Author's note: Sorry for the long hiatus. I had been real busy with school work and other stuff. I had a bit of a writer's block and only managed to get over it on the date of this post -_- ...Anyway, do enjoy!
Chapter 33 - Time
Time, echoed a soft whisper in his mind, There’s no time left.
The clinking of glass rang in the silence of the windowless room as he gathered up the empty phials onto an old wooden tray. A jingle of metal answer the sound and he quickly turned to stare warily at the dark lump among the large cushions at one corner of the room. He watched for a moment the rise and fall motion of its shallow breathing. He observed as the large lump shifted slightly and a bit more of the silken sheets slipped down to reveal a mass of ebony feathers and fur. He sighed heavily and turned back to cleaning up the cracked stone slab he had used as a table, keeping as quiet as possible.
Empty phials, holding remnants of what had been very colourful concoctions of his making, kept neatly away, he walked towards the make-shift bed of cushions where the massive form lay. He crouched down beside it on one of the many pillows and reached out towards it guardedly. He first touched the feathers lightly, producing a low growl from it. When it did no more than that, he ventured to reach for the fur. It twitched, causing him to retract slightly, but remained still when he tried it again. He stroked the glossy fur softly as his hand cautiously moved to where the being rest its limbs. Slowly, he began unlocking the heavy cuffs that bound it by chains to the battered and cracked walls. The man kicked away the unfastened cuffs and chains and reached for the figure’s head to caress the mix of mass of fur and feather. A throaty rumble resounded from it.
The weary looking many sighed of relief and smiled wistfully at the sleeping being at his feet as he continued to stroke the silken fur and feathers absentmindedly.
“The poisons are taking effect, I see,” a deep male voice woke him from his reverie.
“Yes,” he simply replied, his eyes not moving from the dark figure beside him.
“The test failed. I need a better body,” the voice informed him monotonously.
He nodded. “I’ll get you a new one.”
“Good,” it replied with cold satisfaction. “Now come to the lab. I need help with the fusion. I’ll have the girls ready.”
Without waiting for a response, the owner of the voice stepped away from the entrance of the room. Taking one more pensive look at the figure on the bed, he obeyed the order.
As he entered the cold room, he looked around broodingly at the grim sight of metallic divans and crystal tubes. He walked to one such divan and looked down at the small figure lying upon it. He stroked the fair locks that spread out around the little head like a white halo. The features upon the tanned face remained serenely still despite the touch. He looked down from the angelic face to the petite body that was covered with no more than a white sheet of cloth. Thin tubes stuck out from beneath the cloth and spread onto the floor. On the other side of the room was another metal divan that held an exact copy of the child before him; only, her hair was short and fluffy. His eyes followed the tubes from where the girls lay unconscious to the end of its route at a massive crystal cylinder at the center of the room. He watched as occasional bubbles floated up through the clear liquid. There was another body within the large cylindrical tube, eyes closed and face serene as it remained in deep slumber.
“Yes,” Sei’ra spoke the words quietly to the cataleptic body within the container, “...there’s no time left.”
The palace was in an uproar. Countless bodies seemed to be moving at breakneck speed, paying no attention to anyone wandering around without a clue. The servants were rushing about swiftly and silently— some with items carefully cradled in their arms, some putting up decorations and some speedily but meticulously cleaning anything and everything in sight. The soldiers hustled in and out of the hundreds of rooms, inspecting, stationing themselves and practicing what seemed like procession routines. All the others attended to their own assigned duties, whether it be messengers, scribes or diplomats.
“What’s going on?” Harry asked Cyrus who had managed to stop to briefly greet them on his way towards another hall with an arm full of books and scrolls.
He looked somewhat surprised. “Didn’t anyone tell you that we’re having a large meeting with all the kings and lords? I know the twins are probably busy because of it, but didn’t Kama mention anything?”
Hermione shook her head in response as she quickly moved out of the way of a speeding tower of trays being carried by an ape-like man. “No; we haven’t seen her since yesterday at dinner.”
“That’s strange...” the burly general mused, combing away slightly ruffled blonde locks out of his eyes.
“Not at all. Didn’t you know she’s preparing for the welcoming show?” a cheery voice contradicted him.
They all turned at once to look at the petite but shapely woman, who walked up to Cyrus airily. She looked rather inhuman as she seemed to float towards them, trails of her lavender dress gliding after her eloquently. Her long hair flew behind her in an unnatural shade of pink, falling to her ankles as she stopped just in front of the blonde man. She wrapped two fair arms around him tenderly, burying the innocent, child-like face in his vast chest.
“It’s been a long time. I missed you,” she greeted warmly as she released him to look at his brawny frame with striking violet eyes. “You’ve lost weight...”
“I’ve missed you, too, ya’ little imp,” he replied affectionately as he stroked her pink tresses. “How’s father and mother?”
“They’re well enough. They miss you and Kama... and Réatra.”
“We miss them, too,” he replied with a wistful smile.
“I know... So,” her tone suddenly turned bright, “who are your friends?”
Cyrus turned to look at the group beside them as if just realizing they were there. “Oh. You remember Sirius, don’t you?” he asked her, motioning to Sirius who had been standing silently between Harry and Ron, looking a bit lost in his own world.
She looked to him with a cheery smile. “Of course I do, though I didn’t expect him to stay the same after all this time!”
“Yes, well... that’s a long story,” Sirius responded quietly to the woman he had not seen in years. “You’re Cyrus and Kama’s sister, Farsiris, right?”
Her smile widened. “Fara, please. It’s good to see you again, but who’re the others?”
Promptly, she was introduced to Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, Hermione Granger, and Gabrielle Delacour, whom she all greeted cheerful geniality.
“Have you seen the twins?” she asked her brother once all introductions were over.
“You mean the uncanny twins or the little ones?” he returned jokingly.
“They’re all uncanny, if you ask me,” Ron muttered to his friends, and received a jab in the side from his girlfriend.
“I meant the girls,” she returned, unmindful of Ron’s words.
“Actually, I haven’t seen them in ages. They might be with Réatra. She’s still recovering and refuses to leave her room. And you know no one but the four of them can go in...” he trailed off into thought before remarking, “Come to think of it, not even Sei’rei’s seen her since then...
“I met him and his brother the other day, on my way back from the West. I asked him how she was doing. He looked oddly unsure and more worried than usual but Sei’ra answered for him. Then he was back to normal. It makes me think he hasn’t seen her any more than we do.
“Honestly, I’m kinda’ suspicious... well, more than usual anyway. Sei’ra’s been ordering his brother around more than normal, orders from their mother, supposedly. Even Arta has to talk to her through the Little Prince. No one has seen the girls around either, but Sei’rei doesn’t seem too worried about that so I think they’re just with their mother.”
Fara’s face turned quizzical. “That’s odd. Réatra always talks to Arta directly and Sei’rei’s almost always attached to her. Do you think something’s happened?”
Cyrus merely shrugged. “Beats me. It’s not like we can find out anyway... Sei’ra guards her like a dog.”
“Well, there is a way to find out,” a deep voice alerted them of company.
They all turned to find a dark skinned man standing just behind them. His face looked haggard and his hair dishevelled. His visible eye was weary, looking decades older than the visage that bore it, while the other remained hidden behind an embroidered patch.
Fara immediately left her brother’s side and went to wrap her arms affectionately around the tall man. “You look terrible, Toma.”
He smiled down at her tiredly. “I just got back. Could you go see Bast for me? I think she needs female company right now. Don’t get involved in this,” he warned her when she gave him a disappointed look at his subtle hint, “You’ve already got a lot on your platter. I know you’re worried about your cousin, but this may be deeper than you may realize.”
She nodded and departed with warm goodbyes to the group.
Turning to the blond, he muttered, “And General Fri’en is looking for you, Sunshine.”
Cyrus cursed under his breath, bid them all farewell and left with a quick apology for his sudden departure. It was unclear to the rest whether he was upset about the information or the exclusion, but Toma’s expression showed an understanding the reaction.
Once the siblings were gone, Toma turned to them all with a small smile, “Why don’t we go down to my office to talk about this?”
Quietly, they followed him all the way to a great wall, adorned by a magnificent painting upon its stony surface. Without a word to them, he reached for a set of five holes, inconspicuously hidden among the painted images. Once all of his fingers were placed within them, the wall disappeared to make way for a dimly lit tunnel. Toma went in without even looking back to look at the apprehensive looks on his guests’ faces.
Sirius, seeing no other means to find the answers he came all the way to Naramyu to look for, sighed aloud and followed the man he formerly distrusted so much into the unknown passage. He had no choice but to place blind faith in this man who seemed as much at a loss about Réatra as he was.
The rest followed suit after a look at each other.
The poorly lit tunnel was long and winding and constantly sloping downwards, placing more worry on their minds as they continued along it. Their doubts were put to an end, though, when they arrived at a bright office-like chamber. There were shelves upon shelves of books and scrolls. There were a few closed doors on walls opposite them, but nothing about room looked at all threatening.
However, just as the concern left their faces, one of the doors opened and a mass of tortured cries flowed into the room, making their hairs stand on end. The door opened wider to allow a body to pass through before the person quickly closed it to shut away the tormented wails behind it. He turned to look at Toma and his guests with a raised brow but said nothing. His visage looked as weary as Toma’s, but his clothes and hands were stained with dried blood where Toma’s were clean.
“If all our suspicions prove to be wrong, she’s going to kill you for involving them,” the man commented frankly as he walked towards a basin at the corner of the room.
He mindlessly washed his hands and dried off the wet with a towel hanging nearby. Taking off the bloodied outer coat he wore, he opened a hidden shaft on the wall and dumped it through the opening.
Toma sighed and ushered his guests in, guiding them to the various seats scattered across the floor.
Sirius looked at the other man warily. “What in bloody hell was with all those screams, Regulus?”
The man looked at his elder brother with a small, crooked smile. “You don’t have to look at me so suspiciously. We’re not doing anything against the law here.”
“That being said, despite all the nice things you’ve seen so far here in this city, we are still at war. Every division is headquartered here in royal palace, but those that do all the dirty work like mine are kept out of sight, of course. The Quan-Nami, the espionage and interrogation division, and the Pharatus, the assassination squad, are just two of those hidden down here beneath the palace grounds,” Toma explained nonchalantly. “Prisoners of war are kept here for interrogation. Regulus is often called in here to make sure they stay alive until they outlive their use. It’s dirty work, but someone’s got to do it.”
“That aside,” Regulus quickly changed the topic, “I hope you know what you’re doing by bringing them into this. We don’t have any concrete proof that the boy’s up to no good.”
He dropped himself onto one of the softer couches and closed his eyes as if to sleep.
“I know,” Toma responded quietly.
“What is going on?” Harry, deciding he’d have enough of all the secrets.
Both Toma and Regulus looked at him. They turned to the rest of the group of visitors and then at each other before one slumped back onto his seat and the other released what sounded like sigh of defeat.
“Well... I’m not sure exactly where to start,” Toma slowly began. “But let’s start with a little bit of our history.”
He too slumped onto a seat nearby.
“You already know what the Fillye Court is and what it exists for.” He paused to look around the room for confirmation before continuing, “What was probably not explained to you is how it is structured.
“The Fillye Court plays a role that encompasses more than merely grooming grounds. It, in itself, is organized as a mirror to the current Naramyu governing body, performing real duties though on a smaller scale that the Royal Court’s and Council’s. Candidates for Emperor and Empress command the whole team with the advice from those in position to take up spots in the Trophillia Council. The rest are separated into their respective specialty, rotating command every now and then to facilitate everyone’s learning and practice chance. Generally, there’s a preference among us to stick to certain Emperor or Empress Candidates. The ones with the largest followings are Arta and Aka. Réatra seemed second to Aka, but for those more observant, it was pretty clear that Aka took orders from Réatra behind the scenes. And eventually, even Arta started to obey her.
“If anyone paid enough attention, they would find out truly how powerful she is—as both a wielder of magic and political power within Naramyu. It wasn’t just her place as a granddaughter of a revered Council elder and Court Lady or her heritage as the daughter of the only woman in a century’s time who was powerful enough to close world gates. Réatra had a charm about her that drew people to her, especially those of power. That included Aka who had a bit of a bad reputation for only associating herself with those either equally powerful or of use to her.
“For as long as I’ve known, Aka and Réatra have always been together. Réatra is a very secretive person—she always had always been. Though she never regarded me so, I always felt a bit on the outside. No more than a servant. Her late grandmother and Aka seemed to be the only one who knew what was truly happening. Her grandmother played the advisor, and Aka was her right hand. With her grandmother’s death, Aka became her advisor and I, her right hand.
“But after Aka disappeared... she withdrew to herself. Arta became her right hand, but it wasn’t in the way either Aka or I was. He did what she ordered but he never seemed to really see the bigger picture she did. And as the twins grew older, they became her left and right hands.”
“Sei’ra on her left and Sei’rei on her right,” Regulus added casually.
“So you kind of got demoted. Where is the problem?” Ron asked quizzically.
Toma sighed heavily. “The problem, Mr Weasely, is not that I or anyone got demoted. In fact, most of us, worried as we are of her, trusted her choice. She had always done things with the best of outcomes in mind, so if the twins were better for the job, then the rest of us are fine with it.
The problem is Sei’ra.”
“Sei’ra?” Gabrielle interjected, feeling slightly defensive for the older one of the mysterious twins. “Why would Sei’ra be a problem?”
“Well...” Regulus continued in Toma’s place. “We don’t know for sure. Everything was fine for a while, but recently, Sei’ra began acting on his own. It almost seemed as if he’d taken charge of everything between the three of them. And for all of the years we’ve known her, she had always been behind everything they did. His orders, though they have not trespassed any laws applicable to his position and authority, have been tending towards the darker aspects of work here. Sei’rei has been sent further and further away by his brother to do who knows what.
“What makes everything even more suspicious is that no one—not even Sei’rei— has see Réatra or the girls since she was wounded in battle a few weeks ago. So far, only Sei’ra seems to have seen them and he’s not allowing anyone near them, not even his own brother. We’ve been keeping an eye on him even more now, but neither Toma nor I have managed to confirm anything.”
“Sei’ra and his brother’s priority had always been Réatra. Their mother had always been the centre of which their world revolves around,” Toma explained. “Sei’ra thinks of no one and nothing else. Nothing he’s done so far suggests any malicious motives either. But if there isn’t anything malicious, why would there be a need to hide it from us?”
Regulus nodded in agreement. “The twins know better than anyone the level of loyalty and care we hold for Réatra. She may not have been very open about certain things for our own good, but she had always kept to herself for our sakes; and we know it. The way Sei’ra does things is completely different. Rather than protecting anyone, he seems to be hiding something from the rest of us.”
“We’d like to know what. And if there are any malevolent intent behind what he’s doing or any harmful effects on anyone,” Toma concluded.
Everyone was silent for a while, their minds taking in the speculation. It seemed like ages later when Hermione broke the silence.
“So how do you intend on finding out what’s he’s really up to?”
The two men looked at each other and back at their visitors. It was Tom who answered first, “We have a plan.”
From the edge of his vision, Harry could see that Ron was shaking slightly as his hand gripped on tightly to Hermione’s. His own hands were also occupied, one wrapping itself around an alert Ginny and the other holding tightly onto his wand. Sirius and Gabrielle were to his other side, vigilant and prepared to fight, while Toma and Regulus stood in front of them, ready to shield the rest from the monstrosities before them all.
All of them remained very still, afraid that the first move would cause deadly consequences.
None of them had suspected that a simple espionage mission turned into a dangerous confrontation with nothing like they’ve seen before.
When the sun set to reveal a misty moon, they had hidden themselves among the shadows and followed Sei’rei around the winding maze of the Empress’s gardens to a hidden grove where fireflies danced in bewitching patterns. They had watched as he parted the vines away to reveal a wall of flowing water and walked through, pulling along a dark object as large as he was.
They had trailed secretly after him to find themselves in a maze of rocks and stone inside an eerie cave. The journey through the natural labyrinth had seemed forever, with turn after turn, until they reached to a small cavity in the stone. They had crowded around the exit to glimpse the outside without letting their presence known to the man they had followed thus far. But in looking out to find him, they saw no one. He had disappeared from sight. There was nothing but miles of barren land before them.
The vision before them was of a wasteland of barren and cracked earth, stretching as far as the eye could reach. All around were small isles of desolate grounds floating mid-air. The sky was dark, scattered with millions of broken stones and lighted by only the faint glow of the stars above the debris of rocks.
Sirius stood still as retrieved from the recesses of his memories a nightmare he once had.
In the distance stood what seemed like a ruin of a tower made of stone. It was the only thing in sight that did not seemed natural-made. It was their only option for a destination, as Sei’rei had vanished. Stepping out into the open, they were bombarded by violent winds that whipped at their hair and clothes. Wading through the blustery weather, they had made their way to the shabby ruins.
They had entered the large ruin made of stone the same colour of the dirt they stood upon when they reached it. That was when they were ambushed by monstrously large arachnid-like creatures.
The creatures sprang behind them from the large crevices in the walls and now five stood between them and their only visible escape. And as they all had their weapons ready for an attack, four more sprang from other openings in the crumbling walls and surrounded them from either sides. They were trapped.
Neither side made a move, each watching one another warily. All was still and silent except for the howling winds outside the broken walls. However, after what seemed like eons, the grotesque creatures bowed and scurried away into the crevices they came from, as if scared off by an even deadlier predator.
Thus was true when a rumble from behind them notified the group of lost spies of a presence of something dangerous. When they turned, their eyes beheld an enormous black panther with a head of dark feathers, adorned with a pair of large horns, and massive wings behind it. Instead of paws, it had claws of an eagle with long, sharp talons at the end of each claw. Its feline eyes glaring at them as a low growl sounded from its throat.
“Ifrasyris...” Toma muttered in awe before falling silent again.
They all watched in stunned silence as it jumped from the high alter before them to the ground level with them. It landed feet first and then rose into a stance, its form morphing to take the shape of a human being. And as it walked towards them, its fur receded away to reveal fair skin clothed in silk. By the time it reached the front most of them, it looked completely human save for the horns still upon its head, feathers instead of hair, claws instead of hands and feet, and great, black, feathered wings behind it.
But what stunned them the most was the familiar visage that looked back at them. With eyes of liquid gold that seemed centuries old, the face that gazed back at their astonished looks was that of Réatra Kandraka.