Sorry for the long wait. Had to edit a few times, plus the busyness with my new job...
Chapter 36 – Nightmares & Visions
Réatra opened her eyes and found herself seated within some kind of round shell. There were vines growing all around the circular room, reaching up to the ceiling along the stone walls that were strewn with carvings of ancient words. Soft light came from the glowing flowers of the vines, giving off enough light for her to see everything clearly. Looking down, she saw she was naked, bare of anything but for a large stone necklace. Some kind of translucent, warm, thick liquid submerged her waist-down where she sat. The sticky substance was all over her, dripping slowly from her long dark hair. There was no one in the room but her and all was silent. After scanning for any signs of movement or sound and finding none, she rose and scoured for the exit. There was none that she could see.
She moved to the walls and grazed it frantically with her hands to find some sort of chink or parting. Searching and searching, she came by an indent in stone, shaped curiously like the pendant hanging on her chest. She took pendant into her hands and traced the outline of the sun it was shaped after. At the centre of it was a gem as red as blood. It looked vaguely familiar.
“Risteard…” she whispered, her voice sounding hoarse to her own ears.
Suddenly, she felt a drop of hot liquid stream down her cheek. A hand reached up to touch it and found it wet with tears. She was crying and she couldn’t comprehend why. Her heart suddenly ached while images flashed before her mind.
It was late at night and the full moons were high up in the sky. The largest one of the three seemed even larger than usual. She sighed forlornly as she stood there at the balcony of her room. There was a rustle that came with the soft, warm breeze, followed by a soft thud upon the tiles behind her. She turned with a startle.
Before her, she saw a massive feline with a head full of dark green feathers and a pair of large menacing horns protruding from each temple. Wings twice as enormous as its size folded back as it stood there on its hind legs. She watched as the dark fur and feathers receded to reveal tanned human skin over rippling muscles and the face of an Adonis. He was bare-chested, wearing only simple black trousers. His height was easily a whole head above hers and his frame stocky and heavy. His jaws were well defined and his lips, full and luscious. Longish curls, as dark green as the feathers that once crowned his head, fell gracefully over his eyes. Without a word, he opened his arms to her and beckoned her over with eyes as deep and dark as the purple skies above them.
Of its own will, her body moved towards him, to be enveloped in his arms as he held her tight. She buried her face into his chest and he into her hair, breathing in her scent as if it brought him life. He pulled away briefly to look longingly into her eyes, then wrapped a hand around the back of her neck and roughly pulled her into him until their lips crashed, hungrily devouring her lips and her breath.
What seemed like eons ended and he pulled again, releasing her neck from his grip but not his hold around her waist. She could feel her cheeks grow hot as she panted, heart beating furiously.
“I missed that look,” he mused, a smile creeping onto his face.
She didn’t answer him. She just leant back into his chest, feeling the heat spreading from her cheeks to the rest of her face and growing hotter and hotter. He chuckled and lifted her up into his arms as if she was no heavier than a feather, carrying her bridal style inside the dark room. She held onto him tightly, as if afraid he’d drop her and he smiled at this. He gently put her down upon the soft mattress of her large bed and laid down beside her, taking her into his arms again as he relaxed against the soft cushions.
He sighed, contently.
“If I could just hold you like this every night, it would be heaven,” he mumbled into her hair.
He moved his hands about, caressing her soft skin through her silk gown. He kissed her again and again. It was a ravenous kiss that she received and returned timidly. As she did so, he shifted and put half of his weight onto her. His hands continued to graze across her entire back and then along her side until he reached her thighs. He slipped a hand under her gown which produced a sharp intake of breath from her. He halted and looked into her eyes.
He heaved a sigh and placed a chaste kiss on her lips before rising to sit at her feet.
“Sorry,” he muttered sincerely. When she rose to embrace him from behind, he smiled forlornly. “I’ll be patient. I’ll work my way up until your parents cannot refuse me. It’s not long now…” he spoke with determination.
That was when she started crying. He turned to look at her with worry when he felt the wet tears upon his shoulder. “What’s wrong, love?”
She didn’t speak. She only shook her head steadfastly. When she looked up into his eyes again, he was suddenly filled with rage.
“No…” he uttered in a bare whisper. “You didn’t-…” He grabbed her fiercely by her shoulders and shook her. “WHY?” he demanded.
She kept shaking her head, but gave him no answer. His demeanor suddenly turned ice-cold. Without any further words, he got up and stormed out through the balcony he came through, transforming back into the feline beast he was once before launching himself into the air off the railing, leaving her to remain sobbing into the now empty bed.
She didn’t see him for years after that. Not until that day that she dreaded the most.
She was standing solemnly beside her groom before the Emperor and Empress, ready to receive their blessings. She turned to look at the man to her left and she could see him turning to look back at her with a beaming smile. He quickly turned back to face the two in front of them when the Emperor began his speech, but she continued to observe him quietly. He was thin and willowy, looking very much pampered and weak though well groomed, while she was shapely with curves that could make any man filled with lust. He had fair skin where hers was olive. His hair was a glossy light blonde, starkly contrasting her locks that were as dark as a moonless night. His eyes were black, but lackluster, a far cry from her own vibrant golden orbs. She didn’t know him well, but she heard enough from her siblings about how proud a man he was, yet weak in character, never having once to take on any responsibility. She knew him to be talkative and in whatever brief moments with him, she found their interactions unbearably boring as he seemed only interested in himself. Everything about this pairing seemed unsuited, and yet here they stood before her parents, blessed to be wedded.
She didn’t want to agree with the arrangement made by her parents, especially so because she knew her heart already belonged to another. But her parents didn’t accept him. A marriage with him didn’t do anything but bring more shame to the royal image her family upheld. He was from an outcaste noble family that had once attempted to usurp the throne. As fate would have it, they met one fine day when she was no more than a child of seven years and he, a teen of seventeen years. She had wandered far from her brother’s guardianship and found herself whisked away by outlaws in that shabby town they visited. It was then that she met him first when he came down to her rescue and returned her to her family. Her rescue had recovered some of his family’s credit in the people’s eyes and allowed them to return to the capital after decades of banishment. They met secretly; mostly for him to entertain her with stories and game. He had found himself growing attached to the child he had come to regard as a young friend. And this continued until he had to be sent away to train under a wizard. When he returned years later, she had grown to become a full-fledged woman, and one though extremely bashful, was as captivating as the moons themselves. When they met again, it wasn’t difficult for his friendship to turn into love, and after months of cautious courting, he gained her heart. But it was not him that she would wed. She had brought it up to her dearest brother and he brought it to her parents’ notice. They were swift in diplomatically separating them through titles for him designed to keep his distance from her. He knew their devise and he understood their reason, so he did what he could to redeem his family name enough to allow for a union blessing. He knew eloping was not an option for her who was brought up to believe adamantly in her duties as a princess. He explained this to her and she agreed to forestall any political union arrangements by her parents.
However, before they could reach this aim, she was forced into an agreement. The real person behind the scheme, she didn’t know, but she had agreed and there was no way out now.
“…with that, I pronounce this man my son and my daughter, his wife!” Her father and Emperor declared.
With the cheers followed, she felt her soul die away.
A maniacal laugh resounded to the grand hall, silencing the celebrative noise. It was followed by a crash and the chaos that erupted as hideous creatures swarmed and murdered. While her groom cowered behind her, she swiveled on her feet to look for the source of the laughs and fixed her golden eyes upon a pair of deep purple ones. There was a flicker of recognition, followed by indescribable rage, and then utter madness. She barely had time to see the rest of the owner of those much-altered eyes before a familiar pair of hands wrapped around her arm and pulled her away the grasp of one of those hideous creatures.
Her mind was numb and her body moving on its own accord, following the pull by the person in front of her. When she came to, she found her brother yelling out to her. She turned to see him looking frantically for her as his hands were blasting away the creatures with whatever magic he held within them. She turned around again to look at the slimy claws that had themselves wrapped tight around her arms, drawing from them her blood. She watched as those pair of insane purple eyes approached her and felt hot tears trickle down her cheeks. He came close, and instantly, she caught his scent and her body reacted with a shiver by habit.
“Do you like my work?” came sneer from the lips that once whispered sweet nothings to her.
When she didn’t respond, he violently grabbed her chin. “Are you not going to say anything??” he growled angrily at her. Then let her go casually, calming down instantaneously, “Oh, I forgot. You’re mute. Forgive me, princess. It’s been a while that I’ve been cooped up in my lab. I forget easily.”
At this he gave the beasts that held her captive a stern look and they released her and bounded back into the battle behind them. He roughly grabbed her arm and half-dragged her to an empty room. He threw her with full force into the wall at the end of that room and pinned her there by her wrists. She shook slightly, frightened by what was once a lover but now a complete stranger. He buried his face into her neck for a brief moment, breathing in her scent.
“But it was very hard to forget this scent…” he whispered.
Suddenly, he bit the soft flesh there. She screamed but no voice came out. He refused to let her go. He suckled on the blood that flowed from the fresh wound, relishing it as if it were the source of life itself. He pulled away to look at her terrified eyes and dread passed his face for a moment before an evil smile took over. She could see what was once a handsome man had now turned into gruesomely marred being, covered in scars from both blade and fire. His large physique made him look almost akin to the monsters that followed him.
“Would you like to know what all those years felt like?” he asked sweetly, though his voice was laced with insanity. “What your dear parents did to me?”
Here he moved in and licked cheek. She shivered.
“Disgusted now are we?” he asked, chuckling evilly. ” You shouldn’t have helped me escape. You should have left me there for dead.”
She trembled at first, but at those words stilled her body and looked deep into his eyes. Something within her lit up again and with a sad smile, she shook her head slowly, successfully silencing him from sheer confusion at her reaction. He suddenly released his hold on her and she reached out a tender hand to touch his face, fear utterly gone from her eyes. He backed away from her slightly, as if fearing her touch now, but she kept reaching out. She parted her lips.
“Keefll…” she spoke for the first time in her life with a voice so sweet and sorrowful it shattered completely what was left of his broken heart.
After recovering from the shock and daze, he finally moved a hand to touch her face gently. “Réatra-” was all he could say because a spear had pierced through his abdomen.
The both looked down to find greenish blood seeping from the charred skin of his stomach. He dropped to his knees and she followed to try to catch him before he hit the ground, but found herself whisked away from him by none other than her brother. She fought his hold soundlessly but violently, but her brother held her firmly.
“Réa, love, he’s not the Keefll you love anymore!” he shouted back at her, reading her thoughts of protests, relentlessly dragging her farther and farther away from the wounded man. “Please, darling, don’t fight me. Let me get you to somewhere safe,” he half pleaded, half commanded her.
Her struggle was futile, for he had successfully hauled her down to his private chambers and into a secret room within them she never knew existed. Before she could react any further, he had thrust her into a transparent, egg-shaped dome and shut it close. He stood there before her with a pained expression as thick liquid slowly rose from the base of the dome. She banged her fist onto the clear glass-like material to no avail.
“I love you, my sister,” came his voice, slightly muffled by the glass that separated them.
She shook her head furiously and then pounded even harder when she saw the fatal wound at his side which he had so far concealed from her. Tears flowed freely down her cheeks now as she began to give up on ever breaking through the solid glass.
“Risteard…” she cried softly.
Her voice seemed to reach him as a look of surprise crossed his face before a wistful smile settled in.
“I’m glad you finally found your voice, love.” He told her affectionately. “I wish I could hear you sing with it…”
With those last words, the liquid completely filled the dome and she began to choke on it, feeling her consciousness drift away the more it went into her lungs.
Visions drifted through her mind, filling it with replays of Keefll’s and Risteard’s death— the death of her lover and her most beloved brother out of all her siblings. She saw them being ripped apart by those ghastly things. But other images flashed by too, images of death and destruction, images of entire worlds being annihilated. And among all these visions was one of the birth of a beautiful little girl, one that she knew was born for the sole purpose of putting an end to all nightmares created from the insanity her family had caused. These visions near drove her mad, but then, she woke up.
She blinked away tears and looked again at the pendant at in her hand. It was the pendant that his late wife had given him as a gift. It was his most valuable possession. Her brother had somehow slipped it around her neck during the confusion. After giving it a tender kiss, she took it off her neck and pushed it into the slot in the wall. It fit perfectly with a click that resounded through the whole room. Within seconds, the walls began to shake as a thin line was formed from the floor to the ceiling at the very spot the pendant was. Soon, a wide opening was before her as the rumbling stopped and everything stilled. On the other side of the opened walls stood a beautiful woman with hair as crimson as wildfire and eyes as green as emeralds.
“Hello, Réatra…” the woman spoke with a sultry voice, upon her lovely visage a soft smile. “Risteard told me you’d be here. I’m Aka.”
And then, she woke up.
You really think it’s him, don’t you? Réatra thought to herself as she sat up, her hand wiping away whatever sleep was left in her eyes.
I’m not sure… came the response in her voice. But she knew it wasn’t her. What will you do this time when we meet him again?
What I’m supposed to do, she responded to the voice inside her head. If Kelelf really is Keefll?
There was no reply for some time, and just when she thought the voice had gone away, it spoke to her thoughts again, It doesn’t matter. We are no more than lost souls now. Perhaps when this all ends, we can both be put to rest finally… Don’t you find it strange? Having me inside your thoughts?
Réatra contemplated for a moment, her eyes finally adjusting to the dark room she was in. I’ve seen stranger things… Confusing at first, I confess, but I’ve gotten use to it I suppose. Your nightmares and visions are annoying though…
There was a light chortle resounding within her thoughts. Sorry, love…
“Réatra?” asked an uncertain male voice.
She shifted her eyes over to the entrance to find him peaking in cautiously, his eyes trying to look for her in the dark. She watched him breathe slowly and calmly, his chest rising and falling rhythmically. She listened to the steady heartbeats and took into her senses a painfully familiar scent—pine and moss and something else indescribable.
You should talk to him came a light mental nudge. You’ve been cold to the poor boy for goodness knows how long.
Shush, she reprimanded it. Go back to sleep.
There was a light chuckle and the heavy presence in her mind was gone.
She huffed noiselessly and composed herself. “What?”
He seemed at a loss for words. “Erm… Sorry, I thought you were still asleep…”
“Then why are you here then?” she asked back as-a-matter-of-factly.
He was quiet for a while before answering, “I… erm… sorry, I just…”
This time she sighed aloud. “Come here.”
She heard him move in after a moment’s hesitation. He came over to where she was, cautious to not bump into any objects that may be in the way and stood by the edge of her bed. He stood there waiting silently.
“Sit down,” she commanded, and he obeyed. “Now, what do you want?”
“I-…” he trailed off, not knowing what to say, then finally heaved a big sigh. “I just wanted to see you.”
“Well, you saw me,” she remarked cooly.
He grunted. “Damnit, Réatra! Stop acting so cold around me!”
“I’m not acting,” she responded.
“Then are you telling me that you’re indifferent about me now?”
She didn’t answer, only sighed inwardly and closed her eyes. “What would you like to hear from me?”
“Why you suddenly cut me off…” he finally answered.
She sighed aloud. Without any need for permission from her, he moved touch her arm. She reached out a hand and touched his cheek. “I’m sorry, love. You just can’t stay by my side anymore.”
“Why?” he asked in a near whisper, sounding desperate. “I have sworn to stay by your side until I die. I’m still alive, aren’t I?”
She shook her head. “My path doesn’t cross yours anymore, Toma.”
“My path is your path.” He moved closer, taking the frail hand at his cheek into his own large hands. “I decided that long ago when that three-year-old girl with golden eyes saved the insane Shimarok from the tiny little village in Africa…
She smiled wistfully at the memory. It wasn’t long after she ordered the painting of her mother to be burnt that she followed her great-uncle on urgent duty.
Arfzan Kandraka had been called along with a few other Trophillia Council members to rescue the small human village that was under attack by a monster, suspected to be part Drumaran. When all the elite fighters failed and a last resort to use powerful magic to kill it was decided, the young Réatra who had escaped her nanny’s watch approached the fearsome monster and was within arm’s reach before anyone managed to notice her. While the beast snarled and screeched at her, she stared at it with her usual unflinching and seemingly dazed eyes. Instead of attacking her, it halted at her unperturbed manner, confused. When she reached out a tiny hand to touch its scaly face, it collapsed into her arms while transforming into no more than a malnourished ten-year-old boy.
The council would still have killed him if not for their inability to pry the two apart. And when they least suspected, she appeared without notice or permission in the middle of their secret meeting with the Emperor and Empress.
"He is a monster! We cannot leave him roaming about!" exclaimed one council member.
"If he is a monster, then so am I. If he is to be executed for being what he is, so should I," Réatra spoke as if in a trance, surprising everyone in the room, for no one had even sensed the presence of her life-force even though everyone was highly alert the whole time. Her eyes were still as glazed as it had been for the past few years that was her entire life, and her voice dull and rusty from disuse.
"Réatra! How did you get in? There are guards at the door; they would not have allowed you in. And what ha-" her great-uncle asked.
It did not seem as if she heard him at all, for she interrupted his enquiry only to continue, "Toma will stay with me from now. If you kill him, you will have to kill me, too."
"Child." the empress spoke, rising from her seat. "We cannot kill you. You have not done anything wrong. But the boy, whatever he is, killed ten people," she explained calmly, not quite sure whether her speech was simple enough for a child of four years to understand. “You shouldn’t be protecting bad people.”
Réatra turned her unfazed gaze towards each person before stopping at where the emperor and empress were situated at the centre of the round table. The next few words that passed her lips chilled the whole room.
"I killed my own mother at birth. He’s got no more blood on his hands than me. He has done nothing but defend himself from vicious and uncalled-for attacks. If anyone is guilty of slaughter, it would be those human villagers who murdered his sick twin and provoked him to lose control over is powers...He is now under my protection. If you take his life and do not take mine, I will slay every single being in this palace."
Without another word, she exited as soundless as she entered. Not a single person in the whole room had felt her presence the entire time, making her words even more disturbing than they already were.
Toma chuckled as he too remembered the rumours he caught when he finally woke up after the ordeal. “You were a terribly frightening child. Extremely cold, but I knew from that day you saved me that you had a heart warmer than anyone that ever existed. You gave me life, love, and a name… And for that, I swore to serve you for as long as I live.”
She reached out to touch his cheek as she did all those years ago. “You did and you have served me very well. But it’s time I let you go… Where I’m going, you cannot follow. If you wish to continue to serve me, then do so by staying where you are. Help Arta protect and rebuild Naramyu. Keep a watch out for Amara, Riley, Reg, and my idiot cousin. Aka will be there with you to do that. Stay here with Bast. Make her happy.”
He sighed in submission. “I understand… ”
With that, he left.
She sighed aloud again. So he’s settled, I suppose… came the voice again in her mind.
And the other child?
As if on cue, a knock came from the door. Réatra didn’t move or make a sound, half hoping the person would give up and go away. But the presence of a living being she still sensed at the other side of that make-shift wooden door.
You can’t ignore him forever… the voice remarked softly. You have chosen a hard road, but that doesn’t mean you have to deny yourself love. I know I’ve made a mistake with it, but I would never regret what I felt for Keefll even now. If I could turn back time, I’d have chosen to act differently, but I’d still choose to love him.
After that, the presence left again, but this time it seemed to do so completely. Réatra shook her head slightly as if to rid herself the chaotic thoughts that now flooded her mind with the absence of the presence. Raising an arm weakly, she waved it to one side, sending enough unseen energy to the door, which slid away at her command.