Welcome to the story that I've been writing as a stress reliever. Just to let you know, if you like reading stories where the characters instantly fall in love because they're both so darn attractive and the female character is so cute when she trips, then this isn't for you. If you like stories where the characters struggle to understand each other and grow in their relationships and/or you are sick and tired of reading about a female protagonist who's an idiot, then give this story a shot until at least you get to the third main character. It's weird having to give a shout-out to my own story here, but I'm not sure I can give the story justice in the limited space I've been given for the synopsis.
8/15 - I've officially concluded the story, but that doesn't mean that I no longer will appreciate a review. Actually, by reviewing/asking questions now, you've increased your chances of a PM response since I can't tack on the answer to my next update.
"Fridan, can you sense any nearby guards?" Anne whispered to one of her two companions. She was crouched low, hiding behind some brush as she gazed into the Witch's camp that they were supposed to infiltrate. She knew that her companions were using their supernatural powers to mask her from detection, but common sense told her she should still be hiding in case their incantations failed. She could only see a bunch of tents and a few flickering fires, but no one was in sight. Her heart was beating rapidly, but it wasn't from fear. Not yet at least. It was from excitement. Everything was according to plan! The camp had a few dozen tents, not a massive retinue as one would expect the evil ruler of a nation to have. This was going to work! But she also knew the dangers of stupidity brought about by overconfidence, hence the inquiry directed to the one who had previously demonstrated an affinity for detecting people.
She waited a few moments for Fridan to have caught up with her. He was using his powers on himself too, so she couldn't see him very well unless she knew where he was. She felt herself grow irritated as the moments passed. She knew she wasn't a commander or anything of the sort, but she still was the important one in this mission. Fridan and Jahri were her support. She therefore needed them to be her support and respond! She hissed his name more insistently, annoyed that she had to do so. They were so close that she could smell the smoke of the soldiers' fires. She didn't want to risk speaking any louder and drawing attention from someone out for a leak, especially not after Jahri had told her that he could mask any incidental noises that she made, breathing, stepping on twigs and the like, but talking was beyond his ability to mask.
After several moments, there was still no answer. She knew there was a reason why she didn't like these two. Yes, she had gotten excited and darted ahead of them when she had seen the break in the trees, but this behavior was absolutely unreasonable. How were they supposed to accomplish their mission if her two guards were lack daisy when it came to something as simple as telling her if there were enemies nearby? Anne whipped her head, now more than a little annoyed. "Fri-" Her words caught in her throat and turned into a gasp as she stood and took in the gruesome sight before her.
Two dozen feet away her two would-be guards, Fridan and Jahri, lay on the ground. Jahri lay face buried in the dirt, skewered through the heart by his own sword and Fridan was on his back, though his severed head, forever frozen in shock, was dangling by the hair from the fingers of a figure enshrouded in darkness. Eyes that somehow radiated an inky darkness even deeper than the shadows of the night met hers and she froze, crippled by fear and feeling bitter disappointment in her belly.
Sergeant Allen had been right; she hadn't needed anyone to tell her what the Death Dealer of N'aaden looked like. She could sense his sinister and malevolent presence from this distance. He was the powerful incubus who served the Witch, the one who had been twisted and corrupted by her magic and who now craved violence and bloodshed more than he craved pure emotions. The one who slaughtered the innocent and tortured for pleasure so he could gorge on pain and fear and drain his victims of their energy. The one who would now kill her, her supposedly Jove-ordained mission woefully incomplete.
Fridan and Jahri hadn't even had a chance, she thought bitterly as he approached, his movements graceful, refined, and deadly. He had so far outstripped them in power and skill that he had effortlessly found and slaughtered them without allowing them to even utter a single breath of warning. Not that a warning would have done her any good. She didn't have any special powers. She was just a lawyer and a bookish one at that.
Why would God let her come here if she was just going to be killed by a monster? Wasn't she supposed to accomplish her mission in a blaze of glory? Wasn't the fire of God supposed to come down and annihilate her enemies, especially when her enemy was a creature of pure evil? Her eyes sought the tree line. Surely Teles would save her. Surely she hadn't been brought to Gaia to die a meaningless death. Surely this all hadn't been for naught…
Lord Teles of House Haley swirled the drink in his glass and breathed in the once familiar bouquet that rose to his nostrils. He smiled wistfully. Once, he never would have dreamed of being caught willingly imbibing this sugary concoction, but this particular drink had been a favorite of Nyia's. As often as not, she would sit here in the rooftop gardens – he stopped to look at the vegetation around him – and she would wait for him to return from the palace – he looked over at the main gate of his townhouse. He regretted many things and spending too little time with his wife was one of them. He took a careless sip of the drink. Sweet, cloyingly so. But it made him smile wistfully. It still wasn't as sweet as his wife. He looked down at the drink and swirled it again, remembering the many nights he had spent kissing soft lips that held its faint taste.
A yell from the street drew his attention away and he stared at the walls, unable to see the yeller. No, it hadn't been a yell. It had been a shout. A joyous shout of celebration, one soon followed by blisteringly loud instruments. It was Sol Day after all. It was the first time in the five years since Nyia's final day that it had coincided with the festival. It was bound to happen since she had the misfortune of passing during this time of the year.
Teles tilted back his head to observe the star high above the sky. Sol. The only visible connection that Gaia had with her sister world Earth. The world that did not know that its younger sister Gaia existed. As if it were aware that it was the center of his focus, the star pulsated.
Supposedly, according to the priests and elders, the pulsating meant that Jove was preparing to send a Terran to Gaia. Teles was starting to secretly doubt whether the star had ever not pulsated, but he considered the historical documents that he had read as a teenager when he had learned about Terrans. They all agreed. Sol only pulsated when someone was coming. The problem was that the time frame for the culminating event was dubious at best. One account stated that the pulsating lasted ten years, another, five. Yet another – two nights. Teles scratched his nose with the back of his hand. This time though? Sol had been pulsating for several decades prior to his own birth and there was no end in sight.
The faithful believed that something was bound to happen soon. Nyia had hoped to live to see the day that the Terran arrived. He supposed she would have, had her life not been cut short so abruptly.
He considered the star again and wondered what it must feel like to live under a sun that throbbed with such intensity that it could be seen on Gaia. He wasn't sure it wouldn't give everyone on that planet a fierce headache. As if to prove how horrendous it must be, Sol violently pulsed once, twice, thrice, its light overshadowing anything else in the sky. The revelry outside the gate stopped as everyone considered the alien light that grew in intensity.
Sol paused in the middle of the seventh pulse. It glowed brightly, bright enough to dim even the light of both moons. Teles had to squint to continue looking at it. He waited to hear the orchestra of celestial music, but all too soon, the light faded away until Sol was a fixture of solid, unwavering light.
Beside him, Teles heard his companion take a sharp breath. He glanced at him, but saw that the other man's eyes were still fixed above. Teles returned his attention to Sol as well. There was silence all throughout the city. He waited, but there was nothing. No fanfare, nothing out of the ordinary. But Sol has stopped pulsating and without hearing it with his ears, he knew that the city was abuzz with murmuring.
"So does this mean the Terran is here?" Teles said to his drinking companion.
Kelhon lowered his gaze from the heavens and only then was Teles able to observe the utter shock that was written across his face. "I-I felt it," he whispered in his musical tenor. "That could have only have been the power of Jove."
"So where is he?"
Kelhon ran his fingers through his dark brown hair, pushing the strands up and away from his face and revealing delicately pointed ears. "I don't know," he responded. "Anywhere. The Terran could be anywhere on Gaia. Jove sends him where he's needed the most. But he's here. He's on Gaia. I know it."
Teles' mouth hung open for several heartbeats as he took in information that he had given up hope of ever hearing. He stared at Sol again to make sure that it had stopped pulsating. It had. There was no doubt. The feeling of wonder overcame him, but he remembered the drink he held in his hand and bitterness washed over him anew. "Wish he had shown up five years ago," he muttered.
"My friend, the Terran never has supernatural powers."
"I know that," Teles said angrily. He wasn't an idiot. The Terran didn't have supernatural powers, only supernatural wisdom. "I wanted Nyia to see him," he muttered.
After a few quiet moments, Kelhon raised his glass. "To Nyia's memory and to the Terran, where ever he may be."
Teles raised his glass and drained its contents. "Shouldn't you be with your mate and children, Kelhon?"
The incubus placed his own empty glass on the table between to them. "Shelia understands how important it is that we remember Nyia tonight. Daylight will be devoted to her and our family."
Teles considered the statement and sighed to himself. What an odd pair the two of them made! A former highly decorated officer in the late King Oberly's army, now politician and a Fourth Rank incubus with a calling in the healing arts. But Teles was in the creature's debt; Nyia had miscarried while he was out on a brief assignment. Though he was not powerful enough to heal her, Kelhon had sustained her life until Teles had been able to return from the field and say his good-bye to her and their unborn child. Now, Kelhon had the favor of an influential lord, vastly important in a country where cubi, parasitic creatures that lived by feeding off human emotions, were treated as inferior beings.
They were such inferior beings that they could do unthinkable things with their powers. Heal with a touch, create with a thought. Bend matter with a word. No wonder no higher ranked cubi stayed in Lled. Better to travel to another country where cubi and humans lived side by side.
Of course… Teles did wonder about the logistics of it all. Cubi bound themselves to humans so they could have an endless supply of emotional energy. In return, the human gained control over the cubus' actions. A human leash holder, as they were called, could forbid his cubus from performing any action and the cubus would be compelled to obey. How, therefore, were cubi and humans on equal footing in other countries? How were not all cubi slaves?
"Don't forget the Sol Day gifts for your children," Teles said, shaking his previous thoughts from his head.
"You don't want me to stay?" Kelhon raised his brow.
"Not at the expense of your family. Go home. It's time that I retire as well. Maybe when we'll wake up, someone will have found the Terran."
Kelhon chuckled as he reached for the glass pitcher that held Nyia's favorite concoction. "After we've finished this," he said, pouring himself a generous amount of liquor. He silently held out the pitcher and, when Teles outstretched his arm, topped him up.
The pitcher was half full when Teles first told Kelhon to leave. He expected the incubus to rush through his drinks and hurry home, considering that a widower probably made such poor company on a festive holiday, but Kelhon lingered, amusing them both by speaking of his children's and patients' antics. They paused often to look skyward to check if Sol had, indeed, stopped pulsating even though they knew that it had.
"Do you sometimes wish that Jove had given you a higher rank, Kelhon?" Teles asked during one of these pauses.
A wistful smile crossed his face. "When I can't save a patient."
Their idle conversation continued until the last of the drink finished. Teles stared at the empty glass for a while and sighed. He was beyond tears, beyond sorrow. He felt… alone and worthless despite all the accolades he had received over the years. Kelhon sat quietly, thinking Jove knows what. Teles was grateful that his friend wasn't strong enough to read his mind, only pick up on his feelings. His thoughts were interrupted when the sliding door behind him opened. "Lord Teles?"
Teles placed the glass on the table and twisted his head about. "Yes? Shouldn't you be at home with your family too? I thought I gave everyone the night off."
The servant didn't acknowledge the statement. "Milord? Priest Rayva is asking to see you. He said it's urgent and it can't wait until morning. He said to pull you away from whatever you might be doing."
Teles frowned as he got to his feet a little unsteadily. "Urgent? At this hour? Well, I suppose he's not a fool. If it's urgent, it's urgent. Is there anyone about to get the carriage? I really shouldn't be riding right now."
"No, milord! Priest Rayva didn't send a messenger. He's here in the atrium!"
"Wise man," Teles said. "Kelhon, you're welcome to come. If not, don't forget the gifts when you leave."
The incubus grabbed the gifts, but he chose to follow as the servant led them. "They came through the back entrance," the servant explained. "We thought they were beggars."
"They?" Teles asked idly.
"Yes, milord. He seemed quite nervous. We couldn't fathom why. We thought at first that he was injured and that he had come in search of Incubus Kelhon, but he said he was in perfect health and commanded us to fetch you."
No other information was volunteered. He had loyal servants so Teles knew that the man had already divulged the extent of his knowledge. No doubt he had been unnerved by the priest's sudden appearance and hadn't bothered to ask any questions concerning the second individual and no doubt Rayva had failed to volunteer any additional information.
When they came to the entrance of the atrium, Teles placed his hand on the servant's shoulder to prevent him from announcing them so he could take a moment to observe. The elderly, white-haired Priest Rayva was pacing, wringing his hands in extreme agitation. This was in sharp contrast to the rotund priest's penchant to loud and raucous laughter. He kept throwing furtive looks at the cloaked figure standing beside him. The person was staring out the window, no doubt looking at Sol, but there was a glowing cube in his hand. The hooded head lowered to look at it, then he raised it to eye level and gazed out the window. His shoulders lifted and dropped in a massive sigh.
"Is there something wrong, milady?" Rayva asked worriedly.
Oh… Teles reevaluated the cloaked figure and this time noted that she was decidedly smaller in height and in the breadth of her shoulders and that the fingers that he had seen were, while not delicate, were too small to be a man's. He should have known that the mystery person was female.
"It's nothing," the woman said absently. She lowered the device and fiddled with it for a few moments. After hearing a series of clicks and pops, the device stopped glowing and she held two things in her hands. Those two things were squirreled away under her cloak and she continued to look out the window.
"What was that, Kelhon?" Teles whispered.
Kelhon's eyes were very large saucers. "Nothing I've ever seen or heard of. We should find out. They mean you no harm."
Sometimes it was terribly convenient having a cubus as a friend. Teles removed his hand from his servant's shoulder and gave him an encouraging pat on his back. The servant leaped forward.
"Priest Rayva!" the man said. "I've brought Lord Teles!"
Teles walked past his servant to greet the man. "Priest," he said gruffly, extending his hand. "I'm sure you're acquainted with Healer Kelhon."
"Yes, of course, my lord," Rayva said as he took Teles' hand and shook it. The man's palm was clammy and damp. Teles wondered why. Whatever it was, it couldn't be dangerous or else Kelhon would have known. "Incubus," Rayva nodded.
The woman visibly twitched upon hearing Kelhon's honorific, drawing Teles' attention. "And who is your friend?" Teles asked politely.
A usually suave man, the priest turned bright red. "This is… uh… this is…" he stammered. He placed a hand on his bald spot on the back of his head.
The other made an unlady-like tsk of annoyance and threw back her hood, revealing an exotic woman with skin the color of light honey, large black eyes and a head full of long black curls. "My name is Anne," she said. "He never bothered to ask what it was."
"My lady!" Rayva gasped. "You shouldn't have brought attention to yourself! You're putting yourself at risk!"
"You think?" she snapped. She ostentatiously folded her arms. "I'm still not convinced that this isn't an elaborate dream. And you," she nodded to Kelhon, "Who's ever heard of such a thing as an incubus healer? Incubi are supposed to be demonic serial rapists."
Teles and Kelhon gaped at the woman. Teles was used to women presenting themselves as equals, this wasn't N'aaden after all. There was, however, something especially audacious about this woman, something that commanded attention and demanded obedience when she spoke, more so than even the Queen. Teles found his voice first. "Rayva…"
"Please excuse the lady, Lord Teles! We need an immediate audience with the Queen. I'm sorry to trouble you at so late an hour, but I didn't know who else to turn to. The lady's life is in terrible danger."
Eyes flashing, the woman sucked the inside of her cheek, her anger - no doubt from being ignored - was apparent from her knit brows, but she didn't interrupt.
Kelhon, in turn, ignored the priest. "Only the degenerate of my kind sustain themselves by raping humans, Lady. I take it that there are even fewer cubi in your home than there are in Lled?"
She unfolded her arms. Teles noted how the ember of anger in her eye quickly faded and instead it was replaced by something else that he couldn't identify. "Incubi exist in legend on Earth," she said very carefully.
The silence that followed her statement was profound. Teles was suddenly overcome by the desire to laugh at such a joke, but he couldn't discount her foreign appearance combined with the presence that she commanded. Then there was the object that he had witnessed her using. And that was completely ignoring the coincidence regarding Sol. Kelhon stared hard while Rayva watched with baited breath.
"She's not lying, Teles," Kelhon at last said. "But that doesn't mean she's necessarily telling the truth."
"Yes, yes, I could fully believe the lie that I'm telling you," Anne snapped. "Well, I don't know how to prove something to characters in a dream that I'm having. Just take me to your stupid queen so I can wake up."
"Do you…" Teles paused as he fought to say the next words. "Do you remember how you came here from Earth?"
Her impatience was evident in her eyes, but she answered. "I went to Belle Isle." She frowned and this time her brows furrowed in agitation.
Teles waited patiently for her to explain the importance of this blessed isle.
"It's a park." She stopped again. "Do you know what parks are?"
"A place of public recreation," Teles said. "We have them."
She nodded. "There's an isle in the middle of the river that runs through my city. It's a park. I went there with a few of my friends. There's an abandoned dam on the other side." She dropped her focus to the ground and gestured to emphasize her words. "Water sometimes gets caught, but because of all the silt, there's plenty of vegetation. It's hard to describe, but basically when the water is high, it looks like it's land that's covered with maybe an inch or two of water when in reality it's several feet deep." She raised her gaze. "I stuck the stick in the water to see how deep it was today and something pulled it. I wasn't stupid enough to hold on, but then whatever it was jumped up and sucked me in and pulled me here. It ejected me out of the pool where he was standing." She nodded to Rayva. "I barely even had time to blink. And," she looked down. "My clothes weren't even wet."
Teles noted her peculiarly cut clothes, suitable for a recreational excursion he supposed. She wore dark blue pants of a particularly heavy material, a light, lavender blouse. There were no visible laces on her clothes, but they clung tightly to her. He shifted his gaze to Rayva. The priest nodded rapidly. "I was cleaning up the floating flowers in the Sanctuary Pool and she suddenly appeared. I knew I should bring her to the Queen, but I knew I would never gain access to her."
"So you brought her to me." Teles turned to Kelhon, waiting to hear what his friend had to say before he formed an opinion.
"Milady, what was the object you were holding a moment ago?" the incubus asked.
"My phone," she said a bit sullenly. She bit her bottom lip and rolled her eyes as she reached inside her pockets and retrieved two black boxes, one smaller than the other. "It's a … communication device," she said as she removed a portion and inserted the smaller black box into the empty space. "This is the battery," she answered the unasked question. "It's power source. I don't have a way of charging it anymore so I took it out so it won't drain." She pressed a button on the top. After a moment, it chimed, shook and glowed brightly.
Teles was unable to keep from gasping as a moving portrait more vivid than anything he'd ever seen greeted his eyes.
"I know it's stupid, but I wanted to see if I had reception."
The three men stared at her with opened mouths.
She sighed again. "We built towers that can relay our voices to each other. In order for these to work, you have to be within a few miles of a tower. I checked the GPS satellites too. I'm not within range of those, but I thought this was interesting. She pressed its surface and the colorful picture was replaced by a star map. She held it skyward. "The sky map is accurate, but it's reversed. See?" She walked toward the window and pointed. "There's the Little Dipper, but it's the mirror image of what's on my phone. It's like I'm standing on the other side of my reflection..." her voice trailed off and she quickly lowered her phone. She pressed a few buttons and dismantled it again. When she looked up, her eyes were a picture of rage, frustration and worry.
Without any indication of what he was going to do, Kelhon bowed. "We will do what we can to make you as comfortable as possible as you complete Jove's will in this world, Lady."
Teles took a sharp breath. Cubi protocol was very strict about bowing. One bowed before another cubus of a higher rank. It was rare indeed when a cubus bowed before a human except the higher ranks of nobility. "Kelhon?" he gasped.
The incubus straightened. "You must take her to the Queen, Teles."
"Jove would have sent her tomorrow if that were the opportune time, but instead, He has sent her today."
Teles couldn't argue with that statement. More importantly, he had no idea what to do with her if he didn't take her to the queen. He turned about in search of his servant. The man was lingering in the entrance. Upon eye contact, he perked up. "Shall I ready a carriage?" He had loyal servants, yes. Loyal, nosy servants.
Anne sat quietly in the carriage, contemplating the latest turn of events in her life. First she was stood up for a date and then she was sucked into some crazy portal and was spat into another world. The first event made her mad every time she thought about it even in passing. Why wouldn't someone at least have the decency to at least send a text message? Forget about that. Why even accept if you weren't interested to begin with? The worst part about it was having a mutual friend tell her that her wayward date had had someone check him in at a party via Facebook. So whatever excuse he had, at the end of the day, he had decided to be a jerk by not telling her.
This second event though… She glanced at the three men who were openly staring at her from across the carriage. She wasn't sure what to make of it just yet. At that exact moment in time, she fully acknowledged that she wasn't in a dream. She knew that she really had been brought to a world completely different from her own when she had looked at her phone. It was a well-known fact that you couldn't consistently read things in dreams and yet she had been able to read her phone just fine both times that she had turned it on. This was absolutely no dream. Panic hadn't set in though. From what she had so far gleaned, having people from Earth randomly show up was a regular occurrence for them. Well, it was regular in that she wouldn't be dissected. It was rare enough that she was now going to be escorted to their leader. Bad movie cliché. Anne rolled her eyes.
"My lady? May I ask you a question?" the richly dressed nobleman – Lord Teles – asked.
She was inclined to immediately say yes. Teles had a wide-open face that was easy to trust and Priest Rayva had spoken very highly of his impeccable honor. But he had grey eyes that were lined with heaviness and gravitas that made her cautious. He appeared to be in excellent shape so whatever his worries, they hadn't taken a physical toll. His closely cropped hair seemed to be dirty blond, but she couldn't tell for certain in the low light. She took the style as a reflection of his no-nonsense approach to life. The man could be handsome if he decided to smile, she concluded. "I'm not a lady," she said. "I'm just a lawyer."
"On your world perhaps not, but you are one here."
"Fine," she said with a slight shake of her head. There wasn't anything to argue. If this wasn't a dream, if she really was on a different world, then she did deserve to be treated special. She just didn't want to be punished when she didn't know the random rules of protocol that nobility were supposed to demonstrate. "What do you want to know?"
"You…don't seem that distraught over the loss of your home."
"Is that a question?" Anne snapped. She frowned as his words sunk in. "What do you mean the loss of my home? I'm going back as soon as I can." The expressions on their faces didn't seem too positive. Nevertheless Anne refused to give in to despair. "You all believe that God – Jove – brought me here, right?"
The three murmured their assent.
"Well, if Jove picked me to come here, then He has a reason and a purpose. If He has a reason and a purpose, then I'm going to fulfill it and then I'm going to figure out how to go home."
"It's not unheard of, Teles," the incubus – Kel something – answered. "There were a few Terrans who were sent back." He looked like an elf, Anne determined. A mash-up between an elf from a typical fairy tale - lithe, big eyes, and the like, and Lord of the Rings – majestic, proud. He was small for a human male, maybe only five and a half feet and he was delicately built with long-lashed brown eyes that were tad too large to be human. All of this was accented with a mop of curly brown locks on his head. She absently wondered if all he was typical of all incubi on this world.
Hearing that made her perk up. "Do Terrans come here a lot? The priest said I was the first in 500 years."
"It depends on the times, lady," Teles responded. "Some eras require more help than others. I suppose ours has been rather quiet until recently."
"So what am I supposed to do to accomplish Jove's will?"
Teles and the incubus glanced at each other. "To be honest, my lady," Teles said carefully. "Our country, in addition to this era, is very stable and we have no crisis to which I am privy. We fight a war to the East to protect our borders, but I do not understand why you were sent here to us to resolve a border dispute. Perhaps the Queen will have some insight."
"The priest said you were one of her chief advisors."
"I am, but I cannot volunteer information which I do not know."
Anne nodded. "That's true."
The carriage rolled to a stop. Anne assumed that there was some sort of traffic related delay, but the carriage shook as the footman descended and the door was swung open. Teles hurried out. Anne then had a staring contest with the two other men. After an uncomfortable silence, the incubus glanced at the exit.
"Lady, Lord Teles is waiting for you to disembark."
Anne sighed. Of course, customs that she would be unfamiliar with. As she emerged through the door, Lord Teles took her hand and held her as she took the two steps to the ground. She allowed herself to be led away a short distance as she was too busy looking at the grand building before them. "You live this close to the palace," she said. The setup almost reminded her of London. The palace was before her, a massive, magnificent building that reminded her of Versailles.
"Close accommodations are a curse and blessing of one's familial status, Lady. House Haley has been advising the royal house for generations." He abruptly pulled his hand away. "Apologies for being so familiar, Lady," he said with a slight bow. "Please follow me."
As they ascended the steps to the building, a richly dressed courtesan approached to provide an escort. "Lord Teles, we did not expect you to arrive so quickly!"
"Was I expected?"
The other man hesitated a moment. "Yes, milord. A messenger left but moments before your appearance. I take it that you came for your own purposes?"
"Indeed. And I take it that the Queen requested my presence?"
"It is as your say, my lord." He slowed down before a heavily embellished door and placed his hand on the handle. "Do you require your companions to be with you?" He barely waited for Teles to nod before turning the handle and pushing the door open. "Your majesty, Lord Teles is here as you have requested."
The room that they entered was small and intimately decorated. There was a large rectangular table in the center. A beautiful redhead in a beautiful sky blue gown sat on one long end while half a dozen sat on the other. Another elderly white-haired woman dressed in simple white robes stood to the side.
"Teles!" the woman in blue looked up upon their entrance and beckoned impatiently. "You must hear this!"
"Your majesty, I have important news as well-"
Ignoring him, Jade continued, "Helen came here tonight because she received an urgent Word. Priestess?" she gestured to the white-robed woman.
The priestess smiled serenely and said in a matronly voice, "The Spirit of Jove came to me as I slept. A golden man appeared in my dreams and said, 'To defeat the one to the North who has profaned my name, Grace must pierce Death's heart with a silver-tipped arrow.' The message was repeated three times and I awoke and knew that I had to immediately relay this to the Queen."
When she heard Helen, Anne took a sharp intake of air. A flash of terror and excitement ripped through her. She hadn't meant to be a distraction, but Teles turned slightly toward her and frowned, though he didn't ask any questions. Anne knew her biblical history. She knew the importance of dreams being repeated three times. She also knew a great deal more…but she stopped rummaging through her own thoughts when Jade, the queen with eyes that were way too small for her face, started to speak.
"I summoned you, Teles, because we already know who the Word is referring to thanks to our newest allies." She gestured toward the men at the table. Anne barely gave them more than a glance, but her first impression wasn't exactly promising. The four dark-haired men reminded her of Italian mobsters, the rotund type who drank too much wine and ate too much cannoli. They were dressed in rich silks and leather, probably no different from the mobsters who wore expensive clothes and Rolexes on their wrists. They didn't have any weapons on them, at least that she could see, but then again, who needed guns when two of the group had pointed ears? "This is Lord Ulha and Lord Decrea and their incubi Fridan and Jahri. They have come seeking our aid in overthrowing the Witch of N'aaden. It is they who identified the subject of this word. They say the mark is one of the Witch's cubi henchmen."
"Your excellence," Lord Ulha interrupted in his unusually high voice. "Forgive me, but the Death Dealer can hardly be called a henchman."
Anne noted that it was now it was Teles' turn to take a deep breath. She herself was fighting the urge to laugh, cry, rage, all at the same time. She quashed them all and chose to listen as Teles spoke. "My queen, I've heard rumors about this Death Dealer. His…sadism is legendary. It's said that the Witch allows him to torture his victims because even she is incapable of satisfying his demands for psychic energy."
Forget crying, she wanted to go hide her head in the sand.
"Is it accurate to say that he is her right hand man and that she can be stopped once he is dead?"
"He is the only thing that prevents us from ending her reign of terror, Queen Jade," Lord Ulha declared. "He is a monster. Death incarnate."
"Then our target is clear. Now we need only to find Grace."
Anne cleared her throat. She was insane. She was on another world. She squared her shoulders. "I think that would be referring to me, your majesty."
Teles shifted his stance to encourage Anne to draw closer. She did, throwing back the hood as she stepped forward. "I've already told Lord Teles that my name is Anne. What he didn't know is that the name means 'grace' in one of the ancient languages of Earth."
"And who might you be?" Jade asked politely.
Teles motioned toward Rayva who scurried forward, bowed and began stammering, "My queen, High Priestess, this is the promised Terran whom Jove has brought to us in this hour of need."
Jade stood up from her chair with an astonished "What!" as the others in the room gasped.
Anne tossed her head, throwing her curls over her shoulder in annoyance, but she said nothing. With a boldness that she hadn't used since being a law student, she stared them down, silently daring anyone, even the queen herself, to say something unwise.
"Your majesty," Teles said. "Kelhon and I vouch for Priest Rayva's words. We are standing in the presence of the Lady of Terra, Anne. If you wish to test our declarations, Lady Anne can prove who she is by the Earthly contraptions she brought with her, but that should be quite unnecessary. What greater sign do you need than that we are all assembled together at this very moment for this very proclamation? Sol stopped its pulsing barely two hours ago. Jove sent an urgent message to Priestess Helen who rushed to deliver it. These gentlemen here came to you at this moment to entreat you when they could have waited until after the Sol Day celebrations, and finally I myself am here. I have come to escort this Lady to you at this exact moment in time. If this is not a sign from Jove, then I do not know what would be considered one."
"Jove has truly shown His face to us this blessed night!" Lord Decrea exclaimed. "We will surely succeed in our task with the fabled Terran by our side!"
Jade sat down, her face far more composed than a moment ago. Now it reflected wonder, rather than shocked astonishment bordering on outrage. "Then Jove truly has blessed us!" she whispered to herself. "Welcome to Lled, Lady Anne of Terra! I extend the all of the hospitality that my kingdom has to offer. Lord Teles, I commend Lady Anne into your care. See that she is given quarters in the palace and then you are to speak to Captain Tristal regarding the proposal that he brought to my attention three weeks prior. Afterwards, maintain your quarters here. You are to put yourself at Lady Anne's disposal. Chamberlain, see that our N'aadian guests are quartered within the palace. While I understand that your need is pressing, gentlemen, we will break for this night and reconvene in eight hours. We will all need our rest and our wits for what we will be planning."
Summarily dismissed, Teles paused outside of the chamber with the Terran hovering beside him, her brow furrowed together in intense thought. "Kelhon, Rayva, my carriage will take you to your homes. It appears I have work to do in the palace with Lady Anne."
Kelhon extended his hand. Teles shook his friend's hand in good-bye. Kelhon placed his left hand on top of their clasped ones. His brain itched. Don't let her outward appearance or actions fool you, Teles, the incubus whispered in his mind. She's scared. She's putting on a front because she's afraid of what might happen if she shows herself to be weak. He bowed before the Terran and without another word left. Rayva stammered something akin to "good luck." His exhaustion, however, made his words barely decipherable.
She didn't look scared to him, Teles absently thought as he observed her eyes taking in her surroundings. Her posture was that of control, not meekness and yet, he knew better than to question an emotion-sensing creature. Besides, it made sense that she was scared. It was actually quite baffling that she was taking everything in stride and wasn't a worried mess.
Then again, that's probably why she was chosen. "Come with me, Lady," Teles said. "I know this isn't your home, but we'll do our best to make your stay comfortable." His first act was to escort his ward to the guest suites of the palace where royal emissaries from other kingdoms were housed. His second was to order a full meal for her and the third was to direct her to the bathroom. "It'll take about thirty minutes for the servants to return. Refresh yourself. You'll find clean clothes in the wardrobes. I'll be here waiting for you." He expected her to object to the lack of servants to care for her, but she nodded and entered the bedroom, closing and locking it behind her. Teles sat before the fireplace in the parlor and waited. Some Sol Day celebration.
Jove, the Terran was beautiful.
Teles shot to his feet and started pacing. Where in Gehennes had that thought come from?! His wife was five years in the grave and he was out lusting after not just other women, but the Terran? Jove, he had no self-decency left. He was too busy mentally flagellating himself to pay attention to when the door opened. He did hear a wry, "Hope I put this on correctly."
Teles paused in his pacing and turned around. She had changed into a loose floor length wrap dress and was walking toward him barefoot. She did not seem self-conscious over this fact and Teles knew that she was used to pacing about sans footwear. Her long, black curls were still wet, but this too did not seem to bother her. It was in sharp contrast to every other woman he had ever met who would not have dared to be seen without wearing proper footwear or having done her hair. She looked like one of the women from the Kunagor, those olive-skinned, exotic beauties that hid behind veils while their men waged a war against Lled on the Eastern Front. She actually looked like a lady, no longer dressed in that foreign getup. A lady.
He quickly bowed, embarrassed that he hadn't done so sooner. "Lady Anne."
The woman before him hesitated. "We don't bow to people in my country."
Teles wondered if she was being obstinate, but he considered another possibility, that she was merely voicing her own inaptitude. "A curtsy is an acceptable response from those of equal status, my lady."
Her face twisted in mild irritation, though Teles knew enough about women to tell that this irritation was self-directed. She grabbed hold of the corners of her dress and performed a poor executed curtsy.
"The movement will become natural in time," he reassured her.
"Time? Do you know how long I have to stay here?" Her eyes traveled about the room. Focusing in on the closest curtain, she went and pushed it away so she could see the city through the window. It was the middle of the night. Holiday or not, only a few lanterns could be seen at this late hour. Capital City was the largest city in Lled, but you couldn't tell it from looking out the window. You could only see dark ominous shapes.
"The palace, Lady?"
"This planet. Gaia, you called it?"
"I don't know much about Terrans, my lady," Teles confessed. "Perhaps Jove will send you back when your mission is complete."
"Who would know?"
Teles pondered this for a few moments. "The court librarian would probably be your best resource for now, my lady." He wondered what else he should say to her, but thankfully, the servants chose that moment to return with the food. "You should rest while you can, my lady. I'll tell you more once I get answers for myself, but rest assured; your time on Gaia will not be uneventful."
Sorry this section was so slow, but it is background information that's necessary to set the stage. I was going to delete the prologue, but then I figured it was important to show that there's exciting stuff to read after we get rid of all of this preliminary nonsense.