And the journey continues...
"What's past is past. It's gone. The future is an open book full of blank pages, like your Ledge-o-graph. Today is the only surety we have. What's the point of worrying about anything else except for what choices we make minute by minute?"
-Riyah the Elderad
Alyra stared at the White Road. Felt it beckoning, calling her to complete the quest to convince the reclusive dragons to rejoin Alburnium.
Lord Darnel haunts the dreams of his Princess. The dark ruler of Racah refuses to give up his hunt to return Alyra to his castle where he can control her powers.
Tarek holds the truth of his life in Racah with Alyra a well-guarded secret. Despite his reservations, his heart leads him to join Alyra’s journey and protect her from the dangerous drakes. But in the midst of their travels, something greater than either anticipated comes to light between them.
The centaur friends, Lotari and Stitch, are under pressure to complete the Wilderland Meeting Hall before the Dwarf King Lucien brings war upon them.
Katrina the Curian continues the search for her missing kin while keeping her linage a secret. With the use of a magical looking device, she may either have found the break-through she's needed, or exposure of her tightly kept secret.
Jerin the Warrior continues his trek, with the Alburnium warriors, gathering reinforcements to stop the Dark Lord. But with each place they visit, they find the Racan leader's power and strength growing beyond what anyone could have imagined.
Emanate - Book Three
The Road Beckons
Jerin of Yarholm pushed through the group of onlookers circling a man dressed in the Racan uniform. The half-moon and stars on the man's cloak branded him a servant of King Darnel along with the matching symbol tattooed on his upper arm. Jerin grasped the golden medallion hanging around his neck. The emblem of the white tree indicated he belonged to Alburnium and served King Shaydon who dwelt in Aloblase. The difference between the two marks was Jerin could always make the choice to take his off, whereas those with the Racan mark were given no choice in the matter.
Two scouts held the bound prisoner before the general. "We caught him leaving Kinti, sir." The guardsmen shoved the beaten man forward. "We believe he bears a message to his master. Possibly seeking reinforcements?"
Marcel studied the ragged man as he tugged at his goatee in contemplation.
Glancing through the dense trees, Jerin barely made out the gray stone fortress of Kinti, presently held captive by Racah's forces. His palms itched with the urge to grab up his weapons and kick the foul thieves out of King Shaydon's city.
One of the guardsmen, who went by the name of Rat, handed General Marcel a folded piece of parchment. "He carried this, sir. But none of us can read the script."
Marcel's steel gray eyes scanned the letter. He was a quiet man, never rash in his decisions, or demanding with his orders. He'd led them to Kinti with the intent to acquire fresh horses and new recruits. Instead of a warm welcome, their unit was driven away by a shower of fiery arrows.
"Well, your assumption is probably correct, Rat." Marcel addressed the guardsman while he handed a satchel to Jerin who now stood at his side. "See if there's anything important in there while I ask our guest a few questions."
Before Jerin could open the flap, the bag was snatched from his hand by Captain Dirk, his officer in command.
"I'll do that, private." Dirk said with his usual sneer. "I'm sure Marcel mistook you for me. Now return to your duties, boy. Aren't you supposed to be helping stew potatoes?"
With a scowl at his superior, Jerin moved a short distance away, fist clenched.
"Soldier," General Marcel addressed the Racan. "Care to tell me where you were heading, son?"
"No sir, I will not." The youth lifted his chin.
Marcel's steely gray eyes widened in actual surprise. Jerin had to laugh. Why the general assumed the enemy would willingly give up any information was beyond him.
Marcel rubbed his goatee. "Ah, I understand. Would you at least tell us if the townspeople are still alive inside?"
The man's lips pressed into a tight line.
"No? Very well then." He motioned to a cloaked figure standing a few feet outside the circle. "Amici, perhaps you can persuade this youngster to talk." Marcel turned with a shrug and headed toward Jerin. When he saw his empty hands, his brows raised. "Did you not find anything worth keeping?"
Jerin tried not to glare at his captain. "Perhaps Captain Dirk found something useful."
The bulking, stone-faced man rummaged in the bag tossing drawings and letters onto the ground. "Nothing. Everything in here is written in that foul Racan tongue and will not do us a bit of good."
Jerin reached down to catch the papers before the wind blew them away. To his dismay the symbols matched something he'd seen before. A type of writing on a series of tunnels he once walked through with Alyra, his Illuminate friend, the centaurs, Lotari and Stitch, and Katrina the Curian. Alyra knew how to read the strange language. Of course, she was brought up in Racah, taught by Lord Darnel himself.
"Dirk," Marcel chastised as he also collected the papers. "Let's not be hasty in our evaluation on the use of this find. These may yet prove to be enlightening."
Dirk folded his arms across his barrel chest.
Marcel's gaze fell on Jerin in an unspoken question. Jerin read the look, knowing the general wondered if he could get the notes translated. Between Katrina, and Alyra, he figured one of them would be able to help. He gave a slight nod.
"Any notion on what the drawing might be?" Marcel asked him.
Jerin studied them in the dim torchlight. "Actually, sir, it looks like a possible layout of the city." He studied them, wishing he could make out the language, but knowing he was lucky that he couldn't. Only Racan slaves and those who'd studied languages knew what the markings meant.
Now Jerin understood why Marcel had given him the bag. Jerin was the only soldier with a connection with the last known Curian in Alburnium. Katrina, being a Wisdom Keeper, would be able to find out what the diagrams meant. And maybe a bit more. Jerin bit back his grin as an idea, a crazy idea, formed in his mind.
Marcel handed the remaining papers to Jerin along with the messenger's letter. "I'm leaving you in charge of figuring these out, son. The sooner the better. I hoped to advance on Kinti within this next couple of days. If the city's captors have been in touch with Darnel, we will need to move as quickly as possible.
"Yes, sir, I'll get right on this."
Dirk stepped in between Jerin and Marcel. "Sir, what we should be doing is getting ready for battle. I need every man to put all their efforts into helping the cause."
Marcel gave a nod. "I agree. Dirk, put your efforts into preparing your men. Jerin, work on getting us answers to what those letters say. Thank you both." He bowed and headed toward his tent when the Racan Soldier began to yell.
Jerin peered around the captain, finding nobody had touched the captive. The soldier remained crouched on the ground, his grimy hands covering his face as he whimpered and squirmed.
Amici stood over him as a brilliant light filled the camp. Jerin's eyes widened. He'd only seen one other person illuminate themselves in such a manner. He gasped, wondering if this was the same effect Alyra had on the enemy when she glowed.
Alyra's toes wriggled in her muddy, travel-worn boots. The white rocky path glistened in the early sunlight as it wove into the woods surrounding Jolly Orchard and disappeared into the thick aspen forest. A warm wind caressed her cheek, causing her red curls to wave around her face. Above, puffy white clouds raced across the pink-turning-to-blue sky. Perhaps whatever pulled the clouds was the same force tugging her heart, beckoning her forward toward the King's Highway.
Would the white rocks continue to keep her safe as they had in the past?
The familiar pull had hit her the first time she'd stepped onto the road with Jerin, her warrior friend, who'd been sent along on her trip to Aloblase.
The second pull Alyra experienced was while she stayed with the Healer Marya in Many Rivers. That time, she and Jerin had added Lotari, the River Wood centaur, to their traveling group.
Alyra glanced over her shoulder at the rebuilt white walls of Jolly Orchard. The small farming community had recently been hit by Lord Darnel's forces. The townspeople didn't believe the Racan soldiers had come to destroy the town, but rather to search for something, or someone. Alyra wiped her sweaty palms over her sleeves as she wrapped her arms across the pounding in her chest. They searched for her. She was sure of it.
Still, much of her life in Racah remained a fragmented mystery. Why had Darnel stolen her memories and kept her prisoner in Racah instead of killing her as he'd done to other Illuminates? He'd even tried to fool her into believing she was his daughter, though she never bought into that lie.
Not until she had finally managed to escape Racah and journey to Aloblase did bits and pieces of the truth about her lighting powers and her real family in Belluvita reveal itself.
"If only I could figure out the rest of the missing pieces." Such as why exactly Darnel continued to pursue her.
The tugging sensation in her chest became more insistent. She'd so enjoyed her time in this town, named appropriately for its happy mixture of creatures and humans farming together. A small part of her wished she could stay, settle down, and make a home for herself.
Hope for a normal life was like chasing the sun across the sky. While Lord Darnel continued his hunt for her, she'd never be free to settle down anywhere.
Unfortunately, she had no doubt Darnel had more reserves up his twisted sleeves. Some memories still returned from time to time. The attack on Jolly Orchard was brought on by creatures, fed a black powder potion, which he'd obtained from a pit demon. With her help while she lived in Racah. Every time she thought about the demented creatures that'd been driven out of their minds to fight to the death, a knife pierced her heart, cutting in deeper and deeper.
Despite her brother Ethan, and her friend Tarek - also from Racah - insisting the powder wasn't her fault, she simply couldn't agree. She wondered just how many other schemes had she helped her former master accomplish. More important, in what form would they come back to haunt her and torment the people of the kingdom she'd grown to love?
Alyra sighed, rubbing her temples in hopes of pushing out the horrid memories. Don't think about the past. Focus on the future. That's the important thing right now. The only thing you have some kind of control over.
Her little pep-talk twisted her stomach tighter. Dragons lay in her future. Along with the uncertainty of whether they'd hold off on turning her and her traveling companions into ashes long enough to hear Ethan’s message from King Shaydon. Her other problem was the need to find a red healing fruit to replace the one she'd used to keep Tarek from dying.
They'd come to Jolly Orchard for the healing fruit. Unfortunately, in the attack, the White Tree had been chopped down, and all the fruit was gone.
"Shaydon," she whispered. "If you really can hear me, then show me, or show Riyah where we can find a replacement. I hope you're not angry with me. I couldn't let Tare die. I just couldn't. You have to know that. Right?"
She shook her head. What was the point in talking to air? Her instructor Riyah, one of Elderad beings sent along on her quest to help them, insisted the King heard her, no matter where she was. She tried to believe him.
Alyra stepped closer to the white path until the toe of her boot touched one of the rocks. A tingling crept up her leg as if cold fingers tickled over her skin, reaching up to her arms where a dim glow emanated in her palms. The pull intensified. She took another step forward. If she kept going, where would she end up? Her nerves surged with a desire to go, to move on. If she didn't move soon, she feared roots would grow out of her feet and she'd be stuck here forever. She couldn't let that happen. If she stayed, Darnel might return. Then he'd find her for sure. She had to keep moving.
Riyah offered no assurances that he knew where to get more fruit. When she did ask, his vague answer was, "In time, the fog lifts and everything becomes clear again. Have patience, child."
A vibration came from her shoulder bag. Alyra quickly stepped away from the road, and broke the trance she'd fallen into. She pulled out the Ledge-o-graph, a book made by the mysterious Logorians that enabled her to talk with her friends scattered across Alburnium. Jerin had written her last night, asking if she could translate some letter in the Racan language. She'd spent most of the evening working out what symbols she remembered.
One page glowed with a new note, this one by Lotari the centaur.
I can't help but feel deep in my hide that something has come between us. You write, yes. But only when you communicate with everyone. Though I appreciate your updates, I'm concerned, my sweet friend. I've apologized several times for not telling you sooner about Esdra. I simply wasn't ready to share, being unsure of my own feelings.
Yes, I fell in love much quicker than I ever believed possible. I'm 150 years old, for goodness sakes! After all these years, I honestly thought the possibility of finding a mate had passed me by.
Alyra, We've always been fairly open and honest with each other. But even you have to understand there are some things we need to mull over on our own before we're ready to share with others. Must I remind you of your silence after your Da's passing into Everlasting? I—no, all of us— were so worried about you. But once you came to terms with his demise, in your own time, then you were able to share with us again. Don't I deserve the same grace you were given?
On another note—
Alyra slammed the book shut. She was actually happy he'd finally found a companion, someone to share his life with. What she hated was the fact that every time she began to care for others, and to depend on them, they were taken away from her. Now that Lotari had found someone to join his life with, he might never leave Wilderland. Her heart ached with the thought that she may never see her best friend again.
More than likely, Katrina would remain in Denovo at the Halls of Knowledge where her ancestors once dwelt. Jerin had finally become a soldier and traveled the land to protect the cities from her former master. They all had their own lives.
For a whole blissful year, she'd enjoyed the company of her new family of friends in Aloblase. She had never felt alone. She had a home with Katrina. For that one year, she finally felt secure and happy. Something she never dreamed she'd ever have in her life.
Now here she stood at the edge of the White Road. Homeless. Leagues away from all who were most dear to her. Those who risked their lives to get her safely to Aloblase. Her chin trembled as her heart broke into another splinter.
Alyra swiped her hand across her face. She did have her brother Ethan with her. He was even treating her decently now that she'd saved his life. And she had her Elderad instructor, Riyah. She also had— no, don't count him. Tarek won't stay. He has somewhere else to go.
"Ugh, don't be stupid. You're not alone."
"Indeed. You are not alone, child." Riyah's voice came from behind her.
She spun to face her translucent instructor. His ghostly form was better than the complete invisibility she experienced with him when they first met.
"I know Ri. I just miss … everyone."
He towered over her by at least three feet. His pale chiseled face and blue eyes reminded her of a frozen lake, and his streaming white hair like a blanket of snow. "True friends are friends forever, despite the distance."
"I know." She sighed. "I'm just trying to figure out what we should do next."
He chuckled. "Who said that was for you to figure out, little one?"
"I'm not little, nor a child, Riyah. Issah gave me a quest. And I've done nothing but let him down so far." She added under her breath, "As I always do."
"Hush." His voice grew stern. "We will find another red fruit. The finding is a sure thing. Just where and how… that's what is up for speculation. But clarity comes to those who wait and stay focused. Do not lose your courage or hope. Neither Issah nor King Shaydon is disheartened with you. You'll have to trust me on this."
She glanced over her shoulder at the White Road. "How much longer will we stay here? I can't help but feel time is slipping away from us. What if Darnel finds the dragons before we do?"
His arm went about her shoulders as he guided her back toward town. "I've been keeping watch. There is no movement around Drakensburg. We still have time. However, I'm in agreement that we should prepare ourselves to depart soon. I've discussed this with Ethan, and he is also ready to move on."
"What about…" Dare she ask? "What about Tarek?"
He had to make his own decisions, though she hated leaving him behind. Tarek had been her friend the longest and knew more about her than anyone, despite his reluctance to talk about life in Racah. While working with him to rebuild Jolly Orchard, she come to realize there was much she didn't remember about him. Along with feelings that made no sense to her. She remembered his lectures and taunting remarks. Yet her heart seemed to remember how he always smelled of piney woods and how comforting his arms felt around her.
She blinked, hoping her cheeks weren't coloring again. They often did when those transparent memories hit her. If Tarek knew where they were headed, he'd never agree to accompany them. Not that he knew yet of their plans. She'd been warned not to tell him about their quest, or her Illuminate skills.
Riyah shrugged. "Tarek is accountable only to himself." The Elderad stopped just outside the gate. "Alyra, need I remind you that he still has the Racan mark on his arm? I know he is your friend, and I respect that. And, I honestly do care what happens to the young man. However, his path and your path, at the moment, do not run in the same direction. You must keep this in mind."
"I know." She hated this fact, but understood it all the same. Part of her resented Riyah for being so repetitive about it. "He'll want to find his family."
At least, finding his family was his plan when he left Aloblase. Of course, that was before he'd lost his way, run out of coins and food, and then ended up imprisoned in an enemy town.
"Alyra," Riyah turned her to face him. "Stay focused on what Issah has requested you to accomplish. You will find, dear one, that everything else will work itself out in due time." He chucked his knuckle under her chin. "Don't lose heart. Not so soon."
Alyra rolled her eyes and started to turn away when he caught her shoulder. "You do still have the seed of the red fruit? The one you used on Tarek?"
She nodded. He'd told her to never throw away a seed. Only the trees growing in Aloblase produced fruit that contained seeds to grow new healing trees.
"Good. Tonight the villagers will hold a festival to celebrate the completion of rebuilding their town."
The people of Jolly Orchard always seemed to find something to celebrate.
"Bring the seed with you and meet me in the town center at midnight."
She knew better than to ask for an explanation. He would tell her when she needed to be told. Such was the Elderad's way.
"I'm going to my tent and write Lotari. He's written me twice today."
With a nod, Riyah left her at the gate. She turned and headed into the orchard where they'd set up a small camp beside a pond. When she stopped outside her sleeping tent, a bright yellow bird fluttered down onto a branch near her head.
"Dart," Alyra gasped, letting her bag slide off her shoulder. "You startled me you little pest. Hey, what do you have in your messenger pack?"
A piece of rolled parchment peeked out of the small bag tied to his back. Tarek had bought the silly lovebird while they were in Aloblase to use for keeping in touch with each other. Few people were lucky enough to obtain a Ledge-o-graph from a Logorian who only gave them out on an as needed basis.
The small bird dipped his head so she could remove his letter. After unfurling the paper, she read Tarek's scrawling words which caused her face to heat up again.
So, I just learned there's to be festivities tonight. I'm asking your permission to accompany you to this event. Maybe I can help you remember some more dance steps. Or perhaps to simply remember to have fun for a change. You've been working as if a pit demon were chasing you. Which there isn't. And if there was, it still wouldn't be your fault. Got it?
I can tell you've not quite bought into this theory yet. I see it on your troubled face. So please, can we forget the past and enjoy the moment for one evening? At least?
Eagerly waiting your response.
Her throat tightened. He knew her so well. Too well. In some ways, even better than Lotari knew her. She pressed her hand to her heated cheek. There were only vague memories of him teaching her to dance. When had he given her lessons, she wondered, and why? Still, so many memories evaded her.
They'd be leaving in the next couple of days. A reasonable person would avoid him. Would encourage him to be on his way to find his family. But she wanted him to stay with her. More than anything.
She had so many unanswered questions. And he was familiar to her, as if she was home when he was near. Nobody else ever made her feel that way.
She turned the slip of paper over intending to write a response when she heard a splash from the pond, followed by her brother's voice. "I need to speak with you Outsider. Concerning my sister."
"Tarek," answered another familiar voice. "My name is Tarek of the House of Lion. I'll ask you to call me by my proper name if you wish to speak to me about anything, Messenger.
Enjoy these songs from my Emanate Playlist.