw her wardrobe door open with a thud, her head was pounding from Ardin’s persistent attacks at her mental wall. He hated not knowing what she was thinking, especially in this moment. Usually when Lana wanted to be alone Ardin would let her be, however this time it was grueling. She constantly had to fight him off. He kept trying to slip in, to hear her. Lana strained to act as if holding her mental wall was effortless, while it was anything but. She was careful to allow Ardin only enough room to speak to her but no more then that.
Lana rummaged through her things until she found a riding outfit that might suffice and quickly slipped it on. It was a blue fitted tunic with camel colored pants, which she wore with laced boots. She slid a small hand blade into her boot thinking a whole sword may be too much but then decided to take a sword too.
So that’s what you think a Rami woman looks like? His words entered her thoughts. Lana rolled her eyes at Ardin while pulling her hair into a loose braded bun.
“They look just like us. Don’t you remember from Ucu?”
Yes, I didn’t mean that… but your outfit, it’s clearly of a fine material and fitted to you. It is almost certainly finer than most Rami women are wearing.
“This is all I have, we shall hope that it’s enough. Besides surely some of their women dress in finer clothes.”
None of which fight for their King’s army.
“This could be people seeking refuge, not an army.”
Or you may be wrong.
Lana turned without comment, walking out the room and began heading down the dimly lit hall, followed by Ardin. She walked as quickly as she could without alarming others, her boots slapped the marble floor with every quick step.
Near the front of the castle door stood two guards, flanking the entrance. Their presence stopped Lana in her tracks. Would they stop her from leaving?
She would have to go another way, so that her leaving may go un-noticed. Lana knew of a few side doors that she had seen servants take. They were on the side of the castle and lower on the sloping hill it was built on. Guards would certainly be posted there eventually, but it was still early and Lana hoped that they had yet to close off all the ways out of the castle.
Turning the corner, Lana headed down a dim hallway, where she snuck down the servants’ staircase and emerged from the castle unseen. Luck was on her side. Once outside she turned, looking at the fortress. Breath found her a little more freely now that she was outside and less likely to run into her father.
Near the door she emerged from, the ocean below could be seen. The waves of the water looked to be more violent than in the morning, thundering against the cliffs. It was like the ocean knew what was stirring along its boarders, and didn’t approve.
Lana twisted, heading away from the castle, swiftly moving past those who were outside. Word was spreading of the Rami people, providing a thick blanket of uneasiness amongst the people, allowing Lana to move unnoticed.
She headed north towards the forest. This was out of the way but the least likely way to be seen. Even in the commotion Lana didn’t want to linger for too long around people who may recognize her. The forest would protect her from curious eyes. No one should have been wondering the woods at a time like that.
They had only made it several yards into the forest when a sound from her right stopped her.
Four horses stood within view. On top one was an old man with white hair and a short white beard. The two horses on either side of him each carried a child. Lana’s gaze passed over the children, but something familiar pulled her eyes back to them. It was Alex and Nadina, the children she had met earlier in the day. The fourth horse was empty, yet saddled. She turned to see if there was anyone else around, but saw no one.
“You want to borrow our horse, my dear?” The old man asked kindly.
Lana stared at him, apprehensively, in shock to have run into someone, let alone be offered a horse by the stranger. She couldn’t seem to find the words to say.
“We hear a war is coming so we are leaving, this gal’s an extra… I think he would be more use to you than us.” Said the old man.
“Cyra has begun evacuating?” Lana asked, surprised at how quickly the Sterlings had gotten word out to all their people, warning them of the Rami near by. Somehow enough time had passed that some were already heading out of the city.
The old man giggled. “Oh no my dear, is that what Cyra Sterling plans to do?”
“Then how do you know to leave?” Lana asked, confused as to how the old man seemed to know what was going on.
He held up his hand and a small black and white lizard with a bit of red crawled across his palm.
“Your Aorra?” Lana asked with a gasp. It was the same lizard that she had seen earlier that day. Never had she seen an Aorra like this before.
“Yes, my dear.”
Had he been eves dropping on their conversation at the council meeting with his Aorra? Unease twisted inside of her. Lana eyed at the three of them before her. Nadina had Nila hanging in a pouch beside to her. Lana could see fear in both her and her brother’s eyes. Their grandfather didn’t seem to be bothered at all.
“Thank you, but I have no way to pay you for the horse.”
“No need, take it, perhaps we can travel together, though we will not go into the Rami camp with you.”
Lana’s eyes grew wide. How?
“I have my ways of knowing things, young Casteel.”
And then she remembered his Aorra. Was it in the castle listening when she was talking to Ardin? Were they speaking out loud? That little thing is a spy. How’s it get around so quickly? Lana thought. Anxiety came over her, this man knew so much of what was going on, yet she knew nothing of him, but a horse would help cut time and save her some energy.
“I suppose, though it may be dangerous.” Lana was reluctant to have them travel with her. She planned on doing this alone, not wanting anyone to get in her way, nor did she want to cause them to get hurt. But if they were to turn around and head away before they came upon the Rami then perhaps it would be okay.
“A little danger can be good for the soul.” The old man said with a shrug of his shoulders and a small sparkle in his eye.
“Thank you for your kindness,” Lana replied, suspiciously keeping her eyes on him. She approached the all white horse. The mare was magnificent and already saddled with a beautiful leather saddle. She climbed onto the horse. The saddle seat fit to her perfectly. If the old man gave her the horse so freely then did he know she would come this way, did he have it saddled for her? This was the most peculiar thing.
“I must urge you to go to safety.” Lana spoke to the bearded man.
The old man shrugged “Where is there safety today? It’s a relative term. We will be ok with you, council woman.”
Lana’s lips pressed in to a thin line. They were not safe, and they knew that, yet he still was willing to go with her towards danger and with two children.
“I do not even know your name.”
“Donn” he said with a smile. Lana looked at him expecting more, a last name perhaps but he did not give it.
“Donn, very well, we should get going.” Lana began riding with the three following her. They rode fast, but in silence.
You are being awfully quiet, traitor.
What? Ardin replied as if he had no idea what Lana was referring to.
You knew the old man and the children were up ahead and you let me wonder straight to them, no warning.
Ardin would have heard or felt the people up ahead, but he did not warn Lana of it in hopes that the strangers would stop her, ruin her plans. The plans he found irrational. To her luck that is not how things happened.
After a short ride Lana came to a stop. “I’m going to go on foot from here, they must be about a mile out. You should not go any further,” she dismounted the beautiful white mare.
“Be safe,” Donn gave her a kind nod of his head. Once Lana was standing on her own, her eyes met with the old man’s. He made no attempts to take the white horse and leave.
“Aren’t you going?” Lana asked.
“We will stay, we got you this far. If your father found out I helped you and just left you here alone he would have my head. We will stay in case you need help.”
Lana nearly winced at the mention of her father.
“You know Valdor?”
“I have met him a few times here and there. He is a busy man. I am more of a supporter then acquaintance.”
Glanced over at Donn’s grandkids, Lana released a deep sigh. They were just children, they shouldn’t be here, so close to danger.
“They will be safe with me,” Donn added, as if reading her mind.
“I do not feel comfortable endangering their lives, you should leave.” Lana urged him quietly.
“Well I’m not.” Was his only reply.
“So be it.” She was frustrated with him, how he couldn’t see that it would be best for him if he simply took his grandchildren and left. Even though she hated it, there was nothing that she could do to change Donn’s mind.
Lana slipped off her sword. She eyed it a moment, considering whether to bring it with her or to leave it for fear of someone noticing the blade as a Madonian weapon. If she needed a weapon she could always create a sword, though it would take some strength and concentration to do so. Having her sword with her would be easier if she ran into trouble, but it would also make it easier for her to be made as a Madonian.
Deciding against bringing the sword, she fastened it to the beautiful white mare for safe keeping. After taking a deep breath, she turned to her Aorra, this was going to be a challenge.
“You are to stay here and keep them safe.”
NO. Ardin released a deep growl, the kind that any one but Lana would have found threatening.
Someone sees me wondering around with a great big wolf… it’s not very Rami of me.
Absolutely not Lana. She could feel the anger radiating from him. He was not happy at all about her plan.
It’s not up for discussion, you will obey. Keep them safe and if I need you then I will call for you.
There were some Madonians that gave their Aorra’s orders. Lana was never one of those. Ardin was always free. They were partners, she did not master him into obeying her every wish for she never had the need for that. But this day was different. She must do this alone and Ardin would never willingly agree to it.
You cannot do this! His voice snarled in her mind.
I can. And I am. The more you fight me the more you will pull my energy and attention from me and the more danger you will put me in, so please do not fight me.
Lana could feel her Aorra’s rage seeping through his consciousness into her own.
If the choices you make today get you killed, just remember that you will not be the only one to die. He snapped and with that Lana was alone. Ardin had pulled back and shut her out from himself.
A shudder ran through her at the thought of causing her Aorra his life. Ardin would lay down his life for her but she would never want to be the reason for his death, he knew that. Yet his words still carried a sting with them.
But what choice did she have? To run away? No, she would not turn away from this, not when the threat came from the Rami and Arkhip Dukran was using this situation to gain the war he had always wanted. She was going to do whatever she could to protect her people.
Lana looked up at the six chocolate brown eyes staring back at her from atop the horses. She gave Donn a parting nod and turned, pausing, giving a final glance at Ardin before heading away, deeper into the forest.
The anger coming from Ardin subsided with every step that she took, putting distance between them. Soon the only sounds she heard were the distant birds and the gentle rustlings of leaves. Walking through the woods alone was calming, even though what she was about to do could be the stupidest thing she had ever done.
After some time treading between the trees, Lana came across a Rami standing perfectly still with a tree against his back. She paused, like a small animal who had just spotted a predator lurking in the nearby shadows, frozen and hoping that she had not been spotted. The Rami didn’t seem to notice her from the distance, his gaze was bored and he stared straight at the woods in front of him. Keeping her eyes locked on him, Lana took a few cautious steps to the side until she was well hidden behind brush, where she could more comfortably examine the Sentry up ahead.
He was tall with broad shoulders and a stern face. His olive skin tone and earthy colored open vest gave him away as a Rami. He seemed to be posted by the tree, stationary. Quietly, Lana looked around, wondering how many sentries they had posted around their camp. No others could be seen from where she stood. Silently, she skirted around the brush, moving away from the Rami unnoticed.
Soundlessly Lana moved between the trees, highly alert so to not accidentally run into another Rami sentry. Moving with ease between the forest brush and growth, it wasn’t long before Lana found the Rami camp. It pleased her, how relatively easy it was for her to get so close. Besides nearly running up on that one sentry, she was able to get to the camp without any trouble.
Tiptoeing closer, Lana observed the camp from behind a large tree. They had tents set up, hundreds of them. In the distance she could hear the muffled sounds of people talking, but they were too far away to clearly hear. No one was near the outer tents.
Sounds were coming from farther within their camp. They must have been having some sort of gathering. Unable to make out much of what was happening, Lana decided to get a closer look, so to try and be able to at least hear some of what was being said. She took a cautious step from around the tree. Her heart beat strongly against the wall of her chest. Goosebumps ran up her body. She paused with every step, listening.
“Well hello there, and what are you doing around here?” A calm and clear male voice came from behind her.
With a sharp inhale Lana turned to see where the sound came from. Two men were approaching her from the woods, it was clear the words were meant for her as there was no one else around. Her heart thundered at the sight of them, her body tensing, every muscle suddenly tight.
What were the two of them doing in the woods? A chill touched her skin. Lana hoped that she had not left Donn and the children too close to the Rami camp. At least they had Ardin with them. He would protect them, he would be able to hear if someone approached and keep them out of harms way.
Both of the men approaching her had dark hair. One however was short and stocky, the other taller. The shorter one stopped in the near by distance while the tall Rami took a step closer towards her.
He spoke, “A lovely girl such as yourself should not be wondering about this part of camp, so close to the edge.”
Lana instinctively took an apprehensive step back, keeping herself carefully out of his reach. Ardin suddenly became very present in her mind, filled with worry. She shoved a wall up in Ardin’s face, trying to keep him from coming to her before her cover was blown.
A wicked smile spread across the tall man’s face as he brought his hand to something at his neck. That was when she noticed the gold coin hanging around his neck. The Rami rubbed the coin a moment before releasing it, his blue eyes never leaving Lana.
He continued speaking, “You see, most people know me around here, for I am the Lieutenant General to king Zakran. I am the one in charge of this camp. But you taking that timid little step away from me tells me you fear me. Rami warriors do not fear me…” His head tilted as his eyes moved over her cloths and body. “Perhaps you could fool most into believing you were one of us but I am not one who is easily fooled. Or maybe our sentry spotted you and we let you come this far? Just a few things for you to ponder.” He finished with a bright smile.
Dammit. I knew it seemed too easy to get this close. Lana’s heart skipped a beat as panic shot through her. She hadn’t even said a word and it was already clear to them she did not belong. She could feel Ardin’s panic, he was fighting against her control. I need to concentrate, if you come now they will surely attack. Lana shot at Ardin as she cut off the ties she had to him.
“Look” she said glancing at the shorter man before looking back at the tall one who seemed to be in charge. “I mean you no harm I was just…” The men’s laughter broke her train of thought.
“Well of course you mean us no harm, honey.” The short one said in a scruffy voice, taking a step towards her. His brown eyes filled with excitement. Lana took another cautious step back. She could feel cold sweat beginning to trickle down her back.
The tall Rami turned to the short one. “Well Seff, what shall we do? Let her go so she can warn her beloved people we are here? Or keep her as a little Madonian pet? I will let you decide.”
There was satisfaction in them thinking that she could warn the Madonians. This meant the Rami had no idea they were already found out, that Abder was already busy preparing for them.
“She is awfully pretty for her washed out and frail looking race.” Seff commented, looking back at Lana with dangerous eyes, sending a shiver through her. She tried to calm her breathing, not wanting them to know how panic was coursing through her.
Lana forced herself to stand tall in an attempt to look confidant even though fear gushed through her veins. Her heart was no longer steadily beating but was vibrating, un able to keep a stable pace.
She needed to get out of this before things escalated. If she let Ardin come to her aid, then he may be spotted by other Rami and risk drawing even more attention to them. She had to get out of this quickly and her own.
I WILL NOT BE SEEN, YOU STUPID GIRL! The voice shook inside Lana’s head. She had cut ties with him, how did he manage to get into her thoughts? She didn’t have time for this.
“I don’t want trouble…” Lana began to say.
“Oh but darling, you found trouble”. Seff replied grinning. He took three large quick strides towards her.
Lana ducked back when Seff went to grab her, it was a sloppy move on his part. He stumbled.
“She would have been taught some defense, being the daughter of a council member. Though a stupid one to come here alone, and without protection of a spirit beast.” The tall Rami plainly said to Seff.
Lana’s eyes flashed wide to the tall Rami. How did he know? Her skin felt cold at the realization, if he knew who she was than she wasn’t getting out of this, they would never let her go.
He smiled ever so slightly. It was a cruel curve of his lips. “How did I know you were a part of the council?”
How was he doing this? Could he read her mind? Lana instantly dismissed the thought as nonsense.
The Rami went on, “You carry yourself very nicely also your hands look to never have been used for chores, suggesting you were of a high born family. Your outfit is probably the cheapest and most common looking one you own though it is still made of fine material. It has no wear on it indicating that it has hardly ever been worn so you do not normally dress in such a form. This leads me to assume you may be of a council family. But your facial expression after I stated you were is what gave away my thoughts as true.” He finished with a slight smile on his proud tan face. His blue eyes were sparkling at her, as if he had just found gold. She was a prize jewel that just strolled right into his hands.
A moment after the lieutenant finished speaking, Seff came at Lana again, lunging towards her as she ducked out of his reach. Seff stumbled to his knee when he missed her. In that moment Lana grabbed the back of the Rami’s broad shoulders, bringing his face into her knee, like a move she was shown as a child.
After Eveline’s death Valdor had put Lana in defense classes. Some of the best fighters in their lands would come to their capitol in Olbi and would give Lana pointers and practice. She despised it, as a child. She did not like the strange men and fighting them, the soreness and bruises she was left with after each lesson. It kept the image of her mother, lying in a pool of blood, from ever fading away. Every time a trainer would try and attack her, thoughts of her mother would creep into her mind. How Eveline must have felt, how she must have been attacked, how she must have fought. However, in this moment, for the first time, Lana thanked her father for forcing her to train.
It surprised Lana how heavy the Rami was and how much that move had actually hurt her knee. It throbbed beneath the surface while she stepped out of Seff’s reach. Adrenalin coursed through her body. It was like a surge of energy, her senses heightened and the tips of her fingers went numb, and the pain in her knee instantly muffled.
Seff rolled on the ground, quicker than Lana had imagined possible, and grabbed her legs when she tried to step away. She fell to the hard cold ground, his hand still gripping her leg. Strong arms kept her from getting away, pulling her towards him. She shoved her hand in his face, trying to push him away. Suddenly she was very aware of the feel of the Rami’s warm blood on her hand. It was pouring from his nose in a flooding red river, where her knee had hit him. The feel of his blood made her stomach twist with nausea.
While keeping one hand pushing Seff away Lana began bringing her strength into her other palm. Silver dust swirled around and a sword began to form. Abruptly the pressure of Seff’s body disappeared from on top of her and a heartbeat later a hand sharply hit her across her face, stunning her. In the moment of shock, Lana lost hold of the sword she had been forming, leaving her defenseless, except for the small blade still hidden in her boot.
“Can you really not take care of a little Madonian girl without bleeding everywhere!” The lieutenant barked at Seff.
In a dazed state, Lana tried to reach for the blade in her boot. It was a feeble attempt. The Lieutenant swiftly grabbed her by her throat, raising her from the ground and pushed her up against the side of a tree. Abandoning any hopes that she had at getting to the blade, Lana’s hands flung to the Lieutenant’s arm. Her fingers gripped his, trying to pry them from her throat.
He meticulously gave her enough room to not lose consciousness, but little enough to make her body panic for breath. Lana understood that she wasn’t going to get out of this on her own. She gasped for air as she grabbed the lieutenant’s hand, trying to wrench it from her throat, but it was as if his arm was made of stone, it did not budge. She felt her mental wall break apart, letting her Aorra in.
I’m coming for you. Hold on. Was all Ardin said to her and then there was terrifying silence.
“Now, you are going to wish you were a good girl and did not make trouble for my man,” the lieutenant glared.
His face was mere inches from hers. There was something about his eyes, they were blue and dangerously cold. The way he looked at her was enough to make her skin crawl, it was the darkest of stares. A crippling hatred poured out of him. Yet there was something more that she could see in his cold gaze, something that she could not quite put her finger on, something almost familiar.
With his left hand around her neck the lieutenant general brought his right hand into the small space between the two of them and blue lightning broke through the surface of the skin on his hand. The lightning stayed in his hand.
What? How does he have such control? Lana thought as she stared at the fiery blue lightening with wide eyes. Her body thrashed, doing whatever she could to get away from him. She had only enough time to see the corners of his lips turn up before he pushed the ball in his hand into to her stomach.
Every nerve in Lana’s body ignited as if on fire. Her knees buckled and the only thing holding her up was the lieutenant’s grip on her throat. She couldn’t breath, couldn’t see, couldn’t speak.
Hot coals were scorching her from within. Intense, blinding pain ripped through her entire body. She had never felt anything like this before. Lana couldn’t feel where Ardin was, she could not sense anything besides the penetrating agony ripping her from within. Tears uncontrollably swelled behind her tightly shuteyes. Finally, her body forced her to take a scorching breath into her lungs, but filling them only forced her to release a horrendous scream. At least she thought she creamed, she couldn’t hear it. Couldn’t hear anything.
Red droplets fell from her nose on to the lieutenant’s left arm and Lana’s eyes began rolling into her head. Suddenly the pain subsided and she began regaining some senses. Her green eyes slid open, her vision blurry. Blinking away a tear, her vision cleared enough only to see the Lieutenant holding another charge of lightning in the palm of his hand.
Hurry. Was all Lana could get out before her senses were once again over powered as the lightning ripped her body from within. Another scream forced its way out from her lips before everything went dark.
The scent of the salty air mixed with the forest pine was calming. Kaiden took in a deep breath, filling his lungs with the cool air. Stretching out his arms, he took in the view of the ocean and their war ships that littered the foreign coast. Men down below could be seen like little ants running about, diligently doing their duties, preparing for what was to come. He let out a small sigh.
A snap of a twig from behind broke his serenity. The Rami placed a hand on the hilt of his sword drawing it and spun around to see a tall muscular man leaning against a tree, watching him with a smirk on his face. In his hand he held a small stick that was broken in two.
“I can still sneak up on you, little brother. But tell me what are you going to do with that measly sword, give a Madonian a haircut?” The man leaning against the tree spoke with a chuckle. He dropped the broken twig onto the ground and folded his arms across his chest while still leaning against a tree. Amused blue eyes watched as his brother held up his sword, thrusting it towards the sky.
“Yes, Lieutenant General Garin that’s exactly what I will do, I have been thinking about becoming a barber didn’t you know?” And with that the Rami released a small amount of the energy that naturally flowed through his body and blue lightning danced along the blade of his sword.
“Amazing, you will have to show me that trick one of these days, Kaiden.” The Lieutenant said as the lightning faded from the blade and Kaiden sheathed his sword.
“It took long before you could control yourself enough to hold the energy in the palm of your hand, Garin. I doubt that I have the patience to teach you anything else. You are not one to control your abilities.” Kaiden replied as he walked over to his brother, accepting that his small time of peace has just come to an end.
“That’s because Rami’s naturally ooze power, little brother. You just have so little of it that it’s easy for you to control yourself.” Garin teased, draping an arm around his brother’s shoulder, leading him back to the camp. It used to bother Kaiden, the way Garin would always tease him in a belittling way. But ever since he had learned how to better control his strength his brother’s words lost their affect on him.
Garin and Kaiden had been both orphaned at a very young age. Kaiden never knew his parents. Garin had retained some memories of them, but he hardly ever shared them. The two boys were the only family they had left. It had always been the two of them. They had each other’s backs, always, even when they hated one another. As orphans they were given to King Zakran’s army, where they were groomed to become warriors, solders who were destined to climb the ranks.
Garin had done just that, easily climbing up to becoming the lieutenant general. Kaiden on the other hand did not have the same thirst for power as his brother, preferring to keep himself with minimal responsibilities.
As children they never got along. The only thing that linked them was their blood. If it weren’t for coming from the same parents, they would have never chosen to be friends. Garin was a cruel brother, but he had always taken care of Kaiden. Now that they were no longer children the two got along well enough. Kaiden gave his brother room to be the powerful warrior he had always strived to be, while he found joy in being as free as a Rami could possibly be.
“Why must you go out here on your own?” Garin asked.
“Someone must watch the perimeter of our camp while we are on enemy grounds.” Kaiden replied as they began walking through the wood towards camp.
“True, but we have others to do that task. Your too talented to just walk—”
“WHAT TALENTED? Me? You really think so, oh great big brother?” Kaiden interrupted with his best sarcastic childlike voice and they both laughed. Never had Garin acknowledged Kaiden’s strength until after he returned from Ucu. Before that his brother thought him weak, a burden that he had to care for. Kaiden continued, “I like the tranquility, plus half the guys out here make more noise than a big bear and could be heard coming from yards away.” He said with a nod to the right. They both looked over to see Seff trudging through the wood towards them. His feet thumped with every step below his stocky body.
“Oh, I thought I heard voices!” Seff called out while he approached the two. “Lieutenant” He said with a nod, acknowledging Garin.
Garin sighed, placing a hand on Seff’s shoulder. “Seff, perhaps perimeter detail is not your calling. How on earth did we grow up together yet you developed the stealth of a falling tree? Walk with me back to camp we will give you something else to do.” He turned to his brother. “Kaiden, make your way back to camp too. We have a gathering soon to discuss plans, I want you to be there.” With that he turned and the two men walked off, leaving Kaiden to himself.
Kaiden sighed. His brother always wanted him to be more involved in the decision making of things that he could care less about. All Kaiden wanted was to just be, not to be told what to do, when to do it, and where to be by others.
Hiking through the forest, he passed foreign trees on a foreign land. Truth was that he liked walking the perimeter of camps whenever they went on Madonian soil. It was not only to get some air and guard his camp, but to protect both sides.
He let his mind wonder to a place it normally never traveled, but because of being on Madonian soil he could not restrain himself any longer. The thoughts buried deep within the smallest corners of his mind. Memories from his time at Ucu, the one place Madonians and Rami could be in a room together without bloodshed. It seemed like a lifetime ago, as if it was a dream. But the control of his energy was proof that those memories were more than just a dream. A sound broke his train of thought and Kaiden came to an abrupt stop.
He turned in a slow circle, taking in his surroundings. He had been walking mindlessly through the foreign woods. Where had he walked to? Originally he had been hiking in a direction that would slowly lead him back to camp, while still traveling the perimeter. Kaiden hoped that he hadn’t veered too far off course while allowing himself to have thoughts of a dream from long ago. He took another step in the direction he assumed was back towards camp and stilled. Out of the corner of his eye something moved.
Resting his hand on the hilt of his sword, Kaiden slowly turned to see a massive white wolf standing a few paces away from him. A cold chill ran down his spine and he shut his eyes, pressing his eyelids together, hard. To his disbelief, when he opened his eyes the wolf was still there, all majestic and white.
The wolf let out a low growl, showing his teeth. He stood to Kaiden’s hip in height, his powerful legs were bent, ready to sprint but his fierce blue grey eyes lingered, they were searching for something. The wolf’s breathing was quick and shallow as he parted his lips, showing his sharp teeth once more.
Kaiden wondered if what he was seeing was real or a cruel trick of his mind. He eyed the wolf that seemed to be so impossibly real.
“Ardin?” The name came out in a whisper of uncertainty.
As the name left Kaiden’s lips the wolf straightened, still looking at him with what seemed to be understanding for just a moment before he took off running through the woods, leaving Kaiden standing alone with an expression of disbelief.
Kaiden stood staring at where the ghost of the massive wolf had just been. He placed a hand on a nearby tree and leaned into it. For some reason he felt like he was kicked in the gut. Kaiden wondered if that truly had been Ardin, if it were then he had grown larger since the last time he had seen the white wolf. What were the chances? Kaiden didn’t know if what he had seen was real or imagined. As time trickled on he decided that it was definitely the latter, an illusion of sorts.
When Kaiden was just a boy he went up to Ucu, the school on their small moon. He studied there, learning from the instructors, hoping to gain more power and knowledge. His brother never went; a lot of Rami never did. Pride and a hate for the Madonians, even at such a young age, kept them away. But Kaiden was never as strong as Garin and as a child he desperately wanted to be his brothers equal so when the King wanted a young boy under his command to go, he went.
Once there Kaiden found himself learning the most from a girl who became an unlikely friend. She taught him the greatest trick for a Rami, control. Lack of control is a great weakness for the Rami race, often leading to self-injury or even death. Some Rami never use their powers because of it. A young white wolf named Ardin was the young girl’s Aorra, but they were from the Selvirian lands up north.
Kaiden was near a city called Abder, which belonged to a different Madonian council member. The city was far from the northern lands, Lana and Ardin should have been no where near Abder. Kaiden often took to the border patrol in holding on to some sliver of hope to see the two of them again but he never truly admitted that nor allowed himself to think that could ever truly come true. In that moment, he decided to make a small silent promise to himself. No longer would he allow himself to think about the past, for it apparently messed with him more than he had ever realized.
After a minute to himself, he managed to bring his composure back and stand without the assistance of a tree. Smirking to himself, Kaiden was thankful that his brother wasn’t around to see him fall apart due to the vision of a wolf. Garin would have surely never let him hear the end of that.
Just as Kaiden was about to shake the haunting of his past off and make way to camp a cry broke through the air around him. It was a scream. He was sure this time. Instinctually he touched the hilt of his sword, and began running towards the sound. It was a short distance before he made it to a small clearing near his camp and he saw them.
A white wolf stood before Kaiden. He was magnificent, standing slightly crouched, lip curled so you could see his white threatening teeth. His massive ears were back and his fur stood on its ends. There was something on the ground behind him, between the wolf and a tree, a body. Kaiden took a step to the side and saw a woman lying on the ground.
Her brown hair was pulled back into a braided bun with a few loose strands stuck to the sweat on the side of her face. Her face was pale and even though there was blood dripping from her nose he could tell she was beautiful. Kaiden stared a moment at the lovely motionless face and his heart sank at the familiarity of it. It was Lana. She was older but he knew that face, he knew that wolf.
Kaiden’s head snapped to the voice, finally acknowledging the others who were at the scene.
It was Garin. His brother had done this, he felt sick.
Garin chuckled and continued, “Not used to seeing the Madonian Aorra’s so close and living, huh?”
Ardin released a vicious snarl. Kaiden was thankful for Garin’s assumption that his reaction was due to the Madonian’s presence and not his own brothers.
“What is going on?” Kaiden asked with a carefully steady voice, looking to Garin, trying to maintain his composure so not to give away how absolutely torn he was in that moment. He could hear his own heart beat, pounding in his head.
“The little fancy pants girl of the council either unluckily stumbled upon our camp or she thought she could spy for her council people. Clearly she can not.”
Kaiden turned to look at the woman he assumed to be Lana laying on the ground. She was beaten, he could see that, her eyes were shut and she had not moved since he arrived. Worry seeped into him, he hoped that she would be all right.
“What are you planning on doing?” Kaiden asked his brother, not taking his eyes off of Lana. It had been such a long time since he had seen her face, it almost didn’t seem real.
A smile spread across Garin’s face a new. “Well I was going to teach her a lesson, take her for myself or perhaps give her to my men and send her home as a message.”
Kaiden’s jaw flexed. It took all of his strength to keep silent. He was relieved Garin hadn’t noticed.
Garin continued, “I was doing just fine till her dog appeared and now I can’t get close, nifty little pup she has.” Before he finished he sent out a blaze of lightning from his palm at the girl.
Kaiden’s hand jerked towards his sheathed sword but he stopped himself, he hoping his brother yet again hadn’t noticed. Gritting his teeth, he willed his body to relax, to unclench the muscles that seemed too ready to act.
The bolt released by Garin hit in front of Ardin and spread out as if over an invisible bubble that encased the wolf and Lana before it vanished. Ardin snarled savagely, his eyes wide, crazed with anger and a fierce need to shield his Madonian. He hunched over Lana like a mother protecting its cub.
“The wolf somehow deflects me,” Garin simply stated. Kaiden exhaled, his brother didn’t notice his tensing.
His eyes moved over Lana. She was going to die. She and her wolf had no way out. Once others noticed what was going on, her fate would be sealed and there was no way he would be able to get his brother to set her free. What to do?
Cautiously, Kaiden took a few steps closer to the wolf and knelt down. Ardin watched him with fierce eyes. Kaiden wanted to tell him that he was friendly, that he would not hurt the wolf nor the Madonian he protected. But there was no safe way to express that to the wolf.
Kaiden held the wolfs gaze as he allowed the energy within him to flow into the palm of his hand. It seeped through him, into his hand and almost past it, but he pulled back on the power, restraining it. Within a few moments he had a small ball of light in his hand.
Garin stood a few paces behind him, watching curiously with Seff. Ardin growled a low threatening growl. Kaiden was trying to send Ardin a message that he was friendly, though for this to work Ardin would have to be willing to receive it and let in the energy. Given the circumstances Kaiden was unsure if the wolf would allow for it. But what other option did he have?
He yearned for this to work as he felt a push from within and the ball floated out of his hand and towards the white wolf. The gray eyes of the wolf watched Kaiden while the ball made its way to him. Not once did the wolf look at the energy drifting towards him and for a moment Kaiden thought he would reject it for sure.
The barrier that the wolf had created lit up at the ball’s touch and the ball went through. Restraining a sigh, Kaiden slowly stood and took five large steps back till he was standing just behind his brother. Garin stood still, staring at the wolf waiting for what was about to happen, excited that his little brother seemed to do something that breached the wolf’s barrier.
The ball touched Ardin’s nose and a soft glow came over the wolf. As Ardin stood over Lana, the glow transferred from him to her. In that moment Kaiden hit his brother from behind. Garin’s unconscious body fell limp to the ground.
Seff began to draw his sword but he was too slow to realize what was happening, unable to react fast enough. Before he could fully even unsheathe his sword Kaiden sent a strong charge from the palm of his hand, knocking Seff out.
“I’m sorry brother.” Kaiden said softly as he looked down at Garin. “I hope you find it in your heart to forgive me some day.”
Kaiden looked at the now silent wolf and took a step towards him before he began snarling again.
“Look I am not going to hurt you or her,” Kaiden said gesturing to the body the wolf was protecting so fiercely. “If I was I would not have just done what I did, you have no choice but to trust me. Others will be headed here soon and they wont be out for long.” Kaiden gestured to the two Rami men who lay on the ground behind him.
Ardin of course knew Kaiden had a point, but he didn’t like allowing his shield to fall, making them vulnerable. Still he had not been left with much of a choice. So Ardin took a step to the side, allowing Lana’s body to be fully visible as he let down his protective shield.
Kaiden came up to the girl, laying there, and scooped her into his arms. He took a moment to look at her, her face so serine. Never had he thought it possible that he would be able to hold her again. Ardin grumbled and took off into the woods. Holding Lana against his chest, Kaiden began running after the wolf, into the woods.
Kaiden came to a sudden stop in front of an old Madonian man, two children and four horses. He had not expect such an odd company. Ardin ran past him, stopping near the old man and turned to face Kaiden, looking up at the Madonian he held in his arms. A small high pitched whine escaped from the wolf.
No one said a word.
Kaiden could feel his heart beat in his temples while he took irregular breaths. He looked at the people before him, wondering who would bring children into all of this. After a short silent moment, he turned and gently put the girl’s limp body down onto the ground.
“I’m Donn,” the old man said while Kaiden stared at the motionless body he had laid down. It was odd to be surrounded by Madonians, but Kaiden didn’t find the old man and a couple kids threatening. Still he found the old mans calmness when he emerged from the forest carrying Lana’s limp body unusual.
Donn knelt by the body, he gently grasped Lana’s wrist and held it a moment. He then held his hand above her body, moving it slowly over her. “She is alive, her pulse is very weak, and she has almost no strength.”
Kaiden heard the old man but made no move to respond. He stared at the still face of the Madonian he thought he would never see again, the face that haunted his darkest dreams, that caused him to react and betray his brother. He wondered why he had done what he did. His brother would have a hard time understanding everything. In this moment he almost hated the girl before him, for what he had to do to his brother because of her. He and his brother were not friends, but they were family, they grew up together, the were the only thing they had in this world. No matter how cruel or dark their relationship had been in the past, Garin was still his blood, and blood sticks with blood. That is the Rami way.
A nudge at Kaiden’s shoulder forced him to look away, turning to the white wolf. Ardin eyed Kaiden, once he had his attention he looked to Donn and then to Lana. Kaiden assumed the wolf was trying to say something to him.
“You want energy?” Kaiden asked and Ardin’s tail moved in delight to have been understood so quickly. Kaiden turned his eyes to the motionless body, he may as well help, he was in this mess now. “It will have to be slow. It has been years. I don’t want to harm her or you.”
Ardin positioned himself next to Lana. Slowly Kaiden released energy into his hand and a ball of light formed in his palm. A small gasp came from one of the children, but he did not look at them to see which one. His eyes stayed on the light in his hands while he focused the strength into a contained sphere. He released the light over to Ardin and a soft glow came over the wolf and then Lana.
A moment later Kaiden made another ball in his hand but a growl from Ardin stopped him.
“What?” He asked looking at the massive wolf.
Ardin eyed at the light in his hand.
“You want more?”
The wolf nodded a single nod.
“Fine, if you blow up know that I warned you.”
The first time Kaiden and Lana had learned that he could give her strength through Ardin was an accident. They were goofing off as children, not aware of what exactly they had done. Once Lana felt the strength that she was able to receive they began practicing regularly. There were many times that things ended up horrifically bad, with someone getting injured.
For this to work, Kaiden had to exhibit control and Ardin had to be in a receptive state, which also meant he was vulnerable and completely defenseless. Over time they perfected the technique. However, all of that was long ago, time had passed and they were strangers to each other now.
The concentration of the energy in Kaiden’s hand grew as he fed more strength into it and the light intensified. Carefully, he released it to Ardin. Watching the light travel between them, Kaiden held his breath, hoping that this would not hurt them. A glow came over Ardin and then flowed down to Lana.
Ugh my head. Lana’s thoughts were accessible to Ardin. He jumped up with a wag of his tail, resembling a massive pup.
Donn came over to Lana Casteel, once more assessing her as her eyes fluttered open. She raised her hand only to bring it down with a smash on her forehead. Her head was pounding, her ears ringing, and her hand felt too heavy. Her body felt astoundingly sore.
Lana pushed off the ground in order to get to a sitting position, hoping that her head would stop spinning if she sat upright. She opened her eyes in an attempt to get some understanding of where she was and what had happened. Ardin immediately came into her line of vision, bringing his face inches from hers. If you ever do anything like that again I will kill you myself. He lifted his lip with a low growl.
By the grace of whatever powers be you were saved today Lana. I will not forgive you for this. Ardin snarled, hair standing on its ends around his neck. His eyes were piercingly sharp as he glared at her. A cold shudder ran down Lana’s spine at the thought of her last memory. The memory of her being held against the tree by her throat and feeling as if she were being ripped from within. She pushed away the thought, though she was still very confused on how she ended up getting away from the Rami.
“No need to be so dramatic.” Lana replied, trying not to think about how completely helpless and afraid she last felt.
Ardin growled in response.
Lana raised her hand to touch the side of her Aorra’s face. He, however, ducked out of her reach.
I am truly sorry Ardin. It was impulsive of me, I thought I could… well it doesn’t matter now. How did you get me out of there?
It was not I alone who got you out of there. We were lucky today. Stupid luck, that’s what saved us.
Lana stared at him quizzically, unsure of what Ardin meant. The wolf moved to the side, allowing for her to better take in the surroundings. She saw a man standing to the side, behind Ardin, previously blocked from her view.
It was evident he was Rami. Her first gut reaction was to get away but recognition washed over her before she could react. She saw the eyes of a boy she once knew peering at her from the body of a man. This can’t be.
Lana looked to Ardin for affirmation, afraid that she was perhaps seeing things, hallucinating.
It’s him. Was Ardin’s only response.
Lana’s wide eyes darted back to the Rami before her.
He stood there looking at her, unsure of whether to approach her or not while Lana sat on the ground, looking up at him with wide green eyes. It was as if his whole body was somehow in her grip, he found that he could finally breathe when she turned away to her Aorra. When she turned back to him his muscles would tighten, making it a challenge to fill his lungs with air. Kaiden tried to shake the feeling, to regain control of himself. He was uncertain why he was feeling this way, unwillingly allowing for her to have this power over him.
“Kaiden?” Lana asked softly.
Relief washed over him, she remembered him. Kaiden walked a few steps towards her and knelt next to her. She was close enough that he could reach out and touch her if he wanted to. The thought made his pulse race. Hadn’t he just carried her? But she was not conscious then and having her eyes watching him was very different.
“It’s been a long time Lana Casteel.” This was the first thing he could think of in response. He cringed at using her full name, it felt so formal, so distant. As if they were strangers. Kaiden stood and held out his hand to her.
Lana eyed it a moment, as if wondering what to do with it, and then took it.His pulse quickened at her touch. This was real. The two of them standing together, existing, it was real.
Lana managed to get to her feet but her head pounded back at her in protest. The world was doing somersaults in her head. She could feel Kaiden’s arms grab her in a strong but gentle hold, steadying her while keeping her at arms length. He helped her back down to the ground to rest against a smooth boulder. She obviously needed more time to recover.
Ardin gently nudged Kaiden’s hand, looking to Lana and back towards the Rami.
“I can give you some energy if that is what you need.” The Rami said in a cool voice to Lana.
Lana blushed at his offer, embarrassed to seem so weak, but nodded in response. The quicker she could fully function the better. Her hopes that the Rami who came onto their shores were refugees was false. Madonians were in danger. There was no doubt that Arkhip Dukran would use this to get the war he had always wanted. Lana needed to pull herself together, she needed to warn her father.
A light erupted in Kaiden’s hand. For a moment she looked at it with horror, being brought back to only moments ago at the Rami camp. Brought back to the feeling of having every cell in her body ignited by the energy forced into her, burning through her.
He’s not going to harm you, it’s okay. Ardin reassured her, feeling her fear as he stepped between her and Kaiden. Kaiden sent the soft glowing light from his palm to Ardin who allowed for it to wash over the wolf and then Lana.
Sweet relief washed away Lana’s pounding head. After a moment she gently rose to stand on her own. Her eyes met with Kaiden’s. Guarded and withdrawn eyes looked back at her, she couldn’t read him, couldn’t tell what he was thinking.
Her heart hammered against her ribs. He was standing in front of her, he was really there. The boy she still had dreams of.
It was as if they were in some sort of a time warp. She felt like she had known him for all the time they had been apart, yet at the same time it was as if they were strangers. As she was staring into Kaiden’s blue eyes she understood why the Rami Lieutenant’s eyes seemed so curious to her. The joy flustering within her at such an unexpected reunion immediately settled down.
“Thank you for saving me from… Who were those men?” She asked Kaiden, referring to the two Rami who had confronted her.
“The shorter one was Seff and the other one, his name is Garin.”
Lana looked down at the ground a moment in thought. She had heard him say that name before, a long time ago. She paused, “Your brother?”
Lana only nodded in response to his affirmation. She was beginning to put things about the encounter together.
“You taught him to control his power like that.” It was not a question. Lana knew most Rami had no true control of their abilities. They shot out energy with no finesse and little control, endangering everyone around them, including themselves. The only one, or so she thought, who was ever able to hold and control the power from within, so that it could be condensed into a sphere, was standing before her and the only reason he ever possessed such capabilities was because of her.
In an instant she felt angry. Her time with Kaiden at Ucu had led to a vile Rami such as Garin having such great control of his strength. The Rami’s inability to control their powers was one of the Madonian’s main advantages against them.
Lana turned to Donn. He and his grandkids stood in silence watching the exchange between Lana and the strange Rami.
“Thank you for staying but you must go to safety. It has become too dangerous now. The Rami are combing through the forest around their camp. They are military men, not refugees. Take your grandchildren and get out of here.”
“What will you and your friend do now?” Donn replied calmly.
That’s when Lana noticed he was oddly comfortable around Kaiden. Most Madonian’s would run or try to kill a Rami on sight, at the very least she should be able to sense some unease from him. But Donn seemed fine, not at all distressed, and even called him her friend.
“You’re not frightened of him?” Lana asked Donn.
Donn chuckled before placing a hand on a shoulder of each of his grandkids. “Oh no, these little one’s seem skittish but they will get over it. I have been around many Rami people in my life.”
Kaiden now seemed interested in the old man. “Where have you been around so many Rami?” he questioned.
Donn turned to address Kaiden with an almost whimsical look, “In Alogrin, my boy.”
Lana stepped closer to the old man, her eyes wide. “You have been to Alogrin?” She asked in disbelief.
“I have,” was his only reply.
I thought that place was a myth. Madonians have searched for years and it was never found. Can it be real?
Ardin studied the old man along with Lana. I don’t know, but the stories must have come from somewhere.
Alogrin was a place where Rami and Madonians once lived together, away from the troubles of the world. Where the great kings of the lands once lived and ruled over both races, under one single rule. The city’s location had always remained secret. Only the kings and their most trusted people lived in Alogrin, along with the golden army. The golden army was the highest caliber of the king’s forces, highly skilled and trusted. They protected their king fiercely.
This was before the wars destroyed everything. After the fall of the last great king the golden army was never seen again. It was rumored that they fell into hiding in order to protect the unborn son of the late king, but those were only rumors.
The public had no knowledge of how to get to the great city, besides for the few who took its location to their grave. Alogrin became a fairy tail that parents would tell their children. But even those stories of the once upon a time kings and talented fighters, stories of a peaceful time and a hidden city began to fade. But the stories never faded from Lana. It was a place she had desperately wished to be real.
Donn moved his arms to cradle each of his grandchildren, pulling them a bit closer to himself. “That is where we will be heading. I have a home there, but for these little ones it will be a first time trip.”
“I thought Alogrin was a myth.” Kaiden spoke what Lana was thinking. She peered at him, it seems that the stories of Alogrin were told amongst both races.
“Oh it’s very real, I assure you.”
“You live there?” Lana questioned, unsure if she believed him.
“Ehhh, I have a home there, but haven’t lived there long term. With the way things are, I figured it would be the safest place for the grandkids, for the time being.” Donn looked at them, all-staring back at him wide-eyed in disbelief. “I can take you there, though it will be tricky. They have never allowed a Council member through their gates before…”
“Is it truly as great as the stories lead it to be?” Lana asked eagerly, her apprehension was being overwhelmed the possibility of Alogrin being real. There was a flicker of hope at the prospect of it. A grand city, one with a golden army, an army that could stand against this war. A place where Rami and Madonians can live without fear.
“It is even more remarkable than the stories, my dear. Rami and Madonians live there without bloodshed, it is a small haven away from this cruel world.”
“I’ve heard that they are great warriors.” Kaiden stated.
“The best.” Donn said with a wink, as if he knew a secret about their warriors.
“Why do they stay hidden away? Why not come out and be known and help the people of our lands? Where is Alogrin?” Lana began asking, her mind racing with questions.
“They have their reasons and opinions.” Donn replied lifting an eyebrow while he watched her. “As for where they are, that is a complicated answer. Alogrin is in the mountains by your lands, Ms. Casteel. The city is hidden amongst the Selvirian mountains.”
Lana looked down in thought. To go to Alogrin would be amazing, but what of everything in Selviria, everything in all of Madonia? She would have to talk to her father. “I cannot leave my people and—” Lana was cut off from finishing her thoughts by Donn abruptly turning away from her. He looked towards the forest behind him.
“It has started,” the words hauntingly left his lips.
Ardin too now turned, his ears up and pointed.
What is it? Lana asked her Aorra.
“WHAT? What do you mean war?”
“It seems a battle has started outside of Abder.” The old man spoke while scratching a small balding spot on top of his light grey head. “It seems we have luckily somehow avoided the Rami moving towards Abder.”
Your father, Ardin said as he began running through the woods, knowing Lana would have sent him anyway. Kaiden and Donn both turned to her in question of Ardin’s disappearance.
“My father is there. Ardin is going to go find him.” Lana spoke as she walked over to the white horse, pulling her sword from the mare and strapping it to her waist while panic began creeping in. “Donn, may I borrow her once more?” Lana asked urgently, regarding the horse.
“She is all yours, you can keep her.”
Kaiden gently grabbed Lana’s arm forcing her eyes to meet his. “You should not go. You were just attacked.”
“And now I am all better, thanks to your donation of strength.” She owed him her life yet she felt betrayed that he taught his brother things from their past. Things that she thought were only between the two of them. She turned to get on her horse.
Kaiden held his grip on her arm. “I only gave enough for you to feel better not fight a battle.”
“Every moment I am here discussing this with you another one of my men is being killed. I am a part of the Madonian council. I disobeyed my father’s wishes and he is probably only a part of this in his attempt to find me. If anything happens to him… I must go”
His hand dropped from her arm. “Let me go then, I’ll find him.” It was a preposterous proposition.
“No. Madonians will try and kill you on sight, besides you have no idea who to even look for. I must go. Keep an eye on Donn and the kids, please. I’ll return once this is over.” Lana quickly swung a leg over and gave her horse a sharp kick, taking off before Kaiden could oppose again.
Her heart raced in her chest while the horse carried her in the direction Ardin instructed. Fear nipped at her heel and she gave the horse a kick, as if trying to outrun it. She had to be strong, fearless, if she wanted to dive into whatever was going on, to find her father. In her gut she felt that something was incredibly wrong. It was more than the fact that Rami and Madonians were coming to blows on the outskirts of the city of Abder. Something had been wrong since the moment the day had started.
It was not long before Lana came across a battlefield. Taking cover near a tree and some brush, she observed the mass of men fighting in a small opening within the woods between Abder and the Rami camp. She could see the silver of Madonian armor and the tanned flesh of the Rami moving in the clearing. Sounds of screams, groans, and clashing steel drifted through the air.
Where is he! Her inner mind shouted to Ardin as she scanned the scene in front of her. Blood raced through her veins faster and faster with every moment that passed. Flashes of fiery light lit up the space as Rami and Madonians fought. Amongst the ringing of steel swords, the Rami would release bright sparks which the Madonians and their Aorras would block.
I am looking, Lana. I am trying to get something from the other wolves but there’s nothing, it’s very odd.
And Earmon? Lana scanned the horizon near a tree where the two sides fought. There was no sign of him. She searched from the center where she assumed he might have been, but again saw nothing. ARDIN!? Lana called out.
I cannot locate him.
Lana felt as if she were in a free fall. Her stomach was in her throat. Ardin’s words resonated in her mind. Normally Ardin should be able to find Earmon in this situation, they had a way to open up to each other and work together, like a pack of wolves. Ardin’s words echoed throughout her, what it meant if he could not reach Earmon. She could hardly breathe.
Ardin raced around the edge of the fighting men until he picked up on a familiar scent. He flowed the information to Lana. Almost instantly she knew where to go, thankful of how close Valdor was.
Her father was on the edge of the battle, close to the forested area around the small opening. Lana climbed down off her horse, leaving it at the edge of the woods. She didn’t want to ride it in to the battle and draw unnecessary attention to herself. Instead she began running on foot, against Ardin’s wishes for her to wait for him.
Lana broke into the clearing and saw her father in the distance. He stood alone fighting three Rami and not doing too well. His right arm had been badly cut, leaving him to fight with his left. Lana pushed herself to get to Valdor, her feet moved underneath her in a surprisingly slow pace. Her heart galloped, pushing adrenalin through her. She felt Ardin running to catch up to her.
As she darted through the mess of moving bodies, weaving through the battle she felt a presence, as if eyes were watching her. That is when she noticed that she had drawn the attention of a Rami warrior. He was making strides towards her, with crazy eyes that were focused only on her. Lana stopped running and braced herself, waiting for the Rami to get closer, sword in hand.
She held up her silver blade as his came down. The Rami’s strength behind his swing shook her and her sword slipped through her fingers, flying away from her. The Rami shot a pillar of fiery light at her. She jumped out of the way, barely dodging it. He positioned himself between Lana and her sword, that now lay on the ground behind him.
The Rami’s breath was quick, muscles glistening with a brown mixture of wet sweat and blood, and his eyes stared at Lana with a wild craze. His lip curved up, like he knew that he had her caught. A sound like a proud grunt came from him.
Weakly, Lana stood before him, her knees shaking. A blade slowly formed in her hand. The pull of energy that it required from her to create the weapon made her head spin and ears ring. Her entire body seemed to tremble. Loosing her balance, she kneeled on the ground, mustering up just enough strength to lift her newly formed sword in order to block the Rami’s attack. Leaving the clash of their steel ringing in her ears.
Struggling with all her strength to stand, Lana shoved the Rami away from her. He stepped a heavy foot back before swinging another blow at her, causing her to lose her grip as her sword yet again fell to the ground. Releasing the swords form, it ruptured into the dust it came from, but the release of the energy used to hold the weapon together did little to add to Lana’s strength. The world was spinning out of control and only steadied itself long enough for her to see the blood lust eyes of the Rami now standing directly in front of her. She tried to send a surge of energy into her palm, but a blade was too slow to form. The Rami raised his sword hand.
Ardin I…Lana began before the Rami in front of her suddenly froze, eyes wide in shock.
A long steel blade burst through the Rami’s chest before it disappeared back into him. He fell to the ground with shocked cold eyes. Behind the once living man stood Kirill Dukran, holding a blood slick sword.
Lana looked at him, stunned. Without a word he held his hand out to her. She eyed him, hating herself for needing him as she held out her cold weak hand towards Kirill. He gripped it and pulled her to her feet, helping her regain her balance.
Once standing Kirill turned to face away from her, eyeing the threats around them. His steady gaze moved over every person around them, analyzing every potential threat within reach.
“You are weak, Lana. If you cannot fight you need to run. We are on the edge of the battle you can take cover in the woods”. He stood highly alert and focused, excited even. This was Kirill in his element, doing what he loved, fueled by war and death.
Lana didn’t know whether Kirill was truly calling her weak or if he was simply telling her what state she was in. In this moment she didn’t care to take the time to discover if there was an ulterior meaning behind his words.
“No, my father.” She managed to object before Kirill began speaking over her.
“If you both die then what of your people?”
Lana felt a pang of guilt for not taking her people into her decision to run into this mess after her father. In the nearby distance she saw another Rami approaching. Dread at his approach over came her for she felt so completely useless, her legs shaking under her own weight. Doubt filled her mind. She questioned whether or not she could do this. Could she help her father, help her people, help anyone? What had she been thinking?
A wave of courage and warmth from Ardin hit Lana as he entered her mind. Thank the lands. He said as he shared an image of Kaiden with her.
Take a knee Lana heard Ardin’s command in her mind.
Her head whipped to the direction Ardin was. Were they crazy? She thought to herself. Panic rushed through her, for she instantly understood what Ardin and Kaiden were up to. They were desperate and there was simply no time for a better idea. This was her fault.
Clenching her hands into fists Lana fell down to one knee with an uncomfortable pit in her stomach. She hated feeling so desperate, so weak.
“WHAT ARE YOU DOING?” Kirill yelled at her, his voice urgent. “GET UP! RUN, DO SOMETHING!” He pleaded as the next Rami threat was nearly upon them.
There was nothing that Lana could do, nowhere to go. She had stupidly put everyone in harms way, her father was injured and his Aorra possibly gone. She had no strength, nor had she thought of what would happen to her people when she ran into this. Lana could only hope that what Ardin was about to do would work and that Kirill could protect her for just a few more moments. Depending on a Dukran, the notion of it was enough to make her stomach turn.
Kirill sliced through the Rami with ease and turned to Lana, prepared to forcefully make her stand and shove her towards the cover of the woods, but then he saw something. Lana’s eyes flickered to what had stopped the Dukran in his tracks. Following his gaze, she saw it.
Blue light erupting around Ardin in the distance, it was unlike anything they had ever seen. The light didn’t push Ardin or set him a blaze the way it was normally seen when Rami light touched Aorra’s. This light completely engulfed him, devouring him.
Kaiden watched Lana ride off on her white horse. After she vanished behind the foliage of the forest, he turned to the old man and then gazed at the children. The girl looked him square in the eyes while the boy stood still, eyeing him from under the protection of his grandfather’s hand.
“They have never been close to a Rami before, you must forgive them if they do something silly, like stare.” Donn spoke with a smile.
He didn’t mind the kids’ stares. It was the way Donn looked at him that he didn’t like, as if he were studying him in some sort of experiment. The old man didn’t even try to do it discreetly. He just stood there, watching him.
Kaiden turned, looking off in the direction Lana had gone. She seemed to have come into his life with such a sudden force and then run right out of it with such swiftness. A part of him was unsure if the whole thing weren’t just a strange dream, a cruel trick of the mind. But if it were just a dream, then surly he would have woken by then.
“She is alright, she is on the edge of the battle field searching for her father.”
“How do you know that?” Kaiden asked, turning his attention to the old man.
“I have a few of these scattered about.” Donn replied holding out a small white and black lizard in the palm of his hand before slipping it back in to a small satchel that hung off his shoulder. Kaiden wondered how many of those the old man had, finding it odd the Madonian had control over so many creatures and somehow capable of communicating with all of them like an Aorra. He had always thought Madonians had a single Aorra and that it was the only creature they could communicate with.
“Lana is weak. I didn’t give her enough strength to actually fight.” Kaiden replied, the concern evident in his voice.
“You care about her?”
Kaiden looked at Donn wondering what that mattered. His gaze fell to the ground without a response. He should have never gotten involved in this mess.
“You saved her life, so you must care about her right?” The old man continued.
“No, it isn’t.” Donn simply replied eyeing the Rami in front of him, observing him.
Kaiden shook his head, this old man was beginning to drive him crazy. What was he getting at? They stood in an awkward silence. Kaiden again looked back to where Lana had disappeared into the forest, replaying their conversation to himself.
“She said that she was a council member? What of her parents? Shouldn’t they be in the council?” Kaiden asked, thinking of the last things that she had said to him, that she needed to protect her people. Garin had also mentioned her being a council member when he had stumbled upon them.
“If you care about her I suggest you take my horse and go to her. I think she may be in need of your help. Just bring him back when it is all done.” Donn spoke, not answering Kaiden’s questions. There was a sudden urgency in Donn’s voice. A chill ran through Kaiden.
For a moment he looked at Donn as if the old man had lost his mind. Offering up a horse to a Rami he did not know, in order to save a Madonian girl and not just any Madonian but a council member. The old man was a complete fool, placing so much trust into a Rami he did not know.
For reasons Kaiden was not sure of he began moving towards the dapple gray horse offered up by Donn, swung his leg over and began riding in the direction Lana had gone. He did not know what he was going to do or what he was even getting himself into. He didn’t even know if he really wanted to do this. Part of him wished that she would have not been in Abder and that he would not have acted so hastily against his brother. Yet, however he felt about betraying his brother, the thought of allowing something horrible to happen to Lana when he was able to help her made him feel a deep guilt that was new to him.
It was not long until Kaiden emerged from the woods. The sound of battle welcomed him from the break in the trees. He saw men fighting and falling all over with flashes of fire and light exploding randomly throughout.
Once he was sheltered behind some brush Kaiden hopped off of Donn’s horse and looked past the forest onto the scene before him. He saw the muscular Rami warriors fighting armored Madonians and their Aorras.
Garin would have been knocked out too long to have orchestrated this. The fight was closer to the Rami camp then Abder anyway, which Garin would not have wanted. Kaiden thought it safe to assume the Madonians had started this.
Fueled with worry he scanned the mess of people before him. This did not seem to be a well planned out battle for either side. Both were taking hard hits and it was difficult for to tell who had the upper hand.
Kaiden’s eyes rested on a monster of a Rami long enough to see him slay two Madonians before turning his sights on a Madonian woman, Lana. Even from the distance he could instantly tell that she was too weak to be out there on her own, making her an easy target. Those who recognize who she is will be drawn to her like flies to a soft spoiled fruit.
Before he even mentally gave himself the order to run Kaiden’s feet acted, moving beneath him. He weaved between trees, alongside the edge of the woods and battle, moving towards Lana while cursing Ardin for not being by her side.
Running towards her he saw Lana block the Rami’s first attack. Then in the blink of an eye she had lost her sword and was kneeling on the ground as the Rami raised his blade, stopping Kaiden in his tracks. He was out of time there was no way for him to get to her in time. His breath was caught in his throat. Beads of sweat rolled across his forehead. With distraught eyes he could only watch as the threatening Rami in front of her suddenly froze and fell to the ground. A Madonian stood behind the Rami with a sword dripping with blood.
Kaiden exhaled in sweet relief, his eyes darting to the side. Something caught his attention. A massive white wolf took down a Rami and was making its way towards him.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Kaiden said under his breath. The wolf was Ardin, Lana’s Aorra, basically sworn to protect her with his life and here he was heading away from Lana and approaching Kaiden. There was only one reason that the wolf would risk this, for power.
Kaiden glanced back at Lana who now wobbled beside the Madonian warrior who had just saved her. She looked so unbearably weak. In order for her to get enough strength to fight Rami soldiers she would need a large amount of energy. An amount that even as foolish children they did not dare to ever attempt.
To share power with Ardin required a form of perfect chemistry. Kaiden had to give enough not to hurt Ardin and Ardin had to openly accept it without hesitation. There had to be a level of trust to do it. It was not easy and there were many times Ardin had gotten hurt in their childhood practices. For them to attempt such a thing, after all that time apart, when they were almost strangers would be insane.
This would not be practice like when they were young and to give Lana enough strength now, could very well kill her Aorra. In a small moment of amusing irony Kaiden found it somehow fitting for Lana and her Aorra to both had death wishes that day. It was shocking that the two had survived so long.
Ardin finally was free of Rami warriors and able to get closer to Kaiden. Stopping at a short distance he looked directly at him with fierce gray blue eyes.
“This may kill you.” Was all Kaiden said, already knowing why the wolf came to him. The white beast turned his head towards Lana and back, showing his teeth. In Kaiden’s mind he was indicating that he was willing to do whatever necessary.
Bringing his palms close together, Kaiden let the heat of the energy coursing through his body pool in his palms. Hot rivers of strength ran through him and he curved the rivers, sending them into his palms, collecting it. He pulled his hands farther apart and the space filled with his strength. Sweat beaded on his forehead while he struggled to gather the raw energy in a contained form, to control it.
If what he was doing didn’t work then Ardin could die and if the Madonian beside Lana were to keep her from harm then Kaiden had no doubt that she would kill him for it.
Of course the day they were to meet again would be the day this would be happening. A day Lana was caught by his brother, only to throw herself into more danger, in need of his help. It would be that day that she waltzed into his life, uprooting it.
The odds were stacked against him, but this was their only chance. Taking one last look over at Lana, who dropped to her knee just as another Rami approached, he cut off the flow of his energy into the sphere. Kaiden hoped that this would work. He said a silent prayer to himself as he severed ties with the sphere of light and threw it into the wolf.
A white light incased the Ardin and Kaiden could not breath, fearing what he may have done.
Take a knee, Ardin sent a final thought to Lana, hoping she could be protected for a moment longer. He hated himself for allowing them to be separated. For him being unable to protect her, but that was about to end.
As the beam of light rushed at him, Ardin braced himself. Kaiden’s light may help them or kill him. Fighting the urge to protect himself, he opened up into a complete receptive state. It felt unnatural to do so to an entity other than Lana, but this was their only chance, Lana’s only chance. His eyes shut and he concentrated on keeping himself open, receptive. The sounds of battle around him died down into the background while he prepared himself.
Light erupted around him. It was like a kick in his stomach. A snarling howl uncontrollably escaped his lungs, followed by a nauseating pressure all around him, pressing on all sides. It was suffocating, as if crushing him, burying him alive. There was no escaping it, even if he wanted to. The blaze engulfed Ardin, surrounding him, downing him in raw liquid energy.
From the distance Lana felt her Aorra’s energy suddenly spike as the light began fueling him. Ardin turned, looking to Lana through the waves of people between them as he shared the strength with her.
A small glow of blue encased her like a warm blanket. She dug her fingers into the dirt under her hands as sweet relief flooded through her. Her world no longer spun. The ground beneath her steadied. With every passing moment and every draw of breath, she felt stronger. Lana felt Ardin, his strength growing as he drank in the energy that surrounded him and now her.
The new strength had a sweet taste to it that she had not noticed before. Lana’s eyes smoothly lifted their green gaze from the earth to the chaos around with a new clarity. Everything on the outside was running but within she felt a calming peace. The power flowing through her was unlike anything she had experienced before. It was magnificently intoxicating.
The stillness around her broke, sending Lana back to her mission to find Valdor. Shooting to her feet, she pulled the new energy within her into both palms. Two modest silver saber swords formed with a slow ease, one in each palm. She turned to Kirill who stood very still, looking at the Rami by the woods and then Ardin. His gaze made its way back to Lana, the swords in her hands and then up to her eyes.
“Do not touch him.” Was all Lana managed to get out before she was blocking the next Rami’s attack on them. And that was all she really needed to say, Kirill knew who she was talking about. Lana caught the approaching Rami’s sword in her sabers while Kirill provided the final blow. The Rami fell to the ground.
“I’ll help you get to your father.” Kirill said as Lana turned towards Valdor’s direction. They both began running to her father.
Lana was not particularly in favor of Kirill accompanying her. She eyed the Madonian beside her, the one who she had called a monster just earlier this morning. Who now was a protective shadow following her, fighting off those who got too close. He moved unnatural swiftness, each of his moves precise. He was the perfect killer. She had to admit that in this situation his skill set was useful, but admitting that only angered her.
Ardin was with them in seconds. He already was a magnificently large wolf before but with the new boost in energy he appeared to be even more massive. There was a slight blue glow about him as Kaiden’s energy was still flowing around him. It seemed almost to be sticking to his fur like static.
Lana and Ardin still shared one consciousness from the energy transfer. In these moments, she could feel his rage and hunger to protect her. They shared their strength, fears, and thoughts as they ran down towards Valdor. If anything stood in their path Ardin would take them down before the threat could even reach her, and if someone did manage to break through, her blades would end them. She felt unstoppable.
The sounds of Lana’s father groaning with every strike he blocked could be heard in the nearby distance. She was so close to him. The Rami in front of Valdor was a big man and by the looks of it very powerful. He had an arrow sticking through his shoulder that didn’t even seem to faze him.
Ardin should easily have been able to take care of him, while Lana focused on another approaching Rami who would be her target. Just several steps away she glanced back to Valdor.
“NO!” Lana’s screams broke through before she could stifle them. An unseen Rami from the side appeared from nowhere and drove a dagger in Valdor’s side. In a flash Ardin was already there, his large teeth digging into the warm flesh of the man who had Valdor’s attention.
Moments later Lana came up with Kirill who turned to the right, taking care of other Rami fighters. The Rami by her father held up his sword in preparation for a final blow. Lana slid in front of him, he didn’t even notice her approaching the two of them. Both of her swords found their way in to the neck of the man in front of her and her father. In one swift motion she punctured the Rami’s skin and pulled her swords back. Blood flooded from his wounds as he fell back with wide dyeing eyes. Panicked she turned to her father who lay on the ground against a tree.
Blood was pooling on the ground beneath Valdor, before seeping into the soil. Lana placed a hand on her father’s wound, pressing down. It was no use, his blood bubbled up through her fingers, coating her hand in red. There was so much of it. She sucked in a sharp breath, tears forming in her eyes.
“Father. I’m here. You will be okay just hold on. We will get a healer.” Like a child, Lana stared wide-eyed and scared into her father’s fading brown eyes.
Valdor raised his hand and gently touched the side of his daughters face. “No child.” He coughed. “I think it time for me to go see your mother.” He said with a weak smile. Tears began running down Lana’s face. Goosebumps danced across her skin. Suddenly she felt so unbearably cold, and not even the energy flowing through her could protect her from it. Her father was giving up, just like that. She pressed down harder on his wound but it did nothing to stop the red liquid. It seemed like an impossible amount to be coming from one man.
“No, please! Just hold on, our people need you, I need you.” She could hardly breath. Everything had happened so quickly. This morning he was fine, just a moment ago he was injured but he was fine. This was not supposed to happen. Her father was not supposed to die like this. He was going to live to an old age, he was going to teach Lana so many more things that she needed to know before becoming the head of the Selvirian lands. She was not ready for this, he was still young, still strong. Just this morning he was fine.
This was her fault, if she wouldn’t have snuck away, maybe he would have avoided this battle. “I am so sorry! I shouldn’t have left. This is my fault.”
Valdor’s eyes grew large with urgency, he grabbed his daughter’s bloodstained hand and she slowly met his gaze. “No. You must believe that this would have happened no matter what, Lana. Do not blame yourself, do you hear me? You had nothing to do with this. Listen, you must be careful of who you trust, Lana.”
Lana looked at her father with questioning eyes , unsure of what he meant and whom he was talking about. Before she could reply Valdor coughed deeply, blood came with it. With shallow breaths Valdor continued in a hushed tone. “I saw what you and Ardin did with that Rami boy Lana, it was amazing. Is that the boy you told me of as a child from Ucu?”
Lana stared at her father. She did not know he actually listened or cared enough to remember her stories of Kaiden. As soon as she came back to the Madonian lands from Ucu she began telling her father of Kaiden and her time at the school. But that was short-lived, ending as soon as she saw her mother lying motionless on the cold ground in Gorthyn. Lana never mentioned Kaiden again after that.
Now, she could only nod in answer to her father. His lip twitched in a weak smile.
“You will be a great leader for our people. You will give them the strength they will need. Believe that, believe in yourself. You are more special than you know. You will save them.” He sounded so sure of his words.
“But I need you.” Tears were rushing down her cheeks, making it nearly impossible for her to speak. Lana could only let tears flow as she shook her head, unable to accept her father’s willingness to give up, to leave her. Valdor’s grip on Lana’s hand released. “No, dad. Please!” she cried out softly, reaching her arms around him.
“I’ll tell your mother what an amazing child you turned out to be.” He whispered, a fleeting breath. Lana felt it, the shift in the air, the moment his soul left his body. He was gone.
Unable to restrain herself, she released an agonizing cry. It cut through the air. A loud howl erupted near by from her Aorra. Ardin shared this burden with her, the pain.
Somewhere nearby someone smiled.
The darkness of the night was welcome, like a blanket that hid the imperfections of the world. But it could not smother the pain of loss for there was nothing like it. To be completely void of something, missing a piece that had always been there, it felt unnatural. Valdor was the foundation of Lana’s world, he was strong, a leader, a good Madonian. Now with him gone, she not only lost her father but her largest support. There was no plan for what had to be done next, no one to show her the best course to take.
Stars glimmered in the night sky, providing a twinkling backdrop for the two moons that danced across the sky. One of the moons was large with a blue glow to it and had a ring circling it, the other was smaller and not visibly unique in any way, but it was more special than it appeared. It was the place where Lana and Kaiden had first met.
Lana sat apart from everyone and stared at the stars overhead. The only thing she could feel was numbness. It was the kind of numbness that clawed through a persons being. So overpowering that it crushed the soul in its ice like hands.
She stared at the minor of the two moons, where she had first met Kaiden, in silence.
Come join us. A gentle and familiar voice entered her mind.
Lana turned to the small campfire where Ardin sat looking at her from the distance. Around the warm glow of the campfire also sat Donn, his grandkids, and Kaiden. They all seemed to just be sitting in a worn-out silence while their bodies and sore muscles were warmed by the heat of the fire.
No. Lana replied to Ardin’s request for her to join them.
You don’t have to be alone.
I want to. Lana returned her gaze towards the sky, this time looking to the blue moon with a ring around it.
Why did you choose to go to Alogrin? Ardin asked. Lana assumed it was his attempt to have her open up, to let him in. After Valdor’s death she had closed herself off so that he couldn’t feel her emotions. She didn’t want to share her hurt and pain with him. She didn’t want to share anything with anyone.
Why did you not oppose it? Lana countered. She was sure Ardin would not want her to leave her people at such a volatile time, however he surprisingly did not contest her choice. In fact, Lana had the feeling he was slightly relieved by it.
She could feel Ardin’s eyes staring at her from the distance. With a sigh she decided to give him more of an answer, in hoped that it would be enough to get him to leave her alone again.
General Flynn is a good man, I trust him as a temporary leader. My father trusted him. The people look up to him, they will follow him in my absence and he is a warrior, something that I fear is necessary for what had happened in Abder. Lana kept her eyes on the moon and the stars.
Ardin was not telling her everything, she was sure of that. The slight relief she thought she had felt from him when they were leaving Abder was odd, but through her numbness she did not care. Alogrin was always said to have the best warriors in all the lands with their golden army. If this is still true, I will ask for their assistance. They live in peace, both Madonians and Rami, surely they wish for the same for all the lands. And it will be a safe place for Kaiden.
What makes you think he wants to be there?
He has no other place to go.
Ardin stared at Lana for a short time, before deciding to leave her to herself. She hated this, the distance she was putting between herself and her Aorra. Hating that Kaiden, the boy she had once been so close to, was finally within her reach but he was a part of those who were responsible for her father’s death and the deaths of so many Madonians. Hatred and numbness swirled within her, but as night fell fear and sadness crept in. Donn and the children should not be a part of this.
Lana continued looking up at the dark sky, littered with stars and two moons for a moment more before trying to close her eyes. The journey to Alogrin would be a long one and she had to get some rest, but every time she tried to she would see red and her parent’s motionless faces behind her eyelids.
The night provided little rest.
It was before dawn when Lana woke panting, her cloths sticking to her sweat licked skin. Dreams of the Rami she had killed with the face of her father haunted her throughout the night. Rolling over to her side, she looked at the camp, everyone seemed to still be asleep near a burnt out fire where dusts of black smoke drifted up. The rest of the night Lana laid still, not sleeping for fears of the dreams returning.
Instead Lana thought of the past day. She had lost her father, the last of her immediate blood relatives. After his death a wave of numbness came, keeping her from falling apart, allowing for her to act quickly. First she found Flynn, her General, and put him in command in her immediate absence.
Flynn was tall with brown hair, a pail complexion, and a great attitude. Valdor trusted him and so did Lana, plus he was like an uncle to her. He always followed orders and had a love for his people. The only disadvantage he had was a lack of an Aorra, but he made up for it by becoming a skilled fighter with a very smart and logical head on his shoulders. His heart was so incredibly warm and true. Lana’s people and army would be willing to follow him in her absence.
At first Flynn was reluctant to let her go anywhere without telling him where she was heading and without protection, but he had no choice. Where in the past his orders came from Valdor, now they came from Lana. She was now the first in the Selvirian council and her words, his command.
At first sign of light over the horizon, Lana got up and walked to the small camp. Ardin raised his head as she approached while the others still slept. Donn rested with the two children curled together for warmth. Nila, the little fox, sandwiched Nadina from the other side. Lana glanced to Kaiden, letting her eyes linger for just a moment. His face was smooth, serine as he slept. Even in his sleep his hand rested on his sheathed sword. Her foot touched his torso, waking him.
Kaiden woke with a jolt. His fingers moved smoothly, wrapping around the hilt of his blade before his eyes registered that she had woken him. His hair was mused from his sleep. It was somehow attractive the way it unkemptly stuck up every which way.
“Time to get going.” Lana spoke when he sat up. Ardin stretched and released a howly yawn, waking everyone.
“We must get going, we have a long journey ahead. I fear war is breaking out. I would like to stay ahead of the wave of destruction.” Lana spoke as she began loading up the horses.
“Are there safer roads we can take?” Kaiden asked, trying to fill the silence more than anything while gathering his things.
“No, if we go too far inland you will be at risk and in return we all will be. We must travel next to the border, where few travel.” Lana replied with lifeless words. Her demeanor was cold towards Kaiden, part of her irrationally blaming him for what had happened.
“I know of a few small towns scattered along the way, we will be able to get a few supplies as we go.” Donn added with a friendly smile. Lana returned the smile, not wanting to be rude, though it did not touch her eyes.
“If we travel along the border do we not risk running into the Shade?” Kaiden asked.
Lana turned to him, surprised by his concern of the Shade, most people believed the stories of her to be a myth. The Shade was more of an entity than a Madonian or Rami. They said that she had the powers to haunt ones dreams and to tell one’s fate.
A few men in the past went to hunt her down, only one ever returned and when he did he was not all there in the head. He would say how she was indestructible, her skin made of stone, her eyes yellow and bewitching. She haunted his dreams after that, torturing him until one day he had killed himself. Afterwards, no one really spoke of the Shade. It is said that she lives in spaces between the Rami and Madonian lands, and because most do not venture into those territories to begin with she wasn’t heard of again.
“Oh, I think we will be okay.” Donn replied to Kaiden with a laugh.
“You don’t believe her to be real?” Kaiden questioned somewhat defensively.
“No, I didn’t say that. The Shade is a selfish creature. But we mean it no harm. It doesn’t want trouble and so it will stay out of our way if we happen to travel close. Such as a deer would if it heard us coming.”
“Alright then, now that that’s settled, we should get going.” Lana spoke, sending everyone into action.
Kaiden was given Alex’s horse, a chocolate brown steed with a blond mane, to ride while the boy shared Donn’s dapple-gray stallion with his grandfather. Nadina got to keep her brown and white horse, which she named Patches. Lana continued riding the pure white mare that Donn had first given her.
The five of them traveled the entire day, in a palpable silence that spanned between them all. Misery was a friend of the silence, and it wrapped its talon around Lana’s throat, following her like a cape. There was nothing she could do to rid herself of them, so she just rode on without a word. They only stopped long enough to let the horses rest and graze before continuing on their silent journey.
Once the sun began setting Kaiden found a small valley amongst the wooded area to make camp for the night. Ardin caught two rabbits that Lana skinned, as her father had once taught her, and began cooking them on the fire Donn and Kaiden had built.
The warmth of the flames felt good on Lana’s skin, with the cool night air that surrounded her. She watched the fire, lost in its dancing flames of war. A small Aorra was sitting next to her, watching her with large wondering eyes, pulling Lana out of her fiery trance.
Nila, Lana wondered how long the little Aorra had been watching her.
“Nila wants to learn how to hunt rabbit too.” Nadina broke the heavy silence around the campfire. The darkness that currently surrounded Lana seemed to not faze Donn’s granddaughter.
Giving the girl a kind smile, Lana felt sorry for what she and Alex have been going through. “I am sure Ardin would love to teach her.” She answered, looking over at her Aorra.
I would be most honored. He replied, happy to see some form of humanity come from Lana. The group fell into silence once more, only to be again broken by Nadina a few minutes later.
“Where do Aorras come from?” She asked, her large brown eyes full of wonder.
Lana smiled at the question. It was a question that had been the center of many debates in her life. “Didn’t Donn or anybody share stories with you?”
Nadina glanced at Donn as he replied, “I don’t like teaching things I know nothing of especially when it relates to Aorras. I like to consider my words very carefully and never give false information. It may seem strange, but it is just how I am. But I do not forbid another sharing their thoughts.” He spoke casually.
“Well, what does Nila think?” Lana asked, genuinely interested in what the small fox thought. Nila raised her head at the sound of her name, tilting it ever so lightly to the side while looking at Lana.
“She doesn’t know.” Nadina replied, waiting for Lana to tell her more.
“I don’t know either, Madonians believe different things and there are many theories and stories… But I like to believe that they are the spirits of our ancestors and when we are born the spirits watch out for us, protecting us. They bond with us and eventually when we are a little older some choose to be born into our world as animals to better protect us, as guardians. That’s why if we pass away our Aorras go with us, because without us they have no purpose.”
Nadina stared at the ground, her brows pulled together. “But then why doesn’t Nila remember being a spirit?”
Lana turned and looked at Ardin with that question, pondering how to answer.
“Ardin too doesn’t remember anything from before, but he doesn’t remember having a mother or father either, his first memories of this life are of seeing me as a little girl in the woods.”
A small smile broke on Lana’s face at the memories, the first positive feeling she had felt since her father’s death. “I think it’s for protection that they don’t remember there past life. That way they bond to only us. So that knowing things from their past lives don’t get in the way and cloud their thoughts while they are with us in our realm.”
After a moment Nadina smiled “I like that theory.” She stated with a nod of her head.
Alex, who was sitting in a space between Nadina and Donn, suddenly got up and walked away a small distance from the fire before kicking a rock and plopping to the ground. He began picking at the blades of grass on the earth.
Lana turned to Donn, questioningly.
“The boy gets all sensitive about not having an Aorra every now and then. He will get over it soon. Some day he will learn that he is capable of more than he now knows.” The old man said with a shrug.
Kaiden silently got up from the fire and walked over to Alex. Lana watched him kneel next to the boy. Even in the darkness she could see Kaiden’s lean muscles underneath his shirt, flex as he reached out for a stick Alex had created. It was strange seeing him like this.
She used to be taller than him but now he towered a full head above her. His body had been honed over the years they had been apart, he grew into his strong jaw, his shoulders broadened, his hands were still capable of the energy control she had taught him. He was the same and yet different.
He is being kind to the boy. Ardin mentioned when Lana turned away, turning back to the flames of the fire. Indeed, he was. She sat in silence for a short while before Nadina asked her another question.
Kaiden strolled over to the blond little boy with the big brown eyes. He thought about what to say but the boy spoke first. “I don’t want to talk about stupid Aorras.”
“Fair enough,” Kaiden kneeled next to the boy. “I don’t have one of those pesky creatures either, good riddance I think.”
“Your Rami, I am Madonian, it’s different.” Alex said very matter of factly. He yanked up a few more blades of grass from where his hands fell on the ground.
“Donn mentioned you had really awesome abilities, even without the help of an Aorra,” Kaiden stated.
“Yea, well all I can do is make sticks and twigs. How awesome.”
Kaiden let out a small laugh and the boy looked at him with such fierce eyes that it shocked him a moment. “You remind me of myself a bit. My brother was always the more powerful one when I was little. Then I went to Ucu where I learned how to use my strengths.”
“And now you are better then your brother?”
“Is that what you want? To be better than your sister?”
Alex shrugged and Kaiden continued, “In some ways yes, in others no. We each have our own strengths. He was always stronger, able to generate more raw energy at one time, but I am now good with control, better than him in that way.”
“Great, I can be the king of making sticks.” The boy replied bitterly.
“Can you make them any shape or size?”
Alex shrugged, making a convoluted stick with twists appear in his hand before tossing it to Kaiden.
Kaiden observed the stick, it was brown, the color of wood, which in its self was impressive. Usually Madonians couldn’t create things in color, everything they made was silver. It was rare for a Madonian to be able to make things so life like, which in itself made Alex special.
Kaiden looked up as a thought entered his mind. “How close must you be to this before it loses its form?”
Alex shrugged, “I don’t know… I used to make them and build forts in the woods and then I’d forget about them till running across the forts again.”
Kaiden’s eyes grew large. He stared at the little boy who really had no idea how amazing he was. When Lana came to the school it took her a huge amount of practice before she could keep the form of something without physically touching it and even then she had to have it within a few feet of herself. But Alex could do it with ease, without a second thought, and he was younger than Lana had been.
“Can you make a straight one, perfectly straight? And pointed at one end?”
Alex formed another in his hand and gave it to Kaiden to examine. He held it in his hand, pressing his thumbs on it, testing it. The stick had a good give to it without being weak or flimsy. Alex silently watched, interested in what the Rami was doing.
Kaiden looked around a moment before he found it. A tree with a soft bark, soft enough that a sharp stick could stick into its flesh without needing too much force. He threw the stick Alex had created at the tree. It whizzed by, cutting the air before landing in the tree’s flesh.
“Make some more and practice, trying to hit that stick.” Kaiden said, looking at Alex. “I have an idea. We will make you outshine your sister.” Kaiden said with a wink.
Alex grinned in response, creating another stick in his hand.
“Why are you so fond of butterflies?” Nadina asked.
Lana was lost for a moment at the sudden question. Before she gathered her thoughts Nadina added, “With Kirill the other day you made a butterfly and you wear one in your hair,” explaining her reason for asking.
“Nadina!” Donn’s sudden stern voice made the girl jump. “Enough of your questions. Stop badgering Ms. Casteel!”
Nadina’s apologetic eyes met Lana’s for a brief moment before Lana cut in. “No, it’s okay…” She glanced at Donn. Why did he react that way? Did he know? It wouldn’t be surprising if he did, the old man seemed to know a whole lot.
“My mother used to like butterflies, the pin I wear in my hair used to belong to her.” Lana replied softly and everyone fell silent. Nadina dropped her gaze.
Kaiden rejoined the group just in time to hear the end of the conversation. He looked at everyone’s faces, gathering that something bad had happened to Lana’s mom.
“What happened to her?” He asked before being able to stop himself. Everyone turned to him, but he kept his eyes on Lana. He could feel heat reach his cheeks, regretting asking as soon as the words left his lips. Now all that he could do was watch Lana, who for a fleeting moment seemed lost, as if un sure of how to respond to his stupid question.
“She was killed, boy.” Donn said in a low voice.
Lana’s mind took her to another place, far into the past and she began speaking without really meaning to. “It happened a while ago. Father and I were making the journey to Gorthyn from the Ucu gates. I couldn’t wait to tell her all about the school and instructors, to be in her arms, to taste her cooking again. They had good food at Ucu, very good, but not like hers. Nothing could compare to hers.”
Tears began forming in Lana’s eyes as she continued. “We smelled the fire before we saw it. The entire town, once beautiful, with the buildings and cottages built amongst the trees, was burned. Smoke was still rising from houses. Father told me to stay while he looked closer, told Ardin to keep me there. I didn’t listen. I walked up to the only un-burnt house I could see. It seemed safe enough, so I opened the door. Maybe there were survivors in it? There was so much blood, it was as if the whole town were massacred in this one cottage. A woman lay in a pool of it. Her long blond hair was drenched in it. Then I noticed a pendent in her hair, a beautiful butterfly…” Lana’s eyes snapped up at Kaiden. “She, like my father, was murdered by a Rami.” Sher voice had an edge to it. Anger rippled through her.
Stop it, Ardin suddenly in her mind.
Kaiden remained standing, holding her gaze. “I am sorry for what you have gone through.” He said through clenched teeth before he turned on his heels and walked off, not wanting to say something he regretted to Lana Casteel.
His pulse raced as he wondered into the near by woods. A small part of him felt sorry for his old friend, for her losses. But a greater part was angered by her blame. He had lost too. At this point his brother, his only family was alienated because of her. He was stuck in a strange world with nothing but a bizarre old man, a couple kids, and a woman who hated him for company.
Kaiden had given up everything to save Lana’s life, only to have her looking at him and treating him as if he were little more than a common murderer. A light erupted from his palm destroying a tree in front of him. He needed to let off some steam, to get away.
As Kaiden walked off Ardin suddenly appeared in front of Lana. Come with me. Now.
Lana stared at him, when did you become so demanding.
Do not get cute with me, Lana. There is something you need to know. With that he walked away. Lana watched him go down the hill away from camp before she decided to follow him.
“What do you want from me, Ardin? And why did we have to leave camp? No one can hear you lecture me from the comforts of the warm fire.”
Ardin stopped by a tree in a small opening just down the hill from camp. They could still see the fire of camp. This would be far enough he decided.
“You’re kidding,” she stared as he simply sat there looking at her. Lana was baffled by Ardin’s sudden distance and one worded commands. Kaiden was no longer a helpless boy, Ardin shouldn’t feel the need to protect him so much. With a grumble of protest, she obliged her Aorra’s command and sat down.
Your anger at Kaiden is misdirected… Let me finish. Ardin cut her off before she had a chance to object, and to his surprise she didn’t fight him on this.
He didn’t kill your mother, and a Rami may not fully be responsible for your father’s death. I didn’t share this with you because I didn’t know how you would react especially since your recent erratic behavior, so I had to get you away from Abder. Erratic behavior? If he were not her Aorra she would strangle him. Ardin walked over to Lana, his nose nudged her hand and images appeared in her head.
It was a memory, not her own.
Lana saw herself crouching over her father then the view turned to Kirill who stood stiffly taking in the scene. She was seeing things from Ardin’s eyes. Kirill’s steel gaze turned to Ardin. “Arkhip.” The words hardly came out in a whisper from the steel eyed Dukran before he nodded over to Lana and her father. Abruptly the memory was over.
Lana jumped to her feet “What does this mean?” her pulse was racing.
Bile rose in her throat and her head spun from the sudden jolt of emotion. She leaned her hand against the tree trying to steady herself and her breathing, her world was crashing down around her and it seemed that she knew nothing of it. “Arkhip killed my father?” She was finally able to get it out. Arkhip was crazy, she knew that, but to be responsible in her father’s death? She didn’t want to believe a Madonian Council member would do something like that.
We saw a Rami do that. But what of Valdor’s Aorra, Earmon? How, with all of Arkhip’s powers and wolves did a council member die?
Lana fell to her knees. She felt a tear roll down her cheek as she thought of her last moments with Valdor. He told her that his death would have happened no matter what she would have done and to be careful of whom to trust. Could that have been him trying to warn her, his way of telling her that the Dukrans were to blame?
“Leave me,” she whispered to her Aorra. Her stomach turned. She knew Arkhip Dukran wanted control of the Madonian Lands, but this, murder. What’s worse is her Aorra didn’t trust her with this information, he kept it from her till this moment. Never had she felt so alone.
Ardin obliged, leaving her not only physically but mentally.
Kaiden had not realized how far into the woods he had ventured until he began heading back towards camp. His body felt sore, aching with each step, as he found his way out of the wood. The anger he felt was subdued though it was replaced by frustration for allowing himself to venture aimlessly into an unknown forest. He stopped walking and smelled the air, the faint burning smell of wood filling his lungs, letting him know he was close.
Turning to the woods behind him, Kaiden peered into the darkness. He could just leave, he thought to himself. He could go back to his brother, apologize. He could leave this trouble and free himself of the guilt of acting out against his blood like that. Striking his brother from behind, was not something to be proud of.
An odd feeling of being watched came over him while he pondered of his brother. Kaiden froze, cautiously examining the forest behind him. To his surprise there was nothing there but silent trees. He gazed over his shoulder a moment longer, unable to shake the uncomfortable feeling. When he turned back, there was a large white wolf standing in his path.
“Ardin” he spoke with relief, calmed to have found the root of his sudden unease. The wolf sat tall in front of him, making no movement. A moment passed before Kaiden turned towards camp but a low grumble from the wolf stopped him. He turned to Ardin who now walked a few paces away from him and gestured to a tree at the bottom of the hill, in the other direction. Kaiden walked over to the wolf and squinted. He could barely make out a figure near the tree on the ground. She sat with arms wrapped around her legs and her head buried in her knees.
“You want me to go to her?” Kaiden asked the white wolf, feeling somewhat odd talking to an animal. The Aorra gave him a single nod. There was no arguing with the wolf for he could not hear the animal’s words.
Exhaustion pulled at his eye lids and he thought of his options. It would probably be easier for him to just oblige the wolf’s request. With a mere sigh and without protest Kaiden made his way to her. He felt fatigued, too tired to venture into the woods again in order to calm himself a second time, so he hoped things would go better with her this time. If she were to speak to him as if he were a traitor again then he wasn’t sure he would be able to keep himself from snapping back.
Lana raised her head when she heard someone approaching. Her eyes stopped Kaiden in his tracks, holding him in place. The grip her gaze had infuriated him. She was just a woman, there was no reason for him to behave in such a manor. Lana turned her eyes back at the ground, neither one of them made a sound.
She no longer looked like a strong woman of the council but like a girl. A small-lost child sitting on the forest floor, waiting to be found, waiting for someone to tell her everything will be all right. But Kaiden knew that would never happen, because as soon as someone would try she would push him or her away and punish them for even trying. Infuriatingly stubborn is what she was.
Neither of them seemed to know what to say so Kaiden decided to be the one to break the silence. “We should go to the camp, it’s getting cold out here.”
The girl on the ground before him just shook her head in silent protest without looking up. Sighing, Kaiden looked over to the fire in the distance, the two kids and the old man seemed to have gone to sleep. His gaze turned back to where he had walked from, by the moonlight he could make out Ardin sitting alert at the edge of the tree line. The wolf’s eyes and ears facing their direction, he was trying to see what was going on. Kaiden glanced back at Lana and understood that the two were no longer connected, something had happened between her and her Aorra. He assumed that that must be why Ardin had wanted him to go to her, Ardin was worried and Lana wasn’t letting him in.
Kaiden turned and made his way to the camp, leaving Lana. After a short while he returned with a thick blanket, which he gently draped around Lana’s shoulders. His finger brushed against Lana’s skin and suddenly he felt an urge to pull her into his arms, and to comfort her. The feelings confused him. A moment ago he was fuming, angry with her, contemplating just flat out leaving. He thought he may hate her. Wanting nothing more than to leave and not look back and now, more than anything, he wanted to console her.
Kneeling in front of Lana, he watched her for a moment in silence, hoping she would say something but she didn’t even acknowledge him. He was about to get up and leave her when her eyes suddenly connected with his, freezing him.
“How are you so kind? I do not deserve your kindness. You saved my life and I…” her voice broke off and her brows came together as if she was thinking of what words to say. “I was so angry.” She looked back down at the ground.
Kaiden’s hand momentarily hesitated before nudging her chin up so that he could see her green eyes. They were swollen from the tears she had cried. His urge to comfort her was overpowering, he pulled his hand back. “I understand loss. Anger is an understandable response to what you went through. I am just happy it didn’t last much longer and you didn’t sic your massive wolf on me.” He said with a small smile, trying to lighten the mood.
Lana looked back down without a smile and Kaiden cursed himself for bringing up Ardin when there was clearly something going on between the two of them. He wasn’t good at this.
Her eyes found their way back to his and she spoke again. “I am responsible for my people now. I can feel it, feel the pressure of them. Once Valdor passed its as if the weight of them got transferred to me, it’s heavy. And instead of dealing with it the way any one charged with protecting their people should, what did I do? I am a horrible leader. My father died and I ran away.”
Kaiden shook his head. Her words were so simple, I am horrible and I ran away, so black and white. Life was not as clear-cut as she made it out to be.
“No, you left to get help for your people.”
“And now I have even more reason for it.” Lana said mostly to herself. There was something so strong about the way she said it.
Kaiden was unsure of what she meant.
“What you are doing now, you do for your people. Even if you don’t yet see it. If you are even a fraction of the girl I once knew, then you already are and will forever be an amazing leader for your people.”
Lana rewarded Kaiden’s words with a small smile that did not reach her eyes. Her smile was purely for the person who was trying to cheer her up. “You are being kind.”
“Will you come back to the camp?”
“I prefer to just stay here.”
“I will stay with you then.”
With a shrug Lana laid back on the soft grass, blanket wrapped around her. She stared up at the star littered sky. Kaiden joined her on the ground.
The sky was dark, apart from the stars. On the far horizon rings from the big moon could be seen coming into view. Soon the moon would be overhead and its blue light would dimly lighten the sky.
Lana stared straight ahead, staring at the little moon emerging into her view. The place she had met the Rami lying on the ground beside her. What were the chances, of her meeting him there then and again on the day she needed to be rescued?
“Did you ever think we would see each other again?” She asked softly.
A smile tugged at Kaiden’s lips. Lana seemed to finally be talking to him. He glanced up at the small moon in thought of how to answer her, thinking back to when he was but a child.
The instructors at Ucu encourage Rami and Madonians to work together, though that never happened, for even as children there was a line drawn in the sand between the Rami and Madonians and neither wanted to cross it. Lana was the odd one out between the Madonians. Being a child of a council member she had a small circle of friends and non of them traveled to the school at that time, leaving her alone for the other children were too intimidated to partner with her. Neither she nor Kaiden had partners for their first group assignment.
Kaiden knew who she was and decided to try and partner with her. Not to make friends but to learn. He and his brother, at their young age, were being groomed to join and climb the ranks in King Zakran’s army. Despite being a crazy and ruthless king, as a child Kaiden was eager to please him. Kaiden thought that if he could get some knowledge from Lana, a daughter of the Madonian council, that he could climb ranks faster than his brother.
Lana was reluctant to work with the Rami at first but he challenged her, said she was unable to keep up with him due to weakness. This made her determined and so she accepted the Rami as a partner, for one assignment.
It didn’t take long after that before they became friends and partners for each assignment given to them from that day forward. As their friendship grew Kaiden forgot about why he initially became her partner. They were best friends for their entire time at the school, spending every day together. That was until they returned to their lands and went their separate ways.
Kaiden turned to Lana as he answered her question. “Never. That should be painfully obvious by our butchered goodbye.”
Lana let out a small laugh, sending his pulse racing at the sound. “Aw, it wasn’t that bad.”
“Speak for yourself. I had to learn the hard way that Madonian royals cannot kiss.”
“HEY!” Lana hit his shoulder playfully. “I am not a royal.”
Kaiden was surprised that that was what had put her off and not his remark about the kiss. “That’s what some Rami refer to the Madonian council as.” He said with a shrug. “Please forgive me Ms. Casteel I meant no disrespect. I assure you it will not happen again.” He teased.
“And the way I remember it… I came to hug you goodbye and you were the one who acted, butchering the what otherwise would have been a nice goodbye.” Lana retorted.
He couldn’t help but smile.
“Oh please. You wanted to kiss me from the moment you met me. I saw it in your eyes from the moment I said Hi, my name is Kaiden. And you were all flustered, baffled by my rugged charms.”
“I was a child! What kid even has rugged charms? And no, I certainly did not. I was thinking who is this scrawny little boy and why is he drooling? Rugged, hah.”
“I never drool. And I was just trying to make your dreams come true in our last moment together.”
“I am not sure what kind of dreams you thought I had…”
“The kind all girls have when it comes to me.” Kaiden interrupted.
“You think so very highly of yourself.”
“All I know is you should consider yourself lucky for ever meeting a Rami with my strapping good looks. Let alone to be graced by his presence. And lucky enough to be on the receiving end of his kiss and attention?”
Lana smiled in response, still eyeing the sky. “Talking in third person now are we?”
“If the moment calls for it.”
“I forgot how talkative and cocky you were.”
Kaiden mockingly gasped. “To be cocky would be to think unrealistically highly of myself. I think of myself no higher than I truly am. As for talking, well its easier to speak to you when you don’t look like you completely hate me.”
“I don’t hate you.” It was nearly a whisper.
“I know, I saved you, pretty much twice now. So princess, I think you are in my debts.”
“Is that so? And how would you like to be repaid for your services?”
“I have not yet decided. But I will let you know when I decide on a good form of payment.”
Lana had forgotten how as children Kaiden was able to so easily comfort her. In this moment she found herself thankful for having him near. He had this ability to somehow pull her from the darkness that seemed to completely envelope her.
“Isn’t it strange? We have been apart living completely different lives and yet this feels almost normal. As if we were at Ucu just a few days ago.”
Kaiden turned his gaze away from the sky and over to Lana. Feeling his eyes on her, she allowed her gaze to wonder over to his. He tried to suppress a smile, but the sheen in those blue eyes of his gave him away.
“I hate to break it to you but… You appear much older than I remember you a few days ago, it’s kind of creepy.”
“I see no one ever taught you the proper way to speak to women.”
“Women never seemed to mind my speech before,” Kaiden shot back, immediately regretting his words.
Lana suddenly wondered of Kaiden’s love life and blushed in the darkness as she looked away from him. She did not want to think of any of it. Silence fell between them.
“Its good to be near you again.” Kaiden’s voice was a low murmur. He was watching the small moon when he said it, Lana had wondered if she had imagined it.
The two of them lay silently near each other, gazing up at the stars until they fell sleep.
Lana sat with her eyes focused on a flickering flame, watching the fire dance over a stick as it scorched the wood into ash. Her cheeks were rosy from the heat the fire gave off, she welcomed the warmth. Even though her legs were sore from the long day of riding the heat of the fire soothed the pain, relaxing the muscles, so that she hardly felt the aching any more.
Ardin lay motionlessly beside her. He too silently watched the flames in the fire. Even though the two of them were near each other they were not one as Madonian and Aorra often were. Ever since the other night when Lana’s Aorra dumped his secret onto her they had been somewhat apart.
Lana couldn’t help but feel hurt. She understood her Aorra’s reasoning for keeping the information of the Dukran’s potential involvement in Valdor’s death from her. However, she could not help but feel somehow lied to by him. He was supposed to be the one she could always trust with anything. They were not supposed to have secrets. She imagined that he must have felt similarly when she ran off risking their lives at the Rami camp in Abder.
Without a word Lana raised her hand and placed it gently on her Aorra’s head, scratching his ear for a moment before retrieving her hand back to her lap. Gray blue eyes met hers, there was so much behind them. Even though they didn’t speak, not even in her mind, their eyes spoke for them. She felt him gently reach for her from within and she reached out to him, closing the distance that had been between them. Ardin then scooted closer, so that his body rested against her leg. It felt good having him close.
With a small smile Lana turned back towards the fire. It had been three days since her father died in her arms. She shut her eyes for a moment, trying to push away the memories. They haunted her at times like this, times when she was not focused on something else.
Feeling an abrupt shift she forced her eyelids open to see Donn standing, all eyes were on him. For a moment Lana was surprised that the old man was able to jump to his feet so suddenly. He stood motionless, his eyes hazed over and glistening.
“We need to leave, at once.” Donn urgently spoke.
Lana didn’t know why but a shiver ran down her spine as they all rose to their feet.
“What’s going on?” Lana asked softly, as she secured her sword to her waist.
Donn helped Alex onto his horse, “There are Rami men who are about to discover our camp.”
Kaiden stopped what he was doing, turning to Donn who climbed onto the dapple grey horse behind his grandson. Kaiden’s eyes were wide, filled with questions about the approaching Rami men.
Seeing both Lana’s and Kaiden’s expressions Donn explained without need of inquiry, “They have been tracking us, looking for you and Lana.” Donn gestured at Kaiden.
Nadina put her Aorra in a satchel attached to her horse and climbed on to its back while Kaiden used dirt to put out there freshly lit fire. Lana could tell that within him questions burned to be asked, yet he remained silent. She figured he would wait till they were on the move to ask them, not wasting time and risking their lives.
Everyone was up and riding within minutes.
Brows pulled together in worry, Lana looked over to the children and the old man. Donn told her the general direction the Rami were coming from and so she headed in the opposite, trying to stay on course as much as possible.
Ardin, for the first time since the night before, entered her thoughts. His warm presence was soothing. Lana welcomed his company. Her Aorra felt like an anchor, the one true and solid thing in her life, something to hold on to so that her mind and thoughts not run away. Her green eyes followed Ardin as he ran up ahead, but his presence within her mind never left.
The sun had already set behind the horizon but the big moon provided a dull blue light for them to travel by. Thick patches of trees and brush made it impossible for the horses to gallop, limiting their speed. It was but a short time of riding before Kaiden found his way closer to Donn.
“How did they know where we were and why are they after us?” He asked.
Lana was riding ahead of them, but she slowed, closing some of the distance so that she too could hear some answers from Donn. A part of her feared that Kaiden might try to communicate with their followers, especially if it were his brother.
Donn peered at Kaiden for a moment as if deciding what he wanted to say. Alex sat in front of his grandfather, holding on to the mane of the horse as hard as he could. The boy’s eyes looked as if he had seen a ghost, his skin pail. Lana’s heart hurt for the children. Donn’s voice pulled her attention away from Alex.
“They found us because they have a good tracker, a man named Garin.” Donn said, keeping his eyes looking ahead.
Lana felt a kick to her stomach at the thoughts of Garin, approaching them. Her fear for Alex and Nadina grew immensely. Garin must not catch them. She glanced back in time to see Kaiden slowing, allowing Nadina and Donn to move further ahead of him.
Ardin, slow yourself so Donn and the kids can follow. I will be close behind. Lana spoke to her Aorra as she slowed to catch up to Kaiden.
It was surprising that Ardin did not challenge her request. She looked to Kaiden as her horse slowed, he had his head turned towards the dark woods behind him. Lana knew he would want to stop for his brother. He loved Garin even though his brother was cruel to him as a child. That love blinded him. She had seen the hatred in Garin’s eyes for her kind, how cold he was, how dangerous. It was unbelievable that both Kaiden and Garin had come from the same place, linked by blood. The two could not be more different.
She not only feared for the children and Donn getting caught by Garin, but for Kaiden too. There was something so deeply troubling about Garin’s eyes when he had her in his grasp. Lana doubted that he would be quick to forgive Kaiden for what he had done. She feared what he may be capable of, that he might have no difficulty in taking his only brother’s life for it. Kaiden had to leave with her, she couldn’t risk him getting himself killed over trying to reason with a mad man.
“Keep moving. Ardin will lead you safely. I will be right behind you.” Lana spoke to Donn as he passed her.
“Be careful child, a few seconds too long and you may cause your wolf his life.” He spoke as he passed. Lana felt the cold chill run through her. Why would he say that?
“I should speak to him, explain…” Kaiden started as soon as he saw Lana slowing to him. His mind was racing with the possibilities of speaking to his brother. He wanted to try to have Garin see things his way.
Lana cut Kaiden off, not wanting to waste precious time.
“We need to keep moving. Your brother is out of his mind with rage to the point of tracking us down. Garin may love you but right now he doesn’t come in peace. He wants me dead, Kaiden. Skilled fighters outnumber us. Who knows what Garin will do to you or us if we are all caught? We need to run, now.” Lana could see in his eyes that she had done little to change his mind so she added “But if you don’t go then I am not leaving you. If you are wrong you will cost me my life and Ardin’s for sure, there is no saying what will happen to Donn, Nadina, Alex, nor my people.”
Kaiden looked at Lana with an odd expression.
“I WILL AND I AM!” Lana almost screamed. “I am wasting precious time. If you are so sure he will be kind then let’s do this, show me how forgiving and open to the Madonian people Garin is. But I don’t think that deep down you actually expect you can reason with him. I saw the hatred in his eyes, Kaiden. Feelings like that take longer then a few nights to go away.”
Garin was Kaiden’s brother, and eventually maybe he would be capable of listening to reason and understand why Kaiden had done what he did. But this was not the time to find out. Kaiden looked hard at Lana. He searched for a clue to know if she were bluffing or not, if she truly wouldn’t leave. Lana met his eyes and wondered if he was willing to risk her life over this.
Almost reluctantly, Kaiden gave her a heavy nod in agreement, something that Lana could see was difficult for him. “Lets go.” He spoke as he turned his horse towards where the others had gone.
“I have an idea,” Lana said, taking the lead, staying close enough to be able to keep an eye on Kaiden. She wasn’t planning on letting him slip away into the darkness unnoticed. She could feel her palms sweating with nerves. If anything were to happen to any of their little party, she could not bear it. They were all here, in part, because of her, and all were under threat because of her.
Lana led Kaiden through the forest, close to the river. “Ardin took them through the river.” She spoke over the sound of rushing water. They began traveling the edge of the river till Lana’s white mare must have hit her toe on a submerged rock. The horse’s knee was still bent and the leg collapsed. Lana grabbed the horse’s mane as the mare’s neck and head dropped. Luckily the horse extended its other leg and caught its self before completely going down.
Continuing forward, the horse cried out after a few steps. Its foot had been injured, making it painful to maneuver the terrain with a rider on its back. Dismounting the horse, Lana got a better view of its leg. There was a nasty gash where the mare must have hit itself against something sharp. The horse was too injured to ride and there wasn’t enough time to wrap its leg and attempt to tie it to Kaiden’s horse to take with them.
With an aggravated sigh, Lana grabbed her bag from the mare.
“Be safe,” she whispered into the beautiful white horse’s ear before hitting its hind, sending the horse away from the water to the opposite direction.
Lana turned to Kaiden who extended his hand to help her on to his mount. His already racing pulse quickened even more at her touch.
She wrapped her hands around him tightly and he went off to the right, following her directions. They were thankful for the blue moon on this night, providing enough light to travel by. They rode for a while, following the water until they caught up to the others.
“That was good thinking to make us go through water.” Donn commented, as Kaiden and Lana approached. Lana’s brows came together in wonder of how Donn knew before realization washed over her. His little lizard must have kept him updated. Lana supposed that if Donn stopped to wait for them, they must have gained some distance from Garin.
“How fast is that lizard? You would almost think there’s more than one.” Lana observed.
“There is more than one.” He replied.
“How many of those little guys do you have out there?” Lana asked the old man.
Donn smiled a mischievous smile at her question, replying, “Just enough”.
She wanted to know more about Donn, not many people have more than one creature under their control. In fact, now she knows of only two with such skills, Donn and Arkhip Dukran.
“Donn… the mare…” Lana began, she felt bad about getting rid of such a beautiful horse who was not even hers.
He waved his hand at her “You did what you had to. I had given the mare to you to keep.”
Lana replied with a nod.
“I think we need to keep traveling throughout the night. Try and put some distance between my brother and us. They will not stop.” Kaiden’s words were urgent. Lana peered at him from underneath her lashes. It amazed her how his heart seemed so set on seeing Garin and now it was set on getting them as far away from him as possible.
“I agree with the boy,” Donn simply said.
“I think I should ride with Nadina” Lana spoke. Kaiden’s heart sank, he liked being close to her. For her to be safe, within his reach.
“The children should try and rest some while we travel through the night.” Lana added and even though Kaiden thought she was right, he couldn’t help feeling disappointed.
Donn turned to his granddaughter. “Mind sharing your horse, little one?” He asked gingerly.
Nadina simply shook her head without a sound. The girl’s eyes were drooping with exhaustion and Alex wore a similar expression. It was as if life had been drained from both children. Fear sucked what strength they had like a leach, leaving them a tired and trembling shell of the children they were. Lana hoped that they would be able to rest as they road on and that tomorrow they would feel better, somehow putting this behind them.
Lana hopped off Kaiden’s horse and made her way to Donn and Alex first. She paused, speaking to Alex. “Try to rest while we ride. I promise I won’t let anything happen to you.” Lana gingerly stroked Alex’s blond hair. Her gaze met briefly with Donn’s, he offered her a nod of reassurance, before she walked over to Nadina.
They began riding through the night.
Every sound that came from the woods sent Lana’s heart into a gallop. She knew that Donn’s little creatures would warn them if Garin approached, yet she couldn’t get herself to relax. There was a constant tightness to her muscles, they were ready to snap into action at the drop of a hat.
Once Nadina had fallen asleep Lana slowed, allowing herself to get closer to Kaiden who brought up the rear of their party.
She glanced back, meeting his eyes, pulling him from his dark thoughts. Kaiden shook his head to himself, seemingly deep in thought before he saw Lana watching him.
“I need to ask you a favor.” Lana asked when she was close enough for him to hear her without need of raising her voice.
“What is it?” He asked suspiciously.
“Will you train with me?”
Kaiden stared at her, this was not at all something he expected her to ask him.
Lana spoke before he could reply. “If I am to do this, if I am to take on this fight, I need to be strong. There is no room for error. I need practice. I need to be better prepared.”
Kaiden thought for just a moment before he nodded in agreement. Normally he hated trying to teach people things, the amount of patience it always seemed to entail. But training Lana would be fun. She was always a quick study and he never needed patience when it came to practicing with her.
Before he could say anything more Lana sped up, taking the lead again. They rode throughout the night in silence, taking a small break at dawn and then continuing throughout the entire next day.
Their first night of sleep after running from Garin would not be a restful one for Lana, for she woke to a feeling of free fall. Something was wrong, she knew before even opening her eyes. When her eyelids did open it was with a sudden purpose and a need to see. She sat in an open field, the sun not yet over the horizon. Jumping to her feet, she spun around, there was nothing there but brown fields of dry grass. She was alone.
“ARDIN!” Lana screamed in a panic.
That’s what was wrong. She was alone, too alone. In a frenzy she looked all around but there was nothing but fields. Her mind raced in an attempt to put together the pieces of how she got here, where here even was, and where were the others.
“It’s alright, child, he lays right next to you.” A woman’s voice spoke calmly.
Lana spun around to see a middle-aged woman in a long black cloak standing behind her. She wore her brown hair in a single braid. Her face was pale yet not unattractive and her body slender underneath her cloak. Yellow golden eyes stared back at her.
Gaping up at the stranger, Lana took a step back. The woman was not there a moment ago. She forced her strength into her palm and a sword formed in her hand. It seemed unnatural to act in such a manor to a lone woman with no evident weapon but the whole thing seemed wrong. In fact, everything seemed somehow off.
Lana’s eyes glanced at the sword in her hand, to make sure it was truly there. The pull to form the blade oddly did not drain her energy they way it normally did. She still had no idea what was going on.
“You are dreaming.” The lady simply stated, as she lazily pulled her long thick brown braid over her left shoulder. Lana looked around without a word. All that could be seen was fields of grass in all directions. The sky was beginning to change to lighter shades of blue. She didn’t know what to think, this didn’t feel like a dream.
“Who are you?” Lana asked.
The woman smiled a very sweet smile, “People call me Shade.”
Lana’s eyes grew larger and she took a timid step back while tightening her grip on her sword. “You’re… you’re the Shade?”
Very quickly her mind raced through everything she knew of the Shade, which was almost nothing. She heard she was dangerous and unpredictable, capable of a magic Lana had no knowledge of. A folk tale is what Lana had always assumed the Shade to be.
“That implies that I am the only one.” She answered.
“Are you not?”
“Discussion for another time.”
Lana felt a slight relief at the Shade’s comment, another time. It implied that Lana should leave the meeting with her life.
“Why am I here?” Lana asked.
“What kind of answer is that?”
“It isn’t much of one, I suppose.” The woman took a step to the side, looking at Lana from an angle underneath her long thick lashes. “We met once, you know.”
Lana shook her head, confused.
“You were a little thing. I knew there was something interesting about you from the very start.”
“When was this?”
“It was right after your mother died. Valdor came seeking answers, you were there.”
“My father, brought me to you?” Lana asked. Shocked that Valdor would risk doing something like that. The Shade wasn’t exactly a safe being to bring a child to.
The Shade tilted her head to the side, like an animal observing something new, before answering Lana.
“It was a part of my condition to meeting him. I assured him no harm would come to you during the meeting.”
Lana just stared at the woman unsure of what was happening. Why had her father brought her to this meeting, why had he gone? Before Lana could ask anything the Shade spoke.
“But we are not here to speak of Valdor.”
“If you are not here to hurt me what do you want?”
The corner of the Shade’s lip turned up in a dangerous smirk. “Do you believe in fate, child?”
This woman seemed to be all over the place with her comments and questions. Making it difficult for Lana to string together a point of her being here, in this odd place the Shade called a dream.
Lana shrugged. “I think our actions determine what happens, and our actions will not be determined by fate.”
“But say your father was fated to die.”
Lana went ridged.
The Shade continued as if she hadn’t noticed, “No matter what he did he would perish, his actions only altered the way the inevitable was to happen.”
“Stop playing games with me.” Lana spoke between clenched teeth. Her father’s death was a sore subject, something that she could not help but feel partially responsible for.
In an instant, the Shades yellow eyes were an inch from Lana’s face. Her hand wrested on the blade of Lana’s sword with the strength of a stonewall, locking the sword in place. Her black gown flowed around her as whips of shadows flowed out from the seams.
“Listen, child, I am not playing games.” She said with an edge. Her voice, a warning.
Suddenly Lana was standing alone as the Shade took her place farther away from her. The woman moved like a fleeting shadow. Lana looked at the Shade’s hand, where the she had gripped her sword, not a single cut.
“Are you saying my father was fated to die? That it was not my fault?” Her voice wavered.
“I am not here about Valdor. He knew his fate.” Just like that Lana’s hopes for an answers were ripped away. She stared at the woman, wondering what exactly that meant. Had her father known he was going to die? She wanted to ask more, but the Shade said she was not here to talk about him.
For a moment the two of them seemed to just watch each other. The Shade constantly appeared to be moving, lazily running a hand down the length of her braid, moving from one foot to another.
Releasing an exasperated breath, Lana broke the silence. “Okay so what’s my fate then.” She asked, deciding to play along, trying to end whatever this game was and be sent back to reality.
“That is the question isn’t it?” The Shade responded, her eyes widening ever so slightly, her lips curved up into a secret of a smile.
“You mean I don’t have one?” Lana’s eyes narrowed. None of this was making any sense.
“Oh you do, its just… how can I explain… splintered.”
“Splintered? What’s that mean?”
“The normal Madonian or Rami has a solid fate. I can see it as a solid line, a bright glow. That doesn’t mean I can tell everything that will happen for him or her, but I can see its path, more or less. You, however, have a path unlike any other, a splintered fate of sorts. It is not one strong line but more of a line with wisps breaking off of it and cracks.”
“Okay, so?” Lana didn’t know what to make of it. If she were to believe in this fate nonsenses, then what did it mean for her? That she had no true fate? That she was free to make choices which would lead her down different paths, like she always assumed herself to be? Had her father believed in this fate business? He had never mentioned it to her if he had, but apparently he hadn’t mentioned a few things to her.
“So. Something is heading here, I can feel it, I know it to be true. I believe that you may be able to alter the fate of the Lands.”
“But you said fate could not be altered?”
“Yes, but you are different. We all have a fate and it usually never changes. Only when those who are the closest to us can at times alter our fate, but ever so lightly. Think of it as pebbles in a pool. Normally we are all evenly spaced apart to where if we drop a pebble the waves from our pebble never reach the next. Only in rare occasions when two pebbles are close they may influence one another. Well, your pebble is larger than most. Those closest to you, their fate begins to splinter as well.”
Lana stared at the Shade, confused as to what this all meant and the reasoning behind it. So her fate was somehow contagious? “Why are you telling me this?”
“You should know. The choices you make are important.”
“This makes no sense. I am a no one special, no special powers. Yes, I am a Madonian council member but I do not have much influence, apart from the Selvirian lands, nor have I done anything great.”
“Perhaps you haven’t done anything great, yet, but you are a council leader. And your bloodlines are strong. You must stop speaking this way.”
“I now come from a family of one, me. Everyone else is gone. There are no great bloodlines. I am no more special then the next council member.”
“Ah, you know so very little.” The Shade hissed, throwing out a hand in front of her in what seemed to be frustration.
“Why are you here?”
“I am helping myself. I told you. I feel it, something is coming. I see an end and you are the only thing that may be able to help stray from that.”
Lana looked at the ground. A Shade, something most didn’t believe to be real, and those who did believe lived in fear of the creature. Something so powerful and dangerous was telling Lana that she was important. Lana wondered if she had fallen asleep on horseback and slid off, hitting her head, sending her to the dream. It must have been just part of her subconscious.
“You know where I can be found?”
Lana shook her head, “no.”
The shade looked longingly towards the horizon, across the distant grass fields before turning back to Lana.
“I apologize, going back will not be pleasant.”
Going back? Wasn’t the shade going to tell her where to find her? Lana looked at the woman in confusion.
Suddenly the Shade stood an inch from Lana with her hand forcefully shoving Lana back. She fell into an unexpected pool of water that had appeared from nowhere, with no way out. Trapped in the water, unable to breath Lana began panicking. She was suffocating. Spastically her hands and feet flailed, attempting to get to the surface, but there was none.
With a feeling of free-fall, Lana gasped for air as she sat straight up.
Donn knelt down beside her, holding out a cup to her.
“Bad dream.” It was not a question. He held out a cup. “This is valerian root tea. It will help calm you.”
Hard quick breaths escaped her while Lana looked around at the familiar woods. Her sweat-licked skin glistened from the dying ambers of the fire. Ardin lay right beside her as the Shade told her he was. She wondered if that was an awful dream or true.
“Why did you not wake me?” She asked Donn. If he knew she was having a bad dream long enough for him to make her tea, he should have woken her. Ardin stirred next to Lana at the sound of her voice.
“It was not the kind of dream one could be woken from.”
Lana eyed Donn suspiciously, before taking the tea, wondering what he might know of her too real of a dream. Her eyes followed Donn as he moved to a near by tree and sat. She stared at him a moment while holding the tea in both hands. He was so old, with his white hair and weathered face, but he seemed also to be wise and mysterious. He always appeared to know things.
“What do you know of The Shade?” Lana asked, deciding to pick Donn’s brain. She took a small sip of the tea, finding the warmth of the cup in her cold fingers soothing.
“Not much.” He replied, staring at the ambers of the fire in thought, before continuing. “They are not from here, not really anyway. These lands have done something to them, making them what they are now. Usually they are only found if they want to be, interested only in serving their own interest. Some have killed our kind, but to what end I do not know. They are not kind, nor are they usually evil, but I would not like to be involved with them.”
“Seems like you know more than most… Where do they come from?”
“Then how do you know they are not from here?”
“Why the sudden interest?”
“You really have no idea?” Lana stared at him, waiting for him to answer. His words, it was not the kind of dream one could be woken from, resonating in her mind. He knew, somehow he knew what kind of a dream she had been in.
The corner of his lip turned up ever so slightly. “Your dream.”
“The Shade came to me in my dream,” Lana confirmed Donn’s suspicions.
“What was the point?”
“Shade’s do not normally enter the minds and dreams of Madonians or Rami. It is not easy to do, especially if there is not a connection between the Shade and the being already. There must have been a purpose to it.”
“She said some things about my fate.”
Donn sat silent.
“We have had a connection before, she met me when I was a child.”
“Friend of the families?” Donn raised a bushy white eyebrow.
“No, I had never seen her before. Not that I remember anyway. My father met with her after my mother passed and I went with him. At least that’s what the Shade told me, I have no memory of it.”
Donn nodded and asked no more questions nor did Lana want to share any more with him. Somehow the conversation she had with the Shade seemed personal, and even though she liked Donn, it wasn’t something she wanted to share. At least not until she figured out more of what it all meant.
Is there more? A gentle voice entered Lana’s mind. She turned to look at the large wolf beside her. His eyes were peering up at her from the ground.
She told me I had a splintered fate. That she could not see one path but many and that those around me are affected by it too. She said something horrible is coming.
Lana went on to tell Ardin all that happened in her dream. He listened and discussed with her what it might mean. They talked to each other until she finished her tea and the sun’s rays shone over the horizon. Once the distant sun was high enough for her to feel its warmth at her back, Lana got up. She got everyone up and moving. They were heading towards the lost city of Alogrin, and she had no time to waist.
The rest of the day went by uneventfully.
Lana and Kaiden set up a schedule to train together. After the threat of Garin and the unexpected visit from the Shade, Lana more than ever wanted to better be able to defend herself and those she loved. She wanted to be a strong leader and warrior. She wanted to not have to ever be saved by another again. Self-reliant, that’s what she would have to become, and the sooner the better.
Every day at sunrise and sunset Lana and Kaiden would practice their fighting and defense skills. To Kaiden’s surprise Lana was not bad to begin with. He assumed she must have learned after they left Ucu since while they were there she had almost no skills. As a kid he would always be able to trip her or sneak up on her, maneuver around her. Now it was more of a challenge.
Lana advanced quickly, eventually using a sword she created with her own energy for their practice. She liked not having to rely on a weapon and being able to better use the one that she created. Soon the forming of a sword began to feel almost natural to her.
On days they felt particularly tired, Kaiden began teaching Lana how to better throw knives. With time she was able to throw the daggers she created a farther distance before they fell to dust.
This became both Lana and Kaidens favorite part of the day. It gave them a chance to be together without any outside pressures or thoughts. Nothing mattered but whatever the task was in that moment. It was so easy to be around him, the way he was able to pull smiles from her, making her laugh. It was like magic. Never was he unkind or impatient with her when she messed up.
Ardin enjoyed watching them, every now and then when Lana tired he would play fight with Kaiden, being careful not to actually harm him. Lana would watch them, run around together. Kaiden would throw out lightning fire. Ardin would dodge, deflect, or shield himself from it, even he began learning a thing or two.
During one of Donn’s stops at a nearby town he brought back some hemp string that Kaiden had requested. Kaiden used it to fashion a bow out of a long thin curved rod Alex had created and he began teaching the boy archery. Lana watched as slowly Alex began to enjoy the gifts he was given as a Madonian. He even began joining Lana and Kaiden during their routine practices and practiced his archery shot while Ardin and Nila hunted. This became their routine, travel by day, practicing combat whenever they were able to.
Days blurred together as they traveled through the southernwoods, the grasslands and forests until they reached the northern mountains of Lana’s homelands. Donn would leave them whenever they came close to a town in order to gather some supplies. Otherwise they all stayed together on their path to Alogrin.
Lana enjoyed the journey, the beautiful woods and forest that surrounded them felt like home. She felt safely concealed by the forest, finding comfort in the company she traveled with.
Staring at the view from the mountain side, Lana rubbed her tender shoulder. It was a beautiful scene, peaceful even. The rising sun was casting a painting over the sky of blue, pink, and orange, blending around white streaks of cloud. The green of the rolling hills surrounding the mountain was beginning to show as the sun’s rays crept up on them. In the distance a hawk was silently gliding in the sky amongst the hills.
“I’m sorry about your shoulder.”
Lana flinched at the sudden sound, disrupting her moment of peace. She turned to Kaiden who now stood at her side, watching her hand as she rubbed her throbbing shoulder. He was worried about injuring her in their sparring practice the other night.
Lana gave him a small smile, dropping her hand from her sholder. “It’s no big deal.” She didn’t want him feeling guilty over it, nor did she want to seem weak.
The rising sun hit Kaiden’s blue eyes in the most perfect way, making them seem even bluer, sparkling like blue diamonds. He was so handsome, his light colored eyes, tanned flesh, strong arms. She had to remind herself not to stare whenever catching glimpses of him hunting, building fires, working with Alex, or even riding a horse.
Peeling her eyes from him, Lana turned to the serene scene around them. Following her lead, Kaiden also looked out at the view but then turned his sights back on Lana.
“What were you thinking of up here?” he asked. Such an easy question. If only it beckoned for an easy answer. Lana was trying to enjoy the beauty of the world while her mind began to race.
“I was thinking of my people… It’s incredibly beautiful and peaceful here, I almost feel guilty enjoying it.” She sighed. “I left them, my people, at a time when they need me. To go on this journey to maybe find help. I left them in danger, under the influence of great evil, for something I am not even sure of.”
Lana fought to hide the emotions that had suddenly surfaced. She had not told anyone what Ardin had shared with her about Arkhip. She worried for those she had left behind, hoping that her General could hold everything together in her absence. Not only that but she worried for the people she traveled with, how long could they be safe on this journey?
Kaiden’s hands reached around Lana’s arms, turning her to face him. The pressure under his hand caused her shoulder to throb but she didn’t flinch, not wanting him to release her.
“You are an amazing leader. All that you are doing is for your people. You could have stayed, buried your father, lead the war, which would have been the easy option. It is easy to hold on to what you had been given and not take risks. But you acted. You left a General, knowledgeable of war, in charge and left to go find help to fight a different war. To some day make a better life for the people of these lands. You are brave and a skilled fighter, getting better by the day.” It astonished Lana how he could go from an easygoing lighthearted guy to serious so quickly.
She stared at the Rami standing before her. Wanting to just fall into him, to let him wrap his arms around her, but she didn’t. She would not allow herself to fall apart. Her mind was racing with not only thoughts of her people but of Kaiden too.
For this entire journey she had been trying to avoid the way her stomach fluttered when he smiled at her or the way she always seemed to almost lean towards him when he was near. But this couldn’t happen, not right now. For the two of them to care about each other would make them huge targets for their enemies and possibly end the only true friendship outside of Ardin she had left.
“Thank you.” Lana managed to say softly before turning to leave. She had to get away, return to the others.
“Lana.” Kaiden called for her. Her heart nearly skipped a beat with his voice saying her name.
She turned back to Kaiden’s blue eyes.
“What do you think of Donn?” He asked.
“Donn?” Lana almost didn’t understand, unsure of where this question came from. “I don’t know much about him. I met him the day… the day I saw you but I think he is a nice old man, perhaps a little strange. Why?”
“Well, we have been zig zagging around this mountain for a week now. Doesn’t Donn know where he is taking us?”
“I don’t know, but I don’t think he is dangerous.” Lana paused at the thought before adding, “He warned us of your brother.”
“Who we never even saw.”
“You think he lied?” There was an uncomfortable feeling that accompanied this conversation. Lana did not like where this was going.
“I don’t know why he would, what his reasons may be, but I don’t trust him.”
“He hasn’t given me a reason to question his intent.” Suddenly she felt the need to defend Donn.
“But what is his intent? Why is he helping us when it’s dangerous to do so?”
Lana was beginning to feel agitated, she liked the old man. A part of her found him mysterious and maybe a little dangerous but she had grown to trust him. He would never harm them. She believed that.
“He is one of my people… He grew up in Gorthyn. I think he knows a lot and perhaps pretends not to but I don’t think he is trying to mislead us, certainly not act as a threat to us.”
“I know you are fond of the children, especially the little girl and her little Aorra, but children can be used as a tactic to mislead.”
“Donn wouldn’t do that!” She snapped.
“Can you be certain?”
“That’s enough. Do you have some sort of proof?” Lana grew angry. Kaiden did not respond. “Enough of this unless there is evidence suggesting that Donn shouldn’t be trusted. What are your intentions for helping, Kaiden?”
Kaiden stared at her with no response. She did not wait for one before turning to head back to the group. The sound of his footsteps followed her back to the camp.
Lana couldn’t help but begin to think over the past several weeks in her mind. Analyzing everything that had to do with Donn. The truth was that the old man was a total mystery to her. He never shared much yet seemed wiser than she had initially thought. But she had always felt safe with him and before this day she didn’t think she had a reason to question him. Could she really have been so gullible? Lana wished Kaiden had never said anything to her of his distrust of Donn.
When Lana and Kaiden finally joined the others there was a silent heaviness in the air that was impossible to ignore. Immediately Lana began gathering her things. Following her cue, everyone sprang to action, packing and doing his or her part to get going.
Over time the group had created an unspoken routine to quickly get everything, mount their horses, and get going. They had become quite efficient in the art of getting on the road. As a team they worked well together, she had thought they trusted eachother.
Once everyone was ready and on horseback they began making their way around the mountainside. The group rode in complete silence. Even the children were oddly quiet. Lana figured that they could feel the tension that had suddenly wrapped around the group. Even Ardin had extraordinarily not asked about it.
Lana tried to think of things to say to break the thick silence but nothing good came to her mind. Her mind constantly wondered back to questions about Donn. How much could she trust him?
About mid-day Kaiden’s voice was the first to break the heavy silence. “Where are we going Donn?”
“To Alogrin,” Donn simply responded.
“Then why are we walking all over this mountain and in no particular direction?” Kaiden said as he brought his horse to a complete stop. “My brother is not the only good Rami tracker around.”
Everyone stopped moving along with him. Lana turned her horse around to face them all. Nadina looked up at Lana with furrowed brows before turning to Donn. Ardin came back from upfront and stood next to Lana’s horse, looking between Donn and Kaiden.
Lana could feel her cheeks blush with heat at the uncomfortable feeling of the conversation.
This is what you have been brooding about to yourself all morning? Ardin’s gentle thoughts came to Lana’s mind and she realized that she had closed him off.
Kaiden doesn’t trust him, I never questioned Donn’s intent before. Lana replied to her Aorra.
A small slow smile spread across Donn’s face and Lana was genuinely shocked by the old man’s reaction. “It’s about time you two realized!”
Everyone’s gaze focused on the old white bearded man sitting atop his mount, waiting for an explanation. Lana sat on her horse, dumbfounded. Was Kaiden right? She asked herself, shocked. She could see by the children’s confused reactions they too did not know what was going on.
The sound of steel being unsheathed rang in the air, pulling everyone’s attention to Kaiden who was now holding a sword and now on foot.
“What kind of game are you playing, old man?” He sneered, approaching Donn with several quick strides. There was anger coming off of him in crashing waves. It tore at the silent awkwardness that had been following them, turning it into a storm of unease.
Lana’s eyes grew large, in shock at what was happening. Ardin quickly acted, jumping between Kaiden and Donn’s horses growling a small warning towards Kaiden.
Alex, who had been sitting in front of Donn, had wide eyes of shock. He stared at the sword in Kaiden’s hand as if he were in a trance, unable to pull his eyes from the weapon.
“Put the sword away, Kaiden.” Lana said sternly as she climbed off of her horse, leaving Nadina on top it. Her eyes never left Kaiden. He spun to face her, but kept his blade pointed towards Donn.
“You have got to be kidding me, the old man basically just told us he had been lying, we can’t trust him and you are protecting-”
“You are scaring the children, now put it away!” Lana cut him off.
“It’s all right, the boy has reason to mistrust me, if holding that sword makes him feel safer…” Donn interjected as he too dismounted his horse, leaving Alex, and turned his gaze towards Lana .“You know that hawk you have been seeing?”
Lana nodded, unsure of how he knew that.
“It’s an Aorra, Alogrin’s council is probably debating on whether to let us in or not, they eventually will but in the mean time we must keep moving to keep away from Garin.”
“If that is even true, when were you going to tell us this?” Kaiden said with an edge to his voice.
Donn shrugged, “no one asked.”
“And you did not feel like volunteering the information?”
“No fun in that.”
“So you do not know where Alogrin is?” Lana asked.
Donn smiled “Oh I know where it is… Right here.” He raised his hands gesturing to the whole mountain they were riding on for days. “I just don’t know how to get in,” he added lowly, almost as if he meant to think it to himself.
Staring at Donn, who was now scratching his white head, Lana shook her head in disbelief. She hoped that they had not been traveling all this time following a crazy old man. A sudden queasy feeling came over her at the thought that all that time may have been just a waist.
“You said you have been there!” Kaiden almost screamed at the frail old man in frustration.
Donn let out a small giggle. “But I have… beautiful place it is… I just never knew how to quite get there.”
Lana watched Donn as he spoke. Is he crazy? She asked, mostly to herself. Ardin did not reply.
Everyone stood still for a moment, unsure of what to say or do next. Then Ardin suddenly turned away from the discussion. Alert, he looked into the forest. A faint growl rumbled in his throat.
I don’t think we are alone. He said to Lana.
She could feel the urgency in her Aorra and not a moment later the ring of her sword being drawn filled the air. All eyes abruptly turned to her.
“Ardin think’s we are being watched.” Lana answered, to everyone’s questioning eyes. A low growl came from Ardin’s chest, vibrating though him. The hair around his neck stood. Kaiden turned his attention to the forest around them, sword still in hand and no longer pointing towards Donn.
“Garin?” Kaiden whispered in question.
“No” Donn replied, taking a few steps forward till he stood beside them. “Your brother is a few days behind us.”
An unfamiliar voice came from the dark forest as a figure came into view from behind the trees. “What in the land’s name are you doing, Donn? Trying to bring a princess here. You are making quite a mess.” It was a Madonian man approaching with seemingly unwashed shaggy dark brown hair. He was clothed in brown fabric. The hilt of a sword he wore on his hip shinned in the light. The man was about Lana’s height and thin.
“Bredin, how nice of you to finally grace us with your presence, I was beginning to think that bird of yours had become blind or dumb… perhaps both.” Donn replied to the strange man, yet again shocking Lana by his harsh response. In their time together he seemed rather docile, never impolite or coarse. Maybe she didn’t know him after all.
Ardin scanned the forest and growled again. We are surrounded.
Turning her head, Lana surveyed the woods surrounding them but she couldn’t see or hear anyone. Bredin shifted his attention to Lana, noticing her scanning the forest around. When she brought her attention back to him she realized his eyes were locked on her.
“Smart little princess. Yes, you are surrounded.”
Is he talking to me? Princess? Lana thought as she tightened her grip on her sword. Who does he think he is?
“I am Lana Casteel, member of the Madonian council… not a princess.”
Bredin did not acknowledge Lana’s response and instead turned to Donn, speaking in a hushed tone. Lana could feel the anger rise within her. Who did he think he was, to outright ignore her like that? She did not like this Bredin.
Donn and Bredin spoke a for few moments while Lana and Kaiden exchanged uneasy glances and scanned the perimeter around them. Bredin whistled and men suddenly emerged from the forest, surrounding them.
“My men will blindfold you and take you into Alogrin.” Bredin spoke to Lana and Kaiden.
“How are we to leave the city if we do not know how we entered?” Kaiden asked.
“You, Rami, will leave whenever we let you.”
Kaiden raised his sword to one of Bredin’s men when they tried to approach. Ardin added a low growl.
Slowly, Lana scanned the men around them, she counted maybe ten men and that’s just what she could see. More men could still have been hidden within the forest. There was no getting out of this. She had no idea how many more men they had, plus this was what they came for. Donn trusted these people enough, but did she trust Donn?
What do you think? Lana asked Ardin.
I don’t trust him nor the situation, however if they wanted to kill us they would have tried by now. Many do not know that Alogrin exists. Outsiders do not normally enter the ancient city. So I suppose they are extremely careful when they do.
Lana sheathed her blade and took a step towards Kaiden who was staring intently at the men around them. She could see the strength in his stance, the fearlessness in his eyes. There was no doubt that he was ready to act if need be.
“Put your sword away.” Lana spoke calmly to Kaiden. His blue eyes looked at her in surprise, she continued before he had a chance to retaliate. “They have us outnumbered, Alogrin is a secret, nearly a myth. They don’t know or trust us. It is understandable why they would want to keep the entrance protected and a secret.”
Kaiden looked uneasily into Lana’s eyes and to her surprise sheathed his sword without a rebuttal.
“Wise of you to listen to the little princess, Rami.” Bredin spoke lamely.
Lana had to bite her tongue at Bredin’s remark. She was beginning to hate the man in their very short time together.
“What about Ardin?” Lana asked gesturing to the handsome white wolf standing alert next to her.
“Your two Aorra’s go in there.” Bredin replied to Lana and Nadina nodding toward a small wooden box on wheels that was pulled up from the woods by a horse. It looked too small for Ardin let alone for him to share with Nila too. Lana turned to Bredin in disbelief. As if reading her mind, he added, “All we got” with a shrug.
Growling in protest, Ardin spun to face Lana. Absolutely not! I am not leaving you outnumbered. I do not trust them. His voice entered her mind and Lana turned to see her Aorra looking up at her before showing his teeth to the surrounding men.
I too don’t like this… but we are surrounded. You said so yourself, if they wanted to kill us they could have already.
Ardin took a protective step closer to her. Having me separated and locked up would risk less of their own men in a slaughter. I wouldn’t be able to protect you in time.
This is a risk we have no choice but to make. We chose to travel to Alogrin, this is the price of entrance. We will still be traveling together.
Ardin released a small whine. Lana brought her hand to his nose. He moved his body so that her hand ran over his head. She could feel the apprehension within her Aorra. They were never separated like this, by force.
Very well. He said as he turned from her and walked to the wooden box, followed by Nila.
Lana looked over to Nadina and wondered if she and her Aorra had a similar conversation.
Donn placed a hand on Lana’s shoulder, bringing his lips to her ear. “You will be before the council of Alogrin and all their advisors when you first get there. This will be your best chance to get them to help, you must use your time wisely. Draw them in. The council doesn’t normally gather with outsiders.” He whispered to her and then turned, walking back to Bredin.
“Our horses will attach to yours, keeping you with us.” Bredin said as Lana walked over to Nadina. The girl stood bravely, seeming on the verge of tears but holding back.
“Mind if we share a horse?” Lana asked Nadina. They had been riding together for days now but Lana wanted to say something to take Nadina’s mind off of Nila. Nadina gave Lana a weak smile.
“Actually, the kids and Donn will be breaking off from the group when we get there so you two will have to ride separately.” One of the men said as he walked by. Lana frowned, she placed a hand on Nadina’s arm and have the girl a reassuring squeeze.
Looking over at Donn she saw him drinking a vial of something given to him by one of Bredin’s men. She looked back to Bredin, who was speaking to one of his men.
“What’s Donn drinking?” Lana asked Bredin, not caring that she was interrupting whatever he was saying to his men.
“Oil from the Yellow Root. He has those pesky little lizard creatures everywhere. The drink breaks his connection with them and also has a side affect of making him very weak. It will wear off but in the mean time it keeps him from knowing the way in.”
“Can’t he just call the lizards to him when it wears off or they can follow him?”
“You know nothing of your friend here huh, princess?” Bredin gazed over her. She was not going to give him the pleasure of a response, she would not let him know just how far under her skin he was getting. He smirked at her glare, but then told her, “No. They do not have memory they can only share with him what is happening in that moment. The only exception is his Aorra, that one he keeps in his satchel and will be joining us in Alogrin. Now get moving.” He walked away, moving past a man who was carrying strips of fabric.
After grabbing a blindfold from one of the nearby men Lana turned to Nadina who now stood with Alex. “We are going to one of the most beautiful and amazing places in all the land. It is a legend! I will see you both when we get there okay?” She said to the siblings, helping them onto a horse, and wrapping the fabric around their eyes.
She then joined Kaiden on his horse and tied a blindfold around her eyes. The fabric felt thick and uncomfortably heavy. Once everyone was ready and the horses all connected they began riding.
When the horses began moving, Lana wrapped her arms around Kaiden. She felt his body go ridged at her touch but then he quickly relaxed. She could feel the muscles of his back move with the motion of the horse. Her lungs filled with the pine scent of his skin. Being so close to him was more comforting than it should ever have been.
They rode in silence for what appeared like an eternity. Their trail seemed to be taking them higher up the mountain. Lana wondered how far they had traveled in this manner. It was very uncomfortable to be blind folded, riding into who knows what.
How are you? She heard Ardin’s voice. His presence kept her grounded. It was calming and safe, even though she could feel his anxiety. He hated being separated from her like this.
As good as I could be. You know where we are going?
No, this box is disorienting.
So are the blindfolds.
Unexpectedly the air grew damp and cool. Lana could hear rushing water somewhere in the distance. The ground turned to stone beneath the horse’s hooves. They must be traveling underground now. They traveled in that manner a while, until the moistness in the air disappeared, replaced by dry crisp air. The horses came to a few stops along the way. There were voices but Lana could only hear muffled whispers, unable to make anything out.
Suddenly they came yet again to a stop except this time there was a clear voice heard.
“Take off your blindfolds.” the voice commanded.
Lana was more than happy to oblige, only to feel the sharp sting of sudden light blinding her. She blinked through the stinging of the light and shapes began to form in front of her.
They were in a large room with pillars that held up the infinitely tall celling. Sunlight shone from the center of the ceiling, the only opening to the outside world. There were several men in the room and Bredin was amongst them, however the company that had brought them to this place seemed to have gone.
Kaiden sat in front of her and Ardin too was in the room, but Donn and the children were not visibly near. They must have broken off from them during one of the previous stops. Lana saw a glimpse of Nila, who had ridden with Ardin, being quietly and quickly escorted from the room.
“You may dismount your horse. Connor will take him for you. Do not worry you’ll get him back.” The voice spoke again. They did what they were told.
From behind Lana and Kaiden entered a boy just roughly older than Nadina, he collected their horse silently and left, shutting a massive door behind him.
The room was immense, grander then any room she had seen in even the city of Abder, which was quite overwhelming for Lana. The stonewalls had carvings and designs etched in them. The pillars seemed to be of solid brown stone, though Lana decided against walking up to one and knocking on it to make sure.
“I am Micah, this is Cale and Clyte.” The voice brought Lana’s attention back to the people in the room. “We are the council here, leading the people of Alogrin.” Micah stood tall with brown curls that just grazed his shoulders. He wore a loose tunic and brown pants.
Alogrin… it’s truly real. Lana thought to herself in awe.
“Clyte?” Kaiden spoke, his words laced with what Lana thought to be an excited disbelief. He looked at the Rami woman with large eyes.
Clyte stood beside Micah, a full head shorter than he. She had long straight black hair that she wore loose and sun kissed skin. A cream blouse wrapped around her muscular body with tight brown pants. Weapons of all kinds hung from the brown belt around her waist.
“You know of me?” She asked casually, as if not surprised.
“You are a legend. You were the most amazing warrior.” Kaiden seemed almost giddy and Lana wished that he had been forced to go separately with Donn.
“I still am.” She wore a smug smirk.
“We thought you had died. This is truly an honor.”
Lana was taken aback by Kaiden’s reaction to Clyte. The two were now staring at one another, Clyte with a smug smile, Kaiden with bright shining eyes.
Lana decided to intervene.
“We know who you are, Lana Casteel of Selviria, what we don’t know is why you have come here” The voice sounded annoyed, coming from Cale. He had light hair and facial scruff. His brown Madonian eyes showed no kindness towards her.
Lana eyed the three before her and those who stood behind them, three men and a woman, all eyes were on her. Donn had told her that she needed to make this meeting count, to draw them in. She swallowed and drew a deep breath before starting.
“My father is dead.” Lana began, no one stirred at the news but by the slight change in Micah’s eyes Lana thought that this was possibly new news for them.
“I am now the sole council commanding over the Selvirian lands. And I have reason to believe my father’s death was caused by Arkhip Dukran.”
That had seemed to catch their attention. She could even feel Kaiden turn to her with his blue eyes. He had not known this information. “My father had always been the Dukran’s biggest obstacle, constantly in the way of him achieving the war they have always dreamed of. Now with him out of the way Arkhip has lead the Madonians to war with the Rami. I have come to ask for your help to stop him.”
Cale was the first one to respond. “We are not interested in becoming a part of your plot and politics in order to make you Queen of all Madonians,” his blond hair fell in front of his eyes when he spoke.
“I do not wish to be Queen.” Lana said in irritation. “I want what you all want and have, safety for both Madonians and the Rami.” Lana looked over to Clyte, a Rami. “We are stronger when both kinds work together.”
Clyte gave a small smile “You think we don’t know that, child.”
Child? Lana was taken aback by the Rami woman’s remark. She could feel more anger stirring within her.
Lana turned her gaze back to Micah who seemed to be the kindest. “Please, Arkhip is a great danger to not only me but to everyone. I have come to find help. I am no fool. I know that I alone will be unable to defeat him. He is incredibly talented, capable of creating and controlling a numerous amount of wolves. If we work together I think we stand a chance, before he has his teeth sunk into both Madonian and Rami lands. Once he does that there will be no stopping him. You all will live here hidden away while the rest of the world burns and once it is all turned to ash I have no doubt that he will come for this place, no matter how well you hide its entrance.”
Micah turned to Kaiden without replying to her. “It is not customary for Madonians and Rami to be friendly outside of Alogrin. How did you two meet?”
Lana looked around in bewilderment. Is it customary for those in Alogrin to completely ignore her? She felt Ardin beside her, his warmth. He was trying to calm her.
“We met at Ucu, the school on the small moon, as children. We became friends. When we returned we went our separate ways and I did not see her again until a little over a month ago.”
Micah nodded, “and what brought you two together again?”
Kaiden glanced at Lana who was turning red, he wasn’t sure if it was from frustration or embarrassment, he figured it was probably both. “ Rami warriors came onto Madonian lands outside of the city of Abder. She came to our camp, alone, trying to find information as to why the Rami had come. The king’s Lieutenant General caught her, I heard her screams.”
Kaiden had to pause for a moment, his pulse quickening at the memory.
Suddenly a man from the back stepped forward, he was tall but slightly hunched, his face aged beyond his years. He wore all black, a loose V-neck, which allowed a good view of a nasty scar with a silver tinge he had across his neck. The scar made Lana uncomfortable, and his eyes, they seemed wildly dangerous. The man whispered a few words to Micah who responded with a nod and then the man disappeared into the back where he came from.
“We will discuss your request. But know this Lana Casteel, you are no queen here, to us our people come first.”
Lana was both relieved and angered.
“I am not a queen. I am a part of a council, such as yourself.”
Micah gave a small smile. “We make decisions for one land, the same people. You however rule your own lands, your own people. You have decided to work together with the other Madonian rulers in what you call a council, but each is a ruler. That is where the difference lays. We mean no disrespect by it, but to everyone here you are now Queen of the Selvirian lands.” Micah’s tone was simple and informative. There was no harshness or distaste behind his words.
However, fury still coursed through Lana and she had to refrain from speaking up against his words. They were allowing for her to stay, they hadn’t yet said that they flat out weren’t going to help her people, so she should have been thankful. Her lips pressed into a tight line, keeping from grimacing. It was the best she could manage.
“Tonight we will have a feast to welcome our new friends.” Micah spoke to all in the room before tuning to Kaiden and Lana. “You two will find something to wear in your rooms. Please do not wander about before the feast tonight, where you will be announced to the people as guests here in Alogrin.”
“May our rooms be near each other?” Kaiden asked simply. The request made Lana flush.
“Don’t trust us Rami? You think that together the two of you may stand a better chance than apart?” Cale did not say more after Micah’s stern look.
“We can be weary of newcomers.” Micah attempted to excuse Cale’s remark, with a polite smile. “Your rooms will be close to one another.”
“And Donn?” Lana asked.
“He has his own place here but it is not far from where you two will be. Now, Conner will take you where you need to go.”
Connor, the boy who had taken their horse from them, entered the brown-pillared room and led the three of them through small back hallways. Everything was stone and the smell of dust and candle wax filled the air. The boy turned here and there, down the weaving stone labyrinth of hallways. Lana tried to remember the way but the place was a massive maze and after the first several turns she stopped trying.
“How do you not get lost?” Lana asked the boy as she looked around in wonder. Dark corridors lead away from the small hall they were walking through. There were twists and turns everywhere she looked. The corridors were small and nowhere as beautiful as Alogrin was told to be. Lana assumed they were walking through the servant halls and not the main halls.
“I grew up here, miss,” Connor replied with a shrug. They continued walking a ways before he spoke again “This side of the castle is pretty much empty so you won’t be disturbed.”
More like we wont disturb others. Ardin added while taking in the surroundings.
Connor opened another door but this time instead of more small hallways they were standing in a grand hall. The hall too smelled of dust and candle wax, Lana assumed the entire place must smell that way. The boy stopped near a dark wooden door and turned to Lana. “This will be your and your Aorra’s room.” He turned his eyes to Kaiden. “Your room will be the third door down from this one.”
“What about Donn and the kids?” Lana asked.
“They are a floor below you, but please do not go looking for them. Also don’t open your windows until after the party and you have been introduced to the people. There will be a chiming of the bells before the party, at the first set someone will come to your room to help you get ready, the second chiming will mean that the party is starting and you will be escorted there.”
Kaiden and Lana each thanked the boy and he ran off, disappearing behind a door. They looked around the hall, it was only lit by candles and there was an uncomfortable feel in the air. Lana wasn’t sure if the feeling was this place or due to Kaiden’s actions of the day. The way he acted against Donn, the way he seemed to brighten ten folds when talking to Clyte, all of it made her uneasy.
“See you tonight.” Lana opened the dark wooden door and walked into her room, shutting the door as soon as Ardin entered, leaving Kaiden alone in the hallway, mouth half open as if he were about to say something. Even though Lana had no real reason to feel angry with him, she was, and feeling that way only angered her more. She needed time alone for her brain to unravel the jumble of knotted thoughts that muddled her mind.
The whole day had been very long and extraordinarily aggravating. Between the morning where Kaiden had spoke against Donn’s character and then the uncertainty of being blindfolded to be brought to Alogrin, only for her to be ignored half the time she spoke, the day was draining. The day was also not yet over.
Releasing a small sigh, Lana let her eyes focus on the room she and Ardin had entered. The space was beautiful, decorated in earthy tones with purple walls. A massive bed with a large white canopy worthy of any princess stood in the center.
Rolling her eyes at the unnecessarily extravagant room she sauntered over to the stain glass window. There was nothing that could be made out for certain through the warped glass. Just blurs of colors, the green of the outside, forests or farmland she thought to herself.
How are you? Ardin asked.
Lana realized she had pushed him out of her mind so she could rant to herself during their walk to their rooms. Before she could answer him something on the bed caught her eye.
“You have got to be kidding me.” Gaping, she picked up the delicate the gown. The gorgeous material felt thick in her hand. It was fancy and elegant and not something she was planning on wearing.
It’s going to look beautiful on you.
Lana could not suppress her annoyance. “This is so over the top! They want to dress me up like the princess doll they think I am and parade me around their party! I did not come here for this.” She tossed the dress back onto the bed.
I don’t think their intention is to make you look foolish. This is Alogrin, a majestic place where great people once lived. It is the seat of the once great empire of the Land. Very few from the outside have ever been here. I think that gown will most likely help you fit in, not make you stand out.
Through a small doorway Lana saw a white tub. She walked to it, leaving Ardin in the bedroom with the dress lying on the plush bed. To her surprise the tub was already filled. A few lavender petals floated in the water, filling the room with their aroma. She held her hand over the water as steamy warmth touched her skin. A small bit of joy came with the thought of being able to experience a warm bath, something she had not been able to enjoy for over a month.
Lana peeled her clothing off and stuck her feet into the tub first. The heat stopped her, shocking her body for a moment before she slowly sank into the warm water. It felt delightfully good to be submerged in warmth.
Hot water soothed her aching body, slowly washing away the hardships of the past weeks. Lana shut her eyes and let the smell of lavender envelope her. Drawing it in with every breath she felt herself beginning to relax.
If nothing else in her never-ending day at least she got to enjoy this small moment of peace. Taking pleasure in every glorious moment, she stayed in the tub until her fingers had become all wrinkled.
Wrapping herself in a towel found on a nearby stand, she walked from the bathroom to the bedroom, where Ardin lay on a plush circular rug that lay at the foot of the bed. He watched her as she stepped to the bed.
Grabbing the gown lying on the bed, Lana ran her fingers over the fabric as she carried it to the bathroom. It was lavish and well made, certainly the most luxurious gown that she had ever seen. Someone had put a lot of time into making it.
With a sigh she pulled the gown on. To her surprise it fit her body like a glove. The dress hugged every curve in the most perfect way. Looking at herself in the mirror, Lana couldn’t help but stare at her reflection. The dress was black and long to her ankles with red embroidered flowering running on her sides. It had long sleeves with the same embroidering but they stopped at her shoulders, which remained bare. Her brown hair, still wet, brushed against her shoulders.
There is a girl here. Ardin entered her mind.
Lana darted to the room where she saw Ardin standing, looking at a large eyed girl who was staring back at him. She wore a simple dress and had her blond hair pulled back into a messy bun. The girl looked up at Lana with warm bright eyes.
“Oh!” She did a small curtsy. “My name is Lola, I came to help you get ready for the party,” and then she stopped and eyed Lana in her gown “You’re already dressed I should have come sooner…I” The poor girl seemed frantic and nervous.
“It’s fine, really, I can put on a dress by myself,” Lana spoke softly feeling bad for the girl yet annoyed at the same time. “You could help tighten the back of it a bit.” Lana suggested. The dress was a corset style and Lana had done the best that she could to tie it but having a second set of hands would greatly help.
Lola flashed a bright smile as she approached Lana. She pulled on the corset strings, wrapping the dress even more tightly around Lana’s body. After Lola had finished she gave Lana a once look over with brown analyzing eyes, pulling her brows together in thought.
The girl looked at the floor and looked up with a sparkle in her eye “I can help with your hair!”
“My hair?” Lana was hoping she had misheard her. She could feel Ardin internally grinning, enjoying the torture of her pampering.
“I can braid some red ribbons into a few strands to add just a little something extra!” The girl seemed so excited by her idea, Lana didn’t have the heart to say no. So Lola went to work braiding red ribbons, to match her gown, into her otherwise free flowing hair. She also went on to insist rubbing different creams on Lana’s face and skin for various reasons. The girl had a lovely warmth about her that Lana didn’t want to risk smothering by not allowing her to help.
Ardin thoroughly enjoyed watching Lana buckle to the will of the girl.
“It’s beautiful Lola, thank you,” Lana managed after getting a look at herself in the mirror. She hardly could believe this was the same dirt stained girl from this morning. She almost did not recognize herself. “May I have a moment to myself?”
“Of course!” The girl said with a warm smile “It is nearly time to leave. I’ll wait for you in the hall.” With a small curtsy she left.
I almost look…royal. Lana thought staring at the woman in the mirror. More than that she could see her mother within her own reflection. Despite her brown hair, Lana had her mother’s cheek bones, lips, and eyes. Dressed up like this, she could see their similarities more clearly than ever before.
You grew up knowing only an evil King of the Rami, the horrible King Zakran. The whole notion of royalty seems bad to you but it needn’t be. This whole castle used to belong to great kings, the Donyerths, who were loved, respected, and fair. They lived in a time of peace between races.
Enough about Kings and royalty please, Ardin.
I only want to ease your thoughts.
Lana glanced around the room, decorated in browns, creams and lavender. Anything wooden was not plain but carved with intricate detailed designs. There was nothing simple in the large room. The Sterling’s would have loved this place, and fit right in better then I.
Nonsense, they would never have looked as beautiful as you in that dress.
Lana looked at Ardin, his tail whooshed in rhythm behind him. The second chiming of the bells sounded.
Lets get this over with.
They walked into the hall where they were greeted with Lola’s awaiting smile. She lead them through the same confusing hallways that Connor took them through earlier. Lana began to wonder about the party and the food. She had forgotten how hungry she was. Her stomach growled, her mouth began watering at the thought.
She nearly slammed into Lola, the girl stopped so suddenly. A wooden door opened by a guard and Lana could hear Micah’s voice seep out into the hall where they waited. She could hear him give the introduction, “and our final guests…” There was a great and final pause. “Lana Casteel and her Aorra Ardin.” Suddenly the room filled with hushed whispers and Lola shuffled her and Ardin in to the room.
Grand pillars held up the ceiling in the massive room. The pillars were white with gold veins and had wolf statues decorating their base. At the very far end of the room Lana could see a large opening to a balcony that seemed to be separated only by hanging fabric. She wished that she could be on that balcony and away from all the eyes that seemed to be on her in this moment. The room itself was overwhelmingly filled with people, Rami and Madonians. So many people that she couldn’t count, they flowed from edge to edge.
Lana stared at the sea of people in the room before her. There were tables around the edges of the room with the center left clear for dancing, or in this case standing. She and Micah stood a step above everyone on a small platform.
“Well, let the music play.” Micah addressed everyone. His voice brought Lana’s attention to the table next to her. On his command the sound of a fiddle and flute spread throughout the ballroom. Micah held out his hand to an open chair at the end of the table. “Have a seat, eat, and get to know some of the people who you try making requests of.”
Lana sat down. There was an empty seat to her left and next to the open seat sat Cale. To her right sat an older man and beside him a woman. He had no visible Aorra next to him so Lana could not for sure tell if he were Rami or Madonian. However, his pail skin pointed towards him most likely being Madonian. Next to him sat a woman who seemed to be Rami. Lana speculated whether the two were an item and if so were they really of different races?
The table she sat at was made of sturdy old wood. It had no intricate carvings yet still somehow seemed majestically beautiful, decorated with softly glowing candles. The table was covered by a spread with meat, potatoes, grapes, bread, crystal decanters filled with wine, and various vegetables. Everything was carefully spaced, evenly apart so that those siting could easily reach for whatever their hearts may desire.
At the other head of the table, directly in front of her, sat Kaiden. His hair was clean and he too wore new clothing. He wore a dark coat, which was embellished with red around the neck and down the arm. It didn’t go unnoticed that the colors he wore perfectly matched her dress.
Kaiden’s blue eyes were fixed on her as soon as she looked up. Meeting his gaze, she suddenly felt incredibly self-conscious. The way his lip curved up ever so slightly when she felt her face flushed was almost too much to handle. It was hard to breath, sitting across from him, trapped by his gaze. The space between them was both too far and not far enough. More than anything she wanted to be near him, to feel him. Her heart thundered at the thought, determined to break through her ribs and run across the table to those blue eyes that watched her. Then the logical side wanted to run, get as far away from him as possible, for nothing good would ever come of this. Nothing good happened to those closest to her.
“My name’s Zorin and this is my wife, Aria.” The man to Lana’s right introduced himself.
Peeling her eyes away from Kaiden’s gripping stare, she looked at the older couple sitting next to her. Zorin was older, with a brown mustache and a matching brown head of hair. Aria was an olive toned blond woman. Before Lana had a chance to reply Zorin spoke again. “We are very sorry for the loss of your father, he was a great man.”
“Thank you, did you know him?”
“I have heard of Valdor Casteel, but no, I have never had the pleasure of meeting the man. Aria and I do not go outside of the walls of Alogrin.”
Were they prisoners here? Did they know how to leave? Lana thought to herself.
“What if you wanted to leave?” She asked.
“Of course we would then leave dear, we just have no need, this is our home, and it’s safe here.” Aria spoke, giving Lana a warm smile.
“You may think bringing you here blindfolded a little silly, but it keeps us safe. Even though you are a Council Woman, you are from the outside, and we do not get newcomers often. Please do not judge us for it, you are no prisoner.” Zorin added.
“You say I am not a prisoner but do all your guests not know how to leave?”
“If you want to leave all you need is but ask. Do you want to?”
“Not yet,” Lana admitted.
She then glanced at the empty seat next to her.
“That’s Tor’s seat, you have to excuse him he tends to avoid large gatherings, just like my Aorra. Though Dorian, my Aorra, will regret missing meeting you.”
Lana looked back to Zorin before he added. “Tor is the one with a nasty scar across his throat. He frightens most people but he is actually a pretty nice guy, very skilled with a blade but rather quiet and keeps to himself.”
The empty seat beside her belonged to the strange man she saw whisper something into Micah’s ear when they first arrived in Alogrin. She spared a glance towards Kaiden, who was deep in conversation with Clyte. When Lana caught his eye she quickly turned away, irritated at how senselessly happy he seemed by the Rami woman’s presence in Alogrin. She shouldn’t have been letting these things bother her, not when she had things she still needed to accomplish. That was where her focuses should have been. Lana made a point to not look over at Kaiden for the rest of the dinner.
Glancing around the room, Lana saw many people, some of which looked back at her when her eyes glided over them. She searched for a familiar face but could not find one. With a worried frown Lana turned back to Zorin and Aria.
“I came here with an older man and his grandkids… You wouldn’t happen to know if they are here?”
Zorin reached for his glass, drinking from it so Aria responded. “They are probably in their room. Donn was given a drink that makes him a little loopy, so we could better transfer him here without interference of his pets. He wont be much of himself till tomorrow.”
“So you two know Donn?” Lana perked up. She hadn’t mentioned his name but Aria seemed to know whom she referred to right away.
“Oh yes. We know Donn.” Aria said with a smile and a sideways glance at Zorin, as if there was something else she had said, an inside joke of some kind. Zorin did not smile back at his wife’s mischievous grin.
“You are fond of him, of Donn?” Zorin asked, setting down his glass.
“He helped me when I needed him. I find him perhaps a bit odd but yes, I like him.”
“He is more than just a simple odd old man. It would be wise for you to remember that.”
“Zorin.” Aria’s tone was full of caution. “Donn has held up his end of things. We need to respect his wishes.”
“Of course, my dear.” He gave his wife a tight forced smile before returning to his meal. All conversation of Donn was immediately dropped.
It was peculiar. Lana had no idea what Zorin or Aria were getting at but by the way they both returned to their meals it was evident that no more was going to be said of her travel companion. Perhaps Zorin and Donn had some sort of past, one that forced a riff between the two men.
For the rest of their meal Lana indulged in conversation with Zorin and Aria. They told her of their lives in Alogrin, the council, and the advisors. Lana learned that Zorin was born in the city however Aria, who was indeed a Rami, fled there as a child with her family. Zorin was an advisor to the council and had been for a very long time. The two of them had no children of their own. Zorin was indeed a Madonian with the Aorra of a Great Cat.
Sometime during their pleasant conversation, Cale, slid into the empty seat to Lana’s left, after he finished eating. He leaned in towards her “So, how do you like the party thrown for you, Lana Casteel.” He lifted his arm in a wave, addressing the beautiful room filled with a sea of people, before draping it over the back of her chair.
Lana felt a little uncomfortable at how close he was to her. She glanced around the room, her eyes paused at the balcony in the distance, the outside breeze blew the fabric around its entrance. Its as if the breeze were calling to her. She wanted so badly to be on the balcony. To breath in the fresh air.
“It is beautiful.” Lana replied, turning back to Cale’s dazzling smile. Even though he smiled, she could feel his distaste for her radiating off of him.
“How does it feel to know all of this is right in your back yard, under your nose, and you knew nothing about it?” Cale reached over for his glass and returned to face Lana, taking a long drink of wine.
Ardin’s attention suddenly zeroed in on Cale. Together they shared a simmering irritation, directed at the Alogrinian council member sitting next to her.
Lana forced a tight smile. “You must be referring to the city of Gorthyn. My backyard is in the Selvirian capital city called Olbi, Cale. But that’s okay, geography is not everyone’s strong suit.” She knew she probably should just keep her head down and not react, but she couldn’t help it. Cale, for a reason unknown to her, seemed to be against her since the moment she had arrived.
What seemed to be a small chuckle came from Zorin at Lana’s remark. When she glanced at him he appeared to be busy cutting a piece of meat that was on his plate, but she could swear that there was a glint of amusement in his eye.
“I hear you have been practicing sword play.” Cale spoke, changing the subject, unfazed by Lana’s remark.
“Where have you heard that?”
Cale turned to Bredin, who sat in the seat next to where he had originally sat. Bredin turned to Lana at the sound of his name, nodding at Cale and Lana. Breiden had a hawk Aorra that had been watching Lana, Kaiden, and Donn before they were allowed into Alogrin. The hawk must have seen one of Lana and Kaiden’s practices. She returned her gaze to Cale.
“Kaiden and I practice, yes.”
“Would you say you are any good at it, princess?” Cale questioned, placing an aggravating emphasis on princess before taking another sip of wine. Lana reached out for her own glass to keep from balling her hands into fists.
“Yes.” Lana replied, restraining herself from saying more.
“Great! Tomorrow morning, we will have you and your friend, Kaiden each show us what you can do in the arena. Unless you are afraid you may embarrass yourself? I must warn you, the people in Alogrin are extremely skilled. You will have to work to impress anyone here, there is a big chance someone like you may even get injured.”
Ardin released a low growl. Why don’t I take an extremely skilled bite out of your smug face? Rotten swine. He had been by Lana’s side the entire time and had remained to himself until this moment. Lana glanced over to her Aorra, they seemed to share the same distaste for Cale.
Returning to the conversation, Lana spoke with a forced calm tone. “We know the rumors of Alogrin and how talented the people are, the stories of the great golden army. I don’t fear you.”
“Maybe you should.” Cale murmured with a cold gaze before taking another sip of wine.
Was this a threat? Her eyes honed in on him. She was about to respond when he spoke again “The event tomorrow will be held at the arena. It will be between you and one other, your Aorra is welcome to be there but will not be involved.”
Lana watched Cale as he rubbed his hand along his blond facial scruff wiping away a splash of red wine. She did not like him. He was so incredibly arrogant, as if he was better then everyone. Lana wasn’t sure how the Alogrin council was chosen but if it were left to a vote then she had no idea how Cale could have won. He came off as cold and as one who constantly was looking down on others.
“Will you be in the arena?” Lana asked, hoping that she would get a chance to take out some of the anger and annoyance that was quickly beginning to build up because of him.
Cale smiled brightly, “We will see.”
Let’s go right now, you pretentious jerk. I will wipe that arrogant smirk off of that face. Ardin didn’t warn her to restrain herself in her thoughts. She didn’t feel him work to pull any of the anger from her. He must, for once, have been too busy brewing to himself to work at restraining her.
Lana glanced around the table, taking note of the Aorra’s. Bredin sat next to Clyte and his hawk Aorra was also near him, perched on the back of his chair. Micah sat next to Kaiden with a silver black and white snake wrapped around his chair. The snake sat poised, head up and turning to whoever was talking in that moment. Lana assumed that the snake must be his Aorra. Next to him sat Aria and then Zorin whose great cat was not present. She turned back to Cale, completing the circle of her gaze around the table.
“Do you not have an Aorra?” She asked him with a smile.
Cale exhaled in contempt, “Not every Madonian needs an Aorra.” With that he got up and walked from the table.
No creature would want to be his Aorra. Ardin remarked and a smile tugged at the corner of Lana’s lips. Perfect, she found a soft spot.
“He can be a little rough around the edges.” Zorin whispered to Lana while she watched Cale disappear into the crowd.
Turning back to Zorin and Aria, the three of them made small talk while finishing what was left of their meals. When everyone finished eating the dancing began, giving Lana a chance to escape to the balcony that she had been eyeing ever since she had entered the crowded ballroom.
The balcony was on the far end of the room. The fabric hanging from the opening blew into the room with the breeze. Lana walked across the floor, weaving between happy couples who didn’t notice her and others who hushed and stared as she walked by.
When she finally made it to the balcony, it felt like she could finally breathe. The pressures within that confined ballroom melted away into the darkness, leaving her with the freedom to fill her lungs with the fresh mountain air.
The balcony stuck out over a valley below. A whole mountain range surrounded the valley. Lana stared at the view, it was beautiful and unlike anything she had ever seen. The castle seemed to be built into the walls of the mountain, probably made from the mountain its self. She wondered if the whole entire mountain were the castle.
Feeling a nudge at her hand, Lana turned to see Ardin standing beside her.
You think this whole mountain around us is the castle? Lana asked her Aorra.
It seems so. Ardin replied as he looked over the balcony. By the light of the moon, they could see a small forest and fields below them. Ardin turned his silver blue eyes back to Lana who raised her hand, gently placing it on the wolf’s head, softly stroking his fur.
I feel so lost She whispered to him in her mind.
Don’t be. We have made it here. This place is what we have heard legends of. A place that the King of all the lands used to rule from! It is a victory.
One victory, to be replaced by yet another challenge, a struggle to get the Alogrin counsels’ support.
It may take time but it will happen, have faith.
I suppose. Though she doubted she would ever manage Cale’s support and time was not something she wanted to waist if this lead to no where.
What is your plan? If we get their support that is.
Honestly? I am not sure. If there is truly a war waging then I do not want either side to win, we need to suppress both. Lana looked up at the small moon crossing the sky. A thought hit her. Do you think they would allow us back into Ucu?
I don’t know. They have a rule against adults going there, not to mention their rules if war ever broke out. Now that war has started they will not accept any more Madonians or Rami children after they return the students who are currently up there.
Lana looked down at the forest beneath in thought. Yes, I know. She then turned her gaze back up at the stars. But they see everything, know everything. If we made the journey to their gate, do you think we would be turned away?
They do not like to get involved, you know that.
But they take Madonian and Rami children for an entire moon cycle of time and help them learn to control their gifts! They broke their own rules in doing that. They allow for themselves to be involved with us even though they say they do not wish to be involved beyond what’s necessary. Who chooses how much of their involvement is necessary? Surely they would see that helping us would be for a greater purpose and they will accept us! The instructors are not monsters. Many Madonian and Rami will die in the times to come. I know they would want to help.
I simply don’t know. That was all Ardin could really say for no one knew.
If Lana traveled to the Ucu’s gates when the moons aligned and they let her through, this would be the first time that the instructors had let someone other than a young child from the lands into the school. There was no say whether they would be willing to grant her entrance or if the trip would be a wasted one.
Lana and Ardin both stood gazing over the balcony in silence thinking their own thoughts.
I’ll leave you two.
Before she could ask her Aorra what he meant he was walking off of the balcony, passing a tall, dark figure. The figure stepped closer and Lana could see a familiar face with eyes, which were deep pools of blue. The intensity of his eyes caught her breath and she had to look away. She fidgeted with her dress, pretending to fix an invisible wrinkle. Once in front of her the figure stopped and Lana forced her gaze up, meeting the eyes of the handsome Rami before her.
“Hi,” she managed to say. Why was she behaving foolishly, feeling so infuriatingly strange? This was just Kaiden. So what if he was cleaned and dressed up all nice. He was the same guy she had been traveling with for weeks now, they were friends. Nothing more. Her heart wouldn’t listen as it beat out of her control.
His eyes glided over her. “You look, beautiful.”
Lana’s heart fluttered at the complement and she looked out over the balcony trying to distance herself from the feelings that stirred within her. She wanted to tell him he cleaned up rather nicely as well but decided against it. Not wanting him to have the pleasure of her complement, not wanting to muddle things between them.
“You have been avoiding me.” Kaiden stated. It was not a question but an observation, letting Lana know her avoidance had not gone unnoticed.
“I have not. You have been busy.” Lana countered, glancing into the grand ballroom, to Clyte who was busy entertaining guests. She wore a cream loose fitting dress that curved around her muscular body accentuating her best features, with the back completely open, showing off a ragged white scar across her flawlessly tanned skin. Her long dark hair was wrapped around her head in a braided crown.
Kaiden followed Lana’s gaze to Clyte and turned back to her with a large stupid grin on his face. “Oh I see. Jealous?”
Lana felt her face abruptly get hot at the accusation.
“You’re ridiculous.” She retorted, the irritation painfully clear in her voice. She turned in an attempt to get away from him but a hand gently grasped hers, pulling her back.
“Clyte was a legendary Rami warrior, I thought she had been killed and I am shocked that she is here. She used to serve under the Right Hand General to the king, she is an idol of sorts for our people.” He unsuccessfully tried to mask a smile.
Lana did not reply. She stared at the ground unable to think of a response, feeling embarrassed. Was she really jealous?
“I am sorry about what I said about Donn this morning.” Kaiden’s apology brought her eyes up to his. “I know you like the old man, I did not mean to upset you-“
“It’s fine” She cut him off. “He was hiding some facts from us, but it doesn’t matter now, we made it to Alogrin.”
Lana noticed that Kaiden’s hand was still on hers, she pulled it away and took a step back. Being close to him was too much.
“We are to fight tomorrow.” Lana informed Kaiden, attempting to change the subject.
“I’ll go easy on you in that case.” He smirked.
A small smile spread across her face at his remark.
“Ha! You’re just lucky we are fighting with other people. I wouldn’t want to embarrass you in front of everyone. Kaiden the great, lost to a girl.”
“Oh is that so?”
“It sure is.”
Kaiden smiled his dazzling smile in response. His angular face, handsome, in the face of the soft glow of the moon.
“What do you think of the Council and their advisors?” Kaidens head tilted towards the ballroom.
“They are nice.” Lana shrugged, “Except for Cale.”
He snorted, “That guy is an egotistic turd.”
“Yes, a turd.” Lana laughed. It was so easy to laugh with Kaiden.
Biting her lip, she looked back over the balcony, Kaiden joined her gaze at the valley bellow. Taking in the grandness of the mountain that surrounded them. It was peaceful to look over the lands by the moonlight. Kaiden glanced back at Lana, watching her a moment.
“Why do you look so troubled?”
“Are there any reasons to not be?” She replied, turning to face him.
“We made it to Alogrin.” He shrugged, still watching her.
“I guess I’m afraid. I fear I’m not going to be taken seriously and what about my people? They are in danger and I am not with them. I am here, all dressed up like a doll…. and you.” Lana looked into his eyes “I have put you in danger.”
Kaiden stared at her, she was afraid for him? He had to suppress a laugh, since she was the one getting into trouble all the time. If anything he should be the one worried about her safety not the other way around.
“I am not a helpless little boy, Lana. You don’t have to fear for me or try to protect me. I chose this.”
“Yes but in a way your hand was forced. If it was not me who Garin had, but some other, would you have saved them?”
He looked out over the balcony, suddenly self-conscious.
“I don’t know,” he whispered the lie. But he knew what he would have done, nothing. He didn’t want to think of it, fearing what Lana would think. Surely she would think he a monster. How could a decent person let another innocent die?
“But it was me. And because of our history you reacted and saved me, making you an outcast from your people.” Her eyes showed no trace of judgment.
Kaiden couldn’t help but stare at her in confusion.
“How can you care about me being an outcast when I just told you, were it anyone else I may have…” he paused, “no I definitely wouldn’t have done anything to save them.”
“Life is not easy. I took a risk going to the Rami camp, I know that. After you got me out of there, you know what I did? I killed men with families, wives and children, in an attempt to get to my father. Those men were following orders from their King. They had little choice in what they were doing.” She shuddered at the memories. “I killed your people and then took you away from them. So after what I did, taking lives like I did, how could I expect you to save some stranger who took a risk coming into your camp? We all try to survive in the world we are stuck in.”
Kaiden looked into Lana’s eyes with a gentle expression. He stepped towards her. She couldn’t retreat from his gaze. Her feet were rooted to the ground. Gently, his hand rose to her face, cupping her cheek.
Lana’s green eyes stared up at him, full of emotion. She was close enough to feel his breath on her. A desire to taste his breath rose up within her. Heat coursed through her as his hand touched her cheek, gliding down to her neck, collarbone, shoulder, and then back up. It was such a gentle touch, but one that left a mark under the surface.
Her heart hammered away, as her eyes soaked him in. The way his hair gently moved in the light breeze, how his eyes looked so dark and blue in the moonlight, they were deep enough for her to get lost in. The way his lips slightly parted and his eyes locked on hers. She should have pushed him away, that would have been the smart thing to do.
Kaiden brought a hand to her waist, pulling Lana closer, closing whatever distance was between them. For a hesitant moment their breaths mingled between them and then his lips found hers. Butterflies erupted in her stomach and burning desire took over whatever thoughts she was having.
Wrapping his loose hand around her waist, he pressed her body to his. The smell of pine off of his skin filled her lungs, while his lips moved with hers. The kiss was gentle at first, teasingly soft, before it turned to one of need. Kaiden’s strong and safe arms tightened around her, holding her close.
Lana grabbed his shirt wanting to relish in this moment forever. She let her free hand feel the muscular curves of his back. She wanted this. To be lost in his warmth, in his hold, in those lips, in those blue eyes, for eternity. She wanted to be lost in him.
But that would not have been real life, that was a fairytale. Reality crashed around her, people were dying, fighting a war. Then Lana pushed him away, her breath unsteady.
“We can’t,” she said turning away to look over the balcony, afraid that if she looked at him all resolve would vanish. Her breath was ragged and she had to grab hold of the railing to keep her hands steady and in place. To keep them from turning back to explore more of the body that stood beside her.
She could feel Kaiden’s eyes watching her. He was standing there, right next to her. The silence was worse than anything and so she broke it first. “Apart from Ardin you are… I can’t risk losing you.” When he did not speak she slowly turned to look at him.
By the look in Kaiden’s eyes, he did not seem deterred. Sparks still flicker within those deadly blue eyes. Desire burned in them, it was hot enough to set her skin on fire. Even though every inch of him seemed to only want to close the space she had just put between them, he took a step back, allowing for Lana to have some room.
“Then why do you push me away?” His voice was soft.
“I have so much to think about, to worry about. For us to be more… here in Alogrin it is safe but out in the world it will make things more dangerous for you and I. Even some of my own people may try to kill you.” Lana turned and looked down over the balcony. “Those closest to me die as pawns in some big scheme. I can’t have that happen to you too. And I cannot risk loosing you, your friendship—” Her voice broke. She did not have the strength to say more, she did not want to say any of it. But her fears of what may happen to him were powerful, stronger than her want to be in his embrace.
If she were to take on Arkhip Dukran then he would take whatever he could from her in his attempt to regain control. Kaiden would be a target, and she couldn’t let him have a fate similar to Valdor’s. To have Kaiden forever gone, was unthinkable.
Kaiden’s hand quietly found Lana’s, igniting her skin at the touch. She could feel his sweet breath on her skin before he kissed the back of her hand, sending a single pulse through her body. Then he dropped her hand and walked away, leaving her to herself. With troubled eyes Lana watched him leave.
Ardin I am going to go to our room for the night. She called to her Aorra after a moment alone on the balcony.
Do you mind if I explore Alogrin a bit?
Knock yourself out. She replied, wanting to be alone anyway.
Lana was relieved to find Connor at the party. She almost did not recognize the boy at first. He was all cleaned up, and even though he was still working and serving at the party his black uniform made him look older. Connor smiled at Lana as she approached him, his chocolate eyes warm and friendly. She was pleased to have him show her the way back to her room.
This time the boy led her through the main halls to her room and she was able to remember the way.
When Lana entered the room she saw her original clothing, now cleaned, hanging on a beautifully crafted wooden wardrobe in the room. She decided to open the wardrobe. To her surprise it was full of clothing. All of the clothes seemed to be well crafted and expensive, fit for royalty. Looking it over, Lana thought to herself that she may as well accept how the Alogrinians viewed her and wear the clothing they had kindly provided.
An elegant rose-colored nightgown hung amongst the other things. Lana touched the soft fabric. Her hand glided over the smooth silk before slipping it on and sliding into the bed. The sheets were remarkably cool and soft against her hot skin.
Laying in bed Lana stared at the ceiling. Moonlight seeped in through her window, providing enough light to see by. She ran a finger over the back of her hand where Kaiden’s lips were not too long ago. Her skin tingled at the touch as she thought of what had happened. The way he had smelled, the way he felt, the way his eyes darkened when they looked at her. All of it fed the wild burning fire within her. She ran her fingers through her hair, trying to rid herself of the memory.
What am I doing? She thought to herself as she rolled to her side. The need for sleep was strong. She needed to be well rested for the fight Cale had forced her to agree to tomorrow. A fight that Lana assumed would be on display with everyone watching her, judging her.
Still she couldn’t stop thinking of Kaiden.
Once outside Kaiden made his way towards the open center of Alogrin. The city was unlike any other he had ever been in. Most cities had a heart, a center point where life poured out. Alogrin did not.
It had a silent center, like an eye of a storm. The life of the city surrounded a peaceful center. Alogrinian citizens lived in the mountain that surrounded the valley, just outside of the mountains were a few small shops and cobble streets, however past that, in the center was a vast space. There was a very small-forested area off to the right, but other then that there were just grassland and gardens.
Kaiden marched past everything, deep in thought. He was heading towards the quiet heart of Alogrin. The sent of lavender still followed him, Lana’s skin had smelled of it and now it chased him into the night.
Fondly he thought about the rose blush he saw on her cheeks. Her feelings were evident in her eyes, her voice, the way her breath turned ragged, the way her hands dug into him. He could feel the frantic beating of her heart when he held her, matching his own. Kaiden felt relieved to not have been falling for a girl who didn’t feel the same.
Yet he was still rejected by her and it irritated him that she would push him away for reasons he found insubstantial. Every day was a risk, whether they were together or apart. He didn’t expect that to be a reason she pushed him away.
He saw the feelings that stirred within Lana. They threatened to overpower her as she struggled to fight them, so he decided not to press the issue. If she needed some time then fine, he would give her some space. Eventually she would work it out, understand what it is that she wants. He would give her room, even if it left him so very frustrated.
Kaiden got to an area where, by the blue tint of the moon, he could not see anything in the distance but grass. He made a sphere in his hand, condensing the energy into his palms. Taking the electric ball, he threw it into the night sky, watching it fly off into the distance. When it hit the ground small electrical tendrils radiated out of the impact. It felt good to release the energy that had pint up within him. He formed another sphere and threw it as hard as he could into the sky. Then he made another and another.
As Kaiden watched one of his spheres fly through the air something came from the side, hitting the sphere he had created. An electrical explosion briefly lit up the sky. He turned to see a Rami boy standing several feet away, holding a bow and arrow. The boy was short with olive skin and dark hair.
“You know its dangerous just throwing those around.” The boy said to Kaiden.
“Its dangerous shooting arrows aimlessly into the night sky too.” Kaiden replied.
“There’s no one out there within reach, and it wasn’t aimless.” The boy responded, taking a few steps towards Kaiden and holding out his hand. “My names Jakobe.”
Kaiden grabbed the boy’s hand, and Jakobe proceeded to give him a surprisingly stern handshake.
“I’m Kaiden.” He said with a smile, slightly amused.
“Where are you from?” Jakobe asked.
“I am from the Rami lands.”
“Oh cool! So you are from where Clyte comes from?”
“Yup.” Kaiden looked the boy up and down, he seemed the same age as Alex. “How old are you?” Kaiden asked.
“Seven moons.” Jakobe replied.
“Your pretty good with that bow, for someone so young.” Kaiden stated.
“I know.” Jakobe released a drawn out sigh, as if being good with handling a bow was somehow a difficult burden that had fallen upon him. A smile surfaced on Kaidens face at the boy’s theatrical burden.
“Would you be willing to help a friend of mine learn? His name is Alex. He has only just begun learning but he is a quick study and he is new here, doesn’t know anyone in Alogrin yet.”
“I guess it could be fun.” Jakobe replied with a shrug. “But he has to get his own supplies.” The boy added.
“That wont be a problem,” Kaiden said with a small laugh. Alex could create all the supplies the two could ever need, besides bowstring.
Sounds of people gathering began to carry over to where Kaiden and Jakobe were. He turned to look towards the noise. By the blue light of the moon he could make out shapes of people congregating in the distance.
“They are gathering around the Arena. Zorin is probably practicing, he always draws a crowd.” Jakobe informed. “Want to go see?”
“Sure.” The two began heading towards the crowd. As they approached Kaiden could see a white wolf standing amongst the group, his tail moving in a happy rhythm. For a moment his pulse quickened as his eyes darted around, searching for Lana. She was nowhere to be seen, Ardin must have wandered over here on his own. The wolf turned to him when he approached.
“Hey Ardin.” Kaiden acknowledged the wolf. “This is Jakobe.” He pointed to the boy before turning to Jakobe. “This is Ardin. He is the Aorra for my friend.”
“Cool. An all white wolf Aorra! He is very regal looking.” The boy exclaimed.
Ardin turned his head to the side while looking at the two of them. Kaiden thought he saw the wolf smile, or make an expression resembling that of what Kaiden imagines to be a wolf’s smile.
The three of them turned to the Arena. In it stood a Madonian man moving like liquid with a blade in his hand. It was as if he were one with the blade, it an extension of himself. It was truly incredible to witness.
Kaiden recognized the man, who had brown hair and a mustache. The man had sat at their table at dinner. Though he sat at the far end, speaking to Lana most the night.
“Who is that?” Kaiden asked Jakobe.
“That’s Zorin.” The boy answered, as he too watched Zorin in wonder.
“He’s an advisor to the council right?”
“Yup.” Jakobe confirmed. “But he is much more than that. He teaches everyone here how to fight with a blade. He is amazing. I think he may be a descendent from the gold army that used to be in Alogrin.”
“Is the gold army still around?” Kaiden asked, hopeful that perhaps there were. If they could manage to get a golden army on their side, then King Zakran and Arkhip Dukran wouldn’t stand a chance.
“No, at least not that I know of. But if they were then I would guess that Zorin is part of it.”
After awhile of watching the magnificent dance within the arena, the sword in Zorn’s hand glimmered away into nothing and the crowd that had formed around him cheered and applauded. Zorin took a deep bow. When he stood he walked right over to Kaiden.
“Hello Ardin.” Zorin acknowledged Lana’s Aorra. Lana and Zorin had sat together at the dinner so it would have been easy for Zorin recognized the wolf, there was no Aorra quite like Ardin.
He then turned to Kaiden. “I apologize for not getting a chance to introduce myself sooner. My name is Zorin, its a pleasure to finally meet Kaiden. I saw you at dinner, you are a friend of Lana Casteel’s, correct?”
“Yes. That was quite some skill you displayed out there.”
“Thank you, its just a little something I like to do from time to time.” Zorin smiled. “Walk with me back to the ballroom?” He requested.
Kaiden turned to the boy he had just met. “I’ll try and introduce you to Alex tomorrow. See you around.” The boy nodded and turned, walking away. Ardin too had disappeared.
With the crowd dispersing, Kaiden turned to Zorin.
The two of them slowly made their way back to the castle. Zorin inquired of Kaiden’s past, how he grew up. What his life was like. He also asked of Lana, what her strengths were, if she were strong enough to create a sword. Kaiden answered all of Zorin’s questions.
There was something about Zorin, an air of greatness, but Kaiden couldn’t put his finger on it. Once back at the fortress Zorin politely thanked Kaiden for walking with him and left him at the entrance.
Kaiden began making his way back to his room but he was not yet tired. So attempting to kill some time, he wandered about the halls instead. There were so many of them. They were vast, made of solid stone with engravings and decorations on every wall. There was not a single hall that was bare. Finally, amongst the plethora of halls he saw a familiar face, Connor.
“Connor!” Kaiden called out as the boy approached. “Could you help me find Donn’s room?”
“Sure.” Connor replied, taking Kaiden down yet another hallway and stopping at a door. “This is it.”
“Are you sure?” Kaiden asked. The hall looked exactly like the one he and Lana were on. He didn’t want to knock on the door only to have Lana answer.
Connor smiled kindly at Kaiden and raised his hand, knocking on the door. After a short moment the door opened. Nadina stood on the other said, her eyes lit up with her recognition of Kaiden.
“Kaiden!” Nadina exclaimed before noticing Connor standing next to him. “Oh, hi.” Nadina acknowledged the boy.
“Hello.” Connor said to Nadina with a slight bow of his head. Nadina’s face abruptly turned red.
“Thank you, Connor.” Kaiden said to the boy.
“My pleasure,” He responded, his eyes never leaving Nadina’s now tomato red face. Kaiden rolled his eyes as he stepped in and closed the door.
“Kaiden!” Alex ran into the room.
“Alex!” Kaiden exclaimed. “I found a young boy your age who also likes archery, I will have to introduce you tomorrow.”
“Okay.” He simply replied. Kaiden had hoped he would be more enthusiastic about having a friend to practice with.
“What in the bloody lands is all the racket!? Get to your beds at once!” A raspy voice sounded from the couch in the room. Kaiden hadn’t noticed that Donn was lying on the couch near a fireplace. Both the kids jumped at the sound of his voice, looking to Kaiden as if they were caught red-handed out of bed.
“It’s all right, go to bed. I will see you two later.” He said as the two of them gave him a hug and ran to the next room. Kaiden cautiously walked over to the couch where Donn was.
He lay with an arm draped over his forehead, his face flushed. He opened one glazed eye when Kaiden approached, looking Kaiden up and down before shutting his eye. “I have a terrible headache.” That was Donn’s polite way of telling Kaiden to get out.
“I wont be long. I just wanted to apologize.”
“Apologize?” Donn grumbled as he lifted himself from the couch and sat up. He brought a hand over his temples, rubbing them a moment before bringing his glazed eyes up to Kaiden.
“I did not trust you, when in fact you were bringing us to Alogrin.”
“I do not hold that against you.” Donn stated, grumbling some more before his next coherent words. “How was the Alogrinian council?”
Kaiden shrugged. “Fine, I think. They have not agreed to help Lana with anything yet, but they have been rather welcoming. They gave us rooms and clothes. Tonight they threw a generous party for our arrival.”
“Of course he would have a party on the day I am not functioning.” Donn spoke under his breath. Kaiden had no idea who he was referring to.
“Tomorrow we are going to have some sort of sword fight at the arena, to show off our skill.”
“Of course you will.” Donn muttered. “Well, I should be healthy enough to at the very least attend that.”
“What’s it going to be like? Any ideas?”
“You will most likely be in the Arena with Zorin. Everyone around here thinks him something special. You will show your skills and then it will be over.” Donn’s brows furrowed, “Now go, I need to rest, my mind is a thick nauseating fog. I would like for it to be cleared by morning.”
“See you tomorrow.” Kaiden murmured to Donn who returned to laying on the couch, his eyes shut.
Kaiden walked from the small room back into the hall, shutting the door behind him. Turning down the dimly lit hall, he headed towards his room. Restless feelings rustled around him, he was not at all tired, but tomorrow was going to be a day that required focus. Tomorrow called for a need to get some shut eye.
Yet when Kaiden’s eyes did finally shut, he could only see her, only think of her. She was everywhere in his mind. He even thought he still smelled her, but that was unlikely, this was all just in his head.
Lana entered the grassy arena with Ardin by her side. Her body felt sore from the past several days and her eyes were tired from the restless night. Her mind relentlessly raced through thoughts the entire night, keeping away any form of sleep.
Once the early sun began to brighten the world outside her window, she forced her body to move, getting out of bed. In the beautiful wooden wardrobe she had found suitable clothing to wear for physical activities such as swordplay, a tan tunic with brown pants, which she wore with her laced up boots. Her brown hair was pulled back in a fishtail braid. Lana wanted to do a normal braid but Lola stopped by in the morning and insisted on doing something special for the event. Her mothers butterfly hair clip held black a few loose strands.
Upon her arrival to the arena Lana saw Kaiden standing off to the side, speaking with Clyte. As if he could feel her watching him, he looked up, momentarily locking eyes with Lana. A jolt ran through her and quickly she turned her gaze away. She tried to focus on what was going on and the task ahead, that’s was what she should be concerned with. Yet she couldn’t help but wonder what Kaiden and Clyte were talking about.
A familiar wet nose nuzzled her hand.
You have nothing to worry about. Ardin said, his blue eyes watching her.
Speak for yourself, look at all these people. Lana scanned the arena, it was packed with people standing all around its edges, and she could see even more people approaching from the distance.
Just focus on your target. Watch him, learn the way he moves and don’t underestimate your opponent.
I don’t think I would underestimate anyone here. Lana said as she took in the scene.
The arena was a large oval and for the most part cleared of trees except for three that scattered around the center. From the side she saw Cale walk into the center, heading towards them. He wore clothes similar to those Kaiden had on last night, this was not clothing someone would wear if they planned to have a sword fight. Disappointed that she would not have the opportunity to try and embarrass him in front of all his people, Lana watched him approach with a slight frown. Cale raised a hand, waving them forward as he strode towards them.
Here we go. Lana thought as she and Ardin made their way towards Cale. She could see Kaiden in her peripheral moving towards them.
Avoiding Kaiden’s gaze, Lana kept her eyes on Cale. She hated that she felt such a foolish way or found it suddenly difficult to look at him. A part of her hoped he wasn’t angry with her from last night. To look at him might confirm her fears so she opted to avoid a glance, at least for now. She would deal with him after this was over. First she needed to get past this obstacle.
Are you all right? Ardin asked, probably sensing her feelings of frustration.
“I’m fine.” Lana replied in a firm voice, with what Ardin would recognize as a hint annoyance. Her cheeks flushed as soon as she realized that she replied out loud.
“So what are we doing?” Kaiden asked, the sound of his voice caused Lana’s pulse to quicken. She was beginning to get angry at the way she was reacting to him. This was not something that was supposed to be happening. He was her friend, even being that was dangerous. For them to become anything more would have been foolish. Yet her body didn’t seem to be connected to her mind.
Being near him sent a flutter through her stomach. Her eyes pulled to look at him, to glide over the muscular tanned body. Her breath wanted to mingle with his and her heart threatened to break through its ribbed cage and run to him. There was a severe disconnect within her and Lana wasn’t sure when it happened. Her mind screamed, no you’ll ruin him, it will end in blood. Yet her body said, I don’t care, I demand him.
“You fight. Ladies first, are you ready Princess?” Cale said with a wink at Lana, answering Kaiden.
Rumbling in the crowd sounded the arrival of someone new to the arena. “Ah, and here comes your opponent. Good luck.” Cale added, nodding to the side. He then walked away to get a good spot to watch.
Lana turned to see her opponent moving graciously towards her. It was a tall thin man wearing leather-fighting clothes. From the distance his brown hair and mustache instantly gave him away.
“Zorin?” Lana blurted out with wide eyes.
I can’t fight him!
It’s not a real fight, no one will get hurt, he will just test you. He is the one most skilled with a blade and Madonian strength here in Alogrin.
But he is the only person I have connected with in this place and now I have to… Wait why does this not seem to be news to you? Lana turned to Ardin whose tail quickened its pace at her stare.
Last night while I was exploring I learned he was much more than just an advisor to the Council… He is quite talented, I saw him practice, it’s quite remarkable.
Lana wanted to strangle her Aorra for not sharing this sooner.
“Good morning, Lana Casteel.” Zorin greeted her warmly as his wife too approached. “Kaiden.” He acknowledged with a nod.
Aria walked at Zorin’s side and at his other was a great cat, his Aorra. The feline’s muscular body slinked along side of him. When Zorin was close enough he stopped but his Aorra did not.
“His name is Dorian.” Zorin informed, as his Aorra proceeded to circle around Lana, Kaiden, and Ardin, like a cat stalking its prey. Once Dorian completed a full circle he rejoined Zorin at his side.
Dorian was as white as snow. The tips of his ears were accented in black and black spots speckled the top of his head and back. His paws seemed tremendous with long lethal claws. Despite his massive size, the Aorra appeared incredibly light on his feet.
“Hello, Dorian.” Lana said, still watching the Great Cat.
“Can you hold a sword?” Zorin asked, bringing her attention back.
“Yes, my father had me learn as a child.” Lana eyed him, finding it odd he had no sword himself.
“Very good, smart man to teach a young lady how to defend herself. Council members in particular shouldn’t rely only on their Aorras as a form of defense.”
Lana noted that he called her council member not princess like so many other Alogrinian’s did.
Zorin turned to Kaiden “You can go over to the sidelines for now my boy. We will have our time after she finishes.” He said warmly.
Kaiden gave Zorin a single nod and turned, pausing his eyes on Lana, she forced herself to meet his gaze. “Good luck. Just think of how we practice. And what ever you do, do not underestimate him.” He whispered and turned, walking off to the side. Ardin nuzzled her hand once more and left, joining Kaiden at the sidelines, leaving Lana alone in the ring with Zorin.
Lana turned, facing the growing crowd around the arena. Donn’s familiar face staring from the sidelines caught her attention. He waved to her with a bright smile behind his white beard, giving her enthusiastic thumbs up. Donn stood alone, he hadn’t brought his grandkids to this. Nervously Lana turned back to Zorin.
“This is what I do when I’m not advising the council. I teach the art of swordsmanship and defense to every citizen here.” Zorin told Lana, he seemed to pick up on her uncertainty.
“Are you a part of what people call the golden army?” Lana asked. If Zorin taught everyone in Alogrin and the golden army still existed, then maybe he was a part of it.
Zorin let out a grumbling laugh. “Oh no, they don’t exist anymore. But I would never be good enough to be a part of the golden army.”
“He’s amazing, don’t let his old age fool you.” Aria teased Zorin and warned Lana at the same time. With a smile as she reached for her husbands face. Zorin grasped his wife’s hand and brought it to his lips, gingerly kissing it before releasing her.
Zorin continued, “I’ll just be testing you to see your skill.”
You will do great. Ardin encouraged her from the sidelines.
Yea, you just told me how amazing this guy is.
I have seen you fight too, you have improved a great deal in only the last few days, you are a remarkable swordsman. Don’t worry.
Aria and Dorian turned to head to the sidelines of the Arena. They made it just a few steps before Aria paused and turned back to face Zorin. She brought her hand up to her lips and blew her husband a single kiss. But this was more than just a kiss, for from the palm of her hand floated a ball of light that dispersed in a small glow around Zorin.
Lana was taken aback. The light reminded her of what she and Kaiden were able to do with Ardin. So she can give him strength without an Aorra’s assistance? Lana thought as she looked over to Ardin, who was staring at Zorin.
It would seem so. Ardin replied in wonder. Very interesting.
Zorin brought the energy into his palm and a sword shimmered to life in his hand. The detail of the sword was unlike any Lana had ever seen forged by a Madonian. It had a sharp cross-guard that pointed towards the tip of the sword, engraved with small detail Lana could not make out. The detail on the cross-guard came down into a slight swirl pattern on the sword’s blade about a quarter of the blades length.
Lana stared at Zorin and his sword in awe, the beauty of it glistening in the sun. He swung the sword around as if testing its weight and feel. The corners of his lips pulled up in a satisfied smile, it was perfect. The look in his eyes portrayed his love for swordplay and it made Lana nervous.
She remembered something her father told her during her sparring practice as a child. He told her that there was nothing more dangerous in an opponent than a man who truly loved his sword and was one with it. But she was never able to master the art of loving the sword and the dance accompanying it. A cold chill ran down Lana’s spine at the memory, she did not know what her father truly meant till now, seeing Zorin embody her father’s words.
The sound of Zorin’s sword cutting the air brought her attention back to the reality before her. Lana eyed the people watching, her eyes met with Kaiden’s sending a jolt through her.
Don’t pay them any attention. Pretend you are practicing with Kaiden. Ardin’s words entered her thoughts.
Lana wished that she were only practicing with Kaiden.
Slowly she pulled the sword from her belt and took a defensive stance. Zorin raised an eyebrow but said nothing. After a moment he took a step towards her. He saw that she was not going to be the first to make a move, so he swung his sword at her. Lana reacted, her steel clanked against his creation, stopping his assault. Zorin stepped away while she stepped to the side and then towards him, swinging.
Zorin ducked away with ease. He was quicker than she had imagined. She became bolder with her attacks but Zorin, without much effort, blocked each or ducked away. Their game with swords was becoming. She was not getting anywhere with him and by the looks of it she wasn’t even giving him much of a challenge.
Suddenly, in the midst of Zorin swinging down at Lana his sword vanished into dust in his right hand, only to reappear in his left. He switched blade hands in one effortless motion. Lana watched with shocked eyes, amazed at his talent. Moving swiftly like that, switching hands so easily and without limitation was not something she had thought to be possible.
The trick happened too quickly, she didn’t have enough time to fully grasp what was happening before it were too late. It threw her off, allowing Zorin to get her to tumble over with a loud thump onto her back. The impact forced the wind out of her. After a moment on the ground Lana was able to regain her breath and get back on her feet. Her eyes darted at the crowed, feeling embarrassed.
Keep your eyes on Zorin. She heard in her head.
Lana heeded Ardin’s advice turning her attention to a gleaming blade coming down on her. She managed to block his attack. Zorin again switched sword hands, as his blade vanished from one hand only to reappear nearly instantaneously in the other. He came at Lana in a similar way as before. This time she succeeded to block him and dive out of the way while keeping her balance. In the process she got a closer view of his sword, it had the same detailed markings as the first one he had made.
With quick breaths, Lana straightened, watching him cautiously, finding his talents remarkable.
“Good, you are a quick learner,” Zorin observed.
The sound of his voice foolishly caused Lana to let her guard down, just slightly. It was enough for him to manage getting her sword out of her hand in a single easy maneuver, sending it flying several feet away.
To her surprise Zorin continued his assault after she had lost her sword. He swung again and again as Lana dodged every movement, moving even further from her weapon. The last swing cut her arm, it would have cut a lot more had she not dodged to the side.
Was Zorin trying to kill her? Panic flooded through her, suddenly feeling extremely vulnerable. Rage followed right after the initial panic.
Lana had ducked and backed herself up against a tree. Zorin raised his sword and swung it down at her without hesitation.
He really is trying to kill me! Lana internally screamed. She had had enough of this.
Fight Back! Ardin spoke to her.
Raising her hand in defense from the blade’s assault, Lana sent her anger infused with strength into her palm. A silver sword erupted in her hand stopping Zorin’s attack with a loud ring. The force of the hit was strong enough for Lana to feel a sharp pressure in her wrist, vibrating through her. Pushing herself upright she found her footing, never taking her eyes off of her foe. Zorin stepped away for a moment, his gaze set on the blade in her hand, while Lana’s head spun from the energy pull of creating the sword.
If she hadn’t formed the blade in her hand, then he might have actually gravely injured her. She questioned why he was doing this and whether he was actually trying to hurt her for there was no way for him to know she was able to wield her power into a sword, to block him. Yet he kept attacking.
Lana could feel the anger and rage pulsing through her veins. She was not going to allow Zorin to lead their dance any longer. With her head now spinning from the pull of creating the sword, she needed to end this immediately.
With a grunt of strength, she attacked. Zorin blocked her move as she had expected him to. She attacked again, he blocked in a similar manor, and she attacked a third time but this time as he moved to block she could feel energy pooling in her free hand. Pressing her blade against his, she rendered it useless for what was to come.
A second silver sword formed in her once free hand and stopped at his throat.
A gasp came from the audience around the arena and a slight one escaped from her. Lana stood with two blades, shocked that she had created the second blade so quickly. Just a month ago it would take her minutes before she could create and hold two blades at once. However, she remained composed, so that no one but she and Ardin would know just how unexpectedly the second sword had appeared.
Everything seemed to freeze in time. In that one breath of a moment Zorin stared back at her with no fear in his eyes but pure surprise. The entire arena seemed to have been holding its breath, not daring to move. Then Zorin let his sword fall away into dust, a silent claiming of defeat.
No sounds came from the arena as everyone waited.
The swords in Lana’s hands turned to shimmering dust as she released her hold on them. She gave Zorin a hard look, but he portrayed nothing after his release. She thought she could see a glint of pleasure sparkling in his eye.
Hushed voices filled the arena. Taking a step back from Zorin, Lana’s gaze fell upon the eyes surrounding her. They were all watching her, judging her. Swallowing back nausea, she turned and swiftly walked out of the arena without looking back.
Lana was furious. She liked Zorin and he was attempting to kill her! Not only that but where was her Aorra or even Kaiden for that matter? Had they not seen Zorin swing his sword down at her when she had no weapon? The man even drew blood. She felt as if they all had played some cruel trick on her.
Walking through the small wooded area near the north end of the castle, the side where her room was located, she made her way to a small pond that she had seen sparkle in the morning sun from her window. To her surprise there was a steam just above the water. Lana lowered her hand and felt warmth. It was a hot spring.
There was a gentle nudge in her mind as Ardin gently probe, trying to find her, to talk to her. She pushed him away, needing time to calm herself, to be alone for a while. After a short moment Ardin retreated, leaving her to herself.
Unlacing her boots, she took them off, sticking her feet in the warm spring before laying down on her back in the soft grass. A calming scent of fresh grass filled her lungs as her breathing steadied. For the first time in days Lana managed to not think of anything at all. A calm peace fell over her as she lay in the grass without a single thought. It was glorious.
Lana wasn’t sure how long she had been there before she heard the footsteps approaching. She continued to lay with her eyes shut until the steps stopped right next to her and she forced her eyes open only to see Zorin standing above her. Shutting her eyes with a sigh, Lana hoped that he was an odd figment of her imagination.
“May I please have a word with you?” Zorin asked, indicating that he was indeed real and shattering any hopes that he was an illusion.
“Sure,” Lana grumbled, opening her eyes and sitting up. She did not want to talk to him, but he was an advisor to the council, to the people that she needed on her side. Noticing how wrinkled her toes have become, she pulled her feet out of the crystal clear water, bringing her knees up to her chest.
“You did really well today.”
“By not letting you kill me? Thanks.” Lana sourly retorted before noticing Dorian, Zorin’s Aorra, sitting a few paces behind Zorin. Her eyes glared at the silent beast.
“I was not trying to kill you. I wanted to push you, to see your skill set. You were never in harm’s way.”
“You didn’t even know I could make a sword.”
“That is not exactly true.”
Lana turned, looking at him, waiting for some sort of an explanation.
“Of course I knew you could. Don’t think of us as ignorant and locked up here in Alogrin, unknowing of what goes on in the world. I wanted you to show me. I showed you kindness at the party and so you did not want to hurt a nice old man. Also many tend to underestimate me just because I am not as youthful as I once was, so I cut you.” He looked at her arm “To make it real, to anger you, to trigger you to give it your all.”
Lana sat in silence, what he said made sense, however it hadn’t done much to take away her anger. Upset that he knew more of her than he let on, she felt tricked.
“It is not every day someone is able to catch me off guard as you did in the arena. You even managed to impress Dorian and that is very rare that anything impresses him. Catching me off guard the way you did will never happen again. I too am a fast study, but consider yourself to have earned points with the council and all of the people of Alogrin.”
Lana stared over the pond at some distant trees without a response.
Zorin turned to leave.
“Where did you learn to fight?” Lana asked, stopping him.
“From my father and he from his father and so on and so forth.”
“You were all a family of swords men?”
Zorin laughed quietly while Dorian made some sort of hardly audible sound. “I suppose we were something like that. We were all required to be masters of the sword.”
Lana looked at him questioningly, “What were you?”
The way he looked at her, she wasn’t sure he would give her an answer. His eyes squinted as if in thought, like he was contemplating of a move to make. Briefly he glanced to his Aorra before looking back at Lana with an easy smile.
“Kings” He replied so very casually.
Lana looked at him, eyes growing wide. Of course.
“You’re a decedent of King Rogan Donyerth?” She gaped.
“I am. Rogan Donyerth was my great great great grandfather.” Zorin Donyerth simply stated.
Lana jumped to her feet. This man was a decedent of legends, a descendent of the great kings that used to rule all the lands during a time of peace.
Bowing before him, she hoped that she had not offended the man in her time in Alogrin. Her father would have probably been turning in his grave if he knew how she acted towards a Donyerth.
“Oh stop that silliness! I am no king.” Zorin spoke while his Aorra approached, taking a seat next to him. Dorian seemed to be intrigued by the turning of events.
“But you—” Her mouth was suddenly so dry.
“Had an ancestor who was a king. My grandfather gave Alogrin to his trusted council so long as a Donyerth will remain as an advisor to the council. That is what I am, an advisor and a swords man who trains the people of Alogrin, nothing more.”
“Do the people here know who you are?” Lana asked, terrified to have held a sword up to the man’s neck in front of everyone. A king’s neck.
“Only the one’s it would be important to.”
Lana felt somewhat relieved at that.
“I better go.” Zorin Donyerth said with a gentle touch to Lana’s shoulder. “I am sure I will be seeing you again soon.” He added with a smile.
Lana could only return a small smile as she speechlessly watched Zorin, the decedent of the great Donyerth family, walk away with his Aorra. Like a statue she stood, her eyes following them until they completely vanished from sight.
Remembering the stories, she had heard as a child, Lana sat back down on the ground. Everyone knew the legends of the old kings long before the lands were split into two, the Rami and Madonian side. They were stories people told their children. The great king lived in Alogrin, a massive fortress that was hidden from all except the selected. The king’s bloodlines were known for their ability to forge their powers into the most extraordinarily intricate things. They were blessed and incredibly powerful.
That was until one day a void broke out between the people of the lands. Two cousins of the king, blinded by hatred and jealousy, wanted the crown for themselves. They started a war. They tricked the King at the time, King Rogan, killing him. But in their haste, the murder was complete before they ever learned all of the secrets of how to get into Alogrin on their own.
The cousins blamed each other for the fault, mistrusting each other. A rift grew between them, deep enough to crack the lands in to two. One had the gift of power, the other had Aorras. They divided the lands, culling those who did not belong from each side, creating a Madonian and Rami side.
But King Rogan Donyerth had a pregnant wife who was never seen after his death.
Come find me. Lana called to Ardin, who immediately began heading towards her. She felt exhausted, even after her small nap in the grass.
When Ardin arrived she told him what she learned of Zorin Donyerth to which Ardin implied he had no knowledge of. Her wolf lay next to her, placing his nose on her belly. Thoughtlessly Lana ran her hand over his head, stroking his fur. They laid like this in silence for a while, finding comfort in each other’s company.
It was not until the sun began getting lower in the sky that Lana realized she was starving. The two began walking from the hot spring towards the castle.
When they emerged from the woods they could see Clyte standing between them and the entrance, as if waiting for something. Lana glanced over her shoulder, she and Ardin were alone, and no one else is coming from their direction.
Is she waiting for us?
“You fight fairly well, for a princess.” Clyte yelled to Lana before she arrived at the door. Lana cringed, why was everyone constantly trying her. She wished she could return to the hot spring and just hide there. Her stomach grumbled in protest.
“Thanks,” Lana mustered, the most decent response she could.
Clyte began laughing. “Forgive me, I know you did not wish to be called a princess, I couldn’t resist doing it just once. In all seriousness you did well this morning, much more impressive than Kaiden.”
Lana wanted to leave. Just hearing Clyte say his name with such ease, as if they had always been friends bothered her. But her curiosity thirsted for more. “How’d he do?” She asked, unable to resist.
“He did well, he has good form, seems pretty agile but didn’t get the upper hand on Zorin like you did.”
“Zorin simply underestimated me, it will not happen again.” Lana said with a small shrug.
“Yes, but were he a true opponent, he would only have been able to underestimate you just that once and you would have slayed him. Being a woman, people think us weak, it is an advantage if we use it properly.” Clyte said with a warm smile.
Lana’s stomach grumbled again, reminding her of her hunger. She glanced at the entrance a moment before turning to Clyte. “Mind showing me where I can get some food?” Clyte seemed to be in an agreeable mood and was a powerful person in Alogrin. Lana figured at least she could try and sway her to help her cause.
“Not at all, come with me I was about to head there myself.”
Lana followed Clyte through the hallway answering various questions about Ardin and her life outside of Alogrin.
“Zaichick!” a voice shouted in a thick layer of sweetness, stopping them. The word was one Lana had heard of before. It was from an ancient language that was nearly dead, meaning bunny. It was a pet name.
A short Rami woman with red hair and tanned skin approached them. She eyed Lana with cool green eyes as she passed her. Her hand reached out, pulling Clyte aside. “You never showed to today’s practice.” The woman whispered, her voice filled with rich annoyance, loud enough that Lana could hear.
“I told you I might not be able to today.”
“Might not is not an answer! I waited for two hours for you to maybe show!”
“Could we please not do this right now?”
“Oh it’s a bad time?” The woman turned so quickly on her heels it could have create wind, and stormed off, clearly angry, leaving Clyte standing alone.
Clyte turned back to Lana. “That was Rika, she is having a bad day, and normally she is very pleasant.”
Lana looked at Rika walking away and then back at Clyte and burst out laughing. She could not contain the humor she found in this situation. Clyte looked at her with an odd expression. “Forgive me, I don’t mean to laugh it’s just… forgive me. It isn’t you it is me…”
What is the matter with you? Ardin asked.
Don’t you see? Rika called her Zaichick and was far angrier at Clyte’s practice absence then a colleague or a simple friend would be.
Clyte’s facial expression suddenly changed from confusion to understanding. “Oh, you need not worry. Kaiden is all yours, not my type.” She said with a wink.
Lana blushed at Clyte’s comment. “It isn’t like that.”
“No? I see the way you two stare at one another.”
“It’s complicated.” Lana looked at the ground with the memory of the other night replaying in her mind. Warmth rose up to her cheeks.
“It is only complicated if we make it so. And for what it’s worth he seems taken with you. Anyways food’s this way.”
Lana followed Clyte down the hall to the dinning room where they then ate together sharing some stories from each of their pasts. Clyte told her how she had met Rika. How the two had only been an item for a few months and she was not yet used to being so accountable to another. Lana talked to Clyte about her and Kaiden, where they met, how it was to see him again after such a long time.
As time passed Lana forgot that she was talking to an Alogrin council member and for the first time felt like she was just talking to a friend.
The rays of sun shone into Lana’s room, hitting her face, waking her from her peaceful slumber. Rubbing her eyes open she looked around her room, she was alone. Ardin must have gotten up and was probably playing with Nila somewhere. The two of them had become quick friends over the time of their journey and now in Alogrin.
Climbing out of bed, Lana cringed as her toes touched the cold stone floor. She made her way to her dresser and slipped on a clean tunic and pants and made her way out the door. Smoothly she weaved through the long halls, grabbing an apple along the way, and then through the gardens making her way to the Arena.
It had been weeks since she had first arrived in Alogrin. The palace within the mountain was becoming almost a second home to her. The confusing hallways were becoming less so, each turn more recognizable. The people of Alogrin were becoming friendlier, saying hello with looks of sincere kindness as she walked past them.
Kaiden was already in the Arena sitting against a tree, waiting for her.
Over time Kaiden and Lana seemed to go back to what was normal to them, to what she could handle right now. The two spent a great deal of time together in Alogrin and Lana was happy to have a friend to explore the place with in the afternoons. In the mornings they continued their tradition of practice and training. Often they were joined by Clyte.
Both Zorin and Donn would stop by frequently and help by giving input during training, however never together. Lana quickly picked up that the two had a rather thick distaste for one another but she never asked either of them about it.
On a few occasions even Rika came by and join practice with them. Though Lana had the feeling Rika only came to keep an eye on Clyte, either way it provided a new person to spar with. Rika had a fiery personality that matched her red hair. Apart, both she and Clyte seemed like strong Rami women with tough exteriors. However, whenever they were together Lana would catch small glimpses of their softer sides with each other.
Whenever she wasn’t sparring Lana spent a lot of time with Nadina and Alex. She taught them things that she had learned from her mother, happy to have the opportunity to pass the information along to eager minds. Tricks to survive in the forest, which berries to eat and which to stay away from. Lana took them swimming in the warm pond that she had discovered on her second day in Alogrin.
Kaiden had made Alex a new bow, made of silk thread, and had him practicing making wooden arrows and shooting with the bow. Alex had finally begun enjoying the skills he had as a Madonian, though he had not fully admitted it yet.
Lana loved watching them together, it made her think of how Kaiden was when they first met, as a child. There was something so boyish about him when he ran around with Alex and that bow.
Alex was introduced to Jakobe, the Rami boy Kaiden had met his first night in Alogrin. At first the two didn’t seem to be very fond of each other. Everything appeared to always be a competition between the two of them. But that quickly faded. Alex provided an endless supply of perfectly made arrows and Jakobe helped him to further fine-tune his skills.
While Kaiden continued to teach Alex archery, Lana began teaching Nadina how to throw knives. Nadina still had much to learn of her Madonian strength and how to control it, to form artifacts that she could hold on to. She was unable to use her gifts for what Lana had planned on teaching her. So Lana had Donn acquire a few small silver blades for Nadina.
Lana continued to try and befriend the council and their advisors, though she found it difficult. Her father had always been the diplomat, the one who tried to see everyone’s way and to connect with all. He was able to reach people, to influence minds. Lana had always preferred to stay out of the light and not think too much about why Valdor did the things he did. Though now she often thought of her father, doing what she assumed he would in similar situations.
She had yet to gain the full support of the Alogrin council against Arkhip Dukrans looming threat. Clyte seemed to be coming around the most. She was always a warrior and Lana played to that side of her. However, Micah was more challenging to reach and Cale was someone who Lana pretty much avoided if possible.
“No Clyte this morning?” Kaiden asked when Lana approached.
“No, she has been busy over the past few days and whenever I try to talk to her she has somewhere else to be.” Lana replied with a frown.
Against all odds, Lana and Clyte became fast friends. For a while the three of them would meet every morning and practice attacks and sparring together. They would practice individually or in teams, sometimes Ardin would join them. That was until a few days ago when Clyte seemed to completely remove herself from them.
“I am sure she is busy.”
“But with what?” Lana said plopping to the ground beside him.
“Want to practice?” Kaiden spoke as he formed a small sphere in his hand. A dangerously playful smile on his lips.
Lana cringed, “No way.”
They had practiced, Kaiden giving Lana energy without the use of Ardin, the way Zorin and his wife were able to. Their practice was unsuccessful. It left Lana with glimpses of pain that reminded her of when Garin had her in his grips. After a few days of practice, which was more like torture, Lana called it off.
Kaiden laughed and threw the ball of energy into the air. Quickly Lana formed a dagger in her hand and threw it at the moving target. When her knife hit the sphere it popped violently with an electrifying bang and the dagger glittered away into dust.
“You are getting better at that.” Kaiden complemented.
“Getting better? Don’t you mean I am awesome?”
“You are as awesome as I have taught you to be.”
“Whatever, I surpassed you a long time ago.”
They both laughed at each other’s teasing. It was so easy with Kaiden, easy to talk to him, to be around him, to joke with him. Even his smile was easy.
“Where is Ardin?” He asked.
“What no rebuttal? No use in fighting the truth I suppose… and no idea. He was gone when I woke up this morning, I figured he may be with Donn and the kids somewhere.”
As if her Aorra had heard himself being called, Ardin’s voice entered Lana’s mind.
Lana, you are wanted in the brown room by the council.
The room we were brought to when we first came here?
Just come. If Kaiden is with you he can join too.
“We are being summoned by the council,” Lana said jumping to her feet.
“Where?” Kaiden joined her.
“Ardin said we are wanted in the brown room.” She shrugged.
“What do they want?”
“Beats me, Ardin tells me nothing. Maybe they have come to a decision about helping our people in this war?”
“Isn’t Ardin supposed to be your soul mate or something and tell you everything?”
“I have an untrustworthy one I guess.” She grumbled.
I heard that.
A small smile touched Lana’s lips at her Aorra’s reply.
Lana and Kaiden entered the room to the three Alogrinian council members, their advisors, and Ardin.
“What’s going on?” Lana asked, shocked to have such a grand audience. All of them were watching her from the moment she entered.
“A Madonian warrior has been wandering the mountain for a week now.” Micah answered. “At first we thought it was an accident or he was looking for the Rami warriors, but he has been deliberately avoiding them. We think he may be searching for you.”
“Who?” Lana asked, not sure what to think.
“A Council member.”
“Which one?” Lana asked in wonder. Maybe it was General Flynn, but he isn’t a council member. Perhaps it was the Maddox’s. They were friendly with Valdor, and maybe after her disappearance they have been looking for her. But then they would most likely send people to look for her and not come on their own at a time of such turmoil within the lands. But then Micah said it was a warrior, maybe it is one of the Laderic brothers? Though why would they be looking for her? Lana was not sure what to think, who this mystery Council member looking for her was.
“Kirill Dukran.” Micah answered.
Lana simply nodded in response. A million questions seemed to enter her mind. She looked over to Ardin as he silently came to stand beside her.
“What are you going to do?” She asked the council before her. Eyeing Clyte, who wore an expressionless face, and was particularly hard to read despite how close they had become.
“We were wondering your opinion on this, seeing as you know him better.” Micah spoke.
“I don’t really know him anymore.”
“Do you believe that he can be trusted?” Clyte asked.
“I don’t trust him,” Lana quickly responded.
He did save your life and told us about Arkhip. Ardin voiced to Lana.
You really think he can be trusted?
The council deserves to know the facts, let them make their own decision.
Micah looked at Ardin, realizing that Lana and he were communicating.
“What does your Aorra think?” He asked Lana. In that moment Lana made it a point to start practicing talking to Ardin in a subtler manner.
“Kirill saved my life the day my father’s was taken.”
“Another man who saved your life, princess,” Cale sneered.
Lana dug her nails into her palm in order to not react.
Micah turned to Cale, “Enough, this is not a time for petty foolishness.”
Lana continued talking to Micah. “Kirill and I used to be very close as children. Then I went to Ucu and when I came back we seemed to be different people. He used my mother’s death as a reason to kill more Rami. He was greedy for glory and Rami blood. No longer was he the boy I trusted. Then he saved my life in Abder. During my struggles to get to my father, Kaiden helped by fueling Ardin and myself with energy. Kirill saw Kaiden, but did not pursue him. He is also the one who lead Ardin and myself to believe that his father is responsible for Valdor’s death.”
All eyes were on Lana as if weighing her words. A moment of silence passed over the room.
“What are you thinking?” she boldly asked Micah.
“We have to kill him or bring him in.” Cale answered.
“We can not just leave him be?”
Clyte was the one to answer Lana. “No, he has gotten too close. Plus he has been getting in the way of our hunting parties. Between him and the Rami’s searching for you it has been difficult to find windows for our men to leave without risk of running into anyone.”
Lana nodded in response. She hadn’t given it much thought, how her being in Alogrin was affecting their daily lives. Having people looking for her over their walls wasn’t making it easy for the Alogrinians.
“What are you choosing?” She asked the three council members.
“He would not be welcomed here like you are.” Micah answered.
So they are leaning towards bringing him in.
We should try and talk to him, see what he has to say. Ardin shared his thoughts.
“Does he have an Aorra?” Micah asked. “We have been watching him but have not seen one.”
“No, it has always been just him. He played it off as he had one but I believe it was just an animal his father had created.”
Micah nodded and turned, about to speak to his council before Lana interrupted.
“Who will be bringing him in?”
Lana turned to look at Bredin a moment. He stood off to the side, casually listening to the conversation with his hands in his pocket. He stared back at her from beneath his shaggy brown head of hair. His hawk Aorra sat perched near him.
“May I go too? Ardin can go up ahead so Kirill isn’t on edge of people approaching. He is a skilled fighter and not very trusting. If he is coming here in search of me, it is best I be there so no one gets hurt.”
Micah nodded in agreement.
“I will go too,” Clyte interjected.
Lana looked to Clyte, happy to have her be a part of this. Clyte’s features softened, and a slight smile now pulled at the corners of her lips.
“Must I wear the blind folds?” Lana asked the council.
“No” Clyte replied with a wicked grin.
Lana glanced over at Cale who appeared to be very displeased. When he caught her looking at him he spoke.
“If you betray us, we will move the entrance to Alogrin, it will be a pain but something that can be done. Then we will hunt you down no matter where you run. I will kill you for your betrayal and threatening the lives of those I protect.”
“I have no intentions in bringing harm to any of the people here.” Lana replied to his threat calmly.
Just like that, the conversation was over.
Lana was given a horse. Kaiden decided to join too. Lana wasn’t too sure why but she supposed it was partially to protect her. Whatever his reasons, she was happy to have his company.
Breiden and two of his men met up with Lana, Ardin, Kaiden, and Clyte near what was the passage leading out of Alogrin. Once everyone was up and mounted he led them out of Alogrin, towards Kirill Dukran.
Just get close enough so he knows it’s us coming, but stay at a distance. Lana warned Ardin.
I’ll be fine. He reassured her with a playful flick of his tail as he took off into the woods.
The party rode in silence, which Lana broke only to inform them when Ardin had found Kirill. The otherwise lack of conversation was not only welcome but necessary. Lana had a frenzy in her mind to control, racing thoughts that ran too fast for her to catch. Biting the inside of her cheek, her hands squeezed the reigns in a mixture of nerves and fear.
It wasn’t Kirill that she feared, but the information that he may bring. The weight that he may add to her shoulders with his words, was something she feared she wasn’t ready to hold. If his presence didn’t add to her burden, it at the very least brought the deafening sound of time slipping away to her attention. Lana was suddenly too aware of how many mornings she had spent behind the safety of the Alogrinian walls. Time that she had let slip by while her people suffer.
When they approached the area where Ardin and Kirill were, Lana was the first to see him. His blond hair was pulled back out of his face and his clothes dirty. He sat leaning against a tree, an arm casually wresting on one knee, while Ardin sat several yards away from him, watching.
“What are you doing here?” Lana asked when she was close enough for Kirill to hear. She dismounted her horse and took a few strides towards him, careful to keep some distance between them.
His silver eyes steadily watched her, full of something other than hate or anger. Not once did he look at the others, not once did he take his eyes off of her.
“To get away and join you I guess.” He said after a moment.
“What, killing got too mundane for you?”
Clyte glanced at Lana, finding such a remark odd coming from her. Lana understood why Clyte looked at her in surprise, she only knew Lana as kind and never so outright cold. This was different territory. Lana wasn’t trying to impress the council or trying to be nice. She was talking to a cruel and dangerous Madonian.
Kaiden and Clyte exchanged momentary glances at one another but remained in the back, allowing Lana to speak to Kirill without interruption.
“That wasn’t really me. I just didn’t know it.” Kirill murmured.
“Right… What of my people?”
“They are fine for now. Your general is a good leader he keeps your people as safe as possible, though Arkhip tries to control everything.”
Lana nodded, she wanted to know more but perhaps now was not the time. Once he was secure in Alogrin, then she would question him on what was truly going on in their Lands. Kirill stood up, his eyes meeting hers.
“Lana” He reached out, touching her arm and she stepped out of his reach. “That day… I never meant the things I said about your mother.” Kirill spoke lowly, so that only Lana and a few others who strained to hear heard. A sharp stab of pain hit her with the memory. The day that Kirill disrespected her mother, the day his father caused her fathers death. “It wasn’t me… It was wrong. I am ashamed for the way I spoke to you. For everything that happened. I am here to make it up to you in any way that I can.”
Lana looked him in the eyes, it seemed that his steel eyes had lost some of their edge.
“How did you know where to look for me?”
“I’m a good tracker. And I figured you might retreat to your lands after what happened. Plus, there aren’t many places you could go due to your friend over there.” Kirill’s eyes glanced to Kaiden a moment before returning to Lana.
“Why did you save me?” It was almost a whisper. Lana played the scenarios out in her head over and over. Kirill and Arkhip could rule over all of the Selvirian lands if she too died. During turmoil there would be no time for a vote for a new Council member for her lands, they would most likely be given over to the Dukran family. She would have been killed were it not for Kirill. They could have had it all. But he saved her.
“You were the only true friend I had in my… childhood”. he hesitated.
“I keep getting reminded of that, but we had stopped being friends long ago.”
Kirill had no response.
“Could you have saved him?” Lana said even softer. Kirill knew she was talking about her father. Lana had to struggle to keep her composure, but she looked him dead in the eye, she wanted to see him when he responded.
“No, I didn’t know until it was too late.”
“How did you find out it was Arkhip?”
Kirill sighed “…I just knew.”
He’s hiding something Lana shared with Ardin.
I agree, but everything else seems sincere. We can learn more once we get him back to Alogrin
Clyte approached Lana and Kirill. “If you come with us you must be blindfolded… and you will not be free to roam around.” This was Clyte’s kind way of telling Kirill that he would be in confinement.
“It would be no worse than the prison I came from.” Was his only reply before he was blindfolded. “Where are we going anyway?”
“You agree to come blindfolded before you even know where you are heading?” Kaiden spoke to the now blindfolded Kirill.
“Like I said, I am coming from a prison. It doesn’t really matter where I am going, just curious.” Kirill replied with a shrug.
“Alogrin.” Clyte answered him.
“That explains the company.”
“The company?” Clyte retorted.
“I didn’t mean it in a bad way.”
On the trip back to Alogrin, Lana and the others again remained silent. She felt that there was more that needed to be said. More that she needed to say, to find out but couldn’t, not in front of others. This was between her and Kirill Dukran.
A part of her hated that Kirill had come here. The sudden heaviness she now felt in her chest due to his mere presence was unnerving. He had placed invisible shackles around her, and they were secured to him.
Lana’s hand shook ever so slightly while it hesitated mid air, hovering over the doorknob. Unable to bring herself to touch it, her eyes glared at the door as if she could tear the thing apart with one look. Her heart pounded while her body stood downright frozen.
Feelings all jumbled together, she had no idea which would prevail once the door opened. She could feel Ardin’s silent presence beside her, watching her, but this she was going to do alone and he would not fight that. He would wait in the hall until she was finished.
A guard in the hall soundlessly watched Lana as she finally turned the knob and pushed open the door. In the dimly lit room stood Kirill staring at a half filled wooden bookshelf. That was all Lana could make of the room before she took a step in and shut the door behind her. Her eyes met with his steel blue when he turned from the bookshelf to face her.
Anger sped up her already racing heartbeat, pushing the rage through her veins. This was the emotion that would take precedence. In a swift clean motion Lana stepped towards Kirill, a hand blade forming in her palm. By the time she reached him the blade was solid and she could feel the weight of it in her hand. Lana shoved the Dukran back against the wall and brought the knife’s edge to his neck.
Kirill stood, pressed against the wall, making no attempt to get away from her blade. His hands unnaturally stayed at his sides.
“I should kill you.” Lana snarled through clenched teeth.
“Probably.” He responded without a single move to defend himself.
Lana stared into his eyes hard, she was not sure if he were ill. Kirill Dukran not fighting was something no one would ever believe. She pressed the blade to the flesh of his neck, a silent gesture telling him that this was not a game. She wanted to kill him, to rid the world of at least one brutal Dukran.
Tightening her grasp on the blade, Lana’s knuckles were beginning to turn white from her grip on it. Her teeth were grinding together in a frustrating rage. A dark part of her beckoned her to do it, to end him, while another pleaded mercy. He had shown her mercy. He could have left her to die in that battle outside of Abder, but he didn’t.
With a short scream she shoved her hand to the right, releasing the blade. It’s sharp edges met the hard wood of a table in the small room as it burrowed into the wood, splintering it before the blade vanished into nothing but silver dust. Lana stepped away from Kirill, turning away in an attempt to focus her feelings. The anger that she felt yearned for a release.
“What more can you tell me of General Flynn and the other council members?” Lana asked when she turned back to face Kirill, attempting to focus herself.
“The war between the Rami and Madonians is waging. Your General Flynn is smart. He attempts to not anger Arkhip, while still keeping your men safe. It’s difficult for him though for Arkhip pushes everyone to take dangerous risks, his anger and impatience only growing with time. But like I said Flynn is smart. He does not underestimate Arkhip and so will do whatever necessary in order to retain some form of control. You are lucky to have a General such as he at a time like this.
As for the council, the Laderic brothers have fully fallen behind Arkhip. They support him with everything he may want. They are young and war hungry and Arkhip feeds them with the glory of war and power, teasing them with promises of power and control that he will never allow for them to have. The Sterlings somewhat resist like Flynn however they are very much involved in openly supporting Arkhip. I believe Elysia is in love with one of the Laderics because she does whatever necessary to make them happy and Cyra allows for it while wearing a scowl on her face.
The Maddox’s are interesting. They provided the most hesitation to helping with the war against King Zakran. Ira and Lionel were not going to allow Arkhip use of their ships. They began strong, against Arkhip. But then for a short time Lionel vanished from the public eye, to return a couple weeks later looking haggard but in complete support of Arkhip. In the end he ended up giving Arkhip the ships that he wanted.”
Lana felt a pit in her stomach. She knew there was a war that would break but this was much more than she expected. For Arkhip to have so much control, for none of the council to be against him, for him to be leading the attacks on King Zakran’s armies and have the use of even the Maddox’s ships. He had more control than Lana thought. She shuddered slightly at the sudden fear that she may not be able to over power his growing reach.
Like a weed Arkhip grew, burrowing his poisonous roots into those around, sucking the nutrients and strength from all nearby in order to grow himself. Raising himself towards an ultimate control, as the ruler of all the Land.
How did the others not see this, not realize that Arkhip Dukrans plans never intended for them to rise with him, that in the end he intended to be the only one on top? To succeed against him Lana would need more help, maybe even more than Alogrin would be able to provide her with, were they willing to.
Green eyes stared into the distance in thought while she turned to face a stonewall. For Arkhip to succeed countless lives would have to be taken. The world she knew would be plunged into dark times, everyone would fall under the rule of an oppressive mad man. There would be no safe place left for people to run to. Lana would not let Arkhip get away with this, she would not let him devour all that she knew and loved.
“I’m going to kill him.” Lana spoke about Arkhip in a calm clear voice.
“No, you wont.” Kirill replied. She spun around to face Kirill, but he continued. “You wouldn’t survive the attempt. Arkhip Dukran is more powerful than you can imagine.”
“Then I will die trying.”
There was a pause as the two of them stood there. The proximity to each other was uncomfortable and for a moment they both stared at inanimate objects instead of each other. Lana could clearly remember the last time they were like this, alone in a room together. They were children. It was right after her mother had died, before she learned of how dark her friend had become in her absence.
If Kirill was going to be here in Alogrin, at least she could try and get some useful information from him.
“What are they? Your father’s powers?”
“He isn’t my father.” His voice was stern.
“Isn’t he?” Her eyes narrowed. Kirill did every disgusting thing his father asked of him. He was his father’s son, no matter what he said now.
“Just because I am his son his does not mean…” Kirill’s words broke, as he let out a sigh. “Do you know how Arkhip became a member of the council?”
Lana shrugged “He was related to-”
“No.” Kirill cut her off. “He told everyone he was a distant cousin of the late family that ran the council in the city of Morgas. He was not. He was not related to them at all.”
Kirill eyes glazed over as he fell into the memory. “This is one of my first clear memories of Arkhip Dukran. I saw what he could do, I saw him take on the small family and their little army, single handedly. The gore and the screams, I could smell the steel, the burning, and the blood. He alone massacred them all.” Kirill’s eyes found their way back to Lana Casteel. “It terrified me back then. It still terrifies me. His skills and abilities are greater than any I have ever seen.” Kirill seemed to shudder, lost in thought.
“That’s not possible.” Lana replied in a whisper, unsure of what to think. She questioned if Kirill was making this up, but something about him seemed so honest.
“He killed Earmon.”
Lana’s head jerked towards Kirill at the name of her fathers Aorra. “How?”
“Aorra’s are in a small way similar but still different then what Madonians can create, like that blade you just held. But they differ in that Aorra’s are truly alive. They are souls that bind with our own and our subconscious creates them. Normally when a Madonian creates something they need to hold on to it, to anchor it to the world. Think about it, the concentration required for you to hold a blade you create. But our Aorra’s stand on their own, effortless to their Madonian. That’s because in a way they are their own entity. They are threaded together by our strength combined with their own. My father has found a way to undo those threads.”
Lana could only stare at Kirill, unable to speak. For some reason she believed him, yet had no reason to. There was something about him, he reminded her more now of the boy she used to know as a child instead of the monster he had grown up to be. Despite everything, she trusted his words.
“Lana, he can turn an Aorra to dust.”
“If he was this powerful he would control all the Lands by now.” She said, shaking her head, not wanting to believe him. If what he was telling her was true it would cost a lot more lives to take out Arkhip than Lana had thought, she wasn’t even sure if it would be possible.
“His strength has a limit. He cannot fight everyone at once. Your Rami friend is capable of sharing his strength with you, I saw it. Well Arkhip can take strength from a Rami in their death. I have seen him do it, and before you and your friend I used to think that his was the only way it was possible.”
“How does he do it?”
“He has to be close to them, which is why he likes to kill in close quarters. In the moments of a Rami’s death they release energy and Arkhip knows how to draw the energy to himself. Which is why this war is so good for him. After it ends he may have enough power to take out the few Madonians that can challenge him.”
“Why are you telling me this? Why are you even here?”
“I want to help you.”
“Help?” Her eyes narrowed.
“Help kill Arkhip.”
“You said I would die trying.” Could he really be serious about wanting to kill his own father?
“If you planned on doing it alone, you would. I could be a great asset.”
Lana scoffed at that. After all this time, the countless attempts she had tried to get Kirill to see things her way and failed, now he wanted to help. Now that she no longer wanted anything to do with him. “How will you be able to help? Why are you doing this? Why should I even trust a thing you say?”
“For years Arkhip has lied to me, he used me. He controlled me and I could not break that control until I learned of how truly dark his soul is. I thought he loved me… I have done things… Things that I regret. I have hurt many people. You were one of the few friends I had as a child, a true friend. You are the only one in my life who had ever showed me true kindness, even if it were when we were children. I do not know if you would ever be able to accept me as a friend again. But, I can at least help you in this. You have no reason to trust me, I know, but I hope that you can try.”
Lana stared at the stonewall behind Kirill. Maintaining eye contact with Kirill Dukran, trying to see whether he seemed honest or not with every word he said was wearing on her. She had to look away, to peel her eyes from his steel hold.
After a moment Lana turned and walked out of the room, without a word or look in his direction. Kirill let her leave without a single plea for his life or safety, without a single question of what was to happen to him here in Alogrin. He asked for nothing for himself, and Lana didn’t understand it. How a man like him could forfeit his power and security, forfeit his sword, blindly be lead into a city, only to then answer her questions without once even asking his own. This was not something she ever thought him capable of.
Shutting the door, Lana locked it behind her and walked past the guard that was posted by Kirill’s comfortable cell. She walked down the hall and turned the corner, stopping once out of sight to regain composure. Her hands were trembling.
Ardin neared her. She turned to her Aorra, knelt down and hugged him. With a touch she let him in, sharing with him what had gone on with Kirill while Ardin helped sooth her. He was a breath of air, her anchor.
You believe him? Ardin asked when Lana finally released him from her grip.
She sighed, staring at her gray eyed wolf.
I don’t know…
The next week went by without any more surprises. Lana had not gone back to see Kirill again. She didn’t want to. However, the persistent heaviness of his presence in Alogrin never left her. It dimmed the light she had felt while in this great city and she hated him for it.
As time went on Lana had grown increasing frustrated by the Alogrins slow response to her request for assistance. They had not agreed to help nor had they ruled out the possibility of it, leaving Lana clutching to hope that they would eventually support her. In the mean time her frustration of Alogrins sloth like decision making forced her to begin thinking of trying to get help elsewhere.
When Lana was young she was taught at Ucu. There she was taught by instructors who seemed to have a limitless knowledge. They knew of her lands, of the people, of history, of Madonian and Rami strengths and weaknesses. With such vast knowledge, Lana began thinking that perhaps the instructors could be of assistance in taking down Arkhip Dukran. At first she only discussed it with Ardin. Once she decided that this was indeed something she wanted to try she went to Kaiden.
Thankfully Kaiden was eager to join her on this venture. They both had good experiences at Ucu and it was, after all, the place they had first met. None of this would have been happening without the school on the little moon.
Lana and Kaiden had decided that they would try and go to the bridge, a temple on their land that is linked to the moon planet. The bridge could only be opened once a moon cycle. This was when the small moon lined up perfectly between the large moon and their planet. There was a window of several minutes that someone could be transported to and from Ucu, in two back-to-back days. The first day was always used to return current students and the second was to bring in the new ones. But now that war had begun, the instructors would not permit new students to enter the bridge and go the school.
With no children being taken to Ucu during this moon cycle, Lana hoped that the instructors would at least allow them entrance, if for but a few minutes. She was desperate for their help, surely they would see the benefit in assisting her in taking down Arkhip.
Lana did not ask for the council’s assistance in this matter for they did not know of the Ucu Instructors like she and Kaiden did. The only thing Lana wanted the Alogrinian council to help her with was the fight against Arkhip’s growing control of the lands. That is how Alogrin could help.
The journey to the bridge would be done with Kaiden, it was not something Alogrin had to be troubled with. Those in Alogrin lived in their own safe bubble and doubtfully knew much about the instructors on the moon. They certainly never sent their young ones there. However, there was one evening Lana decided to ask Zorin for his opinion.
Zorin believed that the Instructors were not of their lands and thus have no right to meddle in Madonian or Rami business. That when the Instructors first came they seemed to know more of the powers within Madonian and Rami people than the people themselves even knew. Zorin’s ancestors were the first to set up a treaty with the Instructors so they could train the children for one moon cycle. The instructors had promised to never meddle in the business of the lands.
After the Great War the instructors set up a decree that they would not take children if war were to break out. This was their way to try and promote peace amongst the people of the lands. Even though the instructors had many rules to keep themselves from being overly involved in the business of the lands, Zorin was certain of their meddling. He believed that they could not be trusted and more harm than good would come from Lana’s visit.
After learning of Zorin’s distaste for the Instructors, Lana kept her plans between Ardin, Kaiden, and herself or so she assumed.
“So what are your plans for the future, young Casteel?” Donn asked when he released her from his warm embrace.
“Just trying to get help for a future for the Rami and Madonians, same as it has been.”
“Is that so?” Donn asked, raising a white eyebrow.
“Lana!!” Nadina called out as she and Alex ran to her. They were all meeting by the warm spring this morning. Lana had promised them that she would spend the entire day with them.
“Yes, it is so.” Lana said to Donn, answering his questioning before turning to the approaching children. Lana tensed for the embrace as Nadina and Alex ran into her from each side. Wrapping her arms around the children, she clutched them to her tightly before releasing them.
“Hey guys!” She smiled at the two beaming faces.
“Well okay. But remember, some shouldn’t be trusted.” Donn replied to Lana, lowly over her shoulder.
Lana gave Donn a sideways gaze. “What do you know?” She asked in wonder.
Donn stood nearby with a mischievous grin underneath his white beard. He shrugged and then Nadina and Alex pulled Lana’s attention away.
“Where is Kaiden?” Alex asked, eager to see the Rami who was now in a way a mentor. The two had grown incredibly close during their time in Alogrin. Kaiden was the one who helped Alex see the potential in his gifts and taught him how to use it for something he enjoyed. Becoming the best archer was Alex’s new dream and he had Kaiden to thank for it.
“I’m not sure, I told him we were going to meet here this morning. He will probably be here soon.” Lana replied with a warm smile. “What would you guys like to do in the mean time?”
“Can we go swimming?” Alex asked, squinting through the sunlight.
“How about this. First a little game and then swimming after.”
“What’s the game?” Alex suspiciously inquired, folding his arms in front of him.
“Say the three of us went on a dangerous journey together and on this journey I injured my leg with a break. I need to rest a while. You two go find whatever you can to help in this small bit of woods here. It can be something for my injury or food. Bring it back and we can go over if it is truly safe to eat or how it can be used and so on.”
“Okay!” Alex and Nadina spoke in unison. They both enjoyed puzzles and that is what this was, a type of puzzle, but one with practical use.
“Oh and Nadina, where is Nila?” Lana asked.
“She is hunting rabbit! One day she hopes to be equal to Ardin’s rabbit hunting skills.” Nadina enthusiastically replied.
“Okay good. She can’t help you in this. Just the two of you, okay?”
“You may not always have your Aorra to help, and in that case it’s good if you can do this without the use of her aid. Now, ready, set, go!” The kids began running into the small wooded area. “But don’t take too long!” Lana called out as the children disappeared behind the trees.
“These aren’t wild woods. They won’t find much of use in there.” Donn said to Lana while watching his grandkids vanish into the small wooded area.
“It’s still practice.” Lana replied with a shrug before narrowing her eyes on the old man. “What is it that you think I am planning on doing, Donn?” Lana asked, referring to the conversation they were beginning to have before Alex and Nadina had arrived.
“What would I know?” Donn answered.
“Stop being coy with me.”
“Coy, me? Nooo.”
“Yes, coy.” Lana said teasingly, while Donn smiled a sly smile.
“I have my suspicions on what you may have planned… So I urge you to be careful and be wise. Not everyone who helped you and taught in your past is truly here to help. Some who seem to be out for your best interests are actually only out for their own.”
“You’re speaking of the Instructors?”
“You saying my suspicions are true?”
Lana stared at Donn with a small smile while shaking her head. “You are not the most straightforward man, Donn.”
“It is true. I have my ways.”
“Well I think I will be okay.”
“Very well, that is your decision to make. But know this bit of truth. These instructors, these who you think are friends of yours are not who they seem to be. Your friend Shade knows of that.”
“The Shade? How is she involved?” Lana asked, the smile gone and her expression now serious.
“She is linked to those who live on that small moon.”
“What do you mean? How is it that you know all of this?”
Donn was not given a chance to reply for Nadina and Alex ran out of the woods as soon as Lana had finished asking the question. Lana was pretty certain that he would not provide her with an answer, not a real one anyway.
Both Nadina and Alex ran up to Lana and Donn carrying various berries, mushrooms, bark, and things from the woods.
Lana. I need you. Ardin’s voice suddenly entered her mind.
Instinctually, Lana turned her head in the direction she could feel Ardin was calling her.
Right now? She asked her Aorra.
Yes. It is urgent. Meet me in the brown room.
Lana turned to Donn and the children. “Ardin is calling me away, he says it’s urgent. If it weren’t I wouldn’t leave.”
“Its okay.” Nadina answered, trying her best to not sound disappointed while Alex remained silent.
Lana turned to Donn “Will you finish with this?”
“Sure, sure, I know some things about this. Go.”
“Thank you.” She said to him before turning to Nadina and Alex “I will make this up to you both, I promise.”
With that Lana turned and began heading towards the brown room.
What is it this time? She asked Ardin as she headed to him. Guiltily, she looked over her shoulder at Alex and Nadina. She had promised to spend the day with them and now had to break her promise. They stared at her with large matching brown eyes as she headed towards the castle.
Lana turned away. She could hear Donn’s voice in the background. “Now this one would certainly have me going behind that bush for the rest of the afternoon upon ingestion.” The corners of her lips pulled up. Where would she have been if she hadn’t ever found Donn?
Ardin, what is going on?
No idea. I was told to urgently go to the brown room and to instruct you to do the same. Ardin replied.
Lana began running towards the room, walking was too slow. She couldn’t help but feel nervous about this sudden request. Last time Ardin requested her presence it had to do with Kirill, she could hardly imagine what this could be.
“What’s going on?” Lana asked as she marched into the room, with a ragged breath for hurrying.
Her green eyes fell first on Kaiden. He stood in the dead center of the room. For a moment Lana was surprised that he had beaten her here, then she really noticed him. His demeanor was that of someone who was beaten, small and ashamed with a face as colorless as ash. He looked sick and it seemed that once his eyes found hers that he seemed to get worse.
Lana’s heart skipped a beat, stricken with sudden fear of what she did not know, fear of whatever it was that Kaiden knew. She wanted to go to him, but her feet seemed to be made of stone, keeping her in place.
“What’s wrong?” Lana asked, looking at Kaiden and turning her attention to Micah. The council and all of their advisors stood in the room.
Micah answered, “The Rami party trying to find you have turned away from the mountain.”
“That’s good.” Lana said, slightly confused.
“They are going to attack Gorthyn.”
It took Lana a moment before she could find her voice. “What?” Her eyes were wide, panicked. A grumble came from Ardin, who was otherwise silent.
How can you be certain? She wanted to ask, but she couldn’t manage to speak.
“They assumed that we had Aorras tracking them and that was why they have been unable to catch you. They yelled out that they would be heading to Gorthyn.”
“Burn it to the ground they said,” Bredin added.
Of course, Bredin, that’s how they knew. His hawk was the one who had been keeping an eye on the Rami, on Garin, Kaiden’s brother.
Lana felt queasy. This is not happening again.
What do you want to do? Ardin asked.
These are our people. We fight.
A growl escaped from Ardin, letting Lana know he was with her. Then a sudden wave of strength hit her, she was not sure if it was Ardin or her own need to protect her people that suddenly fueled her.
“I will be going to defend my people.” Her voice sounded stronger than she felt, echoing off of the walls.
“That is a stupid move. Do you really want history to repeat itself?”
Lana turned to where the voice came from. Tor emerged from the shadows, his face stern. She looked at him with large eyes, shocked at his sudden presence. In all the time she had been in Alogrin, Tor had not spoken to her, nor had she really even seen him besides the day that they had first arrived.
“These are my people!” She replied fiercely.
“This is suicide! By the time you reach Gorthyn the Rami will most likely have already arrived and massacred all the people. Save yourself the agony of seeing the butchered children in the streets.”
Kaiden squared his shoulders and spoke, color slowly seeping back into his skin. “Not necessarily, if Garin sent this message, he wants Lana there to witness the slaughter. He will want her to see it first hand, to hear the cries of her people. Otherwise he would have just gone and burned Gorthyn without warning.”
“And we should listen to you? For all we know you could be trying to get her to go there, to deliver her to your brother.” Tor barked.
“Enough!” Lana’s voice echoed through the room, angry at the sudden accusation by the stranger who seemed to have too many opinions. Kaiden was someone that she cared about, someone she deeply trusted, and someone she now felt the need to protect.
“You do not know Kaiden nor do you know me. I do not see why this is important to you, nor any of your business. What I choose to do with my life…” Lana paused a moment before continuing. “If I can not even protect the small town of Gorthyn then I have no right to lead people. How can I expect people to follow me and believe in me if I can not protect my home? If I do not fight for those I have a duty to protect?”
“I know you, Lana Casteel. You should listen when I tell you not to go.”
“You know me?” She was shocked, baffled by this stranger. “I have no need to listen to what you tell me to do. You may know of me, but you do not know me.”
Tor objected, “You were not even raised in that city.”
This man was infuriating. He had not spoken to Lana at all since her arrival and now he was behaving as though he could tell her what to do. Like he had some sort of say in her life and her choices.
“It is a part of Selviria.” She snapped. “It burned once, I am not going to have it happen again.” Lana turned her attention to the council. “Will you help me?”
“We will not send our men to fight your battle.” Cale replied.
They have already discussed this and made their decision. Ardin’s words entered her mind.
Lana eyed the council, Cale, Micah, and Clyte. She felt deep disappointment as she paused on Clyte. They were friends, Clyte was a warrior, yet in this moment she seemed to be none of those things.
“Those people in Gorthyn are innocents. They are not only my people down there but they are your people too, or so I thought. You say that Alogrin is a safe place, a sort of haven, but you are hidden from those who need you. I thought I had joined you that we fight for the same side and want the same things, freedom for both lands to come together and live in peace. I thought we were a team and that I had earned some of your trust over my time here. But I see I have been deluding myself into thinking we are anything more than acquaintances.”
The council stood silent a moment before Lana continued. “I will not waste any more time here, Garin already has enough of a head start.” She paused a moment, a thought suddenly came to her. “May I take the prisoner?”
“Dukran?” Micah asked, somewhat surprised.
“The only reason he came here was because he was looking for me. I am leaving. May I take him off of your hands on my way out?”
“I thought you hated the Madonian?” Cale asked.
“He is a skilled fighter and well trained in battle against Rami warriors. He is a weapon. Seeing as I can use some assistance it would be stupid of me to let my feelings get in the way of doing what is important.”
“His father may have been involved in Valdor’s death. Do you not fear the same from him?” Micah responded curiously.
“He claims to be a friend to me. I owe it to that friendship to find out how loyal he is. Plus, he had a perfectly good chance to take my life once, but he did not.”
Micah watched her a moment. She could see him thinking this over before he spoke. “He is yours to take. But there is no other option, he is not to go off on his own.”
“He can lead his armies back here!” Cale objected.
“By the time he finds the entrance we will move things around. If he attempts such a task we will be prepared, but I think Miss. Casteel knows what she is asking.” Micah turned his attention back to Lana. “If he attempts to leave you and not be a part of what you are doing once outside these walls, do not let him live. Can you do that?” It was cold of Micah to say this but he had to think of Alogrin and the people there. Lana understood, she would want the same thing. She would never want to risk Alogrin being found and destroyed.
“Thank you.” Lana replied, accepting what was asked of her in the case that Kirill would not assist in Gorthyn.
“We have horses ready, waiting for you by the gate. They are fed and saddled, I will have Connor get Dukran’s horse as well.”
Lana gave a curt nod and turned to leave.
“Saddle my horse too, will you. I will be joining the young council woman.” Zorin’s voice stopped Lana. She turned to see him walking to the center of the room, away from the council and towards her.
“You will not—” Micah began in protest.
“Am I not a free man?”
“You are but you are more important than a simple free man.”
“I am an advisor to you, the council. Other than that I am a husband and a teacher, nothing more.”
“You are King—”
Zorin held his hand up “I need no protection and I am no King. The title of King has never pertained to me, but if it were to make you feel better. I, Zorin Donyerth, will be escorting Lana Casteel to Gorthyn, where I will help her and her good people. I will no longer sit idly by as a forgotten neighbor while terror spreads around. If you want to think of me as a King, then this is final. I am going to go protect Lana’s people. The same people that at one point were all under Donyerth rule.”
The authority in Zorin’s voice was incredible, nothing that Lana had ever heard from him before. His voice was amplified as if the walls in the room were created to carry his voice alone. He sounded like a King. A shiver ran down Lana’s spine at the sound. It was as if Zorin cast a spell. There was something so infinitely final about his words that no one made a sound.
“I am going too.” Clyte broke the silence.
“And turn your back on your people!” Cale hissed.
“No.” She gestured towards Lana, Kaiden and Ardin. “Those three are a part of my people, I have accepted them as my friends. The people in Gorthyn are part of Lana, thus they are a part of me as well, a part of my people. You forget Cale that I was not born here like you. I was accepted, let in and taken care of here. This became my home. What makes me so different then those in Gorthyn? Why was I let in yet they will not be? War is brewing and I am not one to sit back. I will not watch when I think I can do something to help.”
“Everyone who wishes to go with Lana Casteel may go.” Micah interrupted Clyte and Cale’s argument addressing the entire room before turning to Lana. “I will not forcibly risk the lives of the people here on this, nor will I be leaving them. But if some wish to join you, I will not stop them.” He walked over to Lana and placed a hand on her shoulder “Good luck.” He said as his eyes met hers.
There was heaviness behind Micah’s gaze that Lana could see once close to him. He wanted to help her, but he truly thought he was doing what was best for his people. His people were innocents too and he didn’t want to risk their lives, as a leader he chose to protect them. Lana could understand where he was coming from.
“Those of you going, meet by the gate in 15 minutes.” Lana spoke to the room. She glanced over at Cale whose face was red as a tomato, clearly angry at Micah’s decision, with Clyte choosing to go he was out voted.
“If, after this, your people need a safe place to go they are welcome to come here.” Micah said to Lana. “We have more than enough room.”
She replied with a nod and hurried out the door.
Whirlwinds of emotions were coursing through Lana. Fear for her people, sadness to not have had the council’s full support, happiness to find a sliver of family in Zorin and Clyte, and heartbreak for Kaiden whose brother was involved. Lana felt Kaiden walk by her as they entered the hallway, without a word he began down the hall.
“Kaiden” She said softly, reaching out for his arm.
When his blue eyes met hers her throat went dry. The look in his eyes was dangerous and painful all the same. Was he angered by her decision? She hadn’t even considered what he wanted, if he wanted to protect his brother some how.
“I have to do this. I have to protect my people…” Lana did not know what to say. “I know those are your people so you don’t have to go…” She didn’t want to hurt Kaiden, didn’t want him to have to be there, to stand against his own. But she would not alter this course, not even for him, she was going to protect Gorthyn.
A warm hand touching her cheek, stopping her from saying more. Despite the dangerous look in his eyes, he was surprisingly gentle.
“These are my people. You-” Blue eyes bore into hers.
“But your brother.” His hand dropped from her face.
“Is an embarrassment to me. That’s what you think I am worried about? My brother?” His words were sharp. Kaiden suddenly seemed angry. “How he has become so…heartless. Innocent people. My brother was never kind to Madonians, but he has never gone and outright attacked defenseless innocent people. I am ashamed that he could do this to you, disgusted that we have the same blood running through our veins.” Lana watched Kaiden as he struggled for words, his mind racing. He was shaking, actually vibrating with anger.
All this time she thought he was so quiet because he had no interest in fighting the Rami. Suddenly his eyes bore into hers with a wild look. “Whatever happens in Gorthyn, you do not approach Garin alone. Promise me.”
Kaiden gave Lana a nod and left her standing in the hallway. She wanted to comfort him, tell him that everything would workout, that his brother is not a monster and that no one will suffer. She wanted to let him know how deeply she cared for him. But she didn’t say any of it, she didn’t think most of it was true anyway.
Ardin joined Lana at her side. Kaiden will be all right.
You heard that?
Ardin nodded. He is in pain. He loves his brother.
Lana understood, she just wished she could take some of his inner demons away, the way Ardin often did for her. She watched Kaiden till he turned out of view and she turned too, heading towards the prisoner’s room.
Lana’s hand hovered over the doorknob, unable to touch it in a similar manor as the first and only other time she had opened the door. Inhaling a deep breath, she attempted to steady herself. Ardin patiently stood at her side, silently waiting. He was allowing Lana to do this on her own.
Ever since Kirill had arrived in Alogrin, several days ago, she had felt his looming presence, like a dark cloud had entered her sanctuary, threatening it with hail and destruction. She had not found the courage to face him again. Perhaps a part of her didn’t want to know any more than she already did. All she was certain of was that she didn’t want him here, didn’t want to deal with the hurt he had caused. It was easier to just forget about him, to remain the enemies they had seemed to become.
Now, Lana stood before his door planning to ask him for his help. It made her feel sick to be here, to ask anything of him, to need him.
It is strong of you to do this. To seek help when it is needed and to not let pride overshadow what is best for your people. You are a person I would follow to the end of the world. Ardin’s words entered her mind as if he knew what she was thinking. But Lana had not shared her mind with him, he sometimes simply knew her better than she knew herself.
As if you would have a choice in following me to the end. Lana retorted. She parted her lips, exhaling her deep breath and slowly turned the knob, pushing the door open.
Two small rectangular windows, that were close to the ceiling, dimly lit the room. In the small space, Lana could see a desk, a bookshelf, and a small bed where Kirill sat with a book in his hand. Steel blue eyes were locked on her from the moment the door opened. She took a step in, followed by Ardin and closed the door behind them. The guard outside the door continued looking forward, like a living statue.
“You are leaving.” Lana informed Kirill Dukran.
“After all this hospitality? I am being kicked out?” Kirill spoke lightly, shutting the book in his hands. “What is the matter?” He asked after observing Lana’s obviously troubled demeanor.
“You have a choice to make. When you are outside of this place and back in the woods, you can either leave or you can help me. If you leave you must not come back or you will be killed.” This was not exactly true, Lana had promised that if he chose to leave instead of helping her that he would not live to do so. But if he would help she needed him to choose it without a threat. She needed to know it was his choice to help.
“A Rami army is heading to Gorthyn. I will be heading there to protect my people.”
“A handful of others will be joining me.”
“And you want me? As a weapon.”
Kirill placed the book down on the bed and stood. He took a step towards Lana and she took one back away from him, not out of fear but out of distaste for being so close to him. His eyes looked down at the ground.
“I know I have done much wrong by you.” Kirill fell to one knee. “I promise to fight for you, if not as a friend than as a weapon. I will follow you and I swear my allegiance to you, Lana Casteel.”
Lana stared at Kirill with wide green eyes, unable to move. For a Dukran to be on his knee and swearing allegiance, no one would ever believe this. Wordlessly she stared at him until he stood again. Suddenly she found it hard to look him in the eye. What did this gesture mean? Not knowing how to proceed, she simply ignored the entire thing.
“Some men will be here, they will get you to your horse and blindfold you till we get out of Alogrin.” She informed, before rushing out the door.
“See you on the outside.” Lana heard Kirill say as she shut the door behind her.
What was that?
He seemed sincere. Ardin replied.
I don’t understand why he is doing this. Maybe Arkhip did something horrible to him? Lana’s mind was racing as her world was flipping upside down.
Whatever his reasons, he is with us. He will be a valuable asset in the next few days but just incase I will keep an eye on him.
Good. Lana turned to Ardin. You ready for this?
I don’t think I could ever be.
I am with you no matter what.
And I you.
Lana walked through the halls to the gate with a sense of purpose. As she turned down the hallway she could see Zorin standing by the door with his Great Cat. As Lana got closer she could see Bredin, settled against a door frame, lazily waiting. She hadn’t expected him to join.
“You forgot your sword.” Zorin said as Lana and Ardin approached the gate.
No sooner did Zorin finish his sentence that dust swirled around Lana’s palm and a sword formed in her hand. The corner of her lip tilted up at the ease of the sword’s formation, her head no longer spun from the energy pull of creating one.
Zorin smiled proudly. “You have come far in a short time.”
“I had the best teacher.” Lana replied before turning to Bredin “I must admit, I am a little surprised you are coming.”
Bredin shrugged “It’s not every day I see a princess actually fight her own battle.”
Battle, Lana thought. They were going to battle. She turned back to Zorin “Are you sure you want to do this?” Zorin did not answer so Lana continued. “You are the last Donyerth.”
“No” Zorin cut her off with a raise of his hand. “You are mistaken, there are a few out there with Donyerth blood racing through their veins.”
“But you are a direct decedent.”
“Maybe someone a little less direct will make for a better leader one day.” She didn’t like it, someone like him risking his life when he was a king, sort of. But she couldn’t deny that she needed all the help she could get. Zorin was powerful, skilled, a great asset to have when fighting.
The sound of approaching footsteps pulled Lana’s attention to the hall where Clyte came into view. She was dressed in lightweight golden armor that was made for her body. Weapons hung from her belt and he hair was pulled back in a slick ponytail. She looked fierce, strong, and beautiful.
“You look brutally stunning.” Lana said when Clyte neared.
“Thank you.” She glanced over Lana who wore a cloak and riding outfit, and frowned. “I will have an even more magnificent armor made for you when we return.”
“I would love that.”
A horse approached with Kirill on it’s back, his eyes masked. Tor walked next to Kirill, guiding the horse with a sword attached to his hip.
“You are coming?” Lana gaped. She hadn’t expected to see him.
“Yes” was all Tor replied but she expected more.
“After calling me foolish for doing this?” Her eyes narrowed.
She released an exacerbated sigh. “Then is it not foolish to come?”
“Perhaps. But I have my duty and reasons.”
“To protect people?” She guessed, even though he had basically told her to just let Gorthyn burn?
“Something like that. It is unwise of you to attempt to dissuade me from coming.” He was right, she needed him. Even if she didn’t like him.
Out of the corner of her eye Lana saw Kaiden approaching, the last of their group.
“Lets head out.” She directed.
They all mounted horses and made their way through the tunnels to the outside. Once outside and out of view of the entrance to Alogrin, Kirill was unmasked. Lana took the opportunity to address everyone.
“Thank you all for joining me. Gorthyn is about three days from here. But if we travel through the night, only stopping long enough for the horses to rest I think we can make it in two.” She paused a moment, no one spoke. She turned her attention to Bredin. “Can you send your Aorra ahead to Gorthyn?”
“Oh sure, anything for you, princess.” He replied with a colorful bow from atop his horse.
Lana stared into his brown eyes as fury swirled within her. This was not the time to make jabs at her, to make light of the situation. Her people were in danger, her world crumbling beneath her feet while he joked. She could not stand him and almost wished that he had not come, but as Tor pointed out, to turn away help would be foolish. It was practically funny, three of those who were joining her she didn’t particularly like. Yet here they were, following her into danger.
Bredin’s hawk screeched as it took flight heading into the sky and towards Gorthyn. Without another word, she gave her horse a swift kick and it took off, leading the group with Tor taking the tail end.
Ardin and Zorin’s Great Cat, Dorian, fanned out ahead, making sure the path was clear and safe. Everyone rode in silence. The ride gave Lana time to fret to herself, allowing her troubled mind to run free. She worried about her people, she thought of her mother, of Kaiden, and Garin. Emotions swirled within her, like a whirlwind that she felt incapable of controlling. It swept her up and away into a dark place.
After half the day of riding in silence and alone Lana opened her mind to Ardin, unable to continue facing the inner demons that haunted her. How is it out there?
Quiet. Ardin replied. How are you?
I don’t know. But Lana did know. She was struggling, and even though her Aorra knew that, she did not want to give away just how much. Lana turned her head to see the party that tailed her; Kaiden, Clyte, Zorin, Bredin, Kirill, and Tor. They were following her, willing to fight for her, to possibly die for her. She shuddered.
When I saw The Shade she said I had a splintered fate and that it could somehow influence those fates around me. Do you think I am cursing these people? To follow me? To possibly die for me. Lana winced, at the thought, she could not stomach the possibility of being the reason for the loss of the lives that currently followed her. Even Bredin and Kirill, neither who she was fond of. Yet both were taking a risk to come along.
You are doing what you must to protect your people. It is our duty. These friends that follow you were not forced to but they chose to go. If any lives are lost it is not on you, it was a choice they freely and willingly made. Besides, this group has skills, do not underestimate them.
That was true. She didn’t force any of them to come with her, they chose this on their own. Once again, she looked back over those who followed her.
Lana called out to Bredin. “Has your Aorra caught up to the Rami? How far of a lead do they have?”
“They are about a day ahead of us.” Bredin answered.
She turned back to her riding. If only she could get ahead of the Rami somehow and stop them before they got to the City of Gorthyn. She willed her horse to go faster. The rest of the ride remained silent until the sun began setting.
“We should break.” Lana yelled out to the others as she slowed her stride. Ardin walked the perimeter before joining her. There was a small creek running through the mountain making it a good place to rest the horses. “At dark, by the light of the moon we ride again” She said as the others came closer.
“Bredin, can your Aorra see anything in Gorthyn?”
Bredin gave a nod. “The Rami are there but they aren’t doing anything.” Lana’s eyes grew larger. The Rami had already made it to the city. She wondered how they managed to get there so quickly. Assuming that they must have not stopped for long breaks.
“What do you mean they aren’t doing anything?” Kirill asked.
“They seem to have taken the large stone house, the citizens of Gorthyn seem to be staying inside. The little city is silent.”
“What do you think Garin is doing?” Lana asked Kaiden, hoping that they still had enough time to stop him.
“What is the stone house?” Kaiden answered her with a question of his own. His eyes seemed weary and troubled. The cheerful energy that normally came from him was no more. Instead he was uneasy, alert, and somewhat cold.
“After my mother’s death it was built, a stone fortress so if anything were to happen again in Gorthyn the people and council members were to take cover inside. I have never been inside but they say it is impenetrable, for its small size.” Lana responded.
“If Garin is there then he probably snuck in the town rather quietly and took the building, where he now plots and waits for us. He will most likely not do anything crazy until we arrive but we should get there as soon as possible. If he thinks no one is coming he may just go ahead and set the town ablaze.” Kaiden turned away, taking his horse to the water. Lana watched him walk away. She had never seen him this troubled before. More than anything she wanted to go to him, be with him. But he had hardly looked at her since they left the brown room. As much as she wanted to be near him, that’s not what he needed, not right now.
With a frown she sat down on the ground and leaned against a tree. Letting her eyes close she allowed herself to attempt to rest before they began riding again.
Lana squinted at the small town of Gorthyn from the brush, trying to see more than what could be seen by moonlight.
“So, what’s the plan?” Kirill asked, unable to hide the excitement from his voice. This was the type of thing he had been bred to do, what he loved.
“Knock on the closest door. Unless Bredin doesn’t mind telling me where the stone safe house is.” Lana replied.
“You serious?” Both Kirill and Bredin asked in unison.
“I do not know where the safe house is.” Lana confirmed, blushing, embarrassed to not know her own town.
“How?” Kirill asked.
“Last time I was here I was a little girl, the town was in ruins and I never retuned.”
“I know where it is.” A voice grumbled from behind Lana.
Eyes turned to Tor.
“You?” Lana was genuinely surprised that Tor would know where to go. “How?”
“I have been here before, long ago.” Tor said, Zorin placed a heavy hand on Tor’s shoulder. Lana observed the act of sympathy between the two. Perhaps she was not the only one with sadness tied to this place.
“Okay. Where is it?” Lana asked.
“We want to enter from here, we will have to walk through some of the streets but it will provide for a better cover than coming from the other side which would put us out in the open.”
“What about the bakery?” Lana asked, biting her lip in thought.
“The bakery?” Tor looked at Lana with judging eyes, as if she was crazy.
“There is a secret entrance to the safe house from the bakery. Only the Casteel family, the baker, and those who built it know about it.”
“There are two bakeries in town.”
“Pick the one farther from the stone house.”
Tor grumbled to himself a moment, scratching his graying head with thick fingers, before telling everyone to follow him. He guided them around the edge of town before turning down one of the allies and heading towards the center.
“Psssst.” A sound came from a near ally.
Everyone stopped in their tracks and turned to see an old hunched over man standing alone in the shadows. He gestured with long thin fingers for them to follow, before disappearing into the darkness. They all stood, for a moment frozen, then Lana took a step towards the dark ally as a large hand went up in front of her. She turned her hard gaze to Tor without a word, waiting for an explanation.
“Is it wise to follow a stranger into a trap? Cuz that sounds stupid to me.” Tor snapped.
“How do you know it is a trap?”
“It could be.”
“Or it could be help. These are my people. I may not have come to Gorthyn since I was a child but I know my people, especially the ones here. They are tough. Most would die before working with a Rami to harm their own. I am going in there.” She shifted, turning her full body to face Tor. Her hands balled into fists at her side, he was going to drive her mad. “And for that matter, who do you think you are? I am grateful that you chose to come here with me and to help these people but you are not my keeper. Why are you constantly against me on everything?”
“I owe it to someone.” Tor replied.
“Owe somewhat what?” She snapped, he hadn’t given her a real answer. “To try and stop me from coming here? To protect me? My Aorra can protect me if I need-” The rest of what she was going to say got caught in her throat as the realization hit her, taking the breath right out of her.
Lana’s wide green eyes stared intently into Tor’s unexpectedly familiar hazel eyes. The man backed a step away from her, looking away, as if he knew something had clicked in her mind. She stared at him, shocked to not have seen it before. He wasn’t a stranger, she knew him, from when she was but a girl. He was the same, older and hidden under facial scruff, but the same, tall, strong, quiet, stubborn, protective.
“Victor?” The name came from Lana in almost a ghostly whisper.
It made sense now, why Tor had spoken to Lana the way he did, why he was so against her coming to Gorthyn yet willing to go with her. This was the place that Eveline, Lana’s mother, had been killed and Victor was the man who was sworn to protect her. Lana knew this man. There was a time he would have watched over her, when she was young, watching over her and her mother.
Tor turned his hazel eyes back to Lana as her face twisted at the recognition. Tears swelled inside, tears that she pushed away. “I thought you were dead.” She spoke in disbelief.
It was Zorin who replied. “He nearly was, he should have died, but I did what I could and against the odds he pulled through.” Zorin spoke as he put a hand on Tor’s shoulder.
Lana looked at the silver scare on Tor’s neck. Silver, like most things that a Madonian makes. Sometimes, though rare, a Madonian could use their gifts to heal, however it usually left a mark, a silver tint in the scar.
“You’re a healer?” Lana spoke to Zorin.
“In a way, I suppose that I am.”
“But I thought you never left Alogrin?” Lana asked, remembering her first conversation with Zorin and Aria. They had laughed when she asked if they ever left Alogrin. They answered no.
“The one time I had, I found him. It isn’t a pleasant world out here.”
“My mother?” Lana couldn’t say more for fear of breaking down. She wanted to know of her mother, was she alive when he came? Could she have been saved?
Heavily shaking his head, Zorin understood what she was asking.
“There was nothing I could have done. She was already gone. As was Tor’s Aorra. He was the only one left who I was able to attempt to help.”
Lana turned away, placing a hand on the wall for balance. Inhaling deeply through her nose she held her breath, closing her eyes. This was too much, and it had nothing to do with what now needed to be done. She forced the thoughts roaring through her mind away.
“What’s going on?” Kaiden asked, worried.
“Nothing that needs to be discussed at this time. We need to keep on with our purpose here.” Lana replied, however the words were just as much for herself as anyone else.
Ardin. She called out to her Aorra.
In a second Ardin was at her side, pulling her emotions, sharing her burden. Lana exhaled slowly and opened her eyes. She gained control over her self, pushing everything but the mission at hand out of her mind. Nothing mattered in that moment but regaining control of her town and protecting her people. That came first and in that moment its all the truly mattered.
“I am going after that man.” When no one voiced another objection she walked down the ally where she saw the old man moments ago, the others following. A light coming from one of the cracked doors seeped into the ally. The crack was enough for sound to drift through, there were voices coming from inside. With a gentle push with the toe of her boot the door swung open. Several men stood around a table in a small poorly lit room, armed with bows, swords, and knives. Everyone hushed and turned to her.
“Well I’ll be… please come in Mrs. Casteel of the Council.” One of the men said. They recognized her.
Lana entered the room with Ardin by her side, followed by the others. Before she could speak to the men, swords were drawn and arrows knocked, all of them pointed to either Clyte or Kaiden.
Those who came with Lana reacted as they too drew their weapons and the room froze, thick with tension. They didn’t have time for this. Lana Casteel boldly stepped in front of one of the knocked arrows.
“Put your weapons down.” She said in a steady and stern voice, surprising herself with how calm and confidant she sounded. Ardin released a low growl. She did not know if it was for her action or as a warning to the Gorthynian people.
“They are Rami.” One of the men said.
“You think I don’t know?” Lana said looking directly into the man’s brown eyes. “I am Lana Casteel of your Council and I am giving you an order.” She peered over her shoulder at the Alogrinians behind her, adding “Everyone.”
Reluctantly the men lowered their weapons, but the thickness in the room remained.
“I trust these two Rami with my life. One saved me from the man who has lead the current Rami threat here.” Lana said, hoping that the Gorthynians could find comfort in her words.
She had gotten used to seeing and being around Rami people over the past few months. She had forgotten that it was very different for everyone outside her little haven in Alogrin. In the rest of the lands the Madonians and Rami saw each other as enemies, through and through. They simply never existed side by side, never trusted eachother.
“Why should we care about that? You have never done anything for us. Those of us who even recognize you do so because we have been to your capitol city, Olbi. To the others you are a stranger.” One of them voiced his distaste.
Ardin released a warning growl at the Gorthynians. But they were right. She had all but almost abandoned the Gorthynians, not once returning after her mother’s death. She should have, she should have come back, this was her mothers home, she should never have stayed away for so long. Of course they wouldn’t trust her. Her own people.
“It is true I have not been to Gorthyn in a long time. But I am here now. Do you really not want our help?” Lana spoke in an even tone.
“Where do you all come from?” One of the Gorthynian men asked.
Lana was slow to reply, wondering if giving up where she had been was wise.
“Alogrin.” Zorin spoke up before Lana could come to a decision.
“It exists?” The men asked, with wide eyes, looking to their councilwoman for affirmation. Amid the eyes Lana thought she could see small flecks of hope.
“Yes.” Lana confirmed.
The men looked at the lot standing behind Lana and the mood suddenly began to change.
“I am Robby, this is Locky, Ector, Brasher, Damen, and my brother Alec. Oh and in the back, that’s Lucas, he is Ector’s grandfather and owner of this fine home.”
Lana looked over the men. They were all Madonian northerners with blond hair and pail skin, except for Robby and Alec. The two brothers were stocky men with dark hair, slightly slanted eyes, and tanned skin. They stood out against the common pale Madonian complexion. They looked like people from the western Madonian Islands.
She replied with the names of those in her group “Bredin, Kaiden, Zorin, Clyte, Kirill, and Tor.”
“I thought I recognized you Dukran.”
The distaste in Robby’s voice was clear. He took a step closer to Kirill pulling out a blade in a threatening manner. The Gorthynians were not fond of the Dukran family, Arkhip used to come by and persuade some of their young to join his ranks. They would almost never return. Being a council member they were each aloud free travel through the Madonian lands but the people of Gorthyn no longer helped him if he came by. They were careful to keep their young away. After some time he stopped coming all together.
Lana nearly went to Kirill’s defense, which momentarily caused her to question her sanity for thinking Dukran, needed any defense. Stiffly she looked from Robby to Kirill.
“I pledged my allegiance to Lana Casteel, besides whatever your feelings are towards me, tonight you need me.” Kirill replied without a hint of emotion.
“I asked him to come, he is skilled in combat with Rami solders.” Lana replied with her eyes intently on Robby, who got the messaged and stepped away.
“Where are your armies?” Alec asked.
“They are with General Flynn. I predict fighting with Arkhip Dukran’s armies against King Zakran. After Valdor’s death I fled to Alogrin for several reasons one of which was to find help.”
“And this is it?” Robby gestured to those around Lana. “We don’t need a woman to help us survive. You have never helped us before.”
“Mind your tongue!” A voice came from behind the Gorthynian men. The men parted so Lana could see the old man from the ally standing behind them. He was withered with a crooked back and cataract glazed eyes. It was a wonder how he could see anything at all.
“The fact that she was able to get any of them to leave Alogrin to come here is amazing. Those of Alogrin are said to be extremely skilled, you are lucky to have even one of them let alone your Councilwoman coming to fight beside you. Land’s know if I was in Alogrin I wouldn’t have come.” The old man pointed a finger at Clyte. “And this one, she is a warrior, many on our side may not know her name for she is that powerful. A warrior can not be cast aside just for being a woman.”
“Thank you.” Clyte inclined her head in thanks.
“You whipped up your reputation on your own, nothing to thank me for.” His creamy eyes turned towards Lana. “My apologies. These boys are all in a tizzy, they mean no disrespect. We are grateful for your help, but know this, the only reason you are standing here now is because your mother was Gorthynian and we knew your father. You, however, are a stranger to us.” When he finished he turned and sat down in an open seat.
“I know I have not been to Gorthyn since I was a mere child. Last time I came here I saw my mother lying in a pool of blood. She gave her life fighting for you.” Lana paused, gathering the courage to continue. “I feared this place, it haunted my dreams, but no longer. I am here now. You are my people, I will fight for you, and you will no longer be forgotten, not by me. This is the home where my mother grew up, my home. Let me earn your trust. Let me fight beside you.” Lana spoke to the Gorthynian men.
The men exchanged glances with one another.
“We are pleased to have the help of our Council woman on this night.” The old man replied with a nod. Just like that the two groups became one.
“We were planning to attack and fight the Rami off, but they are just sitting in the safe house. To come in through the door they would see us and expect us.” Alec spoke.
“Maybe there is another way. There is a tunnel that leads to the safe house. No one but my father and I knew of it, besides the builder and its keeper.”
“Keeper?” Kaiden asked.
“The person whose property has the entrance to the tunnel.”
The men nodded, their eyes glistening with a mixture of hope, rage, and fear.
“I apologize if anything I may have said offended you.” Robby spoke, his voice was more gentle. “We all thank you for coming and being brave enough to fight beside your men.”
“Thank You. I will do my best to not disappoint you.” It was all she could think of to say.
The group quickly planned what they were to do. They would split up into two groups. In one group was Lana Casteel, along with Ardin, Zorin and his Aorra, Clyte, Kirill, Bredin, Alec and two of his men. All the others were in the second group.
Kaiden and Lana were the targets for Garin, so the thought was that keeping the two apart would buy time for whatever Garin wanted to do. If he were able to capture one of the groups, then he would not have the two of them. The idea was that Garin would want them both together, to suffer in front of each other. Also splitting into two groups would allow for a fight on two fronts, dividing the Rami focus.
Bredin was to go with Lana’s group through the tunnel. Once they entered the safe house he would signal his Aorra to screech. The screech would signal an attack from the outside by Kaiden’s group. This would provide a distraction inside the building while Lana’s group slay as many Rami intruders as they could and open the gates for the others to enter.
The plan was set.
Kaiden hated being separated from Lana during a threat and thus did not try to hide his hate for the plan but was forced to go along with it anyway. Before they separated, he gave Ardin a large sphere of energy, which Ardin accepted with ease and then funneled the strength to Lana. The Gorthynians watched the exchange in awe.
Everyone was separating into their groups, destined to go two different ways. Lana had just wished them luck, her eyes meeting with Kaiden’s last. It was difficult for her to look at him in that moment. So much was going on inside of her. Offering him a tight smile, she gave him a brief hug before turning away, prepared to leave.
Lana had been strong, keeping her raw emotions at bay, keeping herself from feeling anything fully. To think about the risk she had put her own people in with her actions at Abder, the risk that now caused this threat in Gorthyn. To think of the last time she had been to Gorthyn and seen her mother in a pool of blood. To think of how the lives of those she had grown to love and care for were currently in danger because of her choices. To think of how a man from her past, who had once protected her mother, now stood beside her. The emotions and fear would drown her if she let it, so she pushed them away. This distance, this wall that she had built within kept her whole. It was an internal dam, shielding her. She thought it strong, capable of withstanding the night’s trouble.
But the wall within Lana did not hold. It fell apart into a million tiny pieces with such ease, each piece full of invested feelings and thoughts. Everything rushed at her at once, nearly drowning her.
Kaiden’s touch when she moved to turn away, melted away the foundation of the dam that kept her from deteriorating. His deep blue eyes froze her in place, at the mercy of his will.
Before he left with his group, Kaiden raised his hand, seizing Lana by the arm. He stopped her, turning her to face him. His hand cupped Lana’s cheek, while his other pulled her gently towards him. Her breath caught with his sudden touch. Without warning, his lips brushed lightly against hers, lingering a moment before pressing again into hers, deeper this time, more passionate. It obliterated the damn in her head.
It was as if everything rushed at her all at once. A roaring fire burned inside of her, needing him to never let her go. Lana could feel her heart as if it were in her throat. She could feel herself shake in his arms, hoping that he could not tell.
This kiss was not as soft as the last time on the balcony when they had first arrived in Alogrin. This time he pulled her to him, hard. Pressing her against him, his lips were firmer, needing her. The kiss was so incredibly powerful, but a fleeting moment.
He pulled back and looked at her with his deep blue eyes. Brushing her lips with his thumb. “Please be safe. Once we get inside I will find you. Do not try to be a hero, let the people with you help.” Un able to respond with words Lana simply gave him a nod.
With that, Kaiden turned and walked away, leaving her to pull herself together from the million emotions that were uncontrollably coursing through her. She watched him go as her eyes watered. Her heart hurt, she hated him for doing this to her. Hated him for not leaving her to do her duty without messing with her mind in this way, and she hated him for not holding her just a moment longer.
Lana, we must go. Ardin’s gentle voice helped center her, bringing some of her resolve back. He was her strength. Without him she would float away.
I know. She replied.
Lana turned to her group, they were all staring at her, or trying not to but it was obvious. Heat rushed to her cheeks, she was glad to have the cover of darkness so they could not see her blush. Clearing her throat, she straightened herself, pulling pieces of herself back together. They were going to do this. They were going to win. Everyone would be alright in the end, she told herself.
“We need to get to the village bakery. The one farther from the stone safe house, that is where the tunnel lays.” Lana said calmly.
“Follow me” Alec replied and they began moving through the dark streets.
They reached an average sized building made of stone and wood where Alec stopped and knocked on the door. A small squat woman opened it just a crack and peered through. Her eyes glanced at him in recognition before she opened the door and stepped away, allowing for the entire party to enter, closing the door before they began speaking.
The delicious sent of baked bread filled Lana’s lungs when she entered the dwelling. From behind her, Zorin loudly grumbled to himself upon entering the bakery.
“What in the bloody lands are you doing here?” The old woman squeaked as soon as the doors shut. The woman wore a long dress with a dirty apron over it. Her white hair was pulled back into a bun and she had what seemed to be flower smeared on her cheek. She turned her gaze from Zorin to Alec “Why did you bring this man here?!” She shrieked at Alec while poking a finger at Zorin.
“I am here helping Mrs. Casteel.” Zorin replied icily.
“Oh!” The old woman searched the room before landing her gaze upon Lana. Her eyes turned from cold to warm as soon as she saw her.
“Oh please forgive me, my lady. I saw Alec and so I opened the door, but then this old man pulled my attention away. My name is Farla. Oh you look so much like your mother! So beautiful! Tell me are you hungry child? I make the very best baked goods, your father always loved my baking.” The squat little lady squeaked. She quickly reached around herself, loosening her apron before pulling it off and throwing it onto a flowery counter. Flicking dry powder off of her dress, Farla turned back to Lana with a warm smile.
“You are very kind, but we must get to the safe house.”
The baker’s eyes grew large “Oh no, it is dangerous, the Rami are there!”
“You think we don’t know that, you obtuse woman?” Zorin spoke up.
Lana glanced at him, shocked. He was always composed and well mannered, she could not believe that he was behaving this way.
“You two know each other?” Lana asked as her eyes moved from Farla to Zorin and back to Farla.
“Yes.” The old woman smiled before turning serious. “My poor fool of a sister married into that one’s family.” She said gesturing to Zorin.
“Ugh,” Zorin rolled his eyes in protest. “You old baboon, it was the best thing to have ever happened to your family! You all constantly follow me, obsessed with me and my family tree.” Zorin yelled furiously. “If I never have to see you or your hack of a cousin again it would be all too heavenly.”
“Cousin?” Lana asked, intrigued by what she was witnessing.
“Donn is a lovely person you blind idiot!”
“Donn?” Lana turned to Zorin with wide eyes.
So this is why they don’t like each other. Lana thought to Ardin.
At least Donn and Zorin have a mutual understanding in Alogrin, unlike these two here. Ardin replied with a move of his tail, slightly entertained.
“You and Donn are family?” Lana blurted.
“Only by marriage,” Both Zorin and Farla retorted, both clearly finding offense at the notion of being related to each other.
Lana could not help but laugh.
It poured out of her like a sweet release. All the pressure she had been feeling and then these two behaving in this way. It was humorous. It made Zorin seem normal, not a king but like a normal person with in-law problems. The short comical release didn’t last long before the other feelings of the night slammed back into her.
“Farla, I am sorry but we must go, can you take us to the tunnel?” Lana asked when she had a grasp on herself.
“Certainly dear!” She squeaked. Farla eyed the group and grabbed three white candles from the pantry. She lit two, one for herself and gave the other to Alec, keeping a hold on the third as she slipped it into a pocket in her dress.
Walking over to one of her large ovens, Farla opened its thick door and walked in. On any other day this would seem extremely odd and Lana would hesitantly follow someone into an oven. But time did not wait and hesitating only wasted time. They followed the squat woman through the dark oven. Once inside it was clear that it was no longer a cooker, the door that lead inside was the only remnant of an oven. Inside Farla lead them down a few dark steps into a room underneath the building. The room was littered with flour and wooden planks. She lifted a plank from up against the wall where there was a small entrance to a dark hall.
“Be safe, dear child.” Farla whispered as she reached up, touching Lana’s brown hair. “Your mother would be so proud of you.”
“Thank you.” Lana murmured as Farla pulled the third candle out of her pocket. Using her candle, she lit the third one and handed it over to Lana.
“Now, at the end of the hall there will be steps. You will be fine making some noise, but once you get to the steps be sure to be quiet. You will emerge from behind a painting on the wall of a hall within the safe house.”
“Lock your doors and stay inside until this is over,” She warned the squat woman.
“Or if you really want to help, go run around the safe house a few laps for a great distraction.” Zorin added.
“Zorin!” Lana cautioned.
“It would offer a decent diversion,” Zorin replied with a shrug, as if he was unaware that anything he said was rude.
“Don’t worry about me child. The lands may do as they will with me. It is you that I hope to be alright,” Farla spoke to Lana before glaring at Zorin from the corner of her eye. Then the little squat baker wrapped her arms around Lana in a warm embrace. The pleasant scent of sugar and bread drifted off of her skin.
After Farla’s parting hug, Ardin stepped into the dark narrow hall. He was followed by Kirill, next was Lana, Zorin, Clyte, and the Gorthyn citizens. The tunnel was dark and damp. Some of the stone under their feet was dangerously slick with a mossy slime. Lana held a light, which allowed for the few around her to make out the tunnel enough to not walk into a wall or each other. Alec provided the same for those farther back.
Lana could see Zorin a step behind her and she found herself thinking about what he and Farla had bickered about. She could not help but feel curious. Not wanting to think about Kaiden, she gave in to her curiosity.
“So who married who?”
A small unexpected smile spread across Zorin’s face “Who from their family married into mine?” Zorin asked.
Lana gave him a confirming nod.
“Well it happened more than once that our families crossed such paths. But all originally involved have left this world.”
“Oh, then why continue this feud between the two families?”
“We must still live with the consequences. It is not necessarily the parties involved who were interesting, it is the offspring they produced.”
Offspring? “Who?” Lana asked, her interest heightened.
“Arkhip, to start with.”
“What?” Lana asked, gazing forward at Kirill, who walked just in front of them. Surely he had heard yet he made no indication of it. Arkhip was related to the great king, he was somehow related to Zorin.
Did you hear that? Lana asked Ardin.
I did. It makes sense; Zorin and Donn are two powerful families. Donn has a bunch of those little lizard things. Zorin’s family comes from Kings, extremely talented with the fine details, such as the intricate designs. You saw how he can easily make on his swords. That’s how Arkhip can make a pack of wolves I suppose.
“So Farla’s sister is…”
“She was Arkhip’s wife.”
“So that was his Aunt?” Lana gestured to Kirill Dukran.
“Its more complicated than that.” The way Zorin said it, it was like he wasn’t telling her something. There was a tone of warning in his voice.
“What others are there? You said your families had crossed more than once?”
“The others haven’t shown to be as volatile as Arkhip Dukran.”
“But who are they?”
“Ah, now that is a good question, isnt it?” Zorin smiled.
“You don’t know?” Lana did not believe that Zorin Donyerth had no knowledge of something like that.
“Perhaps not all things are meant to be shared, at least not until the time is right.” He grinned.
Lana couldn’t believe it. That such a horrible man like Arkhip Dukran could have been related to Zorin or even Donn. As she walked she pondered over how Arkhip even became the man he was. There must have been a time he was different. A time when he had the love of a woman who had bor him a child. How had Arkhip become the monster that he now was?
We are almost at the stairs. Ardin gave Lana a heads up.
“I hear Great Cats have the best hearing of Aorras.” Lana spoke to Zorin.
“I hear that too.” He replied with a sly smile.
I hear different. Ardin grumbled, only half joking.
“Will Dorian go up ahead when we reach the stairs and listen to what is going on?” She asked Zorin.
“It would be silly for him not to.”
Lana nodded in agreement.
“We are almost there.” She announced to the group “Zorin’s Aorra will go to the passageway door and let us know of any movement or sounds. We will wait at the bottom of the stairs.”
The large animal grumbled a cat like sound as it walked past Zorin towards the steps. Silently he slinked up the staircase into the darkness while the rest of them waited at the bottom, huddled together in anticipation. The feeling in the air was thick with tension. Everyone seemed anxious to get the events of the night over with. Even in the silence, Lana could feel the anger and fierce need to protect those they loved coming off of those around her. The energy radiating through each of them spoke while their bodies stood so incredibly still, waiting, ready.
It was a short while before Zorin spoke. “There seems to be a guard that’s monitoring the hall. He walks by roughly ever five minutes, other than that, nothing else can be heard.”
“The next time he walks by I can go up there and take care of him. I will be quick and quiet then I will let you know its clear.” Kirill offered.
Lana watched him, his steel eyes looking at her steadily, waiting for her decision. To trust him, could be a risk, but he was the best-trained killer they had, certainly the most experienced, maybe besides Clyte. As if he knew her thoughts he spoke again.
“Taking care of Rami threats is my skill. You don’t trust me, but I swear myself to you. Let me help you, let me do what I know how to do, what you brought me to do.” He went down on one knee in front of everyone and looked down at the ground then back up at her. “Use me.” To anyone else his words seemed like a plea, a desperate attempt to help, but his eyes said more. They gave his words away as a command. He was doing his best to bend for her, but he couldn’t, not completely.
There was a small gasp from the Gorthynians but Lana did not acknowledge it. “Please stand.” She said.
Kirill got on his feet.
Just this one time, his command was her wish. She would use him. He was going to help her regain control of the town.
“Go.” Her head tilted towards the dark steps.
“You have two minutes.” Zorin added and Kirill was gone.
“You really got a Dukran to swear himself to you?” Alec spoke jovially.
“This is not something to be celebrated.”
“Are you kidding, but he-”?
“The price that had to be paid to get him to this place is not one that I wish to pay.”
“Has a monster for a father. I would have run too.”
“He ran to you.”
“We were friends once, and like I said there was a price.”
Lana had to stop herself from rolling her eyes for bringing up her past friendship with Kirill. The friendship that she had constantly been trying to forget when all others seemed to not let it go.
“What did it cost?” one of Alec’s men asked curiously.
“My father’s life.”
Silence filled the hall. Lana allowed the rage from the memory to enter her. She welcomed it, allowing it to seep deep within, fueling her. She took a step forward and turned to face the people who were with her, her people.
With a deep breath she was about to address them before Bredin interrupted.
“Oh you are one very lucky princess.” He spoke with a hint of excitement.
“What are you talking about?” Lana snapped, confused and irritated. This was not the time to poke jabs at her.
“Micah, he is here.”
“What?!” The irritation left her immediately.
“He is outside with a few guards. They are with Kaiden and the others. Apparently he didn’t think you could handle this on your own so he came to help.”
Bredin had to say it that way, with a small poke at her, but Lana didn’t care. This was amazing news. She felt a slight bit of relief that Kaiden would have people with him who would actually have his back and not only the Gorthynians who, despite her words, didn’t trust him. Lana turned with bright eyes to Zorin, as if to confirm that Bredin was being honest.
He smiled a wide smile. “You inspire greatness Lana Casteel, well done.”
I can smell the blood. Ardin said as Lana looked back over to Zorin for a signal.
“Kirill has done it.” Zorin formed a blade in his hand.
Lana turned to everyone with a new strength, a new fuel of hope.
“We are about to enter the belly of a snake, where we will have to fight our way out. You all have come here because these are your people.” Lana rose her hand touching a stone wall next to her “These are your walls. This Land is your land and we protect what is ours. We fight for what is ours. These are my people in this town, you are my people, and I fight for you and with you.”
Lana allowed the love she felt in too. Letting her feelings for those risking their lives here this night to further fuel her. A single silver blade swirled into existence in her hand, and Ardin grumbled a low grumble. Everyone readied his or her weapons around her.
As soon as Lana finished and everyone’s weapons were drawn, one by one, they hurried up the narrow steps. Lana placed her candle at the bottom of the staircase on a stone and took the lead with Ardin. The steps were not uniformly built, awkwardly slanting one way or another. It made for a difficult to climb. Her pace was slow and careful so not to slip.
At the top of the stairs Kirill stood in a small archway, holding to the side what looked like a thick tapestry that hung over the arch. He grasped Lana’s hand and helped pull her into the hall. It was all stone with dim lighting, smelling of candle wax and ale. Lana could hear sounds echo off of the stonewalls down the hallways but had no idea where they were coming from.
“They know that the other party is outside. They are readying flaming arrows.” Zorin informed.
“We must stop them.” Lana was quick to respond. If they began shooting flaming arrows before her party was in position to attack, then it would be a massacre outside. That couldn’t be allowed to happen.
“Do you know where their base is in this building?” Clyte asked.
“Right now most of their men are around the entrance.” Zorin answered.
“Then that is where we go.” Kirill spoke.
“Lets move.” Lana agreed as a hand touched her shoulder, stopping her.
“Please, at least let me go in front of you.” Clyte pleaded.
Lana nodded, allowing for her to step in front. Ardin assumed his position beside Lana, leaving little space between her, himself, and the wall. His fur stood on its ends, his head slightly lowered, ready to take on whatever may come at them.
Zorin’s Great Cat silently led them while Lana and the others quickly followed. They began passing hallway after hallway. Lana was holding her breath in hopes that each would be empty. Luckily the first couple were.
“Hey!” A sound came from another hall. Kirill turned down the hall without a word, while the rest of the group kept moving forward. Lana peered behind in time to see him rejoin at the tail end with fresh blood dripping from his sword.
Once at the end of the hall they all came to a stop.
Lana turned to Bredin “When we turn the corner, sound the alarm. But only once we have their attention.” She said in a hushed voice.
He gave Lana a nod in understanding.
Kirill stepped forward, “The first few seconds after we turn the corner are crucial, the Rami will be confused for a moment, surprised, we need to use this moment to kill as many of them as possible.” Lana nodded in understanding. “Let me go in front.” He said, which was followed by another nod from Lana. Kirill positioned himself as the lead, with Clyte a step behind him, followed by Lana and the others. He held up his hand with three fingers.
Ardin took a position beside her, their energy intertwined.
For our people. Ardin said and crouched in anticipation with his hair electrically standing on its ends. Lana could not agree more. This was for her people, for her lands, for all those innocents.
Silently, they filed out. Their footsteps too soft to hear, their breathing slow. Like silent predators descending upon their prey, they closed the distance between them and the Rami intruders.
It was unlike any start to a battle Lana had ever imagined. She had always thought battles began with chants, loud screams, some form of noise to get the warrior’s blood boiling. Perhaps those were just childlike imaginations that had stuck with her for this was very different. This was soundless. It felt almost dirty. To surprise people and stab them in the back, not giving them a chance for defense.
But these people were not about to be surprised at home, with their families. They were on grounds they had no right to be on. They were a threat to the innocent. Eliminate the threat, Lana told herself as she rounded the corner.
As soon as Lana turned Clyte came to her open side, where she stayed, placing herself between Lana and the intruders. Pulling back on the energy of her sword, Lana turned it into a dagger. Her eyes fell upon a man closest to her, she threw the dagger at him. It spun through the air. A warning scream came and the man moved in response. But it was too late, the dagger cut the soft flesh of his neck. He screamed out, jerking his hand to the gash.
A white blur of a wolf appeared near the Rami she had hit. Fierce teeth finished the job. Lana turned, looking over at Kirill who seemed to have taken three Rami in the short time she had managed one with the help of her Aorra.
Warning screams sounded and Rami men began flooding into the room. Clyte kept to one side of Lana and Kirill came to the other. Lana made another dagger and flung it at a Rami, missing. She made another and another. Her practice was paying off. She was now able to keep an easier hold on her blades, throwing them farther away from herself yet still keeping their form. She was able to let go of a blade and form a new one in her hand without pause.
Eyeing a Rami, another blade formed in Lana’s hand. She aimed and threw. He ducked out of reach. Forming another, she threw again but he had gotten farther away, she was unsure if she could keep a hold on a blade at such a distance. Signaling for Ardin, she made two more, throwing both at the Rami.
The blades cut through the air. The Rami watched with large eyes as they came at him, turning to silver dust just before reaching him. His protective forearm lowered when the blades disintegrated before even touching him. The Rami was probably going to display a smug smile, but it would never come. From behind the curtain of dust came Ardin. His white teeth fiercely emerged as he attacked the surprised Rami, taking him down.
Some of the Rami men began turning away and focusing on the wall of the entrance. There were windows on the second floor where they had archers prepare to fire to the outside.
The others must be attacking at the front now. Lana spoke to Ardin.
Yes. You should stop with the daggers. He warned her for he could feel her constant making and throwing of them slowly begin to take energy from her.
I know. But between Clyte and Kirill, I cannot get close enough to do much else.
Lana pulled strength into her palm, warming it and formed a sword in her hand. She gazed at the door.
“We need to open the door for the others!” Lana screamed.
As she walked forward Clyte and Kirill blocked off those closest to her, attempting to clear a path to the gate. The Rami intruders began trying to protect the door but Kirill was a world-wind of blades unleashed upon them. They could not get close enough to him. Even though Lana had never seen him use power to create things the way she did, he had a talent for blocking their attacks. It was unlike anything she had ever seen before. The Rami would throw their fiery lightning at him and he would avoid it with ease, moving with unnatural fluidity. It was impressive, to say the least.
Steel eyes met with hers. “Head for the door. I wont let them touch you. But as soon as you open it, get away.”
Lana nodded. She pushed forward, a flash of blue caught her eye. Her sword stopped it with the flick of her wrist. Beads of sweat formed on her forehead, she had almost not seen that. She could feel Ardin protectively arrange himself closer to her as she continued. Alec and his men also surrounded her, forming another layer of protection around her as she headed for the door. In unison, they charged forward.
Once at the massive entrance she could feel Ardin surround her in his shield. Before her there was a thick heavy block of wood that kept the door locked. She tried to lift it, straining as she used her legs to push up, but it was too heavy. Another attempt ended with the same results, the wood didn’t budge. A hand appeared next to her, forcefully shoving the wood up. It was Alec. Together, they lifted the beam and threw it to the ground with a loud thump, opening the wooden door.
Turning to move away, Lana’s eye was caught by Bredin who was on the ground. He held his sword up against another Rami’s blade. The Rami was using the weight of his body to push both blades towards Bredin. Moving towards them, her grip on her blade tightened. With a silent, deadly force, she brought up her sword, shoving it through the unknowing Rami. As he fell, she turned to Bredin who stared up at her in surprise.
Holding out her hand, she quickly helped Bredin to his feet. “You can tell everyone you were saved by a princess.” When her breathless words found him he offered her a knowing smile.
Lana was about to track back, like Kirill had told her to when she noticed the iron. Behind the wooden door they had gotten open was an iron gate. They needed to get that gate open. There was a chain leading from the gate secured to a lever off to the side. Clyte was closest to the lever.
“Clyte! The gate!”
Clyte looked over at the lever “I got it!” she called out.
An unseen dagger cut through the air towards Clyte, Kirill’s sword came out of nowhere and stopped it short. “I will cover her. Now get away from the door!” Kirill yelled to Lana.
She moved away from the entrance only a few steps before another Rami cut her off. He brought down his sword as Lana brought up hers, stopping his assault. A second blade formed in her other hand as she pierced his flesh. The Rami went down and Lana turned, looking back at Clyte and Kirill.
They had gotten the Iron gate opened.
Off to the side she could see Zorin fighting a small group of Rami with Dorian. The two worked skillfully together. It was true that Zorin was the best with the sword. He moved like untouchable liquid even when there were multiple threats. He maneuvered around his obstacles with ease and his Aorra was the same.
Dorian moved with quick stealth. His body curved and twisted around anything threatening until he found a weak spot. Then he would silently pounce. No Rami wanted to be found at the end of his deadly claw or tooth. He and Zorin moved as if they were made to fight beside each other. There was not a single step missed, not a single flaw in their deadly dance.
Seeing that the two seemed to have everything under control, Lana turned back to the hallway. Around the hallway that they had arrived were two sets of stairs leading to a small balcony over the entrance room they were all in. On that balcony a familiar face walk by. Garin. Her heart catapulted into a race beneath her ribs at the sight of him. Kaidens brother, she had found him.
Garin walked alone, without even looking down at her, unknowing that she stood just below him. He turned down a hall, out of sight.
Lana reacted, running up the steps after him. She could feel Ardin hurry to be by her side. Once she got up the steps the hall was clear of any sign of life. Without pause, Lana hurried down it, freezing in an open doorway.
A Rami stood in the stone room, his back turned away from the entrance. He was looking at a painting of a black wolf that hung on the wall. The room he stood in was large, made of pure grey stone and cold, not once has anyone attempted to bring warmth to it. Thick pillars of fabric hung from the celling around the edges of the room, in the same cold stone grey color.
Ardin stopped beside Lana in the doorway.
I don’t like this. He thought to her just before she walked into the room.
Lana NO! Ardin screamed at her as he jumped in after her. He isn’t alone. Ardin warned, a moment too late. A Rami appeared in the entrance of the door the two had entered from.
Lana and Ardin turned to the sound of the door closing behind them as one of Garin’s guards spun to face them. For a moment Lana was stunned at the presence of another. There was one other door to the room but it too was closed, no doubt it had a Rami guarding it on the other side. There was not going to be a way out without a fight.
I’ll keep an eye on him, but don’t get too close to Garin. Ardin’s voice calmly filled her mind as he faced the guard by the door. Lana suppressed the shiver that ran down her spine.
She turned to see the Rami who faced away from her moments ago, staring directly at her with piercing blue eyes. They were Kaidens eyes, yet they were not. The similarity was evident but there was no warmth there, just cold loathing.
He froze her as if she were in a trance. Lana could literally feel the presence of his eyes on her as they raked over her body. They were dark and oozing raw hatred. It was gripping. She could hear her heart rapidly beating in her ears as memories flooded her mind from their last painful encounter.
“You don’t have to do any of this Garin-” Lana began, holding her hands out in a none threatening gesture.
“Oh, don’t I?” His voice cut her off, booming off the empty walls of the room Lana was now locked in. “You took my only blood from me.”
“I did no such thing, Kaiden saved my life, but he still loves you Garin.”
“Is that what he tells you? The moment he knocked me out from behind, like a coward to save…” Garin’s hard eyes looked Lana up and down before continuing “you.” His voice portrayed such hatred that Lana had to resist an urge to take a step away from him. The three yards between them suddenly seemed too close. “He betrayed my trust, his brother, for what? A weak little Madonian he knew as a child and for only one moon time? I have been with him since he first drew breath. He and I were a team. HE IS MY BLOOD!” Garin’s voice yelled out, echoing off the walls.
“Have you no forgiveness in your heart?” Lana barely finished her question before another voice came from her left.
“There’s nothing to forgive.”
Lana wanted to sigh in relief at Kaiden’s sudden presence. The door closed behind him as soon as he entered the room. A familiar face stared back at Lana from the Rami who had just allowed Kaiden to enter. It was Seff, the stocky Rami from when she had walked into their camp in Abder.
“Seff”, Kaiden began as he turned to see his once friend closing the door behind him.
“My friend! I see you have brought us this girl. Well played! Tell us you learned something valuable.” Seff spoke.
Lana looked to Kaiden in confusion. He mimicked the same confusion back at her. Garin responded to Lana’s confused face.
“Of course there’s nothing to forgive, brother.” Garin smiled.
“What do you mean?” Lana spoke as her eyes darted around the room. “Kaiden?”
“I have no idea what he’s talking about.” Kaiden replied though his body tensed.
Garin’s smile widened. “Finally, we don’t have to hold this charade anymore, little brother.” He turned his cold eyes to Lana. “What, you actually thought he cared for you, Council tramp? He is my brother. Blood is thicker than whatever you think you have going on. Nothing comes between blood, that is the Rami way.”
“I don’t know what game you are playing but…”
Lana was cut off by Garin. “For instance, we know you are the councilwoman of the Selvirian Madonian lands. You are the sole council for those parts, which makes you quite valuable. Your mother and father were killed by our hand, but they were both a part of an inside job.” As he spoke Lana’s eyes darted to and from Kaiden, she didn’t believe it, Kaiden would never… would he?
Garin continued, “You have enemies in your homelands, Lana. You also traveled to the hidden city of Alogrin with an old man and two kids.”
Mortified, Lana’s head snapped to Kaiden, who stood very still. She felt lightheaded, how could Garin know this? A cold chill ran through her. Could this have been a trap all along? She wanted to ask him if it were true, but she couldn’t find the words. She felt sick, wishing for it not to be true, wishing to not hear any of it. Kaiden was her friend, she trusted him with her life, with all of the information she had shared with him. She had trusted him with absolutely everything. Her knees threatened to give out.
“This is not true.” Kaiden took a step towards her and she took a step away, shaking her head in disbelief. Suddenly afraid of what she may not have known. Fear gripped her, tightening around her, constricting around her throat till she could hardly breath.
“Sure it is… If you happened to develop feelings in the process, Kaiden, then that’s too bad. You knew the mission when you took it. You told us that you could handle this. That you could get her to trust you, for her to feel safe with you, that you could learn all you could.”
“They are lying!” Kaiden shouted. His eyes filled with rage. Was the rage real or another ploy?
“You left us messages in the woods.” Garin spoke with a smile. Kaiden did not reply to the accusation.
“Did you?” Lana found the voice to ask Kaiden, who now seemed flustered.
“I…” He paused in what seemed to be a panic and Lana knew, there was truth to what Garin said.
No, please no. She wanted to vomit. A cold sweat uncomfortably prickled her skin.
“You were willing to risk everyone’s lives!?” Lana cried out, lip curling in anger, while Ardin grumbled. She was unable to control herself, to keep herself composed. She feared what Garin was saying had truth to it, she knew it had truth to it. Her horror was replaced with rage.
“I wasn’t trying to do that.” Kaiden uncomfortably shifted on his feet.
“We had children with us, Kaiden! We were trying to get away and you were leaving him breadcrumbs to follow! Breadcrumbs with information about us, information about me!”
“No. I wanted him to understand why I did what I did, my intentions were never to hurt you or endanger anyone.”
Garin looked at Kaiden sideways. “Little brother, do you actually fancy this girl? You knew your mission, that you would have to get close in any way possible. I thought you might have some fun, not develop feelings. Do not worry we will help you forget her.” Garin finished with a wink. Lana’s hands balled into fists.
“Stop it.” Kaiden snarled.
“Oh come now. This was planned for years, ever since we were children and you went to that dreadful school.”
Lana froze, unable to even draw breath. Garin’s eyes watched her as he spoke, as he crippled her with words. His deadly, icy, eyes held her in their painful grip. White teeth flashed as he smiled, speaking to her.
“Kaiden went to Ucu knowing a child of a Madonian council member would be going. He went for the sole purpose to get to know you. You, Lana Casteel, were his very first mission for King Zakran. He even managed to return with a few new tricks.” In Garin’s palm played a glowing light of electric energy, before he dropped it. He didn’t even try and harm her with it, he didn’t have to. With his words he was tearing her apart, and when he finished she would have no where to go. She and Ardin were trapped.
Lana turned away from Garin’s gripping stare to Kaiden. His face was flushed, eyes pained.
“So you getting close to me…” Lana breathed, having to stop herself for fear of tears. Betrayal was not a feeling she had ever experienced. In this moment Lana didn’t know what to believe. Garin knew a lot, things he shouldn’t know. Things that Kaiden clearly told him. Could Kaiden have been harmlessly reaching out to his brother? If that were true then why did he never tell her about it? Was her friendship with him a sham, created for the single purpose of gathering information? Was there any truth to what they had or was this all a trick?
Kaiden took another step towards Lana with an open pleading hand. Lana stepped back, away from him. Her eyes scanned his for anything that could tell her what was real. But his eyes were the same, the same ones she had grown to search for every day. They were familiar to her, non threatening. He had held her, kissed her, she had felt something, it was real. Or did she just want it to be real so badly that she had placed a veil over her own gullible eyes?
Had she led him right into Alogrin? Her hands began to shake despite her best efforts to keep them still. What had she done? Who had she believed?
“Garin is twisting everything. We are close, Lana, you and me.” His voice lowered, softened as he spoke to her. “This is not fake. I would never bring you any harm. You, are my people and I am yours.” He took another step towards her and she took another step away. “You know me.” Kaiden spoke desperately.
Suddenly Ardin’s warning voice sounded in her head. You need to stop moving away from Kaiden. You are getting too close to Garin. Lana glanced to Garin who smiled at her before she turned back to Kaiden. Could Kaiden be herding her closer to Garin on purpose? Was he still working with his brother? Could this be why he didn’t want her to face Garin without him? So that he could protect his brother. Has the one person she trusted most in this world besides Ardin have been deceiving her all along?
Kaiden turned to his brother and Seff. “What is wrong with you guys? Seff, we grew up together, Garin you are my brother…How could you just.”
“Just what? Nothing’s wrong here. Just hand over the girl and kill that dog.”
Ardin growled fiercely, facing the Rami behind Lana, yet peering over at Kaiden.
“I will not.” Kaiden spoke.
“Don’t be stupid. We are giving you a way back. A way home where you won’t need to be looking over your shoulder for the rest of your life.”
I think they may be messing with us. Ardin’s voice entered Lana’s mind.
Can you read anything on Kaiden? Lana inquired.
He is nervous and scared. I can smell fear coming off him. He wouldn’t feel fear if he did not care about you.
So you really think he left Garin messages just trying to explain himself? Lana asked Ardin.
Even if that is not the case and if he helped you only to betray you, it doesn’t seem like he wants that any more. If he is on our side, we want to keep him there.
“Just get rid of them and we will be able to go home.” Garin instructed. “You will be in high standing with the Rami people.”
“I will never hurt Lana or her Aorra. You and your games, your tricks and hatred for a person you don’t even know disgusts me. Coming here, threatening a small civilian town like this. You are weak, big brother, that’s what hate does to you. It makes you weak.”
Why are they taking their time? Ardin questioned. If Kaiden actually was not a part of this plot they say then they are dragging this on too long. If he were spying on us, he now turned them down. If Garin is lying and he wanted to give Kaiden a chance to rejoin the Rami then he still turned them down. They should have attacked or something by now.
Lana pondered Ardin’s words. If Kaiden was truly not helping us as some kind of ploy, if he wasn’t working with his brother then why did they let him in so easily? Then a wave of nausea hit her. Garin wanted the two of them together, this was a trap and they played into it so easily. She played into it, and Kadin came to find her.
Ardin, come to me. Lana called for her Aorra. This was a trap and he was too far out of her reach. Quickly Ardin turned towards Lana, but it had not go unnoticed. Even something as small as their location in the room was planned out. The way she and Ardin entered from one door and Kaiden another. The way Ardin was pulled to another location within the room while she focused on Garin.
Abruptly seven Rami came from the edges of the room, surrounding Ardin, keeping him from Lana. The Rami had been in the room the entire time, hiding behind the thick pillars of fabric around the edges. Ardin must not have noticed them. He was paying too close attention on the few he could see and ignored the sounds of fighting beyond, ignoring the others in the room at the same time.
Immediately a shield went up around Ardin before the first blow of blue light could hit him. Lana turned towards him but before she could act, powerful arms closed in around her and a blade was pressed to her neck.
“If I see the smallest glint of silver dust around you I will cut your throat and your dog will definitely die.” Garin spoke with a hot breath into her ear.
Horror flooded throughout her. She felt completely trapped. It was suffocating. Her entire body tensed while she watched the Rami slash at Ardin’s shield.
They knew Garin wanted Kaiden and Lana together, yet she still followed him. Foolishly, she didn’t think it strange, Garin standing alone in a room. Now his men surrounded Ardin and Lana couldn’t do a thing to help. Her head began to spin at the energy she was giving Ardin so that he could protect himself.
Kaiden took a step forward but was stopped by his brothers dangerously cold eyes, “You too, brother. Any closer and my steel will happily bask in her blood”.
“Don’t do this.” Kaiden pleaded, “When did you turn into such a monster? If you care about us please, brother, I don’t want to hurt you.”
Laughter came from behind Lana as the man holding her spoke, “You can no longer hurt me, and I will never make the mistake of trusting you again. You side with the Madonians who kill our kind.”
“And we kill theirs!” Kaiden shouted out. Lana could hear a hint of panic in his voice, she wondered if Garin noticed it too. Her eyes could no longer look at him, they were glued on her Aorra.
“We are at war, little brother, and she is a first of the council.” He yanked Lana so that her back pressed against his chest. His grip on her tightened and finally her gaze met Kaidens. For a moment their eyes locked. There was a deadly look in Kaiden’s eyes that she had never seen in him before. His entire body was rigid.
“Why are you doing this? She never harmed you.” Kaiden’s voice was clear, no longer pleading.
“But she did. Do you not see it? She broke us, she took you away, bewitched you. You are my blood, a man does not willingly betray his own blood!”
“If its me you really want then let her and her Aorra go, I will go with you willingly.”
“No. Unfortunately, I cannot. For what you have done, the only way to set things right is if you kill her. You can consider her death an act of war for your people, for your blood. You will be welcomed back, the king will be pleased with you, you will have wealth.”
Kaiden’s eyes met Lana’s for a small moment. There was a hitch in her throat as silenced spanned the room. What if he would agree? Then all her attention was yanked towards her Aorra.
“NO!” Lana screamed out. She struggled to break free from Garin’s grip, but his blade, cutting into her neck, stopped her. Sweet power swiftly flowed into her, she could feel the strength from within her veins. Ardin was giving her his strength.
“Ardin don’t do this.” Lana pleaded, her shoulders tense even though she no longer struggled. There was a sting at her throat where Garin had allowed his blade to cut her, taking the fight from her. You are my only family left.
And you are the only family I ever had. He replied as his shield began crumbling around him.
It was as if the air had gone out of the room, leaving Lana breathless. Ardin was her anchor, he was her center, her gravity. Without him she would be so unbearably lost. Without him, she didn’t know if she could survive. In this moment she couldn’t breath, couldn’t fathom what he was going.
Eventually the Rami men would wear down his strength and his shield. It was pointless for Ardin to use up his and Lana’s strength just to defend himself when there seemed to be one inevitable outcome. Ultimately his shield would fail and he would be outnumbered. He had no way to get out of this. Giving Lana as much energy as he could before he used it all up was his only option to help her survive.
The men surrounding him took turns slinging flashes of hot light at him. Ardin eyed the men, deciding on the one he would take down with him. He knew Lana would be emotionally weak when he fell, but Kaiden was here now. He cared for her, hopefully he could protect her, this was their only option.
Don’t do anything-stupid Lana. Ardin warned her.
“STOP THIS!” Lana screamed. Tears flooded her eyes, making it hard to see. Another wave of energy hit her, and she couldn’t draw a breath. Her Aorra was giving up, she was going to watch as he died. She tried to move but Garin’s grip painfully tightened on her, this time he didn’t cut her, he wouldn’t dare. He wanted her to witness this.
“Please! Please, stop! Just, stop!” Lana didn’t even know who she was crying for, for Ardin or Garin. If only the room would sill, if only she had more time to figure this out. But their time had run out.
I will always be with you, Lana.
Lana gasped, her head was spinning. She wanted to vomit. Her stomach twisted. The last wave of strength, indicating the fall of the shield, hit her with such force it knocked the wind out of her.
Ardin lunged at the Rami in front of him getting him by the throat in a fatal grip, cutting an artery. Suddenly a blade cut across Ardin’s side causing him to cry out and another blade came piercing through him. The wolf yelped, a single sharp cry, before his body went slack, falling to the floor.
Unexpectedly the guards stopped attacking him. Wanting to prolong the suffering Lana supposed. She watched with wide eyes, unable to look away even though she could hardly stomach the sight. No sound came from her.
I love you. Ardin whispered.
It was the last thing Lana heard before she was left completely alone in her mind. Her eyes slid shut. This isn’t happening.
The guards stopped their assault on the wolf, taking a few steps away, as he lay motionless on the cold ground. Together, they all turned their attention towards Garin, waiting for orders.
A small proud smile danced on Garin’s lips. He released his grip from Lana and shoved her towards the guards. The unexpected force caused her to fall to her knees, flinging the tears from her eyes to the icy floor.
She lifted her head just enough to see the white wolf lying on the ground in a growing red pool of blood. Her world stopped. In this moment all Lana felt was cold ice in her veins. She stared at Ardin’s body, which remained soaking in a growing pool of red. He did not vanish into dust.
Aorra’s fell to a glimmering dust when they died, similar to when a Madonian released the form of something they had created. Ardin body remained whole. He was not dead, not yet. Anger ignited within Lana, like a flame. The anger she felt at Ardin for giving up, anger at the men who had done this to him fueled the flame until it became a roaring fire within her.
She welcomed the new rage, letting it flow into her, letting it turn her fear into fuel. The fury clung to her like a warm blanket, rushing heat through her veins. Drowning her in its raging embrace.
You may give up, Ardin, I will not.
With new purpose, in one swift motion, Lana rose to her feet, approaching the six remaining Rami in front of her. Rage stirred within, intertwined with the energy of Ardin’s parting gift. She could feel the energy pulling into her palms as a silver blade smoothly erupted in each hand. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion as she stalked over the men.
You will not live to see tomorrow. She promised the Rami, before she released her wrath up on them.
Kaiden watched in disbelief. It seemed to happen so quickly. In a moment Ardin was killed. Lana was on the ground and then suddenly she had blades in her hands and approached the six men in front of her.
He wanted to scream at her, what was this woman thinking? She had almost died at Garin’s hands and instead of fleeing once she was set free she decided to walk into fire.
The adrenalin felt like ice as it shot through his veins. Kaiden tightened the grip on his sword and moved, making his way across the room to Lana.
The first Rami stepped towards Lana as she approached. In a single swift motion she stopped his blade’s assault on her with one of her own and pierced his throat with her other. Her attacker went down, his body hitting the floor after she had already turned from him. Like fluid her eyes glided to the next threat, not once did she seem to stop moving. Another Rami flung out his hands with sparks of light coming from them, but Lana cut the lighting with her swords, stopping it from ever touching her.
Kaiden shot out his own fiery lighting at a Rami while he closed the distance between himself and Lana, positioning himself between her and three of the Rami men. One of the men lunged at him. Ducking away, he grabbed the Rami and thrust him into another Rami’s sword.
Flashes of blue intertwined with steel blades as Kaiden and Lana fought the remaining guards in the room, taking them down one by one. The metallic tang of blood mixed with the salt of sweat coated Kaiden’s mouth. Grumbling, he pulled his sword free from the lifeless body of a Rami he had just slain.
The last Rami soldier left stood before Lana, Seff. She peered at him with eyes that were merciless and cold. The way her body moved as she spun the blades in her hands around seemed unnatural for the girl he had grown to know. Any trace of softness within her had vanished. Predatory green eyes watched her opponent. There was a ruthless air about her, she seemed unstoppable.
They would all pay for what they had done to her. The two swords in her hands shrunk to a smaller size, in preparation to throw. The familiar Rami called Seff held up his thick hands in an attempt to fire a blue flame at the Councilwoman, but it was no use. By the time he had raised his hands Lana had thrown a blade. By the time flickers of blue light touched his skin her blade had cut, bedding its self deep within his flesh. It happed quickly.
Seff stood wide-eyed as he looked down at the blade that stuck out of his belly. With a single finger twitch, Lana released the blades form, allowing for blood to escape from the wound, causing the Rami to fall to his knees and then to the floor, dead. The room around her seemed to grow still.
Lana turned to look at Kaiden, only to see panic in his eyes as he took a quick step towards her. His mouth opened to say something. She spun around, meeting with Garin’s cold eyes. She stared at him a moment, in shock of him being so unexpectedly close. Then she felt it.
She felt it as he pulled his blade from her. Lana stared down. Blood began to stain her tunic red. The way it poured out didn’t seem real. She could hear Kaiden scream but it sounded so distant against the roaring panic ringing in her ears.
Lana touch the wound, as if unsure that were real. Red blood marked her fingertips. There was a buzzing in her ears and she fell to her knees, in sudden weakness. No matter how hard she tried to grip to reality, Lana could feel it slipping through her fingers like sand.
Kaiden called out her name but everything sounded so muffled.
On the ground Lana saw the white fur of a wolf close to her. She crawled over to the motionless wolf. Resting her hand on his body, she fell beside him. The heat of rage left her all at once. In its place was a numbing coldness. There wasn’t even any pain, just weakness.
Please do not leave me. She begged her Aorra.
Lana could feel herself beginning to slip away from reality to the sound of metal clashing against metal. She tried to force her eyes open. Able to hardly make out two people fighting. Her vision was beginning to fail her, her eyes slid shut.
Energy had escaped her. She barely had enough strength to force herself to stay conscious. Darkness pulled at her, beckoning her to let go, to fall away. The sounds of clashing kept her from giving in. Somewhere Kaiden still fought, somewhere those who cared for her still fought. Fingers dug into Ardin’s fur as she struggled to keep hold of reality. Somehow Lana managed to will her eyes open, she saw, in a thick blur, one of the Rami men fall to the ground. Her eyes slid shut.
Let that be Kaiden still standing, was her last thought before the darkness came.
UNITED COSMIC UNDERTAKING
Christopher leaned his head on his hand, his index finger pulling up on his eyebrow as he watched the heated arguments unfold in front of him. The three of them argued amongst each other at the semi circle table, while he was supposed to listen and decide the path they would take. They did not know his mind had already been made up.
“The girl will not survive!” Rachel yelled, finding the argument meaningless.
“I agree; the odds are against her. However she is a fighter and if she does survive, and makes it to the portal bridge than we must let her in.” Anna spoke.
“If she survives we should not allow for her to come here.” Jonathan spoke to Anna.
“How can you say that, Jonathan? You were fond of Lana and Kaiden as children-“
“Yes, because they were one of the first to work together since the races split. That does not mean we should get involved.”
“We are scientists, we made an oath to not involve ourselves with the species, not influence their decisions.” Rachel spoke in support of Jonathan.
Anna waved her hand as if Rachel’s words were unwanted filth, floating in the air. “We involved ourselves from the moment we decided to train the youth.”
“We did that because they needed guidance to have a chance of survival.” Rachel countered.
“And do they not need guidance now?”
“Last time we got involved past our teachings we created something we shouldn’t. We over stepped our bounds and now we must learn from our mistakes, Anna.”
“She needs to know what she is up against!” Anna yelled out, try as she might she couldn’t hide the passion from her voice.
“They are not our children, not our responsibility! We are scientists, we do not play God!” Rachel spoke.
“They became our responsibility the moment we came here and you know it.” Anna looked at Rachel and Jonathan, shocked to not have either of their support. With a sigh she brought the conversation back to the point. “By allowing them entrance, by speaking to them we will inform them. We will not be playing God, we will simply give them missing pieces that they will need to survive what’s to come.”
“Enough.” Christopher spoke as he stood. The bickering was making his head throb and it was pointless, his mind was already made up. He brought his hands together in front of him so the fingertips touched. “If Lana and Kaiden make it to the portal bridge, we will allow them entrance.”
“You can not be serious.” Jonathan gaped.
Christopher turned to Jonathan. “I am.”
“What of the other matter?” Rachel asked.
“You know for certain she wants access?” Christopher asked Rachel.
“Yes. She somehow knows Lana will try and make the journey, we have her recorded on camera 43 that she will come to the portal too.”
Christopher stood silently a moment, weighing his choices. “We will give her access as well.”
Jonathan stood in outrage, hitting his palm against the desk. “You are not planning on letting her up here! They have never been here-“
Christopher cut Jonathan off, his patience wearing on him. “Their ancestors come from us! She will be allowed access as well, it is the least we can do.”
Jonathan turned and walked out of the room without another word.
“You may all go.” Christopher said, with a wave of his hand, as he walked over to the glass wall, his blue robe dragging on the floor behind him. He clasped his hands behind his back and silently admired the planet in the window.
Anna walked over and stood beside Christopher. “What are you going to tell Lana?” She asked curiously.
Christopher turned to Anna’s large golden brown eyes. Her skin was a radiant brown that was cloaked by her cream robe. On the robe were the initials U.C.U, standing for United Cosmic Undertaking, it was the name of the star ship that they have been living on for too many years now.
“That war is coming.” He answered her.
“That she can’t kill Arkhip?”
“Amongst other things,” Christopher added with a nod.
“She is not going to like it.”
“Unfortunately, there is not much I can say that she will like.”
They both stood next to one another, staring out the glass wall. Christopher was glad to have Anna standing beside him, he enjoyed her company, the warmth she seemed to always bring with her.
Anna was the only one who fought for Lana to come, the only one who agreed with him that there was a dire need to talk to her. Christopher understood the others apprehension but Anna was right, Lana should know what she is up against and what is coming for her.
“It looks like home doesn’t it?” Anna asked in a soft voice as they stared out the window. Home, it’s a word that stands for a place that no longer exists. It’s a place that hasn’t existed in a very long time. But even in that time, he had never forgotten what it once looked like.
“The blue oceans, the green land, and the white clouds…” Christopher nodded at the glass in agreement. “Yes, Anna. It looks a great deal like Earth.”
To be continued…
I would like to thank a few people who have helped me in the creation of this story.
Josh, thank you for being the spark that lit this story into existence for me. For inspiring me to take a little idea and craft it into an entire story, helping me to create a whole new world with it. Thanks for the nights of discussing characters, plots, and for being someone I could bounce ideas off of. Thank you for letting me read the entire book out loud to you.
Kristi thank you for being the first and last person to fully read the story, from my very rough first completed draft to the final draft.
Carolina, thank you for being one of my first friends to completely read the story. I am happy to have your support in this venture.
Thanks to Anna and Katie for sharing with me your edits and ideas.
Thank you Polina, for sitting with me for several nights over the summer as I read parts of the story out loud to you.
Steph, thanks for all of your encouragement and support! I wouldn’t be able to do this without people like you in my life.
To my family. You always support my creative side. Thank you for being there for me and for encouraging me in all that I do and try to accomplish.
And to my readers, thank you for reading my very first book. I hope that you enjoyed the story as much as I loved creating it.
Continue the Aorra Series
Lana Casteel is a beautiful girl who lives in a world ravaged by a crippling hatred between the powerful Rami and the talented Madonians. As a Madonian Council member, she has personally experienced the hostility that exists between the races. Lana had a shaky past and an even more uncertain future. Splintered Fate tells a story of how a twist of fate brings Lana and her wolf, Ardin, together with an unlikely childhood friend. Together, they embark on a dangerous journey in search of support to stand up against those responsible for the death of her family. They face extensive and difficult challenges as she fights for vengeance and, in turn, finds out where she stands between the two worlds of the Rami and Madonians. Splintered Fate is filled with magic, power, fear, love, pain, and most importantly Aorras.