1. Sorry it's been so long. I had so much trouble trying not to say too much about certain things. I still don't think I've done a very good job, but I'll edit later.
2. Do comment back on the direction of the story. How do you feel about the gang entering a whole different universe of my creation?
Chapter 29 - Mother
Except for the few helpers who had tendered them refreshments and whisked away their heavy belongings, no one paid any heed to the group of awed foreigners who stared in wonder at the large bouquets of unusual flowers that filled the large hall with beauty and exquisite fragrances and the walls seemed to dance with the light of the bright sun that shone through dome roof made of gold, jade and crystal. All was quiet despite the number of bodies moving about. Even the rustling of cloth and clanks of metal armours were soft and conversations were made in hushed tones. There seemed to be all manners of beings from humans to lizard-like men that were covered in scales, stirring about their duties in an assortment of strange clothing. Still, the royal palace was alive with residents and denizens going about their daily lives.
Bewildered and lost. This was the state they were abandoned in as their two guides hurried away one after another after a delivery of news and orders from a passing soldier. Stranded with no one to turn to, they looked around awkwardly hoping for someone to notice them and question their presence, but no one gave them any attention. That was so until a tanned blonde spotted them and marched towards them with a crease on his brow. He seemed to be rather short compared to the likes of their guides, but much more muscular than. He was wearing a sleeveless shirt, which only made them seem much larger. His wrists and ankles were cuffed with heavy-looking bands of metal that clinked as he walked. When he got closer, they could see a young and handsome face which held eyes as golden as the sun. There was a small tattoo of the sun under one eye and silver rings around his right ear. Immediately, Sirius recognized the man.
“Sirius Black?” the burly blonde asked as soon as he was within earshot of them. “By the goddess! How did you get here?”
“You know him?” Harry asked in a whisper.
Nodding to his godson, Sirius smiled meekly at the approaching man. “Someone brought us here. You look... bigger, Cyrus.”
“I know. I’ve been exercising... a lot” Cyrus raised an inquisitive brow. “So you were brought here? And they just left you here like this? Not doing a very good job being a host. So who was it?”
“Sei’ra and Riley,” Ron answered with some annoyance in his tone. “You know them?”
“Ah. Those two. No wonder. I’m not sure where the cheeky little prince has gone to, but Riley should be at infirmary. Amara--- you remember her, don’t you Sirius?--- was returning from her trip home when her group was ambushed. By the way, we’re kinda’ at war here, so that’s why everyone seems really busy. But anyway, Amara and the rest are alright, just a few broken bones and burnt skin here and there. She’s probably still at the infirmary right now, and that means Riley should be there, too.”
“I don’t get it,” was Ron’s response after the long explanation.
“Riley’s the type who gets very overprotective... surprisingly.”
“They’re good friends?” Ginny offered.
“They’re engaged.” Cyrus looked at her with a blank expression as they gave him those of utter surprise. “They’re always arguing because Riley’s a worrywart and Amara is the carefree type, but really, they love each other to bits. Anyway, since we don’t know where the cheeky little prince went off to, why don’t we just go around looking for him? Come.” He began to walk and they all followed him, not knowing what else to do. Cyrus stopped after a few steps though, and turned back to face them. “I completely forgot. I already know Sirius, but the rest of you haven’t been introduced yet, have you? In any case, I’m Cyrus Kandraka. Nice ta’ meet cha’,” he spoke cheerily to them.
They, in turn, introduced themselves accordingly. After introduction was all done, they continued on their way to search for Sei’ra. Cyrus chatted away happily, carrying on the conversation without much need for help from the rest of the group.
Along the way, Hermione suddenly asked, “Why do you keep calling him ‘the cheeky little prince’?”
“Oh, that. Well, it’s just a joke, really. Though if there wasn’t this rule that no family of the Emperor or Empress may be considered royal, he would have been a prince by right...” he trailed off, but his words caught his company’s interest.
“Emperor? His father is the Emperor?” Ron asked with incredulity.
Cyrus merely shrugged. “Pretty much. But that’s nothing great, really. The High Emperor and High Empress ascend to their thrones as chosen by the ruling Council, not by birth like the clan kings like my old man, so their children don’t inherit any power or title. We just call some of them princes for fun. The Emperor and Empress rules over all of Naramyu, and that includes all the clans and races, so it’s too great a power to just be passed to an heir of no skill or talent... or something like that. You should ask Sei’ra, he knows more about this than I do; he’s being groomed to be a member of the High Council after all.”
“Wait,” Harry interrupted, “Your ‘old man’? That means your father’s a king of your clan or something?”
Cyrus shrugged, but didn’t offer any more than that. Perhaps it was because of his down-to-earth personality that he didn’t make an issue of it. It seemed he couldn’t care less of status and power. Sei’ra, too, did not make any mention of his significance in all of this though it was evident by the obedience and reverence others showed him. He held authority, yet appeared to hold no excess pride over it.
“What is the High Council?” Hermione piped in.
“Control over the whole of Naramyu is divided among the Emperor, Empress, and the Trophillia Council.”
“And Sei’ra will become a member of the Council? Sounds grand,” Gabrielle commented with a hint of adoration.
“Sounds troublesome,” Cyrus responded with an indifferent shrug.
Not much more was said upon the matter though not because there were no more questions. Hundreds more were running amuck within everyone’s minds yet none surfaced into words. And while thoughts were racing through their heads, they arrived before a large set of golden doors with intricate carvings of vines and flowers. At the very centre was a simple personification of a Shakoshka, which immediately reminded Sirius why the creature looked peculiarly familiar. It was the very same carving he had seen decades before upon a small box of black opal that contained a lock of his hair.
Seeing his apparent interest in the animal’s depiction, Cyrus remarked offhandedly, “Shakoshka--- also known as the King of the Beasts. They’re believed to be the guardians of the forests.”
When no one responded to his words, the blonde moved forward to place his large hands upon the head of the carved beast. The beast’s eyes glowed red for a brief moment before the doors began to budge. Without so much as a sound, they parted on their own to reveal the bright moonlight that shone from the roofless sky. Before them were a thicket tall trees that stood close together like an army of bodies standing to block their view.
“Looks like the Empress’s not back yet.”
“How do you know?” Harry asked, though half guessing at the answer.
He was proven right with their guide answered with, “Because the doors are unlocked. This is her private garden. She’s not exactly the most sociable creature nowadays.”
“Then why are we here?” Ginny asked as he navigated them between the trees.
“The little prince spends most of his free time with his mother. If you want to find him, the best place to look is her usual haunts.”
Now, Harry was annoyed. “You mean he just left us stranded there to find his mother?”
“Who knows?” Cyrus confessed. “If anyone knows what that kid is thinking half of the time, I’d worship them for life.”
They all were so engrossed in their own thoughts, incurred by Cyrus’s statement that they had not noticed the sound of rushing water. It only when they arrived at clearing that their attention was back to their surroundings. The glow of the moon reflected off the waterfall in front of them, giving an otherworldly atmosphere to the misty scenery. At the base of the falls where large rocks rose from the surface of the flowing waters below perched a lean figure carrying a long and heavy looking halberd, a leg dangling from the stone and his side facing them. He was shirtless except for the long sash that slung over his shoulder from where it wound around his waist. His flare pants which were bounded at his ankles clung to his legs as water dribbled off them. His neck was adorned with a loose golden ring and his wrist with long bands of gold. His right ear was pierced with a stud of white opal resting within it. He was staring into the distant, his expression blank. The boy looked like part of the scenery, still as the rocks on which he sat as clear droplets dripped off the tips of his wet, black locks. There were dark stains all over him which looked alarmingly like dried blood. They all immediately recognized him though were very shocked to find his lips in a thin line rather than the curve of a small smile.
“Sei’ra?” Gabrielle called out to him.
He turned to face them and his lips instantly turned into a frown of disapproval, his eyes glaring, further shocking the group before he pushed himself off the rock and into the deep waters with a loud splash. As the water splattered at and distracted them, he quickly disappeared before they could see in which direction he fled.
“What was his bloody problem?” Ron asked Cyrus who looked very thoughtful at the moment.
“That wasn’t Sei’ra,” he told them plainly.
“Then how do you explain who that was?”
“His twin,” Cyrus spoke with unconcern, “Sei’rei.”
Everyone of them were stunned to silence for a moment, but it didn’t last long, for Gabriel soon asked what was in their immediate thoughts. “He never said anything about that! They look exactly alike. How do you tell them apart?”
Cyrus looked at her with a small smile. “When does he ever talk about himself or his family?”
They all dug through their memories finding very limited information about their guide that came directly from his own lips. All that they knew about him was very little, and even those were gotten from either Riley or Cyrus.
“As to how to tell them apart is easy. They’re polar opposites, really... even their eyes, if you care to notice it. Sei’ra’s right is blue and his left is brown. Sei’rei’s is brown on the right and blue on the left. Also, one has his ear pierced on the left with a black opal while the other on the right with a white one. You don’t actually have to know them too well to see the difference. One obvious one is that Sei’ra always smiles. Sei’rei never does. ”
“Strange pair of twins,” Harry observed.
“Kinda’ creepy if you ask me,” Ron added.
Cyrus chuckled. “Well, we all got used to it at some point... And trust me, you don’t ever want to see Sei’ra without a smile.”
No one dared to ask him why. Instead, they all quietly followed him back out of the Empress’s private garden.
Just as they were nearly out of the forest of trees the sound of singing children reached them. Soon, a pair of girls appeared from behind the trees and ran towards the group. They danced around them in skips while repeating “We found them!” over and over in their sing-song voices as their accessories jingled with their prancing. One was wearing translucent harem pants and a short shirt with coins hanging in a row from its hem and long puffy sleeves as translucent as her pants. At her waist was fitted hip belt with a fringe of coins hanging off them. Her short, fluffy, platinum blond hair was kept neat with a band of cloth that was tied around her head, knotted into a flower at her right ear. The other had long flowing locks of the same shade, her fringe kept out of her eyes by a gold clip in the shape of a butterfly. Her shirt was of the same style though her sleeves went just past her shoulders. She wore instead, a knee-length skirt with a sash of dangling coins rather than a belt. Other than that, they looked alike. Both had tanned skin and strangely blood-red eyes that seemed eerie when one looked at them directly, even when their expressions were cheerful.
As they got close to Cyrus, he picked them up one after another with ease. He placed one upon his shoulders and the other in his arms as they squealed in delight. Only moments after the spectacle, Sei’ra appeared before them from where the girls came, a smile on his lips, assuring them that this was the true guide that had abandoned them earlier.
“Sei’ra!” Cyrus called out in between the girls’ squeals and laughter as he tickled them. “We were wondering where you went! So you were entertaining the little brats?”
Sei’ra’s smile widened slightly. “Amara wanted me to see her about something,” he explained, while looking at his guest apologetically, “She said it was urgent. Then I ran into the girls, and they’ve been following me.”
“Your mother must be busy, then,” Cyrus nodded.
“She was in a heated debate with the Council and a few clan representatives.”
“So you have to babysit the twins.”
“Twins?” Ginny asked with interest.
The girls stopped laughing and turned to the red-head with huge grins. “We’re---” one began, “---twins!” the other one finished.
“She’s Chamsae,” one said, pointing to the long-haired one.
“She’s Samrae,” the other added, pointing back.
“Cute,” Ron muttered. The two pairs of twins were enough to remind him of his lost brother who was part of a set of their own.
Ginny and Hermione both patted his shoulders, knowing what was running through his mind, though they said nothing.
“We saw---,” one began.
“---brother,” the other continued.
“He didn’t look---,” the first took over.
“---too happy,” the other finished.
“Do they always do this?” Sirius asked the two men.
“Always,” Cyrus told them with a chuckle. “Don’t worry. You’ll get used to it soon.”
“Um... by ‘brother’, you didn’t mean Sei’rei, did you?” Gabrielle asked out of curiosity.
“Uh-huh!” they replied simultaneously, their heads nodding in unison.
“All four of us are siblings. Two sets of twins,” Sei’ra explained before they could manage the question. “In any case, thanks, Cyrus... for looking after my guests for me.”
Cyrus managed a shrug, even with the weight of a seven-year-old on his shoulders. “No big deal. I’m trying to avoid Old Fri’en anyway. Mind if I tag along?” he asked, looking at the whole group for permission.
When no one uttered any dismissal, Sei’ra looked back at the brawny man with a smirk. “What did you do this time? Blow up another ship?”
“Two,” Cyrus replied with a booming laugh.
They continued on their tour of the palace with Cyrus providing most of the conversations and Sei’ra occasionally commenting on various topics. The little twins ran around, playing with each other and Cyrus without care for anything around them. They were shown all the different sections of the vast castle and given the details of the rules of residing within it. There were, though few, restricted areas that people were not allowed in. The Empress’s private chambers were exclusive to herself and her children. Even the Emperor and cleaning servants were not allowed in, which seemed particularly odd to the group but they said nothing on the matter which both Cyrus and Sei’ra seemed reluctant to talk about.
After a complete exploration around the palace, they came around a corner that led to the dining area and a man nearly crashed into Cyrus. Sei’ra had managed to stop the collision in time by holding onto the arm that was carrying a large stack of scrolls and sheets of parchment.
“Damn. That was close,” Cyrus remarked as he put down one of the twin girls from where she hung on his back. “Would have been one heluva’ mess.”
“Cyrus? Sei’ra!” the man exclaimed upon hearing the voice and seeing the boy’s face.
He turned to his side to look at the group, as his direct view was blocked by the tall mountain in his arms. He looked to be a handsome man in his mid forties, with lines at the corner of his eyes and mouth as he smiled at them. He was wearing shabbily a robe of purple and gold seemed a little large for his lean frame. His hair was an unruly mop of wavy brown strands, greying at the temples. His warm brown eyes reflected sleepless nights and his sullen cheeks, a small appetite.
Sei’ra relived the dishevelled man of some of his burden, which he gladly allowed while observing the group with some surprise as his eyes reached Sirius. “Sirius Black?” he asked.
Sirius was equally surprised by the recognition but upon closer inspection of the man’s face, his memory revived an image of a younger face of the same structure. “Arta?” he responded with equal uncertainty.
Arta laughed. “Yes, yes. Welcome to Ramsheire!” he greeted cheerily. “But what are you doing here?”
“They’re my guests, father,” Sei’ra answered for them with his usual serene smile. “Where are you going?”
“Father?” Ron inquired, “As in, the Emperor?”
The middle aged man blinked at the red-head. “Ah, yes. I see you’re well-informed... but I would rather you just call me Arta.” Looking back at his son he gave a small frown, “I just finished a meeting with General Si’an. There was some trouble up North so I was going back to my office to review the situation.”
“Odd; I just returned from there. There was nothing unusual,” Cyrus commented.
“No, not the mountains,” Arta rebutted, “The abandoned villages.”
Sei’ra’s smile turned slightly dark. “Then the North is not the only place that’s suspicious. I found an unusual number of Shakoshkas residing within the abandoned villages east of the Karkan Gate. I’ve also come into contact some Shimarok and Heerakra-Sharim there as well. They’ve been hiding out among the Shakoshkas. Some of them have gone half mad and have attacked openly. I suspect something other than the Drumaran has got them frightened to the point of insanity.”
“That is mighty suspicious,” Arta commented worryingly at the additional information. “I’ll get Toma and Hakish to look into it. Toma should be able to talk to the Shimarok better, seeing as he’s half. Well, I should get back to reviewing these reports. Perhaps I’ll be able to find something.”
“We will be heading to dinner, then. I will see you later,” Sei’ra nodded. “If you need me, just ask the attendants to find me. You should take some rest, too. You look like a nightmare.”
The older man smiled weakly at his son as a sign of acknowledgement and hurried away after Sei’ra called on nearby servants to assist the Emperor with his load.
“Your father’s overworked again,” Cyrus told the boy dryly.
Sei’ra shrugged. “What can I do? Force him to sleep?”
“We could---,” Samrae began.
“---try that,” Chamsae finished.
Their brother shook his head. “Mother said not to interfere, remember?”
Their conversations continued upon other topics. The guests were enlightened on the matter of Sei’ra’s home itself. Naramyu, as they had been previously explained, was an entire world separated from Harry’s. Unlike the one Harry had known all his life, this one was where magic was not hidden from non-magical beings.
“Long ago, there had been a lot of travelling between our two planes, but only those of the strongest powers knew of where the gates were. Eventually, it all stopped when your people decided to shield magic away from non-magical beings,” Cyrus explained. “Most magical creatures had permanently migrated here with that decision. Whoever remained could no longer move between the planes because the previous Emperor had ordered the destruction of all the gates. The one you all used to get here is the last one remaining.”
“Why wasn’t it destroyed?” Harry asked the older man.
“Creating and destroying these gates is not something anyone can do,” Cyrus answered frankly, “Once every century or so there would be one powerful enough to do so. The last person who could do so passed away before she could shutdown the last gate.”
“What happened?” Ron asked curiously.
Sei’ra gave them an undecipherable smile. “My grandmother died during labour.”
“Sorry,” Ron apologised, realizing it was a sensitive topic among the palace denizens as even Cyrus made no comment on the issue.
“It’s alright. It was a long time ago,” the young man replied with an easy smile.
“Just don’t talk about her in front of the Empress,” Cyrus whispered to them as Sei’ra moved ahead with the twin girls. “In any case,” he returned his volume to normal, “the main reason for the order to destroy the gates is that we didn’t want the Drumarans to have easy access to your world. That would be disastrous.”
“What are they?” Sirius asked with interest.
The blond shrugged. “Not really sure. They’re ghastly creatures, though. You wouldn’t want to meet one. But some centuries ago, they came from the void---the empty space between planes--- through a gate of their own and attacked us. The Drumarans are also known as world destroyers because they invade and annihilate everything they touch. We’ve been fighting them back for so long but we just can’t seem to beat them.”
The group looked worried, but Sei’ra grinned softly at them, “Don’t concern yourselves too much about it. You’ll only be staying for a few months anyway, and it’s quite safe here in Ramsheire, I assure you.”
“It’s just that it seems so much larger compared to our battles with Voldemort,” Hermione remarked and proceeded to explain to the two men, “Voldemort was an evil wizard who tried to rule over all wizard and witches in our world.”
“Well,” Cyrus began, “your world had decided to shield magic from non-users, so the scale could have been larger if it wasn’t so... or if this Voldemort had won (which I presume he hadn’t).”
Their conversations came to an end with the sounds of lecturing from a corner of the hall they passed. As they turned to sight the speaker they saw a burly guard reprimanding a slight young woman. He towered over her like a mountain, his built and gleaming armour intimidating, yet his tone and eyes showed soft concern.
The young woman, on the other hand, was a fragile-looking creature, though calm and impassive she remained throughout the scolding. She appeared thin by the visible bone structure upon her shoulders. Beneath her beige robe, she appeared to be wearing a thin layer of dark material, hugging up to her collar like a second skin. Her hair was hidden within a long headpiece of silk that fell down to her waist. With an oval gem resting at the centre and smaller ones suspended from it to her nose bridge, the piece had two sets of cloth that wrapped loosely around her head from where it joined behind the jewel. Her dress of silk was body fitting on her torso, but flowed freely from her hips to the floor, effectively shrouding her feet. A stone, identical to the one resting upon her forehead, hung at the middle of her dress-top from a chain of smaller gems attached to her wide, cloth choker. Her long, flared sleeves seem unattached to the dress, hanging from just below her shoulders. Along the top of her sleeves and the fringe of the sash around her head hung many chains of small coins of gold that chinked with each small movement.
Her face was thin and pale. Her pallid lips were set in a thin line, neither smiling nor frowning. Nevertheless, she looked beautiful beyond description and completely otherworldly with striking eyes of liquid gold.
The palace guests were stunned motionless by the sight of her. Their lips were parted but no words were formed. Her golden eyes wandered from the guard’s face to where the group stood in awe at her silent splendour, stopping at each one of them as if looking into their very souls. They all were glued to the spot by her scrutiny of them.
When Sirius finally commanded his vocal cords to work and his stubborn legs to move one step, the two fair-haired twins ran past him with expressions of glee upon their round faces, calling out in unison the word that made his heart sink down to his stomach.