Plagued by dreams, the night wore on tirelessly. Most of her dreams revolved around the day she had come to Vespen. She relived the fall over and over: the horror stricken look on Dertrik’s face and her own shock as she fell into the blue light. However, one dream stuck out from the rest. It was more memory than dream and it gave Reniko a warm feeling.
She was not much younger than she was now, seventeen at the least. Dertrik had cut their swordplay short; distracted by something that she had no idea about. She had tried to pry it out of him in hopes that she could help, however, he was bottled up tight and just sighed and changed the subject whenever she asked. She had finally resigned and had meekly followed him into his study, hoping that her mere presence would soothe his soul. Dertrik had not shown any displeasure with this and Reniko did not ask if it would be all right. They had known each other for far too long for words to have any more meaning than the silence did. Some things didn’t need to be talked about and whatever Dertrik was uneasy about Reniko didn’t need to know. If she did, he would have told her and she understood this.
Dertrik’s study had a warm feeling to it. Every wall was lined with oak bookshelves that were accessible by a sturdy sliding ladder. What furniture that wasn’t oak was a rich red that accented the deep green that encased the room. Renny had loved this room since the first time she had seen it and reveled in the fact that Dertrik allowed her to explore it to her heart’s content. Dertrik slid behind his desk and eased into his overstuffed chair, giving a low sigh. He glanced at Reniko who stood staring at him blankly. She cocked her head to one side and smiled.
“You know, when I grow up, I hope I don’t worry about things as much as you do.”
“You are grown up, Renny.”
“That’s what I led everyone to believe, but you want to know a secret?”
“What?” Dertrik said as he tried to hide the smile that gripped his face.
“I rarely think as grown up as I sound,” Reniko whispered and grinned. “Seriously Dare, you’re depressing.”
“I’m an old man. I’m allowed to be depressing.”
“Being old hardly justifies your mood, especially when you are not as old as you think you are.”
“Oh, let me brood. I don’t do it often enough for you to be on my case about it.”
Reniko rolled her eyes and turned to the shelf directly behind her, her back now facing Dertrik. She ran her hands over the dusty old books and upon reaching the end ran her hand back. She wasn’t looking at any title in particular--instead she just stopped, grabbed the book her hand happened to be lying on and sat in a nearby chair to read. She was a couple of pages into it when she realized that it was a very old manual for, interestingly enough, the very thing that Dertrik was teaching her.
She flipped through the first few pages looking at the hand painted drawings that covered most of the pages and looking at the scratchy print that went with them. She noticed a lot of the things that she had learned over the years were in this book. In spite of that, some of the more advanced things Dare had taught her she couldn’t locate, though she thought she knew why. The manual itself was very old and after so many years of master to student teaching, new things must have been incorporated. She reached a part near the very back of the book that she had not covered with Dertrik and wondered if, in time, he would teach her what she saw there.
As Reniko sat, deeply involved in the manual, Dertrik looked up nervously. He wasn’t used to Reniko being so silent when he was being moody, even if she did try her hardest to be. He glanced in her direction and upon seeing her deep in concentration on one of the older books in his collection he wandered over to her.
When he was over her shoulder and she still gave no hint that she knew he was there, he spoke. “What, pray tell, has got you so enamored that you have forgotten your brooding master?”
Reniko looked up from the book and smiled. “Ah, it looks like I have found a good way of getting you out of your moods: ignore you!” She stuck out her tongue childishly and turned back to the book. “It looks like I found the old Blade manual. Seems you’ve shelved it thinking you know the thing front to back, but you seemed to have forgotten a bit. Look.” Reniko flipped to some pages in the back of the book and held it over her head so that Dertrik could have a closer look.
“I haven’t forgotten anything from the manual. I just don’t think you are ready for some of the things that are found in here.”
Reniko pulled the book back into her lap and turned sharply to meet Dertrik. “Not ready? After all this time you really think I am not ready?”
“Your response justifies my judgment.”
Reniko frowned. “I hate when you do that.”
“Because I’m right,” he said.
“Of course,” she said grumpily. After a pause, she continued. “But do you really think I’m not ready for something more advanced?”
“To tell you the truth, Reniko, some of what’s in there I cannot even do. Some of that is theory. No one has done it, it was just written down as something that was tried and could succeed but no one has done it. I truly mean no one when I say that,” he added, seeing the mischievous gleam in her eyes.
“Well in theory it should work. Nothing is impossible, you know.”
Dertrik sighed. “Just give me back the book, Reniko.”
Reniko jerked the book away from Dertrik’s outstretched hand and hid it protectively. “All you need is a little faith.”
“If that was all you needed I would definitely know how to do all that is in that book.”
“Can’t you just let me dream a little more about this?” Reniko pleaded. Dertrik, however, was not giving in.
“Reniko, no matter how much hope you have that you can do those things, they are impossible.”
“Chalk full of it! You giving up on hope, Dare? Hope is there till you die, which means I will try and figure this out until I die!”
Dertrik gave a hearty laugh, his worries now a faint thing in his mind. “You are exhausting, Reniko. Fine, hope all you want. I’m sorry I used that word, you seem to be the embodiment of it and I keep forgetting that. Come and look at the book whenever you like, but just promise me one thing.”
“Anything,” Reniko said.
“When you figure out how to do those things, would you mind teaching an old man a few new tricks?”
Reniko laughed. “Of course, Dare.” The two of them had laughed until Claire had come to see what was going on, which made the two of them laugh even more. Reniko remembered that day fondly, but with a strange unease. Dare said the same thing that Milla had, that I embody hope. It was a strange thing to hear and, having heard it twice in her lifetime, Reniko felt disconcerted.
She woke shortly after the nostalgic remembrance to realize the night was not near being complete and had fallen back into her unfamiliar bed, a little more at ease. The rest of her night was dreamless and deep, so by the time Reniko awoke she felt refreshed and somewhat ready for the new day.
Ima shuffled into Reniko’s room, letting in the chilled air from the corridor filter in. Reniko was still in bed and she clutched the covers closer to her body as the draft washed over her.
“Good morning, Ima,” Reniko said as Ima carefully closed the door. She gave a stretch and let the covers fall around her as she placed her feet in the slippers that stood on the stone ground.
“Ryshiionna, nyeroma Reniko,” Ima replied and blushed as she realized she had spoken in her native tongue.
“It’s all right, Ima, actually I think I’m starting to understand this a little. Ryshiionna that means good morning am I correct?”
“Yes, Milady. Did wake you?” Ima asked as she relit the lamps that gave light to the room.
“No, I was awake before you came.”
“Early, did not think wake, no else wake.”
“Except you of course,” Reniko said as she rummaged around the room gathering her scattered clothing.
Ima gave a laugh. “Dawn no arrive. I give light so wake up not in dark. My duty as arialin noka,” Ima finished.
“Arialin noka?” Reniko questioned.
“No word. Umm. Under train head.”
Reniko puzzled over this for a moment and thought she understood. “Part of your duty as training with Milla?”
“Well I won’t be going back to sleep so would you maybe show me to the baths?” Ima looked confused.
“Well, let me see.” Reniko paused and imitated washing herself. “Bathe. Bath. A place to wash myself.”
“Oh bath! So sorry, second forgot, back now.” Ima made for the door looked back at Reniko. “Cold. Need cover self.”
Reniko glanced around the room and her gaze rested on the cloak that Malik had given her. She took it and wrapped it around her, latching the clasp shut. She stood, staring at the clasp. Why did he give me something so valuable? Did he mean it only as a loan, and if so does that mean he’ll be back for me? Ima’s restlessness seized Reniko from her thoughts and she released the clasp and gestured to Ima that she was ready.
Once the door was opened, despite the mist that hung in the air from the steamy hot spring, Reniko was glad that Ima has suggested the cloak. The air was frigid and the mist that hung just made the air weighted with damp cold. The two women walked down the corridor without a word and Reniko was enamored by the complete silence that invaded the area. Ima had been right when she had said no one was awake at this hour, save herself. It seemed the entire world slept. It gave her thoughts time to sink in without being invaded by a thousand other things to ponder over. It rendered peacefulness to the morning that she had rarely experienced in her life.
The steady drumming of the water cascading down into the basins of the fountain finally broke the silence and a sudden warmth from the newly created steam fully wakened Reniko.
Once Ima had shown her to the corner of the room where the boiling water mixed with the cooler water from the mountain stream she said a polite goodbye and went back to her duty. Reniko flung the cloak off her shoulders and let it pile on the floor. Slipping off the chemise she had slept in, her breath caught in the chill of the morning and she half ran, half jumped into the shallow pool before her. The water hit her skin like needles as her cold flesh was immersed in the extreme heat of the pool. It was refreshing and Reniko just let the warmth carry her away as it soothed the ache in her body and rested her tired soul.
When she was finally refreshed and the morning began to lose some of its night chill, Reniko put on her clothes and with the stillness that still invaded the morning she began to explore the area on her own.
After a while of walking amongst the corridors, she longed for the touch of the sun or moon on her face and she headed down a corridor where the faint light of morning could be seen as the sun rose from its dreamy sleep. She took a long deep breath as she gazed at the surrounding garden that she stepped into and greeted the dawning of a new morning. She heard the stirring of the animals in a nearby stable and with them the hands that tended to them. Almost at once, the world began to wake as the sun crested above the mountaintops. Reniko began to head back into the temple, but something tugged at her. She had vowed never to kill again, yet her training seemed unable to leave her. Finally succumbing to the pent-up energy inside her, she made her way to a more secluded section of the stone-filled garden. She found the perfect spot when she walked over a small footbridge, which crossed over a brook that trailed lazily through the garden. Big willow trees stood beside it, hiding a small clearing that was lined with large boulders arranged in an intricate pattern. The song of many birds crying out to their mates around the garden filtered into the little clearing, giving the illusion that hundreds of birds were gathered in that one spot. It brought a smile to Reniko’s face.
After deciding that she would conduct her exercises here, she searched the ground for a suitable stick and, upon finding one, set to work. Her training continued its dance-like movements, slow at first and gaining in speed until she was an intricate weave of motion and purpose. The stick served as a sword and she cut and slashed at phantoms with a trance-induced calm that she always inhabited when she trained. She was so caught up in her art that she didn’t realize someone was upon her until the snap of a twig beneath their foot betrayed them. Reniko immediately stopped. Still in her training trance, she leaped in the direction of the sound and landed a few feet in front of Milla, the stick suspended above her heart.
Reniko pulled it away slowly, giving Milla a slight bow. “My apologies, Milla.”
“That was incredible. I have never in all my life seen anything like it. The Rük have forbidden the arts. Well, the art of fighting and defending. They want docile people, not fighters. Not that that stops us from training here, though all the skilled masters have perished at the hand of those vile creatures. Can it be that where you are from you are still taught the arts?” Milla asked, her voice barely above a whisper and so full of excitement.
“Well, yes. Women are not taught it as avidly as men are, but I don’t take no for an answer when it comes to things I want.” Reniko smiled as she remembered the boldness she had had when she had faced Dertrik, a complete stranger, and announced that he would teach her what he knew of the Blade.
“Maybe you could teach –” Milla paused without completing her thought as she saw Reniko’s face go rigid and cold.
“I can’t,” Reniko said as the sight of the lime green Rük falling to her blade came unbidden to her mind. “I just can’t. Please forgive me.”
“No, I understand, please forget I asked. It’s too much. I forget my place sometimes. I forget... that you are not from here. Please, come, we start your lessons on Vespian language today.”
Reniko nodded, her mood somber. She dropped the stick and picked up Malik’s cloak as she followed Milla back to the temple.
Milla led Reniko into the archives: a vast room lined with scrolls and various books. Most of them were moth eaten or fire burnt. Those that could be salvaged were being copied by men and women around the room. Though the condition of the books was lacking the room was as well-kept as the rest of the temple, built with the same strange structured yet organic look that permeated the entire city.
They sat at a low table near the front of the room. Milla left Reniko to stare after her as she ran around the room collecting parchment, quills and an assortment of books. She came back, dumping the contents of her hands before Reniko.
It didn’t take Reniko long to realize, as they progressed in their lessons, that the language that the Vespians used was vaguely familiar to her. The written style so perfectly matched a style she had been taught as a young girl that she picked it up almost immediately. She commented to Milla shortly into their studies that she had, when she was young, been taught nearly every language used or unused that was held on Earth. As she had grown, her parents had focused her down to the ones they felt she was most adept at. She told Milla that although the language of Vespen didn’t match any language she had heard on Earth, it had similar properties to one. Milla was excited to hear this, since not only would it make Reniko’s understanding come quicker, it also reaffirmed her faith that Earth and Vespen had at some point made contact with each other. Reniko was also glad of this discovery and poured her whole heart into mastering the Vespian language. She had never been so glad of her parents’ tedious classes in her life until now.
Days passed, then weeks, and soon months. For a while the only thoughts that consumed Reniko were of scouring the archives for any hint of a way home, and as the months dragged on she realized that there was nothing to be found there. Her steady trips to the archives turned into sporadic trips and then none at all. The archives became a distant memory as Reniko found her own routine in the temple. She nearly felt comfortable with her surroundings and had almost mastered the Vespians’ native tongue perfectly. The temple inhabitants could hardly believe the deftness in which Reniko had learned their tongue and their way of life. Reniko was at a loss for words at how comfortable she felt here in this peaceful valley. Malik had never returned for her and she had given up hope in him ever doing so. The children still treated her as legend, and the stories of her defeat of three Rük still caused a stir amongst the city. Milla had never brought up the issue of training soldiers since the first time that she saw Reniko in the glade, and Reniko was happy to forget it. She felt almost at home here. She worked alongside the farmers in the last days leading up to winter and through the winter she helped Ima, along with other students, in their study of Latin. Thoughts of returning to her other life still plagued Reniko every day, but they held little hope for her. She longed with all her heart to go home, but was lacking a way to get there.
It was in the last month of winter when the biting cold was most bitter and fought on with vengeance trying to stave off the coming thaw, that Reniko regained her hope. She was in the archives with Ima and her four other students. Reniko had remembered a book she had glanced through and thought it would be helpful for what she was trying to teach the five of them and had asked Rillan, one of the copyists, if he would help her look for it. She was scanning the titles on one of the lower shelves when her fingers grazed the underside of the shelving and a thin piece of paper floated to the ground. It had been caught on the slivers of wood that marred the roof of the shelf and Reniko had knocked it lose as she rapidly moved her hand across the books. She picked it up and glanced at it. It was a faded map, very old and incomplete. It showed the area surrounding Savonly identical to the maps of Edonal Eclith that lined the walls of the archives, save for one small detail. A mark on the most northern part of the map indicated a city that did not show up on the newer maps. Reniko walked determinedly over to Rillan.
“Rillan, have you ever heard of a city called Reflaydun?” she asked still staring fixedly at the map.
“Reflaydun? Yes, though only at Tellings. And, well, most of the stories told at Tellings are more myth than reality.”
“What do they say about this Reflaydun?”
“Not much, just vague references. It is said to have been the home of the Ancients, though no one has ever mapped its location. It is fabled that whoever goes there must pass many tests and trials before they can gain entry, for it is said that inside its walls is the very knowledge of the Ancients, the Levanith. No one has ever found Reflaydun though. As I said, it’s just a myth.”
“Maybe not,” Reniko said thoughtfully as she scanned the map more carefully. “Mind if I keep this?” She asked holding out the map for Rillan to see. His eyes widened at the sight of it.
“Lady Reniko! This is a map to Reflaydun!”
“I see that. Do you think you could make a copy for me?”
“Of course Milady, but whatever for?”
“I think it’s about time I head home, Rillan, and Reflaydun might just be my way there.”
“Home? Is this not your home?"
“You all have been very kind to me, but –” Reniko faltered. It did feel like home, so much like home, so comfortable and welcome. She closed her eyes, trying to gain her composure. She saw images of Dertrik, her mother and father, Claire and Erik. She missed them terribly, and though thoughts of leaving Savonly did draw a sadness to her heart, thoughts of staying away from all those who loved her back on Earth for any longer shattered her heart into thousands of pieces. She couldn’t help but realize how long she had been gone from them, not just a matter of days anymore, instead it was months. They must think I am dead by now. That thought grieved her most of all and when she looked at Rillan she had new resolve. “I’ve loved being here with all of you, but this isn’t my home. I left people that care for me deeply and if I don’t return, their hearts will grieve much more than those I leave behind here.”
Rillan nodded. “We all knew that you would leave in time. I mean what you are and everything... well; we all knew that... when we first saw you walking the corridors we never expected you would stay as long as you have.” Reniko looked at him in confusion. She had the feeling that even though she knew Vespian well, she still missed the meaning sometimes. This was one of those times.
“I don’t think I understand,” Reniko said.
“It’s not his place to tell you, it’s mine,” she heard Milla say as she came up behind Reniko. “You are, after all, one of my acolytes.”
Reniko gave a polite bow. “Priestess Milla. I did not know you were present in the archives today.” Rillan also gave a slight bow though he gave no voice in the conversation.
“Come Reniko, let Rillan get to that task he has promised you, while we talk.” Rillan took his leave and Reniko had no choice but to follow Milla who led her to the garden handing Reniko her cloak on the way.
“When you first came here and I did your ribbon reading I told you that you displayed the attribute of hope, did I not?”
“Yes, you did,” Reniko said. She remembered distinctly that every time she had brought up what Milla had meant when she had said that Milla had refused her. Reniko had given up trying to get the answer weeks ago and was surprised that she was bringing it up at all.
“Why are you telling me this now?” she asked.
“You were not ready. When you came to us atop Malik’s Teoko you were already broken, I saw it in your eyes. You had lost your way, and you needed time to find it again. That first day I saw you in the garden I thought you had regained yourself, but when I saw the look on your face when the thought of fighting entered your mind, I knew there was healing yet to be done.”
“I still don’t wish to fight. What’s the difference now?”
“The difference is that you have chosen a path that finally leads away from Savonly. You’ve chosen to go home and now it’s time to prepare you for that journey.”
“You sound as if you have been waiting for me to do this from the start.”
“I have. I’m a ribbon reader, the best one that Savonly has seen in a long time. I don’t just see attributes as everyone in the temple is taught to see, I also see intent, and purpose, and from that it’s not very hard to see where a person is heading.”
They were in the glade where Reniko held her practices every morning. She had never stopped training even if her will to fight was lost to her.
“I’m going to tell you this and you are going to leave here. I don’t know where your path will take you, but I am going to prepare you as much as I can. You see, Reniko, no matter how much you wish never to kill again, I believe you will have to. The Rük, no matter how you see them, do not care for your life or the life of any other and as soon as you leave this place they will never stop hunting you. You killed their own—something no one has dared to do--and as dangerous as they are to any human on Vespen they will be ten-fold to you. I know you don’t plan to be on Vespen much longer, however, no matter how long or short your stay is here, you will be in danger every second you stay on this planet. So you must fight if you are going to go home. You must fight, Reniko.”
Reniko’s breathing became heavy. She had never heard Milla like this at all. Reniko could sense something in Milla that drove her with such fierceness, something that Reniko could not grasp.
“Why do you care so much about this, Milla?”
Milla’s body sagged as she let out her breath misty in the chill air. “I didn’t really want to tell you the reason why everyone stares at you like you are the goddess herself.”
Reniko hugged herself. She had noticed the stares, had ignored them, however they were still there no matter how much she ignored them. She hated that Milla brought that up.
“I always thought it was because I had killed those three Rük.”
“That helped. It was really your ribbon reading that caused the stares. You must have known that, from the little I did tell you.”
“Yes, I guess I did.”
“You are hope, just not in the way you think you are. What you showed us is that you are not your hope, but everyone else’s –” Milla diverted her eyes from Reniko’s face.
Reniko stared at her, shaken. “Do you believe this? How can I be someone’s hope? I just want to go home, Milla!” She already knew as she spoke that Milla did believe. They were all placing their hope in her. Hope that I do what? What do they need me for? They have their god and goddess to save them, not me. I just want to go home.
“Forgive me, Lady Reniko, we just read what we see.”
“I... I have to go,” Reniko stammered as she retreated back to the temple.
“Reniko please wait. I wish to give you something before you leave us.”
Reniko turned and watched as Milla held out a jewel studded scabbard, a sword hiding within its shell.
“Please, take it, for me. I don’t care if you use it. The Levanith used it before they were destroyed. You are the only one in all Savonly with enough skill to wield it, please take it, for me.”
Reniko reached out for the sword, unsheathed it and looked at it with awe. It resembled a Chinese straight sword in every way and Reniko gathered that either the Chinese had learned to make them from the Levanith or the Levanith had learned it from the Chinese. Either way what she held in her hand was perfection. Set between the deep blue hilt and the blade, making the middle of the draconic Levanith symbol, was a milky blue jewel that seemed to flow and mix into itself as Reniko held it firmly in her hand. The Levanith dragon had its wings extended out making a T shape between blade and hilt. It was a mix of silver and rich blues and had its head bowed respectively on the hilt of the sword. A rich yellow tassel swung from the end of the hilt, a minor distraction to those on the receiving end of this deadly blade.
As Reniko gripped it she felt its balance, perfectly attuned for her, the grip steady in her hand. Though the sword had been made for someone else, it became an extension of her almost from the instant she touched it. She slowly unsheathed the sword and listened to the steel sing. It drew her in and reminded her of everything she had learned from her teacher; it reminded her that this song was too deeply ingrained in her very being for her to just forget it. She could not have declined the gift if she had wanted to. Letting her gaze stray away from the sword, she sheathed it and looked back at Milla.
“For you, I shall take this,” she said.
“Its name is Imako.”
“Imako,” Reniko said the name, entranced by the blade. Milla saw this, saw the spark that rekindled deep inside of Reniko and knew she had succeeded in saving this girl from her despair.