"Did you hear? That girl from you school who had her eighteenth birthday ceremony two days after you… She was a Khavari!"
Rena's fists clenched tighter as she remembered the chaos just last night.
"Not only that! She escaped! Another Khavari came and took her away. He even used a Mer to destroy the Sanctuary!"
Rena didn't believe it at first. Of all people, Morgan? She may have only spoken to Morgan whenever Gemma and Cecile were around but she had no doubt that she knew Morgan's character. She was shy towards those she wasn't close to but she was cheerful whenever she was with close friends. Rena had never seen anything bad or nasty in Morgan. She wasn't the type to stand out either. She was the most unlikely Khavari she could think of.
But what did she truly know about the Khavari? Although a number of members of the Vale family have come across the Khavari in their life or career, Rena was not one of them. She had also only become a Lux a mere four days ago; her training has not even started. All she knew about the Khavari were second-hand information.
The Khavari are evil. The Khavari are manipulative. The Khavari are deadly. The Khavari are seductive. Rena was taught that if she ever made a pact with a Khavari or a Mer, she would lose not just her life, but also her soul. The Khavari and the Mer are monsters.
But Rena could still remember the face full of hope – the hope that she would also be one of the Blessed Ones. How could someone like Morgan be a monster?
"Little sis, are you all right?"
Rena looked towards the direction of the voice and saw her older sister standing by the doorway, a hand resting on the doorframe. Despite being twenty-one years old, her sister looked younger than she did. The fact that she could not be taller than 5'2" with a slim frame just added to the impression that she was a teenager. Her hair was a nice auburn while her eyes were olive green. She was also olive-skinned, unlike Rena who was paler.
Roya Vale was not Rena's blood sister; she had been adopted. Despite this, to Rena, Roya would always be her favorite person in the world. Roya was not only her sister but also her best friend.
"I don't want to hear that 'little sis' comment from a pipsqueak," Rena retorted as she stood up to emphasize their height difference. Standing at almost 5'11", Rena was more than half a foot taller than Roya.
Her sister scowled although Rena could see the amusement in her eyes. "Who are you calling a pipsqueak, you disrespectful child? For your information, my height is perfectly normal. There are probably more women who have the same height as me compared to you."
"And that makes me more special," Rena fired back with a wink. "And don't call me 'child'. You're only three years older than me."
Roya lost her scowl as her mouth formed into a smile. She approached Rena before reaching up and giving her a hug.
"I'm back," Roya murmured as Rena returned her hug.
"I missed you, sis," Rena replied before stepping back. "So, how are your classes?"
Roya wasn't able to turn away fast enough since Rena had seen the hooded look in her eyes. It was always the same reaction whenever Rena asked her about school.
Roya was one of the unique humans who had the abilities of a Lux but wasn't one. Even before her eighteenth birthday, Roya had already been displaying the power to fight against the Mer. The Vale family had been so pleased that they had adopted her. But when she turned eighteen and stepped in front of the Mirror of Triogan, she had remained as she was. The general response was one of disappointment but Roya continued to grow more powerful. She was therefore sent to train with the Lux despite not being one of them.
Rena had asked her once before if she was being bullied by the Lux. But Roya just gave her an empty smile and said, "How could the precious Children of the Light be bullies?"
Rena always told Roya everything that happened in her life. But Roya was not the same. Roya always preferred to just listen. That got even worse after Roya left the house to start her duties with the Lux; she was now so secretive that Rena had no idea what was happening with her older sister's life.
Roya was one of the main reasons Rena wanted to be a Lux. She wanted to follow Roya so she could watch over her and keep her safe from the other Lux.
Yes, Rena's sister was strong. But she was also fragile in a way that wasn't physical.
"How are Mother and Father?" Roya asked, obviously changing the subject. She never addressed their parents as "Mom" or "Dad". Roya was always very formal with them. Rena remembered a time when Roya affectionately addressed them with those two simple three-lettered words. When had all that changed? Rena couldn't remember.
"Mom and Dad are fine," Rena said, trying to sound cheerful. "You'll see them tonight at dinner."
There was a heavy silence as neither spoke.
Rena hated it. Rena hated how their closeness was starting to fade.
"I'm sorry I wasn't here for your ceremony or your celebrations," Roya said quietly, her eyes downcast. "I was in the middle of-"
"Don't worry about it, Roya," Rena quickly said, making Roya look back up at her. "I'm just glad you can visit me now. How long will you be here? We have to catch up!"
"I'll be here for three days," Roya answered. "What do you have in mind for us?"
Rena grinned. "Well, how about we get you clothes other than that uniform you wear?"
"Woah! This Sanctuary was absolutely destroyed, huh? It's all just dust now."
"Don't sound so cheerful, Sir."
The decimated Sanctuary in question was surrounded by a number of different people: concerned human citizens, the surviving Lux who resided in the Sanctuary, the Lux performing an investigation on the site and two humans who freely moved around where the Sanctuary once stood.
"Should we talk to one of the survivors, Sir?" the younger of the two, a brown-haired youth who looked as though he was in his early to mid-twenties, questioned professionally as he faced his superior.
"Please do, Reggie," the older man, who had brown-black hair and seemed to be in his early to mid-thirties, said in a sing-song voice.
"Reggie" pushed his glasses further up his nose. "Please address me by my proper first name, Sir Irem."
"But 'Reggie' is so adorable," Irem cooed as Reginald all but glared at him. "Now off you go to ask those poor survivors how two Khavari, one of which is newly awoken, and a Mer managed to cause this much damage."
Reginald gave him a salute before turning around to do as he was bidden. But before he took one step forward, he turned his head slightly to address his superior.
"They resent our presence," the younger of the two quietly stated.
"I know, Reggie," Irem answered lightly. "It is because we are human yet we walk among them as though they are our equal." The Crimson Knight just grinned and Reginald heard the amusement in his tone. "They easily forget where they came from." He then waved the younger away.
I wonder what our Knight Commander will make of this, Irem cheerfully thought. Oh he couldn't wait to see Milan's reaction.
Roya stared at the four bags hanging from her left arm before turning to the five bags hanging from her right arm then looking up at her widely smiling younger sister who had even more bags than she did.
"It's only been two hours," Roya said in disbelief, making Rena giggle.
"You're underestimating me, sis," Rena said with a wink. "Why don't we go to a café and take a breather? Would you like that?"
Roya sighed in relief, making Rena laugh. "Yes, please."
They chose a small quaint café that was almost empty save for a table of five older ladies. As with all the shops they had gone in, many heads turned at the sight of the Lux among them. Roya was so proud of Rena. But most of all, she was happy that her little sister got her wish to become a Lux.
The two sisters ordered and as soon as the waiter – after a long stare at Rena – left, the younger of the two leaned forward.
"Can't you visit me more often?" she asked. "I've been wanting to tell you so many things."
"I want to be a Knight too."
Roya placed her glass down with a very audible clunk and she gave Rena a serious look.
"Rena, you would be better as a Healer."
"But Roya, I want to be with you."
Roya leaned forward and took Rena's hands in hers. "Rena, look carefully at me. Please listen. I am a Page because the ability I have is to eliminate the Mer. But you are a Lux and I heard that you have a gift for healing. Why would you want a dangerous life of a Knight?"
"I already told you," Rena said as seriously. "I want to be there for you. You've always been taking care of me, Roya. Remember when you saved my life?"
Rena had only been eleven while Roya had just turned fifteen. They had been kidnapped on the way home from Rena's ballet lessons. Rena remembered how Roya tried to stay as calm as she could so that Rena would not be scared. But Rena had seen how scared Roya was – for her.
But something had gone wrong. Before they knew it, their kidnappers were dead and they were being attacked by a ten-legged gigantic spider-like Mer with no one to protect them. Rena would never forget the terror that had choked her as she cowered behind Roya, who had courageously tried to fight off the Mer with the gun the kidnappers had used to threaten them. But of course, the gun had been useless. Rena would never forget how Roya threw herself protectively over Rena, trying to cover her little sister with as much of her body as she could. It was then that Roya's powers had awakened and the Mer had been diced to pieces.
Back then, Rena thought that her older sister was so big, tall and strong. But as she looked at Roya now, she realized just how much a child's mind colored the truth. Roya was had only been a girl herself when she had gone against that monster for Rena's sake. She could have left her and ran for her own life. Instead, she vowed that the Mer would not touch her baby sister without going through her dead body.
You saved my life and you wouldn't even let me do the same for you, Rena thought sadly. Even now, you're still trying so hard to take care of me and keep me shielded.
"Rena, please reconsider," Roya pleaded. "Mom and Dad wouldn't want you to be a Knight either."
Rena saw that there was no talking to Roya at this point. Sighing, she gave Roya a small smile but inwardly, she thought, This is not over.
Roya sighed in obvious relief. "Now what else has been going on with everything?"
"Matt and I broke up."
Rena thought her sister would immediately demand 'why' especially since Roya liked Matt and thought that he was good for her. He was but…
"I understand," Roya said in a soothing voice. Rena gave her a startled look but she just smiled. "If I were anyone else, I probably wouldn't. But don't forget, I spend most of my time among the Lux. Once you've become one, it seems that your view of the world changes as well and this is hard to communicate with someone who doesn't see the world in the same way you do."
Rena nodded. "He's a very nice guy," Rena said quietly. "Our relationship has been rocky for the past couple of months – ever since his eighteenth birthday. I won't lie and say I wasn't disappointed that he wasn't a Lux but I was also somewhat relieved that he wasn't. After all, what if I hadn't become one either? But he must have sensed my disappointment since he became a bit distant but more possessive at the same time. One of the things I loved about Matt is the fact that he is easy to talk to and we did. We tried to fix it but then my birthday came and I became a Lux.
"Then there was also Oliver."
"Your Lux friend?" Roya asked and Rena nodded.
"We have the same sort of background, you know. The Tarran family is much like the Vale family. He understood the pressure of everyone's expectations, my worries and my insecurities since he had been in the exact same position. We had grown so close and before I knew it, I was confiding in him more than in Matt." Rena shook her head and sighed heavily. "I feel really bad for Matt but I couldn't keep on dragging it out especially since my thoughts and feelings were already with someone else."
Roya squeezed her sister's hands and gave her a reassuring smile. "I'm sure Matt will forgive you someday. He's a very good person so he won't have trouble finding someone else."
Rena nodded. "I really, truly hope so."
A comfortable silence settled between them just as their orders arrived. The ate in silence for a bit before Rena decided to open up another conversation.
"Have you heard of what happened in our local Sanctuary?"
Roya paused in mid-bite before continuing then quickly swallowing.
"Yes," she answered quietly. "The girl had her birthday two days after yours, right? Did you know her?"
Rena nodded solemnly. "Her name was Morgana Ruse but her friends called her Morgan. She was a really nice girl. How could she be a Khavari? Roya, are the Khavari truly evil?"
Roya placed her fork down. She suddenly seemed to look off in the distance and Rena knew that Roya was carefully considering her answer.
"In the battlefield, it doesn't matter if your enemy is evil or not. Simply, they are your enemy and your job is to eliminate them. I've never seen a Khavari or Mer who wasn't fighting for his or her life but I don't know if that's all they are fighting for. Unless I completely know their purpose for fighting, I really can't say they're completely evil although I've seen many do evil things."
Rena blinked at her. "I wasn't expecting that answer but it sort-of makes sense."
Roya gave her a rueful smile. "My Lord Knight would admonish me for being soft again if he ever heard that reply. 'The Lux represent goodness and the Khavari are the embodiment of evil'. But the more I fight them, the more I ask myself if they are really all that different from us… Us humans anyway."
"Don't," Rena said suddenly, her tone hard enough that Roya looked at her in surprise. "Don't ever differentiate yourself from me, Roya. Even if I look like this and even if I have gained powers, I will never forget where I came from." Rena's golden eyes were piercing.
"I am still a human being."
Roya's eyes widened as she stared at her younger sister in awe. She gently placed her hands around Rena's face and smiled so happily.
"You are absolutely the most amazing ever, Rena."
Rena suddenly felt embarrassed. "Don't get all mushy on me."
Roya released her and laughed. "You're the mushy one. You've been mushy since this morning."
"Well…" Rena's voice faded off but then she perked up again. "That's why I think that Morgan couldn't possibly be evil. Although some things changed, I don't think I'm a better person than I was before I had my ceremony. In fact, Matt might think I've become worse. So I don't see why Morgan would suddenly become evil straight after as well."
"Even if she could possibly have been the one to destroy the Sanctuary?"
Rena frowned. "But I heard that another Khavari had entered the Sanctuary and that he had summoned a powerful Mer. They could have been the ones who destroyed it."
That was definitely a possibility, especially since Morgan was only newly awakened. No one could possibly master their power within moments after the transformation. Yet she was supposedly able to summon a Mer and fight off eight of the Lux, three of which were seniors.
Roya opened her mouth to respond but a sudden beeping sound cut her off before she could even voice out a bit of her thoughts. Roya froze then slowly reached into her pocket to look at her pager.
"Roya?" Rena said questioningly. Roya put the pager away and smiled at her sister.
"I'll take you home."
Rena's brows furrowed together. "You're not being called back already, are you?"
Roya sighed as she stood up. "I'm sorry, Rena."
"But I thought you'll be here for three days!"
So did I, Roya thought somberly. "I'm really sorry."
Rena shook her head. "No, it's out of your control. It's okay."
"Thank you for understanding."
Rena just nodded. "Let's go then."
Roya was on one knee, her right fist by her left shoulder while her left fist was placed on the ground by her foot. Her head was bowed and she stared unemotionally at the ground. Five other Pages – all of whom were Lux – knelt next to her as they formed a line in front of the Lux Lord Knight Zephyr, a powerful and highly respected hero among even the highest-ranking Lux. He was what people called a 'pureblood Lux', someone who had the long lifespan of the purest of the Lux. Although he was at least three hundred years old, he looked as though he was only in his late fifties.
"We have a lead as to where the newly awakened Khavari who destroyed the local Sanctuary may be," Zephyr announced. "Whoever actively contributes to the capture or death of our quarries will be automatically promoted to Esquire. Now stand and carry out your mission."
Roya silently appraised her five companions. She wasn't worried about Morgan; she was worried about the Khavari and the Mer with Morgan. Although Rena lacked in experience, she was right. A newly awakened Khavari could not possibly cause the damage that resulted in the destruction of a Sanctuary and the death of six Lux, not to mention incapacitating the two surviving senior Lux.
Yet only six Pages were being sent to deal with the Khavari and the Mer. Roya glanced at Zephyr, wondering what the old Lux was thinking.
She almost gasped as she was pinned by his golden-eyed stare. He was looking right at her! A small smirk appeared on his mouth and Roya tried to tear her gaze away, without success. He gave her a meaningful look before gesturing towards the exit the other Pages had just gone through. Roya quickly followed them as she tried to calm her rapidly beating heart.
He knows, she thought with dread. He knows we may not come out of this alive.
Then why would he send them after the Khavari and the Mer?
To test the extent of the powers of the Khavari and the Mer, of course.
When Roya's powers had been revealed after she had just turned fifteen, it had been Zephyr who took her under his wing and personally trained her. Since she was human, she had always been on the receiving end of disdained looks. Her position as Zephyr's Page was coveted and many thought that she, a mere human, did not deserve such honor. Having come from the Vale family, she understood some of their envy but Roya wanted nothing more than to return home and be close to Rena.
Zephyr had also been merciless and brutal; Roya was very rarely without any bandages. He also ruthlessly trained her to never show any sign of weakness or emotion. Her punishment for such a transgression was vicious. It was Zephyr who ultimately made her doubt the teaching that the Lux were the embodiment of goodness.
But she could never tell anyone that.
And now, Rena, her dearly beloved sister, wants to be a Knight! Roya would die before she would see such a thing happen. Rena was everything to her. Everything! If it weren't for Rena, everything human about her would have been gone years ago – she would only be a killing machine. Even the parents who adopted her never truly loved her. Only Rena loved her unconditionally.
She'll be sad if I died, Roya thought.
So I should make sure I live through this.
One moment, Real had pulled Morgan towards a black void, and at the next, she was standing in a dark alley between two high-rise buildings. In the alley were three huge stinking dumpsters, a couple of garbage bags, a wrecked chair and an empty ice cream container amongst a litter of trash. Morgan quickly put her sleeve-covered hand over her nose and mouth to block the stench.
"Where are we?" she asked Real in a muffled voice. He just gave her a mischievous grin.
"In a dark alley," he replied. She just gave him a pointed look. "We're back in the world under the sun."
"Isn't it dangerous?" Morgan fearfully asked as she looked around her. She could see a number of people walking along a busier street at the end of the alley.
Real tapped her cheek, making her look at him. "That's why we have these disguises. Unless we're unlucky enough to encounter a Prime of the Lux, no one will know better."
Morgan carefully digested his words. "I'm not lucky, Real. Otherwise, I wouldn't be in this position."
Real gave her an unreadable look for a few seconds before turning and walking towards the busy street she had been previously gazing at.
"But you're lucky since I was able to make it in time to save you," Real said smoothly. Then, with a wink at her from over his shoulder, he added, "And I'm lucky to be with you."
Morgan's face immediately reddened and she sputtered at him. Real, however, was already tugging her along towards the light.
When they finally got on the busy street, Morgan stared.
"Hey Real," she said slowly.
"Are we in China?"
"Beijing to be precise," Real replied as he slipped a pair of rectangular-framed sunglasses on. Morgan quickly ran up to him, trying desperately not to lose him in the dense crowd. Had he taken them to the busiest street in all of Beijing?
"How can we be in China?" she demanded in confusion. "Just yesterday, we were in-"
Wait, was it yesterday? Or had she actually been unconscious for longer? It wasn't like she could judge day from night where she woke up.
"You need to learn the secrets of the Shadow Realm," Real answered, his long legs seeming to take him farther and farther from her. It was a good thing he towered over almost everyone that she could easily see him.
We're sticking out, Morgan fearfully thought. Even she was at the receiving end of a few curious looks. Although she wasn't as tall as Real, she was still tall enough at 5'6" to attract attention from the people.
However, unlike Real, people had no qualms with bumping into her.
After getting jostled more than a few times, Morgan realized that Real was getting farther and farther away from her.
Wait for me, she thought in alarm. She stretched her hand out. "Real!"
Morgan tripped on a crack on the sidewalk. Barely catching herself in time, she stopped and took a couple of deep breaths. When she looked up, Real was standing in front of her, his hand held out in front of him.
"I really can't take my eyes off of you, can I?" he said, again with that unreadable look on his face.
"I don't know this place," Morgan protested, upset that she had to rely so heavily on him.
"Then take my hand," Real replied. Morgan stared at him, wondering why he was being difficult. He should know that she would be lost without him.
Pushing her questions aside for now, she grasped his hand. He led her through the crowds as Morgan stared at his back. For a while, it was only him and her. She did not notice the thick pollution in the air, the constant chattering of the people and the roads packed with cars. There was only his broad back to gaze at as he led her by the hand towards a destination only he knew about.
Should I trust you, Real?
He was her savior, yes, but he also admitted to wanting her for power, whatever that was. Was he really only thinking of himself? If so, should she risk being with him?
But then, where would she go?
And that was the bottom line, wasn't it? She needed him. She had no doubts that the Lux would find her and kill her if she was ever separated from him. Maybe that would be easier… to just die and not have to constantly run in fear. But although she saw herself as weak and a coward, there was something in her that wanted so badly to live.
So for now, she will believe that he needed her as much as she needed him.
"Where are we going?" she asked, trying to be heard over the noise of the hustle and bustle of Beijing.
"To someone who can train you," Real replied. He didn't seem to have raised his voice but she easily heard him. "And you don't have to yell. I can hear you perfectly fine." He tapped his ear with a long finger in emphasis.
"Do you have super hearing?" she asked him, honestly interested.
"So do you," he said, amusement in his tone.
She really seemed to amuse him a lot.
"I thought you were training me," Morgan said as she hurried her steps with the goal of at least walking right behind him rather than lagging behind despite their joined hands.
"She's a better teacher."
A female Khavari?
Nervousness seized Morgan but she was also excited.
Maybe this Khavari can better explain to her what exactly she has become and what will happen to her from now on.
But then, what would I do if she told that I would have to run forever?
A/N: Firstly, I know that if you look back in [European] history, there's a discrepancy in the ages of pages, esquires and knights in my story (i.e. pages become esquires at 14 then possibly knights at 21). However, I'm using 'page', 'esquire' and 'knight' merely to show differences in rank among the 'soldiers' of the Lux (and the mysterious magic-wielding humans).