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The quest for hope, p.6
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       The Quest for Hope, p.6

           A. S. King
 
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12

  Impossible

  Not registering. What? No way. Impossible. Crazy. Lying? Teague? Levi? Aliatta’s head was swirling. Having your mind challenged with new information during a tutoring session is one thing. Having your perception of reality challenged is something else entirely. Teague—or Levi—or whoever he was, spoke again, though Aliatta knew she would be doing well to register anything of what he was saying.

  “I am so very sorry to break the news to you in this fashion. I should have listened to the voice that was telling me to remain in Livid form for a bit longer tonight. It is rather exhausting, though, pretending to be someone else for such an extensive period of time.”

  “Tor … Torin?” stammered Aliatta from her poor, befuddled brain.

  “Oh, he’s quite all right,” Levi was quick to assure her. “a couple of other Livid friends and I intercepted him on his way home. The other Livids merely persuaded him to take an extended vacation. I connected with his spirit and transformed myself into his likeness—the likeness of what he could be if he were to choose to follow the path of the High King rather than seek the approval and pleasures of the darkness. With those of our people who are now surrounding him—rebuking, challenging, and encouraging him—there is still great hope he may yet begin to attain to what he could become.”

  The poor girl could only stare blankly at the young man. Nothing made sense at the moment. Her dull Livid tutor had been replaced by his more interesting cousin who was not his cousin but was actually an Adama who was friends with people who had been friends of her parents … That final fact registered.

  Her attention swung to the older middle-aged couple. “You knew my parents?”

  Ian opened his mouth to reply but was interrupted by the sound of someone pounding heavily upon the door.

  “My goodness, this is a busy night,” Ian remarked with a wry smile.

  “Open up, in the name of the Duke!” called a gruff, cold voice from outside the door.

  Nearly all those present gave a wide-eyed gasp of fear. The children drew closer to their parents. Only the grey-haired Ian and the young Levi seemed unaffected. Levi looked to Ian expectantly.

  Ian nodded and walked slowly to the door. “I’m coming, sir,” he said calmly. “There is no need to break down my door.” Then he opened the door to a very frantic Sir Raz.

  The man burst into the room. His anger spilled out in a frightening force. “I know she’s in here and that tutor too! What has he done with her? I knew he couldn’t be trusted, and she was foolish enough to try to follow him on her own. It’s a wonder she didn’t get mobbed! Where are they?”

  He stopped short at the sight of one of those for whom he was seeking. She stood in a corner, staring up at him with wide, uncomprehending eyes. At that moment, the proud queen-to-be looked like a lost child, seeking to grasp hold of anything that rang of familiarity. The fight deflated out of him as he stepped forward to guide the young girl back to her castle.

  Rosemary’s gentle voice stopped him. “There is no need for alarm, Raz son of Elior,” she said. “The girl is quite safe. And now that you are here, we can better proceed in answering her question.”

  Sir Raz’s eyes shot over to Rosemary. Alarm coursed through him as his eyes narrowed in suspicion. “How do you know who I am?”

  “As Levi,” Rosemary nodded in that person’s direction, “already told Aliatta, we are friends of your parents, though I don’t believe we ever met. You were already serving and making a name for yourself as a knight at the castle in Zion when we first met your father and mother.”

  “And Levi is—” questioned Sir Raz, turning to the young man for the first time.

  “A servant of the High King and no threat, I assure you,” broke in the person of whom they’d been speaking.

  Sir Raz nodded absentmindedly and returned his attention to Ian and Rosemary. He looked around the house, walked over to the window to make sure it was well secured, paced, and finally spoke. “I suppose you may as well begin the story then. Things seem to be happening and changing quickly, and Aliatta might as well know the full truth about her birth.” Sir Raz guided the girl to a nearby pillow, helped her settle in, and then found a place to sit.

  Once everyone was comfortably positioned, Rosemary began the narrative. “Aliatta, you were born in the great city of Zion to two wonderful people named Elior and Grace. Your parents loved children but had only been able to have one other child beside you—your brother Raz, born fifteen years prior.”

  “This Raz?” asked Aliatta incredulously, looking over at her weapon’s trainer. “Sir Raz the Calculating is my brother?” Their eyes met. Blue eyes looked into a nearly identical set of blue eyes.

  Sir Raz nodded solemnly in answer to her question. His voice was abnormally gentle when he spoke, and a faraway look filled his eyes. “I still remember the first time I saw you, Little Liat. You had large blue eyes that didn’t miss a thing. It was almost as though you were aware of everything going on around you, as though you understood the depths of knowledge, even though you were so new to this world.”

  They all smiled at the description and then Ian picked up the story in his gruff tone. “Raz left soon after your birth to begin his training. At that time, all the boys in the city and surrounding countryside were being gathered together and put through rigorous exercises. The brightest and strongest were chosen to continue their training with the Knights of Zion at the castle. Your brother proved himself, again and again, rising quickly through the ranks. In three years, he had earned a position as one of the top guards at the castle. He was privy to a vast amount of secret information and soon learned that the King and Queen were looking for an heir to replace the daughter whom they had loved and lost.”

  Ian paused and looked to his wife, Rosemary, who continued the story. “About this time, a terrible sickness swept through the city. Being the kind of people they were, your parents shared everything they had and did everything they could to help those who were sick and in need. Your mother always did her best to keep you safe and away from the sickness and death around you, but nobody can keep up that kind of work forever. Your parents were no exception. After a while, they too fell ill.

  “They lay in bed, doing their best to help each other. For reasons no one could explain, the sickness didn’t get to you. You were as active and energetic as ever, eager to bring food and water to your sickly parents. One night, the food supply ran out, and you left home in search of more. You were wandering the streets when you came upon a house where the aroma of dinner was drifting through an open window. You transformed yourself into a giant rat—we still don’t know how you were able to do that at so young age—and entered the house.

  “We were all gathered around the table when you came in: Ian, myself, and our two youngest boys who were eleven and thirteen at the time. Suddenly, this giant rat came through the window, jumped onto the table, grabbed hold of some fruit and disappeared out the window again, knocking over our youngest boy in the process. It was all so sudden, we didn’t know how to respond. We ran to the window, hoping to follow the giant creature, but were stopped short by what we saw. At the edge of the street, the rat turned into a little girl who could have been no more than three years old.

  “The Royal carriage was sitting across the street, waiting. The King and Queen must have seen you transform yourself into a rat and decided to intercept you on your way out. With a toss of the Queen’s hand, one of the carriage guards jumped from his place, picked you up, and handed you over to the King and Queen. We still aren’t exactly sure what it was the act that made them decide then and there to choose you as their heiress. Maybe it was your unconscious connection to the spiritual and what looked to be admirably selfish behavior in their eyes. Perhaps they hoped that such a natural affinity for the things of the other realm would prevent you from running away from the Dark One when it was time for you to encounter him—for that is what happened with their daughter. Maybe it was the inner strength displayed in so
small a child. Whatever the reason, you were at that moment chosen to be the future Queen of Novus. In order to protect you from experiencing too much of the darkness too soon, they sent you to Earlington to be raised by the Duke and Duchess presiding over the city. Your parents were heartbroken when we finally tracked them down and related all we had seen. Erela of the High King appeared to minister to us and helped us understand that it was best to not let your heritage be known. The High King knew where you were and would be continually looking out for you.” Rosemary paused and looked knowingly at Raz.

  Something clicked for Aliatta. All this time Sir Raz, her brother Raz, had been looking out for her. And even…the High King…cared?

  Ian spoke again. “When Raz heard the news, he petitioned to be allowed to serve as your bodyguard and weapons trainer as you grew. The King and Queen agreed, never realizing that the descendants of those who had once served them were again living and serving in positions of influence. For you see, Aliatta, your great-grandfather was once their Chief Advisor. His daughter was the handmaiden and best friend of the Princess. Her name was—”

  “Raziela,” Aliatta said softly, putting some more of the pieces together. “Her name is Raziela, right?”

  “Yes, but how could you know that?” asked Ian in surprise. “No one has seen or heard from her in many years. The last we heard, she had been imprisoned, probably in Zion, and we all know that no one ever leaves castle dungeons alive.”

  Aliatta’s eyes sparked. “Then it must be her! I met her! She has the most beautiful voice, though she does look rather tired and worn down.”

  13

  Grandmother

  Ian, Rosemary, and Sir Raz looked at one another and broke forth with various exclamations.

  “Here in Earlington?”

  “Could it be?”

  “It must be.”

  “To think, all this time I’ve been serving in that castle—”

  Sir Raz finally stopped and looked directly at his sister. “Little Liat, that woman is—”

  “Our grandmother. I know now. And you must be the descendant she mentioned—the one who will help bring light back to this land!”

  Sir Raz caught Rosemary’s eye with a questioning look. Rosemary knew what he was thinking and was quick to shake her head in warning before he could answer his sister. No, do not correct her. She is not ready.

  Sir Raz nodded his agreement. If she was revolted by the idea of being chosen Queen by the physical rulers of this land, how would she react to knowing she had also been chosen by the High King to be Queen? His attention returned to his sister just in time to hear her say—

  “Sir Raz, what about our parents?”

  “They are still living and serving in Zion,” he answered with a thoughtful sigh.

  “Can I see them?”

  He shook his head regretfully. “I’m afraid that would be far too dangerous.”

  “But it could be done. I mean … now that I know this—I’ve heard the truth—you can’t expect me to continue living as I always have. How can I go on pretending to be something I’m not?”

  “I don’t know—” spoke Sir Raz slowly, mentally running a million different scenarios through his mind. “We would have to plan, make the necessary preparations. Even if we had everything in place, it would take—”

  “The help and guidance of the High King,” broke in Levi. He turned to Aliatta. “You will leave, my lady, for that is why I was sent, but it is not yet time. As your brother said, there are preparations which must be made, and until things are in place—until I hear from the High King—you must go on as you always have.”

  Sir Raz turned to Levi, a cold distrust permeating out from his demeanor. “Who, exactly, are you?”

  “My tutor,” answered Aliatta pertly.

  Sir Raz shook his head, his hard stare never moving away from Levi. His response was spoken as a challenge to the young man. “Your tutor is a Livid, Aliatta.”

  “Yes,” Levi replied.

  It took some time, but Levi finally managed to convince the protective brother, knight, and weapon’s trainer that they were indeed on the same side. Once mutual trust was finally given—somewhat grudgingly by Sir Raz—they agreed it was time to get Aliatta back to the castle.

  An hour later, Aliatta sat at the large dining table with the Duke and Duchess of Earlington as she had done every night for as long as she could remember. Tonight, however, everything felt different. It was as though she were sitting in a foreign world with no idea of how to behave or respond. She fidgeted, pushed her food around on her plate, and gave single syllabic responses to the probing questions of her castle parents. After what—to her—felt like an eternity, Aliatta excused herself to retire for the evening.

  The Duke and Duchess watched her go. The moment she exited the room they turned to look at one another, their eyes thick with concern and suspicion.

  “Something’s going on, Heldric,” said the Duchess, her voice heavy with genuine worry. “I don’t know what it is, but as a mother, I have a definite feeling that something is different. I know it is!”

  Heldric nodded and, rather than disregard her claim of having a “feeling” as he had done on many occasions, he motioned for the servants to snuff out some of the candles. Once the task was completed, he dismissed them.

  The room was now silent and dark; the only light came from the two candles which were set before the Duke and Duchess and from four small torches at the corners of the room. Shadows slunk and twisted about on the outskirts of the low lighting.

  “Show yourself,” commanded the Duke brusquely.

  Three forms materialized from the shadows—large, dark masses with a twisted humanoid shape. Perhaps the greatest evidence of their presence was the way they absorbed all traces of the light which was struggling for existence around them.

  “Speak,” commanded the Duke. “Tell us how things fare in the spiritual realm of this castle and tell us, too, what our little princess has been up to of late.”

  There is something different about the atmosphere, whined one of the creatures. I occasionally catch small traces of light where before there was only great darkness.

  “A spy?” suggested the Duchess.

  “An intruder?” demanded the Duke.

  We don’t know! Hissed one of the shadows. The lights sometimes only flicker briefly and then fade away.

  “How many lights?” the Duke persisted. “Where are these lights?”

  The forms twisted as they mumbled various responses of here and there and different places all the time and always moving. Then they paused nervously. Finally, one of them spoke up in a shaky voice. The lights more often seem to be circulating around the princess.

  “Is this problem something you can handle or must we alert the Master?” asked the Duchess, raising her eyebrow in a threatening manner.

  The black forms twisted violently and threw out frantic pleas.

  No, we can handle this ourselves.

  You know how much trouble we all would be in if he learned we had allowed workers of the Terrifying One into our domain.

  We will take care of it.

  He is so busy; there is no need to alert him.

  With a raise of his hand, the Duke brought their panicked entreaties to a halt. “Very well,” he said. “We must watch the girl more carefully. We cannot allow her to fall into the hands of the Enemy.” With that, he dismissed the Chashaks, though he and the Duchess stayed where they were for quite some time, murmuring and discussing the implications of this new information.

  14

  Warning

  Levi, wake up. A voice spoke urgently, persistently through his subconscious, dreaming mind as the sleeping Livid struggled to return to a state of wakefulness. When he finally did open his eyes, he realized the voice had not been merely in his dreams. A large shimmering figure stood next to his bed.

  “That bad is it?” he mumbled aloud.

  I’m afraid so. It is time to move—soon, if not now.
They have grown suspicious more quickly than we had hoped. We wait only for the final word of the High King.

  How much time do you think we have?

  Less than you need.

  Do the others know?

  Baldar and Seok are communicating with them in their dreams right now. I don’t think either of them are quite ready to face the full reality.

  The High King knows, though, Levi said in an attempt to calm his nerves.

  Yes, a young servant. He knows. The Erela focused his brightness more directly upon the young transmogrif. This young, untried servant had been doing well so far, but it was very possible that the trials were about to begin. Go now to the school room. The Princess is looking for you there.

  ***

  “Oh, Teague!” exclaimed Aliatta as soon as he entered the room. “I had the worst dream! There were these awful creatures! They were chasing me, and I was running from the castle! And there were these bright things all around us, and it was you and me and Sir Raz—but not Raziela! She wasn’t with us! We can’t leave without my grandmother! I have to go! I have to get her out now!”

  “Wait, Aliatta! Calm down! You must calm yourself!” Teague put his hands on her shoulders in an effort to contain in an outward way the inner turmoil that was spilling out of the frightened girl. Inwardly, he thought, I need to calm down, too. Then he turned his attention back to the frazzled girl before him. “Calm down, Aliatta,” he repeated. His voice was firm, urgent. “You must wait. The High King knows what is happening. He will show us a way out. He will also take care of your grandmother. He’s brought her this far, hasn’t he?”

  “Then why wasn’t she with me in the dream? It felt so real. It wasn’t just a dream, was it?”

  Teague shook his head, affirming that it was indeed more than just a dream. Then he continued to speak firmly to her. He must make her listen to him. “Neither was it an actual guarantee of reality. It was a possibility of the future, not a promise of it. We do need to leave—soon. As far as your dream and Raziela is concerned, perhaps there is another way out of the dungeon and Raziela will meet up with us later. I don’t know. But I do know the High King—”

 
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