Today is Sarah’s birthday. I haven’t forgotten her. I never will. I don’t think I could if I wanted.
It hurts me to think about her, my poor little sister. I can still see the horror in her face when I told her the truth I had discovered. Her words stung like daggers. They still do.
“I hate you, Jaina! I hate you! It’s your fault Mother and Father are dead! They weren’t even your parents!”
Sometimes I think I deserve her scorn. Sometimes I think she was right. Would they still be alive? Would I even know them if they were?
I still don’t know where I really belong. I felt so at home in England, so at peace. Life was oh so much simpler before that faithful day. Everything seems to come back to it. I know now that it was my powers that caused the fire to jump at Sarah. I didn’t even know I had them then. I still don’t know why I do.
England, it feels so far away now; lifetimes in the past. Ireland was kind to me too, but I would not call it home. Créa, I’m sure, would willingly let me stay with the Dúileach. I can’t though, not yet. There are still too many questions I need answered. I have nothing but half a drawer of clues.
I know this much - two name s, Eire and Nel’hava. Eire, I know refers to Ireland. It’s the country’s name in the native tongue. Nel’hava, however, I still haven’t been able to find. To be honest, I don’t think I’ll find this Nel’hava in Ireland. I believe quite the reverse. I think Mother sent me there to protect me for this figure. Perhaps, if I search for Nel’hava, I will be undoing everything Mother did to protect me. Should I risk it?
It’s my only chance to find the truth. I’ll have to.
Mesfido is leaving on a journey today. He has told me he’ll have to go alone. I agreed but for just one reason. I’m going to go on a journey of my own. It’s time I returned to England. I’m going to find the truth.
Jaina Alsardor gently shut the pages of her diary, its thick bindings shook as the mounds of pages met. The ornate, crimson book contained over twenty years worth of memories. It was one of Jaina’s most precious possessions. She fastened the simple locket that held it shut, placing it back in the drawer with her prime possessions. Most of them would be coming with her on her journey. The swords her mother had given her were a must. There was bound to be danger.
The young woman rose from her chair, standing in the centre of her Dome room. It was a peaceful, quiet room. Jaina had always liked it. Was it home though? Was the Dome where she belonged? She had spent nearly a year in the mysterious training grounds. Her time spent with Kenjin and with Mesfido had been the highlight of her stay. When she wasn’t training, or when Mesfido was out doing one thing or another, she often found herself bored. She had wandered many of the Dome’s halls during her boredom. There were parts that she knew like the back of her hand, others that she had never even stepped inside of. The Dome was immeasurably large. Jaina doubted that anyone really knew its full extent, not even the Domerii.
Jaina looked in the mirror, brushing a loose strand of hair behind her right ear. It was a little mannerism she had always had. She was wearing her emerald dress, just as she always did. Créa had given it to her when she had turned twenty. It was typical Dúileach design, incorporating the fluidity and balance so akin to their craftsmen. The light green swirls looked like the branches of a young tree. Most Dúileach art and crafts was inspired by nature. As a race, the Dúileach were extremely tightly linked to it. Most of their strength was drawn from the land around them. Without it, they would simply die off.
The dress was another of Jaina’s favourite items, though it wasn’t to be taken with her. She would stand out too much in England wearing something so tightly fitting. The fashion there was mainly large, almost balloon like dresses. Jaina had never been very fond of it. She wouldn’t demean herself by wearing anything so ridiculous. She would however have to wear something a bit more conservative than her emerald attire. She walked over to the large red oak cupboard that stood in the corner of her room and gently pulled it open. Inside were a few simple but practical outfits. She normally wore them while travelling. They had been left unused for quite some time now.
After carefully choosing her garments Jaina pulled off her dress, her auburn hair rising into the air as the gown came over her head. She stepped into a pair of baggy, light brown trousers. They tightened just above her ankles, leaving the bottom of her shins uncovered. Next she wrapped a white blouse around her leather vested torso, sticking one arm in at a time and then fastening up the buttons. Lastly, she pulled on a pair of dingy brown stocks, a dark leather boot going atop each of them. She didn’t look English but that didn’t matter. Her accent was more Irish anyway. The upper-class Englishmen cared very little about how the Irish savages dressed. At least she wouldn’t attract the same attention that her beautiful dress would draw.
Jaina was all but ready to leave. She grabbed a leather rucksack, tossing her arm through one of the shoulder straps. She grabbed a few important items and threw them into the open bag; her diary, her touchstone, food, a canteen of water and a change of clothes. She closed over the cupboard door, pulling a leather belt around her waist as she did so. She hung her twin blades from it.
She was ready.
Jaina turned to the room’s simple wooden door, quickly opening it and stepping through.
Mesfido was waiting for her in the Departure Room. The gigantic hall was filled with thousands upon thousands of doors. Each one had their own uniqueness. The fallen angel looked pensive. He was leaning against the frame of a bright green door. Jaina knew he didn’t like her going anywhere alone. It wasn’t because he was possessive but rather because he was protective, too protective perhaps. For a second, Jaina tried to imagine what would happen to him if something really did happen to her. During their training under Kenjin, the Encorna, she had been on the verge of death. It was only because of him that she had survived. This journey she was about to undertake was the first time Mesfido had let her put herself under any risk. When she had first suggested it to him he had said he would go with her himself. Unfortunately, due to a sudden change in circumstances, he was now unable to. An important matter had come up. It had taken Jaina a long time to convince him that she would be alright on her own.
The Master of the Seven Elements looked up from the ground. He had nearly bore a hole into it with his worried stare. He smiled when he saw Jaina, only a slight smile, not the usual pure happy grin he nearly always greeted her with. She smiled back, skipping a little as she walked over to him. She didn’t want to leave him; she hated putting him through any pain. She had to though. Her search for her past had taken a backseat for too long. She needed to find the truth before she could move forward with her future.
“Hey, big guy.” Jaina smiled ear to ear, jumping up and wrapping her arms around Mesfido’s huge neck. She planted a kiss on his cheek with her rosy lips. She knew how he felt but she couldn’t contain her own joy at finally getting out of the Dome. She hadn’t realized before just how much she longed for the real world.
Mesfido placed his hands around her waist, lifting her into the air then setting her back down. His eyes flickered over her, taking in her new appearance. “What’s with the trousers? I always took you for more of a dress type.”
Jaina gave him a dig in the ribs, causing him to laugh. She couldn’t even make him flinch. All she succeeded in doing was sending a jolt of pain down her own arm. She had forgotten just how incredibly fit he was. She had never had to go against him in battle, nor had she seen him at his strongest. She never viewed him as a warrior, just as a friend and a beloved companion. He had always been so gentle with her; she still found it hard to believe that he was in fact a fighter.
“I’ll have you know that the English have horrible taste in dresses!” She spoke with feigned indignation, rubbing her sore arm as her words formed themselves. “You wouldn’t be able to look at me without laughing if you saw me in one of their tents.”
Mesfido laughed again, finishing it with a sigh. They both knew it was time to part. Now that it had come to it, neither of them wanted to. Jaina may have been giddy with anticipation of her fast approaching trip but she couldn’t shake the feeling that she was abandoning her guardian angel.
“Jaina, you know I don’t like the idea of you going alone,” Mesfido looked away from her, he seemed almost ashamed. “I’ve organised for someone to accompany you. It’s not because I don’t think you can protect yourself. It’s because I would worry too much if you were alone.”
“You know I wanted to go it myself!” This time Jaina’s annoyance wasn’t faked. She had been looking forward to being free. Sometimes she thought that her love for Mesfido was taming her. She used to be so much wilder.
“I know, I know,” He still couldn’t meet her eyes. She saw something catch his eye. “He’s here. The choice is yours. I would feel much more at peace if you were to accept this offer. It’s all I can do to help.”
The Departure Room was much as had been described to me. Doors lined the walls of the Dome, somehow fitting in just as easily as every other, equally strange thing that had ever managed to find its way into the mystical building. That the astounding piece of architecture and engineering had managed to span the entire universe was amazing, but that it could manage an entire room meant to take people to the places its vastness reached ... was an amazing concept. Even to those who have little experience with the theories of space and time, it would be an amazing thing to know that one could walk into a door and instantly be transported millions of miles.
It boggled the mind.
My pause at the entrance to the place was only brief enough to glimpse the man and woman I was coming to meet. The man I recognized. He had introduced himself as Mesfido, and after a bit of time conversing it had come out that the man was seeking an escort for a friend of his. Although I had no real reason to go, I also had nothing better to do with my time. My decision, in small part, may have been influenced by the prospect of visiting an entirely foreign and completely interesting world. One of many tales about it—of which I had read many, wanting to familiarize myself with the place—was that they had invented a way to contain music within strange devices using something like lightning, but in a more moderated form.
I found the prospect of trapping music in a small object to be worth my time, or at least worth an investigation into it. My stride took brought me to the pair within a few moments. Thankfully, they had been at the near end of the extraordinarily long chamber, or I may have had to walk for minutes to come within shouting distance of them. I halted a few yards away, trying to seem as respectful and non-intrusive as possible for a moment.
The preliminary inspection of the redhead revealed that she was not pleased to see him, or at least no more pleased to see him than she would have been to see a horse trot up to her. I found myself under the impression that I had been asked to escort a woman who had no real desire to be escorted, and had not asked Mesfido to find someone like me. My gaze shifted to him. If anything, he was trying to not be looked at, cementing my impression quickly.
"I have been lured into a trap," I said, turning a smile on the woman, "and it seems that you were the bait. My name is Rhys, pleased to meet you."
Jaina’s eyes flicked from Mesfido to the newcomer.
Why is every male in the Dome, so damn tall? That was her first thought.
Her eyes glanced over him, taking him in. He seemed experienced enough and defiantly looked confident. However, she didn’t need him.
“Perhaps, maybe under different circumstances I too would be. I’m sorry Mesfido dragged you out here. He shouldn’t have.” Jaina’s face was drawn tight, her annoyance clear. “You’re services won’t be required.”
The fiery young woman turned, walking towards a nearby door. It had a woodland scene painted on its surface. She wretched it open, the frame shaking. Inside was huge forest, a cold draft entered the Departure Room. Jaina looked at Mesfido and Rhys briefly, leaving them with a single, unceremonious goodbye, “Farewell, gentleman.”
She hopped through the doorway, shutting the door behind her and beginning her march across the forest floor. She was too angry to feel guilty yet. Sooner or later she would feel bad for having left Mesfido on such bad terms. However, at this moment, her irritation at his incessant need to protect her was fuelling her.
Back in the Departure Room Mesfido was looking blankly at the woodland door. He shook himself back to reality, his large ponytail swaying behind his head. He turned to Rhys, compassion coating his face. He placed his huge hand on the man’s shoulder. “Rhys, you may think ill of me but I asked you here with good intentions. I care too much for Jaina to let her go alone, surely you can understand that?”
Amusement gave me a quick nudge, and I found myself turning a smile on Mesfido. The two of them were a couple, and I had just stepped into some kind of quarrel between the two. It dawned on me that no matter what I did, this would be an awkward situation to get out of, even for someone as slippery as an eel. I was no eel.
"I understand completely."
Only when my hand was on the door and it was halfway open did I look over my shoulder at him, a glint in my little eye, and say, "Sometimes, it's better to let them have their way. Keep it in mind."
Deciduous leaves crunched underfoot when I stepped through, instantly transported to a forest I had probably never been in before. The girl had not gone far, and I could still see her red hair as she flounced her way out ahead of me. She was obviously anything but apologetic about her rudeness, but it would be better not to bring that up in conversation. She had her reasons, and they were good ones. I was going with her anyway.
My decision took long enough that I had to lengthen my stride to catch up with her. The forest did not seem to be ending, and we seemed to be alone, so I gave none of my thoughts to concern over whether some traveler might wonder why a large man with a sword would be trying to catch a rather small woman. The fact that she was pretty would have made the situation more complicated. When my mind closed around that idea, I cursed under my breath and jogged the rest of the way to catch her. I had no intention of getting into a fight over following someone I had been sent to protect.
"Your boyfriend never did mention your name," I commented, plucking a leaf from a low branch and fingering it gently. "Feel like filling in the gaps for me?"
“Not really to be honest,” Jaina spun, sneering at the young warrior. “Long story short, my boyfriend thinks I’m incapable of looking after myself.”
She continued marching forward, ploughing through the long forest grass with her angry footsteps. She could hear Rhys following behind. She could feel his amusement without even looking at him. He seemed to be enjoying this. That only made her angrier.
“And your name, madam?”
Jaina didn’t even bother turning around to answer, “It’s Jaina, Jaina Leah Alsardor if you must have all the details, Mr. Detective.”
Her mind began to wonder, mulling over all the time she had spent with Mesfido in the Dome. They were some of her fondest memories. Thinking back on it now, she regretted leaving him in such a huff. He had only been trying to help after all. Disrespecting his last act of kindness wouldn’t do those wonderful memories justice. Though she didn’t feel much like conversation, she knew she really make at least some effort with this newcomer.
“Alright then, Rhys. Let’s start over.” She stopped, pivoting and facing him. She held out her hand for him to take.
My first thought was that it was a trap. She had been mean-spirited and more than a little bit spiteful so far, making this a sudden change and, in my eyes, highly unlikely. I was half expecting that she would slip a knife into my ribs the moment my hand closed on hers. Mesfido had not deigned to mention whether or not she was a murderously spiteful person, or even if she could handle herself in a fight. By the look of her, the latter was quite likely, and the former a distinct possibility. I applied strict forbearance to this decision.
I reached out and took the hand, held it, and gave it a quick shake.
"Rhys, just Rhys. It's a pleasure to meet you, too."
Nothing bad happened. No blood started spouting from important parts of my body, no dangerous flashes of movement, and I had not been reduced to a pile of ash, frozen in place, or sunken into a mire of suddenly-appearing quicksand. Either she was being fair or she was trying to fool with my head. I opted to take her at her word.
She was a really fiery one, this Jaina person. I got the impression she had introduced herself only because she knew she could not be rid of me. Not that I could blame her, having a big oaf shoved on her for no particular reason other than an overprotective lover, but neither did I completely forgive her. My good mood lingered, easy and casual, as I took in our environment. Wherever she had brought us out was a lightly wooded area comprised of entirely leafy forest. My first impression was that we were in some kind of grove.
"So, Jaina," I asked, my smile quirked a bit, "where exactly are we?"
"England," she responded, a bit chirpishly, as she started walking away.
"Yes, England, but where in England? From what I hear, England is a pretty big place. I would not call that ‘exact.'"
The redhead stopped, looked around a bit, and turned back to me. After a few moments of looking at each other, she shook her head. My confusion was complete. She must have picked up on that because she gestured impatiently and started walking again.
“Well, I was in a bit of a rush to leave the Dome. I didn’t really check the doors too carefully. I picked the first of several thousand that lead to England. Let’s just hope we’re in the right century at least,” Jaina let out a cheery laugh. She couldn’t help herself. The look of disbelief on Rhys’ face was simply too much for her. “Don’t worry your pretty self, Rhys. All we have to do is find the nearest town. We can decide what do there.”
“I’m glad to see you’ve put so much careful planning and consideration into this trip.” Rhys was walking slowly through the forest, bending down to avoid the low lying branches, his hand was sweeping out in front of him, pushing away any stray twigs or leaves. His eyes were scanning their dense, tree covered surroundings.
“I take it you like organization then.” Jaina pulled one of her twin blades from her side. She saw Rhys’ eyes flicker over it. She twiddled its handle between her fingers. It was another habit of hers, one that had been with her ever since she had started training in the way of the sword.
“Well, a bit of structure doesn’t hurt.” His eyes watched cautiously as Jaina’s blade began to slice through the air, trimming the branches and knee high grass.
Jaina’s fiery eyes glanced up at him, a mischievous sparkle lighting them up. “Personally, I like spontaneity. It makes me feel alive. Structure is predictable. Impulsiveness is much more exciting, not only in life but in battle too.”
Her blade was by her side again in an instant, hanging again from her waist. She launched herself into the air, grabbing a nearby branch. She swung herself into the tree’s canopy, her legs swinging of the next branch. Quickly she climbed through the coat of leaves, breaking through the treetop and into the fresh, clean air. She gazed out over the horizon, searching for some signs of life. There were trees everywhere, nearly as far as she could see. However, off to the east there was a small town just visible against the backdrop of blue sky.
She hopped back down nibbling, bounding from branch to branch with near perfect balance. Finally, she reappeared behind Rhys, dangling upside down from a thick tree limb. A smile lit up her face from ear to ear, her bright auburn hair swaying below.
“Alright Rhys, I’ve got some directions, some sense of structure you might say. East. We walk east.”
"You had to climb a tree to get directions," I muttered, tearing small pieces from my leaf as we started walking again. She was right about spontaneity; in battle or out, there was no better way to have fun and throw someone off than to be completely random about whatever you are trying to do. The worst warriors I had ever met never did anything but use a set of pre-ordained skills to adapt to a situation.
The ones who tried that kind of thing socially were just plain stupid. Women were exceptionally good at bringing out the ridiculous in social meetings—stupid jokes, mind tricks, and every under trick under the sun—just to trip up men. It was women and elves. Elves were obsessive about throwing people off-balance any time. My eyes skipped over Jaina. If she was trying to make me skip a beat, she was going to be sadly disappointed. Or at least disappointed.
My sword flicked from its sheathe, catching her eye for a moment as it flashed, and lifted one of her own weapons by the guard before she could react. The moment I spun into the air and caught it was the same moment she reached to grab it from midair. My sword slipped back into its scabbard with a satisfactory snick and I examined her weapon.
"Not a bad sword," I said, putting it out of her reach just when she reached for it the second time. "Sabers of some kind. Decent weight, too."
I looked at her, all deadpan without even giving away a tiny bit of hint that I was playing with her, and failed miserably. The look on her face was irresistibly humorous to me for some reason. To be honest, she looked like she was about to bite my face off and go chew it in the corner as punishment for my misbehavior. Unfortunately, I did not know what she was capable of, or what she would do, and I had no desire to find out about either. I handed the sword back and earned a glare.
“I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear that,” Jaina smiled, scanning the forest around them. She thought she could see it thinning a bit. “Let’s keep moving, it shouldn’t be much further now.”
The pair of fighters strode forward in silence for the first time since their meeting. It wasn’t an awkward silence; it hadn’t quite a companionable feel to it but neither was it uncomfortable. The dry forest leaves crunched beneath foot, the rhythmic march playing out in an orchestra of forest sounds, the chirping of little bird, the whistling of the wind, the steady crunch crunch of leaves and the buzzing of insects. The forest didn’t seem at all hostile. It was a pleasant place. Jaina doubted the rest of this journey would be so peaceful.
The trees were defiantly thinning now. Rays of light bathed their path, breaking effortlessly through the gaping holes in the canopy. Jaina lifted her pace, she could feel herself drawing ever closer to her goal. She knew it was still far off but every footstep brought her one nearer. Her lithe legs hopped gracefully over roots and fallen branches. Finally, she felt a blissful breath of wind swirl past her. They were out in the open again. A small town lay before them.
I stepped out into the open and lifted my eyes to stare at the sky for a moment. The cloud cover was, remarkably, very decent. Everything I had read about these ‘British Isles' had claimed that they were always subjected to rain, overcast skies, and sometimes sleet or snowstorms. Yet, it was as bright and blue in the sky above us as it ever had been in any of the other countless worlds and realms I had traversed. My mood never really changed, but I gained a new sense of distrust for books at that moment.
Books were wrong.
"Well, I suppose you got lucky," I quipped, walking out into the small field separating us from the little town. My boots immediately sank in to the ankles in what sounded and felt to be a mucky, muddy marshland. I took a step back into the forest and dry land and looked at Jaina. I felt a smile coming on, more at the bad luck than at anything that had actually happened.
After taking a step back and examining the green field closely, I came to the realization that we were possibly the most unlucky visitors this hamlet had ever received. Between us and the town was a marsh which, from what I could see, stretched endlessly in front of the forest—which explained why it ended in the first place—and was spotted in a few places by deep blue ponds of water. The dry-looking places seemed to be spotted half way across the marsh and further, leaving no choice to us than to cross the first several meters in ankle-deep mud.
Good thing I’m not wearing my dress. Jaina lifted one foot forward, testing the muddy ground beneath. Without the slightest bit of pressure her foot disappeared into the muck. She tried to pull it back out but with little avail. She looked over her shoulder at Rhys, smiling with the sheer the ridiculousness of the situation in which she was no in.
“Any chance you could give me a hand, big guy?”
Rhys sighed, no doubt growing a bit tired of Jaina’s antics. “If I must.” He extended his rough hand, grabbing hers. After some grunting, pulling shoving and general commotion Jaina’s leg burst out of the bog. There was a large squelching as she escaped. The pair tumbled, Jaina ended up face flat in yet another pool of filth.
She hauled herself out of the muck, extremely careful not to step into yet another. Whether or not Rhys was laughing she couldn’t care. Her ears were filled with sludge, completely dulling her sense of hearing. She sat up, resting her elbows on her knees in disbelief. Talk about making a fool of yourself.
As a matter of fact, I really was laughing. Waist-deep in mud, my legs splayed out in front of me as I watched her submerge into the mucky swamp, I had no choice but to take all the amusement possible in that simple face-plant. It was hilarious, even if I was involved and—I noted this in the more serious parts of my mind—drenched in mud and murky water. When I pushed myself off, shaking the muck off my hands, I was still chuckling at it all. The murky water got the rest of the clay-like substance off and I offered on hand to the woman.
"Need a hand?" I asked, my grin large enough to encompass both of us. Even if she was a snob about getting dirty, I was not about to let her heap muck over my good humor.
She glowered at me, my hand, and the rest of the world in general before she allowed me to pull her back onto dry land by main force of strength. Going through it would be easy enough now that we were muddy and disgusting, but she had looked more than a little chagrined just when her foot was in ... now that I had seen her expression coming up from a full bath, I was a bit hesitant to mention to possibility of going back into the marsh at all.
If my smile could have gotten wider, it really would have when I caught sight of her in the full light of day. Even if she was a bit snippy earlier, this was worth all the trouble in the world. Her full front side was drenched, literally drenched, with water and slick with brown-gray mud. Little tufts of greenery were stuck to various places, probably weak-rooted plants pulled out just because they had been in the mud.