They headed back to into the city hours later. Ryne had cautiously come after them, his presence lost to them as they traveled through the busy streets. Malik held Reniko’s hand protectively, afraid that at any moment their resolve would shatter. Reniko was glad of his protection, glad that a month of distance had not torn him from her completely. Malik’s reassuring presence put Reniko at ease, so when the frantic horse ran past them brushing past Reniko roughly she was caught completely off guard. Startled, she lost control of herself and stumbled backward, her wings spreading wide in the sudden panic she felt. Her cloak tumbled gently to the ground leaving her fully exposed to the now astonished crowd that was gathered around her.
“The Goddess,” A woman shouted dropping the basket she was carrying.
“The Goddess has returned!” Another person shouted.
Reniko felt surrounded as the crowd pressed on, staring at her in reverence and awe. A few of them were beginning to prostrate themselves on the ground and she was beginning to notice Malik’s hand slacken in her own. He was pulling away from her, suddenly uneasy about where he stood in this situation. Reniko looked to him pleading and clenched his hand tightly in her own, not daring to let him go. Don’t leave me, she begged with her eyes. Malik glanced around him, very unsure, looking to his people and back at Reniko. Looking into her eyes, he knew where he belonged, by her side. He clutched her hand in reassurance and stood solidly besides her. Ryne was running up behind them once he realized what was going on.
“Please,” Reniko called out, releasing Malik’s hand now that she knew he would not leave her. “Please don’t. I’m no Goddess.” She knelt down by the nearest person and helped the woman to her feet. The woman glanced at her in fear and when Reniko released her grasp she prostrated herself once again. Reniko sighed.
“Please listen to me. I know you think I am the Goddess, but I am not. I’m mortal as you are. I bleed just the same,” Reniko said and grabbed the dagger that Malik carried at his side slicing a thin cut into the palm of her hand and letting blood slowly drip to the dusty ground. The woman that Reniko had touched looked at Reniko incredulously.
“The Goddess you have so long worshipped was not immortal; she was a Levanith, mortal, as I am. She was my mother,” Reniko said whispering the last part.
“Levanith? You are an ancient?” the lady asked. Ryne stood with Reniko and Malik now and came to Reniko’s aid.
“Please, the King will hold a meeting in the town square at sunset. Everything will be explained there. Spread the word. All citizens of Tordaskar that are able are commanded to be there, by order of King Zanith,” Ryne called out loudly. Murmuring started as those gathered on the roadside began to get up, concerned now that the King had called a meeting. Malik grabbed Reniko’s cloak from the ground and wrapped it around her shoulders as she folded her wings closely to her body. Ryne ushered them forward and the two of them walked briskly back to the safe haven of the castle.
“Did the King really call a meeting?” Reniko asked as they rushed to the castle gates.
“It’s high time he told his people what was going on. That wasn’t exactly the way that I had figured to reveal your presence to them, but it has the same effect in the end.” Ryne said, “Dertrik will want to see you as soon as possible.” Ryne bowed low to Reniko and skittered off to attend to his own business. He left Malik and Reniko alone to make their way into the depths of the castle.
Reniko looked at Malik and sighed. “Complicated?”
“You looked good out there, with Ryne,” Reniko said suddenly, “you’ve been learning a lot while I was sleeping.”
Malik nodded and blushed. “A compliment, from you? We’ll see how much I’ve learned when I fight you once again.”
“If you think you can beat me, you’re sorely mistaken,” Reniko said teasingly. “After all I have a twelve year head start on you.”
“But you do have new problems to master now,” Malik said letting his hand trail delicately across Reniko’s wings which she had now exposed as the cloak was making her increasingly more uncomfortable. Reniko pushed him away playfully and headed into the castle. She walked a few steps in front of Malik, trying to hide the sorrow she felt. She was all too aware of the sudden turn her life had taken, and she wished with all her heart that she could go back to Reflaydun and undue everything that had happened since. But I can’t. Instead, as Malik caught up, she grabbed his hand and leaned against him for comfort, he was the only good thing left in her chaotic life.
Dertrik, Malik, Rimca and Reniko sat in a dining hall, food before them. Dertrik had asked that they be awarded a private meal away from everyone else. Ryne had told the King of the meeting he had arranged and he, King Zanith, and Queen Killashandra had been preparing since. Reniko glanced out the window listlessly, watching the sun as it set, thinking about the chore she had created for Malik’s parents.
Dertrik’s voice interrupted Reniko’s quiet torture. “Reniko, I thought you might like to know that your parents are aware of everything. We explained what was happening before we left. They seemed to take it well, considering.” Reniko could just imagine her mother when Dertrik had told her that her daughter had disappeared to another world, which she was actually from, and that her daughter was going to sprout wings and would be unable to come back. She could hardly see how her mother would believe a thing Dertrik said. She didn’t see how she would ever know if Dare’s words were true or not, however, and instead took Dertrik’s word on the fact.
A thought struck her and she spoke. “What of my parents? They didn’t know about me? How did I end up with the Dorsalin’s in the first place?”
“Well, you are right to ask,” Dertrik said. “You were in our care, but there was a malfunction in your cryo-stasis and you woke before you were supposed to. It was an automatic response in case your suspended animation was in danger of threatening your life. When you woke, the Dorsalin’s found you before we could, and they fell in love with you. I didn’t see any harm in letting them raise you, especially since you seemed to have forgotten everything about your past. It was the best way I could see for you to live a normal life.”
“Dertrik, did you leave Claire and Erik behind to come after me?” Reniko asked suddenly.
“Of course not Reniko, Clair and Erik came with me, as well as Skylar and his wife Sarah and their children, Garrin, Ryne, Tobias, Xanthus, and Kaia.”
“Why haven’t I seen them?” Reniko asked.
“Because they aren’t here in Tordaskar. As I said before, Skylar and Kaia are in Savonly. Claire, Erik, and Garrin are in Geoith on Raet Serac, and Tobias and Xanthus are in Lrac with Malik’s brother Callum.”
“I don’t understand,” Reniko said, “why is everyone so spread out.”
“So they can train your armies,” Dertrik said.
“My armies?” Reniko suddenly couldn’t stomach food anymore. “Dertrik this is crazy. You really expect me to lead armies to liberate this world? I’m only one person, a person that no one on this world knows, why would they ever follow me?”
“Because, Reniko, you are Levanith, you are their Goddess, you are the symbol of hope that every human has been waiting to find. Your very presence inspires hope amongst the people of this world. They would move mountains for you,” Rimca said.
“Believe us, Reniko, if you will lead them, they would gladly give their lives fighting for you. Even knowing you, I know I would, especially knowing you. The people in Savonly and those in every city you ever walked through even before they knew you were Levanith would follow you if only you ask. You don’t seem to understand the power you hold over people. You gave them hope when there was none. You gave me hope, when all I saw was oppression.” Malik said.
“I don’t want a war. I don’t want them to die, not for me. What can I do? All I will do is lead them to their deaths.”
“Reniko, it’s your destiny, something that your parents set in motion and that these people have waited a thousand years to see fulfilled. You have to do this. You are the only one who can. You must reclaim what is yours, for the sake of your people.”
My people? The thought startled Reniko, she had never thought of it like that. “That was a long time ago. What gives me the right to rule? Just because I’ve sprouted wings doesn’t mean who I am has changed at all. I may look Levanith, but it’s just me inside.”
“No, Renny, you haven’t changed at all, you didn’t have to. You are what this planet needs, you always were. I know your parents put a lot of burden on you all those years ago, but can you really deny them? Can you really deny all those people that need you? Just because the Rük are not a presence here in Tordaskar does not mean that they are gone from this world. Have you forgotten already all that you have seen? Can you really just turn a blind eye to all of that?” Dertrik asked.
“You told me that you would help free my people. Now that they are your people as well, has it changed?” Malik asked.
Reniko looked around the table, from Malik’s hopeful face, to Rimca’s pleading face, to Dertrik’s burdened face. They were asking so much of her, they needed so much from her. How can I deny them? If I turn my back on them all now then I’ll be doing the same thing that the Tordaskans have been doing for so long. I can’t condemn all these people to a slow life and death as slaves. If death for freedom is all I can give them, then so be it. With a heavy sigh, Reniko took their burdens from them and weighed them on her own shoulders with a few simple words.
“Maybe it won’t come to war,” Reniko breathed. Malik and Rimca both brightened, Dertrik gave a half-hearted smile, relieved, but at the same time broken that he could do nothing to help.
“The Hologram in Reflaydun alluded that Tordaskar may have a more complete record of the events that happened after the Rük came. I know Dertrik has supplied a lot of the information about the Levanith, but I’m hoping that the archives here will have something we can use against the Rük. If that’s the case, maybe we can destroy them without shedding more innocent blood,” Reniko said.
“If we can find them,” Malik said. “Rimca and I have been looking for any sort of entrance here in the castle for the last month. So far we’ve turned up nothing.”
“They’re here,” Reniko said. “I remember them, very vividly. But I also think that the entrance that was in the castle may have been buried. I think this castle is not the one that stood here a thousand years ago. If that is the case, there is only one entrance left.”
“The one on the Cliffside,” Malik echoed, finishing Reniko’s thoughts.
“I guess the first thing I need to do is find Orric and take some flying lessons,” Reniko said with a sigh and resumed eating. Dertrik looked at Reniko with concern. I’ve thrown the weight of an entire world on her shoulders. I will never forgive myself for this. How could her parents ever do this to her? He watched Reniko, knowing the nuances of her inside and out. She bantered with Rimca and Malik like nothing was happening, but Dertrik could see it in her eyes. She was shattered inside, and the only thing that was keeping her whole was the realization that if she crumbled, so would everyone she cared about, and that was something Reniko could not bear to see happen. You have more strength than you know. You really are the Queen you must become, Renny, regardless of what you see.
It had been four days since Reniko had awoken. After the initial day of shocking news, things seemed to have quieted down. Reniko was still anxious to find the library, and every day Rimca and Malik looked for some way to it inside the castle walls, and at the end of every day, they always reported that they had found nothing. Reniko was not really surprised. She decided that it was high time that she learn how to use her wings and after several days of failed attempts on her own, she decided to enlist Orric’s help like she had suggested to begin with. She had asked Malik where the Teoko were located, and after showing her a map of the surrounding area, Reniko had started off alone. Malik had insisted he go with her, but Reniko had said that it would be better if she went alone.
“Besides,” she reminded him, “you already have an appointment with Ryne. I don’t want you slacking off in your training for something that I can do on my own.”
Malik had consented and had let her go off into the old forest on her own. It took her most of the morning for her to find the entrance to the Teoko home. As she entered the cavern, she thought that she had, in fact, found the wrong one, until an imposing figure stepped into her view and blocked her path. The sunlight that was filtering through the cave illuminated the massive figure. It was a Teoko, larger than Orric, with scales of silver that carried a black sheen. The colour of the Teoko’s scales blended with the walls of the cavern, and Reniko realized that was the reason that she had not seen her to begin with.
“Shylaya, your presence here honours us. Please is there anything I can do for you,” the Teoko’s voice echoed in the massive space of the cavern. She lowered her head in respect and Reniko suddenly felt uneasy.
“Please, don’t. You have far more wisdom than I. I should be humbling myself to you. Please call me Reniko. I’ve come to see Orric, if I can,” Reniko replied, reaching her hand out to touch the Teoko’s face with her hand. The Teoko looked at Reniko with a toothy smile.
“Of course, Orric is with his family. I’ll take you there myself. You may call me Shiona, Reniko.” The dragon ambled down a corridor hidden in the shadows and Reniko followed after her. There were no lights in the caverns and Reniko soon found it difficult to follow Shiona.
“I’m sorry Shiona, but I can’t see anything,” Reniko said hoping that the Teoko was not too far ahead of her.
“Ah, yes, it has been some time since our weaker eyed kin have come to our tunnels. Wait here and I will light the path for you,” Shiona said. Reniko heard the dragon shuffle away from her and a few minutes later the corridor was brightly lit, the same lights that had been in the tunnel to Reflaydun were the source of the sudden illumination. Shiona poked her head around the corner of the corridor a short time after and gestured for Reniko to follow. Reniko did, amazed by the size of the walls around her. Reniko felt so tiny in comparison to her surroundings, like she was a doll in the land of giants.
Suddenly Reniko caught hold of something familiar, and Engaged. Shiona continued leading her on, unaware of the sudden change, however, when Shiona began leading Reniko down a corridor to the left, Reniko turned right instead.
“He’s down here,” she called out and wandered away from her guide. Shiona turned and watched Reniko wander down the other corridor very sure of herself and decided to follow.
“What makes you think that?” Shiona said coming up behind Reniko.
“Orric, showed me where he was,” Reniko said.
“You Engaged him?” Shiona asked startled by this information.
Reniko turned and frowned, not at Shiona but at Orric. “I thought he would have told you that,” Reniko said. Orric tried to recoil from her mind, but Reniko didn’t let him. She held him in her mind and demanded an explanation, which he gave.
“I guess he wanted to wait until I was here,” Reniko said simply and continued down the path.
“I think you need to learn a lot about that talent of yours, Shylaya. I can’t even touch your mind at all. I can’t even understand how you and Orric are talking at all. Your barriers are intense,” Shiona spoke.
“I had some very bad experiences with the whole thing,” Reniko replied. Shiona did not probe, but instead she followed quietly behind Reniko until they reached Orric who was in the library paging through endless amounts of books.
“Lyss. So you have found the truth about yourself,” Orric said dropping the book he had and came up near Reniko.
“With no help from you, I might add,” Reniko said.
“It was best you hear it from the Shidenen, as you were supposed to. I could not interfere in something that the Levanith had set in motion so long ago. Besides, I was unsure what had happened to bring you to Vespen without any recollection of what you were. Surely you can see my position in this?” Orric said forcing feelings into her mind along with scattered images. Reniko nodded.
“I think I should call the other council members. It is high time that Orric tell us everything that happened on the journey that returned our Wayann to us.” Shiona said and wandered back the way that she had come. Orric began to follow her and Reniko trailed in line.
“Wayann? I’m not familiar with that word… it’s not Vespian is it?” Reniko asked.
“No, it is Levanith, it means leader,” Orric said.
Reniko fell silent. Lyss must be Levanith as well; I wonder why I can’t remember the dialect. It's strange that all my memories of my parents are in Vespian.
“The Levanith language was only used as a code during the hundred years war. Vespian, as it is used now, was the common tongue of all the races before the Rük invaded. Only the Levanith knew their own tongue and as they began to die they taught it to others to use as a code, one that was unbreakable to the Rük. Not many people know it any longer,” Orric said in response to Reniko’s thoughts.
“Malik knows it then?” Reniko asked.
“What makes you think that?” Orric replied.
“Lyss. It’s Levanith is it not?”
“Yes. Malik knows a few words, those which I taught him.”
“So what does it mean?”
Orric grinned. “I’ll let Malik be the one to tell you.” Reniko scowled at him. Them and their stupid games.
“So what brought you here, Reniko? I hardly believe you came to rouse the Teoko to have a council meeting.”
“No, actually I came to ask a favor of you,” Reniko said.
“Ask and I will see if I can acquiesce,” Orric replied.
“Well, I’ve got these wings you see,” Reniko said smiling, “and I have no idea how to use them.”
“Ah, I see. It seems you have a lot of learning to do,” Orric said.
“Flying, fighting and Engaging. I’d say that is quite a full slate.”
“I’m gathering that is your condition, that I learn how to Engage in exchange for lessons in flight.”
“How quickly they learn,” Orric said.
“I guess it’s a fair deal,” Reniko said with a sigh.
“I’ll tell Brium that you accept,” Orric said.
“Brium?” Reniko said feeling suddenly tricked.
“Well you don’t think I would have waited until we got to Tordaskar to educate you if I could do it on my own all along.”
“No, I guess not,” Reniko replied. “So Brium knows about me?”
I do now, Reniko heard a voice in her head say. She was startled when she realized that it was not Orric’s.
They entered a large room at that moment and Reniko was met with the faces of three other dragons she had not met. She locked eyes with one of them, his scales were a shimmering emerald green, he smiled and Reniko knew that this was the face of the sudden voice in her head.
“I am Brium. It is a pleasure to meet you, Levanith Shylaya.”
Reniko nodded in his direction and glanced at the other Teoko in the room. There was a charcoal gray Teoko who was introduced as Ordenn, and another, very old Teoko, Baothin. Baothin had snow-white skin and his eyes were glazed over, his sight lost to cataracts.
“Please call me Reniko. I’m not used to being called Shylaya.”
“As you wish, Mistress Reniko,” Baothin said reacting by what Reniko could tell to the images from one of the other’s mind.
“Shall we get started,” Shiona said as she took her place at the empty spot on one side of Baothin. Orric began telling them of Reniko, and their experience Engaging. Reniko however, was preoccupied with Brium.
A long time ago, when Teoko first came to Tordaskar, they did not have the ability to Engage. We were a reclusive race, and although we actively participated in the affairs of this world, we never mixed with the other species. Instead, we built and dwelled in our own cities apart from the others. When my ancestors found this place, they were the first Teoko to settle near a human inhabited city, and their interactions with humans showed them unexplored regions of their own minds. The humans were not aware of this bond. However, the Levanith that wandered the streets of Tordaskar seemed to harbour this same ability, not with their own kind but with mine. It was then that the Teoko, Levanith, and humans of this place realized that they had created something special, something that no one else on this world was privy to. Instead of living together in tolerance, we had gained a balance, a uniting. We had begun the union of the species of this planet. The Rük’s arrival shattered that harmony, that precious connection and balance we had begun with the world. Your return with this ability may be the force that we needed to mend the tear that the Rük created. We have a chance to begin again. Brium’s words were like a soothing balm in Reniko’s head. It reminded her increasingly of her connection with Penumbra.
“How do you do that?” Reniko asked, halting the four other Teoko’s conversation with her sudden outburst. “How do you form words in my head?”
Brium smiled. “I accept the proposal, Orric.”
Reniko suddenly realized that Brium and her were not alone in the room and turned toward the other Teoko with embarrassment. She bowed low, apologizing, and when she rose, she realized that the others were smiling at her.
You truly are a unifying force, Brium said as the gathered assembly dispersed.
Reniko withdrew into herself. She was afraid of the treatment she received; afraid of this person that everyone thought her to be. No one ever asked how she felt about it. They just expected her to be what they had imagined her to be. They didn’t understand at all how she felt. She was scared, alone, and overwhelmed by these sudden responsibilities.
Let us try. Let us help, Brium said, we don’t ask you to do it alone. We never would. Reniko felt Orric’s reassuring presence in her mind and she conceded and understood, despite the fact that she wanted to forget, she understood.
“Your mind is full of questions, and of burdens. Let us see if flying can lift some of those things from you, at least for a little while,” Orric said. Reniko smiled at him warmly. Orric always seemed to know exactly what to say to pull Reniko away from spiralling thoughts, she was glad of that and followed him up the winding path toward the light of afternoon.
Malik stepped from the ring, perspiring from the afternoon heat. Ryne looked almost refreshed. Ryne was wearing the same patient expression that Reniko had always worn every time that they had sparred, but unlike Reniko’s, which had always made him confident in his growing ability, Ryne’s made him feel childish. Malik sighed and flopped onto the ground, too tired to even stand.
“You’re learning well, Malik,” Ryne said coming to stand over Malik, his shadow falling over Malik, refreshing him from the constant beat of the summer sun. “Reniko taught you a lot.”
“She did,” Malik admitted. Another presence entered the clearing at that moment and Malik looked passed Ryne at the face of Dertrik. Dertrik, upon seeing Malik gazing at him smiled.
“Just the person I was looking for,” Dertrik said as he stretched out his hand to help Malik to his feet.
“We never really got a chance to talk, since Reniko’s rebirth.”
“No we haven’t,” Malik admitted. Dertrik made a gesture for Ryne to leave them and the younger man bowed slightly before disappearing into the surrounding trees.
“We’ve both been very busy,” Dertrik said.
“I have to admit,” Malik said, “I was avoiding you.”
Dertrik nodded, not surprised at all. “I understand. What I told you must have been pretty hard to accept, being as close to her as you are.”
Malik thought back to those moments, when Dertrik had burst into his room his attention on Reniko, Reniko’s recognition and his words, words that Malik had never wanted to here.
“My friend Orric, when we were in Reflaydun, told me that he didn’t tell me that the Goddess was Levanith because he was waiting for me to be able to have hope in something else. He knew all along though, that he wasn’t giving me a new hope, just the one I always had in a new form.”
“She cares for you, Malik. In ways that I know must be hard for you. I know you still see her as something unreachable, as something holy. I know it frightens you that she isn’t perfect, that she isn’t just going to, with one sweep of her hand, make all the problems of this world disappear. But as much as that frightens you, think how much more so it must be for her. The entire world is looking to her for answers. Answers that she feels she doesn’t have. I know that this is all very confusing for you, but she has chosen you. I’m glad that you haven’t abandoned her.”
“I wanted to. I wanted to run far away from her, from everything. You’re right about everything, I am frightened. I’m terrified. But when she came to me, I remembered that she was just Reniko, and I love her. I couldn’t run away from her. I couldn’t leave her. She bleeds as I do,” Malik said looking at his hand, remembering Reniko cutting her hand with his blade, her drops of blood dripping to the ground.
“Malik, I come to you today, to ask you something. For Reniko’s sake, you must be strong. I ask you, please, to be her strength through this. Without you, I have no doubt she will crumble. Be her strength, as I know she is your hope. She can’t do this alone. She’s chosen you to help her through this. I ask you, I tell you, because she never will. She would never ask any of this of you. She would never dream of giving you any sorrow, any pain. She will withhold it from you to spare you. Malik, I ask you to be there for her through her hardships, even when she does not ask, be there to help her. If you love her, as you say you do, stand by her.”
Malik looked at Dertrik, this man that had suddenly come into his life and changed everything and clasped his forearm in an oath. “You need not ask, Dertrik. It is already done.”
“Don’t give me reason to doubt you. Prove to me that you are worthy of her,” Dertrik replied and released his grasp. He turned and walked away, his heart heavier than ever. They are too young to deserve this. Is my fate to only serve them up to more and more affliction? I feel like the executioner in all of this. I do my duty as they will do theirs, Dertrik thought and sighed. Who would I burden with these chores if not me? I would not think to let this slide to someone else, for it would, regardless of what I wish.
Malik watched Dertrik’s retreating form, his own thoughts echoing those of the older man’s.