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The New Keeper

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Chapter Two, Meeting Luiana

Alessandra didn’t know how many hours had passed, or if the hours were starting to blur into days. She had barely spoken since what had happened at Armadara, only to quietly thank Leif whenever he brought her rations than mainly consisted of stale bread and a gulp of water. When she closed her eyes to sleep, she couldn’t dream, she only saw blood and fire and the way the serpents slid along the ground, snatching innocent lives in their jaws. She thought of the woman’s bloodied and broken hands desperately trying to remove the stones that had crushed her child.

The nights were long, and the days were dim. The waves were unrelenting, crashing against the side of the ship. Everything felt unsteady, uneasy. There was a constant heaviness in the air, the storm hadn’t let up since they left the harbour. So, Alessandra spent most of the time below deck in the cargo hold, trying to stay out of the way. She had kept Leif’s coat, he never asked for it back, and it kept her warm in the poor conditions.

She wasn’t sure if it was day or night at present, the large storm clouds in the sky all but blocked out the sun and any warmth. Her eyes felt puffy from the lack of sleep and her lips were dry and cracked. Licking them made it worse and there wasn’t enough fresh water to rehydrate. Her usually bouncy and buttery coloured curls now fell limp on her head.

“Care for another piece of stale, salty bread?”

Alessandra looked up; she had been twisting a few pieces of ropes together to pass the time, but now her stomach was starting to rumble. Leif knelt and sat down beside her, handing her the bigger piece.

“Why did you help me back in Armadara?” Alessandra took the bread, and tore a piece off, chewing it a few times before swallowing.

“I couldn’t just leave you there lass.” Leif spoke as he chewed.

“But you could have died.”

“This is true, but I didn’t, and neither did you. I think I did a good thing.” Leif chewed on the last piece of bread.

Alessandra kept looking down, picking at the bread in her lap. She didn’t know what to say. He had risked not only his life, but Jacob’s too, all for a stranger. So many people had died, Alessandra didn’t feel like helping her was worth it, there was nothing she could do to ever repay him.

“Stop frowning or you’ll get wrinkles. Keep that coat on now, I’m sure we can get you one of your own when we arrive in the Capital.” Leif watched her in thought and poked her forehead.

Alessandra looked up, “We’re going to Elyria?”

Leif nodded in reply, “I reckon they must know what happened in Armadara by now, so they’ll be taking in survivors. After that Jacob and I will go home to Embria.” Leif groaned as he stood up, stretching his arms high above his head.

“Get some sleep now lass, as much as you can manage.” He kept on smiling, and it was comforting.

Alessandra even managed a small smile back in return, “Hey Leif?”

“Yes lass?”

“Thank you.”

“Of course, lass.” Leif smiled, and started up the stairs.

Yawning, and barely being able to keep her eyes open Alessandra happily allowed herself to drift to sleep. It didn’t matter if she wasn’t able to dream, the warmth of Leif’s coat and his comforting words made closing her heavy eyes easier.

The sudden splash of cold water against Alessandra’s face startled her awake. Water was gushing everywhere and rising quickly. Catching her breath, Alessandra felt like the whole world was tilting. And it was. Half of the cargo hold was submerged in water, and it was only filling up. Frothy, dark sea water was spilling in through a gaping hole on the side, the sound was deafening.

Trying to gain her footing, she lost balance and smacked into a barrel. Alessandra yelped and wiped her face, pushing her way through the water towards the stairs.

“I gotcha’ lass!” Jacob’s outstretched hands gripped Alessandra’s wrists tightly, lifting her up.

Above deck on the ship was no better. The wind was howling, and the sky was alight with lightning. Below in the cargo hold, water was taking over, above, fire was spreading from top of the ship.

“What’s happened! Where’s Leif?” Alessandra held on to Jacob’s hand as he guided her towards the lifeboats.

“I just can’t say, lass. The lightning turned on us, and the sails caught a flame!” Jacob shouted, “Leif’s helping release the lifeboats, this ship won’t hold out much longer!”

Jacob and Alessandra moved quickly but carefully, he guided her through the utter chaos. Everyone was scattered and the sinking ship was falling apart. Relief briefly washed over Alessandra when she saw Leif as he waved them down, “Took you long enough! Hurry the lifeboats’ lowered! We don’t have much time!”

Leif released the rope ladder and took Alessandra’s hand, “I’ll be right behind you lass, I promise.” Alessandra’s whole body was shaking, and she squeezed Leif’s hand as she used her other to prop herself up onto the side. She had herself turned facing Leif when everything jolted forward with a long creak, Alessandra’s eyes widened as the ship’s mast began to fall, wood splintering everywhere.

Alessandra screamed and shoved Leif back into Jacob, “Leif! Move!”.

“Alessandra!” Jacob yelled and Leif tried to catch her hand, only to be hurled forward into the hard, wooden railing.

Alessandra hit the tumultuous water below with such force it knocked the breath right from her lungs. She watched with blurry vision from under the water, the mixed of orange flame and black clouds swirling together. With each stroke, her arms started to ache as she finally broke the surface with a loud gasp, “Leif!” Alessandra ducked under the water again as wave after wave crashed on top of her.

She breathed in as deep as she could and kicked her legs, trying to swim towards the sound of her name. She was sure it was Leif. It had to be.

“Leif! Please! Where are you!” Alessandra called out again, to no answer.

Alessandra swam with all her might and held on to a broken piece of wood. She kicked her legs and looked around at the wreckage. Half of the ship had disappeared, the other was now up in flames, and no sign of Leif or Jacob.

“Alessandra! Lass!”

She propped her head up, “Leif!” She could barely make him out, but that was his voice. She kicked and kicked the water in the direction of his voice, and she could see him and Jacob waving her down, they had made it into the lifeboat. No matter quick she moved her legs, the sea was against her, forcing her further and further away. Her legs were burning, her throat dry and ragged. All she could was keep her head afloat, as Leif, Jacob and the lifeboat drifted out of her sight.

The sheer power of the waves alone carried Alessandra to the shore. She didn’t know how long she was in the water for, and she didn’t know how long it had been since she stopped swimming, desperate for the ocean to just swallow her up. Alessandra managed to hold on to the wooden plank, letting the water move her until the screaming and heat from the burning wreckage subsided. The sun was high, and she could feel her skin sizzling, forcing her to slowly claw and dig her way up through the sand. It felt like a whole age had passed before she made it into the shade of the trees that lined the edge of the forest. Its dark leaves hung low, swaying on top of the bushes. Black sand had stuck to her skin, under her nails and in her hair, itching everywhere. Alessandra sniffled, wiping her nose with the back of her hand, the sand scratching her face as she did so. Blinking a few times, she slowly got to her feet, using the tree to hold herself up.

Looking out to now calm waters, Alessandra hoped, prayed, for the safety of Leif and Jacob. If only he was here, beside her right now, his smile would most likely put her at ease. Alessandra turned and looked into the forest, then back out to the sea. The forest it was.

She had no idea where this strength and persistence was coming from, how she was even standing in the first place. But she made her way through, pushing away long, green leaves and avoiding the prickly bushes after one scratched her legs. A few times she had stepped on rocks that made her curse. Her curses and yelps were mainly drowned out by how loud the forest was. Birds were chirping and singing high up in the trees and cicadas and other bugs were clicking on the ground. Alessandra continued walking for a few hours, but everything was beginning to look the same. She hugged her arms and Leif’s coat around herself.

She wasn’t sure if night was creeping up on her, or if the tall tree leaves were dampening the sun’s light. Alessandra squinted, keeping a careful eye on the ground in front of her. After a while, the bird’s singing completely died down and the sound of the clicking cicadas had softened. Frowning, Alessandra stopped and look around, but saw nothing. Not realising she was holding her breath, she breathed out and turned ahead, where two pale green eyes looked down at her.

Alessandra cried out in surprise and stumbled back on to the ground. The giant silver cat was growling, inching closer to her face. She couldn’t stop herself shaking, sweat dripping from her forehead and down the sides of her face.

“Please…”

The cat snarled, baring its teeth again and Alessandra screamed, her face going pale before passing out.

“Oh dear, Nemea, why did you feel the need to frighten her half to death?”

Alessandra sat up, startled to find a woman sat beside her, “Where am I?”

“Now, now dear, no need to be frightened. You’re safe and sound. I do apologise for Nemea’s behaviour; she has an attitude.”

The cat, snarled, and returned to licking its paw. Alessandra could see the enormous feline properly now. It sat perched in the corner, the tips of its ears touching the makeshift roof. It’s long and sleek tail sat neatly across its body.

“I thought it was going to eat me.” Alessandra rubbed her eyes and turned her attention to the curious looking woman sitting up on the bed beside her now. Her presence was incredible, she was radiant even in the shadowed lighting. Her long, emerald hair fell over her shoulders down to her waist, flowers and leaves entangled in her messy locks. Golden markings twisted and dotted over her arms and across her chest, as far as Alessandra could make out.

“Oh, Nemea isn’t one for human flesh, my dear. Only when the situation is dire and there’s nothing else to eat.” The woman giggled, moving closer to Alessandra, “Now let me get a good look at you, dear.” Her bright eyes looked Alessandra over, a smile slowly growing on her lips.

“Who are you? Where am I?” Alessandra looked at everywhere but where the woman was sitting.

“You’re in the humble little abode that is my home. Nemea brought you hear when you washed up on to the shore. My name is Mama Luiana, and I am just so happy to be meeting you.”

Mama Luiana and the giant feline Nemea weren’t there when Alessandra awoke the next morning. She had fallen asleep quickly, exhaustion finally catching up to her. She stared up at the rickety roof for the longest time. Vines with small, pink flowers twined and twirled in and out of the cracks, hanging down above her. Everything hit her abruptly the night, the attack on the town, loosing her home and life, she didn’t even know if Nelli or Lady Belle or little Lady Mia had survived. They probably didn’t. Alessandra couldn’t help but feel guilty. Why did she live when so many had died right in front of her? She thought of Leif and closed her eyes, trying not to cry. How kind and stupid he was. Was he alive? Did he and Jacob make it? Alessandra’s mind and body hurt, and she couldn’t switch her thoughts off.

She hadn’t realised how much her body was hurting until she turned over and winced. Some of the smaller cuts have started to scab over, but the area was reddening around the larger ones. Bruises on her knees and arm were turning a deep purple colour with a slight yellowing splotched through. Alessandra opened her eyes when she heard a soft purring. Nemea laid on her side by the doorway, licking her paw and rubbing it against her ears. The two made eye contact and Alessandra looked away, still unnerved by the feline’s size. Nemea simply yawned and sat up, moving outside for more sunlight.

“Good morning dear, are you hungry?” Mama Luiana walked in after Nemea and placed a wooden bowl filled with assorted berries a tree stump beside the bed. There were blue, purple and red ones, with a very sweet smell to them. Alessandra propped herself up and scoffed all the purple berries first, her stomach grumbly loudly.

“I also collected some herbs and made a paste for your wounds.” Luiana held out her hand and Alessandra sat up properly and let the curious woman rub a dark green paste on her bruises. The mixture had a very pungent smell, like wet dirt after heavy rainfall.

Alessandra breathed out, not expecting the very cold and tingling sensation, “Thank you.”

Mama Luiana smiled and brought her hands up and hovered them over Alessandra.

Alessandra frowned, but didn’t move, “What are you doing?”

Luiana didn’t answer, only mumbled quietly to herself and wiped the paste off, revealing clean and wound-free skin. Alessandra’s eyes widened as she inspected her body, “How did you do that?”

“There’s many things I can do, assisting in the healing process is one of them.” Luiana stood up and in the light Alessandra could see the faint tinge of green to her skin, and how the gold markings on her body glistened with the sun peaked through the roof at the right moment.

“I’m not of this world, my dear, if that’s something you were wondering.”

“Then, what are you? Who are you? I’ve never seen anyone like you.” Alessandra ate a few more berries before setting the bowl aside.

Mama Luiana twirled a dangling vine with her hand and Alessandra watched closely as the pink flowers started to grow larger in size. New leaves began sprouting along the length of roof and down the wall. “I’m a Keeper my dear. I’ve been walking this Earth for as long as I can ever remember. I’ve watched your kind and others evolve, I’ve seen the lands break apart and the oceans expand. I know the old magics and how to use the elements, I can heal as you just saw. It has been my responsibility hold on to this knowledge. The earlier humans used to call me Mother Luiana, Keeper of the Earth and it’s Magics. But I simply like Mama Luiana, it has a better ring to it.”

“So, are you a Goddess? I’ve never heard of you, no offence.”

“None taken my dear, but it doesn’t surprise me. Your kind have all but forgotten the old Deities.”

Alessandra listened intently, she felt like she should have been more surprised, but Mama Luiana’s appearance clearly gave away the fact that she wasn’t a human. She had never heard of magics before, and there were healers all over Laravella but Alessandra had never seen anything like that. Mama Luiana sat down, hands folded in her lap, even on the floor she was almost eye level with Alessandra.

After what Mama Luiana had said, introducing herself as a Goddess, Alessandra felt her face redden at how she inhaled the berries right in front of a deity, “I apologise for my childishness. I don’t know how to act in front of a deity. And, and I want to thank you for helping me when you did.”

Mama Luiana giggled, “My dear, you are a child. Fifteen? Born in right in the middle of the winter snowfall? There are no thanks needed, dear.”

Alessandra nodded and kneeled down in front of the emerald deity, “I don’t think I could ever repay you for helping me. I can’t repay anyone that has helped me. But may I please ask something more of you?”

Luiana clasped Alessandra’s hands in hers and smiled. It was such a comforting smile; Alessandra felt her troubled thoughts disappear for the moment. “May I please stay one more night, so I can rest a little longer? I leave by the morning, I promise. I won’t intrude any longer.”

“Do you have anywhere to go, my dear?” Luiana tilted her head.

Alessandra opened her mouth to speak, but she had no answer. There was no home to go to. Everything she knew was destroyed in a matter of minutes. What was she going to do? Where would she go from here? Alessandra didn’t have moment to ask herself these questions, and the worrying thoughts flooded her mind again. She didn’t even know where in Laravella she was right now. Looking down at her lap, Alessandra loosened he grip she had on Mama Luiana’s hands.

“You can stay here, my dear, if you have nowhere to go.”

Alessandra shook her head, “I couldn’t impose.”

“Believe me, dear, you wouldn’t be imposing. Stay as long as you need and when you feel ready, I can assist you in going wherever you need to go.”

Alessandra sighed in relief and sat back, “I can not thank you enough Mama Luiana.”

Luiana got to her feet, still holding Alessandra’s hand, “Of course, my dear.”

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