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"I'm awfully sorry for
this. Truly," is all Peter manages to say, as his face sinks even deeper with
"Why? What kind of a place is this exactly?"
"One I'd rather we didn't cross, if we had the
choice," he replies blankly. His discomfort is so hilarious to me for some
reason that I suddenly feel braver, and fully disposed to tease.
you sure only one vial would be enough?" I ask, and hear Vlad slightly choke
on his drink.
eyes gleam for a short second, reminding me of that dangerous side to them,
which I saw in Sam's thread shafts. I'd probably be less brave with that
version of him, if I ever had the chance of meeting it.
it," he throws, with aligned eyebrows.
sound impatient," I push, and am quickly interrupted by the most
spectacular laugh; one of a female Aelfric who's possibly listening to every
word. Her closeness makes me nervous, so I grab the thin goblet and make one
shot of its bitter contents. Ew.
I hear the laughing Elf say, as she steps from behind a red flower, clasping
her hands and tilting her head to the side, as she slides towards us like
someone who's just left a hellishly wild waltz.
So there’s the famous Pi, at last! And man, does she know how to
make an entrance! She's sporting a long, hourglass-shaped, flaming red leather
gown, which is all contrast with her alabaster skin, but in perfect harmony
with her scarlet hair and lips. Her reddish eyes should probably be shocking to
me, but they’re so utterly beautiful that it's hard to find fault with them, or
with anything else for that matter. And it’s clear by the way both Vlad and
Peter are embezzled by her, that they don't seem to find any either. I quickly
realize this person's Talent might just be her impersonating every male
Aelfric's – and female too? I'm not too clear on Elven homosexuality yet –
ultimate object of desire.
however, experience a different and somewhat surprising effect of it: the
minute Pi's gaze meets mine, my entire being is, instead, abruptly riveted by
Peter’s presence at my side. It’s like something has suddenly triggered my
hormones and steered them in his direction. His simply being there now makes me
feel all... hot and bothered. I turn to him for relief, only to get more reason
to be nervous: his eyes are boring into mine so intensely that he looks like
he's incapable of turning away.
sure it’s her! How is this woman doing
I guess it's red for you, Peter?" she winks, not caring for any formal introductions.
taking his eyes off of mine, my green-eyed Elf draws in a deep breath, and very
reluctantly blurts out, "Damn it Pi, no!"
then, but your Energy is saying the very opposite of that," she teases
with hardly concealed pleasure. "Fifth Vessel to the right," are her
last words to him before all her attention veers to the remaining member of the
she bows, with a flirty grin.
You look lovely," Vlad curtseys, and then just stands there, gaping.
awkwardness is palpable, but the landlady feels no rush in taking him
his misery. She even indulges in a lengthy staring match, like a
predator eying its prey. Then, suddenly, she pounces, for lack of a
better word, on a
surprised Vlad, hitching her legs around his waist, and laughing – that
spectacular laugh again – as he holds her and all but runs into the
minute they disappear, Peter's features relax, and he exhales to regain some
composure. I too need a minute, mostly to understand what just happened. However,
I am hardly given the time to. Making sure we don't establish full eye contact
again, Peter firmly grabs my hand, and marches east.
going on?" I ask.
here," he whispers, and keeps up the military stride all the way to an
open white flower. "Hop in," he commands while almost indelicately
hoisting me up. I grab on to the petals – and they really do feel like organic,
live ones – and climb into the giant thing, landing on a gooey flurry of
transparent, liquid-filled spheres. It feels like sitting in the bubbly bit of
pearl milk tea.
hold on,” Peter cautions while lithely lifting himself up and slipping into the
flower. And in a now familiar fashion, he raises his palms. The very same
second, the petals slowly come to life from all sides, and gradually close up
on us, like an engulfing cocoon. I observe the sheer height and graceful
movement of those things before realizing, nervously, that for one, this is the
only time we’ve been alone since the similarly-coloured brooding bubble; and
second, I’m still really, really mad at him.
perceptive enough to feel that, so he looks at me carefully, fumbling for a
neutral way to start the conversation. When he finally finds one, he uses his
soft, tentative voice.
you sit on the sides, your clothes would remain dry, more or less…”
sitting in Ambrosia. It’s wet. Erm… sorry about that.”
As in… the food of the gods?” Of all the
things he could be apologizing for… But I’m intrigued enough to digress to
he smiles, and I notice the return to Human informal speech, “Remember when we
told you eating was a… baser need for us? Well, erm… this is what we eat. And
we don’t need to; we only do it for pleasure.”
P-word quickly sends me back to that strange state of spontaneous arousal we
were both in a few minutes before.
is this place?! Please, no more vague
answers,” I demand.
Pi has this talent for reading our Energy. Not in the general sense, but more on
the… physical attraction level.”
lips mime a capital “O”.
can guess any sort of… sexual connection between Aelfrics, before they
themselves are aware of it. And then she...,” he pauses awkwardly, “she boosts
it. By a lot. She gave us a tiny sample of that, back there.”
great!” I panic, “So she knows about us!”
she knows I’m dying to, erm…be with you. Physically. That’s perfectly normal
here,” he shrugs. “She doesn’t know I love you, though...”
falters on that last part, and I can’t help but look away and expect to blush.
This is the second time he’s said it, and I instantly realize I’ve never said
it back. Hm! Must be a “there’s more at stake for me if I said it, since I’m
obviously the one who loves you more” sort of counter-reaction. Good thing he
doesn’t wait for my reply.
“Pi has a
white and red flower system: all flowers – or Vessels – here are essentially
white, and meant to close up and give intimacy to any two or more Aelfrics.” Or more?! My, my… “If you close the
Vessel and choose for it to remain white, it means you’re only here for a
private chat. But if you choose red, you’re allowed not only to enjoy the
Ambrosia, but also to profit from Pi’s potent Talent which automatically provides
the crimson hue for a perfect setting, and the necessary irresistible urges to
put the Butineurs… in the mood.”
I know the French meaning of the word, as I know it could have a pretty sexual
like, er… bees collecting pollen. It’s the term to describe anyone who enters a
red Vessel,” he shrugs again, trying his best not to sound embarrassed. “Don’t
worry, I told her white.”
I give him
a tiny smile, and move to the sides of the flower, so as to stop crushing
Ambrosia bubbles with my butt.
you know why I was a bit reluctant about getting you food from this Realm, as this
is the only kind available,” he says softly, and yet manages to get on my
nerves again. If this is him justifying why he went to my Garden without me,
he’s going to have to do much better than that. “Look, Lily, I don’t expect you
to understand, but you were dying on me. Or at least that’s what it looked
like. I still don’t know if your morphing has given you our considerably longer
lifespan, but… Either way, I had to do something! And telling you about it would
have been too great a risk...”
these Vessels soundproofed?” I ask calmly.
an eyebrow, pauses for a worried second, then nods.
BECAUSE I WASN’T EXPECTING YOU TO JUST TELL
ME ABOUT IT!!! ARE YOU SO CLUELESS AS TO THINK I WOULDN’T WANT TO GO BACK THERE
WITH YOU?! IT’S MY HOME!!! IT’S THE LIFE YOU TORE ME AWAY FROM!!!” I just
never, ever yelled at anyone before. Ever. Peter’s eyes grow darker, and in a
familiar second, his shoulders seem to take on those sculptural
Lily,” he tries to remain unmoved, “would you like to get us both killed?
Because if I do take you back there and risk you revealing all our secrets to
the Garden Folk – through both your skin and your words – while standing
Danielle up on her invitation to meet you, and taking our chances with all the
current Sentinel checks, that’s exactly what will happen to us. Look,” he huffs and slides his fingers through
his hair, “There’s no less brutal way of saying this: YOU. ARE. NO. LONGER.
HUMAN!!!” He grabs my wrist, and lifts up my forearm. “Here, do you see this
skin? This skin is AELFRIC. You are AELFRIC. We’re one and the same. And I have
bound myself to you, so I’ll be damned if I do anything that could put you in
on, and I stare at him, livid. What’s the point of discussing freedom with one’s
kidnapper? He loves me, and I him. But he has no idea how deeply and undeniably
Human I am, and will always be.
seems to hit him mid-sentence, and his anger abruptly deflates into what looks
like weary sadness. "Oh...," he breathes, "Apologies. I keep
forgetting your first Lume, and how clear it was that we don't see eye to eye
when it comes to this...bond."
do you mean?"
I know that given the choice, you wouldn't be here. I've always known it, and
it makes perfect sense. You're also aware of why we had to get you here and
how, with a suspecting physician at that hospital, as well as an exceedingly perceptive
investigator for a father, your skin would soon have told a rather intriguing
tale! Not to forget the coincidence, for lack of a more logical term, of our
meeting on two separate occasions in the Garden, and my being drawn to where
you were both times. Yes, both. Did I
ever tell you that? I wasn’t supposed to be on that train, just like I was
never meant to go on one more mission to that hospital! I'm still figuring out
the why and the how. I mean, in retrospect, your metamorphosis had already
begun after the assault, so maybe it makes sense that I was led to the
Aelfric Energy draws us all together, wherever we are. Haven't you felt that
yet? But the first time I saw you, on the train, when you were still one
hundred percent Human... Something had drawn me there too!"
maybe? He should ask his Elders if that exists.
you drew me," I smile, tenderly. I see how tortured he is, and hate
it. He pauses, and his weary eyes smile back at the pun.
can't have been Aelfric Energy there too! So what was it? What is it about you,
you beautiful, fragile little thing, that got me on that train? It took
everything I had to get off, leaving you there. My Human mask kept falling, and
I kept putting it back on, and pointlessly denying what my mind was telling me,
over and over again: Your place is with
her. She is your One. I knew I was in trouble, so I ran. I even came back
here, to clear my head, and remember that my kind don’t believe in such a
connection. Yet, the minute I went back, your Energy beckoned me to the
hospital. The most confusing thing! I felt the same bond to this barely-living,
silent girl staring at me from her hospital bed, as I did on the train with Ember
Girl; and I went crazy thinking how I could feel that for two Humans at once!! Without the portrait, I
would probably never have found out you were one and the same…”
Girl?" I smile.
it’s your hair…erm… I really wanted to give you a name, for my memories,"
he almost blushes.
His memories… So I wasn’t the only one
fixated on him back then. Heart pinch.
rest you know... All this to say: to me, Lily, you're inescapable. You feel
you're the only captive here, but that's not entirely true. You feel like
running, as I did. But I couldn't, for the life of me, stay away. So for
goodness sakes, am I alone in finding it humanly... elvenly impossible to be
away from you? Just… tell me, would you run anyway, if you could? And would it
be easy for you to keep running?"
That’s it, all masks are down, and this man
is, in a dignified and frankly angry way, demanding to know if I loved
Yes, I do.
And it would kill me to be away from him... But yes, I would still run.
now, all I care about is never to see that deeply anguished look on his face,
ever again. I slide my knees through the gooey Ambrosia and all but throw
myself into his arms. He lets out a surprised huff, then slowly exhales. He
pulls me closer against his chest, and his lips frantically look for mine.
shocked that, with all this passion we've both been fighting, this is only our
second kiss. And it feels like it's making up for all the missed ones. Good
thing my new skin can take this, because it goes from a tender to a wildly
intense embrace in a matter of seconds. And slowly, a heat wave washes over us,
multiplying our nerve endings by a million. It's so brutal and overwhelming
that my hands cling to Peter's shirt, as if in need of a lifebuoy. He obliges
and imbeds his fingers into the skin of my back to prevent me from slipping
away. He then pushes his entire body forward, melting into mine. I fall back
into the wet Ambrosia, and he follows. The impact of the fall suddenly knocks a
modicum of sense into us, and we both make a superhuman effort to stop. This
isn't normal! In the tiny second we manage to take a breath, Peter's eyes pop
out and he asks, alarmed, "Did you taste the Ambrosia?!"
Why?" I ask him while trying to release my leg from under him, to hitch it
over his. He closes his eyes, clenches his teeth and mumbles, "Look around
with the distraction and totally wrapped up in that irresistible searing surge
coming from my very insides, I reluctantly look away and... The entire flower
is, from the bottom up, turning a fiery shade of red.
it for me. The simple thought that this isn't our own passion making us do
this, but a rather cheap Elven trick, one we didn't even ask for, puts an
abrupt stop to it. I lay my palms against Peter's chest, and he utters a
frustrated groan as he tears himself from me and rolls to the side. We both
have great trouble controlling our breathing. A difficult minute later, he
raises a hand, and the petals softly open at the top, allowing him to roar out,
me dahling!" We hear her faint voice from far away, "You went into
the wrong Vessel!"
gradually go lower, and so does the heat.
What... the hell... was that?!
I look to
my right, and find Peter's eyes watching me carefully. Surely he must know he
wouldn't have such a powerful hold on me if I didn't love him, despite Pi's
incredibly enticing Talent.
I'm pretty sure we went into the fourth Vessel instead of the fifth," he
smiles apologetically. "I'm... sorry," he winks, and I laugh. No he
isn't, but I know it wasn't on purpose.
On a more
serious note, though, woah! Would
things be like this with him, sans Pi's mind tricks, I wonder? Now that my body
is no longer subject to awful chafing and allergic reactions, I would love to
have a normal, enjoyable instance of love-making – for once in my life, and the
first time in this new one – and find out. But staying here and doing it the
"bordello way"... not my thing.
Figured out what sort of place this is after all.
Peter says, and does a sort of side flip out of the flower. Wow, canned
energy much?!He reaches up to grab
me, and I flirtily slip right into his arms. He warily looks around, making
sure we’re alone, then smiles cunningly, and starts removing Ambrosia from my
hair. Then from my attire, taking his time in places where there wasn't much
goo in the first place. I pout, playfully, but let him do it. It's not every
day that I get to have any sort of physical contact with this person. As soon
as he's done, I reciprocate, and make sure I miss none of it. At one point, I
look up and see his eyes searching for my lips again. Okay, maybe I should
stop. As I lower my hands from his chest, he grabs on to one of them, and
offers a mischievous grin. "You wanna get out of here?" he asks, but
doesn't wait for an answer. He just starts running, dragging me along.
I blurt out, but can't help giving in to his infectious enthusiasm.
like children as we run through the thick red and white forest, and Peter
simultaneously manages to send two Lumes, to which he whispers, "Thanks
Pi, luv!", and "Vlad, meet us in the next Space when you're, er,
done!" And we keep on running, happily yet awkwardly, as neither of us is
quite over that very potent mood we had just been in.And the feel of my hand snuggled up inside
his, isn't really helping.
feels like an eternity later, – Man, how many flowers do these people need?! –
we finally reach the outskirts of Pi's Space. The second we get there, Peter
feels me pulling on his hand as I stop dead in my tracks and inhale sharply.
preamble, there we were, face to face with what I could only describe as the
Enchanted Forest from every childhood tale I could think of. Utterly gigantic,
eternal-looking, aligned trees draw the limit between Pi's Space and this one,
and we look no bigger than ants in their shade.
and copper brown are the dominant colours, apart from the small firefly-like
specs of light floating among the branches. I know they're not Lumes, and
quickly realize that the owner of this Space must have gone through great lengths
to find decorative elements... Very earthy and earthly ones.
for the forest! I remember Peter saying, comically raising his hand.
huge eyes and barely concealed excitement, I turn to him. "Is this
huge, smug grin confirms it. I squeak like a teenager. "Okay, wait, wait,
I got this," I say proudly, and close my eyes to concentrate.
few long seconds later, I open them to see a considerably tiny,
hourglass-shaped Lume bobbing in front of me. Yay! I did it again! I
look at Peter, and the Lume follows my stare, gently gliding to him. He bows
his head, greets it like a guest, and pushes it into his ear. Shaking his head
in wonder, he can't help but ask, "How are you doing this?! Making
a Lume with just your thoughts?! And... wait," he listens, "did I
just hear... ‘Does one need an invitation to one’s own home’?!" He
in a way, this is also my birthplace. I was supposedly ‘made’ here, wasn't
I?" I tease. Okay, I'm so going to hell for this, but I'd do anything to
go in there!
bites his lip, looks around to see if no one from Pi's Space is watching, then
gives me a last, cheeky glance before swiftly sweeping me off my feet and
shooting forward into the woods, Vlad-and-Pi style.
In a matter of seconds, we're
completely engulfed in a fairy-tale-like world of baobab-sized fir trees,
mysterious rays of sunshine seeping through the canopy, millions of tiny
fireflies feeling right at home, and bizarrely warm grass "carpeting"
everywhere, going up each and every giant tree trunk. The scent isn't quite
accurate – it smells more like church incense than that delicious, musky wood aroma
– but it's obvious Peter has worked hard on it.I also notice a lot of effort in the creation of shrubbery and flowers,
although it's clear the Supernatural has had its way with them, especially with
those too-perfect, spotted red mushrooms. What's next? Unicorns?
Oh Peter... you really are a gentle
geek. No wonder everyone knows how obsessed you are with the Gardens!
"Are you ready?" he asks,
not even out of breath from carrying me and sprinting for the past few minutes.
I fumble for an answer but don't really need one. He's already started running
again, and doesn't stop until we're right underneath what I guess is this
Space's jewel: a humongous and breath-taking white waterfall. A very quiet
waterfall, as I didn't even hear it coming. It’s of the most luminous white I’ve
ever seen, and the waters beneath it are so clear and reflect the smallest gold
or bronze gleam in the forest. Oh wow...
I slip out of his arms, and my feet
don't even make a sound against the velvety grass ground. I take a few steps forward,
and still can't find the words for this. The waterfall flows down a rocky and
mossy hill which, I must admit, is very realistic in its design. There's a
certain cathedral feel and awe to this place, especially if one has a strong
enough heart to look up and try, just try, to see how high those trees go. And
amidst all this grandness, I could hear myself breathe. I don't think I have
ever, or will ever see a place as magical as this one.
"Lily...," I hear him
whisper behind me.
"I know you carry many of this
Realm's secrets already... But can I trust you with yet another one?"
"Okay, but first, we'll need to
jump in," he challenges.
"Jump in? You mean in the
water? Um... Do you know just how much effort Sam put into these clothes?!
They're supposed to be my royal hearing attire!" I pout.
"I’m sorry, you’re absolutely right!
Just take them off then," he grins. He's clearly enjoying this.
"Oh you're so paying for this,
Alberic," I grumble. "Okay, just...turn around! You're not watching
me get naked! I'll tell you to move as soon as I'm in the water. And these are
"Okay, okay!" He holds out
his pacifying palms, but makes sure I hear the playful disappointment in his
voice. "Here," he turns, "though, I hope you don't mind, I'd
also like to keep my Garden disguise dry. Is that okay!"
And just like that, with his back
turned to me, he starts undressing. I'm halfway through untying my shoelaces
when my fingers start lingering there, and my mouth slacking at the sight.
First, it's the Lumberjack shirt sliding off those eerily strong shoulders that
keep betraying his real nature. He's kept enough of his original olive tone not
to raise suspicion, and the perfect smoothness of his skin makes me weak at
knees. He then undoes his belt, and stops. "You're awfully quiet back
there, Lil!" he teases.
groan, which makes him laugh out loud. I hate him right now! Has he no
consideration for my frustration? Apparently not, as his jeans soon hit the
ground, revealing... Wait, what is that exactly?... Are those… Star Wars boxer
"What?" he asks, stopping
all undressing activities.
Nice shorts, Luke."
"Well, if you don't like
them...," he briskly pulls them all the way down.
Good thing he can't see my jaw
hitting the ground, as he very confidently prances towards the small lake
underneath the cascade and soundlessly dives in, splitting the water into two spray-less
I take the rest of my clothes off in
double the speed, and run to the water before he’s had time to peek. The big
smile he gives me as soon as he turns around, shows genuine excitement. He
looks so happy to have me here, and he wears this smile so well that a tiny voice
in my head makes me feel like I'd do anything to keep it there.
"We'll have to dive under the
cascade. Are you ready?"
"Sam also spent hours on my
hair, but...what the hell. Let's do this!" No going back now.
He reaches out for my hand, and we
swim – well, he swims, I glide along – until it's time to take a deep breath
and dive in. Frankly, I do get a little scared at first. It's a huge cascade,
and the direct impact of the water might hurt! But one glance from Peter
reassures me, and we both wade in at the same time.
Less than a second later, we simultaneously
emerge on the other side, in a sort of wide, mossy cave, with the waterfall
behind us. Except that, on this end, I can hear it loud and clear!
"It's only muted on the other
side!" he reveals, guessing my thoughts. "This is my hideout, but
ironically, there's no hiding or concealing of any kind here. I try to keep
everything genuine, like the Garden sounds of the water—"
yourself. You've taken the fake glasses off!" Pity, that's what remained
of the earthly Peter I knew. Although this one, with the huge naked eyes and
the beads of water rolling down his face, makes my heart want to thump its way
through my chest.
"If I had the choice, I would
be the Garden Peter for you forever," he whispers.
I stare into his eyes and know he
means it, although he's light-years away from living up to it. Or else I would
simply ask him to take me back home, and to stay there with me! Sweet Peter...
Would he accept to pay the same price I did?
I see a small mimic of
disappointment at my silence, but he decides not to pressure me.
"Come, we should climb up
there," he points to a small plateau halfway up the cave wall.
"What, in the nude?" I
blush, and he rolls his eyes then smiles.
"Again, I promise I won't
look," he indulges, and reaches for my hand.
He steps out of the water first, and
I'm again treated to a full view of him. My goodness, I don't think I'll ever
get over how heartbreakingly beautiful he is.
The climb is rather easy, although a
few times, Peter can't help but peek to see if I'm okay, at the risk of
breaking his promise of discretion. It's uncomfortable at first, but I
gradually feel less awkward as we go along, as if this nakedness were almost as
normal a state for us as being fully clothed. No hiding or concealing here.
Once we've reached the rocky
platform, Peter faces the wall, raises his hand, and with a graceful stroke,
draws the number "8".
"Wait... Number 8… You drew it
on the necklace, in the portrait!" I say, shyly. I still find it awkward
to discuss such an intimate memory of ours. He turns around, surprised, then
remembers he shouldn't be looking at me. He comically hides his eyes with his palm,
and asks, "You figured it out!! Did you read everything in that
I softly remove his hand off his face,
but he tactfully keeps his eyes in mine. "Yes, Leetah8. Leetah, like the
ElfQuest character," I say and suddenly notice his taking a deep breath,
and stifling a genuinely happy smile.
"I can't believe you know
"I didn't, before that
necklace! And what of the number 8? I know it's one of the meanings to the name
Tam... So I just figured that you meant to write Leetah and Tam, you know, to
confirm their Recognition..."
Okay, this is getting really
embarrassing. I can't just force this man to admit his necklace meant he'd
experienced Recognition for me!
"So you did figure it out!
Every time I mentioned the 'bond' between us, Recognition was exactly what I
meant. Despite my people’s innate inability to comprehend what love is, it’s
still the biggest lesson I’ve learnt in the Gardens. So far, I’d been able to
comprehend it, more or less, and to yearn for it. Then you come along…You’re it, and there's no fighting it for me.
This also leads to a more obvious meaning to the number 8. Turn it around and you
get the Infinity symbol. Erm… this might sound like a cheesy heart carved in a
tree, but the necklace simply reads 'Leetah and Tam', or ‘Leetah Forever’..."
The second I mean to react to these
words, a deep rumble coming from the cave walls startles me, and soon, a tiny
slit draws itself over the platform, slowly growing bigger. A soft and
hypnotizing light shines through it, and gets wider as the opening reveals more
of what's behind it.
"The forest is just a façade. This
is my real home..." Peter says, but at that point, I'm too shocked to look
I suddenly feel him leave my side,
and yet I linger there, frozen, staring.
A minute later, I sense his presence
again behind me. He lays a very soft cover over my shoulders, and encircles
them with his arms, laying his cheek against my ear.
"What do you think?" he
Two big, fat tears roll down my
"I... I love it!" I choke,
wondering why this sight is making me so emotional.
should be obvious, though. So I just let the tears flow down.
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The voice sounds like it's coming from the bottom of the sea, and yet I
recognize it. But my eyelids... They're too heavy.
"Lily, can you hear me?" the voice urges.
It takes everything I have to unglue my eyelashes, and the first thing I see
gives me a small but much-needed boost: an extremely worried, human-looking,
Oh, so he's back now? Just like that?! I give him the most vitriolic and hurt
glare I can muster. Despite how relieved I am to see him, I've never felt more
like his hostage than I do know, while he's free to come and go to my world as
He ignores me, and discreetly reaches for my cheek. But just as I attempt to
turn away, he insistently lays his palm on my lips, and jams something into my
mouth. Something small, round and melty.
Is this...? ...OH. THANK. GOD. FOR. CHOCOLATE!!!
It will definitely not give me all the strength I need, but I dare hope that in
a few minutes, I'll be looking less like a vegetable.
I also quickly understand that my emotions are secondary right now, and that I
should make sure none of the others sees what he gave me. I try not to chew,
and look at him half-gratefully, blinking once. This brings a very fleeting
smile to one corner of his mouth, and still, it's enough to get some of the
breath stuck in my throat. I love you, you son
of a bitch.
"How long was I out?" I whisper groggily.
"Long enough to worry the hell out of me," he says, with a cautious
look in his eyes. If he thinks he's forgiven, he's way off. I give him an
indifferent frown and look away.
He huffs lightly, and turns towards the others. "See? She's alright!
Nothing to get worked up about!"
"But who's to say she won't lose the Energy like this again?" Indya
questions him, too formally to reassure.
She's on her guard, and her distrust automatically sends her back into the
non-accomplice group. My goodness... What an idiot I've been! I've felt too
relaxed around her and her unsettling humanity, and even let her into my head,
without knowing if she could rummage through it. And now there she is, doubting
and inquiring... I should stop thinking that everyone here is like Sam, and
would still be on our side if the secret were out! Stupid, stupid...
Peter stands up and turns his back to me. "She's no Invalid, Indy!
She's...still taking form. I've also made some changes to her drawing, as I
said I would. Besides, you've always known my Talent applied gradually, so why
would it be any different with her?"
"Because she's just been accused by a student, Peter!
If the least discerning see this, what do you think the Elders will perceive,
regardless of the truth?"
I hear no ill intentions in Indya's voice, despite the questioning. It sounds
more like protectiveness; the really adamant kind. Next to her, Vlad and Dem
look pensive but clearly unwilling to get in the middle of this. Chloë,
however, peeks from behind Vlad and waves at me. Wait... where is Nirav?
"The one you call 'least discerning' has been evading us and skillfully
tempering his every gesture, when we've always known he took after Corbin! What
gave it away at last?"
"He spoke about it, in Pi's Space..."
"Oh.... so much for discretion! Since when does Pi divulge anything that
is said or done there?" They all share a wink-like glance.
"She didn't," Dem finally steps in. "His Butineuse did."
Oh for Pete's... That's it! I'm done not
understanding!!! With a side-wrenching effort, I sit up and ask, without
preamble, " 'Scuse me! Anyone care to tell me what is going
Heavy silence. Exchanged looks.
"Who is Corbin? And what did Akäar take after him?" I insist.
I know who Corbin is; Sam told me. I just want Peter to finally speak about his
estranged brother. He turns around to face me, with a wary frown. "Corbin
is an Aelfric who left nothing but destruction and smoke in his path, a few
"How? And most of all, why?" I push. I've got him talking now, and
I'm not letting go.
Sensing Peter's stress, Vlad steps in and in a second, puts on his historian's
mask. "It was a very dark time for the Aelfric kind, as everything
revolved around the Gardens and what our role was, relatively to their
inhabitants. It was more of a grey area then, than it is now." I feel he
wants to look at Peter to confirm the jab, but he's conscious enough of how
Indya and Dem would perceive it. "We had already piled
on a series of unfortunate experiences with them, so the general tendency was
to reduce our function to one of mere observation. Some Aelfrics, however,
"They wanted more interference?" Careful Lily, don't
get too brave.
"It's not that... The most dangerous things our kind has done throughout
the Raedes, have all stemmed from good intentions. And the intention was to
embrace the Indigenous people - as an inferior species of course - but a
cherished one. To teach it what we know, and give it a taste of our culture,
intellect, values.... The most ardent supporter of this cause was Corbin. He
saw no point in observing the Garden Folk if we were to leave them to their
ignorance and wait for them to gain knowledge at their own rhythm. What is
their reason for being, if not advancing and transcending their feeble nature?
We were never given the actual reasons why the Great Elder created the Gardens,
but they seemed obvious to Corbin. Why wait for the Garden Folk to take the
fall into darkness, and then choose to remain good? This detour was at the
heart of every Garden trouble we've ever witnessed, and Corbin found that
"So he tried
everything. He pleaded with the Elders, developed his Talent enough to be a
worthy Herald one day, and rallied a large number or Aelfrics who were under
his charm... He had a way of defending his views which was terribly convincing.
At one point, he even managed to have a voting majority on the Council which
comprises all our living Elders.
"Only three resisted
him: Danielle, Elyä and Onnica; and they took action rapidly. Elyä asked that
Indya be substituted by Peter as a Herald, for the obvious reason that new
Heralds could not be replaced before a minimum of five Raedes. This helped them
gain time, and they also knew that Corbin would never hurt Peter, as they were
close friends." Brothers. They
were Brothers. How could you not know what that means?!
"Onnica, on the other hand, entrusted Nirav with a Key, without which the
passage to the Gardens would be impossible. A Key that only Nirav and the
Herald can identify."
"But what's to say that Corbin wouldn't exert his 'charm' to pressure
Nirav or Peter?" I ask, with a heart thudding so fast it's pushing against
my ribs. They're
finally telling me everything!!
"Well, that's what Danielle did. She had Peter make the sacred oath, the
same one you did when the Sentinels were here, which makes it impossible to
Then how come I could lie while swearing to it?... Although, technically, I'm
not an Invalid. I'm just... hungry.
"She also knew how attuned Peter was to Corbin, and how it was unlikely he
would fall for any of his tricks. As for Nirav, he was given a very good reason
not to be intimidated by Corbin..."
Is he seriously making pauses to increase the suspense? Spill, you blond
blabbermouth!!! "And what is that?" I inquire with hardly concealed
"Danielle made him an Elder."
Ah!!! Well... that sure explains it!... The way Peter walked on eggshells around
him, and why he could never express any anger towards him. And that's probably
why Nirav's so tall. But... I can't believe this! From the very first second I
was brought to this land, I've been in the presence of a member of the Elders
Council. That same Council that will probably sentence me to death! Not only
was he there all the way, he also went to Earth to get me... risking his own
position, and probably his life too. I must really remember not to slip up
about Nirav and Vlad tagging along with Peter on that fateful night...
Suddenly, a very dark thought hits me: what if Nirav has been reporting to
Danielle all this time?!... What if he's the one responsible for her knowing
about me and sending me the Lume to the brooding bubble?... No. No, no, no. I
refuse to think that, although it would also explain why Peter was
uncomfortable anytime Nirav got too close to me... No, the thought of him
betraying us is just unbearable. I really wish I could confront him somehow!
But all this talk about the tall Elf, when he's not even here to give me one of
his dark yet understanding looks. Where is he?!
Oblivious to what's going through my mind, Vlad continues the story.
"Corbin was invited to speak to the Council again, and was told about the
changes. He...didn't take it well. You see, he had a very peculiar Talent. He
could build things just like the rest of us... Except he did it with his eyes. All he had
to do was concentrate, and the invisible Energy would flow from his eyes, to
the Matter. It was quite remarkable, as he could create material and move the
earth at will, without raising a finger. But this time... he was furious.
Furious enough to reveal something he'd been hiding from us. His Talent had
grown, so much so that all the Energy of his anger, all the power of it, was
concentrated in his eyes. The second he lost his temper, his eyes went
completely black, and an instant later, a searing jet of dark smoke came out of
them, and filled the hall. We...," he stops for a heavy minute, "we
lost many Elders."
"I'm so sorry..."
"The grief is still present, although we're glad many escaped. Danielle,
it pains me to say, was the sole survivor who was wounded, but not enough to
make her an Invalid. Everyone else who'd ever faced the scorching Smoke, was
My heart drops. Not out of sympathy for them, but from a vague memory I kept
from my days as a Human: "Lily, you know there's still a place for people
like us," the song went. Us, assault victims. These lyrics got Peter to
confess to me, in very Human terms, that his mother had been attacked. His mother.
"Before we could all catch our breath and think of what to do with Corbin,
he had already sown terror, Fumes and destruction on his path. Regardless of
being invited in or not, he went through the Spaces looking for the Key. He
first targeted Indya's former Space - the one right next to mine - and it is
now in Fumes. He knew that Peter would never give him the Key, so he hoped to
find out more about it from the previous Herald, obviously. He found nothing,
and ended up letting his anger explode again, completely annihilating her Space
and life's work. Luckily, Indy was here, at the School, and she's now
practically living in it with Dem, as she has yet to rebuild a Space of her
own. "Corbin then went to a
few of the deceased Elders' Spaces, desecrating them as he went, and hoping to
find more clues there. His desperation got him all the way to Nirav's, where he
came across a rather major hurdle: Nirav's Space is an infinity of wind and
ice, and this considerably weakened Corbin's fire. He finally found himself
forced to retreat to his own Space, as the Sentinels had closed in on him from
"He put on a very long
and violent fight, and many were burnt, until Peter stepped in. He made a
drawing that was meant to render Corbin powerless. However, just as it was
starting to apply, the unthinkable happened: in a final, desperate act, Corbin
filled his own Space with Fumes, burning himself in the process. And this was
the end of it."
I gaped at him, eyes wide open... It was all I could do.
"These incidents were sufficient to bring most Aelfrics back to the
principle of reducing our interference in the Gardens. However, from time to
time, young and foolish ones, who weren't even born when this happened, pretend
to understand and sympathize with Corbin's ideas. This in itself is reason
enough for the Sentinels to take them in. It should explain what happened to
Akäar, and why it had to be so brutal. Do you understand now, Lily?"
I do. Erm... thank you," I mumble, and suddenly notice
Peter's eyes boring into mine. He can see how this is overwhelming for
me - and for him too I reckon - and decides to put an end to the
"Thank you, Vlad. Dem, Indy, I think we have profited too much from your
gentle hospitality, and I'm sorry for the Sentinel Check... I think we should
move along now, so as not to put you in that same, delicate position again,
should they return. Thank you, so very much."
For some strange reason, both professors automatically turn and look at me,
with a tinge of regret in their eyes.
"We are sorry, young one," Indya says, "You don't deserve this.
In normal cases, we would have made sure your education were completed. Or at
least some of it."
I smile and shake my head softly, while trying to stand up. One tiny chocolate
was definitely not enough. Out of nowhere though, Dem appears at my side and
helps me up, taking advantage of the closeness to give me one more
forehead-to-forehead moment. "We are here for you, don't forget it. I am here for
you," he says that last part slowly and clearly.
Still lost in thought, I smile to both and thank them, then realize that Dem
had passed my hand over to Peter, for support. I'm still too mad and too weak
to forgive my green-eyed Elf, but touching him again, with finally a good
excuse to do so, feels like being home. I stretch my other hand out to Chloë
and she willingly grabs it. She's never really burdened by anything, is she?
Peter and Vlad say farewell, and we all start walking away from that colossal
megalopolis of a school.
A familiarly awkward silence weighs on the four of us as we walk past the last
megastructures, and reach a sort of dusty no man's land. Peter hasn't let go of
my hand, except to slip me a few more chocolates. I could give him a hard time
about each and every one of them, if I weren't so friggin’ hungry. I do,
however, decide to break the silence once I feel that the school is too far
behind for anyone to be eavesdropping.
"Where is Nirav?"
"I haven't got the slightest," Peter replies, "He sent me to the
Garden, waited for my return, wished me, ...us good luck with Danielle, and
went his way."
"How does that work anyway? The return trip I mean? Are you able to
communicate with him all the way from the Garden? In all cases, it doesn't
sound like him to just leave," I throw, with as dry a tone as I can
manage, "I rather imagine you two having a strong enough disagreement to
drive him away once and for all."
"You seem to think you know him so well," Peter says icily.
"Then it must have been quite the surprise for you to find out he was an
Elder, wasn't it? If you really knew what that meant, you would surely realize
how much he's already done for us, when he shouldn't have. The way I see it,
he's probably getting ready for the Council meeting. You could see him then,
sitting in his high chair, and acting all Elder-like, as he should. Just make
sure you act as if you didn't even know him, unless you would like to put him
in as much danger as we are in."
I let go of his arm. Besides him not answering the first set of questions, I
know his words make perfect sense, and I would do anything to keep Nirav out of
trouble. But if I didn't know any better, I would think most of that was the
rambling of a jealous guy. I'm no big fan of childish outbursts of jealousy,
especially when I'm the only one whose anger is based on real reasons here. Oh,
and I'm not done questioning him.
"They said you were 'attuned' to Corbin, and that you were close friends.
Were you also a supporter of his cause?"
Peter's face darkens, and I know I'm pushing him to the very limits of
patience. Good. Because I'm eons beyond mine.
"Yes, of course I was, but I'd never reached the same level of radicalism
he approved of. And all it took was living with the Garden Folk to realize that
they were not an inferior species. Not entirely. I suppose Elyä knew I was too
close to being one of Corbin's followers, and giving me the Heraldry must have
been her way of saving me. It did."
Huh... He might be over the idea of teaching us lowly Humans how to live, but
he sure still believes in interference, obviously.
I'm temporarily distracted by the first patches of colour appearing in the
horizon. As we walk on, I realize they might be flowers. I could just reach out
and pick them, but I've learnt to beware of optical illusions in this world. A
few more steps forward end up giving me confirmation: they really are flowers,
of probably gigantic proportions. They're mostly red and white; the white ones
are either open or closed, whereas the red ones are all closed buds and... sort
of glowing from the inside. It's nice, but I don't yet see the use of living
among giant flowers.
We end up reaching the border of the Space, and I get a neck ache from looking
so far up to see the sheer giganticness of the strange flowers. They have no
stalks or leaves, but seem to rather spurt right out of the ground itself. Still
not seeing the point though.
"Vlad, you know Pi's got a thing for you. How about you send her a
Lume?" Peter teases, while Vlad rolls his eyes so wide it's comical. Soon,
his lovely snowflake-shaped Lume bobs up and disappears between the flowers. He
then kneels and looks Chloë in the eye.
"Okay, you little monster, you know you can't go in there, don't
The tiny Elf kicks and glares at him, but he's completely unmoved by it. So, in
her desperation to stay with us, she grabs my forearm and hides behind it.
"Come on... you know you need to go now, little one. I'm sorry," he
Chloë squeezes my forearm tighter, expecting me to stand up for her. But since
I have no clue why this is forbidden, I don't dare. I so hate letting her down
I bend down and carry her, then whisper in her ear that it will all be alright,
and that we might see each other soon. Not that I really believe it, but I want
to so bad that I'm willing to lie. She puts her forehead on mine, and for the
first time ever, I hear her tiny voice say, "I like you!"
"I like you too sweetie!" I choke, and put her down before any actual
tears reach my eyes. No need for this sort of trouble again. She stares at me
for one last second, then goes to Peter and gives him an actual high five. I
giggle, although he must really stop teaching her Human things. Finally, she
goes to Vlad, looks up at him, and suddenly raises her Vans-clad foot and brings
it down, with all her tiny power, on his toes. He pretends it didn't hurt, but
it's obvious it did, and Peter and I tactfully choose to laugh out loud. My
laugh fades quickly though, as I see my little Chloë walking away from us,
without even looking back.
Goodbye, little one...
A short minute later, a strange sight makes me focus again. I was expecting a
Lume - probably red - to appear in return for Vlad's, but instead, I'm
surprised to see three very fine, small silver goblets floating towards each
one of us. Too hesitant to touch the one intended for me, I give Peter a
"Erm... It's not mandatory... but I really think you should drink
it," he says, seeming positively uncomfortable.
"Why? What is it?"
"Uh... it's... Well, it's... sort of like... contraception."
My eyeballs pop out.
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