The evening was closing in when Reniko made her way through the woods on horseback heading to her and Dertrik’s clearing. It was the allotted time of day they had picked to talk if the need arose. It had been that way since Reniko started training with Dertrik. It was the only time during the day or night when Reniko and Dertrik would not be missed from their homes, and, for Reniko, it was the only time that she could escape her mother’s watchful eye.
She came into the clearing just as the sun hit the remaining clouds, turning the sky a radiant orange. Dertrik was already there waiting for her. His horse grazed the new growth while Dertrik sat near the creek that meandered along the far edge of the clearing. He turned when he heard Reniko’s horse approaching. His face revealed age that Reniko had forgotten was there. He was not a young man and it was showing.
Reniko dismounted and let her horse join Dertrik’s while she sat next to him.
“That was quite an eventful day for you,” Dertrik said as he let the stick he held trail in the water.
“Yes,” Reniko paused and looked into the sky watching it turn from orange to pink. She scanned the surrounding mountains, which were covered with the newly budding beech, holly, and oak trees. The mountains formed a valley full of caves riddled along their slopes. The caves were now just dark points in the distance. “I’m sorry about that. I guess I’m a little headstrong.” Dertrik gave her a look and Reniko flushed. An understatement, I know.
“No need. You had every right. Yours was not the only honor at stake. What would I do if the pupil I trained lost to that arrogant whip when he hasn’t handled a sword in years?”
Reniko looked at Dertrik startled at his response. “You know, of all things that never crossed my mind.”
It was Dertrik’s turn to look shocked. “And here I was thinking that you knew all this time. Goes to show you I shouldn’t assume you know everything. Tell me, why did you win?”
“To show Vaughn that not every woman is what his mother says they are. Besides, what kind of fighter would I be if I threw such an important match? You were watching me in my first challenge, and my reputation was on the line.”
“Had the circumstances been different, would you have thrown the fight?”
“To keep my family’s honor and keep their name unblemished? Yes.” Reniko was surprised by her answer, but she could tell that Dertrik was proud.
“You’re a good daughter.”
She cast her gaze down. She didn’t feel like one at the moment, and worst of all, she didn’t really care. “I find it hard. Sometimes I just feel out of place, like this hand –”, she said putting her hand in front of her, turning it in the dying light, “like this hand, belongs somewhere else.”
Dertrik grabbed her hand and placed it over her heart. “This hand belongs where ever your heart wishes it.” Dertrik tried to make Reniko believe his words. He wanted to believe them, but he was worried that she would see through him and know the lie.
Reniko met Dertrik’s gaze. He always made her feel better no matter how foul her mood was. “You’re a great friend, Dare. I envy Claire.”
“I envy Claire too. She’s in love with her perfect man. Don’t tell her I’m not,” Dertrik teased, trying to lighten the mood.
“You are to her, and that’s enough. I’m glad we met.”
“As am I,” Dertrik said, smiling. Reniko had always been an adventure for him.
“I don’t know where my life is headed, but I hope where ever it is, it’s –”Reniko faltered.
“What is it, Renny?” Dertrik could see pain in her eyes and it worried him. He felt responsible for that look, as if his presence in her life had caused it. He wondered if she would feel so lost and trapped in her world had they never met and she had never trained in the Blade.
“I hope that where ever I am, I’m needed,” Reniko said, startling herself once again. She hadn’t meant to say that at all. It seemed to be her theme to this day, surprising herself.
“Your future holds unimaginable things in it. I know that you are needed Renny, never think you are anything but.”
She set her hand on Dertrik’s knee and gave a squeeze, “Thank-you.”
The sun fell behind the last hill and the light left the day. Reniko stood and whistled shrilly for her mount who immediately heeded her call. Catching her foot on the stirrup she seated herself in the saddle and left the clearing, her mind lighter than when she came.
The thunder started shortly after Reniko had left the clearing. The depth of it made the ground shake and Shade, Reniko’s horse, became edgy. Reniko turned to go back, not wanting to leave Dertrik out in the storm by himself. The rain fell on her shoulders as she raced back and lightning struck as she entered the clearing. Dertrik had left shortly after Reniko; his tracks were all that was left behind. Reniko turned to leave only to be blinded by a bolt of lightning which was accompanied by a percussion wave as it stuck one of the nearby hills. Shade reared, knocking her from his back, and ran as fast as he could away from the clearing. Reniko was left blinded on the ground. When she got up her loose blouse was clinging to her skin and her riding pants were soaked with mud and rain. Just great, she thought, mad at herself for the concern she felt for her clothing. She was starting to feel like her mother and she didn’t like that at all.
As she stood, another bolt of lightning streaked the sky and the thunder made Reniko clasp her hands over her ears. When she had regained her composure, she looked around for Shade only to find that she had been deserted. Wonderful, she thought, sarcasm her only solace.
Irritated now, more with herself than with anything else, she headed in the direction of her house. Her gaze shifted up into the mountains where the lightning had struck the ground. A point of light was glowing in the twilight and her first thought was that it was a tree that had caught fire. When she peered through the haze of the rain, it was not the orange glow of fire that met her eyes, but a blazing light with a blue hue that seemed to be emanating from one of the caves. What on earth? Reniko began to head in the direction of the cave only to be awakened from her stupor by another blinding flash and the boom of the accompanying thunder. Still enthralled with the strange light, she headed back to her estate casting the occasional glance back at the strange glowing cave until it disappeared from view.
She was soaked when she entered her home. Her parents were in the living room and she hurried past so as not to alarm them. She really didn’t feel like putting up with their concern, and she also wasn’t about to push her luck. She had escaped one encounter today without a lecture; she doubted that she could achieve two such civil conversations in one day. She shivered as she entered her room; a cool breeze was coming in from her open window. Ava had neglected to shut it. Reniko wandered over to it and, pushing aside the light fabrics that hid the window, she pulled it shut. She stopped when she caught the glow in the distance, prominent from her view at the window. I wonder if Dertrik has seen that. She quickly pulled the curtains closed to hide the luminance in the hills and guard herself from her curiosity. She would talk to Dertrik tomorrow about it, and maybe even convince him it was worth a hiking trip. With those thoughts firmly planted in her head she stripped off her wet clothes, toweled her soaked hair, and slid into the warmth of her welcoming bed. It had been a long day and sleep fell upon her like on a weary solider.
Reniko had unearthly dreams that night. She could not clearly recall having dreamed in a very long time. Usually by the time she opened her eyes in the morning the dreams were just fleeting things that left residual feelings behind, but nothing more. When she awoke the morning after the storm it was because of an abrupt and chilling dream. She had dreamt of the strange glow coming from the cave. She had stumbled into it, still rain-drenched from the storm. There she had found of pool of water being illuminated from somewhere deep below the surface. The lightning had blasted away the rock that had hidden this pool. Reniko went to the edge of the water and let her fingers trail across the surface causing ripples to run from her fingertips out to the edges of the pool. The touch left her feeling cold. She retracted her hand as the water began to increase in luminance. She pulled back in fear as faces began to appear in the water, crying out in agony. She felt them reaching out to her and she scrambled back in fright, glad that at that moment the dream had decided to end.
Ava entered the room when she heard Reniko stir from her sleep, and as Reniko engaged in polite conversation with her maid, the dream slipped from thought. The feeling of intense curiosity from yesterday, however, was now intensified.
A short time later Reniko was out in the stables saddling up Shade. She didn’t even have the courtesy to tell Dertrik about her need to go out to the cave and find out what the light was. It had nagged at her all through breakfast and it had taken her entire concentration to be civil and proper with her mother’s early morning guests. She had made her escape as soon as politely possible, and now her whole being was bursting with energy at wanting to uncover the mystery. The need to know was insatiable and she could put it off no longer, not even for the few minutes it would have taken to call Dertrik and ask him to join her. So, it startled her to feel a warm firm hand on her shoulder just as she was about to grab her backpack from the stable floor. She turned to see the friend that she had neglected to call.
“Dertrik, you surprised me!” she said, wary of his sudden appearance. It was unlike Dertrik to show up on her estate without warning.
“Well that’s a first. What are you so preoccupied with that you didn’t hear me coming up behind you? And you neglected to tell someone where you’re going. You only do that when you are going to see me. So, since I was unaware of your whereabouts, you can see that you are quite out of character,” Dertrik said as he walked over to Shade and readjusted the saddle. He seemed rather serious about this and Reniko could sense his disapproval.
“I was going to call you about this whole excursion, but I had this dream last night and it seemed important that I leave right away, or you see, my curiosity might have killed me,” Reniko said, trying to lighten the mood.
“Excursion?” Dertrik asked just now noticing that Reniko had a backpack full of hiking equipment and quite a large supply of dry foods.
“Well, last night when I left and that storm started I went back to the clearing to make sure you were all right and I saw this light –”
“The lightning? I saw it too. It looked like it was striking quite close to where we were. I’m glad you’re all right,” Dertrik said, cutting her off. Reniko looked at him with slight irritation. It was almost as if he didn’t want Reniko talking about last night.
“Will you let me finish, Dare. Lightning struck one of the caves on the mountain side and there was this light, it was a cool bluish colour, and I had this dream about it last night. I don’t remember quite what happened but it’s been bothering me all day that I don’t know what was causing the light, so I thought I would head up and find out. Want to come?”
Dertrik, who had been brushing down Shade, stopped and faced Reniko. He looked stern. “I’d rather not, and I really think it’s best if you don’t either. Those caves are not very stable. A cave-in could happen and trap or even kill you, Renny. I think you should at least get better prepared before you go up there. Make a trip to town and get some better equipment. Old rope and a torch don’t seem to be the best things for this,” Dertrik finished as he pulled out the dusty rope and torch from Reniko’s pack.
“I hate it when you’re right, Dare. This is definitely going to delay me,” Reniko acquiesced, but was glad that Dertrik had not tried to forbid her the trip. She didn’t need him acting like her mother as well. One was bad enough.
Dertrik looked at her with worry as she began to make her way out of the stables. “Reniko,” he called after her. Reniko stopped and looked back at Dertrik. “I’m worried about you. You’ve been unusually distracted lately. What’s gotten into you?”
She paused and looked at Dertrik. “I don’t know. I guess that dream last night just hit a nerve. Like –” She just shrugged. “Come on. You’re right, I’m not thinking clearly. Maybe the trip into town will help clear my head.” But it wasn’t just the dream. Reniko had been feeling increasingly restless ever since Dertrik had told her that she was going to be sparring with him and that her training was coming to an end. She felt like something should be happening and this sudden appearance of a light was just the kind of distraction that she needed right now.
Dertrik followed Reniko out of the stables and back to her home. “I think I’ll let you handle the shopping trip. Claire is expecting me back soon.” Reniko nodded and gave a small wave as she went into her home and Dertrik headed to his own. She was glad Dertrik wasn’t coming. She wanted to be alone right now. Maybe a trip to town would help put her thoughts in order or at the very least she would be without the coddling.
It wasn’t until the next day that Reniko was finally able to make it into town. When she had left Dertrik, her mother had cornered her, and she had spent the rest of the afternoon entertaining guests. It wasn’t that unusual at the Dorsalin estate. So, Reniko had always made it a point to avoid her mother in the afternoons. However, being preoccupied with her thoughts and plans, she had run straight into her mother’s waiting arms and had gotten caught up in another dull afternoon with her mother’s friends.
Relaxing in her car, driving down the road to town, Reniko focused on what she was planning to do. She was making a mental list of all the things she needed to buy as she raced down the empty road. She watched most of the day's traffic flying by overhead. In this small rural area that her family lived in, there were not a lot of people that still traveled by land. With the ease and speed of travel that flying vehicles offered, more people lived in the country and commuted by air. Her family did have a flying vehicle, but it was reserved for her father’s business trips. Her family was wealthy enough to have vintage vehicles that still ran on petrol and they preferred the use of the ground vehicles, at least Reniko did. She knew it was merely because the lack of traffic offered her more safety, but she felt flashy driving in an antique. She was grateful that she didn’t have to navigate the traffic in the sky, although still envious of those people that got to see the world from high above. She often wished she could fly.
When Reniko drove into the boundaries of the small rural town that was near to her family’s estate, she noticed a plague of ground-bound traffic. There must be some sort of festival today. She eyed a small café on one of the side streets and pulled over to wait out the bulk of the rush. It, too, was bustling with activity, but on a much more manageable level. She ordered a Café au lait and headed off into a secluded corner. She sat staring out the window, watching the town fly by in a flurry. This detour gave her time to think about the past couple of weeks and the unusual amount of change that had occurred in them. The pace of her life seemed to be escalating at the moment, but that didn’t bother her. What really bothered Reniko was that she didn’t know where this was all going, and the unknown was terrifying. Maybe I should consider taking the Guardian exam. The thought was tempting, but she wasn’t sure if that was truly the path she wanted to take.
“–Reniko doing?” Reniko heard someone say behind her, which made her immediately awaken to her surroundings. She looked at the source of the comment and was greeted with the sight of Dertrik and two strangers. He sat three tables down, his back facing her. Thirteen years of training with him made it impossible for her not to recognize him immediately. She knew all his mannerisms, the way he sat leaning slightly to the left, arrow straight, as if he was anticipating an attack, ready to grab a weapon and step into action. He never looked relaxed.
“She’s as spirited as ever, though I’m concerned about her. She seems to be restless and a little more aggressive than usual,” Dertrik continued.
“It’s only natural. I mean she has just finished –” By this time Reniko had become annoyed. Here was Dertrik discussing her life with people she had never met before. The older man stopped mid-sentence and looked rather embarrassed as Reniko came and stood behind Dertrik, her eyes fiery with disapproval.
“Quite an interesting subject you’ve found yourselves on. I should know.” Dertrik turned, his face as unreadable as stone. Reniko on the other hand displayed her anger without abash.
“Well bless me. I guess I should be more careful not to praise my protégé when she may be nearby. I might start giving her ideas.
“Reniko, I believe you know my father, Kellen, and my brother, Skylar,” he finished gesturing to the two men opposite of him.
It was now Reniko’s turn to feel embarrassed and her face reddened in response. She could now see the family resemblance of the three men and vaguely recalled meeting them once when she was very young. She recalled the encounter as being brief and more of an approval rating than an actual meeting.
“My apologies, I did not recognize you. It’s been so long. I believe the last time you two were here, Dertrik had just decided to train me in the Blade.” Dertrik gestured for her to join them and she sat down in the remaining chair trying to regain her composure. She felt silly for getting angry like that; she knew Dertrik better than to think he would do her any harm. She was shocked at how quick she was to judge him and sank deeper into her chair. She was sure that Dertrik would not have done the same thing had he been in her situation. That thought mollified her remaining anger and she smiled weakly at the Ravvons.
“You sure have grown into quite the woman,” Skylar said, giving Dertrik a fierce glance, “and I hear you’ve completed your training with my younger brother here.”
Reniko looked at Skylar questioningly. The look on Skylar’s face had not escaped her. She was feeling uncomfortable again, suddenly aware that the atmosphere at the table was unfriendly. “Yes, I have. Though I think that there is so much more I could learn from Dare. He has secrets that he keeps from me.”
Kellen raised his brow and decided to rejoin the conversation, his voice laboured with age. “Secrets you say? Yes we all have our secrets, though sometimes it’s best if they are not kept at all. “
Kellen paused and looked at Reniko thoughtfully, “Reniko, my dear, do you know a lot about your lineage?”
“Yes. A lot. Why do you ask? My lineage is no secret, and obviously Dare feels his is not as well. You’re living testaments to that fact, are you not?” Reniko shifted uncomfortably in her chair. She felt a chill in the air, a coldness emanating from the three men she was seated with. She sensed there was something going on here that was beyond her knowledge. A deep-seated argument that she had somehow gotten herself caught up in. Why can’t I just keep to myself?
“Ah, so you know do you? I gather you do not deny what you have inherited unlike my son here,” Kellen said, glaring at Dertrik. Dertrik shifted his gaze uncomfortably.
“I don’t think this is an appropriate subject to discuss here,” Dertrik said. His voice had the hint of warning that he always used when Reniko was getting dangerously close to crossing the line.
“I think Father has a point, Dertrik,” Skylar said. He didn’t seem aware of the warning that Dertrik was giving. Reniko was just waiting for something untoward to happen. She had once been unfortunate enough to incur Dertrik’s wrath and once was enough.
Reniko made to leave. Skylar stood up as well and Reniko gestured for him to remain seated. “No need, I just think it’s time that I take my leave. I think it’s best if I not get caught up in all of this. To tell you the truth, it’s making me feel rather uncomfortable. So, if you’ll excuse me, I came to town for a reason and I feel I must get my errands done. I hope to see you again, under more pleasurable circumstances.”
“So, sorry Miss –” Kellen hesitated for a moment and Dertrik gave him an annoyed glance, “Dorsalin, is it?”
“Yes. And no apologies are necessary. I should not have intruded so rudely in the first place.” Reniko wanted to get as far away from the table as possible and quickly. She wouldn’t have minded the encounter had it been under more controlled circumstances. In its current position however, it was like a bomb waiting to explode.
“It’s always a pleasure, Reniko,” Skylar said, now again seated. Dertrik looked in Reniko’s direction and gave a nod. She gave him a puzzled glance, hesitated, and walked out of the cafe. What on earth is wrong with Dare?
The unnerving conversation that she had had with the Ravvon family was all that Reniko could think about for the rest of the day. She had gathered her supplies from town so quickly after her encounter that she was back at her home just after midday. She hurried to her room and dropped her things as soon as she entered, wondering the entire time when she would be able to see Dertrik and find out what was going on. Not that it’s really any of my business to begin with.
She wasn’t surprised when her mother rushed into her room shortly after she had arrived.
“Well that was a quick trip. I thought you were going to be gone all day,” Monica said as she glanced at the packages lying on Reniko’s floor.
“It was easier to find the items I needed than I anticipated,” she said giving her mom a smile. “Do you have guests today, Mother?”
“Actually, no, though I heard Dertrik’s family has come to town. I think they mentioned they would be stopping by later. It will be nice to see Skylar again. You know he was my beau back when we were young. I was sweet on him until Krista and Kellen moved him away and left Dertrik here by himself. Dertrik was married to Claire by then. I was devastated when Skylar left, but I met your father the following year and well, here we are.”
“I never knew you were in love with Skylar, Mother!” Reniko responded, “For heaven’s sake how come you never told me you knew Dertrik’s family?” Her mother was being unusually chatty. Reniko gathered since she didn’t have her regular group of visitors to talk to she had decided that her daughter would be a suitable alternative.
“It never came up. Besides I didn’t think you were all that interested in what I had to say. You always seemed so caught up in other things. I always thought I was too much of a girl for you.”
“That’s not true. I love hearing your stories. When I was younger and you told me all about when you and dad first met, well, it seemed so magical. I always thought you were telling me fairy tales.” It was true. Her mother’s highly embellished stories had carried Reniko through her youth.
Monica smiled, her face reddening slightly. “I forget how young you are sometimes, Renny, and how old I’m becoming. I love you, dear. Don’t forget that, all right,” she said with a sudden grave air.
“I never will, Mother,” Reniko said, adding as an afterthought, “For heaven’s sake, what is wrong with everyone today? First I see Dare uptown with his father and brother and they are all behaving strangely, and now you. Is there something in the air, or maybe the water?”
“Oh Reniko, don’t mind us older folk, we just get a little nostalgic with time. It’s not every day a bit of history comes walking back into your life.” Monica slipped out the door before Reniko could respond and left her alone. That feeling of escalation was upon her again and this time it was hard to shake.Reniko wandered over to her windowsill and glanced at the hills. Even in the bright afternoon the blue light could be seen faintly in the hills. Her curiosity rekindled. I won’t be able to talk to Dertrik until his family leaves anyway, so I might as well keep myself occupied. Stepping away from the window she grabbed her backpack off her bed, carried it over to where she had set down the packages, and began re-packing her bag. She would be much more organized this time.