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Authors: Christine Grey

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BOOK: Echoes
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“Hmm, I don’t know,” Darius teased. It’s not every day that an opportunity like this comes along.” He started to circle the tub with lazy, cat-like grace, stalking his prey, but he was mindful to stay far enough back that he couldn’t really see anything.

“Brin! Say something!” Dearra demanded, trying to lower herself even further into the now cool water.

Oh, sorry, Dearra. You’re right, I should say something.
Brin cleared his throat and deepened his voice slightly, taking on a formal tone.
Now, Darius. You should leave at once. You are a bad, bad Breken…of course, if you leave now, I will think you a pathetic excuse for a man.

“Stupid dragon,” Dearra growled. “Darius, I have to get out of the tub. They will be calling us to dinner at any moment.”

“No, I think I like you better trapped. This is ever so much fun.”

Dearra sat up slightly. “Trapped? You think me trapped?”

“Well, in a matter of speaking, Dearra. I do sort of have you at my mercy.” Darius chuckled.

“You think that, do you?” Dearra almost purred, and her eyes flashed gold.

Darius ceased his circling. He had known her long enough to know you didn’t antagonize her further when her eyes blazed like that. The dragon blood that flowed through her veins made her unpredictable, at best, when she was in one of those moods.

“Now dearest, you know I was only teasing. I was just having a little fun since I knew I had you stuck in the tub, and there wasn’t anything you could do about it.”

“Really?” She said the word as one long drawn out sound and raised a brow at the haughty man before her.

Oh, oh,
Brin said. 

Dearra planted a hand on either side of the tub and rose from the water in a slow, languid movement. She pulled her hair back, wrung the water from it, and daintily stepped from the tub.

“Not trapped, after all, I guess,” Dearra said, squaring her shoulders and refusing to cover herself.

Darius backed away from her so quickly that he bumped into the side table, almost knocking the vase of flowers to the ground. He managed to right the vase before it was lost, but when he spun to leave, he tripped on the rug at his feet and went sprawling. He didn’t even look back to see if she was laughing, but just got to his feet and sprinted for the door, opening and closing it behind him in one fluid motion.

Dearra picked up a towel that had been left for her and wrapped it snuggly around herself.

Dearra!
Brin said harshly.

“Hmm?” she asked.

Your Breken is showing.

She didn’t respond, but hummed to herself as she began to dress for dinner.

Chapter 12

 

Three weeks! They had been stuck in the castle for three weeks, and still the king refused to grant an audience. Other than a few, polite comments at dinner that first night, they hadn’t seen him at all.

Winter solstice had arrived. Dearra was becoming more and more anxious with each passing day. Summer was still a long way off, but not far enough, not nearly far enough.

Dearra and Darius sat in the same garden where her father had courted her mother so many years before. The plants were all winter brown, and a thick coat of snow blanketed the ground.

Two guards were standing on the periphery of the garden watching them, or more accurately, watching Darius. Reo was at his feet, so they were probably keeping an eye on the wolf as well, but Dearra doubted the wolf was their main concern.

“There should be some story-telling later. It might be interesting.” Darius pulled his heavy cloak more tightly around himself. Even here, in the sheltered garden, the winds snuck in and chilled them.

“I’m not going. I’m tired of pretending to have a good time. We’re here for a purpose, and it isn’t to play hide and seek with King Jaymes.” Dearra scooched closer to Darius, trying to absorb some of his warmth.

He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. “Do you want to go in? It’s cold.”

Yes, let’s go back inside. You’re half frozen. Just because you don’t want to join everyone else doesn’t mean that you should forego tradition altogether. I will tell you a story, myself. 

They made to leave the frozen garden. Dearra didn’t miss the look of relief on the guard’s faces. Not that she cared, but they weren’t wearing winter cloaks, and they were probably getting a bit numb by then.

She wasn’t really in the mood for a story, but Brin so rarely shared, that she tried to think enthusiastic thoughts for his benefit.

Well, thanks for trying, anyway.

***

So, as I told you before, I decided that the desert was the place for me, when I left Oke’s forest glade. There are an awful lot of deserts. I had read a lot about the world while living with Oke, but, though I did go wandering, I usually stayed fairly close to home. There’s a lot to see right outside one’s own door, if you only take the time to look.

I steered clear of Etrafa—

“You know where Etrafa is! That’s wonderful!” Dearra said, delighted with that bit of information. Aesri was always so close-mouthed about the location of her home. Truthfully, Dearra was curious about the Etrafarian homeland, and she had tried, on more than one occasion, to get Aesri to open up, but the woman was so secretive.

I know, and I don’t know. I can see it fine, though the fairies can hide it from most. I can sense it better, but if you asked me to tell you where it was, I wouldn’t be able to. It’s not that I don’t know, just that…the words wouldn’t come if I tried, or they would be confused. Fairy magic is a funny thing.

“Oh,” Dearra said wistfully. “That’s a shame. I think it would be wonderful to visit there.”

Why anyone would want to is beyond me, but I can tell you this—you definitely wouldn’t want to go there without a direct invitation. They don’t take kindly to uninvited guests. They may appear serene and gracious, but you wouldn’t want to make them angry. Trust me.

I tried many places and thought I had found a home. It was a beautiful cave! There was even an underground lake, but it was only temporary. I wasn’t even there a full hundred years. 

“What happened?” Darius asked.

It was the strangest thing, really. I had amassed a nice little treasure trove, nothing too grandiose, but there were some fine pieces. I was examining one especially nice pearl when I saw a tiny creature scurry behind a cave crystal.

I called out to it, thinking it would probably run away, but it popped its head out and looked at me, with no sign of fear that I could detect. It looked a lot like a baby dragon, except that instead of scales, there was mottled, brown, fur, and the face was wrong, more rounded. The eyes were the same, as were the wings, but the rest was just…wrong.

‘Do you speak’, I asked it.

It nodded.

‘What is your name?’

‘Dibbuc’

I wasn’t sure if it was telling me its name, or speaking in a language I didn’t know, but to be honest, I didn’t care all that much.

‘What is it you want?’ I asked.

I couldn’t think of anything else to say. It was an odd little creature, but close enough to dragon-kind that I was hesitant to kill it outright. Oke would never have harmed it, and that, more than anything, made me hesitate.

‘Grrreat Drrragon, you isss mighty. You isss ssstrrrong. Where you isss coming frrrom?’

There was a lot of that. Rolling of Rs and drawn out Ss. I saw no reason not to answer, but, before I could respond, Tolah spoke to me, and told me to lie. He had never spoken to me before, and yet I knew his voice like it was my own. I would as soon cut off my own wing as disobey Tolah, and so, without hesitation, I lied.

‘I come from Mystland.’

‘Myssstland? I no hearrr of drrragon frrrom therrre like you.’

Tolah was silent, so I was on my own.

‘I kept to myself. I don’t see that it is any business of yours, anyway.’

The little creature hopped forward and looked at me, and for a moment, I felt trapped in that gaze. It was as though it were looking into my very soul. I don’t know how, but he was reading me. I saw flashes of images from my past whipping through my memory, and I knew I had not called upon them. I heard, ‘Look away!’

Tolah’s command was strong in my mind, and I could not help but obey. I blinked, and turned my back on my little intruder.

‘I’m tired. I wish to rest,’ I said, dismissing it from my lair.

‘Yesss, yesss, I go now. Grrreat drrragon. I botherrr no morrre.’

It hopped forward a few steps, and then took wing and was gone.

Tolah spoke but a single word after that. He said, ‘Run!’

I left everything. I even burned the books I had taken from Oke’s home, and I never looked back.

I wandered for years, staying in one place for only a few days before moving on again, until I came to the Breken desert. You know most of the story after that.

“Did you ever find out more about the little creature?” Darius asked. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anything like it.”

No. I never saw it again, and for that I am grateful. Tolah would never have spoken to me directly and told me to run if it weren’t dangerous. Actually, even if it were dangerous, I’m surprised Tolah would intervene. He doesn’t usually involve Himself in the day-to-day of His children. It’s a mystery, that’s for certain.

A gentle knock sounded at the door, drawing their attention.

“Dearra, it is Aesri. May I come in?

Dearra rose and opened the door, allowing the beautiful Etrafarian to enter her chamber.

“Hi, Aesri. I thought you would be downstairs with the others enjoying the stories.” Dearra pulled forward a small chair and offered it to her guest.

“To be honest, I find it draining to be around His Majesty’s court. They stare and whisper so. Niada seems to like it. She says she finds them all fascinating. She seems especially fond of the children. I, myself, adore children, but their parents are another matter entirely.” Aesri shook her head as if perplexed, but then she smiled and looked at Dearra warmly. “I thought I could join in the custom of storytelling. I would like to tell you some more about Etrafa. Unless I am interrupting something else?”

“No, no, of course not! We would love to hear,” Dearra said, trying to reassure Aesri. There was no way she was going to pass up this opportunity to learn more information about Etrafa.

“Excellent,” she trilled. Is there anything specific you would be interested in knowing, Dearra? Oh, and you too, Darius. I did not mean to exclude you.”

“It’s fine, Aesri. Whatever you are willing to share would be perfect,” Darius said.

Dearra thought for a moment, and then said, “Aesri, you talk about the Great Tree. I know you’ve shared how Rah breathed life into the tree, and that was when the fairies were created, but then what happened?” Dearra leaned forward and held her breath. Aesri was a very private person, and her request may not have been exactly what Aesri had in mind.

“I will tell you these things, because Carly will need to know, and I believe that your knowing will help her. I do ask that you respect the sacredness of this information, and not share it with others.”

Dearra and Darius both nodded.

“We promise, Aesri. We wouldn’t do anything to disrespect you or your kin. If not for you, we would all have died in Parsaia.”

Aesri smiled and patted Dearra’s hand. “I was glad to offer what assistance I could. We all were. It was the least we could do. Well now, I had better get to the story,” she said, trying to make light of Dearra’s praise.

“The world was still very new,” Aesri began. “Rah chose the one tree and breathed onto it, making it grow to adulthood in the blink of an eye, or at least, in the blink of
His
eye. We do not really know how long it took. That tree became our symbol of life, because Rah had chosen it, and from it, we were created.

“There were so very few of us, and we knew nothing. We needed protectors. Rah sent two of his servants to attend us in the garden he had created to be our home. Their names were Cifera and Auriel.

“Time passed, and we learned and grew, and our numbers increased. Our guardians watched over us and nurtured us, almost like parents. Cifera was very practical, logical, and firm. She demanded obedience, but she would share the most wonderful knowledge with us. Auriel was softer, kinder, and gentler, but she reminded us often that all we were or ever would be, we owed to Rah.

“Some of the Etrafarians preferred the pursuit of knowledge, always wanting to know more. They flocked to Cifera. Rah had not directly intervened in the Etrafarian’s lives since their creation, but this being was here, now, offering all that they could ask for, only seeking their obedience in exchange. The other Etrafarians sought out Auriel. They enjoyed learning new things, and seeing their power increase, but they believed, as Auriel did, that all gifts came from Rah, and it was to Him that they owed their hearts and minds.

“It was gradual, but Cifera started to speak out against Rah. It was very subtle at first. She would question why Rah had been away for so very long while Cifera had never left them. Auriel tried to explain that Rah had gone nowhere. He was always with them, watching, loving, and caring.

“Cifera planted seeds of doubt and discontent. She said that Rah had shared with her many secrets, but He had forbidden her from sharing them with the Etrafarians. Now, she doubted the wisdom of that decision. Why should ‘her children’ not benefit from the great power they would gain from that knowledge? She loved them best, and if they would only swear loyalty to her, she would deny them nothing!

“Auriel begged them to reconsider. The knowledge that Cifera promised was not meant for them. It was for their safety and happiness that Rah withheld, not to punish, and His love was perfect. The Great Tree was proof of his love. They lived forever in His flawless garden in peace and contentment. Why would they question Him and throw that all away?

“Cifera was jealous of Auriel. There were still far too many who sided with her. Cifera began to make plans to destroy Auriel. If she were eliminated, then all of the Etrafarians would belong to Cifera, and she would become their god.

“Auriel was saved when Rah came to her and warned her. He sent her from the garden, so she would be safe from Cifera. Rah was very angry with Cifera and very disappointed in the Etrafarians. He banished Cifera from the garden as well, and He told her that she could not return until the end. What that meant, no one could say. The end of time? The end of the age? It was unclear.

“He told the Etrafarians they had outgrown their need for protectors and that it was time they stood on their own. Rah told them that when they placed their love of knowledge above their love of Him, they chose the path of death. He said there was still time to choose life, but death would always come first, and that they would no longer be able to live forever.

“The Etrafarians did not understand, but in time, some of us began to grow old and die, which had never happened before. As the centuries wore on, there became fewer and fewer of us as a result.

“Even the Great Tree itself is growing old and dying, and we can do nothing to stop it. We have spent millennia trying to understand and carry out Rah’s will, but I am unsure we have succeeded in doing little more than stumbling blindly in the dark. We lost our faith once, and I hope we will not make that mistake again, but I fear the time is coming when we will all have a choice to make.”

“Whatever happened to Cifera and Auriel?” Dearra asked.

“I could not say. I can only tell you they did not return. There are many who believe they did not exist at all. They say the story is nothing more than a metaphor, a warning to stay on the path with Rah. I do not know, but I think it is all true.”

“It’s an amazing story, true or not,” Dearra said. “Thank you for sharing it with us, Aesri.”

BOOK: Echoes
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