Call of Descent

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Chapter Forty-One

A gift brother, Orric heard ring through his mind an instant before the pain flooded it. It was Reniko’s pain, their blocked Engagement now blazed with fierceness. It was unfortunate for Orric that he was flying at the time, for the mental link suddenly plunged his whole body into the pain that Reniko was feeling and he fell. Minutes, that felt like hours, passed and Orric was conscious again, the Engagement severed once more. He was alone in the Tordaskan forest, his only comfort to the nightmare he had just been witness to, was that he was alone. Had he had riders, had he been over the ravine at Ocean’s Wall, some may have not lived through the experience. Shaken, he took to the air once again, his destination Tordaskar castle. He had to tell Dertrik, though he was unsure if Malik could bear the news that Reniko suffered such things. He could barely bear it himself.

Reniko slept, not the sleep of peace, but a sleep of invasion. Trokar stood over her watching the process begin. He watched Reniko’s eyes flit back and forth in agitation under her closed lids. She was in REM, forced there by Agger and the nannites that now invaded her mind. Trokar had always liked the impression that the nannites had on the subject. He was looking upon them now, a silver web spreading from the entry point down to Reniko’s left eyebrow, like frost forming on a glass window. The dose had been small, and Trokar had a feeling it would take much more than this small mark to defeat this one’s mind. He had seen the frosty tendrils reach right down to the chin on some subjects, Reniko would be no different. He caressed the web, anxious to add this girl to his collection. She was marked now and forever as Trokar’s, and he knew she would serve him well.

“How fares it, Agger?” Trokar asked turning from Reniko’s still frame to the screen that Agger was looking at, her manipulation beginning.

“There is almost one year’s worth of memory to alter, this could take a while,” Agger replied.

“How long, Agger?” Trokar asked.

“A month. I can finish in a month,” Agger replied, “but the dosage will have to be upped dramatically, I don’t have enough nannites to work with.”

“Do what you must. Inform me of any progress. I wish to speak with her in a week, to see for myself,” Trokar said and strode out of the room.

Orborok was waiting outside the door and took stride with him as Trokar moved through the building toward a new destination. He wandered the building purposefully, elation building. A thousand years ago, the Levanith had done Trokar a great service. They had wiped out technology before dying by his hand. They sought to save their world, but instead let Trokar gain a foothold. No more communications from Druagg had given Trokar complete control of the world. Severed from that link, he was finally in charge. He may have lost the vast majority of the Levanith secrets, but the Rük technology would die only when he did. Yet now, those lost Levanith secrets were within his grasp, this planet was his for the taking. Once their goddess, their savior, their ruler, pledged her loyalty to Trokar, the rest would follow like lambs to the slaughter. The Rebellion would finally be over and Trokar would own this world. If she had not escaped me all those years ago, I would already own this world. No matter, I have her now. Trokar smiled as he watched the city below bustle with activity. The subterfuge ends here. My true reign begins now.

Malik woke from fitful dreams. He hadn’t been able to sleep well since they had left Tordaskar. He glanced around their small camp. A mist clung to the ground causing the gray morning to break slowly. The sun hadn’t shone for many days now, which was a fitting scene for Malik’s growing unease. Their band had reached Ocean’s Gate without incident; they had chosen this route for that reason. The Rük had massed on the other side of Ocean’s Wall so escape had been easy once they had fled in the opposite direction. Since Reniko’s capture, the Rük army had mostly disbanded. Only a contingent was left, more to keep a watch on the Tordaskans than to invade. Malik felt like a coward running from the Rük. He wanted with all his heart to run into the army outside Ocean’s Wall and kill every last Rük. The revenge he needed could not be sedated, not until Reniko was safe in his arms once again. Malik’s restless motion woke Dertrik who had been sleeping close by.

“We will find her, Malik,” Dertrik spoke as he did every morning to Malik. The words were a small comfort to him in this cold lonely world. Winter was coming, Malik could feel it in the air, and he felt his heart was as frozen as the world would be soon enough. Dertrik grasped his arm in comradeship. “Be strong. Have faith.” Malik bowed his head at these words. Please let this trip not be in vain.

Reniko awoke, her mind throbbing, her thoughts scattered and confused. The web of nannites had spread down through her cheek now, but Reniko was unaware of this tattooing process. Her eyes caught sight of Trokar and her mind spun.

“I altered the key events mostly, I wanted to see if those moments would muddle over the others,” Agger said. Trokar nodded.

“Shylaya, how do you feel?” Trokar asked.

“My lord?” Reniko asked. No. That’s not right. Reniko closed her eyes as memories invaded her mind. She could remember this Rük rescuing her when she first arrived on Vespen, saving her in Reflaydun. She had executed someone there, her enemy, a female. But other memories somehow did not make sense. A Le’a’to sitting with her in Mistfall, training with a man, a man she cared for deeply. But she could see this man, Malik, the one that hunted her. They were enemies. However, she remembered other moments, intimate ones. Malik holding her tightly, protectively, teasing her, kissing her, loving her when no one else was there.

“Malik,” she screamed, tears running down her face, “don’t leave me.”

Trokar looked at Agger. “That boy holds more of a grip on her mind than I thought. Give me two more weeks with her Trokar,” Agger said.

“That long?” Trokar asked.

“That boy is entwined with most every memory she has of Vespen. Leaving any intact may complicate the process.”

Trokar leaned in close to Reniko who had once again lost consciousness; he caressed the web lacing her face. “She is already close to the limit,” Trokar said.

“We’ll have to break it. I’m sure she can endure it,” Agger replied.

“We agreed to the limit because going further killed the others of her kind.”

“Killed most every species really,” Agger said. “But they were not Levanith royals. Fighting is bred into her very blood. She can handle it. If not –” Agger let the sentence trail of. Trokar turned on her and grabbed her forcefully.

“If she dies, so do you,” Trokar said and stormed from the room. Agger was left looking after him, feeling fear for the first time. Trokar had big plans for this girl, and Agger’s own involvement could make or break her own.

“I will not fail, Milord,” Agger called after him before the door to the lab fully shut. She reached for the mercurial vial and pressed it to Reniko’s temple once again. Reniko’s scream rebound for the fourth time through the castle walls.

“Twenty days, Orric. It’s taken twenty days and now I’ve lost her forever,” Malik screamed. He was standing in the ruins of a once flourishing town, now covered with hundreds of years of forest growth. There was nothing left. Fharlasina was lost to history, its secrets dying with it. Rimca too was leaning against the nearby remains of a once beautiful building as defeated as Malik.

“We should have followed the co-ordinates that we got from Reflaydun and Tordaskar. We’ve wasted so much time. And Renny… she may be too far gone to ever come back,” Rimca said. She was crying.

Malik turned on her, clutched her arms, and dragged her to her feet. “What do you mean too far gone?” He received no reply. “What do you mean too far gone?” Malik repeated, a kingly tone ringing in his voice.

Rimca looked past Malik to Orric. “You didn’t tell him?” she asked.

Malik held Rimca and looked at Orric. Orric looked trapped.

“I couldn’t tell you, Malik. I can’t tell you.”

“You will tell me what you know of the fate of my love, or I will let the Rük do as they please with you,” Malik replied. Orric had never seen such venom in Malik’s eyes before. Love was a formidable foe.

“I’ve been able to Engage with Reniko six times since she was taken from us,” Orric said.

“What of her? Why would you not tell me?” Malik asked and fell silent suddenly knowing.

“I don’t know what they are doing to her Malik, but Jekkah seems to find pleasure in tormenting me with her plight. Rimca seemed to offer an explanation, though I don’t know how accurate her information is.” Malik looked back to Rimca who he still held in his arms.

“In the Tordaskan archives I was reading a file about a drug, or a machine, I couldn’t tell which, anyhow, it alters memory. The Rük used it on a few Levanith, some of them escaped. Those that returned to Tordaskar had visible tattooing on their skin and they went insane. What the Levanith learned from the encounters was that the procedure went so far and failed, leaving the mind confused with conflicting memories. From the survivors they learned that those that were in the procedure longer all died, their minds could not take the drug past a certain point. Apparently there was a limit, a break point that could not be passed without death to any subject.”

Malik deflated, he let go of Rimca and sagged to the ground. “So she’s either insane or dead.”

“Don’t think that way,” Dertrik said. “She’s stronger than all of that. She’s fighting Malik, as we are. She’ll be there waiting for us, wholly the Reniko we know and love.”

“Malik there is more,” Rimca said, “the breaking point was judged by sessions.” She hesitated unable to complete her thought.

“How many sessions to the breaking point?” Malik demanded.

“Four.”

“You said six, Orric, I know you did. She’s still alive.”

“And not insane,” Rimca said.

“But not wholly herself,” Dertrik replied. Malik looked in his direction unable to find a stem to this sudden dark thought. He followed Dertrik’s outstretched hand to the point at which his gaze was enthralled. Standing before them was Reniko, but it was not his Reniko, it was Shylaya dark and calloused. Her new master stood by her side.

Reniko took a deep breath before she opened her eyes. She felt liked she had not breathed for ages. Trokar greeted her as she opened her eyes and she smiled.

“My lord Trokar, an honour for you to grace me with your presence,” she said rising from the cold metal slab she was lying on. Trokar took her hand and she lightly rose to her feet only to realize she did not harbour the strength to stand.

“I’m sorry Milord, I must be unwell,” Reniko said.

“Do not worry, Shylaya, you were unwell, but that is past us now. Come Princess, let me help you while you regain your strength.” Trokar helped Reniko to her feet once again and she leaned on him for support. She smiled as she soaked in his strength and his warmth.

“I’ve missed your embrace, Milord,” Reniko whispered, “I only wish I was better attired. I must shame you to be clothed such.” Reniko looked down at the sterile gown that she was in and blushed.

“You will soon be yourself once again, my pet,” Trokar said.

“Yes,” Reniko said surrendering to Trokar’s embrace. “Yes, all is well now.”

Reniko stood before a full-length mirror examining her appearance. It was early in the morning, and she had every intention of looking presentable to her Lord, Trokar. She could barely suffer the humiliation that she had had to endure yesterday. Illness was no excuse, not for her. Her human attendants had done a fair job; Reniko was not displeased, not entirely. She wore tight revealing clothing, all in a blood red, Trokar’s preferred colour. She accented her ensemble with black accessories; a black belt hung around her waist, as well as an ebony coloured neck choker, which had chains of beads trailing from it that encircled her bare arms before linking back onto the choker. Her hair was pulled back tightly into a high tail that fell in pools around her neck. She touched the left side of her face lightly, tracing the silver frost down her face, to her chin and down her neck. It ended abruptly where her choker sat. The whole effect of her attire was sensual. She smiled wickedly and sat down to apply her makeup. Once finished, her face was an array of blacks and charcoal grays. Trokar couldn’t possibly be displeased with her appearance today. She stretched her wings delicately, noticing the stark contrast they brought to the rest of her appearance, she wasn’t at all pleased. They should be black, she thought loathingly and stepped away from the mirror.

Dawn was just rising over the mountains as she gazed through her window. As the sun touched her skin she revelled in the warmth, a contrast to the ever growing cold that late fall brought to the air. Trokar found her here gazing into the horizon, startling her with his sudden presence.

“I did not hear you enter my Lord,” Reniko said bowing low.

“I was unsure if you would be up, I had no wish to disturb your sleep if you were still enshrouded by it,” Trokar replied.

“Your kindness is too much, Milord,” Reniko said. Trokar cupped his hand around her chin and lifted her face toward his own as he bent down to meet her.

“Your appearance pleases me greatly,” Trokar said.

“I live to please you, Milord,” Reniko said, colour growing in her face.

“Come join me in breaking our fast, then I have a task I wish to place upon you, if, that is, you feel ready to serve your Lord,” Trokar said taking Reniko’s hand and leading her from her room.

“I am ready my Lord. I will do whatever task that you ask of me,” Reniko replied. Trokar smiled. Agger is unbelievable; her reward for this will be great. I do wonder if that delicious spirit of Shylaya’s is broken forever or if a spark of it remains somewhere inside her. We shall see.

Breakfast was lavish, though Reniko ate very little. This irritated Trokar.

“Why is it that you so seldom partake of what is set before you?” he asked, not hiding the irritation in his voice. Reniko looked genuinely alarmed.

“I am sorry my Lord, it’s just I am not used to eating so much before I have partook of my morning training,” Reniko replied. “I’m always famished after I have broken a sweat.”

Trokar dropped his food and smiled. Not broken indeed. “Well then Princess, shall we go spar?"

“I do not know if I may be in league to match blades with you, Sire, I am out of practice,” Reniko muttered.

“Is that to say that if you were in practice that you feel yourself a match for me?” Trokar asked, the arrogance, the insolence.

Reniko looked at Trokar coyly. “We will never know until we try.”

“I do believe that is a challenge, my pet.”

“One for another day maybe,” Reniko replied. They were on the training field moments later, Reniko coming alive at the sound of clashing metal. It stopped the moment the two of them stepped onto the field, and those Rük that were scattered on the field all prostrated themselves before the sight of Trokar.

“Go choose your weapon, while I choose your partner,” Trokar said as he walked away from Reniko’s side to wander amongst his soldiers. Reniko went to the weapons shed and emerged from it ten minutes later having found a weapon to her satisfaction. It was a sabre smaller than her usual sword, but it was one of the few weapons in the shed that Reniko felt she could handle confidently. It was amazing to her that the Rük harboured such a weapon. Probably for the female assassin’s, she finally concluded. When Reniko emerged, she found that the field had been cleared, except for a lone forest green Rük who stood in the centre waiting. Reniko stood at the edge of the ring and did her warm up, she found herself stiff and her muscles were burning slightly from the strain. She was well out of practice, this would not do. Finishing her warm up, she unclasped the fabric of her skirt and let it slide to the ground. She wore black hose underneath, and with her encumbrance shed, she took her stance in the ring. She bowed slightly in respect of her sparring partner, but was not greeted with the same response, this irritated Reniko. Do they not know who I am? She thought and winced. That wasn’t the reason she was irritated. No respect, she realized, I will gain that.

The deep green Rük that stood before her was wielding a larger weapon, a hammer, and a longer reach as the Rük towered above her a daunting nine feet.He came at her with rage. Reniko did not respond in kind, but instead parried the forceful blow and began dodging in kind using her speed to her advantage. Sweat trickled down her face early in the fight but her breathing was not yet erratic. End it fast, she thought, a thought that felt somehow familiar. She tried to recall why but came up blank, she had never sparred with a Rük before. The Rük’s attacks were becoming increasingly more aggressive the more Reniko eluded them and she realized suddenly that this was a test for him and he felt he had been sorely mismatched, to his advantage. He was annoyed, angered even, that he had been chosen for such a fight, how could Trokar humiliate him so? He couldn’t possibly win the fight against Reniko for fear of Trokar’s wrath so he was holding back. Reniko smiled and decided to taunt him. She hated winning if she was not met with all that the person could give.

“To lose to a woman what a terrible thing to have to endure,” she spoke so only he could hear. “And not even a Rük; no, a mere lowly human.” She paused a moment, not human, she suddenly remembered her wings, which she had kept tucked close to her body, not human, Levanith. The words, no matter that they were wrong, had sparked the exact response that Reniko had wanted and the deep green Rük came at her with unrestrained rage. She let her wings fly and sent a spray of dust clawing at the Rük’s eyes as she hopped from the ground into the air to avoid the Rük’s onrush. He rubbed the dirt out of his eyes and turned to face Reniko as she landed on the ground. She was smiling devilishly.

“That’s better,” she said as the Rük rushed at her once again. Now that the Rük had exploited his full potential, Reniko felt she would as well. The fight was over a few minutes later, Reniko standing over the Rük who lay in the dust, Reniko’s sabre at his throat. She stood on his chest, playing at pinning him down, though they both knew that the Rük could throw her off easily had the sword not been millimeters from his throat.

“Well done, Shylaya. I did not believe you to be a match for one of my soldiers. Finish him them,” Trokar said.

Reniko’s hand flinched at the thought. Kill him? Why? Her hand wavered over the Rük’s throat. She couldn’t do it. Trokar stood over her now waiting.

“What are you waiting for? Finish it,” Trokar demanded.

Reniko looked at Trokar, a flash of anger passing through her calm eyes. Trokar saw it, but it passed, cowed as she put her head down and responded. “My lord?”

“You have won, finish it. Kill him,” Trokar said.

“My lord, if you will. He is a skilled warrior. Can he not learn from his mistakes here to better himself in the future?” Reniko inquired.

“He has reached his peak. This is the best he can offer. How could I possibly let him live if he could not defeat such a frail thing as you? He is not worthy of life, kill him now!” Trokar said.

Reniko gazed at the Rük below her; his eyes were full of anger. Anger that he had lost, as well as anger that Reniko stood over him and would not end his life. The disgrace he had to endure for this pitiful girl’s weakness. She looked into his eyes, a feeling overcoming her until a flash of blood sprayed like a cloud in front of her. Pulling her sabre back startled, she looked to see Trokar holding a bloody blade before him, anger in his own eyes.

“This weakness will not do, Shylaya. Not in my pet. I will not tolerate such a thing again,” Trokar said and turned from the field leaving Reniko to stand amongst the very angry ranks of Trokar’s soldiers. She felt the hostility around her, knew that the instant Trokar left she would be alone amongst them, no longer harbouring his protection. She clutched the sabre tightly in her hand, turned away from the death that lay on the field, and walked to her skirt that lay on the ground. Donning it once again, she turned back to the field of soldiers, all of them were seething with want, lust, and vengeance. I would be the death of them all, she thought standing her ground outside the sparring ring.

“Who of you would dare to lay a hand on me? I am Trokar’s, touch me and deal with your Lord’s wrath,” Reniko shouted to the advancing Rük. Her words seemed to break the spell she seemed to cast on them and they stopped, staring at her indifferently.

“Just as I thought,” Reniko said and strode through the midst of them to place the weapon she held back in the shed and them she left them following after Trokar, smiling.

Trokar did not disturb her again until later that afternoon. He entered her room as silently as before, but this time, Reniko was prepared for the stealthy entrance. When Trokar entered her room, she was there doing obeisance to him.

“Quick learner,” Trokar said in response to this greeting and help Reniko to her feet. “Are you ready for the task I mentioned earlier?”

“At your bidding, Milord,” Reniko replied and followed Trokar out of her room and down a maze of corridors. They ended in a deserted part of the castle, a part that looked apparently untouched, unlike the rest of the building that had been modified during Trokar’s long stay. Reniko walked up to the darkened corridor and was startled as lights flickered to life at her presence. A door was set in the wall; it was metal, but carved intricately. It reminded Reniko distinctly of the city Reflaydun, she was sure it was the same material. She touched the carvings; they were of winged people, Levanith and Teoko. Humans, Le’a’to and Unicorns stood on the earth below. There was a symbol placed in the centre of the five species, the same backward winged Teoko that Reniko still bore on her own hand, but this one was surrounded by four other symbols, smaller, each representing, by what Reniko could tell, the various other inhabitants of the planet. For the Le’a’to there was a single leaf hanging down from the centre of two intertwining vines. The Teoko’s symbol was a flame encased in Teoko wings. Representing the unicorns was a single snaking line that created the shape of a single horn and the human’s symbol was a simple three-petal flower hanging from a stem.

“What is this place?” Reniko asked.

“It is the fruit of your people’s work. Your great grandparents sealed this part of my domain away from me. I have been unable to access it all these years,” Trokar said.

“Why would they deny you such a thing?” Reniko asked.

“They were not loyal to me as you are, my pet. That is why they were destroyed. Their insolence far outweighed any worth they had to me. Can you open it?” Trokar asked.

Reniko walked over to the right side of the door, a familiar panel was inset in the wall. She tapped it lightly to activate it. When it began to glow, she gave her reply. “There should be no problem getting inside, Milord.”

She pressed her hand solidly on the panel and felt a tingle start at the tips of her finger and travel down the length of her hand. A hiss issued as the doors opened pulling at Reniko as it sucked in the rich atmosphere around her. Lights began flickering on in the distance. She walked to the opening where Trokar stood in triumph. She looked past the doorway and was met by familiarity. She had been here before. The doorway opened into an archive, much like the one that she had visited under Tordaskar, but this one was more ancient and richer with old culture. Tordaskar's archive was a hasty arrangement whereas this room had lived and breathed for many ages. Each generation had something to add. Paintings, tapestries, and murals covered the walls in a trill of colour and comfort. The far wall housed a window and Reniko’s attention was firmly fixed on it. It gazed out into a world that was long ago destroyed, a world before the Rük. She entered the room without Trokar, in a trance, her gaze fixed on the window. When she came near to it, she touched it, and a ripple issued forth from the tip of her finger. Not a window, but a screen of some sort. She felt Trokar’s presence behind her and turned away from the marvellous screen.

“This room harbours everything I need to gain my grip on this world. Your reward will be great, my pet,” Trokar said glancing at the screen behind Reniko with loathing.

“I am only doing my duty to you, Milord,” Reniko said bowing to the presence before her. “If you wish I can run a search through the archive memory on anything you desire.”

“I know somewhere in this place is a communication system. I want you to reactivate it immediately. When you fulfilled my request, report to me.” Trokar said and turned from the room. He scanned the walls as he left and sneered. “We’ll have to do something about the condition of this room, it disgusts me.” When he passed the threshold, she watched the door slide shut behind him and was left alone in the comfort of the room. She couldn’t help but feel at home here. It was home. A memory tugged at her mind, but she tossed it aside as she made her way to the closest archive console and began riffling through the information for Trokar’s desired communications.

Reniko awoke to a steady blinking light that hovered just in her vision. She opened her eyes to find herself staring at the screen of the console she sat at. She stretched and sat up. How long have I been sleeping? She thought to herself as she scrolled through the new data that awaited her on the screen. The previous day she had found the communication console and had activated it only to discover that most of the connections had been severed. She had tried to re-establish the connections remotely only to discover that the entire network had to be re-established manually. This required her to find a list of intact connections and one by one she had to rewrite the program data. She had worked late into the night, and had finally figured out a way for the archive memory to duplicate her program for each connection. The blinking light that had woken her was a message of completion. She was checking the data over quickly to make sure that her hybrid program would stand up. Satisfied, she closed the window and wandered out of the archives toward her room.

She chose a midnight blue, despite Trokar’s innate love of red. The silky fabric hugged her like a second skin; she felt like a goddess as she stepped before Trokar, her hair bound back tightly. He didn’t seem at all displeased with her appearance, but instead smiled as she prostrated herself before him.

“It is done, Sire,” Reniko spoke.

“Come, my pet, let us announce our allegiance to the entirety of Vespen. With you at my side, they will cower before us.”

He reached out his hand to help Reniko to her feet, but Reniko hesitated, trying to keep hidden from Trokar’s intense gaze. She was conflicted, and she hoped with all her heart that Trokar could not see that. She felt an anger rising in her, unbidden and unwanted. Suppressing it, she grabbed Trokar’s hand and glided to her feet before Trokar even noticed her hesitation.

Once they had entered the archives together, Reniko led the way into a smaller room, where a raised platform stood in the centre, a small console sat on the fluid looking platform. Reniko gestured for Trokar to take his place on the platform and Reniko joined him.

“I’m going to activate the platform,” Reniko said, her hand flying across the illuminated panel. “When that light turns on, all of Vespen will be able to see and hear us.” She said pointing at a sphere on the corner of the panel. Trokar nodded and seconds later the sphere glowed a soft white and Reniko was suddenly faced with eighty different screens. Slightly overwhelmed, she took a deep breath and stood silent with a steel look. Probably should have done a test run with an abandoned city. Reniko thought. She looked to Trokar and realized that he was not fazed by the array before him at all. Of course he isn’t, he is far older than anyone else on this planet. He has seen the likes of this before.

Malik stood frozen, unable to fix his thoughts on one choice long enough to move. Part of him wanted to run to Reniko and snatch her away from the creature she stood behind, and the other part wanted to run. He had faced the Rük before, and this was unlike any Rük he had seen. He was unsure if Reniko could best it, let alone him, untrained as he was.

He watched the smug face of the Rük as he glanced at Malik and his party and watched Reniko looked up at him with admiration. That made his mind up for him, and with a fiery anger he withdrew Imako from its sheath, and headed toward the formidable black Rük, rage blinding him to his disadvantage. He almost turned the sword on Dertrik when Dertrik grabbed Malik’s forearm and held him back.

“It’s no use, Malik, they’re not really here,” Dertrik said as he pointed at the skiff of snow that covered the ground. There were no footprints on the ground around Reniko and the Rük. A flicker on the hologram made the realistic image jump momentarily. Malik clenched Imako tightly in his hand. This helplessness was infuriating.

“Humans of Vespen hear me,” the black Rük called out.

Reniko’s gaze fell from the Rük and her gaze settled back onto Malik and his small party, her gaze however was unseeing.

“I have a feeling we are not the only ones seeing this,” Rimca said. Dertrik nodded.

“I come before you to finally claim my rights to this world. I am Trokar, King of Vespen, given this right by the very being at my side, your Queen, your goddess, Shylaya.” Trokar gestured to Reniko who had been standing a step behind him. Reniko grabbed his hand and stepped forward, radiating a cold reverence.

“We come before you today so you can bear witness. Bear witness to the goddess Shylaya as she pledges her allegiance, her very life to me.” At these words, Reniko stiffened. Malik could see something unfolding in her mind as Trokar turned to her awaiting her pledge of loyalty. She didn’t turn to him, she was rooted in spot, a conflict was drawn on her face and as suddenly as it had come, it was gone, and Reniko faced Trokar and fell to her knees grabbing Trokar’s hand and kissing it tenderly.

“I Shylaya of the Levanith of Sentralon, pledge my allegiance to Trokar, Lord and master of Vespen. I uphold all that he stands for, his words are my words. His will my will. All who disobey him disobey me. From this day hence, my life belongs solemnly to my lord, Trokar.”

“Rise, my Queen,” Trokar spoke and Reniko rose to stare drunkenly into Trokar’s eyes.

“Defy me, and you defy the goddess herself,” Trokar said and he stepped away from Reniko and out of sight.

Reniko watched Trokar leave the platform and turned back to the console to deactivate the feed. She hesitated as she spotted a barren picture on one of the screens where three people stood with a Teoko. Reniko touched the screen cutting all the feeds but that one. As the screen enlarged, she stared at one of the faces before her. Her face filled with a cold rage.

“You! I know you,” she spoke. “I will make sure your death is long and painful for what you have done to me.” She ended the transmission, Malik’s face fresh in her mind. That traitor has my sword. I will enjoy getting it back from him. She left the platform and hurried after Trokar.

Malik’s heart felt like ice. He jabbed Imako into the ground and tried to support himself on it only to slide helplessly to the ground. Her words were like daggers to his heart. What have they done to you, Lyss?

Rimca was standing at his side, her hand reassuringly on his back. “Malik, she could have been talking to anyone,” Rimca said.

“But she wasn’t. Rimca, what has he done to her? She was so cold. The look in her eyes, I thought that look alone was going to strike me down. All I saw in her was frozen. She isn’t Reniko anymore. Trokar won, he has her,” Malik said. It was beginning to snow again. The cold threatened to consume him and at that moment he wished that it would, let him sleep forever in death. He couldn’t bear to see Reniko like that. Not like that.

“He may have her mind, her memories, but you will forever hold her heart. She gave it to you long before she gave her allegiance to Trokar,” Dertrik spoke.

“She does not remember me, Dertrik, or if she does, it’s not the way it was before. She swore to kill me.”

“But beyond that, before that, she hesitated,” Orric said. Malik looked at his old friend recalling the hesitation in her.

“All is not lost,” Malik said rising to his feet.

“It will be if we don’t find a way to get to Reniko,” Rimca said. “We’re still stuck here in Fharlasina without the last piece of the puzzle.

“Oh heavens,” Dertrik cried and ran to Malik, “give me the sphere from Reflaydun.”

“Why?” Malik asked.

“No time for explanations, your Highness, just give it to me,” Dertrik demanded. Malik opened the pouch that the sphere was concealed in and handed it over to Dertrik. Once Dertrik had a firm grasp on it, he ran to where the hologram had been suspended and cleared away a skiff of snow on a small pedestal that stood there. He inserted the sphere into a hole and activated a screen. After a few minutes Malik joined him where he stood. Dertrik looked frustrated and grabbed Malik’s right hand, ripped off the glove that enclosed it and shoved it against the cold surface of the pedestal. Malik’s hand began to tingle and he realized that it wasn’t because of the cold. Words flitted across the screen, ‘Access Granted’.

“You could have just asked,” Malik said rubbing his hand to regain its warmth.

Dertrik looked unconcerned. “Sorry, but I have to back trace the connection before the information is erased. Consoles like this don’t retain their memory for long, but if I can trace it –” Dertrik let his sentence trail off as he worked.

“We’ll have our last piece of the puzzle,” Rimca said joining them at the console.

Reniko caught up to Trokar just as he stepped outside of the archives. She trailed behind him silently as he went. She sensed something was wrong. They made it to the end of the corridor and Reniko couldn’t stand it any longer, she reached out to Trokar.

“Sire, what is wrong?” Reniko asked.

Trokar turned on her with ardour. “Why did you hesitate, my pet?”

Reniko reeled at the question. Because I remembered something, something that doesn’t make sense to me. A memory of a long time ago. She had been two maybe three, Trokar had loomed over her, grabbed her tightly in his arms and his malicious grin had caused her to cry out. She had been in the archives. Her parents were there and they saved her, saved her from Trokar.

“I’m sorry, Sire, I just remembered something,” Reniko said, gazing away from him.

Trokar took Reniko’s hand and pressed her close to him. Leaning down over her, he kissed her tenderly on the neck, sending shivers through Reniko’s body.

“Is that all? Your sickness doesn’t seem to be healed completely yet, my pet. I can fix that for you,” he whispered in her ear. Reniko relaxed into Trokar’s embrace, he would make everything better, the confusion would go away.

“Will you scream for me one last time, Shylaya?” Trokar said. Fear engulfed Reniko and evaporated as Trokar led her down the hallway. There would be no more conflict, they were both sure of that.


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