Call of Descent

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Chapter Six

The night passed by as Reniko drowned in her sorrow on top of the shabby building. When she finally dried her eyes and looked down into the village, she realized that a lot of the residents were heading back to their homes, most of them stumbling drunk and talking much too loudly. Not wanting to look the fool, she quickly found footholds and descended from the roof. She hit the ground just as a couple of bleary eyed children wandered by, their mother leading the way. Reniko smiled at the woman, who gave her an odd look, and wandered back to the inn.

Reniko soon learned that even if the festivities had ceased in the town, for the travelers at the inn, it seemed the night had just begun. As she entered the inn, music and laughter, mixed with the strange dialect, fell upon her ears. The large meeting room was full of burly men that all seemed to have just come alive. She walked past the opening to the room and was greeted by a row of drunken eyes. One of the men at the nearest table saluted her with his pitcher of ale and mouthed slurred words she thought meant for her to join them. She gave a shake of her head and a wide grin and disappeared down the hall and out of sight. When she heard shouts coming from the meeting room, her pace quickened. She was sure that man was going to come after her, so when she heard footsteps behind her she was ready to forcibly get rid of him. When she turned around, however, she was greeted by a more friendly face. Malik, quiet sober, stood before her with a look of pure relief. He spilled out a jumble of words waving his hands in wide gestures as Reniko smiled back at him.

“When are you going to learn that I can’t understand you?” she said just loud enough to be heard above his voice. Malik stopped and gave a frustrated sigh. Without words, he headed down the hall and disappeared into his room. Reniko rubbed her temples and wrinkled her brow in silent agony. I need to sleep. Maybe tomorrow I’ll wake up from this nightmare. Following Malik’s example she headed to her room and staggered inside. With a weak gesture she pushed the door closed and latched it. Once she was sure there would be no intruders, she tossed the elegant cloak onto a nearby chair and stumbled into the bed. Burrowing her head into the pillow, she breathed in the clean scent of fresh straw.

“Not the most comfortable bed I have slept in, but I’ve been in worse,” she mumbled to herself as she kicked off her pants and pulled the covers tight around her. With her eyes closed, she listened to the crackling of the fire in the hearth until she finally settled into a dream-filled sleep.

She woke drenched in sweat, the night still thick, and she shook violently as she recalled her vivid dream. Trying to reassure her mind that it was only a dream she pushed back the covers and held her head in her hands. She watched the glow of the fire and realized that, though it had been a dream, it had first been a reality. She relived the death that she had caused; it haunted her.

It had been one of the first things that Dertrik had taught her when she first began her training in the Blade. She had been impulsive and had not understood all that he said. Never had she known that something she had discarded when she was younger could have so much meaning for her today.

Dertrik had taken her to his sparring room, rows of weaponry of all kinds stood along the walls of the room. Reniko had been amazed by the sight of it all. She had scrambled over to the nearest row of swords and was just reaching out to touch a thin blade with a carved silver hilt when Dertrik grabbed her hand and turned her forcefully around. Reniko had looked at him with quiet irritation.

“I was just going to touch it, I wasn’t going to do anything else, I promise,” her small seven year old voice announced defiantly.

“Before you let your hand touch anything in this room, you must understand the consequences of what I teach you here.”

“Consequences?” Reniko had asked as she took a kneeling position on the floor, following Dertrik’s example.

“Each piece in this room holds a power that can be tapped by the wielder. Those most skilled in it have a choice to make: To work for good or for evil. That choice must be made the moment the wielder touches the blade, or else the weapon will be useless to its possessor. Do you understand?”

“I’m sorry Dertrik, I don’t. How can a piece of metal have power?”

“Once a weapon enters a person’s hand it becomes an extension of them, so essentially the person becomes the weapon and the weapon the person. If the person is undecided as to their purpose in wielding this extension of themselves, they defeat the usefulness of holding it.”

“So before I pick my weapon I must decide how I will use it?”

“Yes.”

“Well, that’s easy. I choose to do good. I don’t want to hurt anyone and I plan on never doing that. It’s all for fun right?”

Dertrik had grabbed Reniko’s hand, making her gaze into his eyes.

“I mean, Reniko, that each time you place a weapon in your hand you have to make a decision. With a blade in your hand you have the power to take life and the power to give life. You must decide each time, not just this once. If I do choose to teach you, you must understand the power that you will hold. Life and death will be in your hands; it will always be your choice.”

“Life and death... I understand, Dertrik, and I have made my decision for this time.”

“Then choose a blade that fits your purpose –”

As a child Reniko had thought nothing of the conversation. She had never thought that she truly held life and death in her hands, but now she did. She had used her power, and the strange thing about it was that Dertrik had been wrong all those years ago, or maybe she had. She had always thought that killing was the evil thing and sparing life the good. In reality killing was neither right nor wrong, it was simply the reaction that had come at the time. It was either her life or theirs. But was I wrong? Why did I take their lives? Have I worked evil? She rubbed her temples in confusion and let tears of frustration spill from her eyes. I had no right to take their lives. I don’t want this power anymore! Guilt, pain and confusion descended onto her and pooled into rage. Grabbing the sword that she had taken from her captors, she threw open the window and hurled it into the night air. A resounding thud and clanking accompanied her decision and with finality she gently closed the shutters on the window. With that sword let all badness leave me, she promised herself, no more killing. No more Blade.

Morning came with a pounding both inside Reniko’s head and on her door. With a slight groan at not getting enough sleep, she unlatched the door and threw it open to reveal Malik.

Malik, upon seeing Reniko, turned around, mumbling some words. Reniko gave him a glare and groggily went over to her bed to pick up her discarded pants.

“Don’t know what he is so worried about. It’s not like anything important is showing,” she whispered to herself as she slipped on the pants. Once clothed, she walked over to Malik and tapped him lightly on his shoulder. In response he turned around and Reniko saw that he was holding fresh clothes.

“Don’t you think I have enough already?” she said as she gestured around the room. Gifts of all sorts ranged on her floor; a pile of the finest garments in the village sat heaped in one corner.

Malik shook his head and began showing Reniko the difference in the clothing. She soon realized that the under dress, leggings and over dress were much thicker and heavier, more for winter weather than the mild autumn weather that Cabitora was now in.

“You really want me to put on all of that?” she asked Malik, knowing full well that he could not understand what she was saying to him. She grabbed the garments from him with a sigh and pushed him out of the room.

“I don’t know what you have planned, my friend, but I hope I don’t suffocate in all this clothing,” she said as the door closed soundly behind him.

Turning back to the pile of clothes, she gently picked up the under dress and looked it over. It was a pale green, simple in style with long sleeves and a slim waist. It was trimmed with silver thread at the sleeve, neck and hem lines. She glanced at the over dress which was made out of heavier material, though of what she could not tell. It had the look of heavy wool but it felt softer and lighter than any wool she had ever seen. It was of a rich forest green, though it lacked the silver trimming the under dress carried. With a resolute sigh, she stripped off yesterday’s clothing and began to dress. It wasn’t long before the folds of fabric wrapped snugly against her skin and the heat of it began to set in. She scowled deeply, silently cursing Malik and stepped out into the corridor to find him.

Malik was completely frustrated with the girl. Not only was communicating impossible, but she was completely uncooperative as well. The least she could do is try to act like a normal woman, he thought as he packed up the last of the provisions for the trip. Not to mention the fact that the entire town is up and she sleeps away the day.

“If I hadn’t seen her finish off that Rük with my own eyes I may have thought I stumbled upon the laziest woman in all of Vespen.” He looked up suddenly as he saw Reniko appear at the door fully attired in the winter clothing he had found for her. She looked stunning even with her braided hair in disarray from last night’s sleep. The gown he had given her looked unbelievable and he silently thanked Sherda, the seamstress, for doing such a good job of guesswork on Reniko’s size. The dress fit her like a glove, form fitting on the top and tapering from the waist down into a full bodied skirt. The green under dress shone silver in the light where it peeked out at the sleeves and neckline. As she walked, the light and dark green fabrics blended in a beautiful array, making Malik’s breath catch in his throat. If she would remove the dark look from her face she might be considered comely.

Malik quickly fixed the last saddle pack onto Blaze and walked over to where Reniko stood, her face a blaze of anger. He gave her a small smile in response and led her back into the inn and up to her room. Most of the gifts from the night before that littered her floor would have to remain here in Arkon’s safe keeping, but he doubted that Reniko would care too much. He had left her strange pack with Orric and there was little else needed from the room, except for the cloak he had given her the night before. Grabbing it off the bed he placed it in her hands along with a scarlet coloured scarf and a pair of wool gloves. Grabbing her arm, he pulled her back down to Blaze and gestured for her to mount. She glared at him, an expression he was becoming quite accustomed to, and took off down the street walking at a brisk pace.

“Fine, be that way, though I don’t know why you’re acting like this at all. I’m just trying to be friendly,” he shouted after her as he grabbed Blaze’s reins and quickly caught up to her. “At least she’s going in the right direction,” he mumbled.

“She looks hot,” Orric announced as they reached the outskirts of town.

“Can’t be helped, it’s not like I am feeling any better,” Malik said as he wiped the sweat from his brow, “Let’s just load this up and get going. Once we are in the air, we will all feel a little more comfortable.”

“It’s probably why she’s so mad at you,” Orric carried on as Reniko took a seat some distance away and Malik began securing the saddle bags onto Orric’s nearest leg.

“What?” Malik said suddenly distracted, “who said she was mad at me?”

Orric quirked his brow at Malik. “I can tell. She doesn’t understand why you made her dress so heavily and I gather you weren’t even trying to make her understand.”

“So that’s how I have upset the she-bear,” Malik shouted angrily to Orric as he secured the last saddlebag onto his large companion.

“I see she’s upset you as well. This is not going to be a pleasant trip.”

“I’m not upset!”

Orric again raised his head and looked at Malik.

“All right, I’m very upset. I’ve never met a woman as... as...”

“Spirited?”

Malik glowered at Orric, “As difficult as her. I’ll be glad when we get to Savonly and can leave her far behind.” Orric gave a grunt in response and lowered his haunches in readiness.

Malik walked over to Reniko only to be stopped by Orric’s deep rumbling voice. “At least try and be nice about this. She doesn’t like me all that much, probably less than she likes you, and her dislike for you is bad enough.” Malik drew in a deep breath and proceeded.

Reniko, who had felt completely out of place from the moment they had stepped into Orric’s view, felt even more ostracized as the obvious argument ensued. As Malik came over and the dragon spoke reprimanding words, she felt something even more unpleasant was to come.

With wild gestures and a somewhat more friendly tone, though still heavily accented with irritation, Malik conveyed the very disturbing message to Reniko. They were to climb aboard the hulking dragon. With slight unease, but no other choice available to her, Reniko climbed onto the glistening blue-black dragon. She was quite surprised as she touched him. His scaly skin was not only smooth, but hard and very cold as well. The sun had come out hours before and she had thought that the monster before her would be hot to the touch. Her surprise to find otherwise was quite evident on her face. Orric gave her a draconic smile, which made Reniko feel more uneasy, at the show of his pointed teeth. Nevertheless, she made her way up his sleek hide and positioned herself on his back between two of the large bony ridges that protruded there. Not much different than riding horseback, she thought as she realized that the two ridges held her tightly in place. When Malik climbed aloft he had other plans for Reniko, who was now finding that dresses and dragons were not completely compatible. He carried her cloak and gloves with him and silently clothed her in them, and grabbing her bodily, he showed her the position she was to ride in and handed her a pair of goggles. He moved her farther down Orric’s back where the ridges along his spine tapered out. He sat her down backwards between the large gap and handed her a thick leather strap. She held it up in question and realized suddenly that it was attached to Orric’s spinal ridges and she nodded her understanding. As she tied the lifeline around her waist Malik threw her the scarlet scarf and took up residence where Reniko had been only moments before.

“If he wouldn’t have dressed me in this restrictive dress I could have sat up there with him,” she muttered as she tied the scarf around her neck. Well at least now I understand the need for all this clothing. Her thoughts were frightened away as Orric’s wings spread and his muscles tensed for flight. With a jolt that sent Reniko grasping for support, Orric sprung into the air. The chill air spilled in waves over Reniko making her pull the cloak tighter around her body. She gave silent thanks to Malik, all anger now flooding into foolish embarrassment. With the air stinging her eyes, she followed Malik’s example and positioned the goggles over them. Orric must have sensed the change, for he turned his head and looked at Reniko. Malik did the same, if not to avoid the biting wind than to see what his extra luggage was up to. He watched as Reniko huddled, her back to his, shivering slightly, despite the layers he had prepared for her. Suddenly his anger spilled out of him and was replaced with understanding.

“I would have acted the same as her if I had been placed in this situation. She’s very alone here and I haven’t made it any easier on her.”

“You may be frustrated not understanding her, but just think, she doesn’t understand the entire world. You do. You mean well Malik; you just forget to place yourself inside them.”

“Sometimes I hate traveling with an older companion.”

“Why, because you hate hearing when you’re wrong?”

“No, because I constantly understand that I’m always wrong.”

Silence fell over the small mismatched group and Malik stared off into the oncoming world. He was ashamed with himself, mostly because he had argued with his oldest friend. His differences with Reniko didn’t mean nearly as much to him as his argument with Orric. He hardly knew her, but Orric, he had known since his birth. He should have trusted Orric’s judgment more, instead of becoming defensive. I have a lot to learn, he thought as he gave a glance back at Reniko, who surprisingly had fallen asleep. I’ve never felt comfortable enough to fall asleep on Orric in flight. She confuses me.

“Strange girl. Thought she felt too uncomfortable with me to do what she has done,” Orric said, nearly reading Malik’s mind.

“I don’t even want to try and understand her. She’s an enigma.”

“Different world, different culture. You can’t expect her to come into our lives and instantly know everything about it.”

“True, but it’s just in some ways, she fits so perfectly on Vespen, and at other times she stands out like a flower blooming in the middle of winter.”

Orric nodded. “You could learn from her example. Try and rest.”

“I’m not tired,” Malik sighed. “I have too much on my mind.”

Reniko awoke to see the sun-set. She was amazed by its beauty. She watched as the expanse of earth widening before her swallowed the sun bit by bit. From the altitude they were at, she saw the fiery orange radiating out from the glowing ball of light, it extended into a soft pink, and finally into a deep inky blue where dots of the first stars could be seen shining. The first of the twin moons could be seen rising. It was so alien, yet had such a familiar aura to it that it both comforted and pained her.

Orric began dropping altitude as the last of the light faded from the sky. They had touched the ground with a slight jolt just as twilight descended. Reniko quickly untied her safety line and began traveling up to where Malik was located. She went to touch him, but stopped when she saw he was sleeping deeply. Orric looked back, gave a draconic grin and opened his mouth to speak. He stopped short when he saw Reniko gesturing an incessant, no. He shrugged, turned, and settled himself on the ground, giving his tired wings a final stretch before he curled them to his side.

Reniko fumbled her way to the ground and gave her own stretch, trying to get feeling back into her lower limbs. With a quick glance at her surroundings, she stepped into the forested hills in search of dry wood. When she came back it was with an armful of wood and a rather large wild turkey; Orric opened his eye and voiced his approval. She quickly cleared a spot and set to work building the start to a cook fire. When she had the sticks laid out, she went back to the supplies wrapped around Orric’s hind legs and dug around for what she needed. She came back with a large cooking pot and utensils and, to her surprise, saw that the fire had been lit. She looked at Orric who just gave her one of his smiles and closed his eyes. Reniko fed the fire, skinned and hung the turkey, and taking the pot, went out in search of water before the light disappeared completely.

As she made her way toward the sound of moving water, she gathered what herbs and spices she recognized along the way and stuffed them into the folds of her skirt. She found it strange that she recognized so much of the flora on this strange planet. As she got nearer to the water, wild mushrooms and onions could be seen and she quickly uprooted both. When she returned to camp, she saw Malik feeding the fire. She set the heavy pot into the coals that had collected and set to work cutting up the ingredients she had gathered. There was silence in the camp. The crackling fire was the only sound that could be heard. Malik sat huddled against Orric’s hide while he watched Reniko cook.

The town of Cralay sat near the southeast edge of the Sortaia forest. A hundred years ago the original inhabitants had abandoned it. Cabitora, its closest neighbour, never understood the reasons behind the sudden disappearance of the citizens. They had gotten used to the looming castle that had come to be legend. Many myths surrounded it, and over the years, the children of Cabitora would test their strength of will by straying into the ghostly halls of the structures. It wasn’t until three years before, that the Rük had finally found Cralay and made it their home, much to the dismay of the villagers in Cabitora. They had always heard rumors of the harsh treatment endured by those cities that were either occupied by the foul beasts or near enough to be raided. Joy had ceased that year, to be replaced by a steady fear, one of which loomed ever onward across the continent. Raids of Cabitora happened on a yearly basis, or even sooner if the Rük soldiers found themselves in desperate need of pleasure. It was one of those yearly raids that Reniko had stopped.

Deep in the dank Cralay castle, a hoard of Rük soldiers were busying themselves with games of chance and torture. Messengers and raiders filtered to and from the bustling city that was hidden amongst the dying forest. One particular Rük rode toward the centre of town where the castle stood, the edge of a cliff to one side. The rider was female. This could be seen by the lack of bone crown that the males of the species bore. The pigment of her skin was a stark white. She wore little in the way of clothing, but that which she did wear was in complete contrast to her skin, all dark grays and blacks. She rode with confidence and all those that she met in the street immediately parted silently for her, not wanting to draw attention to themselves lest they gave her reason to strike. She was an assassin: born, bred and trained, and she did her job well.

She had received a summons earlier in the day. Orborok, the Lord of Cralay, needed her assistance. She beamed with pride that, above all the other whites, she had been called. The doors to the inner courtyard were opened for her and she stepped into view of the gray Rük, Orborok. She dismounted and kneeled before him.

“I am at your service, Milord,” she said, placing a fist on the ground and lowering her head. Orborok grunted his approval.

“Rise,” he said as he began to walk amongst the serene garden that surrounded his quarters. Fire sconces lit the night darkened path. The presence of the Rük gave the beauty a foul air.

“It is unusual for a person of my skill to be needed in these days. I am curious as to why I was summoned here.”

“Kruok, you know of the human village that borders the ocean near here?”

“Cabitora, Milord? Yes, it’s a fishing village. The humans there are weak; there has never been trouble with them. They easily submit to our demands.”

“Yes, they have been quite an amicable group to deal with. However, a raiding party was dispatched three days ago and no word has been heard from them. I am concerned that we might have a few... nuisances amongst the humans. Find out what has happened to my raiding party and dispose of any human that had a hand in their delay.”

Kruok gritted her teeth in frustration. This was work for lower hands. Even a yellow Rük would be able to handle the job of finding the raiding party and ridding the world of the pathetic humans that stood against them. “Yes, Milord,” Kruok said. She would not be the one to invoke Orborok’s wrath, “I will begin immediately.”

“Take this, I want you to tell me what you find,” Orborok said as he handed Kruok a small round device. Not many of them existed anymore having come from the ancient times before Vespen had been under Rük control. Kruok was honored by this trust and gave a slight bow as she slipped from Orborok’s side. She would finish this job quickly and Orborok would see that she was more than what he saw her to be. He would finally give her the respectable work of her trade and maybe even let her service be given to Trokar.

Dawn came too early for Reniko, but the instant she heard Malik rise she was alert and ready to move, her muscles stiff from disuse. She rubbed her legs and arms as Malik packed up camp and joined in. Orric laid looking at the two of them, waiting and dreading the flight to come. Reniko stopped and looked at him. Cocking her head to one side she made a decision. No matter what I thought I knew about dragons, I have to admit, I was terribly wrong. She gave Orric a reassuring grin and tied her bundle onto his leg. Malik was already clambering up Orric’s side and as Reniko made her way up he leaned his hand down and helped her. He gave her a friendly smile, which Reniko returned, and they settled in for the ride ahead.

The day passed quite uneventfully and Reniko was thankful when Orric landed on solid ground. The wind was biting cold and as they headed further away from Cabitora the air became more frigid. Reniko was sadly disappointed when she saw a dusting of frost on the ground. She looked in the direction they had been traveling for most of the day and saw mountains looming ahead which were covered in a fresh layer of snow. She had a sudden wish to know where they were going and was soon overwhelmed with frustration. Thoughts formed in her head that made her realize that she was in less control of her life now, when she was free of her parents, than when she had been caught up in her mother’s schemes and her father’s never ending struggle for power. She paced the ground, her fists clenched as she tried to keep calm. Calm, I am calm. The thoughts however, did not work, and when she made the next pass by Orric she stopped and looked at his intimidating figure. She had the feeling he was utterly exhausted from the day’s flight and hungry, yet there he remained patiently, as Malik freed the things needed for today’s camp. She sighed and Orric turned to look at her with his large sea green eyes. Why do I get the feeling you know exactly how I feel? She thought as she attempted to stare down the hulking dragon. She was the first to give up and leaned her forehead onto his haunches. She felt a sudden tension in his limbs when she leaned in, and as she pushed her hands on his skin to pull back, he relaxed.

“Sorry friend, just needed your patience,” she said as she slid her hand from Orric’s hide and went to join Malik in his labours at camp.

Reniko awoke to the sound of hooves pounding the frozen ground. She was instantly alert and shot up to see Malik standing, dagger in hand, waiting for the person or animal to show itself. He eased his dagger into its sheath as a horse rounded the corner bearing a female rider. Startled to see the small band, she reined her horse in, and reflexively glanced at Orric her eyes growing wider at the sight of him.

Malik stepped forward and greeted her and she visibly relaxed. As their conversation ensued, Reniko realized that the two of them were acquainted with each other and this fact made her feel slightly uncomfortable. She shrunk back beside Orric, placing a hand on his hide for reassurance. Orric glanced at her and began speaking with Malik. The woman turned toward Reniko, and staring at her, began talking, whether it was to herself or Malik Reniko did not know, though it was Malik who responded.

After a time, the woman gave her mount a slight signal to ride and she took off at a canter into the surrounding hills. Malik walked back into the midst of camp and began re-lighting the fire, which had nearly burned out while he had talked to the woman. Reniko took this to mean that they were going to stay at this site for at least a couple of more hours and was thankful that they were not taking to the air right away. Though the view was spectacular, the ride was less desirable. Riding a dragon was definitely not something that was done for mere pleasure since not only was the wind atrocious, but every muscle in her body ached from the erratic jolting that she incurred as Orric beat his wings to stay aloft. Realizing that she was standing by idly, Reniko took the time to slip away from the camp and explore her surroundings more thoroughly.

There were many hills all dusted with a thin layer of snow. Crisp with last night’s frost; the trees were mostly pine so the greens stood out brilliantly against the whites and grays of the land and sky. She could see varieties of birds she had never seen before flying overhead. Whether they planned to stay the winter, or were heading to a warmer place, Reniko was unsure. The peacefulness was all she was truly concerned with and she decided it was about time to give her body some well needed training. Sitting on Orric for the past two days had caused her muscles to become stiff and sore and so finding a clear glade she began slow rhythmic exercises. Her movements were fluid, like a dance, though it was all done in slow motion. She centred herself and gathered her senses toward her body. Her breathing was deep, rhythmic, and she felt the cold air running down her throat, filling her lungs, felt her blood carrying the oxygen deeper into her body, heart, arms, legs, hands and feet, and she danced slowly, letting her mind be carried away in the simple art of moving. She encompassed her surroundings, heard the wind, the birds, and the trees. She felt the sting of cold on her cheeks and fingers. Everything was so peaceful. Dreamlike. Surreal. She finally felt centred and the calm began to settle her, making her movements less stiff and more flowing.

Malik stepped from the fireside as a cloud of gray smoke enveloped him. “Well, the fires lit,” he coughed as he turned to Orric.

“She’s gone,” Orric replied, half asleep.

Malik looked around and furrowed his brow. “Or course she is. She can’t sit idle for a few minutes. Maybe she’s off catching us food like the night before. You know I still can’t believe her, and the more I spend time with her, the less sense she makes. She sleeps in until near midday, but the slightest sound of hooves and she is more alert than I am. She sneaks away from a party held in her honour and wanders off into woods that I doubt she is familiar with. Is it just me –”

“It’s just you,” Orric said cutting off Malik’s rambling.

“Right, I'd better go look for her.” Malik tromped away from his annoyed friend and into the brush following the light impressions that Reniko had left in the snow. It wasn’t long before he found her. She hadn’t traveled very far from camp and when Malik stumbled upon her he stood dumbfounded. He watched her for some time, seeing that same gracefulness he had encountered the day she had battled the three Rük, and it awed him. He had never seen anything quite like it before and he felt a sudden guilt for intruding on this... this melding with nature.

Reniko on the other hand had become fully aware of him the moment he had stepped into the glade. She ignored him and was glad that he had the sense not to shout or even whisper to her. She finished her set and, taking a deep breath, opened her eyes to meet Malik’s. He looked flushed as she stared at him. She took another deep breath and walked past him and back to camp. I wonder what he thought of that. He looked so embarrassed. Reniko glanced over her shoulder as Malik entered camp. He suddenly looked as if sitting around the campfire with a girl he could not talk to was the last thing he wanted to do. So after a quick meal everything was packed again and the three were back in flight. Reniko was now no longer calm but rather confused and self-conscious. I hope the journey ends soon, I just want to have a little time to figure things out and I just can’t do that when I can’t even stand in one place or even talk with another human being.

It was a great relief when Reniko saw what she thought could only be a temple or church, with an array of men and woman all standing waiting for their arrival. This awkward journey was finally at an end, and maybe here, she could get some answers.

When she saw the woman rider standing amongst the small group that had gathered in front of the temple, she instantly knew what Malik had talked to her about. This was our destination and he sent her ahead to tell everyone we were coming. Bu, what is this place? She wondered as she stared in awe at the complex structures before her. They were surrounded by towering rocky mountains, a secluded valley with only one entrance and exit. Embedded into the very wall of the mountain was a huge building, something that looked more ancient than anything Reniko had ever seen on Earth. What awed her most of all was the fact that the building looked like it was made from liquid. It shimmered and shone in a way she had never seen before. It was so organic in form it looked as if someone had merely commanded the rock to take this new form. The pillars she saw supporting the roof of the structure all looked as if they had dripped down or been stretched and attached seamlessly to the floor of the valley, it was architecture unlike anything Reniko had ever imagined. The mere sight of it dazed her.

When Orric landed and she was standing on solid ground again, she realized that the building was not just one but many, all intertwined and connected like branches of a tree. The small city towered over her and she watched as people faded in and out of sight as they bustled around doing their daily chores. She didn’t actually notice the people right before her until Malik grabbed her hand gently and pulled her forward into the care of a woman. She gave Reniko a warm smile and greeted her in Malik’s tongue. Reniko smiled back and bowed her head in response. When she looked up she, finally took in the look of the woman. She seemed to be one of the leaders of this temple, a priestess. She was clothed in a layer of robes, all of varying whites and creams. Ribbons of silver were crisscrossed in no particular pattern across the fabrics from her waist to her chest and on her sleeves. Every slight movement sent the soft sound of silver bells tinkling and Reniko noticed the small bead-like bells that hung in strings along with the ribbon. They were also braided amongst the length of her long black hair. As Reniko glanced behind this new face, she noticed that most of the others gathered here were similarly clothed and she lost confidence in who was actually in charge. Meanwhile, Malik had been talking to the gathered crowd, and with the sudden silence that now fell, Reniko came out of her daze. The woman took her hand lightly and began leading her inside and suddenly Reniko didn’t want to leave Malik and Orric behind. They at least were more familiar than what she was now surrounded in. She resisted, turning back, only to realize the truth. She watched Malik remove a few bags and without even a glance behind, he climbed on top of Orric and they both took to the air. I was just an added burden to them. They don’t even care what happens to me. They are all too glad to be rid of me. Stung by this thought, Reniko turned from the sight of her fleeing couriers and yielded to the soothing voice of the priestess. Holding back the tears that were suddenly forming, she stepped into yet another unfamiliar place, hoping they had more compassion for a lost traveler than her former companions.


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