Of Princes, Doors and Blue Mist?
I stood before a door hovering alone in a broad space filled with the wispy tendrils of a pale blue mist. Pools of water sporadically dotted what I perceived must be the ground, though it was hardly different from the air. Looking down, I saw that space seemed to go on forever, yet I stood as though upon a solid surface. Peeking beyond either side of the lone door, I saw space continue on horizontally as well. The door itself was plain; a solid light woodperhaps oak. Holding it up was a frame attached only to the insubstantial ground.
It took a moment before I realized, in studying the barrier, that from the cracks between frame and door streamed slivers of light. That, and the almost-phosphorescent hue of the mist, was how I could see at all.
A compelling urge to open the door fell upon me. I reached out to comply, and stopped. There was no door knob; only a keyhole. I crouched down and peeked through it, but couldn't see anything beyond the golden light within. I touched the door, wondering if it was unlocked. It didn't give.
"Would you choose to enter?"
I spun around, heart skipping. Before me stood the Lady Veija, clad this time all in white. She smiled at me, a curious arch to her slender brows. I tried to recall what she'd said, but my mind drew a blank. The scent of her, a pleasant floral aroma, drifted towards me. I inhaled deeply.
"Would you choose to enter?" she said again, voice a lilting gale.
My mind kicked back into gear. "What's in there?"
"I do not know," she said, laughing as though I'd asked a silly question. She had a pretty little giggle. I quirked a smile, trying to stifle the feeling of awkwardness that always crowded me around girls. I wasn't sure what to say. Oblivious to my predicament, she tilted her head to one side and said, "Do you choose to enter?"
"I don't know," I said. "Should I?"
That seemed to throw her. She fumbled, brows creasing as a frown touched her lips. "Well, that is the question, isn't it? I haven't any idea at all." She seemed as perplexed as I felt. "Do you know, I never thought to ask."
"Ask?" I said. "Who?"
"Whom," she absently corrected. "I can't tell you that."
She blinked her pretty purple eyes. "I don't know the answer to that either. My goodness, you are sharp, aren't you? Next time perhaps you should come to me, instead of the other way round."
Bless her, I though. She's completely serious.
"Well," I said. "We can discuss all that later. About this door?"
"Oh, yes. That's why I came?"
"To ask you whether you choose to enter."
"Yeah, I got that part," I murmured, then raised my voice to ask, "Then what?"
She blinked again. "Well, I think you were supposed to say yes, as my next action was to open the door for you with this key." She produced said key as if from thin air. It glinted in the dim light. "Otherwise, I suppose you were to say no and then wake up."
"So, this is a dream?"
She laughed airily. "No, silly. It's a vision, which is quite, quite different."
"Oh. 'Kay." I supposed beauty and brains would have been too much to ask.
She glanced at the key, then back at me. "So which shall it be? Enter or awaken?"
"Awaken," I said. "Only if it's to really wake up and go back home."
"Home," she repeated. "Where is your home?"
She knitted her brows, lips pursing. She shook her head. "No. I don't think I know it. Is it very far?"
"Very," I said.
"Oh, then, I'm afraid you shan't go there even if you wake up. Gerani-induced visions usually don't literally transport the host elsewhere. You should awaken back in the Verenvae camp where you are currently asleep."
"What do you mean, gerani-induced vision?"
"You ate gerani, did you not?"
"And you fell asleep, did you not?"
"I think so."
"And you're here, are you not?"
She beamed. "Then this must be a gerani-induced vision, which is why I came."
"I thought it was to open the door for me."
She looked confused. "Oh, well. Perhaps they're really the same thing?"
"Perhaps." I turned to the door, not sure what to make of the brainless goddess of beauty. Again the urge to open the door came over me. I stepped toward it. "What is this door?" The question escaped before I remembered to whom I'd asked it. Shockingly, she had an answer. A real one.
"Eyia Dova La Vais."
One word was familiar. "As in Sa Vais?" I asked, looking back at her.
"Yes. Sa Vais means honorable ruler. Vais, simply to rule. In this case, this is The Door Which Rules."
I fingered the smooth wood. "Intense."
"It is a great responsibility to enter by this way," she said, sounding as though she had rehearsed the line without understanding what the words implied. "Would you choose to enter?"
"I" As compelling as the urge was to step through the door, I hesitated. It was a great responsibility to enter; that much I could sense, and I wasn't stupid. I had no ambitions save to get by without much notice or fuss. Since arriving in Paradise I had been all too visible, and it was all fuss. To enter the door represented my acceptance of the change. And I did not accept it. I stepped away, shaking my head. "No."
I awakened, sure enough, still in the Verenvae camp, though at first I was disoriented. I was laying in the grass beside a tent embroidered with the scene of a stormy ocean, with the voices of many people coming from my right. I sat up, trying to place what had happened to me, and why I felt very, very tired.
It all came back in a rush: Paradise, Crenen, gerani, visions. I felt a little dizzy with the memory, but I was impressed by the inert affects of the gerani itself. I had no hangover, nor was my stomach queasy. All the stories I'd heard about liquor couldn't offer the same.
Slowly I climbed to my feet, not eager to rejoin the party. I was afraid Menen would be annoyed with my earlier disregard for rules, and while the idea of more gerani made my mouth water, I didn't think it a good idea to indulge. One vision was enough for an evening, thank you. I had to wonder, though, whether it was simply a silly dream brought on by the intoxicating effects of gerani, or if there was actual substance to the nonsense. In this place, the latter actually seemed more likely.
Besides, like it or not, my conviction that Paradise was simply an effect of painkiller was quickly dying away. Either I was dead, there really were worlds hidden in the reflections of puddles, or I was insane (but I wasn't partial to that idea).
With a sigh, I brushed myself off, straightened my pretend bandage, and turned the corner of the tent to join my master and warden, respectively.
I slammed into someone, teetered and fell on my backside, wincing. Opening my eyes, I saw the figure I'd run intoand found he had managed to fall backward, too, also landing on his backside. He looked up a second later, and our eyes met, though his were shadowed beneath his hood. We stared at each other for a moment.
I recovered first. "S-sorry about that," I said, forcing a smile. "I should have been paying closer attention." And only after speaking did I realize my error. I wasn't supposed to speak at all.
He recovered at the sound of my voice, and offered a smile of his ownjust as forced. "It is my fault. You are from Yenen Clan?"
"Yes," I said, thinking hard. Menen had said my diction was too different; that I would be immediately recognized as something unusual, and mimicry would only be worse.
"You speak English very well," he said, and I noticed that he had no trace of an accent. He also sounded young, around my own age.
"As do you," I said, and got to my feet.
He rose simultaneously and extended a clawed hand. "I am Kirid, son of Kirid, Sa Vais of Kirid Clan." He grimaced. "But perhaps Prince Kirid will suffice?"
I took his head, grinning even as my mind raced. I couldn't use my own name; it was a dead giveaway, and my nickname always seemed to alarm the natives. "Probably," I agreed to buy time. And then I had it. "I'm Hiskii, Your Highness," I said, hoping the Yenen ninja wouldn't mind.
"It is an honor, Hiskii," Kirid said, giving my hand a squeeze, which I supposed was the Paradisian equivalent of a handshake. I squeezed back.
He pulled away, then gave me a sheepish smile. "I was bored of politics, and thought to sneak away. Do not tell?" He was studying me closely, even as he spoke in a tone of friendly conspiracy.
I nodded my understanding, doing my own surreptitious scrutiny, trying to see the features beneath his hood. "I understand well. I too had to get away for a while."
"You serve Prince Crenen?" he said, glancing at the bonfire. "I believe I saw you before, but only at an distance."
"I do," I said. "I saw you as well, I believe. Your, uh, fashion is unique." I motioned vaguely.
"My father orders my face hidden in public."
"Why?" I asked before I thought.
"He says it is for my safety." He offered a little shrug. "He knows better than I."
I found it stupid. There couldn't be a better method of picking out the target to assassinate. But then, what did I know? We lapsed again into silence, long and awkward. Then he smiled.
"Forgive me, but I must askwell, I am uncertain what to ask, really." He cocked his head to one side. "But, you see, you are familiar to me."
I tensed, though I didn't know why. "Am I?"
"Though I am quite certain we have never met," he went on. He made a vague hand gesture. "Do you mind if I?"
I stared, not comprehending. "Um."
Shyly he circled me, looking up and down. "Very familiar indeed," he commented, sounding mystified.
We jumped at the same time and turned to face the approaching figure. Before I could get a good look, however, I was grabbed from behind and dragged around the tent and into the dark shadows.
"Father," I heard Kirid say as I came face to face with Jenen. He had a finger to his lips, eyes narrowed to indicate that I should keep still and quietor else. I obeyed.
"Do not wander off," said the accented, more mature voice of Kirid the Elder.
"Yes, sire," said his son in a timid voice.
The next time Kirid the Elder spoke, it was in Paradisian. The voices grew faint as father and son walked away. Meantime, I hadn't moved a muscle, remaining intent on Jenen's mismatched eyes, which were intent on me. It was a long moment before he relaxeda littleand loosened his grip on my shoulder.
"You are a fool," he said so quietly my ears strained to catch his words.
"How many times did Menen order you not to speak at all?"
I thought back, flushing. "A lot. I know. But I didn't think"
"No, you did not. Had you pretended you could not communicate, that boy would have dismissed you."
"But he speaks Paradisian, doesn't he?" I said, feeling defensive. "That would've been a bigger give away than anything." Besides, I still wasn't sure what I was trying to hide about myself, anyway. But I didn't say that.
"Commoners are not generally allowed to communicate with their superiors," Jenen said. "Your silence would not have been strange."
"Unless he ordered me to," I said.
He frowned at me. "Perhaps. But I did not come here for that." He released my shoulder only to snatch my wrist. "Come. It is time we leave." He turned and started dragging me after him, heading for the dense trees.
"H-hold on a second!" I said, trying to twist free.
He stopped and turned to face me, looking impatient. "What? You would rather stay with Crenen?"
"No. I don't know. Are you any better?"
"Did I not save your life?"
My scowl deepened. "You did."
"Has Crenen saved your life?"
"No." At least, I didn't think so. But he hadn't killed me either, when he'd had the chance.
"Then, of the two of us, which would you prefer?"
"Menen," I said promptly. He had at least been civil.
Jenen blinked, and then a smile touched his lips. Just barely. "Well, you are learning, anyway." He loosened his grip again, and I quickly pulled back. "Very well," he said. "I shall leave you with Menen for three days. At that time we will discuss whether you still wish to remain." He looked around quickly. "Tell me, Key. Did you dream?"
"Huh?" And then I remembered my dream of the door. "Iguess so."
"A door," I said, trying to recall. It had faded during my encounter with Kirid. "It was called something-something-Vais." I shrugged. "Something like that."
His eyes widened. "Eyia Dova La Vais?" he breathed.
"Yeah, I think so." I was startled that he knew it. And a little disturbed. "Is it important?"
"Vastly," he said, then grabbed my shoulders, claws digging in.
"Hush. Listen to me, and listen well." He was intent once again, eyes darting between mine. He continued. "Do. Not. Tell. Anyone. What. You. Dreamed." His grip tightened more, and I stifled a cry. "Do you understand me? Especially not Crenen."
Tears collected in my eyes. I nodded, more out of desperation to be released than anything else. He drew away, looking relieved.
"You do not understand anything of this place, and yet you hold the key. That is the irony of your name. Keep your peace, Vendaeva. Only watch, observe. Do not trust anyone."
"Not even you?"
"Do you trust me?"
"No," I said, rubbing one tender arm.
"Then I need not caution you on that." He turned away, but hesitated and turned back. "You are not much, but then we haven't much hope either." He looked me up and down. "It is fitting."
I reddened, and looked down. "Sorry," I muttered. When I looked up next, he was gone. As expected.
Menen fetched me sometime toward the midnight hour. I was sitting where I'd woken up several hours before, watching as one moon devoured the other. The stars, like vast hoards of gems, twinkled and several fell, streaking the sky before they disappeared. I wished every time that I could somehow escape all of this and go home.
I looked up at Menen towering over me and offered a humorless smile. "My mom once told me the sky's the limit. So what happens when you cross that limit?"
He looked perplexed, and then he crouched down before me and looked me squarely in the eyes. "Then there will be new rules, which you must quickly learn."
I sighed. "I never knew the old rules, Menen. I just got by. I didn't ever try to break my limitations."
"Were you content?" he asked.
I considered that. "Well, no, I guess not. But it was familiar."
"You were complacent."
"I suppose so, yeah." I drew my knees closer to my chest and rested my chin on them.
"I see." He shifted, taking a seat beside me. "But always discontented."
My answer was a slow shrug. I could feel his eyes on me. He didn't speak for a while, then finally let out a deep sigh and stretched his arms over his head before settling down again.
"You have a problem."
"Yeah," I mumbled.
"What will you do about it?"
I blinked, then slid a sidelong look at him.
His expression suggested he was in earnest.
"Do?" I repeated.
"Yes. You are the only one who can change your problem, so what shall you do? Nothing or something?"
"It isn't that simple," I said, feeling my anger rising.
"Is it not?" He turned his red eyes to the sky. "You are caught between two choices. Not what to do, not yet. Simply, whether to do anything or not."
I stared at him. Then I shifted my stare to the shadows at my feet. "But how can I change that?"
"Simply choose to. The rest will follow." He rose to his feet, and offered me his hand. "Let us go. Sa Vais awaits."
I let him haul me up, and we walked toward the bonfire. "Did the meeting go well?"
"It went as expected."
He sighed. "Meaning the clans will continue to fight."
"Why was it called early?"
He eyed me for a moment. "Because one of They Clan was spotted on the island. A head hunt has been called for tomorrow."
I faltered. "A head hunt? You mean a whole bunch of people are going to chase one guy and when they find him?"
"Hopefully the ones who find him will capture him as opposed to kill him," he said.
"We have already begun our hunt," Menen answered.
I was surprised. But then the image of Hiskii, stealthy ninja warrior, rose to the fore of my mind and I nodded. "Will the other clans do the same?"
"Is this They Clan guy really dangerous?"
We reached the fire and found Crenen sitting on the table, the bowl of gerani in his lap. He was the only one of the leaders still present, and all those of Verenvae were giving him a wide berth even as they cleared the grassy area of litter or fed the fire or simply walked by. Crenen raised the bowl. I eyed it, mouth watering. He grinned toothily. "We wait plenty long time," he said, and plucked a gerani. "Was beginning to think Bad Nasty Clan get hold and eat Strange Coward Boy, yeah?" He popped the gerani in his mouth and chewed.
"Sorry to disappoint."
"He was precisely where I left him," Menen said, and I felt a surge of guilt for not telling him everything that had transpired in his absence. But Jenen's warning rose in my mind and I kept my silence.
Crenen's eyes met and held mine. "Tell us, Strange Coward Boy, have any dreamings?"
I blinked, then shrugged. "Sure, I guess."
He looked immediately alert. "What about?"
"Uh." I screwed up my face in concentration. "Something about a cow, I think?"
He arched a brow. "Cow?"
"Yeah. I think. It was all black and white, and was standing in a field eating grass."
His brow fell again. He stood up, slammed the bowl back onto the table, marched over and slapped me. Hard. I stumbled, clamping a hand to my cheek as I stared in shock.
"We not like liars," he hissed, baring his teeth, eyes narrow and glistening. "Lie again and we will eat, yeah?"
I rubbed my face and set my jaw, determined not to give him the pleasure of any kind of apology. He nodded, apparently under the impression that my silence was humility. Or not caring what it was. He retrieved the bowl and nodded to Menen. "We go now, Tall Strong Jerk. Return at later time to discuss matters with Seer."
Menen bowed and placed a hand on my shoulder to guide me to the boats. I followed, torn between raging anger and hot shame. Menen might have been rightI hadn't made a choice to do anything yet.
And I wasn't sure I wanted to.
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