As we shot through the growing darkness my anger began to dissipate.
“You should rest,” Cassius suggested, coming up beside me. I nodded wearily and moved aside so he could drive.
“Keep her pointing due north,” I directed. Cassius nodded and I moved off towards the sleeping rooms in the back of the ship.A few minutes later the door hissed open and Dameon and Brandon entered.
“It’s good she’s finally sleeping,” Dameon said. “She’s been pretty uptight since we left the Arena.”
“Might be she knew you were going to suggest Tel’ Duskstark as a destination”, Cassius said carefully.
“Maybe”. Brandon agreed, before turning to Cassius. “I get the feeling that you were unhappy with the decision as well.”
Cassius drew breath to deny it then changed his mind and nodded.
“Why?” Dameon asked.
Cassius shrugged. “I’ve heard stories about Tel’ Duskstark from an early age. It is rumoured to be a city of cutthroats and Assassins”.
“That’s partly true,” Brandon replied carefully, looking at Dameon for confirmation. Dameon nodded and continued, “The Assassin part is true, but from what Serah’s told me they are part of a Guild with a set of rules called a Creed.”
“The cutthroat bit is totally false”, Hawkeye commented as she came through the door. “I was sent there about three times by your father Dameon”.
Dameon looked at her in surprise. “When?”
She smiled at the memories; “I was part of a convoy sent by the King to establish contact with the other races after the civil war that nearly destroyed us. The other races had steered clear of the war not wishing to involve themselves with what they saw as a warlike, uncivilised race of primitive creatures. The King sent us out to all the races to show them we could be trusted as a powerful ally. Some refused to speak with us from the start but for some, like the Elves, their own race diminishing from constant raids saw that an alliance could potentially save them. The Dwarves were another race that accepted our offer but only after we had proved ourselves”.
“How did they want you to prove yourselves?” Cassius asked.
“While we were at negotiations the Gnomes launched a major attack and the Dwarves asked us to help them. We accepted and the Gnomes were quickly driven off.We suffered a few minor wounds in the battle but Dwarves were more than happy to treat us. While the wounded were being treated those of us who weren’t wounded talked with the Dwarf leaders, explaining and describing things about human society and in turn learning and understanding things about the Dwarves.”She paused and shifted position slightly before continuing, “The next race we encountered was the Thundercats. We were travelling through the Kingdom of Thundera when our supplies began to run dangerously low. Our water had run out and we had only two days of food left. We had collapsed from exhaustion and passed out. The next thing we knew we were waking up in bed in an infirmary.
The next day we were taken under armed guard to see the King. But instead were greeted by his son who everyone addressed as ‘Young Tiger’.He told us the King was sick and his health was fading. We asked if there was anything we could do. He thanked us for our offer and told us that there was nothing that could be done. So we expressed our deepest sympathy and put forward the offer of an alliance. ‘Young Tiger’ was a master diplomat and accepted our offer on one condition; that we could make peace with Ki’miri. We took the challenge and found the Ki’miri fortress without much difficulty. It’s pretty impossible to miss, getting in, however, is another story. We searched for about three hours before we found a way in, a narrow causeway spanning a gorge before the mountain on which the fortress rested. As we made our way across the bridge a voice hailed us from the walls, “Stop. Come no further”. I took it upon myself to answer, “We come on behalf of King and Queen of the Thundercats to the King David and Queen Helen of the Ki’miri with anoffer of an alliance between the two races”.
There was a moment of silence then the voice spoke again. “Leave your weapons outside and two of you may enter”. I put aside my bow and quiver of arrows while the captain of the guard put up his sword and shield. He kept the dagger hidden in his boot and I kept the small hidden spring blade connected to the inside of my right forearm guard. We were admitted entry and taken to see the King. At first sceptical, he eventually agreed if we could make peace with the Thundercats. We asked if they would consent to a meeting with the King of the Thundercats. They accepted but said they would bring along two guards. We agreed, with drew and returned to the Thundercats. ‘Young Tiger’ also agreed and also brought along two guards.
We met at sunset the next day and each party found that the other was not as warlike and savage as they thought. They also found that the long-term plans for their separate races were similar and an alliance was formed with minimal talk.
Before Hawkeye could continue a shrill beeping came over the ship’s speakers.
“What’s that?” Brandon asked.
The door behind them hissed open as I entered the cockpit.
“We’re entering restricted air space,” I said. “Stand by to land”. Cassius quickly moved aside so I could drive.
Suddenly without warning a voice cracked over the speakers. “Identify yourself”
“I am Serah Kreiss of Tel’ Duskstarks, I come in company of Dameon, Prince of Valhall, heir to the throne of Erazona, Catarina, a demi-god messenger and Cassius Wolf, adopted son of Brandon the Younger of Sammathrace.” As I stopped to draw breath, Hawkeye continued, “Brandon the Elder’s here too and so am I, Hawkeye.”
After a few minutes of tense silence the voice spoke again. “Declare your intentions.”
I frowned but answered anyway. “We are on the run from the King and trying to find a place to lay low for a while.”
“OK. You are clear to land.” The air in front of us shimmered and a landing platform appeared, jutting out of a huge pitch-black tower. We touched down and were instantly covered by the invisibility spell placed over the fortress. A door in the side of the tower opened and a group of six Ki’miri made their way forward.
I walked forward to meet them, searching the faces to see if there was someone I recognized. Three of the approaching Ki’miri wore helmets and full body armour and two were clad in the official uniforms of the Ki’miri faction leaders. The last two were my mother and a younger male I didn’t know. I came forward slowly. As I passed the others they all lowered their heads and bowed. I stopped before my mother and swallowed.
“Serah?” my mother asked, searching my face, “have you finally returned?”
I nodded silently. She moved forward slowly reaching out to me. I quickly stepped forward as my mother pulled me into a hug. After a few moments she released me and stepped back. The younger male came forward. “Mother, who is this?”
“Mother?” I raised an eyebrow.
She beckoned for him to come forward and stand beside her. “Serah, I would like you to meet Alex, my adopted son. Alex, this is your older sister Serah.”
Alex bowed his head to me. “It is an honour to meet you at last.”
As Alex straightened up I took a chance to study him. He was about my height with light skin and light blond hair. A long cowl shadowed his face and beneath it I caught a glimpse of light blue. Two long snow-white eagle wings spread out from his back and his tail was the same colour as his hair. He was clad in short sleeved white shirt covered with a dark sleeveless leather jacket. He wore long white pants, dark leather armguards, calf-high black boots and he had a short sword and flute stuck through his belt.
“Do you play the flute?” Catarina asked from behind me.
Alex shifted uncomfortably and shrugged, “I play a little.”
One of the faction leaders moved quickly to my mother’s side and whispered in her ear. She nodded and smiled at us. “Of course, where are my manners? Please, come in.”She turned around and led the way across the landing platform and into the tower. Alex followed with the faction leaders a step or two behind. The rest of us followed with the guards bringing up the rear. As we proceeded down the stairs I dodged ahead to walk with Alex.
“How old are you?” I enquired.
“Just under sixteen. My birthday’s two days from now,”Alex replied with a small smile. “I hope you can make it?”
“Wouldn’t miss it for the world,” I replied with my own grin.
Alex nodded, “Thanks. How long is it since you’ve been here?”
I looked down at the floor.“Must be ten or eleven years now.”
“Your mother‘s been so worried since she heard the King had sent out a death warrant for you.”
“A death warrant?” I exclaimed in shock. “In Sammathrace it was only a wanted poster.”
Alex shrugged, “He must have raised the stakes. It was for you and Dameon.”
I shook my head trying to work it out. “I can understand why he wants to kill me but why Dameon?”
“He seems to think that you and Dameon are planning to raise an army,” Alex mused thoughtfully, “or at least that’s what I can gather from eavesdropping on the council.”
“You eavesdrop on the council?” I exclaimed in shock.
“Please,” he begged, “be quiet. I use a secret tunnel I found a few years ago. I’m positive mother knows about it but she hasn’t said anything directly.” He paused for a moment then added, “yet.”
Our conversation was interrupted as we passed through the doors at the bottom of the stairs and entered the Main Hall. The high windows were wide open and the moonlight flowed in turning the flagstones silver. A long tapestry hung on one wall and almost as of it had been placed that way for a purpose the three high windows in the opposite wall highlighted two places in the tapestry with silver light. The first highlighted section showed a Ki’miri army led by a King with a flaming sword battling back hordes of Shadows. The second section showed a King and Queen holding up their child while the Ki’miri population cheered. The last section was unfinished but from what I could make out, it was a scene of a Ki’miri princess branded as a Thundercat. Alex followed my gaze and stopped beside me. “It’s a tapestry of the farseers prediction. They add to it every day.” He gently took my hand and pulled me away.
We followed the Queen down another flight of stairs and stopped before a locked door.She produced a set of keys and opened the door before ushering us in. The two faction leaders entered and then left through other doors. Alex went in ahead of me and threw off his cloak. Dameon, Cassius, Brandon, Hawkeye and I followed. Catarina came in last.
“Sit,” the Queen ordered, entering behind us. “Now we must talk.” We settled ourselves on chairs and stools.
“First to you Catarina, you say you are a demi-god messenger?” the Queen asked.
Catarina nodded. “I’m more of a messenger from the gods. The term ‘Demi-god’ is used for the offspring of a god and a human, not me I’m just human. They granted me with powers and a way of communicating with the gods and other animals. This staff also helps them communicate with me although I’m not sure how.” Catarina sat back. “The gods said that I was to help Dameon return to his throne.”
“A worthy cause but believe me you are anything but a simple human, Cat,” the Queen said gravely. “The gods chose you for a reason.”
Catarina thought about this for a moment before nodding. “Maybe, but I have no idea what that reason could be.”
The Queen leaned back in her chair. “Do not fear all will become clear in time.” She turned to look at Brandon and Hawkeye. “Your story is told in all races Hawkeye although the story changes depending on the race, but Brandon, I am curious of your origin?”
Brandon bowed. “Your Highness, I was a humble servant to Dameon’s father before his untimely death and after that Dameon’s brother ordered me killed so I fled to Sammathrace. I dwelt there while the search died down and have lived there for the last thirty-five years. I met a woman, married and had a son who has grown up to become Mayor of Sammathrace.”
“An admirable achievement,” the Queen acknowledged. “Dameon, your story is one shrouded in mystery. Can you tell me the truth?”
Dameon nodded. “In short I was next in line to be King but my brother put his plan into action as my father lay on his death bed. His plan was to take the throne using his age as an advantage. He stole the throne but was unable to take the crown of Erazona like my grandfather. Only a true son of Alex the First can take the crown. So no one could challenge his rule, my brother threw me out onto the street and my life as an outcast began.
Being born and raised in the Palace I wasn’t used to the way of the street kids and so was bullied and alienated. I was struggling against sickness and fever when Serah found me. She took me to the hideout and treated me until I was well. I saved her life ten years later. We lived together for the next five years teaching each other about the ways of life. We fled from my mad brother, were captured, freed and helped in Sammathrace. We met Cassius, Brandon and Hawkeye there. We were caught by the Baron, thrown in the Arena, killed the Gorog and escaped.”
“It is clear to see that you’ve been through a lot,” the Queen murmured. “This life can be hard. Serah, I know your story but you Cassius, what is your story?”
“I can’t remember much but I do remember being found by a female wolf and her two remaining cubs. I have often thought she was grieving for her lost cub when she found me but it might just be luck or the fact that the gods played their hand. I guess I’ll never know. I lived with them for six years until that fateful day, a hunting party from the Misted Realm came through…” he didn’t finish but let the sentence hang.
“I’m sorry,” Alex said gently.
Cassius shook his head. “It’s not your fault.”
“What was a hunting party from the Misted Realm doing in Valhall?” Hawkeye asked.
“That’s what I’d like to know,” Brandon put in.
Dameon shrugged. “Couldn’t tell you, I was on the street by that time.”
“No time to worry about it know,” the Queen said. “You must be tired. Alex, will you show our friends to their rooms.”
Alex stood and nodded. “I’ll room them in the royal apartments?” he asked.
The Queen nodded, a knowing smile creeping over her face. ”Yes, of course.”
Alex gestured for us to follow him. We trailed after him as he led the way to our rooms. The rooms were large and well furnished. Alex said that the Queen would send new clothes for us in the morning. Catarina and I shared one room while Dameon and Cassius shared a second. Brandon, Hawkeye and Alex all had their own rooms. Everyone was too tired to talk so we washed and went to bed. As Catarina turned off the light I snuggled down in the blankets. It was good to be home.