After Reniko left Malik, she had returned to the apartment that the hologram had provided. As she entered the door, she stripped off the bloodied clothing and ran into the washroom where, surprisingly, a bath awaited her. Without questioning it, she slipped into the warm water hoping to drown her thoughts. This city held so much information, so much change and none of it had been what Reniko was really looking for.
“Are you upset with your choice?” the hologram asked as it flickered into existence.
Reniko immediately thought of the two doorways: one was her way home and the other gave her Malik. With that in mind she answered.
“No, I did what I had to do.” The answer held true for her encounter with Kruok as well and she sighed with a sudden relief. Sometimes death is a release and life is the prison.
“We do not understand why you have chosen as you have. However the killing of the Rük has proven useful.” Reniko shuddered at the thought, trying to erase the possibilities that rose unbidden into her mind with the hologram’s comment.
“We have come across an item that may prove useful to us as well as you. It is a data cell. We wish you to take it on your journey. We understand that you wish to travel to Tordaskar and Fharlasina. If you do so, please take the data cell. It will help us re-establish our connection with the archives in those two locations.”
“What does it do?” Reniko asked as she lifted the object from the spot that the hologram had pointed to. It was a round silver sphere the size of her palm, the surface of which was riddled with small rectangular pieces that fit together smoothly. She turned it in her hands noticing the same chaotic puzzle covered the whole circumference of the object.
“It is a communication device amongst other things. If you were to take it with you we could keep in contact. That small cell can hold almost as much data as we have in Reflaydun, though at present it seems to be empty. We have been tracking its transmissions. It seems that the deceased Rük was using this to contact her superiors.”
“How does it work?”
“It is voice activated. We have coded it to respond to your voice, as well as your companion Malik’s. All other access will be denied unless you request it.”
“I’ll keep that in mind,” Reniko said. She set the sphere back on the shelf and removed herself from the bath.
“We have provided you with a new set of clothing,” the hologram said. Reniko ambled back into her room. A dress of a deep blue lay upon the bed, as well as the sleeveless surcoat that Malik had given to her in the Mistfall Caverns. She donned the attire and proceeded to the foyer. Malik was still not back. As Reniko paced uncomfortably in the foyer, the hologram appeared once again instructing her that it would be best if she had a meal while she waited for her friend’s return. Glad for the distraction she went into the dining area and started the meal in front of her.
As the meal finished, Malik had still not returned. Unable to sit still and wait idly she wandered into her room where her backpack sat against the wall. Sitting cross-legged on the floor she rummaged through it in hopes of finding something to make the time go by faster. After pulling everything out and rearranging it, conveniently making more room, she tossed the bag aside and scanned the room once again. When nothing interesting caught her eye she sighed and made to get up off the floor. A voice stopped her midway.
“Relax Reniko, the more worked up you get about this, the more time will crawl.” It was Dertrik’s voice and it echoed only in her mind.
It was the day she had learned the importance of patience. Dertrik had told her that he had something to give her. The Dorsalin’s were holding one of their annual parties that evening and Dertrik had told her that during the party he was going to give her something. She had turned thirteen only weeks before and was still childishly impulsive. She had pestered him all day, trying to weaken Dertrik into giving it to her early, telling him that she would simply die if she had to wait. He had not relented, so instead she had tried to pry some sort of information from him as to what it was. His answer had been what Reniko remembered now.
“How am I supposed to relax when my mind is trying so hard to puzzle out what this thing you’ve gotten me is? You simply can’t tell a child such as me they are going to get something and refuse to let them know anything about it,” Reniko had replied, her speech showing she was not quite the child she was portraying.
“Do you remember what I taught you about meditation?” Dertrik asked. They were in his study and he seated himself in the chair behind his desk.
Reniko frowned and slumped into a chair of her own. “Yes. I’ve never been very good at it. There is always so much I am supposed to be doing. Mama doesn’t leave me much time to just sit around and do nothing.”
“Well you are doing something, have you ever tried telling her that?”
Reniko looked at him aghast. “I could never tell mama anything of the sort. Not only would she think I’m foolish but she would figure out soon enough that I was doing it at your request, which would lead her to the conclusion that I am, in fact, studying the Blade.”
“I’ve never approved of your secrecy with her, Renny.”
“I know, but would you rather I told her and thus stop my lessons, or would you rather I not tell her and continue?”
“I want you to convince her to let you come.”
“It will never happen. Just give it up.”
“If you won’t tell her I will.”
“Dare, no. I love our time together. She would ruin all of that. Please...”
“Only if you promise me that you’ll at least try to do meditation.”
Grumpy from being so easily defeated, Reniko slunk from the chair and kneeled patiently on the floor. “Alright, have it your way,” Reniko said as she slid her eyes closed.
“This is better, my student actually listening to my instruction,” Dertrik teased.
Reniko opened her eyes and caught Dertrik’s, sending him a vicious glance which quickly turned into a smile.
“Keep your eyes closed. Now, I don’t want you to clear your mind, only calm it. What calms you the most Reniko?”
Her eyes closed, she searched the darkness for a calm point. She had many: riding through the woods on Shade, listening to Ava humming as she went about Reniko’s room, listening at the top of the stairs as her mother entertained--they were all things that calmed her. However, thinking about this in Dertrik’s study caused her mind to race in many different directions, lost in all the memories attached to her calm moments.
“Have you found something, Reniko?”
Reniko bit her lip and sighed. “I don’t think this is working.”
She heard Dertrik’s footsteps shift and suddenly she felt him at her side whispering softly into her ear. “One thing that doesn’t make you think of anything else. There has to be something.”
She clenched her eyes tightly, caught in concentration. There had to be something.
But there was nothing. Nothing that came into her mind was unattached to other thoughts. She felt a slight breeze washing over her exposed skin, causing goose pimples and suddenly she felt something half remembered. The wind. She loved the wind more than anything else in the world. The wind always calmed her. No matter how vicious it became, she always felt she had some sort of control over it. Some days she even wished that the wind would become strong enough to pick her off the ground so she could soar amongst the clouds and leave her confining estate behind. Her face relaxed and so did her body. Dertrik, who had been watching the process, noticed the change instantly.
“Just let yourself go from there. You’ll find your way.” Dertrik said softly and tiptoed out of the room shutting the door quietly behind him.
Reniko got lost that day. So lost, she nearly missed the party. Claire had found her on her way back with Erik, who, being but a baby, had had enough of the loud noises and large crowds. When she noticed the study door closed, she had gone to investigate, thinking Dertrik had also come home early from the party. When she flicked on the lights, it startled Reniko out of her reverie and back into the world around her. Claire had asked if anything was wrong. Reniko had just shaken her head and ran past Claire back to her home in search of Dertrik. She found him on the outskirts of the crowd cradling a glass of champagne.
“Were you going to leave me there all night?” Reniko asked, startling Dertrik who tried to hide his surprise.
“I wasn’t prepared to disturb something I have been trying to get you to do for years,” Dertrik said pointedly. “I have something to ask you.”
“What if I said that I decided not to give you your present tonight?”
Reniko glared at him. “I would say that’s pretty mean thing to do and you would be breaking a promise.”
“So what of it?”
“Come along, I’ll give it to you.”
“You don’t have it with you?”
“It’s too big.”
“Oh bother. I’ve missed enough of the party already. We’ll just have to wait until tomorrow.”
“Are you sure Reniko?”
“Now who’s the impatient one?” Reniko asked, cocking her head and grinning at Dertrik.
“Come on, your mother has been looking everywhere for you,” Dertrik said grabbing Reniko’s hand and pulling her deeper into the crowd.
So it was that Malik came to find Reniko kneeling on the floor, eyes closed and very far away from her present surroundings. Upon seeing this, he stumbled back to the doorway and turned to leave.
“I’m glad you’re back,” Reniko said loudly, halting Malik in his steps.
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to disturb you.”
“You didn’t. Like I said, I’m glad you’re back.” Reniko said, standing to join Malik at the door.
“What were you doing?” Malik asked as Reniko led him into the dining area.
“Waiting for you. So, what’s going on up there?” she asked, stopping and tapping Malik lightly on the temple.
“Oh, well –” Malik hesitated.
“Do you need more time?” Reniko asked.
“It’s just…I need to know something.”
“What is it?”
“I need you to tell me, do you really care about what happens to us, to those of us who live here? Because I can’t do any of this if I know all you want is to go home.”
Reniko grabbed Malik by the shoulders and stared straight into his eyes. “Malik, I promise you that I will not leave this planet until we have found some way to liberate Vespen. You have my word. I could never turn my back on everyone here, not when there is a chance I can do something to help.”
“I guess that means we should be planning our next move,” Malik said giving Reniko a weak smile.
“You’re made of tempered steel Malik, stronger than me,” Reniko said patting his arm lightly and turning to the table that stood in front of them.
Malik smiled, keeping his thoughts unsaid as he followed Reniko to the table. I’m only strong because of you.
Malik after eating his meal had gone to his belongings and pulled out an array of maps. The first one was of Edonal Eclith, both more and less accurate than Reniko’s own copy of the map. Malik’s map had recent markings of his own making, with the shale cliffs that surrounded the area of Reflaydun, as well as a few markings near the latter half of the map where cities were marked that no longer stood. Reniko’s, however, was the only one bearing the location of Reflaydun. The next one was worn and well used, of the continent that Malik was born on, Mo’an Delar. Reniko marked the location of Tordaskar behind Ocean’s Wall before Malik covered the map with the last one, that of Raet Serac.
“I figure it would be best if we headed next to Fharlasina. The easiest way to get there would be to travel southeast to Trenasa; from there the town of Roz is just a short flight east over the ocean. We can gather more supplies there before we head to Fharlasina, which is only sixteen or seventeen days away if we take a short cut across the plains here,” Malik said, pointing to a route that took the group south of East Fearmon River which bordered the forest surrounding Fharlasina.
“Malik, I think we should go south, to Tordaskar,” Reniko said.
Malik stopped his calculations and looked up at Reniko with a frown. “There is no reason for us to go there.”
“There is if we wish to go to Sentralon.”
“But that’s not our wish. Fharlasina will have more than enough information for us on the Rük. We don’t need to find this capital city.”
“We do if I want to go home. Malik, it is the only place on Vespen that may still hold a way for me to get back to Earth.”
“I thought you said you were going to stay on Vespen? I thought you said that this journey wasn’t just about you getting home?”
“It isn’t just about me getting home. I’ll keep my promise to help you liberate Vespen, but I never said I was going to stay here forever. I need to get home. Going to both Tordaskar and Fharlasina is my only way of doing that.”
“Come with me to Fharlasina. Once we find out what we can there we’ll decide about going to Tordaskar.”
“I have an idea. Since you don’t want to go to Tordaskar, why not let me go there alone. You go to Fharlasina with Orric and I’ll go to Tordaskar with Penumbra.”
“First of all Penumbra cannot fly, so you would never even get close to Tordaskar, and second, I couldn’t let you go there alone. You don’t know anything about how it is in Tordaskar, they would eat you alive worse than if I was there to help you.”
“So you’ll come?”
“Why do you want to go there so badly? Fharlasina is much closer and I don’t have to be thrown into doing something I don’t want to.”
“Look, I have an obligation. I promised Reflaydun that I would help it re-establish its connection with Tordaskar. I can’t do that unless we go there.”
“There’s more to it than that, I can tell.”
“Fine, if you want to know I’ll tell you. Milla and Ima talked about Tordaskar frequently, and your talk of it has only heightened my curiosity. There is a resistance there and I want to see if we can motivate them into action. There is a whole city behind Ocean’s Wall, tens of thousands of people all untainted by the hand of the Rük. I’m sure if we go there and tell them what is going on out here, they’ll want to help. We could use their help, Malik.”
“It’s not worth your time. Trust me, they won’t listen, they never will. We are on our own here.”
“You haven’t been back there for what? Four years now?”
“Five, then. A lot could have changed. Did you ever go back and at least tell them what was happening?”
“No. I couldn’t.”
“We could try telling them. If they don’t know anything about the world, no wonder they aren’t helping.”
“It’s not that easy, Reniko.”
“I don’t expect it would be. We don’t know anything until we try. I’m going to go with or without you.”
“Why are you so stubborn about this?”
“Orric will take me there so you don’t have to go back if you don’t want to. He lived there too, so I suspect he can protect me as well as you could.”
Malik stood up from his seat with frustration. She was impossible. Nothing he said would persuade her to leave Tordaskar alone.
“We don’t have to go there right away, Reniko. Come with me to Fharlasina and we’ll go to Tordaskar.”
“Wouldn’t you rather get the unpleasantness over and done with first? Dertrik always told me that it was best to suck the poison from your life right away rather than let it fester and corrupt.”
“So this is about me is it?”
“Something about that place is eating at your soul, Malik. Face it and maybe you could be happy for a change,” Reniko said. She stood up and walked over to Malik whose back was now turned to Reniko. She placed her hands on his shoulders and turned him to meet her face.
“You’re testing my endurance, Reniko. So much has already changed since we came here, isn’t that enough for you?”
“This isn’t about me, Malik, it’s about you. How long can you go on living with that hatred you bear? It’s bleeding you dry.”
Malik remained silent as he brushed past Reniko to take a seat by the map strewn table.
“When we were in Mistfall, Rimca tried to persuade you to go back. She said that the Rük were close to Tordaskar. Aren’t you at least a little worried about your family?” Reniko pleaded. “What about your sister, Shayrah? What if something happens to her? Don’t you want to be there to protect her?”
“I’ll go,” Malik whispered, halting Reniko’s questions.
Reniko took her seat next to Malik and pushed aside the maps. “Don’t do it for me, do it for you.”
Malik shook his head. “My reasons are my own.”
“Well, south it is. What’s the best way to get there?” Reniko asked pulling the map of Edonal Eclith from the pile and smoothing it out on top.
Reniko emerged into the tree shrouded garden just as the sunlight hit the hills surrounding the ancient city. After discussing their route to Tordaskar, Malik had decided to refresh his mind after the chaos it had been thrown into that day. Not having the same problem, Reniko instead sought out Orric, whom she found nestled snuggly in the roots of the thousand-year-old tree. He opened his eyes as she stepped near sensing her presence even though she had come in stealth.
“No sneaking up on a Teoko, is there?” Reniko teased as she sat on a nearby root.
“There are other ways to hear someone than what you humans use,” Orric said with a grin. “What brings this evening visit?”
“Malik and I have decided where we are going. I wanted to ask if you would come along with us,” Reniko spoke.
“I travel with Malik. It doesn’t matter where we go, as long as he is there.”
“I just thought you should have a say in the matter as well. He seems so adamant about avoiding the place and I wanted to know if you felt the same way.”
Orric’s head shot up in surprise. “You can’t possibly be telling me that we are heading to Tordaskar.”
“Does that mean you don’t want to go?”
“Just the opposite, Lyss. I have been trying to get Malik to go back to Tordaskar for three years now. You have done something far beyond my ability. I commend you.”
“I still don’t understand why the thought of returning hurts him so much. Won’t you tell me?” Reniko asked hoping to shed some light on her traveling companion.
“It is not for me to say. You will find out in due time,” Orric said lying his head back down onto his arms.
Reniko turned her gaze from the midnight creature and watched the last of the sun’s rays fade into twilight. “I hope I’m doing the right thing.”
“Do not worry about the future so, Lyss. Just take each moment as it comes. For now it feels right and that is all we can know. We cannot know the future, so why spend your feelings needlessly on it?”
“Is that how you live, one moment to the next?”
“It is how we all live. Humans just try to fool themselves into thinking they can live another way.”
“Are you ever going to tell me why you call me Lyss?”
“No more questions tonight. We travel tomorrow and for that I need rest tonight.”
“I guess that’s goodnight,” Reniko said leaning over the root and gently kissing Orric’s muzzle. “See you tomorrow, friend.”
Orric shifted self-consciously as Reniko lightly glided away down into the depths of the ancient city. As she disappeared into the lift, he opened his closed eyes and watched her retreating form. She is so much more than she believes, Orric thought as she disappeared with the last of the day’s light.
The next morning Reniko rose early. Up before even the sun, she made her way silently to the tower garden where Orric slept soundly. This time she had the air of surprise and startled Orric out of his sleep.
“What brings you up here before the dawn?” he asked stretching his limbs.
“I was wondering if you could take me to see Penumbra. I want to tell him goodbye.”
“The city has not forsaken your unicorn friend. Although he resides outside the city walls, he has been privy to our conversations, just as I was.”
“That doesn’t matter. I still need to say goodbye.”
“I’ll take you. Climb onto my back,” Orric said. Reniko did as he commanded and slipped between the bony ridges in the position that Malik usually assumed. When she was comfortable, Orric took off into the air, the jolting sensation causing Reniko a moment of disorientation. Once in the air, her heart felt at ease. The wind washing over her skin sent ripples of pleasure along her spine, reminding her of her love of the air and Dertrik her mentor. Below, the city reflected the starlight and moonlight that could still be seen up above, Orric’s shadow cast a void in this glimmering sea, and Reniko watched with awe as they swept over the sleeping city. From this height, she could see the very edge of Reflaydun where the valley walls became the end to the sparkling reflection. Farther away, she could see the foreboding clouds that surrounded the city: the cause of the never-ending winter storm.
Flying on top of Orric, the trip to Penumbra was only minutes instead of the hours it had taken them to walk so far into the city. When Orric set down beside Penumbra, the sun was no closer to rising than before they had left.
Penumbra, who had been sleeping peacefully next to Blaze, woke suddenly as the ground shook with Orric’s weight as he dropped from the air.
Such an early morning visit my friend. What urgency brings you to me at this hour? Penumbra asked as Reniko jumped from Orric’s back.
“I didn’t want to leave without saying goodbye,” Reniko said, halting her steps before she wandered too far from Orric’s side.
So it’s as I suspected. You are going to Mo’an Delar and by Teoko no less.
“I wish you could come,” Reniko said softly.
It might be better this way. While you’re off trying to solve the mysteries that we have found here, I can explain all that has transpired to the resistance here, on Edonal Eclith. When the time comes, everyone will be ready.
Ready for your and Malik’s plan.
Reniko smiled, walked over to Penumbra and hugged him tightly.
“I’m going to miss you so much. Thank you for everything.”
It is I that must thank you. If we had never met, I may be dead, or worse, still oblivious to what is going on in this world. I’ll always be here for you, Reniko. If you call I will come without question.
“I may never see you again,” Reniko said, her voice muffled as she buried her face in Penumbra’s neck.
I think we will. Our paths are only leaving each other for a short while. I believe they will intersect again.
“I hope so,” Reniko said releasing her companion from her embrace.
You better go, Reniko, before light enters the day. You have a long trip ahead of you. Reniko nodded and slowly walked back to Orric’s side. However, before climbing onto him, she turned back to her friend.
“Until we meet again.”
Penumbra nodded. Tell Malik I’ll take good care of Blaze.
Reniko smiled. “I will.” She climbed deftly onto Orric’s back and the pair of them again took to the air and back to the tower garden.