Hey folks! Sorry for the extremely long wait. I had to do a lot of editing to the chapter (or rather chapters). The whole event took over two chapters so I shortened it into one. I'm a quarter of the way through the chapter after this, so for the time being, enjoy!
Chapter 28 - City of Jade
Gone were the sullen cheeks and haunted eyes--- instead, a visage filled with youth and vigour. Strands of silk replaced what was once a mop of unkempt, dark hair. Healthy skin glowed over hard muscles where bony limbs used to lay. He gazed with awe upon the mirror to see not himself as he should have been now, but what was him twenty years back.
“Is it really that surprising?” a young male voice turned his attention to another occupant of the room.
The teenage boy who spoke sat casually upon a sofa with a hand propping up his head as he leaned against the armrest. He was observing him amusedly, a constant serene smile upon his face. This was Sei'ra, the boy who had guided him back from the realm of the dead. The boy looked as if he was no older than fifteen, yet he had claimed earlier during his explanation of the whole deal that he was already nearing eighteen.
“Well, yes. He looks like he’s my age,” another voice answered from the other side of the bedroom.
There, sat a man in his twenties upon large soft bed, his legs crossed upon the mattress as his eyes continued to watch him with the same kind of awe and wonder. This was his godson, Harry Potter, whom in spite of the miracle, had not said a word about it since Sirius’s awakening.
“The charm placed upon him not only returned him to life but also his body to the time he was happiest. It’s very unique and powerful magic, but still, rarely anything surprises me anymore,” the younger of the two responded with a shrug and a wave of his free hand.
Sirius looked at him with a raised brow, “I’m sure.” He grabbed the cotton shirt on the chair at the old vanity and slipped it on.
Sei'ra shrugged his shoulders again and said no more on the matter. He stood up and stretched his arms in the air before moving for the door. “In any case, we’ll be leaving for in an hour. Do have your luggage ready by then. Regulus has already gone to ask for permission to enter from the other side.”
“Sounds troublesome... I’m really grateful for your help, really,” Harry thanked the teenager for his agreement.
Sei-ra’s smile turned somewhat mysterious and impish. “Oh, no! Don’t thank me. I’m doing it out of purely selfish reasons.”
“... So just listen to everything I say and you should be fine,” Sei'ra ended cheerily as if what he had just told them was a mere child’s play.
After much argument between Bill, Fleur, and her sister, the group members for the journey were finally decided. Not all were happy with the decision, but not much could be done to change what Sei'ra had already decided. Riley, the older of the two, said nothing of the verdict. When pulled away to be asked by Bill if he had agreed with him that it would not do well to let his sister-in-law go along for the journey without either himself or Fleur and if he could help convince the boy to decline his sister-in-law's request , Riley simply replied that he had fully agreed, but apologised for not being able to help because of his lack of influence over the boy. Everyone could soon see who had more say between the two of them, for Riley obeyed every order from Sei'ra, even though he complained from time to time when he disagreed with the idea. And so, Gabrielle was to accompany the group consisting of Sirius, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny. Sei'ra was to act as their main guide along during their travel, while Riley would assist where needed. In return for his guidance, everyone was to do whatever was instructed by the teenager without hesitation. Though concerned about giving the boy absolute power over their actions for the trip, they heeded Riley’s silent advice to say nothing and put their trust in him.
This rule and restriction did not rub well with some of them, especially Harry and Ron. Both men had form a dislike for the teen, mainly due to his secretive nature and ever smiling face. Not once would he give them a straight answer when asked about things concerning his family or his home. Often, he would change the topic altogether with ease. The other reason for their dislike was more of how they found his outward expression disturbing rather than distrustful. There was never once that they saw him without a smile upon his face. Even when not with others his grin would remain constant and serene-like. Ron had secretly asked Riley if the boy ever dropped his smile but received a negative from the other. It made them wonder if the boy even smiled in his sleep.
There was also one other minor reason for their aversion to him. On top of his dashing looks, Sei'ra had a lot of charisma, enough to charm a part-Veela like Gabrielle Delacour. He was ever the polite gentlemen to both men and women. It would all be fine if not for the fact that Hermione and Ginny seemed also charmed by him. Even Bill showed some annoyance at his wife’s small interest in the enigmatic young man, though she assured him that she was merely curious because he did not seem affected by her or her sister’s Veela allure. Ron’s dislike for him was more obvious and blatant than Harry’s, yet Sei'ra acted oblivious to it.
“So what is this purification rite that you said we have to take before we cross the gate?” Sirius questioned, looking around at the interior of the temple they were in.
Once everyone was ready, Riley had taken them all to garage outside the small cottage Sirius once lived in before Azkaban and showed to them a large mechanical contraption he explained was equivalent to a Portkey, a device used to teleport people to locations of choice. It was an odd looking thing, made of bronze-like metal and looking like a floating platform. After reassuring everyone it was safe and clarifying to them the main mechanisms of the large machine, he had them board the wide platform within minutes. It was much easier for the men to trust the blunt and open Riley than Sei'ra.
Standing at the control board, Riley worked the contraption and before they realized, they found themselves in the middle of a quiet park, where the sun had long set and the moon was glowing calmly in the midnight sky. When everyone disembarked the vehicle, Riley made it disappear into thin air by tapping a small device in his hand, explaining to them it was one used for storing large and bulky items. Letting no time waste, Sei'ra took over the journey and led them all to a long set of stairs that trailed up further than the eye could see. Ron had complained about the exhaustion they would feel after a climb and asked why they couldn’t Apparate instead. Sei'ra only smiled and repeated that they had to reach their destination by foot. So climbed they did, until they reached the very top of the mountain, where a small temple lay peacefully in the quiet winter night. They were greeted by an old woman at the main building’s entrance, dressed all in white with a hooded robe to shield her grey hair from view. She was introduced to them as the priestess of the shrine dedicated to a well-known Shinto religion god, and the keeper of the East gate they were to cross into Sei'ra’s mysterious home world. After the short welcome, they were immediately ushered into the shrine and given hot tea to warm themselves up, served by shy little girl of only seven years of age. She was wearing a long sleeved, white, wrap type of top with extremely baggy red pants that looked more like a long flare skirt. When encouraged to introduce herself, she meekly told them her name and purpose at the temple before running to hide behind Sei'ra, only peeking out a little to watch them all in silent bashfulness.
“It is to cleanse your body and soul of any harmful spirits that may have attached itself to you,” the old woman explained with a heavy foreign accent.
“Harmful?” Ron enquired worriedly.
The wizened woman chuckled lightly, “Don’t worry. They are not causing you any harm directly but they do have a tendency to attract nasty things that live inside the gate.”
Ron gulped. “What nasty things?”
Sei'ra’s merry smile felt more ominous than cheerful to the group as Riley answered, “Trust me; you don’t want to know.”
“Yuki-chan,” Sei-ra called the old woman’s attention, “Shall we proceed? It’s best if a large group like this gets to the other side by sunrise.”
“Yes, yes, but do let the dearies finish their potions first,” she told him gently.
Ron nearly coughed up the last gulp he had just swallowed, so it was Hermione who asked, “Potion? I thought you said this was green tea.”
“Yes deary,” she replied sweetly, “the flavour is.”
“Then what did you just feed us?” Ron asked, panic rising in his voice.
She chuckled again, sounding amused. “Relax, child. The potion is just to help you understand Common. The people of Naramyu do not speak English, and as Sei'ra-sama has explained to me, we do not have the time for you to learn Common by yourselves. If you haven’t noticed, we have been speaking Common for a while now.”
And Common they did speak, for what came from their lips were normally gibberish they would not comprehend, yet they understood clearly what was said and responded back as if it were a language they had used from birth.
“Although it’s temporary, you all have it easy. I had to learn the hard way,” Riley told them offhandedly.
“How long will it last?”
“A few months,” Yuki answered. “Long enough for the visit I believe. Come.”
With her beckon, she had them follow her towards the large statue of the Shrine’s deity. “Tsukuyomi, the moon god,” Sei'ra briefly whispered to a curious Hermione before Yuki led them through a small passageway behind the statue. At the end of the dim passage, lit only by the light of the candle she had, there were three sliding doors. Yuki stopped and turned to them with a warm smile. Instructing them to bath themselves in the hot spring pools that lay beyond two of the three wooden doors--- the women on the left and the men on the right, she stood waiting with Sei'ra, Riley, and the little shrine maiden in front of the middle door. They looked at each other questioningly, but did what they were asked when they turned to Sei'ra and found him smiling encouragingly. The men, however, sensed it was more of an absolute order than an encouragement.
As they sat and relished the warmth in the hot spring pools, they talked about the trip to come among other things. It was a whole hour later when Riley and the little girl came to retrieve the divided groups and gathered them back to the dark, tiny hall, dressed and refreshed.
“It was nice and all to dip in steamy water during winter, but don’t you think it was a waste of time? I thought you said you wanted to hurry there,” Ron asked Sei'ra when he came out.
Sei'ra smiled wider but said nothing. Yuki looked to Ron and explained, “That was part of the purification rite--- the cleansing of the body in the purest of waters. Now for the spirit. Follow me.”
With a soft smile in her eyes, she guided them through the final door and another dark pathway into a dimly lit chamber that held nothing but a large stone arc and a few small mirrors that reflected the faint light from a tiny opening in the middle of the room’s roof. Yuki had explained to them that it was moonlight from a small opening in one of the shrine gardens. Without saying much else, she instructed her little charge to adjust the mirrors until all aligned to reflect the soft moonlight at the various slots carved upon the arc at the centre of the chamber. With more instructions, the seven-year-old ran out and brought back a bowl of clear water. She poured it gently into a small depression in the floor, and the water quickly filled it to form the outline of a large rectangle on the stone floor. Yuki soon had everyone but Riley, Sei'ra, and her charge to seat themselves upon the floor within the rectangle for the purification rite.
“Wait a minute,” Harry called out, turning to the two men who had guided them thus far, “Aren’t the two of you joining us? You didn’t go into the springs either.”
“They don’t need to, dear,” the old woman told them. “They already have something to protect them from negative spirits.” She then handed a branch of green leaves and an odd looking bell to the little girl and smiled encouragingly, “Go on, child. It’s about time you performed your first purification ceremony.”
Sei'ra, too, showed his support in a soft grin. She smiled back, seemingly more comfortable around the boy than even Riley. She accepted the bell and branch and walked up to the seated group. Taking a deep breath she closed her eyes and flicked her left wrist once. A deep chime rang into their very hearts from the crescent shaped bell, and the air was suddenly ripe with unseen magic. As the echo faded away, she opened both eyes that seemed somewhat glazed and distant. Her hands moved, slowly and deliberately, with captivating motions. Her lips parted as she chanted foreign words, evoking further the otherworldly atmosphere around them. Gradually, tiny droplets of water rose as light shown from the pool of water. With the branch she stroked each of them, letting the mystical power course through them. When all were finally touched by her magic she returned once more to her starting spot, and with a flick of both wrists, the suspended droplets fell back to its source and the light disappeared, the enchantment in the room fading away with the echo of the bell as her eyes closed.
“Now for the portal,” the old woman mumbled prior to bending down to touch the ground before the gate.
She muttered a few words of magical incantation and the stone beneath her hand immediately lit up, spreading along the carvings like liquid long veins until the whole arc was lighted by the silver glow of the strange designs that filled its surface. Soon after, a thin sheet of soft light filled the archway. Riley pulled out a contraption from his many pockets and attached it to the arc.
“Looks like it’s still stable... but not for long I grant,” he quietly told Sei'ra who only nodded. He then turned to the group and told them plainly, “Let’s go. I don’t like travelling through unstable gates.”
When no further questions were asked, they all stepped into the shimmering veil after farewells to the two temple residents, with Riley as their guide.
One step through the thick, sticky air, and they found themselves in a field of colours. Nothing else existed in that world but them. Even behind them the door was gone. Sei'ra and Riley quickly rushed them through the journey. It seemed like they walked for hours with Riley navigating them through the unmarked path and a strange compass guiding him. Then, finally, he stopped and pulled another device of his to examine. Placing the mechanical contraption upon the unseen ground, he pushed a few buttons until a veil of light appeared before them. He turned to look at them and then at Sei'ra, who sighed and walked into the shimmering curtain. The group followed him in without question and Riley was last to enter after retrieving his contraption and running in before the veil collapsed on him. They arrived at the other side to find themselves in the exact same room. Ron exclaimed with surprise and walked around the arch to find the two gatekeepers gone and the room filled with only spider webs and overgrown vines. Without any explanation to them, Sei'ra led the group out through the familiar passageway behind the statue and out of the old temple. To their shock, the temple was the exact replica of the one they came from only that looked as if it had been abandoned for centuries. The forest had long reclaimed the land and its vines and weeds grew to cover almost every inch of the temple grounds.
“Where are we?” Harry finally asked.
Riley turned to look at him and then turned away to graze the woods with wary eyes. “Naramyu,” he answered casually while looking at his compass. “Both sides of the gates were made exactly alike, but this side has been deserted for a long while now. Sei'ra, can you sense where the next gate is?” he asked his companion who nodded.
“Come,” Sei'ra beckoned as he moved back towards the building, “We must have walked through a time distortion inside the gate. Nightfall is in a few hours. We must hurry to the city... or at least a village.”
Hermione raised an enquiring brow. “Then shouldn’t we just Apparate there? It’s faster,” she suggested, mentally wondering if the boy knew how to as she had never seen him transport himself with any other means than by foot or vehicles.
Sei'ra stopped and looked at her with an undecipherable smile, shaking his head lightly, but it was Riley who answered, “Our method of ‘Apparating’ won’t work in Naramyu. The Grand Mage’s barriers are strong enough to block nearly all foreign magic. Even my contraption doesn’t work properly most of the time, so we can’t take that risk. There are only a handful of teleportation means that will work here.”
“Such as?” Gabrielle questioned.
Sei'ra glanced at Sirius with a glint in his eyes before returning them to the enquirer, “Shadow-walking for example. Merely because the Grand Mage hasn’t found a way to block that yet... though he doesn’t need to.” Offering no further explanation, they continued their trek around the temple.
“If we’re in such a hurry, then shouldn’t we be heading down the stairs now?” Ron asked with some hint of irritation in his voice as the group followed their guide. “And why are we in such a hurry? Something wrong after sundown?”
The younger man didn’t reply and only continued walking until they reached the back of the building. There was an old wooden arch there with a thick coil of rope tied from one of its poles to the other, white, lightening shaped paper hanging at equal intervals from it. He turned back to the group and smiled warmly, “The shrines look exactly alike but their gates don’t lead out the same way. And we have to hurry because it can get very dangerous in unprotected areas like this.” With the short answers to Ron’s queries, he walked into the red gate and disappeared through as if he had just walked through, the image around him rippling like water.
“That is bloody wicked,” Ron commented as Hermione dragged him in by the hand.
After that gate, was hours upon hours of walk through heavy snowstorms. Sei-ra had been right about the weather and temperature when he had warned them to pack some warm clothing before the beginning of their journey. He, himself, wore no extra layer of clothes and still looked as comfortable as he would be in summer, while the others, Riley included, felt as if their very bones had frozen over. They made very few rest stops, and those were far in between. Mostly, their stops were made at deserted villages and towns. At every rest stop, the whole group was warned by Sei'ra not to venture beyond the town halls and village gathering halls, where they sheltered from the cold. When asked why, neither Sei'ra nor Riley would answer. It was at the last stop they made that curiosity had the better of them. While Riley was asleep and Sei'ra out and roaming about as he usually did when he claimed it to be safe to leave them for a few moments, the group snuck out of the town hall to explore, leaving Gabrielle behind to keep the sleeping Riley company and await Sei'ra’s return. As they were investigating the abandoned town, a noise caught their attention and lured them to a small house at some small street. There were more shuffling sounds before their eyes caught swift shadowy movements. They called out for Sei'ra, hoping it was only him, when the door burst open and a dark, beastly creature sprang before them with its sharp claws and jaws bared. To Sirius, however, the canine-like monster looked vaguely familiar. Hermione and Ginny screamed as it lashed out at them and the men pulled out their wands, but their spells seemed to have little to no effect on the beast. When all seemed lost and the creature was about to pounce on them from where it stood, it froze in place mid-roar, its eyes staring at something behind the small group of wizards. Slowly, it returned its two front legs to the snow covered ground and bounded away after what appeared to be a curt bow. They turned around to find Sei'ra standing behind them with a bright, yet eerie smile upon his lips.
“I thought I told you not to wander,” he spoke in a reprimanding tone though his grin remained as bright as ever, which managed to frighten them more than the monster did. “You were lucky it was a Shakoshka.”
“Lucky?” Ron near shrilled at him after recovering from the brief fear he felt from the eerie smile Sei'ra had given them. “We were almost eaten, and you call that lucky?”
Sei'ra turned away and walked at a casual pace in the direction of the town hall. He remained quiet through their walk, forcing the rest to keep their silence too. When they reached the safety of the hall, they were greeted with an awakened and irate Riley.
“Didn’t we tell you all not to go outside the hall?” he repeated Sei'ra’s chastise though in a more humane manner. “What were you thinking?”
“Calm down,” Sei'ra told him, “I brought them back safe and sound.”
“Sound enough,” Ron muttered but was elbowed to silence by his girlfriend.
Hermione hesitated a little before asking, “What’s a Shakoshka?”
Riley nearly fumed again. “You ran into a Shakoshka?” he asked incredulously. “Do you have any idea how lucky you are Sei'ra got there in time?”
“No need to be so hard on them. I'm sure they've learnt their lesson,” Sei'ra told him lightly and went to sit by the fire while ignoring them for the remainder of their rest at the town.
Riley sighed. Once he calmed he turned to them with an explanation. “Shakoshkas are rather peaceful creatures...”
“If you call attacking a bunch of people peaceful...” Ron muttered to Harry only to be shushed by Hermione and Ginny.
“... but they can be terrifying when provoked,” Riley continued as if no one had interrupted. “They normally wouldn’t attack humans, but in a place such as this, they attack anything that moves into their resting place. They’re like Hippogriffs in a way, so if they don’t think you’re threatening to them, they’ll leave. Any other beast wouldn’t have left you alone so easily.”
The rest of their journey was peaceful after that. The pattern continued with Sei'ra disappearing after making sure they were safe and warm inside the town halls at each stop they made and returning just before they were ready to leave, while Riley kept them company and distributed the food and water they had brought along for the trip. It was a few hours later that they reached what seemed like a mountain boulders. Sei'ra led them to it and into a crevice in one of the rocks. They passed a long tunnel and small cave, where they squeezed through more crevices, before reaching a small oasis hidden beneath the mountain of rocks. The cavern was huge and filled with green life, living off the light from a large spread of bluish flames at the ceiling of the cavern. At the centre of the cave was an ancient ruin covered in vines and surrounded by waterfalls. It was this exotic beauty that stunned the visiting group to silence. Paying no heed to their awe, Sei'ra moved forward towards the ruins and entered it. The rest followed wordlessly to find themselves enclosed within a room brightly lit with floating orbs of colourful lights. At the end of the room where a doorway stood, were two massive lizard-like men clothed in golden metal plates and armed with gold spears and swords. Giving a bow of respect to Sei'ra, they both moved aside to unblock the entryway for him and the group. Riley hurriedly informed the group that the two were a race of dragon humanoids and that the two were appointed as guards of the gateway to the royal capital of Naramyu.
“Royal capital? I thought you were just a small community in the east,” Sirius asked, remembering the information he had received from Harry’s grandparents decades ago.
Riley smiled. “Well, on the other side, we are just a small community--- temple priests and priestesses, ruins caretakers, tradesmen--- but those are mainly gate guardians. You forget that you are all now in a different world altogether.”
And in a different world they were. They walked until they arrived at another arc much like the one they had seen at the temple where the priestess Yuki resided. Unlike the Shinto shrine, there were many people walking about the room and occasionally conversing with Riley or Sei'ra. They worked around the arc with their mechanical contraptions and soon had the arc filled with a shimmering veil. Informing them that the gate was open and ready for use, they ushered the group through the portal with no time to waste.
Stepping out from the gate, their visions were filled with wonder. Before them was a tropical wonderland with large fields of green grass and assortment of flowers. Forests dotted the horizon. Floating in the sky among the white clouds was a colossal island and a handful of smaller isles that held upon theirs terrains majestic architectures of jade and gold, while made indescribably beautiful by the greenery and waterfalls that co-existed with the grand man-made constructions. Long and thin arcs of gold connected one building to the next. Pools of crystal clear water added beauty to the sweet serenity of the scenery, their excess water cascading like the falls from one island to the next. Strange creatures and vehicles, large and small, flew around from island to island.
“Welcome to the royal capital,” Sei'ra turned to them with a warm smile, his arm waving to present to them the stunning floating metropolis, “Ramsheire, the City of Jade.”