When they left the valley Reniko watched for Penumbra’s family, but with his decision made his family had accepted and left, going to a place that Reniko hoped was safe from the murderous Rük.
She found out soon enough that the mental speech did not work both ways. Penumbra was unable to hear Reniko’s thoughts, only able to transmit specific thoughts to whomever he chose. It was an interesting compensation for being unable to form human speech with his vocal cords. The whole process fascinated Reniko and along with that fascination came the wish to harbour the same ability. If not to use, then at least understand how it worked. Unable to do this, she probed Penumbra for answers. He, however, was not one for small talk and left most if not all of Reniko’s questions unanswered.
“You could at least tell me where your family has gone,” she said as Penumbra navigated the path before him.
I almost regret that I spoke to you, Penumbra said, leaping over a large root that crossed his path. Reniko stepped over it as well and hastened to catch up with the stallion.
“I’m sorry, it’s just that everything here is so new, and, well, I’ve never met a talking horse before.”
Unicorn. And mind speech is different than your speech, which is open to the world. You would do well to guard your tongue.
“Are you trying to avoid my question or just mad that I called you a horse? I didn’t mean it as a bad thing. You do look like a horse.”
Horses have lesser minds.
“I’ll keep that in mind and I apologize.”
They went to join the rest of the herd. They plan on leaving Sortaia. I was against it. I thought that they shouldn’t let the Rük drive us from our own home without a fight, but I was in the minority.
Reniko nodded her head. “They plague everything on this planet, don’t they? Why were the others against fighting for their home?”
They don’t want the Rük to start hunting us as they hunt the Teoko. If we run them out now, there will just be more to come. I feel we should do something. My mate Scintilla was the only one that agreed.
“But fighting might not be the way. Is that why you came with me?”
Will you ride me yet? Penumbra asked stopping his stride and swinging his head to face Reniko. Reniko stopped and fiddled with the straps of her backpack.
“I know it seems odd to you that I chose not to ride, it just didn’t seem right for me to be riding a creature such as yourself.”
I would be honored if you did. You saved my life whether you want to admit it or not and for that I wish to help you on your journey. The best way I can do that is to give you my speed. You do not come from a swift species.
Reniko thought about his statement for a moment and finally spoke. “All right, but if I become an encumbrance to you don’t hesitate to make me walk. I don’t mind, you know.” Reniko pulled herself onto Penumbra’s bare back and settled in.
You really are quite light. There will be no worries about me tiring.
“Glad to hear that, and thanks again. It’s nice to have a companion again, even better to have one that I can talk with.”
Where are we headed anyway?
“I’m headed to Rownie, on my way to the ancient city Reflaydun.”
I have a feeling I found myself entwined in a very interesting story. Care to appease my curiosity?
“I thought you didn’t like me talking so much,” Reniko countered.
Penumbra whinnied, I don’t mind conversations. It’s all the questions that send my head spinning.
“Where would we all be if we didn’t question things?”
True enough, but some things I have in my head you are not ready for. All in due time, for now I would like to know your story.
“I will oblige,” Reniko said smiling as Penumbra carried them through the forest toward Rownie.
Malik hated this, glancing over his shoulder afraid that each step he was taking was taking him closer to his death. He had a sudden wish that Orric was nearby, and regretted the fact that they had parted. He stepped quickly into his destination, a small trading post, and closed the door behind him, letting out a quick sigh of relief as he did so. The owner of the shop looked at Malik quizzically. Malik just nodded in greeting and made his way over to the counter.
“Not too many outsiders are coming into town these days. Not with so many Rük roaming the streets. What brings you to my small shop my friend?” the shopkeeper said as he saw Malik relax.
“Just need to refresh some of my supplies before I head out again,” Malik said as he joined the shopkeeper at the counter.
“What do you need?”
“A new water canteen for starters, I wore through my last one.”
“Must have been traveling for some time for that to happen.”
“You must have a least a small idea of why the Rük activity has stepped up in all the occupied villages. Any word? I heard that someone has been causing trouble for the Rük,” the shopkeeper glanced around the store and out the window before continuing on. “I sure hope what I heard was right. They say a human killed some Rük and got away from them without a scratch. If that’s the case I hope he causes more damage to them before they catch him, alleviate some of the oppression—maybe even get rid of them all together, though that’s wishful thinking.” He stopped when he saw the look on Malik’s face. “You’re not fond of the Rük, are you?”
Malik shook his head, still staring intently out the window.
“Then what is it? You look as if you were staring at the Goddess herself.”
“Not quite, but close enough. It’s your Rük slayer, and she’s about to cause a lot more trouble for herself. And me, I might add,” Malik mumbled as he headed for the doorway.
“What about your supplies?” the shopkeeper asked as Malik pushed open the door.
“I’ll be back if I don’t get myself killed.”
Reniko had arrived at Rownie fourteen days after meeting Penumbra. They had both agreed it would be better if Penumbra stayed out of sight since a human riding a unicorn would have grabbed too much attention. However, it would have been better attention than what she was getting now.
The moment she stepped into the streets of Rownie she was tense; Rük were everywhere. Only those humans that were loyal to the Rük were roaming the streets and even then, none of them carried a weapon of any kind. Reniko had decided upon seeing this that concealing Imako would be a good idea and so she had secured the sword to the small of her back and covered it with both her cloak and back pack. As she got deeper into the city she noticed some smaller children hiding in the shadows attempting to avoid the gaze of the hulking Rük that dominated the streets.
A child of about twelve attempted to leave her hiding spot and cross the street when one of the Rük, of a deep forest green, caught the movement and grasped her as she went by him. His hand completely engulfed the girl’s neck and he lifted her off the ground to meet his face.
“Aren’t you a pretty thing,” he sneered at the young girl as she clawed at his hands, trying to release his grip so she could breathe again.
Reniko tensed and began to reach for her sword, her anger growing as each step carried her closer to the malicious scene.
“Don’t!” she heard a voice whisper in her ear. With an immense force Malik grabbed Reniko’s arm and pulled her into the shadows of a nearby alley.
When Reniko finally pulled free and turned to her captor her face was contorted with surprise. “You!” she spat, even angrier than she had been with the nameless Rük.
“Well it’s good to hear that you learned something at Savonly, even if it wasn’t discretion. Were you trying to get yourself killed?”
“I was trying to save that little girls life.”
“She’ll be fine. They do it all the time. They like to assert their control over us.” Malik said at the same moment the small child ran by the alley tears streaming down her face. “You would do well to learn to pick your fights.”
“Who are you to tell me what I should and should not do? You just left me there, stranded!”
Malik looked taken back. “I was trying to protect you.”
“You were the only person I even sort of knew in this world and you just handed me over to a bunch of strangers and abandoned me. Don’t ever touch me again,” she said hot with anger.
“I didn’t abandon you! Orric and I were trying to clean up your mess! You killed three Rük. Do you understand the consequences of your actions?”
“I was trying to preserve my own life, that’s all.”
“Well even if you were only trying to save your own skin, you pissed off the people who rule this world. The Rük have all the power, so you’ve made yourself the most wanted person in existence. I was trying to make sure they didn’t find out who had done it. I have been protecting you. I went back to Cabitora after I left you. I had to make sure no one talked, that no one told the Rük that a girl fell from the sky and killed three of their soldiers. I had to make sure that the Rük didn’t find out you existed. Not only to protect you, but because once they know someone from Terra has arrived on Vespen, you’ll be in more danger than even I can imagine.” Malik stopped as a shadow fell over the alley. When it had passed Reniko looked deflated.
“I should have let them kill me. I’m sorry I put you in this position Malik,” Reniko whispered as she slumped down on a rotting wooden crate.
“It’s not your fault. You didn’t ask to come to Vespen, and you sure as hell didn’t ask for the Rük to be the ones to discover your existence.”
“How do you know so much about Terra, and about me?”
“I don’t know a lot about either, actually. I just know that we had trade routes with a planet called Terra a very long time ago and that you came from there.”
“You were right and we call it Earth now.”
“About me not wanting to come to Vespen. I fell into this strange pool of light and the next thing I know I’m waking up with my hands bound in the custody of those monsters.”
“Where did you learn to fight? Do you have so many enemies on Earth that you have to be so skilled?"
“No, no enemies. I guess we consider sword fighting a sport. It’s not like it is here, where you live or die depending on how skilled you are. A man named Dertrik taught me. I’m trying to get back to him and Earth.”
“That’s why you left Savonly?”
“Yes. I discovered an ancient map that shows the location to one of the Levanith cities. I’m on my way there.”
“Come on, I’ll take you back to the Inn. We’ll be safer talking there than we are in this alleyway.”
Reniko nodded and followed Malik back onto the bustling street.
Kruok had concealed herself in the shadows on a rooftop and had watched the human male pull the human female into the alley. She had listened to their whispered conversation, smiling. It was a shame for the two below her that they had not returned to the inn sooner, for the information she had gleaned from their conversation was definitely going to cause them both a lot more trouble. She had been prepared before this exchange to kill the human male as soon as he stepped through the door of the shop, however, the human female’s movements had caught her attention. She was glad she had waited.
Kruok pulled out the round orb her lord had given her and activated it. A pale green glow emanated from it and soon formed the face of her Lord Orborok.
“My Lord Orborok, I have some information that may be of some consequence to my mission.”
“Speak,” Orborok said, irritated. Kruok was well aware that he was annoyed with her progress in this mission. It should not have taken her this long to locate and destroy the Rük slayer, but the pesky male, Malik, had been in the ongoing presence of a Teoko and tracking them had been quite trying.
“I’ve found out that we have a new target. The human male was not the one that slew our kin, it was a human female.”
“Kill them both,” Orborok said.
“I think it would be wise of me to add that this girl was the cause of the blue light in the sky near Cralay. She’s come from Terra, Milord.”
Orborok paused, a sneer forming on his lips. “I must speak with Lord Trokar. Keep an eye on them, but do not proceed until you hear from me.”
“This is very interesting news indeed Kruok, I am pleased with your services. You will be well rewarded.”
“Thank-you, Milord.” The image faded, the glow slowly dispersed, and Kruok was left to follow the humans back to the inn.
“Where is Orric?” Reniko asked as she stripped off her backpack and cloak.
Malik cast his gaze on Imako which was still securely strapped to Reniko’s back, held there by the same yellow silk that Milla had provided as a belt to carry Imako by her side.
“Where did you get that sword?” Malik asked reaching to touch the elegant but deadly weapon.
Reniko turned her head and looked at Imako, and reminded that it was there, unfastened it from her back and held it respectfully in her hands.
“The Priestess Milla gave it to me when I left Savonly.”
“She must see something great in you. You hold the sword Imako.”
“You know of this sword?”
“It is said that the Levanith made it as a gift for the goddess Shyla. It was she who was to wield that sword; the priestess class of Savonly was to keep it safe until her return. They must believe that you are going to meet the Goddess sometime in the future.”
Reniko looked down at the sword in her hands, now feeling the full weight she carried. “Why on earth would Milla think that? She knows that I’m just trying to get home. Why would she think that?”
“What was your ribbon reading?”
Reniko looked at Malik. “Don’t tell me you believe in all that.”
“No, actually I don’t, but it might explain Milla’s actions.”
“It doesn’t matter why Milla did it, it’s done isn’t it. I’ll make sure Penumbra returns it to her when I leave Vespen.”
“Penumbra?” Malik asked as he too stripped off his cloak.
“My traveling companion.”
“From Savonly? Why did she not come into town with you?”
“He and because it would have looked strange.”
Malik looked quizzically at Reniko.
“He’s a unicorn. I met him in the Sortaia forest. I saved him from being slaughtered by a couple of Rük.”
“Which you killed no doubt.”
“I had no choice. I’m not the murderer you think I am.”
“I don’t think you are. You’re just brash. I was awake that night in Cabitora you know.”
Reniko withdrew into herself, hugging her arms to her chest. “I didn’t know.”
“Everyone gets confused. No one has done what you are doing Reniko, and there are a lot of people out there that support you. I’m one of them. I just don’t want to see you get killed before you can do more good.”
“I’m not doing anything! I’m just trying to get home. I’m not trying to cause trouble for anyone or save anyone or be anyone’s hope. I just want to go home! Why does everyone think I’ve come here with the intention of saving?”
“It’s nothing, forget I said it.”
“Milla said that didn’t she? It’s why she gave you Imako.”
“Regardless of what everyone thinks, I’m going back to Earth the first chance I get.”
“In the meantime you are saving people.”
“I believe in doing the right thing, that’s all. Can we drop this subject, please?”
“Yes, of course.”
Reniko slumped onto the bed and began staring out the window into the street below.
“Did you say your companion was a unicorn?” Malik asked suddenly. Reniko burst into laughter wiping away the tears that had come unbidden to her eyes.
“Yes, as a matter of fact I did.”
Kruok watched the window of the room. She could no longer hear what the two humans were saying but whatever it was no longer mattered. She jumped slightly as the communication orb let out a low hum. When she brought it to her face, Orborok hung suspended above it.
“Trokar has instructed me to bring in the girl. She will pay for what she has done to our kin, but first she has information that may be important to us. The boy is to be killed.”