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The quest for hope, p.2
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       The Quest for Hope, p.2

           A. S. King
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  Now two eagles were soaring among the clouds, flying free, exuding wordless homage to the great High King, the giver of all light and life.

  By the time Levi returned to the small settlement, the morning work had begun.

  “Hello, Celnar,” he hollered up to the large Norok standing guard at the southern gate.

  “Out again are we?” The Norok shook his head. His expression held a reprimand, but his voice was amiable. “It is a good thing it is only you who sneaks out past our watch and not something else sneaking in.”

  Levi smiled. It was the same response he received every day from the head watchman.

  He continued on his way, jogging through the grazing grounds and gardens where Pronghorns were already busy tending to the fields. He waved a greeting as he passed and made his way to the work sheds that composed the next layer of this circular community. Not too much was happening there, yet, other than a few Zobeks going about, making sure each building had the materials needed for the day.

  “Oof!” Levi collided headlong with something large and furry. He tumbled back, landing none too gently on his backside.

  “So sorry! So, so sorry! Are you hurt? Let me look!”

  Levi looked up to see a large Zobek head only inches from his own. The Zobek’s eyes were very concerned. Levi smiled. “I’m okay, Awank.” He brushed off the dirt. “It was my own fault for not watching where I was going.”

  Awenk helped him up, made sure he was okay, and then returned to his task. This reminded Levi that if he didn’t hurry, he would be late for his own work.

  He moved more carefully past the living quarters and finally arrived at the focal point of the community. He immediately began his work among the other members, helping to set up tables and chairs for breakfast near the small building that housed the kitchen. As they worked, young women passed by with pails of milk and water. Children arrived, walking slowly as they carefully concentrated on carrying baskets of eggs. Once their baskets made it safely to their destination, the children ran, skipped, and scampered about as they helped decorate the tables with handfuls of bright flowers. Savory smells from the kitchen made their way outside where they tickled the noses and teased the stomachs of all within the immediate vicinity. More than one eager stomach growled in response.

  Before long, musicians set up around the perimeter of the breakfast area and began to play their call to breakfast. As the community finished their morning duties, they made their way to the central gathering place. Levi and several other men stood by to assist those who came through the line—helping mothers carry multiple trays for their young children, guiding the elderly and frail to a table before delivering plates of food to them, and attending to any other task of assistance that was needed. Once everyone else received their portions, these men went through the line and received their own.

  The light conversation was interspersed with laughter as the community ate and joined their hearts, minds, and spirits to each other.

  After breakfast had ended and dishes were cleared away, it was time for lessons. Levi didn’t think he would ever get over how spectacular and beautiful it was to see people from so many races sitting intermixed as they waited for the teaching to begin.

  Once everyone was situated, Ira, Lead Servant of the community, stood, his bald head emerging from the seated group as he made his way to the wooden platform in the middle of the group. He wore simple workman’s garb. His long, gray beard reached down to his small waist. In contrast to his diminutive frame, his voice was loud and firm. This morning, he spoke with a new excitement radiating through him.

  “Today is the beginning of a new in our journey. For many years, we have been hiding, learning, and living secluded and protected. Our very existence is unknown to nearly all others. Today that will begin to change. Some of you will be called on to stay, to continue learning, to continue the work that needs to be done in this community. Others will be called on to a different task. I will speak to each one individually on these matters. But first, let me remind you of the very beginning—of the one we serve and of the one who seeks to pull us away.” Ira paused as he opened a weather worn scroll. All was silent as he began to read.


  In The Beginning

  “The narration of the events from the beginning, given by the High King to be passed on through the Erela, Melhem, to Raziela, a servant of the High King.

  “There once was darkness, thick and empty, with no purpose, no life.

  “Into this void appeared a Light. It pierced through the waiting darkness—small at first, but then it grew ever brighter until no darkness remained. No one knows where it came from or from whence this life began. It simply was.

  “This Light was a being, an infinite Being. He started to work carefully, purposefully—moving, gliding, and dancing through space in an intricate display. Exactly how long it took could not be said, for a time was not yet an entity. Nor were space or solid objects. There was only light. The light was everywhere, and everything was light.

  “Speaking of life and wisdom, this Being spoke into existence a glorious city—one that would glide through the heavens, a place from which his glory might dwell in fullness.

  “Its beauty was only the beginning.

  “Out from his heart, his hands, his words, he gathered the light of the stars, mixing it with his own indescribable brightness. Wisdom poured forth as he fashioned the light into beautiful, crystalline beings. Their wings stretched out, iridescent, like rays of light. These creatures would be the reflection of his own brilliance and goodness. They were strong and would serve their master and purpose well. He called them Erela.

  One of the Erela stood supreme above all the rest. He was stronger, more beautiful, and more brilliant than all the others—the epitome of splendor and radiance. He was appointed Chief Commander. His name was Zohar.”

  Ira stopped reading and surveyed the crowd with a serious expression. “As most of you are aware, this Zohar is now known as the Dark One. He has nearly succeeded in erasing the name of the High King from the hearts and minds of those in this land. Now it is time for us to start reminding them; to awaken in them a knowledge of the one true King. As you go about your day—for we will proceed as usual until I am instructed to direct you otherwise—remember the High King. Think of the peace and freedom you have been able to dwell in for so long. This is what the High King desires for all his creation. You are now dismissed.”

  The hushed conversation was interspersed among the shufflings of feet as each person dispersed to their appointed tasks. Some tended to crops, some cared for the animals, some were artisans, blacksmiths, carpenters, weavers, tailors, scribes, guards, and Watchmen. The children divided their time between learning the arts and sciences and being introduced to the various community trades.

  Levi moved to take his place among the men and women who were being trained to receive “Second Sight.” Before he had taken two steps, Ira’s Spirit stopped him and beckoned for him remain behind. Levi’s gaze followed the group until they disappeared into the nearby forest. Then he returned his attention to the Lead Servant. His eyes communicated his question along with his spirit.

  Ira approached the young man and looked deep into his eyes, searching for something. After a long silence, he nodded his head and spoke.

  “The High King has a particular task that needs to be performed,” he said in a low voice.

  Levi took a deep breath and looked down. “You’re leaving then?” he asked.

  “No, I’m staying here. Levi, the High King, has selected you for the task.”

  The eyes of the young Adama shot back up, holding a look of confusion and disbelief.

  Why me? The spirit spoke to Ira. Surely there are other, more experienced transmogrifs.

  Yes, there are, agreed on Ira, spirit-speaking in kind. Nevertheless, the High King has requested you.

  Do I have a choice?

  You always have a choice.

  Levi nodded. I will go. What
is the task?

  You must reach the Princess and bring her here.

  Levi paused and thought deeply about the request. I have so many questions. How do I find her? If she is in the castle, how do I gain entrance? Once I gain access, how do I convince her to come? She has likely never even heard of the High King.

  Fear not, my young apprentice, for the High King will guide you. He will go before you. In fact, he is already there.


  The Heir

  3 Months Later; Earlington Castle

  Aliatta stood in an empty field. The sky was dark—there was no sun, no moon, and no stars. Nevertheless, she could perceive her environment easily. And what she perceived was frightening. Only a few paces before her stood a horrific creature which had plagued her dreams for weeks. It was like nothing she’d ever encountered in her waking hours, and yet, was unsettlingly familiar. Its body was a hulking, twisted mass of flesh and metal which towered several feet above her head. A shredded black cloak lay loosely over its shoulders, and one of his great claws held a long, jagged sword. Darkness was its covering, crushing every hint of light as it moved.

  The monster snapped a drooling maw and growled.

  Aliatta could feel its pointed anger radiating in her direction. She braced herself to flee but found she could not move. Her feet were frozen to the ground. She tried to scream but discovered her mouth was clenched in fear. A dizzying fog gripped her mind.

  The creature curled its lips into a grotesque grin and stepped tauntingly towards her—its victim.

  It’s just a dream, she thought. It’s only a dream, like all the others. It has to be!

  Help me! She cried out with all of her inner beings. Oh, please! Someone see me! Help Me!

  Aliatta couldn’t even close her eyes as the monster determinedly closed the distance between them. She could hear its footsteps, feel its foul breath. She began to quiver. This felt like so much more than a dream.


  A gale force nearly knocked her down as it rushed by, taking its place between the assailant and herself. Even in the intensity of the moment, Aliatta found herself noting the strangeness of the fact that she had felt no wind, only sensed it. A warmth spread through her body—releasing her from fear’s bondage and allowing her to move again. The warmth spread to her mind and in another second she was able to clearly behold the unfolding scene.

  A shining humanoid form with magnificent wings hovered before the nightmarish creature. Its appearance was that of iridescent crystal, and its mighty wings beat as storm clouds. A cloak of red fell from the center of its wings and flowed out behind in the unfelt turbulence. Smooth, intricate armor covered its chest, arms, and legs. On its breastplate was a prominent signet, and it took Aliatta a few moments to realize that the seal did not belong to any of the families in Novus.

  This new presence radiated a bright light which came forth from within and refracted out like a diamond in the sun. The nightmarish creature braced itself against the piercing light. It clenched its fists and growled, striving with all its might to move forward—confident that it could squelch this light as easily as it had the others. The confidence was grossly misplaced. With each powerful winged beat, the dark creature failed in its forward attempts and shied another step back—pushed by the gusts and stung by the light. Finally, with a furious shriek, it turned and fled.

  The winged one settled softly on the ground, still splaying light all around. Then it turned and faced Aliatta. The full weight of its light settled on her as she cowered again in an entirely different kind of fear.

  Why are you afraid? It asked. The Chashak is gone. The High King has heard your cry for help. He sent me to your aid. The winged one spoke in rich, echoing tones. There was no human emotion in his voice, yet it was not cold. Rather, it conveyed a sense of comfort and peace. The High King hears your voice, Aliatta, he repeated. You have been seeking the truth and have persisted, even under threat. You are not alone. The High King is gathering his people. He has not forgotten you.

  Forgive me, sir … Aliatta managed to stammer. Who is the High King?

  The glistening man stared at her for a moment. His face contained no discernable expression when he spoke. You have been given this glimpse into the other realm, he said, to give you encouragement and awaken your understanding. Your search is a right one. You will face many dangers and suffer much, and you must remember that the enemies you face do not exist only in physical form.

  You mean that thing was real? Wait! Aliatta began to feel herself waking up. Desperation for answers filled her, and she spoke quickly, straining for every bit of clarity before it was too late. Who is the High King? What do you mean he hears me? I’ve never spoken to him before!

  As the vision before her faded and all that remained was the light of the winged man, she was left with one final phrase.

  Continue to seek the High King, and you will never be alone.


  Aliatta awakened to a face wet with tears. Her long dark hair was matted with sweat and tears, and heavy exhaustion clung to every part of her body. Clear blue eyes slowly took note of the pale moonlight streaming in through her lavish bedding drapery.

  Doubtful that sleep would find her again that night, Aliatta arose and moved soundlessly on the smooth wooden floor to an elaborately carved desk. A few moments later, a small candle was glowing softly in the darkness. It illuminated the delicate face of the girl who sat staring absent-mindedly into the flame.

  After several contemplative moments, the girl roused and took a habitually cautious glance around her room before reaching expertly into a hidden groove beneath the top of the desk. Exercising practiced care, she retrieved a small key and knelt on the floor. Her long, slender fingers glided along the floorboards until they found what they were looking for: a floorboard that moved slightly when probed by the right amount of pressure. A few more gentle maneuvers removed the floorboard altogether, revealing a small chest. She unlocked the chest and drew forth a crudely bound collection of parchment. Without replacing the floorboard, the girl re-seated herself in the chair and laid the collection gently on the desk.

  In the comforting soft glow of the candlelight, the young Lady Aliatta of Earlington sat and contemplated all she had seen and heard. Then she selected a blank piece of parchment and began to write.


  Life for a Princess

  A loud, persistent knocking brought our young writer to a less-than-desirable state of wakefulness. She reluctantly lifted her head at the interruption and felt a searing pain in the back of her neck.

  I knew I shouldn’t have fallen asleep at my desk, she groaned. Her mind fought to regain full consciousness as warning bells began to pulse through her subconscious mind—asleep at my desk … my desk—the journal. Her eyes shot open in alarm, her senses now fully engaged.

  “Darling!” cooed a voice at the door.

  The word itself was sweet and was sweetly spoken, and yet, something in that simple word sent shivers down Aliatta’s spine.

  “Are you awake, dear?”

  The question was a veiled threat, one of which Aliatta was well aware. “Yes, yes, I’m awake!” the girl shouted in exasperation. She allowed herself to express an ample amount of annoyance. Who wouldn’t be annoyed at having their precious sleep interrupted? Besides, it was far better to communicate annoyance than to raise suspicions with the panic she was feeling at a much greater level. She hastily shoved the parchment and chest back into the hidden compartment, replaced the floorboard, hid the key, and threw herself onto the bed—not a moment too soon.

  The door opened, and a tall, elegant woman glided into the room. Long blond hair was intricately styled atop her head, encircled by a prominent crown. Black eyes contrasted abruptly with the softness of an otherwise delicate face. These eyes shot a disdainful glance at the girl who was slowly stirring upon her bed before moving to make a meticulous scan of the room with hawklike sharpness.

  “My dear girl,” spoke the w
oman. An inexplicable sense of coldness again punctuated the otherwise pleasantly spoken words. “Whatever are you doing still in bed? Your father and I have been waiting for you to come break the fast with us.”

  “You should have just started without me,” grumbled Aliatta. “You can do that you know.”

  “I’ll have none of your attitude, young lady.” The practiced gentleness of the previous words disappeared, replaced by a harsh tone that brooked no argument. “You will be dressed and ready for breakfast in twenty minutes.”

  With that, the Duchess of Earlington turned and left the room, snapping her fingers impatiently on her way out. Two trembling maidservants instantly appeared.

  Aliatta sighed and moved to do her mother’s bidding, allowing the girls to assist with her wardrobe.

  Exactly twenty minutes later, Aliatta stepped into the corridor and reluctantly headed to the breakfast hall.

  As she walked through the long hallways and up the stairs, creatures of all races paused in their work to give her a fleeting glance before bowing in homage to her presence. The Lady Aliatta acknowledged them with a well-practiced nod, all the while thinking disdainfully about how pitiful they looked in their fear-shaken bows.

  The breakfast hall was located near the top of an inner tower, high enough that it overlooked the outer walls of the castle. A large east facing window offered a breathtaking view. It called to Aliatta, inviting her to linger. She answered the summons willingly, resting her arms against the window sill. Muffled clatter from the busy city below rose up to meet her, but she cared not about the city or the people who lived there. What held her attention at that window was the land beyond—high, grassy, uninhabited hills with large boulders thrown against each other in an erratic pattern across the land. Something about those hills called to her—made her wish she could fly out the window and dwell among them—

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