"Atreyu, this way."
I looked from the vaulted palace ceiling to my father and nodded, falling into step behind him as we made our way to the king's study. My father had been summoned, again, and this time he had decided to bring me along. It'd been a couple of years since I'd last been in King Chaim's palace, and it still seemed larger than life. The walls stood nearly thirty feet high and the floor was made of priceless alabaster and marble.
Glancing down the hall, I caught sight of the King's advisor, Piran, standing in the shadows in a nearby corridor. Not only was he the chief advisor, but King Chaim's half-brother as well. He was the only one in the kingdom not to be of full hybrid blood. He was only half-hybrid, and half-human. That's Earth human, the kind we were forbidden to mingle with. Piran was highly revered throughout the kingdom, not only due to his rank but also because he was the sole individual amongst us that could kill a hybrid. It was a unique ability, that was for sure, but it instilled in the rest of us a certain fear of him.
Mordecai, my father, halted in front of the thick, wooden door that led to the King's study.
"You may enter," said King Chaim from the other side.
My father opened the door and gestured for me to go in. We bowed to His Highness, and I stood a few feet behind Mordecai, still awe struck by the fact that I was actually in the same room as the King. He sat at his desk, a smile on his thin lips.
"You brought your son," he said. "A handsome youth." His eyes fell to me. "How old might you be now?"
"Twelve," I replied shakily. "Sir."
"And your progress in your studies at Mehkdor?"
"I believe my instructors are pleased, your Highness."
"Such a cautious answer." He smiled again. "I've heard from your instructors that you are indeed doing well. Very well." He rose from his desk. "You may leave now, Atreyu."
I bowed again and sent a glance at my father before leaving the room.
As soon as I'd made it back into the hallway, I let out a heavy sigh. That was the first time King Chaim had ever addressed me like that. I knew this would make both Mordecai and Hershel, my mother, happy. I started back for the palace entrance, pleased that no one else was around because I was probably grinning like an idiot. Just as I came to the main hallway, I felt a hand at my shoulder.
It was Piran. I took a step back as he stepped out of the shadows.
"Desai Atreyu, isn't it?"
I nodded. "It is, Sir."
"There's a matter of some importance for you to attend to." He tapped his fingers against the door he was standing before. "In here."
The request was strange, but I wasn't in a position to decline. "I'll do what I can, Sir."
"Yes," he replied. "You will, and quickly, too."
I entered the room, closing the door behind me. Only one small lantern hung in the middle of the expansive room, lighting it dimly. There was a tall window on one side, and the light from the two suns lit the rest of the area. Under the window lay a girl, probably a couple of years younger than me. I squatted beside her, frowning at the pitcher of water, bowl, and stacked towels that sat several feet away. She was curled on her side with her arms over her stomach, and her eyes closed. There was a pool of blood that had formed at her side. She wasn't breathing.
Carefully, I reached for her arm, touching two fingers against her wrist. There was no pulse. That was when Piran's words hit me. I knew what I was supposed to do.
The Desai clan was highly respected because we alone had the power to bring a person back from the dead. We were a family of healers, the ones who healed people when they were sick and treated injuries inflicted on by those in times of war. Only King Chaim gave the order to have someone revived. He's the only one who was allowed to order it. But revival was definitely what Piran was alluding to. And ignoring an order from him would be nearly as bad as rejecting a command from the King himself.
We could revive the dead, but only once. Usually members of the clan never even got the chance to do it, let alone this young. I let out a deep breath, trying to calm myself. This was my position. This was what I was meant to do.
I gently turned the girl onto her back, moving her hands from her stomach to get a better look at the wound. She was wearing a gray uniform, much like my own, but I was sure that she didn't attend the same academy as me. She was, after all, Chaim's child. The Princess of Touchstone. I'd seen her the year before at the last tournament at the higher academy, Mehkdor. She participated in several of the spars and even advanced to same level as myself, except she was two years younger than the rest of us. She small and quick, and I'd been surprised that she was competing at our own level. The Queen Archeeka had only had one child before falling ill, and that was Hylika.
Unbuttoning the sleeve of her left arm and rolling the thick material up, I took a moment to remember what my instructor had told me for this procedure. Revive, then heal. Find an easily accessible place on the corpse for the revival point.
"But don't choose a spot that can't be covered in clothing," I recited to myself. I took my knife from my belt and studied the flesh near the inside of her elbow for a second before cutting into it a small circle. Then I paused, waiting for the beads of blood to form. After a minute, I suddenly recalled that corpses don't bleed, and continued the procedure. I cut two thin curved lines into the circle.
Next was the hard part. I unbuttoned the sleeve of my own uniform, pushing the up past my elbow. Repeating the design, I brushed my fingers over the blood that soon seeped through the cuts and held it to the mark on the girl's arm. I traced over the design in my blood, just as I'd been instructed back in class, then sat back. I wiped my fingers off on my pants, wincing at the pain in my arm as I stared at the girl's unmoving form. I wondered if it would actually work.
It took a moment, but there was no doubting it as she drew in a shallow breath. She was alive. Just as her hand twitched, I felt something inside me change. Suddenly faint, I put a hand to my forehead, then moved closer to her. I still had to heal the stab wound.
"Princess Hylika," I whispered, looking to her, but she didn't wake. Quickly, I unfastened the last two buttons on her gray shirt and slipped my hand beneath, covering the wound. A warmth sparked at my fingertips and I summoned a substantial amount of presence to treat the laceration. It took a moment, and when I was finished, I felt beneath her for an exit wound, but there was none.
The mark on her arm had begun to bleed, and I poured some water into the bowl and submerged a towel into it. I gently wiped away the blood at her stomach and arm, wondering if it would come out of her uniform or if it'd be stained forever. Tearing another towel in half, I tied one part around the mark at her arm, and the other around my own.
I glanced back out the window, realizing that it was already early evening. Chances were, my father was already home and wondering where I was. What would I tell him? What could I tell him? Those who revived the dead were forbidden to speak with anyone other than the King about it. There were several that, for bragging purposes, told others of their revival experience, but that was only within the clan.
I turned her face as I tried to remember what color her eyes were. Nearly black, I thought. She still seemed the same size as the year before, but I was sure she'd grown a little. I brushed the brunette hair from her face, tucking it behind her ear. Suddenly, her hand moved. It jerked upwards and the next thing I knew, my nose was stinging. Before I had a chance to react, she hit me again and I scrambled back a few feet.
She herself looked scared. She quickly retreated to the opposite wall, staring at me with wide eyes.
I bowed, wiping the blood from my nose. "Princess." When there was silence, I glanced up at her.
She tried standing, but leaned against the wall instead, one arm still clutching her stomach.
"Princess," I said again, coming to her side. "I --"
"Your nose." She sat down again. "It's bleeding."
I nodded. "Yeah, er, yes." Taking a small towel from beside the bowl and pitcher, I pressed it against my nose. "I apologize for startling you like that, Princess."
"He left after he told me to come here."
She moved her hand from her side, then looked back to me. "Who are you?"
"Desai. Atreyu Desai," I said quickly. "Piran brought me here so that I could revive you."
"You revived me?"
"Yes, your Highness."
"I think I've seen you before. Around the palace perhaps?" She brought a hand to her head, rubbing her temples.
This time when I nodded, I felt a wave of dizziness follow. "You should rest, Princess. After being revived, it'd be in your own best interest if you were to lie down."
She shook her head, looking over the room. "Where's my sword?"
"I -- um." I glanced to my left, then right. "It wasn't in here when I arrived, Princess."
She looked as if she was about to respond, but shut her mouth as the door opened. Piran stepped in, and I noticed the Princess back into the corner of the room. He looked less sinister than usual, almost as if he was relieved. He did a half-bow to the Princess. "Thank goodness you're all right, your Highness." He turned to me. "Desai, I believe you're finished."
There was something about her reaction to him that was a little unsettling. I recalled my instructor's words, putting a hand to my scabbard. "It is required that the revived person be in the sole care of the reviver directly after the procedure."
His attention turned to the Princess again. "I'll return later, your Highness." He left, closing the door behind him.
Silence reigned for a few minutes. The weakened feeling in me was starting to increase, and I knew why. Because I'd revived her, her body now used a portion of my presence to survive. I'd heard about the effect before, but hadn't thought that it would be this bad. I sat against the wall, seeing that her eyes had closed.
Later, I awoke to my own snoring. I couldn't even remember that last time that I'd slept, and I doubt there was a hybrid out there that could. It was something that we grew out of while still infants, just like eating. Wiping the drool away, I realized the room had darkened. The two suns had set, and the lone lantern was doing a poor job of lighting the room.
The Princess was awake, still sitting at the wall opposite me, and staring. I momentarily wondered if she thought it offensive that I fell asleep, but decided that she didn't, realizing that the look on her face was far from anger.
"How are you feeling, your Highness?"
She only nodded, and I moved closer.
"I need to check your injury."
She shook her head and covered her stomach with her arm.
"It's part of protocol."
She shook her head again.
"Um, okay." I sighed. There wasn't anything I could do if she said no. She was the Princess, after all.
The door opened, and Piran let himself in again. "It's been time enough, Desai," he said. "I think that it's time for you to take your leave."
I glanced back to the Princess, not liking the idea of leaving her alone with Piran. "Are you sure you're all right, your Highness?"
Again, she nodded. I stood as Piran smiled.
"Thank you for your time, Desai."
"I --" I cleared my throat. "I think I should walk her to her room. She --"
"Is that so?"
Piran's smile turned to a smirk. He looked to the Princess. "Can you walk, Princess?"
She rose, faltering for a moment as she took a first step and steadying herself against the wall. She walked past the advisor, glancing back at me before leaving the room.
Piran waited a moment before speaking again. He took a step closer to me. "I'm sure you realize the magnitude of what you've done today," he said. "And I must say, it is a job well done."
I bowed slightly. "Thank you, Sir."
"There will be no talk of this matter unless the King says otherwise."
His words were threats, I knew, but he didn't necessarily have the advantage. "But only the King can ask someone to perform a revival," I heard myself saying.
The expression on his face changed. "It's nearly curfew," he said after a moment. "You should return home. Quickly."
When I got home, I went straight to my room. I passed by my parents' room hurriedly, not wanting to be questioned so late in the day. I knew they would wonder where I'd been all afternoon, and I wasn't exactly sure of what I could tell them and what I couldn't. I sank onto the couch in the corner of my room, feeling the overwhelming urge to sleep. It was a peculiar feeling, and I didn't feel like fighting it. I put out the lantern and closed my eyes.
A moment later, the lantern was on again.
"Where have you been, Atreyu? It's nearly --"
"Mother?" I opened my eyes, able to barely make out her slender form.
She sat on the couch beside me, taking my bandaged arm in her hands. "You're wounded," she said. "Did you get into a fight? If it was that Sedin --"
"No," I mumbled, retrieving my arm. "I'll explain it tomorrow. With Father, too."
"Atreyu. . ." Her voice was hushed, yet stern. "You've -- have you. . .? " She stopped and put her hand to my cheek. "You rest for tonight. We'll talk tomorrow."
By the time I woke up the following morning, it was already light outside. I sat up slowly, recalling the events from the day previous as I realized that Father was sitting at my desk. He was the tallest one in the Desai clan, and I took after him in not only that but also that we shared the same brown hair and eyes. Mother said that I received my skill in the spar matches from him, too.
"Father," I said quietly.
He looked back at me, an expression of concern on his face. "Good morning, son."
"I'm sorry for coming home late last night." I swallowed. "It won't happen again."
"That's not what I'm worried
about. Apparently, you've given your mother the impression that
you've revived someone, Atreyu. Is that true?"
Unsure of what to say, I kept quiet.
"If you had met with King Chaim after my departure, you surely would've told me."
I nodded. "I didn't meet with him." Sitting up straighter, I realized that the bandage on my arm had loosen and fallen off. The mark was clearly visible, and I quickly covered it with my sleeve. It was too late, though. He'd already seen it.
"You know better than to revive someone just because they're dead, don't you?"
"Well. . ." My father glanced down at the desk. "Did the procedure work? Is the person alive?"
"Yes, Father. I believe it went textbook, but I didn't get the chance to check her --"
"Her?" He sat back in the chair. "A female, son?"
I nodded again. "It was."
I pondered the question, debating
whether or not I should tell him anything more. "Princess
"The Princess?" He looked surprised. "Are you positive?"
"Yes. I am."
"And you did this without the approval of the King?"
He leaned forward, his tone turning even more serious. "You are to tell no one about this. Not your mother, not Piran, not even the King. Understand?"
"Yes," I replied quietly.
"I will tell your instructors that you're ill today. You will spend the remainder of the day making sure that your patient is healthy, and," he started to smile, "sleeping."
After putting a fresh uniform on, I began the long walk to the palace. The suns were high overhead, probably around my fifth hour of classes, I guessed. I was thankful that my father had me pardoned from my classes; the presence drain hit me harder that day than the day prior and I had felt overly tired from the moment that I woke. It made me wonder what the Princess felt like.
I grew more and more nervous as I approached the palace. What if they wouldn't let me in? It wasn't as if I had an invitation. They would probably question why I wasn't in school, I thought to myself. I didn't have an answer ready for that. I couldn't tell them the nature of my visit. To see the Princess, yes, but I could reveal why I wanted to see her.
I wondered if she would even receive me. She didn't seem herself the day before. Probably traumatized, to say the least. There wasn't a single doubt in my mind as to who had killed her. It was obvious, to me. I knew I couldn't tell anyone, though, and wasn't about to.
Reaching the palace gates, I found myself slowing my pace. The palace always had an ominous air to it, both from the inside and outside, and with it looming before me now, I began to think that I might not be welcome though.
Surprisingly, after revealing my name to the guardsmen, they let me pass. I assumed that Piran had told them that I might be visiting today. I couldn't image him telling the King about the matter so soon.
I made my way down a maze of halls and corridors once inside the palace, not certain how I would go about finding the Princess. I'd been to only a few rooms in the palace over the years, and all of those had been officious rooms; like the study and the anteroom. I found the spacious room from the day before, where I'd revived her, but she wasn't there. Instead, there was a young girl, looking to be around six years of age. Her blonde hair was tied in two lopsided braids. She sat on a small stool near the doorway, preoccupied with the yarn game on her fingers. I cleared my throat and she looked up at me, then scrambled to her feet.
"If you're Desai, I was supposed to tell you --" She paused, eyes wide, then started over. "Um, who are you?"
"Oh, good." She sighed, then curtsied. She plucked the yarn from her fingers and slipped them into a pocket behind her maid's frock. "I'm supposed to lead you to see the Princess."
I followed her down a series of long halls. She'd retrieved her string from her pocket and began to wind it around her wrist as we walked, humming to herself with a slight bounce in her step. Her footsteps echoed loudly off the marble flooring and I hoped that neither King Chaim nor anyone else would approach us. Could she be any noisier?
We came to a stop in front of a door that, quite frankly, looked just like all of the other doors. Knocking twice, she opened it and entered. She curtsied, and said, "Receiving Atreyu Desai, for her Highness, Princess Hylika."
She stepped aside and motioned for me to go in. After I did, she left, closing the door after her.
The entrance to the room was grand, with a smooth arch in the ceiling that opened up to several large rooms. The floor was pure alabaster, and it reflected the light of the suns fiercely in some places. Piran was standing near one of the tall pillars, an old textbook in his hand. Hylika stared back at me from her seat at the window.
"Have you come to check up on your patient?" Piran asked, smiling slightly.
He looked to the Princess, then to the book. "You may precede, Desai." He moved to the doorway.
I took a few steps forward, then knelt. "Princess."
She nodded, and I approached her. "Procedure calls for me to check your pulse, mark and injuries," I explained quietly. "Do I have your permission?"
A smile came to her lips and for a moment I thought she was going to laugh. She set down her small piece of wood and whittling knife, turning to me fully. The area around her eyes looked a little dark, and I wasn't convinced that she got much sleep that night before. Her sword was only a few feet away, propped up against the wall, but she was in casual dress, so I assumed she hadn't been practicing.
She slid off the window seat and to her feet, holding out her left arm.
I felt for the pulse, relieved that it wasn't as weak as I feared. I brought my hand to her neck, but she took a step back.
"I have to," I said lowly. "It's a secondary check." I touched my fingers to her neck again and she remained still, her dark eyes staring back at me. "Well," I drew my hand back, "Your pulse seems fine. I need to check your injury now."
She looked past me to Piran, and I didn't turn to see whether his expression was one of consent or not. She unfastened two of the buttons on her dress at her waist, and I held my hand to the new scar at her abdomen, trying to make this as fast as possible.
"It's healed well," I said. I withdrew my hand and she quickly rebuttoned her dress and sat down. "There's -- I'm supposed to ask who it was the killed you, your Highness." It was a stupid question; one that I already knew the answer to. If the cause of death wasn't from sickness or enemy soldier, there was only one who could kill hybrids. I cleared my throat again. "You don't need to answer, but it's required that I ask."
She said nothing and instead held out her arm.
I pushed back the quarter-length sleeve, examining the mark. There was little swelling and no bruising, just like my own. "You're not supposed to have classes today. Neither studious nor physical. And it's suggested that you sleep as much as you want and eat if you care to."
"Well, um." I backed up a step. "That's it. We're done."
"Very well." Piran's voice was close behind me. "How is she doing, Desai?"
I turned to him. "She's healing well. But she needs rest today. She shouldn't be having class."
A smirk came to his lips and he looked to the Princess. "No classes today, Princess. You are excused."
She picked up her wood and knife as I moved towards the door. With my hand near the knob, Piran continued.
"Are you a friend of the Princess, Desai?"
I glanced at her, debating the question. "Yes." Was that really true?
"Then you are free to visit her at your leisure," the advisor replied. "As long as you keep this little incident between us."
"Yes, Sir." I bowed towards the Princess. "With your leave."
She nodded and I left the room.
I wasn't sure of the way back to the main hall. The blonde maid from before had been so distracting -- and walking so fast -- that I'd forgotten to pay attention to what halls we had taken. I went on instinct, knowing that sooner or later I'd find the main hall, and time wasn't necessarily a pressing matter. I turned the next corner, only to nearly run into someone else.
It was Hani Sedin. He was a classmate of mine, and one of the oldest sons in a rival clan. He stood in the middle of the hall, a smug look on his face. "Atreyu," he mumbled. "What business do you have here?"
"Definitely not the same as yours."
He stood nearly at my height, and the two of us were among the top in our swordsmanship class. He grinned. "So you weren't summoned?"
"And you were?"
"Yeah. The King himself." He stared at me for a moment, his grin turning to a frown. "Why aren't you in class?"
I shrugged. "You're not either."
"So? I've been excused."
I nodded, then continued down the hall. "So have I." I heard his footsteps near again, and he caught up with me.
"You're trying to win the favor of the Princess already? Don't bother, she --"
"Doesn't have a choice," I finished. "I know. It's the same for everyone else. Now don't you have somewhere to be?"
He mumbled something under his breath and stopped as I rounded the next corner.
The following day, I had double the workload in classes. I made up the homework from the day before and was still waiting to recover the entirety of my presence. Would it ever completely return? I was unsure of how the process worked exactly, and I had to admit, I hadn't thought that reviving someone would be so draining. I had to sleep that night as well, and, when questioned by my cousin, Deo, told him that I'd been sick.
By the time I'd gotten home, my father told me that I was again to accompany him to the palace. We weren't waiting long in the anteroom before the blonde maid showed up in the door.
"Atreyu Desai," she said with a curtsy.
My father looked to me with a slight interest.
"I've received orders that you are supposed to follow me."
I looked to Father, who nodded, and followed the maid down the hall. She led me down a new passage, up a large set of stairs with a smooth ivory railing. After nearly five minutes of walking, I realized that she didn't know where she was going. We'd passed the same wood carved several times, and I was starting to find the tapestry terribly familiar.
"You're lost," I said. "Aren't you?"
"No." She looked to the wood carved door, then to one end of the hall. Then to the other. "I know where we are. It's um. . ." She pointed down the hall. "This way."
We wandered for several more minutes, and I was convinced that she was lost.
"Do you know where we're going?"
"Yes. I know where we're going," she mumbled, her blue eyes widening. "I just don't know where we are."
"I was to escort you to Princess Hylika's room," she said. "But. . . I wanted to try a new way, because Mori said that this way was faster than I one I usually take, but --"
She stopped, hearing loud voices from the other side of the carved door. It was Chaim and Piran, it sounded like.
"Cover your ears," I said quietly.
She did, looking to me with a confused expression. I could hear Chaim scolding Piran, but for what I wasn't able to make out. I listened for a minute before I heard my father's voice, then my name. Suddenly, I knew what they were talking about.
"Let's go," I said to the maid, tugging on her sleeve. I didn't want anyone to find us there in the hallway. "Come on. Let's find the room."
She nodded, removing her hands from her ears and fell in step behind me. "You know, um, I don't think that this is the way to her room."
"It's worth checking." We were in a corridor that we hadn't explored yet. It was lined in identical doors, and the maid immediately rushed to one near the end.
"It's this one," she said. "This is it."
I frowned. "How can you tell? All the doors look the same."
"Her room smells like wisteria," she said with a smile, knocking twice. She opened the door and I went in. "Receiving Atreyu Desai, Princess."
I looked around the room, finding Piran nowhere. The maid shut the door and hopped onto a stool near the doorway, taking a wad of yarn from her pocket. Hylika was at her window seat, looking outside. She was nearly engulfed in a large blanket that was pulled all the way up to her chin.
"Your Highness?" I approached her slowly.
She said nothing, and didn't look well. Her eyes were half closed, and she sat staring out the window. I held my hand to her forehead, finding it strangely warm. She didn't protest when I felt her cheek, nor when I reached for her arm and gently pulled up the sleeve of her dress to expose the mark. Her whole upper arm was scraped, and I quickly checked the other arm, but there was no damage. I couldn't believe this. She'd had class?"
"Princess," I began quietly. "Piran had you in practice today?"
She moved her head slightly in a nod.
I sighed and turned to the maid. "Please get me a damp cloth."
"Yes, Sir." She hopped off of her stool and hurriedly exited the room.
"It was wrong of him to do this. He should know better." The words left my mouth before I had time to think. I stopped short, realizing my mistake. The Princess didn't look fazed. She only stared back, and I decided it would be best to change the subject. I healed the scrape on her arm, but knew that I could do nothing about the fever.
It took a few more minutes for the maid to return, and after handing me the cloth, she returned to her stool.
"She has a terrible sense of
direction," I said, hoping to evoke some sort of reaction from
She smiled faintly and gave a weak nod as I wiped the blood from her arm. When I was finished, she pulled her arm back under the blanket.
The door swung open, and the made gave a sharp yelp of surprise. I turned around to see Piran close the door as he stepped into the room. He hadn't even knocked, I thought to myself.
"Checking up on your patient again?" he asked.
"Yes." I could think of plenty of things to say, but most of them were likely to get me killed. "She should take a three day hiatus from her classes so that she can recover completely."
"I believe I have the final say when it comes to when someone under my tutelage will train, and when they will not, Desai."
"Then I think I should stay here until she's completely recovered." I glanced at the Princess, who had turned her attention from the window to me. She was nearly smiling, but said nothing.
Piran's smirk slipped. "You may have a point. I'll allow three days for her recuperation. I'll suspend classes for then, Princess."
She nodded to him.
"Your father is no longer in conference with the King," he said. "You should meet him at the anteroom."
I turned and bowed to the Princess. "I'll return tomorrow to check on you again," I said.
She gave a nod, and I quickly left the room, not wanting the maid to attempt to escort me out.