The Final Installment
They've anticipated this time, yet dread it more than any of them care to admit.
A pang of remorse penetrates Alyra’s chest. She should have tried harder, ran faster, done whatever it took to keep her former master, Darnel, from kidnapping the Curian, Katrina. Now poor Kat is all alone, probably locked in a dungeon, in the dark mountain stronghold of Racah.
What plans were being made to rescue Kat? And when would Tarek come back to Alyra as he promised? His last message said he should have already returned…so what kept him away? Jerin, along with his centaur friends, Lotari and Stitch, anticipate the move against Racah, but Prince Issah has delayed. When Jerin is finally able to ask Issah about his battle plans, the prince seems distracted, staring into the nearby fountain with his gaze locked onto the rippling surface. Leaning forward, Jerin looks harder, wondering what Issah is staring at when a vision forms.
A familiar man is standing on a platform with arms tied behind his back. He’s surrounded by an angry crowd. Jerin is curious about the vision until Issah confirms that before they can advance on Racah, they must first rescue Tarek. The Empowered Illuminate is an important component to their success in defeating their enemy.
The final installment of The White Road Chronicles leads Alyra and her friends to the Mountain stronghold of Racah for a final confrontation with the cruel ruler, Darnel.
Alyra strolled along the narrow corridor in the Halls of Knowledge, past a row of bright stained-glassed windows, until she reached an open archway. Glancing over her shoulder, she checked to see if anyone was around before darting out onto the balcony.
She pressed against the granite balustrade. Below, a carpet of golden-green grasses filled the valley surrounded by stately pines and orange-crowned oaks. The cobalt lake sat in the bowl of purple cliffs that rose up on the distant shores.
She stared hard at the glass-like water, willing it to ripple or show any sign of disturbance. Something, anything, to signal he was coming. She’d waited long enough.
“What do they say about a watched pot?” Her brother’s teasing voice came from behind her.
Oh, troll’s breath! Where had he come from?
Alyra spun around to find Ethan chuckling at her with a shake of his head. His wavy brown hair hung in his eyes. He wore his usual leather trousers and linen shirt, tucked in and neat. Except for his unruly hair that needed trimming.
She wrapped her arms around herself with a huff. “His last message said he’d return as of yesterday. Three new moons have passed since he left. I’m anxious about—” She stopped herself, knowing her admitted fear about Tarek and everything else would only bring another lecture from her brother. Her heart hammered against her chest as dampness clung to her lower lashes. “And I can’t stop thinking of poor Katrina. Nobody has done anything to—”
Ethan moved to her side and wrapped her in a one-armed hug. “Things are being done. Issah is working out a plan. We need to be patient, Sis. Everything will work out in due time.”
She blew out a frustrated puff of air. That didn’t help anything. Yes, she knew. But that didn’t keep her from wishing things would speed up.
The lost Curians, which she and Tarek had found and led across the land back home, had allowed her and Ethan to stay in a set of small rooms near Katrina’s library. But the reconstructed area and assembly hall were now off-limits without a special invitation. Except for a select few important people, such as her warrior friend, Jerin, and the new Mayor of Denovo, Roy.
Alyra missed Katrina and desperately wanted a plan to rescue her. The Curians were nothing at all like her sweet natured friend who was always kind and generous. A pang of remorse penetrated Alyra’s chest. She should have tried harder, ran faster, to keep her former master Darnel from kidnapping Katrina. Now poor Kat was all alone, probably locked in a dungeon, in the dark mountain stronghold of Racah. Alyra wanted desperately to know what plans were being made to rescue Kat.
She also wanted Tarek to return to her as he promised.
Ethan gave her shoulders one more squeeze. “There’s no point in waiting out here. I know he’ll come find you soon as he arrives. Let’s go get some breakfast.” He tugged at the sleeve of her blue shirt. She was wearing a long colorful skirt the townswomen often wore. Her travel worn boots needed to be replaced soon. Maybe she’d pay a visit to the town’s Meeting Hall and find the shoemaker. Maybe she’d run into Jerin there, and he’d have some news for her.
For the past two months, while Tarek was in Aloblase receiving training, she’d worked with Jerin and the people of Denovo to rebuild the city that had suffered extensive damage from Darnel’s minions. The Alburnium warriors, led by General Marcel had chased out anyone loyal to Racah. The Elderads, which included her guardian Riyah, and Marcel’s adviser Amici, managed to clear away the years of debris covering the white stones that lined the streets.
She chewed her bottom lip, wondering if Jerin would be the one to ask. He’d begun to grow irritated with her constant questioning about when they’d start heading toward Racah. Anymore, his answer was generally, “When I know, I’ll let you and those pesky centaurs know.”
Ethan gave her arm another tug bringing her back out of her deep thoughts. “Breakfast? Food? I can smell Granny Fila’s sweet rolls all the way up here. Come on.”
She shook her head. “I’m not hungry yet. I’ll join you later.”
He folded his arms across his chest, narrowing his eyes in a stern warning. “Waiting here is a waste of time. I know Tare, he’ll come—”
“I’m not waiting here. Promise. There’s a few things I need to do. I’ll join you for lunch, all right?”
He hesitated a moment until she gave him a gentle shove. “Go. Fill that bottomless gut of yours.” She looked down at her feet. “I need to go get fitted for some new boots. I’m getting holes in these.”
“Fine.” His shoulders sagged in defeat. “Probably not a bad idea. I have a feeling, soon as Tarek does get here, things will start to happen.”
“You think Issah is waiting on him to finish his training?”
Ethan shrugged one shoulder. “Just a hunch. We can’t very well storm Racah without him. He is an Empowered Illuminate, after all.”
Oh, right. He was the one with the ability the Curian prophecy spoke about. The child from Racah, an Illuminate, who would lead the Alburnium kingdom to Racah’s destruction. And all this time Darnel had been sure it was her. He’d been so wrong.
Good thing her former master didn’t know, or he probably wouldn’t have stayed his hand the first time he’d threatened to kill Tarek.
When Ethan left her, she returned to her little bedroom down the hall from the vast library where Katrina had spent many months watching their travels, helping each of them, using their wonderful Ledge-o-graph books they used to communicate with each other. Kat’s journal lay on Alyra’s bedside table. They’d found it, along with some important maps, locked in a wardrobe that only one of the Curians was able to unlock with a special word in their secret language.
Alyra had every intention of returning the Ledge-o-graph to her dear friend. Nobody could see anything but blank pages since Kat hadn’t spoken permission for anyone else to read the letters contained inside. Didn’t matter. Alyra had taken the book and kept it safe until she was able to give it back to its rightful owner.
She dug her backpack from under the cot and slung it over her back. If she needed to make a trip too far away, Alyra always made sure to bring it along. The bag was lightweight to carry, completely waterproof and held all her personal belongings. Including her own Ledge-o-graph. Covering the pack with her cloak, she headed for the door and peered out into the hall. All was clear as she slipped outside and hurried down the corridor until she reached a portico that opened to the valley.
The weather was clear and slightly crisp. A beautiful day for a short journey. Hopefully, she’d be able to figure out how to get the portal to Aloblase to open. Maybe, just maybe, if she cast her light into the water, she’d get the passage to open like Issah could do. If not, then she’d need to call for help. Riyah would probably refuse, but she at least needed to try. Tarek’s delay made no sense. He’d been so eager to return to her.
She twirled the ring of intent around her finger with her thumb, pressing the metal band into her knuckle. They’d planned to be united soon as she reached her twentieth summer next year. Now that all her memories had finally returned, she knew without a doubt just how much she loved him and all he’d risked keeping her safe. She couldn’t imagine her life with anyone else.
When she reached the shore, she tried a few different attempts to cast her light on the water, willing a portal to open to Aloblase, and even wishing real hard for Tarek to suddenly step out of one from the White City. He’d been in training on how to use his light gifting. Somewhere safe where he’d be less destructive with his tendency to blow things up.
Drained and frustrated, Alyra plopped down on a mossy rock and buried her face in her hands. Inside her mind, she called out, Riyah? Where are you? Can you please, please, please help me?
“If you think you’ll connive me into helping you run off, you have another think coming, young lady.” The Elderad sat on the grass beside her. His billowing white coat spread out around his crossed legs. A breeze caught up a few strands of his silky long hair the color of freshly fallen snow. He smiled at her with that familiar expression of exasperation pressing his lips together in a tight line. “Though I have to say, watching your feeble attempts was entertaining. Especially when you tried to kick the water. That was indeed priceless.”
“Don’t tease me, Ri. I know you know what’s going on with Tarek. Why isn’t he here? He promised.”
Riyah leaned back on his elbows, tilting his face up to the bright sky. “I came to tell you that Issah requests your presence in the great hall.” He replied, completely ignoring her question. “I’ll accompany you to where he is waiting to meet with you, Ethan, and Jerin. Alas, as I reached the hall leading to your room, I spotted your escape—”
“I wasn’t trying to escape. I just… oh, never mind.”
“Right.” He chuckled. “Anyway, I followed you out here. I suspected you would try something when our friend Tarek failed to arrive yesterday as he promised. I did not anticipate it would be so…”
Alyra shot her guardian a glare, which of course he also ignored.
“Well, honestly, I’ve not laughed so much in some time. I do enjoy how you keep life lively, my dear Al.”
“Aren’t you full of jokes today?” She stood. “Fine then, take me to Issah. Maybe he’ll give me a decent answer.”
Riyah stood. “Maybe.” The smirk hadn’t left his perfectly formed face. He was still the most striking being she’d ever seen. And she loved him despite his teasing. He held out his hand to her, she was about to take it when a burst of water exploded up into the air. She spun toward the lake, anticipating Tarek to step through the portal. Instead, a tiny yellow and green object zoomed through the opening before the waves settled again.
“Dart?” She held up her hand, palm up for the lovebird to land on. They’d been using Dart over the past year-and-a-half to keep in contact since Tarek didn’t have one of the Ledge-o-graphs like she and her friends did.
“Ah, I see he managed to at least get word to you.” Riyah’s tone dripped with a bit of annoyance.
She removed the rolled piece of parchment from the bird’s messenger pack and unfurled it to reveal Tarek’s scrawling handwriting.
Alyra my love-
Please don’t be angry with me.
* * * *
Jerin’s boots clomped over the stone floor, echoing off the corridor walls. A dim light glowed up ahead. The Curians, who still seemed more comfortable out of the sunlight, tended to work late into the evening and sleep late into the morning. More and more of the younger ones spent time outdoors, thrilled to be able to grow food in the fertile valley. The food they’d survived on, grown in the vast caverns, sorely lacked in quality and taste compared to what the villagers grew here. With the help of the Curians, the farmers of Little Delve found their summer crops had prospered under the Wisdom Keeper’s knowledgeable hands.
If only more of the remnant would open up to the townspeople, but so far, they refused and remained clustered in their stone burrows as they’d done for the past eighty years. Perhaps change wouldn’t come until the newer generation took over.
Jerin reached the vast assembly chamber. Outside on the grand portico morning light shone down on the tall stone pillars and gave a yellow cast to the bit of visible sky. A lone figure stood beside the fountain in the middle of the room. The fountain was mainly used as a portal for Issah and his Logorian warriors who often came to aid in training Jerin’s new recruits.
To think, that far-fetched dream he and his wife, Carah, once had was now a reality. He loved every moment spent training new recruits here. Especially since he was able to work with his beautiful wife. Life was almost perfect.
Jerin stopped beside Issah who wore his traveling garb today. He marveled at how the Prince of Aloblase was able to be exactly where and what a person needed him to be at any given moment. Issah stared down at the waters of the fountain, his gaze locked on the rippling surface. Jerin cleared his throat to get the prince’s attention, but Issah neither acknowledged him nor turned his gaze from whatever he saw in the pool.
Leaning forward, Jerin looked harder, wondering what Issah was staring at when a vision formed of a man standing on a platform, arms clasped, or tied behind his back. Jerin blinked, wondering if he was actually seeing what he thought he was seeing.
“Did Carah not wish to join our meeting?” Issah asked, never taking his eyes off the scene unfolding within the waters.
“She’s still sleeping, sir. I didn’t want to disturb her. And I wished to speak privately if you don’t mind.”
“Not at all, Son. Alyra and Ethan should be here soon. I’ve sent Riyah to bring them to me. But we have time to chat.” He motioned to the low wall surrounding the fountain.
Taking a seat beside the prince. To his astonishment, the vision grew clearer. The man was surrounded by a group of people. Their angry faces glowed in the torchlight. What had the man done? Jerin leaned in a little closer, noting the man’s wavy light hair. There was something familiar about him.
“Son,” Issah drew him from the scene. “What is troubling you?” Issah was turned in such a way that he faced Jerin, but was still able to keep an eye on the vision in the water.
“Well, Sire, it’s… Please don’t take this as a complaint. I so love being here, at the Halls of Knowledge and working with the folks in Denovo. Why, this is what Carah and I have dreamed of doing since we met. But, sir, I’m wondering… shouldn’t we…” he wasn’t sure why sweat broke out over his neck. Alyra never had problem questioning the prince, but everything in him felt it was wrong to question. Issah certainly knew what he was doing, right?
Issah’s mouth turned up in a crooked smile. “Indeed, I do. But Jerin, do you not consider me as one of your friends?”
Friend? He was the prince, for pixie’s sake. But friend?
When he was dressed as he was at the moment, in his woolen cloak and cotton shirt and dirt encrusted traveling boots, he seemed almost normal. Still, Jerin would never forget the times he’d seen Issah in all his majesty, dressed in his Royal attire, looking powerful and daunting. Those moments made Jerin’s insides tremble and his knees week until he felt the need to fall on his face before the King’s son.
Issah’s hand rested on his shoulder. “I want you to consider me a friend, Jerin. I care for you very much, and I’m interested in your thoughts and concerns, even if you think they are unjustified. If they are, we’ll talk it out. But if they aren’t, then I’ll listen and consider your concerns.”
“Thank you, sir… uh, Issah. I appreciate that. And yes, you are a very dear friend.”
“Good.” His smile grew wider. “Then tell your ol’ buddy what’s troubling you. Though I’m sure I already know. Either way, I want to hear it from your lips.”
“It’s not just me. Aly is beside herself with worry—”
“Why does that not surprise me?” Issah chuckled.
“And the centaurs, they’re concerned, too. Especially Stitch, who I know has a real soft spot for Katrina. It just doesn’t seem right, you know? All the hard work she did. Most of it all by herself. And now that her people have finally returned, she’s… she’s… Oh, Shaydon help me, but I hope she’s alive.”
“She is.” Issah assured him with a nod. “Uh oh,” He stopped and refocused his attention on the water scene. The people in the crowd shook their fist at the man on the podium.
“He reminds me of someone,” Jerin mused with a shake of his head. “Is he in trouble?”
“You could say that,” Issah answered, his brows furrowed. “As to your concern about our Katrina, as I said, she is alive and safe for the moment.” His breath caught as someone from the crowd hurled a rock at the man on the podium. Issah held out his hand as if the rock was aimed at him. To Jerin’s shock, the projectile veered off to the side, narrowly missing the poor fellow. Issah’s hand gave a quick jerk at the same moment.
Jerin blinked and then rubbed his eyes. Did he really see what he thought… he saw? Impossible.
Another older man hopped up onto the platform, arms outstretched as he stood between the younger man and the agitated crowd.
“About time!” Issah said, his annoyance evident. He squeezed his fingers closed into a fist as he pulled his hand to his chest. His startling intense gaze met Jerin’s once again.
Nervous sweat trickled down Jerin’s back. Issah didn’t seem in the mood to be trifled with. Yet, still, he’d given Jerin permission to speak his mind. With a resolute nod, he continued, “Sir, Alyra fears what Darnel will do to Kat. I do too. Now that Aly is starting to share some of what she endured in that horrible land, my fear only grows. What will the Dark One do to her? He knows she’s a Curian.”
Issah folded his arms across his chest, his gaze remaining on the scene playing out in the water. “He will not kill her, though he’s killed many of her kind. As he did with Alyra, he will use Katrina to get what he wants. At the moment, she remains safe.”
“But shouldn’t we do… something? I can’t imagine Kat having to live… there… in that cruel land.”
“Darsiderus can be a genial fellow when he wishes to charm someone to his way of thinking.” Issah continued to watch the events unfolding in the water vision with a slight shake of his head and the occasional cringe as the man on the platform was grabbed by each arm and dragged away.
Something stirred a greater sense of recognition, but that was impossible. Jerin pushed aside the feeling.
“Son,” Issah’s hand rested on his shoulder again. “I need you to continue doing exactly what you are doing. Continue to train new warriors. Soon, we will gather all willing to stand against Racah. I need as many ready to fight as we can possibly get. Be ready for when I send word to move. Can you do that for me?”
“Certainly Issah.” He nodded again. “Please forgive me for prying. I know you haven’t forgotten Katrina.”
“I, and the others are worried about our friend. That’s all.”
“I’m glad you called for me, Jerin. Anytime you have a need or concern, you should seek your guardian, or me, for answers. I’m always here for you and Carah. I love you both very much. You know that, right?”
Jerin’s head bobbed. His chest ached with the building emotions Issah’s words stirred in his heart, he had to turn away for a moment. The man in the water was dragged to a tunnel that lead toward a barred cell. They threw him inside, none-too-gently. Jerin gasped. The bars and the way the man sat on the floor of the tiny room reminded him of someone. “It can’t be.” His gaze darted back to Issah who gave a slight nod.
“Unfortunately, it is.”
Footsteps shuffled over the floor, heading toward them. Alyra broke free from the others and ran to Issah who stood to greet her. She wrapped her arms around his waist. “Are we going to get Kat now?”
He patted her head. “Not yet, dear one. Soon.” Issah’s hand rested on the side of Ethan’s head in greeting before he faced Jerin again. “Son, will you write Stitch for me? Tell him that I have a task I need his help with. Let him know the three of us will meet him in Many Rivers this afternoon. Will you do that for me?”
“Absolutely, sir. My journal is in my room. Soon as I go back there, I’ll write him.”
Issah grasped Alyra’s shoulders. “I’m glad to see you’re ready for travel. Ethan, I’ll need you to hurry and gather your pack, as well. You will accompany your sister and I on a little venture.”
“Will we return, Sire?” Ethan asked.
“Not right away. Pack what you’ll need for a lengthy journey.” He addressed Riyah next. “I’ll ask you to remain here and continue your work with Amici.”
Riyah placed his hand on his chest. “As you wish Your Highness.”
While Ethan left to gather his belongings, Alyra pulled out her own Ledge-o-graph and wrote Stitch for Jerin. When she finished, the glowing Elderad pulled her aside to speak with her quietly out of earshot. Jerin returned to the scene in the water. “Why do I have a feeling, that guy, who I swear I know, is the reason for this little trip?”
“So perceptive.” Issah chuckled.
The man sat on the floor of the cell. The elder gentleman who’d blocked the crowd’s stones now stood on the other side of the thick bars, speaking, though Jerin couldn’t hear any words. The younger one held something hanging around his neck. A gold disk similar to the medallion he wore around his own neck.
“Wait… is that—”
“Where are we going, Issah?” Alyra asked, rejoining them. If she could see the scene in the water, she hadn’t noticed it yet.
Before Issah could answer, a high-pitched voice bounced off the towering walls and sent a shiver down Jerin’s spine. Try as he might, he’d never, ever, be anything more than mildly hospitable to that pesky little Okbold.
“Miss is not leaving her DezPierre.” The tree-like creature hopped as he ran toward them. He only reached Jerin’s kneecaps, but was more bothersome than a towering troll. “She mustn’t. She needs her DezPierre. Miss, do not leave me behind!”
“Oh hey, Dez.” Alyra crouched when the distraught, Okbold stopped before her, grabbing the hem of her cloak in his twig-like hands. “I guess you can—” she paused and looked up at Issah. “Well, can he come?”
Issah sat on the edge of the fountain, resting his elbows on his knees. “I’m afraid you’ll need to remain here for now, DezPierre. Your Miss and Master Ethan will be traveling to an unsafe place. Though I will be with them, I would feel more at peace if you remained here and helped Jerin with training. There are some creatures that will arrive from Jolly Orchard soon. A few friends of yours. I would be very pleased if you’d stay and help train them. Can you do that for me?”
Big tears filled DezPierre’s round eyes. Jerin couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Or hearing for that matter. Surely Issah understood how he felt about the little bother.
“F-for Sire?” DezPierre stammered as a couple of tears slid down his bark face. “Yes. DezPierre is at Prince Issah’s service.” His fingers wrapped around a Medallion he’d been given when he made the trip to Aloblase with Tarek. Dez had returned right away, not wanting to be far from his Miss. Tarek was supposed to be at the Academy. So how had he managed to…?
“Very good. You will be reunited with your Miss very soon. I promise you.”
The Okbold sniffed and blinked away his tears. Ethan had returned with his pack and cloak in his hand. A sword was strapped to his waist, and he was dressed in his leather traveling gear. “Is he coming, too?”
“No,” DezPierre snapped. “I must stay with the big bully warrior, Jerin. But DezPierre will do as the good Prince ask of him. DezPierre is a good servant, he is. He will tolerate his lot in life and not grumble about the thick-headed boy with the big stick that hurts DezPierre.”
“I said I was sorry, over a hundred times!” Jerin’s hand smacked against his forehead. He glanced at Issah. “Did I make you mad?”
Issah laughed and patted his shoulder. “Of course not. I’m doing you a favor, Son. You’ll see.” He winked. “Trust me.” But his laugh made Jerin wonder if this wasn’t one of the Prince’s little jokes he enjoyed playing from time to time. “Are we ready? We’ll travel through the portal to Marya’s cottage.”
Alyra gave a happy hop. “Oh, wonderful.” She clapped her hands together.
Now Jerin wished he could go too. He wanted to ask Issah if his suspicions about the fellow in the vision were spot on, but decided this wasn’t the time. Not with Aly standing there. She seemed happy at the moment, and he didn’t want to ruin that. She was much more pleasant in this mood than when she clouded up and began thundering all over whoever she was upset with. Which was usually him.
He glanced at the fountain again. The man was still in the cell, but now another person stood at the bars. Jerin leaned closer, squinting as he tried to make out the new figure in the ripples.
“If we’re not going to rescue Katrina,” Alyra was asking, “Then where are we going?”
The other person seemed to be a female with the same hair color as the man. The man that Jerin was sure he recognized. Only, it made no sense. There was no way he….
“Well, my dear,” Issah answered. “We are going on a little rescue mission.”
“To recuse who?” Ethan asked.
Jerin gasped. “Tarek?” The man had finally turned so he could see his battered face clearly. Blood trickled down from his temple, and his bottom lip was swollen.
“Yes,” Issah sighed. “We’re going to rescue Tarek.”
More coming soon! I'll have a playlist linked here in the next few days. Be sure to stop back in for more updates and news as the time draws closer for Ablaze's release.