She woke up in comfort, nestled amongst folds of heavy blankets, and for a moment she thought she had dreamt the whole thing. That hope was shattered when she opened her eyes and found herself staring at the man she had almost killed. He stared back at her, using his dagger to peel the skin from an apple. He gave her a wary smile when he saw that she was awake. Reniko shifted the blankets away as she sat up, only to realize that the cold air was also not a dream and once again wrapped the blankets tightly around her body.
She looked at the man and spoke one word: “Reniko.” She gave in it all the inflection she could trying to convey her sorrow for her earlier actions and for not being able to truly talk with him. He seemed to understand since he gave another smile and held the apple in front of her face. Reniko reached for it and hesitated when she noticed the man was looking at her with a curious gaze.
“Lesh, Malik,” he said and pushed the apple into Reniko’s outstretched hand.
“Malik?” Reniko asked as “Malik” sat down in his place again.
“Shi,” he responded nodding his head. “Reniko?”
“Shi,” Reniko responded gaining a look of approval from Malik. Reniko heard rustling to her left and froze in terror as the dragon that she had assumed Malik had run off after she had fainted, came lumbering into view. He was monstrous in size, with skin an inky black that when caught in the light shone a midnight blue. The mere sight of him sent Reniko into a panic, but somehow his eyes didn’t fit, they were a deep green and seemed gentle, which confused her. Malik saw Reniko’s distress upon the new arrival and he quickly jumped to his feet and ran to her side. He placed his hands on her shoulders and looked into her panic stricken face.
“Nisha! Ael emm nah veye. Veye!” He let go of her once he knew she would not run and walked over to Orric who looked disappointed. Malik placed a hand on Orric’s thick scaly hide and patted him reassuringly while he looked at Reniko and repeated veye over and over.
Reniko took deep cleansing breaths, trying to rid her trembling body of the panic she felt. She looked back at Malik who was trying desperately to get her to understand.
“Veye?” Reniko asked. What does that mean? Malik nodded encouragingly. “Friend? Is that what that means? You’re saying this creature is your friend?” Malik looked stricken. He wasn’t sure what Reniko had said, though to him it had sounded like she was beginning to understand. He looked over at her and Reniko realized that she had spoken but he had not understood. “Veye,” she said again this time nodding her head, “Shi, veye.” She had stopped shaking now, but still looked nervous when Orric moved closer to the glowing embers of the campfire and sat down.
“Orric,” Malik said pointing at the dragon and Reniko nodded.
“Shi, Orric,” Reniko said and realized she was still clutching the apple Malik had earlier given to her so she bit into it. Her stomach growled with the first bite and she began to realize how hungry she was. Malik looked pleased and much less tense when Reniko did this and began stirring a pot that was simmering on the fire. Orric was still gazing at Reniko, who began to feel nervous under his watching stare. She looked directly at him, her eyes full of annoyance, as she tried to hide her unease.
“Mai shea no’oko, ny veye.” Orric spoke, his voice deep and resonating. Reniko closed her eyes in response. She hadn’t thought that the dragon could talk but she wasn’t scared, she was soothed. His voice was a comfort to her despite everything she had gone through in the short time since she had awoken in this strange place. It’s deep bass tone rumbled in her core.
Malik stopped stirring the contents of the pot when he heard Orric speak and was now looking at him mystified.
“Why did you say that?” Malik asked in his strange tongue. This caused Reniko to open her eyes and stare at Malik in a daze. She was frustrated that communication was such a barrier between her and these new... friends?
“She’s a kindred spirit,” Orric stated simply, like this explained his puzzling comment before.
“Do you know where she comes from? You’ve seen most of the world. You must have an idea of where she’s from,” Malik asked, brushing off Orric’s cryptic answer. He was used to not knowing what Orric was talking about.
“I’ve encountered no living creature on this planet with her strange dialect and her strange clothing. I think we should take her to the temple in Savonly. Maybe they can help her. She looks lost,” Orric said, still staring at Reniko, who had turned away now, hugging her blankets while she stared into the fire. Malik was looking at her as well with a strange sadness in his eyes.
“She’s alone here. I wish I could be of more help to her.”
“The priests will help her, Malik, especially if you tell them that she saved Cabitora from Rük.”
“You’re right,” Malik said and turned back to the pot in the fire, “but, she can’t travel dressed like that. Let’s stop at Cabitora and get her something to wear. It’s too cold for her to be wearing such a small amount of clothing and I’m sure that the village would love to meet their savior.” Orric nodded and closed his eyes while Malik ladled some broth into two bowls and carried them over to Reniko.
The unlikely trio found themselves in Cabitora the following evening. Malik had given up his own travel worn cloak to Reniko who was also using his horse. As they neared town, Orric disappeared into the woods. Reniko noticed this instantly, since aside from their first meeting, Orric’s presence had an unexplained calming effect on her. It was with his sudden absence that she felt she understood the meaning behind his first words to her.
Cabitora was a large fishing village: Farms dotted the outskirts of the village but most of the bustle of town was by the port, where the fishermen were now pulling in their day’s catch. Dusk had settled in when Malik, leading his Arabian horse who carried Reniko, came to a stop in front of the town inn. Reniko noticed that most of the residents that had seen them ride in had gathered outside the inn. Most looked anxious and had their gaze fixed on her.
As Malik helped Reniko down to the ground, the cloak concealing her very foreign outfit, a tank top and shorts, fluttered open and those closest to her cried out in surprise; a cacophony of conversation jostled to a start and Reniko gathered the folds of the cloak back around her. Now seeing the village and residents up close, even in the failing light, she could tell that it was not as developed as the time or place she had come from. She felt like she had stepped back in time many hundreds of years. Though, even with this prevailing feeling, the fact that she couldn’t understand nor had ever heard the dialect and that there were creatures that she had never before heard about in myth, made her think it was far more than just a matter of when she was. She had a feeling it was more about where she was, and it wasn’t Earth.
She heard Malik shout loudly to the crowd, which began to settle. They seem to know him well enough. Could account for the stares I was getting. She began to listen to Malik as he spoke to the man closest to them. She figured he was the village leader by the manner in which he spoke. She gritted her teeth in frustration as the words they exchanged fell over her more like music than speech and she wished in vain that she could somehow defend herself. She suddenly felt very weak and she hated that.
“People please! Listen to me!” Malik shouted over the crowd, and watched as it parted to reveal Arkon, one of Cabitora’s elders.
“Arkon, good to see you old friend.”
“It’s been too long Malik. What is this I hear about a foreign witch?”
Malik shook his head and pointed to Reniko who was looking at both of them with a puzzled expression.
“Her name is Reniko. I found in her in the Sortaia Forest.”
“Near the Rük base Cralay?”
“Yes. I believe they were on their way back there. I think some Rük found her unconscious in the forest and took her prisoner. When I found her she had escaped. I found her bonds on the road not far from where she was with two badly wounded Rük soldiers, and a dead lieutenant. She nearly killed me before she realized I was human. Orric gave her quite a scare. It seems she’s never seen a Teoko before.” Malik couldn’t decide whether he found this lack of knowledge on her part humorous or disturbing.
“Wait, back up, did you say she took down three Rük, one a lieutenant? That’s impossible.” Arkon was looking at Reniko with disbelief.
“I would have agreed with you had I not seen it with my own eyes,” Malik said.
“Well then, she is no witch, she’s a goddess. What say you, fair maiden? We must feast in honour of the great service you have done for our village.” Arkon stepped away from Malik toward Reniko, who backed away as he advanced. Arkon was confused by this and felt Malik’s hand on his shoulder holding him back.
“It’s no use talking to her, she doesn’t understand us. You were right about the foreign part. You have to see what she is wearing,” Malik whispered, grinning.
As Malik joined Reniko, who was rather overwhelmed by all the attention, he could hear the unease fading from the crowd. It soon turned into jubilation, which was only suppressed by the presence of Arkon. Malik grabbed Reniko’s hand and pulled her into the inn. Arkon followed close behind after he had instructed the villagers to prepare a celebration in honour of their maiden savior. The crowd dispersed in groups all talking about the feast to be had. When Arkon had the door closed behind him he quickly spoke to the innkeeper and joined Malik in the small room he was given.
When Malik saw that Arkon had finally appeared, he walked over to Reniko who was gazing with curiosity around the room and coaxed her out of his cloak. Arkon was shocked by what he saw. It was no wonder the villagers had thought her a witch, she was barely clothed. He had never in his life seen a woman show so much flesh. Reniko had no idea why the older man was observing her with such distaste. She knew she wasn’t clothed for the weather – since it was deep into fall and she was wearing a scanty tank top and light brown shorts – but it was nothing that was a cause for staring; at least not in her culture. On Earth this was considered more modest than some of the outfits that were popular. She blushed and bowed slightly in apology as she realized that what she was wearing, or the lack thereof, was in fact the trouble. She gave an angry glare in Malik’s direction and snatched the cloak from his grasp, wrapping it quickly around her body. The nerve!
“Not too pleased with you, eh?” Arkon said.
Malik responded with a glare of his own and sat down in one of the chairs that were in the small room. Arkon took up residence in the other, while Reniko sat on the nearby bed.
“Where did she come from, Malik? Is there any reason why the Rük would be interested in her?”
“Other than the fact that she is a woman? No. I don’t think she even knows what the Rük are. I don’t know where she came from. Before I found her, and I know this will sound odd, I saw a circle of blue light in the sky. We saw it all the way from Cay. It started two days ago and ended an hour before I found her. Rocks were raining from it, and Orric and I decided to travel this way to investigate.”
“We saw it as well. The whole village was concerned. No one wanted to scout the area -- too much fear of the Rük -- and it was coming from the direction of Cralay. We assumed they were up to something again. But, Cay? That’s five or six days from here. We didn’t realize it was seen down there.”
“I think she fell from the light,” Malik stated bluntly.
Arkon stared at Malik. He was getting used to Malik’s wild stories, “From the light? Do you really think she fell from the sky?”
“It’s the only explanation I can think of,” Malik said. He sounded excited and this made Arkon pause to consider things.
“Then… the prophecy?” Arkon asked hopefully.
“No, it can’t be. She doesn’t bear any of the signs of the prophecy, I mean the Watcher… Besides the prophecy is just myth and she is mortal, she was covered in cuts and bruises. I think that it was the ancients’ technology that brought her here, from the old trading routes. She may have come from Terra!” Malik’s eyes sparkled. It had been his life-long goal to find proof that Terra existed.
“Terra?” Reniko said having finally caught a familiar word, “shi, Terra.” Both Malik and Arkon turned and glanced at Reniko who looked rather hopeful.
“Well, that’s that. She has to be from Terra,” Malik said.
“But there hasn’t been a sign of the ancients’ technology for a thousand years, and Terra, it’s just legend,” Arkon said. He still wasn’t wholly convinced of Malik’s wild theories.
“I know it sounds crazy Arkon, but it’s has to be. I mean she at least knows about Terra, and maybe they have the ancients’ technology Terra-side.” Malik had a pleading tone in his voice. He needed someone to believe him besides Orric.
Reniko looked frustrated again and turned to cast her gaze out the window, Malik and Arkon turned back to face each other.
“If she knows how to work their technology, then she can help us fight the Rük,” Arkon said, taking Malik’s guesswork into consideration.
“I have a feeling she’s not here on purpose, Arkon,” Malik said, looking at Reniko again.
“You can’t blame an old fool for trying,” Arkon said, laughing to keep Malik from noticing the desperation he had felt.
“I’m taking her north, to Savonly, up in the mountains. I think the priestesses may be able to help her. They know some of the ancient languages that stem from the Terra legends.”
“I think that may be best as well. And Malik, don’t mention Terra or the ancients, or her falling from the sky. You and I, we are one of the few that still remember those legends. I don’t want to get her caught up in things she doesn’t understand.” He also didn’t want the townspeople to start thinking that he bought into Malik’s wild stories. They tolerated Malik, but he was a traveler, and all they had to do was placate him when he came into town every few months.
Malik nodded. “You’re right. I’ll be taking her to Savonly tomorrow. I just thought I would get her something decent to wear. And Orric and I were running low on supplies.”
“Savonly is eighteen days from here. Are you sure you don’t want to stay and rest for a few more days?”
“No, I think it is best if we get her sheltered and away from the Rük before they catch wind of this. Besides, I think I’m going to leave Blaze here and fly on Orric. The trip should only take two or three days that way.”
“Just make sure to keep Orric out of sight. The villagers won’t take kindly to a Teoko flying overhead. Ill omen, or so they say.”
“I’m glad you’re such a reasonable man, Arkon. What would this village do without you?”
Arkon smiled. He couldn’t help liking Malik. Malik had a sweet air of naivety which Arkon sometimes wished he still harboured. He knew, however, that the boy had seen many more horrors than Arkon wanted to think about. He wondered sometimes if the oblivious air Malik had was his defense against all he had witnessed.
“Bring your mortal angel down in an hour. I’ll send up some clothing for her.”
“Thanks Arkon.” Arkon smiled weakly and gave a hearty laugh and slammed the door shut, which caused Reniko to turn her gaze back into the room. Malik gave her a smile, and she returned it.
Clothing came along with a wide-eyed child that stood at a distance, staring intently at Reniko. Reniko found this attention humorous and smiled back at the boy while she tried to suppress her laughter. Malik conversed with the blue-eyed boy and Reniko’s heart ached. It was so painful to be amongst humans and not be able to talk with them. When the little one left, Malik carried the pile of fresh clothing over to the bed where Reniko sat.
“Thank-you,” she said, then shook her head in frustration, knowing she wouldn’t be understood. Malik just gave a laugh and slipped out the door. Reniko looked at the neatly folded clothes and pulled off the dress that lay on the top. It was beautiful, all in deep reds and soft cotton. The sleeves were decoratively attached with soft leather, laced with a two-inch gap where the skin could be seen. It looked her size and she even thought about putting it on, until she noticed the clothing below. They had been hidden between the two dresses that had been brought up for her and had probably been meant for Malik, but Reniko was thankful at their presence. She would rather put on the soft leather pants and the chemise than wrap her body in the folds of the imposing dresses. She set the dress neatly on the bed and began to put on the loose cotton shirt and the pants.
A soft knock at her door startled Reniko out of her task and, hastily slipping on the shirt, she ran over to the door and opened it a crack. That, to her surprise, was all the incentive the caller needed and the door was forced open, sending her sprawling backward, nearly tripping on a wooden stool that lay near the door.
“I siisha ny ayeroma. Le tysa kiy sheeda ee nov wayla nah ruudo,” the older woman spoke as she hauled in a steaming bucket of water in each hand. She continued to chatter as two boys came in with the same load and splashed the water into a large basin behind a screen on the far side of the room. Reniko stood, dazed by the entry and continuous chatter of the woman, and only understood what she was talking about when the woman handed her a bar of soap and a large towel. The woman looked quite triumphant and patted Reniko on the shoulder lightly before she scowled at the two boys that had accompanied her up and roughly kicked them out of the room as she closed the door stiffly behind her. Blitzed by the sudden entry and departure of the inn staff, Reniko gave a laugh and realized that the woman must have been scolding the boys for sitting there staring at the half dressed woman, which Reniko was. The pants she had intended to put on were still lying on the bed. She was quite thankful that the shirt was as long as it was or the two boys would have gotten a lovely show.
Stifling her laughter she went over to the screen and looked at the steaming water that invited her aching muscles, which she now felt with a heightened awareness. Setting down the large towel and the sweet smelling soap, she slipped off the shirt and stepped into the water. It was extremely hot and a sweat soon formed on her exposed skin. She let her body relax and soak in the heat and was only drawn back into consciousness as a steady tick, tick, tick entered into her hearing. Thoroughly annoyed, she tried to locate the source only to come to the conclusion that it was her left arm that was doing this. Her watch still graced her wrist and her breath caught at the sight of it. It reminded her that something very wrong had happened. There was a life gone from her, where it was just turning morning. She had been missing from Earth for just over a day now, and her thoughts drifted to her mother, her father, and to Dertrik. Please don’t let Dertrik feel responsible for this. It was my stupidity that got me into this mess and I have a feeling he is taking all the blame. I wish I could tell them I’m all right. More important, I wish I could go back.
Laughter outside her door broke her thoughts and she quickly grabbed the bar of soap and cleaned the cuts and bruises on her skin from the battle yesterday. With a sigh, she heaved herself out of the now lukewarm water and towelled her skin dry. Wishing wouldn’t get her anywhere.
When she was fully dressed, she walked over to the room’s lone mirror and glanced at her image. The pants were a perfect fit, which made her think immediately that Malik could not have fit into them and that they had been meant for her in the first place. The chemise was the same, though being so loose fitting it could very well have fit Malik. The only thing she seemed to be missing from her sudden jump back in time was a cloak.
There was a soft knocking at her door moments later. Reniko finished tying back her hair into its long braided tail and opened the door. Malik stood there looking like a new man. He too had bathed and changed clothing. His dress now mirrored what Reniko had chosen to wear. He wore similar pants though his top was of a rich green instead of the creamy white of Reniko’s. Malik smiled, chuckling softly and Reniko clutched her arm nervously.
“I can change if you think it’s not appropriate –” she stopped when she saw Malik shaking his head and for a moment thought he understood, but he just shrugged his shoulders and held out an armload of fabric to Reniko. She took it, bowing slightly, and only then realized she had her cloak. She was startled by its appearance. It seemed to shimmer slightly like it was made of synthetic materials, but as she ran her hand over it, it felt just like cotton. It was a deep green not unlike Malik’s shirt and was heavy. Malik fumbled forward, grabbed hold of Reniko’s new possession and placed it around her shoulders, using the clasp to secure it. Reniko grabbed hold of the clasp and noticed a strange dragon-like carving on the silver surface. It looked exactly like the dragon she had encountered only the wings on the carving were backwards. That was when Reniko realized she was no longer wearing Dertrik’s necklace. It must have come off when I fell, she thought, remembering again the last moment her life had made sense. The realization that she had lost that sign of loyalty stung. She gulped in a lung-full of air to suppress the sob that was threatening to escape. She suddenly felt like curling up in the room’s only bed and sleeping. She knew it wouldn’t change where she was but at least she would feel better.
Malik didn’t notice the gesture, but instead grabbed her unoccupied hand and pulled her out of the door. She had no idea what was going on, but Malik seemed to have a specific goal in mind and she couldn’t have protested anyway. She let him pull her back out into the busy streets, trying not to look too out of her element as Malik brought her to the centre of town where most of the villagers had gathered for a feast.
It was quite evident to Reniko, as they proceeded into the crowd that this feast was in honour of her. All the residents that came near her all gave a very formal bow and she kept hearing the same phrase repeated over and over again, Ralahsha ri nov ah isha. Malik was kind enough to speak for Reniko, though she had no idea what he was actually telling the villagers. She hoped it was something that would call less attention on her rather than more, however, she highly doubted that was the case. This doesn’t feel right somehow, she thought as she followed Malik deeper into the festivities toward a grouping of tables set out in the moonlight around a rather modest fountain, which she gathered was the town’s water supply. Malik sat down at one end of the head table and gestured to the empty seat beside him. Giving an uneasy sigh, she fell into place and tried to filter out some of the noise that buzzed around her. She was still thinking wistfully about the bed back in her room.
Malik noticed the unease Reniko displayed and felt rather guilty for putting her into the situation. I should have taken her straight to Savonly. She’s not ready for all of this. He watched as a plate of steaming food was set in front of Reniko and she smiled broadly bowing in her strange manner to the serving boy. The boy in turn blushed and took off to the other side of the table to continue serving. Malik watched as Reniko sampled everything from her plate, pleased that she still seemed to have an appetite. His attention was averted as a line of dancers and musicians moved into the centre of the gathering. Reniko looked up also as the music started and watched in a daze as the intoxicating music filled the square and the movements of the dancers played out their own story. Malik never tired of the songs and dances of Cabitora. The village was rich in its cultural history and was known for the best dancers on the continent. People from all over the continent of Edonal Eclith gathered here once a year for the harvest festival each fall. However, in recent years, as Cralay had become occupied by the Rük, the amount of travelers seemed to become less and less. Malik had yet to miss a harvest festival in the five years he had traveled with Orric.
As the song ended and the dancers finished their story, he looked to Reniko to see her reaction only to find she was no longer there. Where has she run off to? He stood from his spot and was about to race off to find her when a few of the younger dancers surrounded him.
“Sir Malik, it’s always a pleasure to have you visit Cabitora,” a seductive voice said. Malik wasn’t surprised to find Dessa at the source of it. She had had her eye on Malik since the moment he had stepped into Cabitora, though he’d hoped she had forgotten him by now. She obviously hadn’t.
“Dessa, how is your father doing? I heard he was very ill after the last festival,” Malik said as he was forced back into his seat. He was glancing around looking for some way around Dessa, but ended up with his eyes back on her as she spoke.
“It wasn’t serious. He was back fishing within a few weeks. Why have you stayed away so long? It’s been nearly a year since we last saw you, I was beginning to think that you were avoiding me.” She was pouting which made Malik roll his eyes. He hated women who were only as deep as their outward beauty.
“Now why would I do that?” Malik said looking past Dessa, once more scanning the crowd for some glimpse of his missing foreigner.
The music had begun again and people had gathered to dance. Dessa looked in the direction of the musicians and grabbed Malik’s hand, pulling him onto his feet. “You wouldn’t refuse me a dance would you?” Dessa asked batting her eyes as Malik sighed.
“Of course not, Milady, lead the way.” He knew Dessa wouldn’t take no as an answer. It would be easier to get away from her sooner if he was nice to her. He didn’t want Dessa to cause a scene, which she most likely would do if Malik refused her.
When everyone had found themselves either occupied with food or festivities, or both, Reniko had taken the opportunity to slip from her spot and wander deeper into the village where it was quieter. Lanterns lit the walkways and roads around the village and even the dim light Reniko felt exposed. She hurried down the nearest alleyway and located an abandoned building. Finding footholds, she scaled the side of the building and climbed to the roof. She glanced back at the mirth that could be heard from the brightly lit square below her. She gave a quiet sigh, sat with her back facing the festivities, and looked into the star lit sky. It was beautiful, as a starry sky always was, but it was apparent to her that it was not the same sky that she had grown up with. Not one of the constellations she saw was familiar, but it was the moon that gave it away. For there was not just one beautiful satellite circling the planet, but three. One of the moons was followed closely by a much smaller one and another could be seen rising on the horizon, perpendicular to the first two.
Ten-year-old Reniko had snuck out of her house again and found her way onto the stable roof. The night sky was completely cloud free and she was staring up at the starry expanse.
“Can’t sleep either, Reniko?” she heard a familiar voice say. She turned her head sharply and reflexively grabbed the nearest rock she could find, poised and ready to strike.
“What are you doing here, Dare?” she asked, her heart still pounding with fear.
“I took a walk and was close enough to the manor to see you sneak out of your room. That torch you have with you is quite bright.”
Reniko just turned her head back in the direction of the starry sky.
“Do you think that there are other life forms out there, staring back at us?” she asked Dertrik, who took the question as a sign that he had been invited to stay.
“It’s a big universe out there Renny, anything is possible.”
“You didn’t answer my question. Do you believe?” Reniko asked again, she couldn’t be tricked easily anymore with Dertrik’s diversions.
“I believe... I believe many things, and I know many other things.” Another diversion; Reniko was starting to think that Dertrik couldn’t give a straight answer anymore.
Reniko glared at Dertrik though the expression was hidden in the dark.
“I don’t know if I should ask you anymore questions. You never answer them straight,” she huffed.
Dertrik grabbed Reniko and pulled her closer to him.
“I know there are other people looking back at us, Reniko.” He finally answered, but he sounded solemn, like he had been reluctant to do so.
Reniko looked up at Dertrik, his face highlighted by the glow of the moon, he was staring at the sky and Reniko turned and looked in the same direction.
If only you knew how right you were, Dare. Reniko thought as she hugged her knees and buried her face into the soft leather, silent tears falling from her face. If only you knew that I wish you hadn’t been right at all.