Malik was furious with Orric and he made sure that the Teoko knew it.
“Where are you going? Reniko fell back over there where Jekkah is headed at this very moment,” Malik said pounding furiously and futilely on Orric’s hide.
“Calm down, Malik, and I’ll explain,” Orric roared finally gaining Malik’s attention, “as I was trying to tell you I’ve Engaged Reniko. We fought with Jekkah long enough to allow her escape, she’s been rescued by some humans and has been taken to their village.”
“I didn’t know there were any villages in Trenasa forest,” Rimca voiced.
“They’ve hidden themselves quite well amongst these trees. I actually can’t get to them directly, you and Malik will have to go in and get her by foot,” Orric replied. “Besides, I doubt they would take kindly to a Teoko in their midst and I’m sure that my presence there would bring Jekkah along after he realizes he is searching in the wrong place.” They were landing in a clearing as Orric finished speaking. Malik began untying his safety line and jumped to the ground as soon as Orric’s feet had settled to the earth. He turned back to help Rimca off who looked relieved to be back on solid ground again.
“I’ve lost my bow,” Rimca said as her feet hit the ground.
“Well let’s hope that we won’t need it,” Malik said. He grabbed his sword and secured it to his side. He watched as Rimca strapped some throwing knives from Reniko’s pack to her thigh and looked to Orric for direction.
“Where is she?” he asked, eager to find Reniko and get as far away from Jekkah as they could.
“Just follow that game trail to the northeast, you should encounter a trail that branches to the west, take that and it will eventually led you to a wall of undergrowth. Keep following the path and you should get through the growth with not much difficulty the village is just beyond that.”
Rimca was already on her way before Orric had stopped talking and Malik had to run to catch up with her. She was casting a wary glance up into the sky when Malik finally met up with her, and he too couldn’t help looking up.
“Looks like it’s going to rain,” Malik said.
“It is rainy season for these parts,” Rimca said, “come on, we better hurry before the trails are too muddy to travel by.” Her pace quickened and she made her way deftly down the path, her footsteps light and quick. Malik, on the other hand, did not have her grace and found it hard to keep up with the Le’a’to.
Minutes later, they could hear the first drops of rain as they fell onto the canopy overhead, and as they reached the fork in the trail, the rain was coming down in torrents, the leaves proving to riverbeds rather than shelter. Rimca had been right about the trails, and soon they found themselves tracking through thick mud. Malik envied Rimca, who was still leading, for her Le’a’to heritage gave her amazing balance. Her footing came down light and sure on the various rocks, branches and grassy patches that dotted the trail. Malik, however, could feel the mud sloshing into his boots every time his foot came down wrong causing him to slip. Rimca noticed his difficulty after a time and began to slow her pace.
“Thank-you for coming, Rimca,” Malik said as Rimca guided him through another mud hole. “I thought you would have waited with Orric.”
Rimca turned and looked at Malik contempt on her face. “Why would I do that? Do you think I’m a coward?”
“No, it’s just that I know you have no love for Reniko.”
“Well things can change,” Rimca said.
“What did you see when you searched her?” Malik asked.
“I guess I saw what you see, and what Orric sees. I saw Reniko.”
“Well that isn’t much of an answer.”
“That’s what Reniko said. Regardless, it’s not for me to tell you. You can find out on your own. Looks like we are on the right track,” Rimca said as they reached a seemingly endless wall of tangled bushes.
“I don’t think Orric knew what he was talking about. There is no way we can get through this.”
“I think you’re right,” Rimca replied.
Malik was now in front and he drew his sword. “Well at the least we can always cut right through. He slashed at the bushes in front of him only to have air meet his blade. “Well that’s a neat trick,” he said. He lowered his sword and stepped closer to the growth. Rimca watched as Malik stepped into the bushes, turned slightly and suddenly vanished altogether. Moments later his head popped around the corner and her eyes began to adjust to the optical illusion.
“Very interesting. A pathway hidden in plain sight,” she said as she joined Malik on the cleverly hidden trail.
After winding through the dense brush, Rimca and Malik were surrounded by a virtual bog. The entire ground surrounding the massive trees was thick with mud and water, leaving them with very little to walk on, Malik sighed with displeasure.
“Who would ever build a village in a place like this?” he said as he jumped onto a nearby tree root and tried to keep from falling into the muddy water below.
“They would,” Rimca said joining Malik on the root and pointing into the foliage above, “just like Treeton back home.”
Malik, who had never been to Treeton, had only heard Rimca tell stories of the Le’a’to’s treetop city. From what he could tell, this treetop village lacked the refinement that Treeton had.
“You would think with Treeton, you wouldn’t be so scared of heights.” Malik said.
“Well I never said I lived in Treeton now did I,” Rimca said as she jumped to another tree root. “Come on you clumsy rogue, let’s find Reniko before we drown.”
Malik watched as Rimca made her way deeper into the mire, she’s changed somehow. She’s suddenly so grown up. He followed her slowly, unsure how to take this mild change in his childish friend.
After a lengthy excursion below the village, they soon discovered that there was, in fact, no way up to the village high above. Malik was the first to stop. Tired and soaked, he looked up at the structure and sighed.
“I suppose that they’ve been watching us wander around down here the entire time. Any suggestions on how to get them to let us up there?” he asked blinking away the water from his eyes.
Rimca responded by letting out an ear-shattering whistle.
“Well that’s one way,” Malik said rubbing his ears.
Rimca just looked at him with a sassy grin and pointed overhead. “Yes, it is,” she said pointedly as they both watched a platform lower to the ground. Malik was the first one to notice that four men were on the platform and they each held a weapon. He reflexively lowered his hand to the hilt of his sword and waited. Rimca looked shocked.
“They obviously don’t follow the laws the Rük laid down,” Rimca said watching as the four men positioned themselves around the two interlopers.
“Well, we don’t exactly either,” Malik whispered.
“Do you think they are friendly?” Rimca whispered fingering her throwing knives.
“We would ask the same of you, pale ones,” one of the four asked, “I am Takka’nui what business do you have with our tribe?”
“We mean you know harm, Takka’nui. A friend of ours fell from the sky and we have reason to believe she has been taken into your village. She is pale skinned like us,” Malik said. He bowed slightly to the husky man before him
“I thought as much; however, when I heard you and the fire girl speaking the traders tongue I had my doubts.”
“Traders tongue?” Malik asked.
“Did he just call me fire girl?” Rimca asked.
“Traders tongue,” Takka said gesturing toward his throat, “the angel spoke the father tongue.”
Rimca looked at Malik and shrugged, “Reniko apparently speaks their native language.”
“I’m just glad they speak ours,” Malik whispered back. “This angel you refer to, could you take us to her.”
“If you are to enter the village we must take your arms,” Takka said gesturing for his men to move in.
“Our arms?” Rimca asked hugging herself.
“Our weapons, Rimca,” Malik said removing his sword and handing his to the nearest guard.
“I knew that,” Rimca said as she removed the string of knives from her thigh.
“I’m Malik,” Malik said and motioning to Rimca he added, “and this is Rimca.”
“Malik and Rimca, Reniko’s friends, I am pleased to meet you. But please, we must make haste; the angel has fallen into a deep sleep and we have been unable to wake her.”
“That doesn’t sound good,” Rimca said.
“Frankly, I’m just glad to know that she’s still alive,” Malik said as he joined the four tribesmen on the platform.
Malik stood over Reniko’s still frame, concern crossing his face, as a young boy wiped the sweat from her face and forced a cool broth into her mouth.
“Usso said that a strange fairy spoke to him from a glowing orb. He told me that it talked with Reniko for some time. She seemed angry about something and the fairy spoke to him and told him to make sure that she was cared for. I was in the meeting hall with the elders discussing what was to happen to her. The elders had every intention of making her leave the city; however, when we found her unconscious, they agreed we could not leave her alone like this,” Takka’nui said.
“A fairy from a sphere?” Rimca asked bewildered, “Reniko was talking to it as if she knew it?”
“She did know it,” Malik said sighing. “Takka’nui, do you know where the sphere holding the fairy is now?”
“Usso put it back in the pouch that had held it,” Takka’nui said pointing to the pouch that lay next to Reniko’s other belongings. Malik reached for it and, pulling gently on the leather pouch, let the Levanith sphere fall into his open hand.
“What is that?” Rimca asked, awe struck by the glowing sphere Malik now held.
“It’s a sphere used in ancient times by the Levanith. When we were in Reflaydun, the city gave it to Reniko.”
“The city?” Rimca asked.
“It’s complicated,” Malik said. Then addressing the sphere, he gave a command, “connect me to the city Reflaydun.” Instantly the sphere responded, opening up to reveal the form of Shyma.”
“Master Malik, how may we be of service?” the hologram asked.
“You could tell me what you have done to Reniko,” Malik demanded. His tone was assertive, something Rimca had never heard in his voice before.
“We are sorry we have caused you alarm. We are merely repairing the damage sustained by the fall that Reniko endured. She will be in homeostasis for no more than two days. Please make sure she is not moved during that time.”
“Look lady, we don’t have two days,” Rimca announced.
“Who is this malcontent?” the hologram asked. This inflamed Rimca’s anger.
“Malcontent? Look, I don’t know who or what you are, but whatever you did to Reniko undo it. We have one of the most powerful Rük on all of Vespen right on our tails who is, in fact, looking for Reniko. If we stay here, not only are we endangering Reniko and our own lives, but also those of the people in this city.”
“I recommend you defend yourselves,” the hologram responded.
“I know you mean well,” Malik intruded. He put a hand up to silence Rimca who looked ready to burst, “but there is no way we can ask the people of this village to endanger their lives for a complete stranger.”
“My advice, milord, is that you acquaint these people with what you and Reniko are trying to do.”
Malik remained silent, as did Rimca. Takka’nui looked concerned.
“Takka’nui, I have a favor to ask you, even though I have no right to ask this of you.”
“I will ask the elders to call a town meeting. Please wait here with Usso,” Takka’nui said as he left the small building and went into the heart of the village.
“What are you going to tell them, Malik?” Rimca asked joining his side as he slid the sphere back into Reniko’s pouch.
“Anything I have to for them to understand.”
An hour later, Malik was standing in front of a large crowd of people. Rimca was at his side, as was Takka’nui who was there as a translator at the elders’ request. The elders were sitting to one side watching the proceeding with wary eyes. Malik took a deep breath and began.
“Citizens of Tresca, I am a traveler from the city of Tordaskar. I represent a resistance that has begun against the Rük that have been oppressing our people for far too long. We have come to your city by strange means. You may have heard now of the battle that took place far overhead between two Teoko. My companions and I were flying on one of these Teoko. A girl, Reniko, fell from the sky and landed in your forest. She lies now in your city and cannot be moved for two days. I called you here only to ask that you allow us to stay until our friend has healed,” Malik addressed to the crowd as his eyes focused on the elders assembled.
“That is not all you ask of us,” one of the elders said.
“No,” Malik lowered his head, closed his eyes, and prayed for strength. “No it is not. The other Teoko and Rük are hunting us. It’s just a matter of time before they find us here. I’m asking you, I’m begging you, to help us fight against them.”
“We have nothing to gain from this arrangement,” another of the elders replied.
“If the Rük are destroyed, there would be no need for your people to hide. Humans could again walk in freedom on Vespen.”
“We do not hide, young man,” the first elder said.
Malik lowered his head. “You condemn us to death then.”
“Please elders, let the warriors make their own decision. Those who guard the safety of our village should determine whether their cause is just,” Takka’nui said stepping forward now to stand abreast with Malik.
“Your request is denied. These people bring nothing but chaos and danger to our village. They must leave immediately,” the first elder replied; the others nodded their agreement.
“If you turn your backs on us, you side with the Rük. You side with everything that is evil and wrong with the world, is that what you wish?” Rimca said her eyes shining with rage.
“This woman speaks true,” a voice shouted from the crowd.
“We cannot condemn these innocents to death,” shouted another. Soon the entire crowd was voicing words against the elders who looked enraged at this lack of obeisance.
The crowd was only silenced when another voice spoke from behind Malik.
“I do not wish for you to sacrifice your life for me.” Malik turned at the sound of Reniko’s voice and was startled by the sight he saw before him. She was standing on the platform, her hair unbraided and blowing in the wind, as were the robes that she wore. Her face was serene and she held Imako unsheathed in her hand.
“By the goddess, Reniko, how are you standing?” Malik asked rushing to her side. He drew back when Reniko looked at him; her eyes were glazed and unseeing.
“Malik keep away from her,” Rimca shouted grabbing his hand and pulling him farther away from Reniko.
“What’s wrong with her?” Malik asked Rimca.
Reniko was looking into the sky, which was a wash of reds and oranges peeking through the foliage of the trees, the rain had stopped for the moment. She commanded a power that Malik had never seen before. She stood stone still, gazing at the sky, and suddenly she raised Imako over her head and pointed it toward the dying light of the sun.
“He’s coming, run,” she shouted and immediately after collapsed. Malik wrenched his hand from Rimca and ran to Reniko’s body. As he clasped her hand in his, he heard branches ripping under stress and leaped onto Reniko as the canopy above began falling around them. Malik heard Rimca shouting at him as well as the screams of the villagers as they sought cover from the falling debris; however, his only thoughts were of keeping harm from befalling Reniko.
When he felt wind ripping at his clothing, he looked overhead and watched as Jekkah descended, Orborok sitting smugly on his back.
“All too easy,” Orborok said.
Malik looked up at him, rage pouring into his body. Letting go of Reniko’s hand, he stood and drew his sword.
“Not that easy,” he shouted as Orborok leapt from Jekkah’s back and landed solidly on the platform.
“Stand aside, boy, or I will kill you,” Orborok said withdrawing a double-sided axe. Malik stood his ground.
“I’m not afraid to die,” Malik growled at Orborok as he prepared for battle. The comment startled Orborok and the Rük hesitated. That girl said the same thing to me. What motivates them so that, despite death, they have no fear? Orborok’s thoughts turned back to Malik as he saw the human leaping into the fray. Parrying the blow, he quickly took back the aggressive engagement.
Malik staved off his anger toward the Rük when he lost the offense and instead tried savagely to remember what Reniko had taught him. Endurance, not force, will win this battle, he thought remembering Reniko’s words. He had to be quick and wait for the prefect moment to strike. He guarded blow against blow, his arms rattling from the intensity that Orborok wielded upon him. I can’t do this forever, Malik thought at the same time he realized that Orborok was slow enough that Malik could in fact avoid most of his blows instead of meet them. Using his speed, he dodged the lumbering axe that Orborok wielded and rolled to the side. Orborok turned, calculated his next move, and struck. Malik dodged again and again until Orborok was screaming with frustration.
“It’s useless to fight me, boy. You’re no match for me. You’re only delaying my victory,” Orborok said as he hacked again at Malik, this time meeting blade for blade. Malik didn’t respond, instead Orborok heard the whistle of metal through the air. Turning toward the sound, he put his arm up to block the oncoming weapon before it impacted his neck. The bite of metal in his forearm made him cry out in rage as three throwing knives imbedded themselves into his skin. He looked at the redheaded Le’a’to that had thrown them and registered the threat. He met Malik’s blade almost too late and he felt the sting of metal against his ribs. Screaming in rage, again he threw out his axe and sent Malik sprawling onto the ground. What is that Teoko doing? Orborok thought as he glanced behind him at the still frame of Jekkah. Taking the momentary relief from battle, Orborok plucked the knives from his arm and tossed them to the ground. He looked in the direction of the Le’a’to and he spoke. “You wait there my sweet vixen. I’ll deal with you as soon as I’ve rid the world of another defiant human.” Orborok turned back to his prey, which was standing upright once again, a cocky smirk on his face.
“You can’t possibly think that you’re going to win this foray?” Orborok said in response.
“I already have,” Malik said as a group of villagers surrounded Orborok, their spears pointed threateningly at Orborok’s body.
Orborok sneered at Malik. “You won’t have protection forever.” With a scornful cry, he swept his axe into the crowd surrounding him, and cleared a path back to Jekkah.
“Jekkah you useless fool, get us out of here,” he screamed as he clambered onto the Teoko. Jekkah who finally woke from his silence took to the air, tossing the nearby villagers to the ground like leaves.
Once the two villains were a safe distance away from the city, Orborok spoke. “Trokar is not going to be pleased.”
“You better tend to those wounds, my lord, before my back becomes sticky with Rük blood.”
“What were you doing back there?” Orborok hissed back, now tempted to kill Jekkah for his insubordination. The only thing that saved the wretched creature was that Trokar himself had sent him and Orborok could not endure any more displeasure from his lord.
“I was –” Jekkah gave a painful roar in finish to his thought and suddenly dropped from the sky carrying an extremely vehement Orborok with him.
Reniko had never felt so lost before. She was cold and alone wandering a barren stretch of highway. Dark had descended hours ago, and it was starting to rain. There was no sign of any city, either forward or backward, and she had wandered too far away from her car now to even remember where it was. She was alone, wet, and no one even knew where she was.
“I shouldn’t have left home,” she whispered to herself as she rubbed her arms to keep the chill away.
“Then we never would have met,” Reniko heard a voice above her say. She looked up into the night sky and saw the shadow of a dragon overhead.
“Who?” Reniko asked and immediately brightened, “Orric!” Orric smiled down at her and landed on the highway.
“But how are you here? On Earth?” Reniko asked as she ran into Orric’s bulk and warmed herself with his heat.
“The question you should be asking is how you are back on Earth?”
Reniko thought for a moment and replied, “I’m dreaming aren’t I?” Orric nodded.
“Is everyone okay? What happened to Jekkah and Orborok?” Reniko asked, memories suddenly flooding back to her.
“Everyone is fine. It’s you I’m worried about. I came to protect you. Jekkah is here,” Orric said.
“Jekkah’s here? In my mind?”
“Why do you think you are trapped in this miserable dream? You and I both know we could shape it however we wish if another presence was not embedded here.” Reniko looked at Orric, his eyes were full of certainty, he had made a decision and Reniko was not about to let him go through with it.
“I do not wish for you to sacrifice your life for me,” she said hugging him tightly. “I can get rid of him.”
“You don’t have the control I do. You couldn’t possibly withstand the attacks that he can inflict.”
“He won’t hesitate to kill you Orric, but he has orders for me to be alive. Besides, you may have the control, but you don’t have the power, I do,” Reniko felt goose bumps crawling along her skin and with a sudden fierceness in her eyes she looked at Orric sternly. “He’s coming, run.”
“I will not leave you,” Orric said standing his ground.
“You always were the fool,” Jekkah said as he leaped onto his brother. Orric fought back bitterly as Reniko, who had been thrown off her feet, tried to regain her composure. When she finally restored herself, she gazed on the battle raging between Orric and Jekkah in dismay.
“I can’t let this happen,” she screamed, “I won’t let this happen. This is my mind, GET OUT!” Her scream turned into rage and her rage to power and like a blast of intense heat her power hit Jekkah and Orric. Jekkah released his grip on Orric and screamed in pain as Reniko’s rage seared through him. Unable to stand the pain, he tried to disengage only to find that Reniko had a lethal grip on his mind. Landing on the ground, he faced his attacker, weak and submissive. Reniko came to him, her body glowing a smoldering red.
“If you ever try to Engage me again, it will be much worse,” Reniko said. With a sudden fear in his heart Jekkah disengaged, leaving Reniko and Orric alone.
“That is something we’ll definitely have to teach you to control,” Orric said wincing slightly.
Reniko noticed the pained expression and looked at him worriedly. “Did I hurt you, Orric? I’m so sorry.”
“Never mind that. Get some rest. I don’t think Jekkah will be bothering you for a long while. You gave him quite the scare.”
“He deserved worse,” Reniko muttered.
“I’ll see you in a couple of days when those nannites have fixed you up.”
“Tell Malik I’m alright,” Reniko said.
“I’m sure he already knows,” Orric replied and he disengaged.
Reniko awoke to the first light of a new day and heard whispered voices coming from a nearby room. Stretching her newly healed limbs, she got out of the bed she had occupied and quietly made her way to the voices. She stopped at the thick cloth that separated the rooms when she heard the voices of Malik and Rimca on the other side. Peering through a small gap in the fabric, she watched the two talking in hushed tones.
Malik was holding a small vial in his hand that was secured to a silver chain. The vial had an intricate stopper with the symbol of the Levanith clearly marked on it. A clear liquid sloshed around inside as he tipped it methodically in his hand while he spoke.
“What are you going to tell them?” Rimca asked. Malik stopped playing with the vial and dropped it into his lap, laying his hands over it in defeat.
“I’ll tell them whatever they want to hear. I just can’t do it, not after everything we’ve been through. She’s proved herself enough.”
“Do you think they’ll believe you once they see that?” Rimca asked. She grabbed the chain holding the vial and wrenched it from Malik’s grasp, holding it suspended in front of his face. Malik stared at it with remorse.
“I’ve never seen a person survive. Not one Rimca,” Malik said grabbing the vial from the air. Malik unstopped the vial and moved across the room over to the open window. “They’ll never know.”
Rimca jumped from her feet and stopped Malik’s hand before he could poor the liquid out. “Malik don’t. That is a gift from the goddess.”
“No. The goddess never existed. It’s nothing more than a poison without a cure.”
“Well you never know when something like that will come in handy,” Rimca said easing the stopper back into the vial.
“I will never give this to her, Rimca. I’ll take it before she does.”
“I hope it doesn’t come to that Malik. I’m sure your parents will understand once they meet her.” Rimca turned, shoving the vial back into Malik’s hand, as Reniko emerged into the room. Malik, still facing the window, slid the chain around his neck, hiding the vial beneath his shirt.
“It’s good to see you awake,” Rimca said grasping hold of Reniko’s hand. Reniko gently pulled her hand away from Rimca, still wary of the last time Rimca had grasped it. Rimca gave her a weak smile.
Reniko looked at Malik. His face was marred with guilt. “I’m glad you’re awake, you had us rather worried.” Reniko glanced at the vial hidden beneath Malik’s shirt and up at her friend.
“I trust you,” she said looking Malik in the eye. Malik inhaled sharply and turned away from Reniko.
“Please don’t make me take you there,” Malik pleaded.
“I have to go,” Reniko said.
“Why? Why? I don’t understand. Why can’t you understand how dangerous it is there?” Malik said turning to face Reniko and grabbing her arms. Reniko stood silently for a while allowing Malik to overpower her. She had never seen him cry before. Rimca shifted uneasily where she stood and silently fled the room.
Malik looked defeated.
“I don’t know Malik. Call it intuition, call it whatever you want. I just feel that Tordaskar holds the answers that we are all looking for. I can’t explain it. Ever since we were in Reflaydun, maybe when the city was taking information from us it gave me something, some piece of information before it lost its connection. All I know is that we have to go there.” Malik’s hands released Reniko and he turned back to the window.
“I just… by the goddess, Reniko, I thought we had lost you. I thought you were dead. I couldn’t –” Reniko was holding her breath. She walked over to Malik and grabbed his arm gently and he turned to look into her eyes. “Reniko, I can’t lose you. I love you. I love you.” His last words were a whisper.
Reniko leaned in and tenderly kissed him, her own tears mingling with his. When she pulled away from him, she gazed into his eyes and smiled. “I’m not going anywhere, I promise.” Malik grabbed her and hugged her tightly.
“I’m holding you to that promise.”