Chapter 21 - Rhyker
~ Eighteen cycles of the seasons - 5 Years earlier ~
Eira looked up from the stack of scrolls and ancient tomes she had delivered to her private rooms, “Lia, I know all of this is rather abrupt, but I do not have time to spare.” she said, letting her eyes slide back to the page she had open.
“You knew about Laela.” Lia said, trying to make out the titles in the stack closest to her.
“I did not organise it, but yes. I saw her acting at your side, she bore the sigil, but she was older and wielded such power as she...” she paused, tracking a finger down the page momentarily, “I knew it was to come to pass, but not how or when, the how and when always seems to elude me.” Eira said distractedly, quickly leafing ahead a few pages with a frown.
“Is that why…” Lia stopped as Eira’s ice-blue eyes met her amber.
Eira nodded, “Why I had Erann disperse the guards? Yes. As soon as I realised who was knocking on the other side.”
“The Crimson Demon of Aldaliss.”
“Hmmm? I have known for a long time that you both will meet, that I would even be in this room having this conversation, though not its details, but I was completely unaware that he would be outrageous enough to force the portal to such a degree that would require me to have some remodelling done in the entrance.”
“You just said we will meet, Mama.”
Eira nodded without looking up, a shrewd smile growing on her lips, “He will be here for a fortnight, maybe more. It would be ridiculous to say that you wouldn’t.”
“Do not concern yourself, you will not be interrupted, follow your heart without fear of discovery.” she stopped, laying the book open and meeting her daughter’s eyes, “Lia, you know that I don’t like to discuss what I have foreseen. But, I do not want you to feel conflicted, hurt or to be second guessing your choices. I will not be with you on the path you choose to take after graduation.”
“Mama?” Lia said in concern, watching Eira stand and come to her, taking her hands in her own.
Eira looked into her eyes, “I need you to remember and trust in my words.” she watched as Lia nodded, “He will come for you, he can be trusted, you will not be abandoned. Accept what would normally be scrutinised, the answers are not what they appear at first glance. Do not doubt what is between you, it will all become clear in the moments before you are reunited. Finally, do not fear the loss of those caught suddenly beyond your reach, they are safe.”
“Are you suggesting that we will…”
“I am not suggesting anything, my wonderful daughter. I am assuring you that there is nothing to fear. You have experienced so much pain and loss, so much grief. I could not willingly allow you to hurt in these ways when a simple assurance from one who has the gift of foresight could protect you.”
“Mama, you are telling me he will be mine.”
“I am only confirming what you already suspect. The moment your eyes met his in the hall, you have felt his presence as he has felt yours. Maybe you haven’t accepted it yet, but your curiosity and subconscious decisions brought you to me.”
Lia frowned and chuckled, “I came to ask about Laela and going to meet with your tailor to see about clothing.”
Eira raised an eyebrow, “Please Lia, then why did you check with the servants if he had settled into the guest quarters before coming to me? When you meet with Laela on the stairs she will tell you that he has been in the old library all night.”
“You saw that?”
Eira laughed as she stepped back around her desk, “No, but I am sure she will find out from the servants, since you are curious.” she sat, immediately taking up the last page she had been checking, “And when was the last time you came to me about visiting Kieleanna’s? If she is there, give her my regards. Now, leave me be.”
Lia smiled, “Thank you, Mama.”
“Go, please!” Lia heard Eira return as she walked from the room and followed the passage.
Reaching the door to the entry hall, she opened it without a thought and stepped through, letting it close behind her. She frowned, looking up, her breath catching in shock. A polished ebony floor spread out before her, she quickly called upon her thread, her eyes flaring to life. Spreading her hand, ethereal fire spread out around her until the walls were met, eight walls of dark interlocking dwarven stone work and doors set at every second. Lia’s eyes narrowed, she quickly turned back to the door that just closed and tugged it open to find the Sanctuary’s forest at night. Without a second thought she moved to the next to find her rooms beyond bathed in the soft glow that imitated moonlight. The third was late afternoon sunlight streaming through the stained-glass windows of the old and empty library.
Lia stopped and breathed deeply, the silent library beyond the threshold and the room of ebony and stone at her back. She could feel the texture of the wrought iron handle gripped in her hand.
“Is this how it will be?” she said to the empty chamber as she closed the door.
“You watched alongside and before you leave you set these four memories for me to relive, or were you guiding me from the start?” Lia said as she slowly walked to the remaining door.
“Or is it like you said, maybe this is what I need to see. What is hidden here that now has meaning?” she quickly glanced at the other doors, “Am I this close to waking?”
Gripping the handle of the last door, she knew what lay beyond, “This is the moment I find out he had left, that a female messenger had arrived and he had left with her.”
She withdrew her hand and pressed it to her chest, the fiery seal of destiny burning brightly, “So close.” she said as she turned, her eyes fixing on the first door, the knowledge of what lay beyond brought colour to her cheeks.
Pulling it open, she stepped through and into the forest, the scent of moisture in the air and of grass underfoot.
“Lia, are you sure?”
“Of course Laela, I bathe in the forest every other day.” Lia said as they walked, carrying a towel each and dressed in light silken robes.
“You don’t use the…” she stopped, her eyes on Lia as she laughed.
“The baths? Of course I do. But on nights such as these, it would be a waste to not enjoy it. Look.”
Lia gestured to the trees, a faint glow building in response to the full moon breaking over the horizon and making the foliage above come alive with a silver shimmer. The faint glow strengthened, forming like a white mist among the trees, tendrils snaking at knee height while the eldritch energy of the fae responded in kind.
Laela gasped in wonder, looking to Lia in amazement, “Is this normal?”
Lia smiled at Laela’s exclamation, leading her through the forest that had expanded its domain. Their bare feet cushioned by the grass of the forest floor. Earlier that day she had taken Laela down and into the city to have new clothes made for her, hoping to meet Kieleanna at her invitation-only place of business. Knowing that the strange, white-eyed moon elf would have caught her attendant by surprise. Instead she found that Kieleanna was not in the city, but abroad and her assistant would take care of them for this visit.
Laela had protested greatly when Lia had ordered a number of clothes to suit different occasions off her measurements. Making sure to remind the younger fyrelf that from the moment she accepted the station her life was changed. She was no longer the quiet, shy student in the class who would be occasionally seen in servant’s wear, scurrying to deliver supplies to the master’s rooms. Now she had autonomy and a level of authority that would take time to adjust and grow into.
“You will find those pools are warm even in the middle of winter. The water is not normal either, it has revitalising qualities and on nights like this even more.” Lia said, casting a sidelong glance at Laela.
A few moments later the path leading to the waters came into sight. The women walking along it in a comfortable silence.
“Lia, thank you. I could not, I-I mean to say that…” Laela said before falling silent again.
Lia smiled gently, “I wanted to help you, and this is the best way I can. It might be self-serving and selfish in a way, to impose as I have. But I feel a kinship, both in race and background despite our differences.”
“I hope that we can become friends, not just Mistress and Attendant.” Laela said suddenly.
Lia laughed gently, “We are already.”
“We are? I have never had a friend here.”
She looked across at Laela, “You do now.” catching the girl’s smile before noticing the series of pools nearby and leading them over.
They walked among the trees until finally they stood before the largest, the unhurried steam wafting off the calm surface of the water. Laela let out a quiet gasp and gripped Lia’s arm. They were not alone.
Lia leaned in and spoke quietly, “I could feel that he was here. Use the far pool, I will keep the rogue engaged here so that he does not see you.”
“But, Lia? Surely you…”
Lia raised her brows and jerked her head back toward another pool further up the trail.
“Please, I will be fine. Enjoy the water and do not wait up for me.”
Laela’s eyes widened, staring at her senior in shock at her daring before nodding. She quickly cast a glance at the man in the pool, his head resting back on the edge with his eyes closed.
“It is the…” she stopped, noticing the look on Lia’s face, “Who else could it be? Swear that you tell me later?”
Lia nodded and winked, pushing the younger girl back in the direction they came, watching for a few moments as Laela gave her a quick glance back before disappearing behind some trees where the smaller first pool was hidden.
Lia walked boldly to the water’s edge, her amber eyes on the man soaking on the other side. His well-muscled arms and shoulders visible through the clear water.
“I know you are not sleeping.” she said.
“Just being polite, to give you and your friend a chance to leave if you so decided.” he said, his voice calm and a little rough around the edges.
“I have sent her where she can have her privacy.”
He chuckled slightly, his eyes still closed, “And you remain to stand guard? I fear that you will have an uneventful wait.”
Lia stared at him, that same tentative pull in her chest as the day before when he arrived, “What is there to fear? I can keep an eye on you while doing what I came here for.”
She almost laughed as his eyes snapped open, that sky-blue now close, “Have you not seen a naked woman before? Surely a warrior such as yourself could handle the discomfort of bathing with one of the fairer sex.” she said, surprised in her own boldness.
Lia nodded with a smile.
“From my experience, I would not say fairer. More conniving, calculating and manipulative for sure. Fairer on the eye, that I will agree with.”
“Each to our own, Crimson Demon.”
“Do as you wish, I might be inclined to apologise, but it seems I am at a disadvantage. We have not been introduced and yet you speak with familiarity as if it holds some mystic power over me.”
“I do have mystic power over you.” Lia said bluntly, pushing herself to act brazenly.
She heard him chuckle as she dropped her towel on the stone steps that ringed the pool, she glanced at him quickly over a shoulder noting his raised eyebrows. She did not know what came over her, but her mother’s words gave her a sense of freedom beyond the norm. She could sense no malice from him, but instead, embarrassment and respectful anticipation as if he were daring her to continue. Slowly, she turned, her eyes on his as she undid her sash and let her robe hang open, the bare expanse of her stomach and inner thigh exposed to his gaze.
His eyes flickered down, an almost imperceptible movement before they returned to hers, “I will not deny it.” he said, his voice barely above a rough whisper as he agreed with her words.
Emboldened, she let the robe slide off her shoulders, slinking off her hips and to the grass. She smiled as his eyes remained on hers, not breaking contact as she stepped forward, her toes sinking below the warmer than normal water and finding the first step. Still his eyes did not waver, their intent gaze locked on her own as she walked into the pool, allowing the warm water to creep up over her well-trained thighs, hips, waist and breasts until only her shoulders were bare. She unwillingly started to flush, suddenly self-conscious of her actions, her heart beating wildly in her chest.
Without looking away she breathed in shakily, “Do you like what you see?”
His nod was no more than a subtle movement, his cheeks slightly reddened, “Do you?”
“I can not tell as yet, you haven’t returned the favour.” Lia said with a smile.
He laughed quietly, she could feel his eyes on her, appraising her without being obvious. He was pleasing to her eyes, handsome even with his swept jet-black hair, chiselled jawline and sharp eyebrows. But what drew her attention were his eyes, an alluring sky-blue that told a different story to the physical aggression that marked his body. Kindness mixed with learned assertiveness and respect was the impression she felt when his eyes were on her. She knew that it was only her brashness and pointed jibes that forced his gaze when she entered the pool. He had averted his eyes initially.
“I will, it is only fair. My name is Rhyker.”
“Sorry?” Lia stumbled, her thought clouded with his sudden offer.
“My name. I am known as Rhyker.” he said, a satisfied smile on his lips as his eyes were on hers.
“You are a Wilderelf.”
“And you are a Fyrelf, as is your friend. A rarity, even here at the Academy. Your name, if you will?” he said, a dance of enjoyment in his eyes at her sudden fluster.
“Lia. I am Lia.”