The odd mix between actual form and mountain confused Reniko as she went farther into the heart of the structure. The more that she examined the rooms before her, the more she felt that what she was seeing was not built or moulded, but was natural. At the same time, every pathway was too uniform and pristine to be natural. Reniko didn’t know how anything worked in this world and she had a feeling that things here were not the way she had expected.
The woman that Malik had left her with led her down a maze of hallways. She noticed that the closer they got to their destination, the fewer males she saw. There were many classrooms filled with young children and their voices filtered into the hallway. None of them made any more sense than the ones she had heard before, so she began to filter out their cacophony, just as she had done with the steady rush of water she had heard ever since she had entered the main part of this living structure. As she peered into the nearest room and watched a group of children listen intently to their teacher, she felt a sudden change in temperature. Where the rest of the structure had been cool with the chill of early fall the air, in here it was humid. She felt like she had stepped into a rainforest. Turning her attention back to the woman, she faced the entrance to a large hall. As she stepped into the room she again heard the undeniable sound of running water. This time she saw steam rising in all directions rushing out from the source – a large fountain – to all the escaping hallways that connected to this central room. The fountain stood on the far back wall; water rushed in from a tunnel in the wall into the first of four large basins and flowed steadily into a large pool. It then turned into a stream, feeding back into the wall where Reniko and the woman had just emerged. Near the fountain was a large statue carved out of the same strange shimmering material that made up the rest of the buildings. The statue was of a beautiful woman, with striking gossamer feather wings that protruded from her back. She was the perfect picture of an angel.
“Fiduciae quo deae Shyla adesse tecum sempar,” Reniko heard her guide whisper as she prostrated herself in front of the statue. Reniko froze, hardly able to comprehend what she had just heard.
Latin. The woman was speaking Latin. Her breath caught in her chest as she realized that she might just have a chance to communicate with this woman and hopefully be able to get some answers.
“Please say that you understand me,” Reniko said in Latin, not really expecting a response. After the immediate shock of figuring out that she could understand the woman, she had the distinct feeling that what the woman was saying was more learned by wrote than actual comprehension. She was relieved to find out she was wrong.
“You speak the ancients’ language,” the woman said. Reniko deciphered the words well enough despite the slight differences in their pronunciation.
“You can’t possibly understand how wonderful it is to hear someone speak to you and know what they are saying.” Reniko said, hardly able to contain all that she truly wanted said.
“Ima told us of your coming. She said that Sir Malik was bringing a foreigner to the temple to be cared for. She said that you did not speak our language. Please tell me how you have come to know the ancients’ language and not our own? Are you the Watcher? Have the god and goddess sent you to guide us in their return?”
“I don’t know what you speak of. I know this language for where I come from, it is also an ancient language, a dead language. I was taught it when I was very young, though no one on Earth uses it much anymore.”
“I can tell. You stumble over your words. But what of this Earth you speak of. I have not heard of such a village on Vespen.”
“Vespen? Is that what this planet it called? I’m not from a village on Vespen, but from a planet called Earth. You might know it as Terra? How I got here is beyond my comprehension.”
“Wait, Terra? The Terra? The one from the ancient texts? The ancients had many trade routes with Terra long ago, but it has been some time since they have been used. As far as I know, there are no longer any working ancient machines left on this planet with the ability to link Terra with Vespen.”
“Trade routes? You mean that this planet has a history with Earth, that people from this planet actually had trade routes with Earth? How was this possible? You must have had some type of interstellar travel.”
“Those words are unfamiliar to me. I only know that which I read in the temple archives, which is very little and incomplete.” The woman’s tone changed. “But enough of this, I know you must have many questions, however, I have many duties to attend to. It will be easier for you with your knowledge of the ancient’s language, but very few of the priestesses know more than a few prayers. It would be most helpful if you could begin studies of our true language, then explanation of things would be easier, for you would not be getting just my half-truths.”
“My dear, all people’s views are half-truths, it is not until you hear the same things from many that they become whole truths. My opinion is just that, mine. You can’t begin to understand the whole until you grasp your own meaning from the many.”
“I gather my lessons have already started,” Reniko said as the woman continued to led her away from the steaming fountain and further into the heart of the mountain.
“No need to waste time when we can establish the beginning right away.”
“You never told me your name,” Reniko said as the woman showed her to an empty room.
“Milla, I am the head priestess here at Savonly. I’ll go and fetch Ima. She knows some of the ancients’ language. She’s my acolyte and one of our city scouts. She’ll see that whatever you need is provided.”
“Thank you Milla. It’s very kind of you to take in a person such as myself.”
“What kind of temple would we be if we did not take in the strays that the goddess Shyla sends our way? She sent you here for a purpose. I am not one to turn down the will of the goddess.”
“Thank you just the same,” Reniko said as Milla joined the crowd of women in the hall, leaving Reniko to examine her quarters in a daze.
One of the first things that Reniko noticed in her room was the lighting. There was no natural light since they were deep within the heart of the mountain but there were sconces set in intervals along the walls steadily burning oil. The flickering of the flames from Reniko’s slight movements sent shadows playing across the room. She turned away from the soft lighting and glanced around at the sparse accommodations. There was a small table and chair in one corner and a bed in the other. A chest sat at the end of the bed and Reniko opened it immediately. Bedding lay on the top, and underneath was the same cream and white robes that she had seen worn by the woman in the temple, accompanied by the silver ribbon and strings of bells. Other than that, the room was void of any personal touch. Reniko sat on the straw mattress of the bed for lack of anything better to do, hoping that Ima would not be too long in coming.
She was grateful when she heard a soft knock at the door and saw the brown-eyed Ima step inside. She looked winded, but gave a wide smile as she entered. Reniko’s attention was soon drawn away from Ima when she caught a glimpse of the items she was carrying with her. There in Ima’s weather-worn hands was her hiking backpack, something she had never expected to see again.
“Sorry late. Dress not appropriate for temple,” Ima said in patchy Latin. Reniko was unsure if the woman meant that Reniko was not dressed appropriately for the temple or if Ima herself had not been. The latter made a better explanation for the reason why Ima had been late.
“No trouble. I see you have a bag of mine,” Reniko said slowly, hoping that Ima would be able to follow what she was saying.
“A bag! Yes, yours. Sir Malik gave me,” she said, handing Reniko the bulky backpack.
Reniko grabbed the backpack and set it lightly on the bed.
“Did you need me to change into the robes in the chest?” she asked.
“Robes? Oh, yes must to walk temple.” Ima walked over to the chest. “I help.”
“By all means,” Reniko said stepping away from the chest. She had begun lifting out the robes herself and as she did she realized there was no way she would be able to figure out how to put them on properly without Ima’s aid.
The process was time consuming, as each piece of the robe had to be laid in a precise order. It was the silver ribbon that seemed to be the most complicated detail, as Ima tried to explain through her broken Latin that each person laid the ribbon in a different way. The way that they lay depicted the strengths in the person. Therefore, Reniko was left to do the task herself. She thought it was quite seeing as everyone else in the temple could already read the ribbons and she was left to stumble through her attempt blindly.
She held the ribbon in her hands for quite some time, as Ima looked at her with mild patience. Reniko glanced in Ima’s direction hoping that as Ima saw her struggle that she would finally offer some help. She did not and Reniko looked back at the ribbon in her hands. Finally, with a sigh, she began weaving the ribbon around herself, tightening the robes beneath to her body. She found that once she had found a rhythm, weaving it came almost naturally and when she had secured the two ends – which ended up on her left hip – she felt a little more confident in what she had done. When she looked up however, she wasn’t so sure. Ima was gazing at her strangely and Reniko immediately put her hands to the ribbons meaning to untie them, however, Ima stopped her.
“Done now, no change. Must live true.”
Reniko was not exactly sure what Ima meant by her words, she only knew that she was not allowed to untie her ribbons and that Ima was still staring at her strangely. Milla should have told her to tell me a little more about their customs. Now I have to walk around making a fool of myself. As Reniko glanced at her handiwork uncomfortably, Ima began wrapping the small silver bells around her frame. Self-conscious now, she kept silent.
“Milla help understand. She ribbon reader, told me robe.”
“When will I see Milla again?”
“I show around then we go evanescia.”
Ima gave a helpless shrug. “I no word.”
“We’ll see Milla at this... evanescia?”
“Can I just stay here until then?"
“I must show around.”
Ima seemed quite adamant about this and so Reniko gave in with a sigh. I wonder if she means to show my horrid ribbon tying to everyone or to show me the temple. With no more words between them, they stepped into the hallway.
Everyone had their eyes on Reniko the moment she stepped from her small room with Ima. It made Reniko uncomfortable that not only was everyone staring at her, but also as soon as she looked in their direction they would immediately look away, like they were embarrassed that she had caught them staring.
Ima’s intentions became clear as she led Reniko down the corridors, pointing out various rooms and areas of the temple. It soon became clear to Reniko that the men and women had separate wings in which they dwelled, ate, and bathed. The fountain that Reniko had encountered when she had first arrived was the bathing area. Natural springs ran from the heart of the mountain and into the fountain. The temple’s occupants mixed the water from the hot spring with the frigid mountain water that ran outside the temple.
The hallways she had passed upon first entering the temple housed the classrooms. It was the only hallway in the entire temple where both men and women could be seen roaming. On either side of this hallway was the housing for the men and women.
As they finished up their tour of the temple Reniko felt her stomach grumble in complaint. Ima gave a hearty laugh as Reniko tried to get her body to stop betraying her.
“Food at evanescia.”
“Soon I hope.”
“We go now,” Ima said as she led her back to the women’s end of the temple. They entered the hallway that led to the large common room, and when they emerged, Reniko smelled the aroma of many different foods in a pleasant compilation. Ima gestured for her to come to the far corner where a group of younger women was gathered. Most were in their early teens and they all greeted Ima with adoration. When they saw Reniko, they all turned to Milla pleading for something that centred on Reniko.
“I’m sorry about the ribbons. Ima didn’t really give me any instruction on how they were to be tied.”
At the sound of Reniko’s voice all the girls turned and gave a cry of astonishment.
“You seem to have captured the hearts of my young ones, Reniko. Do not worry about the ribbons, you did it perfectly.”
“Everyone else seems to think differently.”
She nodded to Reniko and turned her attention back to the group of young girls. She spoke some words with them, which set off in a flurry of conversation, and she turned her attention back to Reniko.
“The whole point of the first tying of the ribbons is for the high priestess and all those that can ribbon read to be able to see the true nature of the wearer. You were not supposed to have any instruction on tying your ribbons. No one does, not even I did when I first tied my ribbons.”
“So, do my ribbons reveal something so terrible?”
“Nothing of the sort. It’s just not an attribute that we see very often in the temple.”
“What would that be?” Reniko asked thoroughly fascinated by this ancient tradition now that she knew that she was not embarrassing herself.
“Hope,” Milla said.
“Hope?” Reniko paused and looked at her ribbons then back at Milla.
“I’ll explain in time. Right now we have a Telling to perform.”
“Didn’t Ima explain?”
“She didn’t know the words to explain, I think.”
“These young ones here are about to hear a portion of our ancient history. I invited you along because I thought that it would be a good opportunity for you to learn about Vespen. We call it evanescia, what you would call a storytelling.”
Food arrived then, which seemed to be a signal for the storytelling to begin, and as everyone settled down with their food, Milla and Ima began their Telling. Ima began speaking Vespian common and Milla spoke in Latin for Reniko’s benefit.
“A long time ago when the world was still young and the god and goddess looked upon the planet with favor, a terrible thing happened. The people of the time were many and had become able to touch the stars. They prospered under the god and goddess’s rule until the day they felt that the laws that were placed on the people were too many and too harsh. Defying the gods, they removed themselves from the surface of the world and began a journey into the heavens feeling they had the right to live amongst the gods. Angered by this, the goddess Shyla turned her back on the people. Seeing her back turned to the world, evil snuck to the surface of the planet and took the form of malicious serpent creatures, the Rük. They ravaged the world until Shyla came to look upon her fallen people. When she saw the devastation the Rük had caused, she gave hope to her people.
“They had sinned heavily, and thus our punishment continues, but she left a prophecy for her people that when they returned to following her ways she would, along with her god Severis, free the world from evil.
“This is the prophecy as the goddess Shyla told:
“‘When Darkness covers the land, and light has dwindled to a flicker, look and see the Watcher has returned.
“Bearing upon his breast the mark of the Levanith he shall precede the coming of our god and goddess, preparing the lowly ones for their arrival.
“And look! The sacrifice will appear; the one worthy of leading the people to our gods. With his coming a reappearance of light shall issue forth as he gives himself to our saviours so they may finally return to cleanse the land.
“All shall bow as the god and goddess descend wiping darkness from our midst forever.
“But beware the impostors that may bear some of the signs. These will be many, sent to deceive. Of the Watcher be mindful of these: he shall have the mark of the Levanith on his breast and his lineage shall be proven without a doubt to be entwined with the destiny of the goddess Shyla.
“The sacrifice will be that with no ties, a free spirit that only the goddess shall choose. He will only be known by the time, for when he appears so too shall the god Severis and our goddess Shyla.
“Hail the sacrifice. Hail the coming of our saviors to dispel all darkness. Amen.’”
There was an odd silence after the storytelling, which Milla was the first to break. She gave her attention to the group of girls that looked awed and nervous at the same time. She spoke a few words and when the girls finally found their voices again, she gave them over to Ima.
“This must all seem so foreign to you. The girls there who have grown up surrounded by these Tellings are full of questions. You must be bursting with them,” Milla said to Reniko.
Reniko was bursting with questions. She had been ever since she had awoken on this strange planet, but there was only one question she wished to ask after all this time.
“When I first arrived here, from Earth, I encountered some strange creatures. Something like the evil you described in your telling, the Rük. They had me in their possession and I escaped. I ended up killing at least one of them. Can you tell me, was it wrong of me to do so?”
Milla was frozen and when she finally spoke it was barely audible: “You killed a Rük?”
Reniko looked ashamed. “Yes, I swore never to touch a sword again, please forgive me.”
“Child, you misunderstand me. To slay a Rük is not something wrong, but something nearly impossible to do. The Rük are the evil that was given to us as punishment. To defy them means your death. They are more powerful than any living creature, save the Teoko, and the Rük hunt them so fiercely that they are all but extinct. I find it hard to believe that you stood against a Rük and lived to tell the tale.”
“There were three actually,” Reniko said, blushing.
“Three? Then you must be sent from the gods themselves!”
Reniko ignored the comment. “What are the Teoko?”
“Teoko? Why you rode a top one to get here.”
Teoko must be their word for dragon, Reniko thought, filing away the information.
“So the Rük rule this world. How is it that you are allowed to remain here worshipping your god and goddess? I can hardly see how they would let this continue, since the prophecy you spoke foretells their downfall.”
“They do not know of our city. Savonly is surrounded by mountains. The only way in is through a secret passage that only the residents of the city know of. By air is another route, but only the Teoko can enter that way. Since the Rük cannot fly, and they have an intense hatred for the Teoko, that route is closed to them as well.
“There are a few other refuges across Vespen for those who await the goddess’s return. Tordaskar is the main resistance against the Rük; it lies on the continent of Mo’an Delar. The Underground City on Raet Serac is another refuge from the Rük though it is said only the Teoko reside there.” Reniko gave a stifled yawn.
“I always forget the late hour these Tellings end. We can talk more tomorrow. Come, I’ll accompany you to your room. Ima can look after the younger ones.”
Reniko became instantly alert and began protesting. “Really I’m not tired at all. I have so much to ask you.”
“It can all be looked after tomorrow. One night will not change my answers, or your questions.”
“Just one last question,” Reniko said as she lifted herself off the ground.
“What is so urgent?”
“I just... you mentioned... in the prophecy they referred to the watcher having the mark of the Levanith. What is this mark it speaks of?"
“The mark… Well the mark is the same symbol that you wear on your cloak that of the Teoko with reversed wings. Sir Malik gave you the cloak, am I correct?”
“He most likely gave you something very dear to himself. The clasp is something very ancient. You no longer see that symbol, except from those who have visited the city of Tordaskar beyond the Ocean’s Wall on Mo’an Delar.”
“Are those that live in Tordaskar the Levanith?”
“No, the Levanith were an ancient race that died off long ago. Not much is known about them at all, except they were said to be akin to the Teoko. They were one of the ancient races of the land. Their history goes even further back than the Le’a’to. Alas it was all lost ages ago when the Rük rained down upon us. They are rumoured to have made the ancient machines that established the trade routes with Earth.”
“Human in form, they live thousands of years and are very reclusive. At least they have been since the Rük came. They reside on Mo’an Delar, hidden on a part of the continent that is completely surrounded by mountains. Not too unlike our city here, though much larger.”
“I think I may be more confused than when we started,” Reniko said as they arrived at the door to her room.
“It is a lot to absorb. If I were you, I would not be rushing through this. Take your time to understand.”
Reniko nodded. She knew why she was rushing all of this. She could think of nothing but getting home. Learning all of this was interesting, but it was a means to an end. She needed to converse with these people so she could get home, and delaying that process, taking her time, seemed a dreadful thing to her. No matter how interesting this all is, I would like to be thinking back on it from my own bed, instead of on this straw mattress in this strange city. The more that Reniko dwelled on thoughts of home, the more unreal her situation seemed and the deeper the confusion went. Finally succumbing to inevitability, she laid her head on her pillow and drifted into a restless sleep.