A cool breeze caressed Nora’s cheeks as it swept through the gardens of Doloi’s sanctuary. Nora winced as she stretched her legs before her from her seat on the edge of a marble fountain. Anlyra had long since abandoned her to take advantage of the many rare plants the garden had to offer. Nora rotated her body and splayed her offending leg on the ledge of the fountain.
Casting her eyes towards the translucent waters of the fountain, she watched as several lilac-colored fish swam idly within the fountain’s depths. A few of the more curious ones swam up to the surface to greet her. Nora reached out to sweep her fingers across the surface of the water but was deterred by a distant voice that interrupted her thoughts.
“I wouldn’t if I were you.” Elivar approached the human female at a controlled pace. He had been observing the girl from the moment he entered the garden. Admittedly, it had not been his intention to watch her for as long as he had but it was not often when he came across an individual as expressive as the one before him. For a moment, he’d even wondered if this was an inherent trait shared by all humans. In the short few minutes he stood back studying her, Nora had crinkled her nose as she peered into the fountain and pursed her lips as though she were lost in deep thought.
For one to have such little control over their facial expressions, he asked himself if it could simply be attributed to her young age.
When he failed to get a reaction from the girl as he finally stood before her, he took the initiative to explain, “That particular batch just so happens to carry a rather nasty bite.”
Nora sized up the male that stood before him, recognition flickering in her eyes when she met his gaze. His words elicited a raised eyebrow from her, Who in their right mind keeps carnivorous fish in a public garden?
“It was Nora, correct?” Elivar searched her eyes, seeking confirmation.
“Uh-huh. Far as I’m aware,” Nora cracked dryly.
Elivar’s lips twitched in response at the young female’s ability to jest despite her less than favorable circumstances. “Well Nora, it’s a lovely day out and I must admit you have me rather intrigued. What would it take for me to get you to share a little about yourself?”
“What’s there to say? I’m human. A high school dropout at that”—Nora chuckled self-deprecatingly—“and raising my kid sibling rather unsuccessfully it would seem. Bet that must speak volumes about my character.”
“Oh, I don’t know. After spending six months in captivity and having survived for so long, I’d say you’d strike me as resilient,” he commented with an air of nonchalance.
“Because that ain’t presumptuous.” She snorted.
“I prefer the term perspicacious.”
“Talk about a mouthful.” Nora grimaced at his ostentatious use of vocabulary.
Elivar’s expression turned contemplative as his eyes swept over her face.“Miss Nora, would you care to sit and chat with me for a moment?”
Nora hesitated uneasily, before relenting, “So long as you cut the Miss crap.”
“That much is feasible,” Elivar wore a hint of a smile as he proffered his arm. The small human promptly took it and rose to her feet before being led to a stone table enclosed by two semi-circular benches.
Having settled the young female into her seat, Elivar sat directly across from her and wasted no time in fastening his eyes on the girl. “Now Nora, I think it’s about time we speak of the future.”
Nora’s eyebrows rose towards her hairline at his straightforwardness.
Elivar’s features morphed into an unreadable expression as his voice took a serious tone, “In the next few days, things are going to play out in one of two ways. If my sister has her way, soon enough you’ll be carted off to a research facility wherein a series of tests will be performed on you. From then on, you will in all likelihood spend the rest of your days in complete isolation, with no access whatsoever to the outside world.”
“Your sister?” Nora broached with uncertainty.
“I believe you met Davra earlier during the meeting,” he supplied tersely.
“Then that would also make you Anlyra’s cousin,” she deduced, clasping her hands tightly beneath the table.
“It would.” Elivar nodded in agreement.
“And the alternative?” Nora inhaled shakily through her nose.
“I take you in as my ward. You’d still have to consent to undergo a few
tests and providing a sample of your genetic material on the occasion, but for the most part you’d be free,” he laid the offer flat out on the proverbial table without mincing his words, “Of course, you’d have to be enrolled into post-secondary schooling as I mostly live on the campus of an institution, but outside of your classes you’d be free to do as you wish. Unfortunately, this condition would be non-negotiable as both spouses and those that are non-affiliated with the school are not allowed to reside on the school grounds. Thus, it would be easier to explain your presence if you were to simply attend the school as a student.”
“And what makes you so sure I’ll go along with either option,” she swallowed thickly, unable to mask the fear in her voice.
“Nora,” Elivar regarded her patiently, “do you still hold onto the hope of returning to your world?”
Nora found herself unable to voice a response and instead chose to look away from the male seated before her in a desperate attempt to escape reality.
“If you do, then let me be the one to inform you right now that you’d do well to get rid of such hopes. Returning to earth is simply not an option for you.”
“And why the hell not?” she retorted defensively, though her voice lacked any real conviction.
“Because unfortunately for you, it would not be in the interests of our world,” he relayed gently, “If what you say is true about the existence of another portal, we have no way of locating it. Furthermore, there is no telling if you would not suffer any consequences from going through it a second time around.”
“But what about…” Nora faltered despairingly, her voice betraying her.
“The Cardinal Passages? Think about it, Nora. You might have gotten lucky with the Ei’lrij, but who’s to say you wouldn’t end up like those poor souls that died when smuggled through it? The Ei’lrij is one thing but a Cardinal Passage is a completely different matter,” he brought to her awareness in no uncertain terms, “And even if you were to survive crossing through a Cardinal Passage, how would we explain your presence to your world? The Cardinal Passages are heavily monitored.
“All shipments are thoroughly inspected and every authorized member of our world that travels onto earth has their prints collected. The moment your prints are taken, your identity would be revealed immediately and it’s an invariable fact that we cannot have humans come to the conclusion that there might exist a way for them to travel onto our planet.”
“Would that be such a bad thing?” Nora glared down at a point on the table, finding herself on the verge of tears.
“You tell me, Nora. Greed is at its essence a powerful thing, with a destructive force of nature at its core. But back to the matter at hand, the choice is yours to make.”
“Ha. It isn’t really much of a choice though is it?” she breathed out acerbically. “Whether I get locked up by your sister or go with you, I’ll still end up a lab rat in any case and stuck here without a way to get off this godforsaken planet.”
Elivar stared for a full ten seconds at the girl before him, who seemed to have sunk into herself in her grief. Face devoid of expression, he folded his arms over his chest and regarded her in a new light.“Nora… how badly do you want to find your sister?”
Those words immediately got her attention. Nora’s eyes snapped upwards in confusion, her eyes scanning his face to gauge his microexpressions without success.
“As I’ve stated before,” he continued carefully, “your return to earth simply isn’t within the realm of possibility. But say if I were to reach out to some of my business associates and have them poke around to find out what became of your sibling, would you be more inclined to agree to my proposal then?”
“You mean you have connections with people who travel onto earth?” Nora narrowed her brows suspiciously. “What’s in it for you?”
Aside from the fact that I get to one-up my baby sister after she’s been going around behind my back plotting against me? Elivar mused but wisely chose to keep that thought to himself.
“That was a yes or no question, Nora,” he replied succinctly, which only served to further incense, Nora.
“I don’t get it,” Nora frowned. The man before her certainly had a way with words, playing on her vulnerabilities in order to best appeal to her. She couldn’t help but fear that if she didn’t tread carefully, she’d fall into a web she wouldn’t be able to get herself out of but even so… If there was even the slightest chance of finding out information about her sister’s whereabouts, Nora was willing to take the risk. However, there was still something that had been bothering her for a while now. “I’m in no position to have any say in the matter. You clearly have the upper hand here, so why bother asking if you can just do whatever you want?”
“Because, unlike my sibling, I don’t make it a habit of imposing my will upon others,” Elivar smiled wryly.
Nora got the feeling that there was more to his words but refrained from commenting on it. A weary expression took hold of her strained features. Fixing him with a dubious look, Nora exhaled loudly before conceding defeat, “Then, we’ll do it your way.”
“Wonderful. Then I’ll be seeing you in a few days to inform you of the final decision.” Elivar smiled inwardly at the thought of seeing the look on his sister’s face when things didn’t pan out the way she wanted them to.
An evil gleam shone brightly in his eyes as he rose to his feet, causing Nora to eye him warily.
“I never did catch your name,” Nora commented dryly.
The man’s lips twisted upwards. “Elivar Saeksinh.”