Part Four: The Journey Begins
The next day, the real journey had finally begun.
Devona awoke to the sounds of servants rushing about. Apparently, they were gathering all that they felt the guardians would need to take on their journey. This was, according to them, an insanely large amount of items. Devona was simply hoping that they would remember to pack some decent food.
She rubbed the sleep from her eyes and decided she should probably get dressed. They had finally decided to give her some clothes that were more fitting for Zakiah Adara. The only problem was they allowed Devona to pick out the clothes. So, of course, she picked out a blue corset, a black skirt with silver armor attached to the hip and silver boots to match. She hadn’t thought about the fact that corsets in Zakiah Adara were the real thing, and not the fake ones that she saw at Hot Topic. However, she was not going to admit she was wrong in her choosing, especially since Kestrel had tried to sway her to wear something else. So now, she was alone in her room, trying her best to dress herself. Now she envied real princesses who had servants to do this sort of thing for them. She thought about grabbing one from the hallway, but they were so busy, she didn’t want to interrupt them.
Finally, she was able to tie the corset the best she could, and breathe a sigh of relief, or at least as much as she could. She went over to her pair of jeans she had been wearing when she first arrived in Zakiah Adara. There lay her cell-phone. She had turned it off soon after arriving, knowing that it wouldn’t work, but she had to try. The phone turned on with its normal chime…and was soon followed with the beep of no service. She sighed and turned it back off. It was of no use to her now, not until she went back to Earth. She glanced around the room, and decided that behind the dresser would be a good place to stash it for now. At least it had a full charge, so she would be able to use it when she went back. The only question was if the phone would survive for five years.
She decided not to think about it. She peeked out into the hall and saw a few servants rushing quickly by with random ideas. Slowly, she slipped out into the hall and headed toward the main stairway for about the hundredth time since she first arrived.
It was going to be a totally different world when they left the palace. Devona was finally beginning to feel comfortable here and she was sad about leaving Queen Oriana behind. She was surprised at just how understanding the queen had been. She thought for sure she was going to be angry, like Kestrel had been, but Queen Oriana was the exact opposite. It was as though she was the only one in the entire world that truly understood her. This was her sanctuary in this crazy world. She was really going to miss it.
Just around an hour later they were all standing out in front of the palace, putting the last few items onto the backs of the horses. Since Devona did not know how to ride yet, they decided it was best only to take three horses. If she were to be left alone on her own horse, she would slow them down, so this was the most effective way.
The only question was who would Devona ride with?
Kestrel patted her chestnut horse on the nose as she turned toward the other two guardians. With a couple nods between the three of them they decided that it was time to get going. Devona gulped looking back at Queen Oriana, who had come out to say goodbye. Devona was not looking forward to their farewell.
Devona watched quietly as each of the guardians went up to the queen to say goodbye and received a blessing from her. Queen Oriana smiled as they bowed their heads to her and she placed a kiss on each of their foreheads. It wasn’t until they were all looking at Devona that she realized it was her turn.
She took a breath as she slowly walked up toward the beautiful queen. Her eyes were bright blue now that the skies had cleared. Not a single cloud hung above and her eyes matched the sight. It was said that the skies themselves were seen in the queen’s eyes. Devona wondered what purpose such a power served, but had a feeling she would never truly know.
Every step felt final as Devona made her way toward the queen. Queen Oriana smiled and wiped away a tear that had escaped down Devona’s cheek. Devona sighed in embarrassment and hid her face in her hands.
“I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I never used to cry at all, now I do it all the time,” whispered Devona.
“It’s alright Princess, you’ve been through many emotional times since arriving here. It’s only natural to have this sort of reaction.” Devona looked up to see Queen Oriana smiling that same reassuring smile at her that always calmed her down.
“Thank you for everything,” whispered Devona.
Queen Oriana reached out and took Devona’s hand in between her own. With another smile and bent down to whispered in Devona’s ear.
“I trust that you know this is not farewell. I will see you again. I have great faith in you. I have a good feeling that this might be the last time we have to fight Mushin. Stay strong Princess, we are relying on you.”
The queen then kissed Devona’s forehead, as she had the others. Devona could feel the goodness within the brave queen flowing through her, making her feel safe and strong. The queen pulled back and looked down at her a smile transpired between the two of them. Devona turned away and moved toward her destiny. It was a cold, bleak, lonely destiny, but she was glad to at least have the three guardians left with her. If she really were all alone, she didn’t think that she could handle it.
She gave one last glance back at the queen to find that she was still smiling. It was so hard to just walk away, but Devona knew she had to, there was no other choice. So instead of dwelling on it anymore, she turned and continued to the guardian’s sides.
“So, who are you going to ride with Princess?” inquired Kestrel. Devona could tell by the way she was asking that she was trying to make her embarrassed.
“You?” Devona was trying her best to get out of making the decision between Akki and Kai. However, Kestrel quickly shot down her hopes with a small shake of her head, not to mention the sly smile on her face.
Devona grimaced. What is she doing?
“It would probably be more comfortable if you ride with one of the men.”
Devona couldn’t help but blush and looked away from the red head. Now Kestrel was really just trying to embarrass her. Devona glanced up at the two men to find them just standing there staring at her. That only made things worse! She could tell that they were waiting to see what she would choose, why did she have to make decisions like this already?
“I’d feel more comfortable if you rode with me,” finally said Akki. Devona could feel Kai glaring, but she nodded in agreement with Akki. She would feel safer with Akki. He seemed a lot stronger and sure of himself than Kai. Perhaps he would do a better job protecting her.
“Now that’s settled, let’s head out,” said Kestrel.
Each of them turned to their horses and got upon them with such grace. Except for Akki, he just stood there next to his brown horse waiting for Devona. She gulped and slowly walked over to him.
She knew he was going to have to help her up. It had been years since she had even been on that pony. Slowly she made her way over to him, trying her best to hide her nervousness. However, she was failing miserably.
Once she got to his side, she looked up at him to see his golden eyes watching her silently. She gave him a smile, trying to loosen the tension that filled the air between them. He didn’t smile back. She knew that he wouldn’t. She just wished she wouldn’t always feel so uneasy in front of him.
When she turned toward the horse she placed her hands on the leather saddle. It was very smooth, but very hard. She supposed it had to be in order to keep a rider in place. She glanced up at the horse to see it was looking around impatiently. It stomped its hoof as though he were telling her to hurry up.
Devona paused, trying her best to hide her red face from Akki, but of course he saw. She turned toward him and laughed, as she often did when trying to hide her nervousness. He must have been getting used to this because he just stood there and waited for her to explain.
“Um…” she whispered, “I…don’t know how to get on.”
For the first time since she had met him he smirked, slightly. It must have been a really stupid thing to say for him to give her that reaction. She quickly looked away from him and back at the horse trying to pretend that had never happened.
Instead of him making fun of her he took a step closer to her. She blushed.
Devona what is your problem! You are not allowed to have feelings for him, so just ignore this, and just…ignore it!
“Let me help you,” he whispered to her. She was very embarrassed, but she nodded. Really, she just wanted to get on the horse and forget all this ever happened. “Put your foot up in the stirrup.”
As easy as he said it, it was much harder to actually do. The horse was much taller than Devona, and the stirrup was just a little too high for Devona to easily put her foot into it. She struggled, but finally she got it in, and quickly looked to him for the next step before she fell.
“Now, grab onto the saddle and pull yourself up.” She tried. But, of course, she didn’t have enough strength to pull herself up. Sadly, she looked up at him with pitiful look. He shook his head. “Here, I’ll help you.”
Next thing she knew his hands were placed firmly on her waist, gripping tightly. She was blushing again. She hoped that he couldn’t see her this time. She wasn’t entirely sure how this was helping her get on the horse, but she didn’t mind it.
“Try pulling again, I’ll lift you up the rest of the way,” he told her. Now, it all made sense.
Determined now, she pulled even harder this time. She found it much easier considering he helped her this time. Now she was completely ashamed at how she couldn’t even pull herself up. He made it look so easy. In no time she was sitting on top of the brown horse. She smiled.
“Sit near the front, I’ll sit behind you,” he told her. She moved forward and removed her foot from the stirrup. He easily pulled himself up on the horse. She had no more time to be embarrassed by this. It was time to get over it and move on. Maybe in a few years from now no one would remember.
“Are we ready?” asked Kestrel.
Akki nodded, “Let’s get going.”
It was only then that she realized that she was going to be sitting in front of Akki the entire time. She rolled her eyes. How was she supposed to stop liking him when he would be sitting right behind her, leaning against her, the entire ride?
“Goodbye. Good luck to all of you. May the Lord and the Spirits watch over you,” said Queen Oriana from the entrance to the palace. They looked back to see that she and all the servants were waving goodbye. With a few more waves from the guardians and Devona, they were finally on their way. Out the golden gates that extended from the great white marble wall that surrounded the palace into the world and whatever awaited them.
Akki really wasn’t quite sure what he had been thinking when he said that Devona could ride with him. Even as long as he stood there trying to talk himself out of it, the idea of Kai riding with her bit at his cold heart. He couldn’t trust Kai to protect her and not take the opportunity to act on inappropriate thoughts.
No, Akki was just going to have to let Devona ride with him and try to keep himself from acting out his own thoughts. Throughout the ride, he could feel Kai’s eyes glaring at him, watching him to make sure he didn’t make a move. Even though Kai hadn’t said how he felt about Devona or if he had any feelings for her at all, Akki knew for sure that Kai would want Akki to stay as far away from her as possible.
Even though Akki trusted himself more than Kai, it was a really bad idea for him to sit this close to Devona when he was this attracted to her. Even if he wasn’t looking at her, he could still feel her against him and smell her. He tried to focus on the road ahead, watching out for any shady people along the way, but he kept finding himself looking down at the blonde head in front of him.
Shaking his head he turned toward Kestrel and tried to think about something else besides the Princess sitting directly in front of him. At least she wasn’t sitting behind him with her arms around his waist…
“So how long should it take for us to reach the dock?” inquired Akki.
Kestrel glanced over at him with a sly smile, as though she knew exactly what was going through his head, and his body. “Queen Oriana said it was about a two day ride. Still, we’re going to have to stop somewhere for the night.”
“I’m sure we’re all going to need a rest after today,” said Kai from behind them. Akki didn’t even bother to look back at him, he knew the look that Kai was giving him. Akki knew that the younger guardian was not happy at all.
Silence fell over them again. Nothing graced their ears except the chirping of birds and the sound of the horses’ hooves hitting the dirt path. Akki’s thoughts were beginning to drift to her again and if he didn’t do something soon he was going to end up losing his composure.
“How long have we been riding for?” asked Devona.
“About two hours. We have at least another three to go before we can stop,” said Kestrel.
“Are you kidding me? Remind me never to ride a horse again when I leave Zakiah Adara,” said Devona.
Akki looked over at Kestrel, “We probably could stop for a bit, give Devona a break. I’m sure we all could take one.”
“If you really think it’s necessary,” said Kestrel.
“Yes, it is. I need to go to the bathroom,” whined Devona. They all brought their horses to a stop and Akki smirked as the Princess got off of the horse. She was in for a big surprise when she realized that there wasn’t a bathroom in the middle of the woods.
A cool breeze wisped across the valley, sending Devona’s hair flying into her face. After finally removing the strands of hair from her mouth she was able to focus on the peaceful world around her once more.
Never in her wildest fantasies could she have dreamt up the world of Zakiah Adara. The verdant grass so vibrant in comparison to the weeds found all over Florida. The crystal clear river that had been rushing past them for the last hour or so lacked the muck so commonly found in the bay. Devona could even see a few golden fish as they tried their best to swim upstream. A smiled warmed her face, totally engrossed in the new world around her.
To the west was a large mountain range which reminded her of the Rockies of western America. The enormous stone structures looked as though God himself had carved them out of a lump of clay and sprinkled some snow on top. The beauty of them was something that Devona had not seen on Earth. So far in her life, the highest elevation she had been was Splash Mountain.
All around them was a huge forest that seemed to be trying to swallow them whole. Every once in a while they would come to an open valley, like the one they were in now. It was usually accompanied a small village. Many people came out of their houses or stopped their work in the field to watch the group passed by.
This was all new to Devona. She wasn’t used to people staring at her like this. It was…unnerving. Still, with the guardians at her side, she felt safe.
After a full day of travel, the sun was setting behind the large mountain range. Shades of purple, pink, and orange filled the sky. They reminded Devona of the gorgeous sunsets she had seen so often in Florida.
Kestrel dismounted her horse and made her way towards the inn. This left Devona, Akki and Kai in the light of the setting sun awaiting her to return. Silence was a common visitor while in Zakiah Adara. Devona didn’t really know what to say and it seemed as though the men didn’t know either. This was especially apparent when it came to them speaking with to each other.
Devona noticed that Kai was staring off towards the woods. Every once in a while, he would glance over at her, but after he would never make eye contact with Akki.
Strange, thought Devona, Did something happen between the them?
Kai sat tall in his saddle. “I hope you realize that rooming with the Princess will not happen.” He didn’t turn his attention away from the forest but the tone of his voice was very serious.
“Kestrel will room with the Princess. That’s the most logical outcome,” replied Akki.
“Of course,” Kai said in a whisper.
Devona didn’t know what to do to lighten to mood. She was so used to joking around to distract her friends from serious situations. Here…joking almost felt like a crime, especially after she had seen Thea and Arthur’s deaths. From the deadly looks that Kai had been giving Akki, she knew that trying to make this a light situation would not work. Instead of trying to figure out the problems between the two of them, she was quiet. The best idea was not to try and stir up old drama.
Akki sighed, soon after he lowered himself from the brown horse. Devona watched him as he turned his back to her and faced Kai. Devona still felt extremely alone at that moment.
She sighed, looking down at the horse’s dark mane in front of her. As she watched the two guardians ignoring each other she came to a hard truth. There was really no one she could turn to in this world. Kai had offered to speak with her before, but what would that mean? Would she have to face consequences of what happened? Would he even understand where she was coming from? She went from being a teenager to a figure of war…and she had no one she could confide in. No one could understand her.
With a sigh, she hopped off the horse. Devona grimaced as she realized the toll the ride had really taken on her. Akki glanced over at her, concerned washed over him. She waved her hands in front of her face with a sore smile. She was trying to fluff off any worry he might have had for her. Without another questioning look, he turned his attention back toward the inn where Kestrel had last been.
She leaned back against the brown horse. How had she ended up here in the first place? Those last days on Earth had seemed so long ago. Seeing Mark kissing Kimmy, trying to hide her anger and shame from everyone, trying to find the courage to break up with him...it all seems so distant. Now, none of it seemed mattered. She had to find the way to focus on Zakiah Adara and her mission instead of her personal problems.
She heard a thumping sound. She turned to see that Kai had dismounted his dapple gray horse. Now, all three of them stood in silence. Usually, Devona would have been the first one to break the silence in a weird and awkward way. It should have caused everyone to laugh. The only problem was that she didn’t know how to make them laugh or if they could laugh at all.
Instead, she put up with the silence. She leaned against the horse and waited.
After what seemed like an eternity, in reality it was only a few more minutes, Kestrel appeared from the inn. She held up a ring with two keys on it. They all let out a sigh of relief.
Glancing over at the mountains, fear fell over Devona. She suddenly had memories of the night that happened not too long ago. The sight of the demoness as she appeared before Devona, the pain of the glass that pierced her skin, the fear as Devona turned and saw Mushin taking off with the child in her arms. The anger and hatred she felt seeing Mushin in the open field. The devastation she felt watching both Thea and Arthur die...
I want your life to agonizing, painful, so that it becomes one of your greatest challenges simply to wake up every morning...
Those words struck at her soul. There was pure hatred that Mushin had for her and she didn’t know why. There was an anger that burned in the demoness’ eyes when she saw Devona. Why? She had never seen Mushin before. Was it just something that had happened with the Princesses that made Mushin hate her so?
No...there had to be something else. Devona remembered her saying.
I hoped you would be the first. I do so enjoy ruining your life again and again.
What did that mean?
“Alright, I was able to get us two rooms, right next to each other. I think it will be best if the men were in one room and we will be in another. It’s per the inn’s policy.”
Devona gasped. She turned and saw Kestrel still holding up the ring of keys. Devona had been so lost in thought she had forgotten about the inn. She then looked at the two male guardians. Neither of them showed a major reaction to what Kestrel said.
“That’s fine,” sighed Akki.
Kai just shrugged his shoulders.
Kestrel smiled and removed one of the keys from the ring and handed it to Akki. He took the key and glanced over at Devona. Their eyes made contact. For some reason, Devona’s cheeks grew warm at the sight.
Akki didn’t seem to notice and nodded his head towards her. “If you need anything, Kestrel will take care of you. However, if you’re in danger, scream. We’ll be right next door.”
His words sounded extremely formal but Devona felt there was hidden meaning behind them. Or perhaps, she was just being a stupid girl again and looking for the sentiment in his tone. All she could do was nod.
“We had better get in before it gets too late,” whispered Kestrel. The other three looked at her and nodded. Akki grabbed the reins of his horse and Kestrel’s chestnut and walked toward the large wooden barn. Kai followed with his horse.
Devona stood watching until Kestrel grabbed her shoulder. Devona jumped and looked over at the tan eyes that were glaring at her. Without another word, the red head turned away from Devona and headed towards the inn. Devona quickly followed her.
Devona sighed in disgust as she looked at herself in the full length mirror. Kestrel had grabbed one of the ugliest nightgowns Devona had ever seen for her to wear. It looked like something a grandma would wear: high necked, buttons all the way from her chin to her toes, long sleeves, faded red with small white flowers and of course very itchy. The thought of sleeping in her other outfit came to mind, but that thought was quickly banished at the thought of sleeping in the corset.
Kestrel simply laughed in reply. She was lucky since she was wearing something that was much more comfortable. It was a silk slip, one that the guys sure would have found sexy. Devona was just jealous that Kestrel got to sleep in something more comfortable.
Still, Devona kept her composure. She knew that she could not let Kestrel think she was upset. No, she had to pretend like these pajamas were comfortable. As much as she wanted to rip them off and sleep in the nude, she couldn’t. Slowly Devona walked across the coarse wooden floor to the twin bed at her side of the room.
The comforter looked about as soft as her nightgown was. It was nowhere near comparable to the bed has had at the palace. But, at least, it was a bed. Devona already knew there were going to be nights where they would be sleeping on the ground with nothing to protect them from the elements except their clothes and maybe a blanket.
Devona pulled back the sheets and slunk into her cold empty bed. At least it was still summer. Devona wasn’t looking forward to the idea of winter in Zakiah Adara at all.
Kestrel laughed. She walked over to the mirror where Devona had just been standing. Kestrel reached a long elegant arm up and released her crimson hair from its ponytail that had held it every since Devona had met her. It was definitely a change to see Kestrel with her hair down. Though, as amazing and unreal as she seemed, there was still a huge crimp in her hair where it had been held up for way too long. Devona smiled, reminding herself that Kestrel was just another girl like herself.
Kestrel’s tan eyes glanced over at her with a small smile. “Don’t like your nightgown do you?” inquired the guardian.
“It’s perfectly...a little warm for summer, but I’m sure it will be perfect for winter,” replied Devona, trying to hide her discomfort.
Kestrel laughed as she looked back at the mirror as she ran two hands through her crimped hair, trying to straighten it out. “Well, winter is still a while away. But, I guess you can make due for now. It was the only thing I could find in your size. I mean, you’re bigger than a regular girl here.”
Devona glared at her with a fake smile. How dare she say such a thing? Just because Devona wasn’t as skinny as Kestrel or any of the servants that did not mean that she was fat! Devona didn’t have to fight all the time. There was no reason for her to be lean and fit. Still, as Devona looked over Kestrel’s thin body, Devona she was jealous. That was until Devona’s eyes fell on the golden bracer still on Kestrel’s right arm. It was similar to ones that Devona had except she wore one and it was gold and had a ruby five point star on it. Was it something that belonged to someone else like Devona’s? Or was it Kestrel’s originally?
Devona took a deep breath, almost afraid to ask the question. “Um…where did you get your bracer?”
Kestrel paused. She looked at it, seemingly have forgotten that it was even there. She made eye contact with Devona, “The queen gave it to me when I arrived at the palace. She gave one to Thea too, but her star was green.”
All humor that had been on Kestrel’s face faded in an instant. Devona knew she shouldn’t have asked. Kestrel looked away from her.
Devona tried to hide her mistake with a smile and asked, “Is it special or something?”
Kestrel held up her arm to get a better view of the bracer. “It represents that I am a guardian. According to the queen, it has the ability to protect you more than I can.”
Devona was confused, “What does that mean? Why do you have one and not the guys? Why red?”
Kestrel chuckled and shook away an annoyed look. “You ask way too many questions.”
Devona smiled to herself. If only Kestrel had known all the questions running through her mind that day. However, there was one that stood out among the rest. Should she really ask? Even thinking about it made her ball her hands into fists. There was something in the past that Devona was sure she wasn’t supposed to know…but she couldn’t help it…she wanted…needed to know.
“I have another question,” Devona whispered.
Kestrel ignored her at first and walked over and latched the door. She then turned to look at Devona with a questioning gaze. Kestrel didn’t need to vocalize her question. Devona could read the annoyance in her eyes. Was her question really that obvious?
“It’s about Kai and Akki,” said Kestrel. She sighed as she walked over to her bed. Before Devona could protest, Kestrel was already in bed and leaning over to blow out the lamp. Riding over here with them, Devona could tell that there was history between Akki and Kai. So much so that Devona didn’t even need to tell Kestrel her concern…Kestrel already knew the question. Why was her guardian attempting to avoid giving any answer?
“I just want to know why Kai doesn’t like Akki,” said Devona.
Kestrel froze. She stared at the lamp. Slowly, Kestrel shook her head and turned her gaze to Devona. Devona took a deep breath. She was preparing for Kestrel to yell at her. Instead, Kestrel sighed and sat back up in bed.
“Princess, that really is not a story I should be telling since Ulric is one of your guardians,” whispered Kestrel.
Devona shook her head. “What’s so bad about him? I still don’t understand. I want to know why every time Kai looks at Akki it seems as though he wants to just reach out and choke him. What happened, Kestrel? If you, tell me I’ll stop asking so many questions.”
Kestrel looked away from Devona. She turned her attention down toward her hands in her lap. Silently, she played with the hem of her night gown.
“Ulric killed Kai’s family.”
The blunt answer made Devona gasp. It couldn’t be true. Even as strong as Akki was, there was no way he had the nature to kill an entire family. If he did kill them, there had to have been a reason. But, if that were the case, what was the reason? There really was no rational way around that explanation. Unless…Kai was wrong…
“What?” Devona finally asked.
Kestrel sighed and looked over at Devona. “Please, I really shouldn’t be telling you this. You have to trust Ulric. The truth will only make your trust in him diminish.”
“Can he not be trusted?”
Kestrel rolled her eyes. “I’ve known Ulric for almost three years. The entire time I’ve known him he’s never hurt anyone. But, it what happened before I met him that makes people leery of him. I warned him about this. I told him that you needed to know the truth but he didn’t want you to know.”
Devona couldn’t stop now. As bad this sounded she needed to know. So, instead of backing down, she laced her fingers together in her lap and stared Kestrel. “What didn’t he want me to know?”
“Simply? He was a murderer. He killed in the name of Mushin and the Black Dragons.”
Devona felt her heart stop. Her mind flashed back to meeting him. The instant attraction she felt for him. When he and Kestrel showed up in the atrium and he made her feel safe. When he actually smirked at her before he helped her onto the horse…there was no way that man was a murderer….no way…
Devona’s eyes grew wide as the rest of Kestrel’s words sank in…
In the name of Mushin.
Again, Mushin’s words plagued her
I want your life to agonizing, painful, so that it becomes one of your greatest challenges simply to wake up every morning...
Did he really...?
It couldn’t be...
Devona forced herself to breathe, attempting to seem normal even though she was screaming in her mind. “What?” she finally asked.
“Ulric was engaged to a young girl named Ana. He was called away to a nearby village and when he returned he found the house that he and Ana had been living in was up in flames. He tried to save her but he couldn’t. He was consumed with so much regret, blame, and anger that he ran. No idea where he was going or why, he just ran. He came upon a small camp that belonged to a woman who claimed she could take away all of his pain. Being young and naive, he didn’t realize what that meant and he ended up signing away his soul.”
“Wait,” said Devona, waving her hands in front of her. “Who was this woman?”
“She was a Black Dragon. They are the people born under the leadership of the Black Dragon clan, the only clan in Zakiah Adara that is actually raised to believe in Mushin and her ways. There are also White Dragons who follow Oriana, and the Red Dragons who can choose between the two. Switching from White to Black is considered one of the highest forms of treason.”
Devona was very confused, “Is that what he did then? Switch clans?”
Kestrel shook her head. “Not exactly. He didn’t fall in the set clans, but he was a follower of Oriana. Until he accepted this woman’s offer to take away his pain. She placed a collar around his neck. Along the collar there is an inscription that allows the wearer to fall under Mushin’s control.”
“So, he was under Mushin’s control…” whispered Devona.
Kestrel nodded. “Immediately he knew he had made a terrible mistake, but it was too late to take it back. He left home never to return. He killed many people under Mushin’s guidance. There was even a group of other young men was rounded up to help him. The same collar with the incantation on it around was placed around their necks. They were ordered to follow a thirteen year old—”
“Thirteen? He was thirteen?”
Kestrel nodded. “Yes, but that’s really not so strange for someone that young to be in war here. You’ve seen that.” There was a long pause as Devona hung her head. “Anyway, they called him ‘the Black Wolf’ after a legend of an honorable warrior. It was a stab at those who followed Oriana. For the two years, he traveled all over Zakiah Adara. He did many horrible things. On the 4th Constellation he attacked a kingdom—“
Kestrel nodded, “Kai was only twelve when the attack happened. He wasn’t the youngest of his of his siblings but the Black Wolf thought he was. So...” she paused, taking a deep breath before continuing, “Black Wolf forced Kai to watch as his pack of men tortured and killed each and every member of his family. In the end, he let Kai go. He said Kai wasn’t worth his time.”
This…couldn’t be right. Devona knew from what Kestrel had said that Akki was under Mushin’s influence…but was he really a killer? He had killed people…and not only that, he forced Kai watch as Akki killed his family…was that the type of man that should be trusted? Devona found it hard to breathe…
Devona whispered “How horrible.”
Kestrel seemed oblivious to Devona’s stress. “Kai has tried many times over the years to kill Ulric but he always failed. About six months after the attack on the Kai’s kingdom, for some unknown reason, Ulric awoke as himself again. The rest of his pack was released as well and they each went their separate ways. None of them have seen each other since. I suppose they are all too afraid to relive those horrible memories.”
Devona chewed on her lip. So, he wasn’t in control…but he had done those things. No wonder Kestrel didn’t want to tell her. No wonder Akki hadn’t mentioned it at all. No wonder Kai hated him…
Devona looked up at Kestrel as she tried to remain composed. “So, Akki didn’t actually kill those people, it was Mushin, but everyone thinks he did?”
“Does know Kai that it wasn’t really Akki? That it was Mushin’s control over him?”
Kestrel glared over at Devona, “You try and tell him that his fight is worthless. That there is no need to try and avenge his family.”
Devona was taken back. That was no the response that Devona had been expecting at all. “I’m sorry...I just thought...”
Kestrel shook her head, “I understand your reasoning. I’ve tried to explain many times to Kai exactly that but, of course, he will never listen. Why should he?”
The two of them sat in silence. All of this time, Devona had seen Akki as her protector. He already told her that he was willing to die for her…but now it was clear. The reason why he was willing to die was because he didn’t believe he deserved to be alive.
“Any more questions?” asked Kestrel. Devona simply shook her head. She couldn’t bring herself to look at Kestrel. With a sigh, Kestrel leaned over and blew out the lamp.
Neither of the girls said another word, they both simply lay down and tried to get to sleep. Though, after what Kestrel had just told her, Devona knew there was no way she could sleep that night.
A voice cried out to him from the darkness. Tossing his head, he tried his best to force the mental tongue from his mind. Even to this day, he couldn’t place an image with the voice, but what the woman said to him was so imprinted in his memory that it would not die.
“It’s time to wake up Akki,” she whispered to him. “You can’t give up, not yet.”
Slowly he opened his eyes to stare at the wooden beams holding up the ceiling. In all honesty, it was those words that kept him going, that kept him alive. If it weren’t for that voice he would have given up on life a long time ago.
He glanced over at the other bed. Kai sprawled out, covers thrown every which way as the young guardian slept contently with his mouth hung open. As much pain as Akki had caused him, the teenager still found a way to sleep through the night. Something that Akki knew he would never be able to accomplish again.
Letting out an exasperated sigh, he threw his comforter off and stumbled out of bed. No matter how hard he tried, there was nothing he could do to get back to sleep. At least now it was only the woman’s voice that haunted him. It was much better than trying to sleep while horrible screams rang out in his head.
Silently, he walked over to the door, and Kai never stirred. Another sigh left his lips as he unlatched the door. As he pulled the door open and peeked out, he saw a figure standing in front of the girl’s room.
If he had hackles, they would have raised at the sight. He glanced back in his room, seeing Kai still sleeping. Could he awaken the man that he tortured so horribly to help him? It was a problem he would deal with later, for now he could handle this on his own. Of course, all he wore were his pants, which meant that his sword was far out of reach. Hopefully, this figure was no one dangerous, and if it were dangerous, he could kill them without the sword.
He pushed open the door and stalked his way out into the hallway. From where he stood, he couldn’t make out the person’s face since they were no more than a silhouette in the shadows. Their back was pressed up against the wooden door, and their face was turned the opposite direction.
He slowly shut the door behind him, so not to make a sound. Over the years, he had learned to be stealthy and quiet. Focusing his eyes, he was able to pick up a little bit of light from behind the person. The light reflected against the wall behind them lightly illuminated the blonde hair that hung down in front of her face. He eased his stance and stopped movement entirely. He crossed his arms over his bare chest and cleared his throat.
Devona quickly turned her head toward him with terror in her eyes. He scrunched his brows, trying to decide the reasons that she could possibly have for standing out in the hall alone.
“Akki,” whispered Devona. Though, even after she realized it was him the fear on her face remained. He raised his chin a bit, wondering what could cause her to look at him like that.
“Why are you out here?” asked Akki.
She let out a sigh and looked away from him down to the ground. There was a sadness that he had not seen from her since the deaths of Thea and Arthur. Now the only question was: why did her eyes hold such sorrow?
“Devona?” he asked again. He was trying not to get impatient with her, but it was getting really hard.
She finally smiled and looked back up at him. “Oh, it’s nothing. I just…can’t sleep, that’s all. I kept tossing and turning. So I decided I’d leave and let Kestrel get some rest. Though, I guess that wasn’t the best idea in the world now was it?”
“Sorry,” her eyes dropped back to the ground. He really wasn’t sure what it was about her that made him want to reach out and comfort her. Instead, he kept his arms firmly across his chest, still wearing a stern face. How could he ask her what was wrong when he feared the truth? Did he really want to have her look at him the same way that everyone else in Zakiah Adara did?
“Why can’t you sleep?” he finally asked.
Slowly she looked up at him with those same sad eyes. “You’ll think I’m just being stupid,” she whispered.
He leaned against the wall and softened his stern look a little. Already she had dropped her gaze away from him once more, spiking his concern. Without realizing, he reached out and gently placed his hand on her shoulder
She turned toward him and looked back up at him with sad eyes. It wasn’t until that exact moment that he realized just how close he was to her. Somehow, he maintained his composure and stood there waiting for her reply.
“I…” she whispered. She took in a deep breath and closed her blue eyes. “Kestrel told me about your past.”
His stomach dropped to his feet. Of course, it was exactly what he had been afraid of. There was nothing he could say to her now, nothing that would make her feel better. He could feel his hand getting clammy against her shoulder. He removed it and placed his hand back down at his side. Her blue eyes opened, blinking, fluttering her beautiful eyelashes.
Taking a step back from her was all he could do. There was no where he could run to. Part of him screamed to get out of there, but the more sane part said that she didn’t seem angry. The tale of his past was upsetting, especially to him.
“It must have been horrible,” whispered Devona. She tilted her head slightly with a sorrowful look in her eyes. “Doing all those things and having no control over it, and now you have to live with what Mushin did through you.”
He actually laughed a bit, surprised and relieved at her words. “She actually told you that?” he whispered. He closed his eyes, silently thanking Kestrel.
“Why? Is…is it not true?”
He slowly opened his eyes to find her standing closer to him once more. He could not think about her right now, he just couldn’t.
“It’s true. I just know that Kai would have omitted that part. So, I’m glad she told you, and not him.”
“I guess I can understand why he would.”
Quickly Akki grabbed her shoulders and looked deep into her eyes. “Devona, you have to trust me. I know that may be hard, but I am your guardian, and I will protect you. I swear that.”
She sighed looking away from him, “I know, but, that worries me too.”
With a fury, she looked up at him, deep into his eyes, almost into his soul, if he even still had one. “You have to promise you won’t give up! Don’t…don’t die for me.”
Her words were so similar to the woman’s voice that it startled him for a second before he replied. “If I have to—”
“I know it must be hard for you to live with what you’ve done, but I need you to promise me that you won’t give up on life. Please Akki. I know you didn’t do any of that stuff on purpose, I believe you truly are a good person, and you deserve to live like everyone else. Don’t give up.”
With a light smile, he loosened his grip on her. It was hard for him to believe she actually cared about his well being. They had only met a few days before, and yet she was showing him far more compassion than anyone had in the last five years.
In a blur of movement, a rustle of cloth, the next thing he knew she was pressed up against his chest. His arms were wrapped firmly around her waist as her arms went around his torso, holding him tightly. It happened so suddenly, he wasn’t entirely sure who had initiated the hug, but comfort filled him for the first time in years was worth it. He closed his eyes, getting used to the feel of her body pressed against his.
He buried his nose into her hair as she hid her head into the crook of his neck. This felt so right, and he wasn’t sure why. He had to remind himself that he had only met her a few days earlier. Yet, already she was finding a way around the walls that it had taken him years to build. Brick by glorious brick, she was tearing down his defenses as he struggled to put the wall back together before it all crumbled apart.
“You deserve to be happy,” whispered Devona. He shook his head, but she vigorously nodded. “Yes you do. As much pain as you are putting yourself through when it wasn’t your intention to hurt anyone.”
He sighed, “I should have known. I was stupid to think that my pain could be lifted away so easily. Now I realize that emotional pain is what makes a person human. Without it we are nothing more than animals.”
“You know, it’s okay to be sad, but it’s also human nature to move on. As impossible as it may seem, we all have to try. Wounds will heal, they may become scars and always be there, but they fade with each day and eventually we forget they were even there.”
As much as he wanted to believe her, he knew that she couldn’t understand. Just as quickly as the hug had started it ended. He pushed her away from him and stepped back, far back from her. Her blue eyes looked at him with wonder and concern but all she found in return was a blank stare.
“Devona, I can never forgive myself for what I have done. Now, get back to bed, we have a long journey ahead of us tomorrow.”
“Go to bed.”
Without another glance at those sad eyes, he turned to his room. Shutting the door behind him, he leaned his head back against the wood and let out a loud sigh. Never. He knew he could never be forgiven. There was no way she could understand just how deep his scars went.
The sun rose above the forest to the east early that morning, greeting the patient eyes of the Princess. She had not been able to get any sleep at all that night. As much as she tried, she kept worrying about Akki and Kai. Images of Akki killing so many, and images of Kai watching his entire family murdered in front of him.
She sighed, putting her head into her hands. Kestrel was right, Devona should never have asked in the first place, but she had to know. Well, they always did say that curiosity killed the cat.
She kept seeing the look on Akki’s face before he left her in the hallway. Just as she felt she was getting to know him, he left her. How stupid she was to think that he could possibly just get over his pain? She tried to put herself in his shoes. Just the idea boggled her mind, she couldn’t imagine actually killing people and the only thing she could do is sit back and watch.
Sometime between sunrise and when Kestrel finally woke up Devona actually fell asleep. Supposing exhaustion had finally caught up with her, Devona didn’t even bother to question it. Instead, she got up, took a shower, and got ready to leave. Thank God that Zakiah Adara at least had running water.
Stepping outside into the damp summer air, she looked around the village. A few farmers were already up and moving toward the fields at the outskirts of the town. She smiled. It was nice to actually see people living a rural lifestyle, quite the opposite of what she was used to in Tampa.
Her eyes then turned to the barn, and she noticed Akki and Kai getting the horses ready. Blush lit her cheeks as she quickly looked away from Akki. Last night was still so fresh, it was too soon. Riding with him today would make things extremely difficult.
Glancing over at Kai again, a plan formed in her mind. Now she was determined not to let herself succumb to the temptation of Akki or the sadness of him suddenly leaving her alone. Picking up her foot, she made her first step toward the smaller male guardian.