When Reniko awoke it was with relief that she was still alive. She was lying on her back staring up at the ceiling of a round gray room. The panels that made up the room seemed to be glowing, providing the area with a pale light. As she became more aware of her body she noticed a cool breeze prickling the surface of her skin on her right arm. Looking over at it she noticed her sleeve had been torn off. It was at that moment that she came to another sudden realization. She wasn’t on the ground. Instead she was floating squarely in the centre of the room. Gasping in surprise she tried to right herself only to realize that without gravity in this round room there was no way to tell up from down. Her right arm throbbing, her head dizzy with confusion and her stomach queasy, she resorted to closing her eyes again, waiting for vertigo to end.
“Does your arm hurt much?” A child’s voice asked. The sound echoed in the large room. Reniko immediately opened her eyes and came face to face with the image of a young girl of about seven with long curly blond hair and golden brown eyes. She was suspended sideways to Reniko, smiling.
Reniko didn’t speak only looked back at her arm where she noticed a spot of blood that had dried where a needle had punctured her skin.
“The floor is that way,” the little girl, said pointing toward her feet. Reniko looked in the direction she was pointing regretting it as she did so, her stomach lurching with the glance. Silently she rotated her body and became parallel with the young girl.
“Thank you,” Reniko said. She closed her eyes again.
“You’ll feel better in a moment. We didn’t want you running away. You’ve been sleeping a long time. We were worried.”
“We?” Reniko asked glancing around the strange room one again.
“The keepers of the city of course. Does this form please you? We could always change it if you like,” the girl said. Her shape morphed suddenly into the form of her mentor, Dertrik.
Eyes wide with shock Reniko finally realized that the girl was not a girl at all but a hologram. “No, please, the girl was fine.”
“Does it pain you so to see this form?” The hologram asked in Dertrik’s voice.
“Yes,” Reniko whispered. The hologram took the form of the young girl again and smiled.
“We have a choice for you. Do you think you can stand?” the hologram asked just as gravity reasserted itself and Reniko began plunging to the floor below. However, before Reniko reached the ground her descent slowed and she was placed lightly onto the ground. Unnerved by this display of control she stood silent as the hologram descended.
“What choice?” she finally asked when the hologram was positioned on the ground.
“We’ve seen your most recent memories and find a conflict. Please choose now.”
“What do you mean? How can you see my memories? What conflict?”
“We wish you first to make your choice.” The hologram flickered slightly and disappeared, leaving Reniko alone in the room once again. As she looked at the wall before her she noticed breaks forming in it, dripping away like the ground had done in the cage. Soon the outline of two doorways could be seen.
“I’m not doing anything until you tell me what’s going on. What did you do to me?” she screamed into the empty room. Resolving not to do a thing until she received some sort of explanation, she turned her back on the doorways and sat squarely on the floor. She received no reply to her outburst, only heard the sound of sand falling as one of the doorways dissolved. She tried to ignore it until she saw a familiar blue light emanating from beyond it. With a desperation she didn’t know she harboured she leapt to her feet and turned to the door. A rippling pool of blue light stood beyond it, embedded into the floor beneath. Home. I can go home! The thought raced through her head as she stepped unbelieving toward the door. Dertrik, Claire, Erik, they are all just beyond this door frame. There is no choice to make. She was right, there was no choice to make. When the other door opened and she saw what was behind it, she never even hesitated. She left behind the blue light and ran shaking into the other room. The door closed behind her. Malik hung suspended above the ground, bound by thousands of silver threads. His unconscious frame dripped droplets of red blood into a pool on the ground below.
“What have you done?” she cried out to the invisible captor, racing to Malik and pulling at the bonds that held him. At her touch the threads disentangled themselves and Malik slipped into her outstretched hands and the two of them collapsed to the floor.
Cradling Malik in her arms she assessed the damage that had been inflicted upon him. She saw long gashes torn into his arms and upper torso, all caked with dry blood.
“These look like they were inflicted by some sort of blade,” Reniko observed.
“You are correct. Another creature entered the city moments after you. We detected its presence but did not realize its hostility until it engaged your friend in battle. We detained it immediately. Examination of our records shows no files pertaining to such a creature. I will project an image of this creature to you. Please clarify so we can add the information to our records.” A small hologram hovered above Malik’s unconscious frame. It was Kruok.
“That’s a Rük. How could you not know what that creature is?”
“Rük is not a current word we have in our records, please clarify.”
“A Rük, that creature you just showed me, its species name is Rük. They rule Vespen.”
“Error, the Levanith rule Vespen.”
“I don’t have time to dispute this with you. Malik needs help.”
“Will you answer all our questions if this man is taken care of?” the hologram asked.
“If I can, yes.”
“You have passed inspection, we will comply. One moment please.” The hologram girl flickered and vanished, leaving Reniko alone with Malik. Moments later a loud whirring sound began overhead and Reniko was momentarily blinded as a bright flash filled the room making the air sizzle with energy.
“Encoding activated,” she heard the child’s voice say as it flickered back into existence.
Reniko turned to the image and was about to speak when she felt a strange tingling sensation in her arm. Looking at her exposed arm she tracked the sensation as it pooled into the back of her hand. Curious and somewhat worried as she felt the tingling grow rapidly into warmth, she grabbed her hand.
“What did you –” she stopped as the warmth turned to fire. Something was being burned into her skin from the inside. Biting her lip to hold back the scream of pain that was locked underneath, she watched as a symbol formed in black on the back of her hand. When it was complete she realized she now wore the symbol of the Levanith. With the process complete the pain vanished, though she still looked at the hologram with blazing anger.
“What the hell was that?” She screamed rubbing her hand to make sure that the symbol was the only change her hand had sustained. A sudden stir from where Malik lay on top of her made her forget her question. When she looked down she looked into the golden eyes of Malik.
“You’re awake!” she cried.
“You’re alive!” he said in return. The two of them began laughing with relief and Reniko noticed that the lacerations that Malik had borne had vanished, leaving behind nothing but dried blood.
“Are you satisfied?” the hologram asked attaining Malik’s attention.
“Shayrah?” he asked, dumbfounded.
“Negative. I am a holographic projection that has taken the form of the child from your memory. My purpose is to serve as a humanoid reference of contact.”
“In other words she’s not real,” Reniko said running her hand through the holographic image. “Who is Shayrah?”
“My sister,” Malik said, his eyes clouded.
“I have a few questions of my own, before I answer yours,” Reniko said to the child Shayrah.
“You have satisfied us, we will consent. Please follow us, we will show you to a more suitable dwelling.” A door slid open opposite the one Reniko had entered, and standing, both Malik and Reniko followed the holographic Shayrah. As they walked, Malik and Reniko talked.
“What happened?” Malik asked.
“I was about to ask you the same thing. All I remember after I fell was waking up suspended in the middle of a circular room. Then I found you.”
“Well after you disappeared into the ground, it reformed and the barrier vanished. As I was looking for a way to get down to you, and find out what happened, I ran into Kruok.” Malik looked down at his arms and his torso, astonished to find no wounds.
“I think that hologram, or whatever she is, healed you. I’m not sure how. But it was about the same time that your wounds were healing that I gained this,” Reniko said showing Malik the Levanith tattoo. Malik grabbed her hand in his and noticed he too shared the same tattoo.
“Well that’s interesting,” he said examining his own hand instead of Reniko’s.
“That mark enables you to have passage inside this city as well as any other Levanith city,” the holographic Shayrah said.
“So it’s permanent?” Reniko asked.
“It’s been encoded into your genetic structure.”
Reniko shuddered at the thought. She didn’t like to think that this hologram was playing with her genetic code. I guess that would explain the injection. Whatever was in that cocktail not only healed Malik but also gave us this new decoration.
“Is that a yes?” Malik asked. Reniko nodded in return.
As their conversation came to a close they entered into an apartment. The hologram paused in the foyer. “We have provided you with new clothing. We thought it would be necessary for you both to have sustenance and rejuvenation. With your permission we will extrapolate all the information we need to fill in the loss in our records.”
“Our records are only complete until the year 950 LE. All information after this time period has been damaged.”
“950 LE?” Reniko looked to Malik for an explanation.
Malik shrugged in response. “The only dates I have ever heard are those that the Rük keep. In their keeping it’s about 1001 RE. I have no idea what she is talking about.”
“This time system does not compute. In keeping with the Levanith records, the year to date would be 2050 LE, Month 5, day 7, hour 4, minute 36, second 12 and counting.”
“So that would mean what? That you’re missing 1100 years?” Reniko calculated.
“That is correct. Contact with Tordaskar was severed in 1050 LE and the city above was destroyed prior to this date. Contact was severed before we could rebuild our memory.”
“City above?” Malik asked.
“There are two levels to the city of Reflaydun: the city above and the city below. An occurrence between the dates of 950 LE and 1050 LE destroyed the city above. Most of our memory and archives are in the city below. What remained in the city above was decimated.”
“But the city is fine,” Reniko interjected.
“We have had one thousand years to rebuild.”
“You rebuilt all of that without the Levanith?” Malik asked.
“It was our prime objective. Now that it is complete we await orders from the Levanith.”
“The Levanith were all killed a thousand years ago.”
“This information corresponds with our timeline, we accept this as fact.”
“You didn’t know?” Malik asked.
Malik put his head in his hands. “So much for finding out how to get rid of the Rük.”
“Our sensors indicate you both need rejuvenation. We will resume our exchange afterwards. Please enjoy our hospitality.”
“Thank you,” Reniko whispered.
“One more request. May we have permission to extrapolate the information that we require to repair our database?”
Malik looked at the hologram. “What do you mean?”
“You hold information we require. It is easier for us to extrapolate it directly while you are both in standby.” Malik looked puzzled.
“I think she means that while we are sleeping they would like to copy our memories.”
“That is correct.”
“You can take it regardless of what we say, can you not?” Malik asked.
“That is correct, however we will not do so without your permission. It is not in our parameters to go against the will of Levanith marked.”
“I give you my permission,” Malik said.
Reniko hesitated. “I don’t think my memories will help you rebuild your archives. I’m not from Vespen. All my memories are of Earth.”
“All information is of consequence. We would appreciate your contribution.”
“What are you afraid of, Reniko?” Malik asked.
Everything. I just gave up my chance of going home and I have no idea where my life is headed anymore. And you are far too trusting of the Levanith, Malik. “You have my permission,” she finally said.
“Your cooperation is appreciated. Please, let me show you to your rooms.”
They were led each to their own room. To Reniko’s amazement the rooms closely resembled those that she had on Earth. The beds no longer housed mattresses of straw and the walls were not of plain stone or brick but were lined with fabrics of rich gold and purple. Laid out on the bed was a nightgown. Realizing she was sorely in need of a change from the torn and bloodstained clothing she wore, she quickly shut the door only to notice that there was a steaming bath going in the bathroom at the far end of the room. Striding quickly to the bathroom she stripped bare and slipped into the soothing bath water. She gave her body a thorough scrub leaving her body clean and the bath water a travel worn mess. Shaking her wet locks, she made her way back into the bedroom and slipped the nightgown over her head. She slid between the covers of the bed and sank into an almost instantaneous sleep.
Malik entered his room and shut the door, his ritual nearly the same as Reniko’s. Only his thoughts dwelled on the conversation he had had with his sister’s look-alike. It was devastating to realize that this city didn’t hold the answers he was looking for. To think that all the information that this city had about the Rük was what it found in Malik’s head was distressing. I’ve come all this way for nothing. Sinking into a reverie of self-doubt Malik slinked into his bed and began his descent into unconsciousness.
They both awoke disoriented. Reniko had never felt more violated. She remembered the night, remembered reliving all her memories in brief flashes that seemed like lifetimes. It was the last memory that the guardians had sifted through that made Reniko awaken with a start. Something she didn’t really remember, and as she sat there trying to hold onto the memory, she felt it slipping away again. It reawakened an old fear. She had been in a very small room and she had been gasping for breath. She couldn’t find a way out, only endless darkness and no one heard her. The memory terrified her. Rubbing her head in frustration she peeled back the covers and sighed. Despite the invasion of her mind, she did feel rested, more-so than she had felt in all the time she had spent on Vespen. When she finally glanced around the room she saw that the mess of torn clothes she had left on the bathroom floor had been removed. Imako sat on a dresser near the end of the bed, next to a new set of clothing. She was startled to see that the clothes set out for her were ones she had seen before. When Malik had first taken her to Cabitora a scarlet dress had been amongst the gifts she had received in that city so many kilometers away, yet here it sat neatly on the dresser. It was impossible for it to be here, yet there it was.
“We have modified it slightly. It will be most comfortable in both warm and cold weather,” the hologram said as she appeared in the bedroom beside Reniko.
“Where did you get this?” Reniko asked picking up the dress and noting that where the sleeves were attached to the shoulder a black fabric now pooled out, unlike its counterpart in Cabitora, which had left the gap bare.
“We saw it in one of your memories and recreated it. It seemed a sensible piece of wardrobe, according to what we have seen of Vespen from your memories as well as your male friend’s.”
“I would have preferred to wear pants,” Reniko replied.
“We have agreed that it would not be suitable. It would cause too much attention to be drawn once you have left our city. Being from Earth, this attention would be greatly unwanted, especially seeing as the Rük are trying to locate you. We have agreed that you must comply on this point.”
A knock at her door halted the conversation.
“Reniko, are you awake?”
“Yes, I’ll be out in a moment Malik.”
Reniko turned back to the dress and with a resolute sigh began to put it on. Once clothed in the fabrics, she was quite comfortable. This isn’t near as encumbering as that dress I wore from Cabitora to Savonly. I could get used to this. Quickly combing her hair and twining it into her familiar braid she slipped back on her boots, strapped Imako onto her back, and carrying her cloak in hand headed into the dining room.
Malik sat there in a duplicate of the outfit he had worn the previous day, minus the jagged tears that Kruok’s chakram had left behind. He waited patiently before the meal that was spread on the table.
The holographic Shayrah appeared as Reniko entered the room. As she set down her cloak and sword and seated herself in front of the spread the hologram began talking.
“We compiled the food according to your memories. We haven’t hosted organic beings for some time, so please let us know if anything is inaccurate.”
Reniko looked at the table before her and smiled. Right before her was a large pizza. It brought back fond memories of home. She and Dertrik, after long nights of training, would always go back to his manor and stay up late watching horror movies with Erik despite Claire’s protests. In the morning, instead of having a wholesome breakfast, they would eat whatever pizza was left over from the night before. She had always loved leftover pizza for breakfast.
She grabbed a slice and laughed. Breaking the fast, she began to ask the questions that had been plaguing her since the previous night.
“What has happened to Kruok?”
“She has been most uncooperative. We have forcibly extracted the information we required from her. Most of her memories have dealings with you. We do not think you comprehend the gravity of your situation.”
“What do you mean?” Malik asked.
“Kruok is no longer the only one looking for you. According to her memories, the last time she contacted her lord, Orborok, he was not pleased with her. He has ordered her execution for failing to attain you. Kruok’s life now depends on bringing you back to Orborok. Her lord has now made the hunt for you more public. By now most cities on Edonal Eclith will know of you. A reward had been issued for whoever captures you alive. Orborok will stop at nothing to have you.”
“What does the Lord Orborok know about me?” Reniko asked. She put down her food, her appetite lost.
“He knows you are from Earth. I think it may be the only reason they have issued a capture instead of a death sentence. These creatures, they know no mercy.”
Malik lit up suddenly. “You’ve taken information from Kruok right?’
“That is correct.”
“Maybe you can tell me, is there a way to destroy them? To rid Vespen of them?”
“From the knowledge we have acquired from this Rük, we have nothing more to tell you than what you already know. A more thorough study of the species would have to be done before we could offer you a complete analysis. We advise that you seek out the information located in Tordaskar. Their records may be more complete than our own.”
Malik shook his head. “There aren’t any archives in Tordaskar.”
“That is incorrect. An archive library was constructed there. Access is limited. Now that you have the Levanith mark, access may be granted.”
“I know that city through and through, I’ve never seen any sealed buildings.”
“The castle harbours one entrance and the other is located in the cliff face only accessible by air. I assure you the archives are there.”
“I can’t go back there,” Malik whispered.
“No one is going to make you go back there,” Reniko said. “If it pains you so much, we’ll find another way.
“Were Reflaydun and Tordaskar the only two places that the Levanith left archives?” Reniko asked trying to ease Malik’s pain.
“Fharlasina holds an archive memory on Raet Serac, as well as the capital Sentralon.”
“Sentralon? I’ve never heard of that,” Malik said.
“Sentralon is the Levanith capital. Located on the Isle of Sentralon. Currently the only way to locate Sentralon is to gather the coordinates from all three continental capitals, Fharlasina on Raet Serac, Ire on Mo’an Delar and Reflaydun on Edonal Eclith. However due to events unclear in our archives, the city of Ire was destroyed. Tordaskar has therefore been made Mo’an Delar’s continental capital. If you wish we could give you our piece of the information.”
“Why was the location of Sentralon hidden?” Reniko asked.
“That information has been damaged.”
“If it was the Levanith capital, it was probably hidden so the Rük wouldn’t be able to locate it,” Malik supplied.
“It doesn’t matter. We don’t need to go to Sentralon. The archives at Fharlasina should provide us with what we need,” Reniko said.
“That is correct. However, Sentralon is the only location with an active wormhole.”
“Worm what?” Malik asked. Reniko froze. She knew what that meant. It meant that going to Sentralon was the only way for her to get home.
“But what about that light? That pool of light in the room?” Reniko asked. Malik looked at her confused.
“We are sorry for the deception, however it was deemed necessary. We have not had a working portal since 950 LE when the Levanith issued that all worm holes to Earth be severed due to the influx of alien residents on Vespen.”
“Excuse me?” Malik and Reniko both asked.
“Human life forms did not originate on Vespen. All humans on Vespen today are descendants from Earth immigrants.” Malik’s mind reeled with information. Humans are all from Earth?
“So humans are just as foreign to Vespen as the Rük are? That means that we have no right to be here,” Malik said.
“That is incorrect. Although the Levanith, Teoko, Le’a’to and unicorns are the only species native to Vespen, the humans were invited to live on Vespen. You may not be native, but after eleven hundred years your species has just as much claim to Vespen as the Levanith do,” the hologram replied.
“She’s right Malik. The Levanith wanted you here. The Rük however, were uninvited,” Reniko supplied.
“But the goddess, the prophecy? They were not meant for humans, not if we are not creatures of the goddess’ land. What does that mean?”
“This goddess you speak of, no record of her exists in our archives. I wonder however, if you know what the Levanith looked like?”
“Where is this going?” Reniko asked.
“Please answer our question,” the hologram replied.
“No, no one knows what the Levanith looked like. There is nothing anywhere that shows their form,” Malik said.
“Let me please take the form of the last recorded queen of the Levanith, Shyma of Sentralon born in 221 LE. The leader of Vespen Free from 310 LE until our records end.”
The resemblance was unmistakable. The wings extended gracefully from her back, the perfect depiction of an angel. She so much resembled the statue that there was no doubt in Reniko’s mind that this being, Shyma, had given life to the goddess Shyla. The goddess so long worshiped was one of the Levanith that had vanished from Vespen, destroyed completely by the Rük a thousand years ago.