When an entire way of life is threatened by one man, two women devise a plan to finally defeat him, doing something so drastic, no one expected it. Can these two, plus two others, separated by tim...
Tori looked over at her sister. To her knowledge, she had never seen this man before, yet he dared call them "Beloveds." Clearly, they were at the mercy of a madman. Keri's glance clearly meant that she wanted to know if Tori knew who this stranger was. Tori responded by shaking her head slightly and then raised one eyebrow.
In their eighteen years as twins, Tori and Keri devised a scheme of nonverbal communication. While they seemed to be able to guess what the other was thinking or about to say since they were close, they decided at a young age that they needed a more reliable way to talk to each other without anyone else noticing. At first, their sign language consisted of a series of hand gestures that were used to aid in deciphering their meaning. For instance, if Cybele was wondering what happened to the tarts cook made for dinner that evening, ten-year-old Keri would quickly get her sister's attention and brush her elbow then scratch her nose. Scratching the elbow meant that the twin in question did whatever it was Cybele was asking about and in scratching her nose, Keri told her sister to tell Cybele that they were playing out in the orchard. Then both twins would look at Cybele and tell her the preordained story; the same story would imply that they were both innocent. Their signals got them out of a lot of trouble over the years.
However, as they got older, they recognized the fact that their codes were rather simplistic and that they wouldn't always be able to use their hands to communicate. Therefore, they began to employ a system of facial expressions as well. In raising one eyebrow, Tori was asking her twin, "What do we do now?"
Keri responded by sighing. This required no special meaning as its connotation was obvious: "I don't know, but I'll let you know if I figure it out."
The entire exchange took less than thirty seconds.
Returning her attention to the stranger in their midst, Tori noticed that he had stood up from the rock and was crossing the clearing to where she and her sister sat. He walked like a large feline and she could practically sense that she and her sister were being stalked. Tori considered standing up, to at least meet him on equal footing. However, before she could make up her mind, he was standing directly in front of her.
He knelt down in front of her and, before she could flinch away, trailed the back of his fingers down her face. In what Tori thought was supposed to be a sultry voice, he whispered, "You are as beautiful as I remember, Rofa." Then, turning to Keri, he murmured, "And let's not forget the beautiful Iewa." He then trailed his hand down the side of Keri's face, just like he had to Tori.
Tori finally found her voice after being so thoroughly shocked. "I'm sorry, but I think you must have us mistaken for women we obviously are not. Neither of us has ever seen you before."
Keri nodded helpfully, "So, if you'll kindly untie our retainers, we will be on our way."
The man stood and then stared down at them as if shocked for a long moment. Then, slowly, the corners of his mouth began to curve upwards. Tori couldn't help but feel nervous at the malicious glee hidden in the depths of his smile. She could feel Keri shiver from beside her.
"Well, well, well," the man finally spoke. "I never thought that things would turn out this way. I may not know how you sent me here, but I could never confuse you with other women, Beloveds. Somehow, you have lost all memory of me. That is...convenient." Then, he turned his back on the twins and walked over to one of the men he had brought with him.
After a whispered conversation that involved much gesticulation from the second man, the stranger began to return to where Tori and Keri were still sitting. The other men began to move off into the surrounding trees. Tori stood and began crossing to where Mitsi and the other guards were lying. However, before she had taken more than three steps in their direction, the man appeared in front of her, his too-perfect face contorted into an expression of rage.
"How dare you move without my express permission!" he snarled. "You are mine. You do nothing beyond what I say you may." Tori tried to take a step back from him, but he reached out and held her in place by gripping her shoulders so hard she would likely have bruises.
Defiantly, Tori bit out, "May I at least know your name?"
As suddenly as his face twisted into an expression of fury, the rage left his features and his lips moved into that strange mockery of a smile yet again. Leaning in close to her face, his breath hot against her skin, he whispered, barely loud enough for Keri to hear, "That you may know. My name is Drixel, but you shall call me Master." Then, he leaned in far enough to press his lips to Tori's, his grip on her shoulders holding her in place even though she tried to jerk away.
When he pulled away, Tori stared at him in shock. "Never," she said defiantly. Once more, rage twisted his features into a grotesque mimicry of his face. Before she could do anything to dodge, Drixel raised his arm and backhanded her across the side of her face. The force of his blow sent her flying across the clearing. Once she fell, Tori did not get up.
Keri looked at him in shock from where she was still sitting. While she had no training in the use of the Energy that filled the world, both twins had been able to sense it from a young age, their sensing ability was that strong that they were able to feel the Energy long before they even knew what it was. The twins were not given any formal training as that legally had to wait until they were at the University to train their gifts. However, their mother had given them some basic understanding so that they would not accidentally use it. She had also told them some basic information, including that men did not possess the ability to sense Energy. This is why Keri could not understand how the man in front of her could so blatantly break all laws of nature that she had been taught. For his blow was aided by the use of Energy to fling Tori across the clearing.
"How - How did you do that?" Keri eventually managed to stutter after a few minutes. Drixel merely smirked at her.
"You don't expect me to tell you all my secrets, do you, Beloved? Now, are you going to be as obstinate as your sister, or will you do exactly as I say?" Without waiting for her to respond, he continued, "Stand up and come here, Iewa." Not knowing what to do, Keri stood slowly and began walking towards where he stood.
However, before she took her fourth step, something whizzed through the air by her face. Startled, she whipped her head around behind her. Yet, at Drixel's strangled cry, Keri turned to look at him again. He had fallen to his knees, an arrow embedded in his shoulder, his face a mask of pain. He stretched his arm out and Keri just barely ducked in time as he sent a bolt of pure Energy at the tree behind her, from where the arrow was shot. The tree exploded in a mass of splinters that covered the clearing.
As Keri brought her hands up to protect her face, she saw out of the corner of her eye a blur of green and brown throw itself on top of Tori's prone, and still unconscious, body. Making sure her arms covered her eyes, Keri prepared herself to feel the wooden needles pierce her arms. When they didn't come, she glanced over at where Drixel still knelt on the ground. He had his arm outstretched towards her, and she could feel the shield of Energy that was protecting her. He let his arm fall and Keri saw that Tori's body was lying in the middle of a pile of splinters. She stirred slightly and Keri let out a relieved sigh. At least Tori was alive.
Suddenly, Drixel cried out again. Another arrow was embedded in his back. His face a mask of incredible pain, he shouted, "This is not over!" Then, he simply vanished, taking all his men with him.
Keri, without any hesitation, began to run to her twin. She had just turned Tori over onto her back when someone dropped down from a tree. The person who landed in front of her was a young man who didn't look much older than the twins. He was wearing brown leggings which were shoved into the tops of brown leather boots. On top he was wearing a green tunic and he had a green headband around his head, though it didn't seem to control his unruly hair that much. Strapped to a leg was a quiver full of arrows, and he had a bow in his hand which he slung over his head as Keri watched him.
In a deep voice he told her, "Tend to your sister, then untie your guards and leave this place. It is not safe. From now on, put a protective circle around your camp at nights. That should protect you, but do not tarry long anywhere. Make haste to the University; you will be protected there."
Tori began to moan and opened her eyes before Keri had the chance to ask him any questions and Keri knelt at her sister's head so that Tori would not hurt herself any more. Placing her hands on either side of her sister's head, Keri called over her shoulder, "What is your name so that I might thank you properly?" Hearing no response, she turned fully around. No one was there.
Sighing, Keri turned her attention to the problem she could control just in time to see Tori's eyes snap shut again. Opening herself to the Energy surrounding her, Keri tried to figure out what the problem with her sister was. Unfortunately, with no training, she had no idea what to do. Keri knew her sister was alive and injured and that she needed treatment, but beyond that, she was at a loss. Due to her lack of training she would only injure Tori more by trying to help her.
Tears began to cascade down her face as she cried, "Mother, why did you never teach me the skills to save my sister?"
Suddenly, the wind began to pick up and she heard a voice coming from beyond the line of trees yet from right beside her at the same time. A voice that sounded familiar yet that Keri was sure she had never heard before. '/All you ever had to do was ask, Little One/,' began the voice. '/First, you must open yourself to the Energy and let it flow from your hands to your sister's body. It will tell you what is wrong with her. Then, force it to the areas where there are injuries and shape it so that she is healed. You can do it, my daughter. Have faith in your abilities/.'
Not knowing quite why, Keri trusted the voice. Doing as instructed, Keri shaped the Energy to fix the bump in Tori's head that she must have received when she hit her head on the ground. While she was Healing her sister, Keri fixed the bruise that was already forming from Drixel's blow. When she was finished, Keri released the breath she hadn't known she was holding. Just as abruptly as they arrived, the wind and the voice vanished.
As soon as everything was quiet, Tori began to stir again. "Keri? What happened?"
Afraid that her sister had lost a portion of her memory from her inexpert Healing, Keri questioned while helping Tori sit up, "What is the last thing you remember?"
"I remember leaving the Manor for the University. We stopped to set up camp last night. You and I went to bed while Mitsi divided the guards into watch shifts..." Tori trailed off as a look of horror crossed her face.
"I take it you remember what happened, then, Sister?"
"I cannot believe I forgot. It was all so horrifyingly vivid." She was silent for a moment before speaking again, "I only wonder what happened to him. And that kiss..." Once more, Tori trailed off, this time with a slightly wondrous look on her face.
Beginning to panic, Keri peered into her twin's eyes. "Who are you talking about? You couldn't possibly have enjoyed that kiss from that Drixel-person! I mean, he then knocked you across the clearing. If I hadn't Healed you, you wouldn't be talking to me now."
Tori looked at her sister as if she was crazy. "Not him. The other: the young man. He protected me from the exploding tree. I only vaguely remember it. I must have hit my head pretty hard. I was just waking up the first time. I heard Drixel scream, as if injured, and felt him shoot a burst of Energy. I could do nothing to move, but before the pieces of the tree could hit me, he was suddenly there, on top of me, shielding my body with his. He whispered 'Do not fear. All will be well.' Then he kissed my forehead and I lost consciousness again. I just wish I knew who he was," she finished wistfully.
Keri gazed at her sister for a few moments before deciding that a change of topic was necessary. "Can you sit up by yourself for a minute? I'd like to untie Mitsi and the others. Don't try to stand up yet, you got knocked pretty hard. When the guards are free I'll come help you onto your horse." Tori rolled her eyes at her twin's overprotective tone but nodded anyways.
Tori watched as her sister walked into the line of trees to where the guards were bound. Using a small pocket knife, Keri cut the ropes, freeing the soldiers. Then, she explained to Mitsi what had happened from her perspective, though the Guard Captain had seen it all unfold. Both twins failed to notice the look of concern that flashed across Mitsi's face. Even if they had, she would have passed it off as worry over how she and her highly trained soldiers were so easily overpowered.
As soon as possible, the entire party had broken camp and was mounted on their horses. Tori found that, while she felt fine while sitting on the ground, as soon as she stood up, her head began to spin. She was forced to lean heavily on her twin and have two soldiers help her onto her horse. Keri, noticing that Tori was still swaying, tied the saddle straps. No one wanted to remain in the clearing any longer than necessary, even to let Tori's head clear.
When they stopped that night, as Mitsi and her team went about setting up the camp Tori talked her sister through the process of creating a protective circle. "Mother taught me this when I first started displaying my talent, although it takes no Energy at all. She never could quite explain that fully," Tori mused. "However, that is unimportant. What you must do, is walk around our camp once, making sure that your footprints leave a clear circle. Next, you repeat your path, sprinkling the original circle with water, ensuring that the water circle is complete; there can be no broken parts. Finally, repeat your circle one last time, placing a continuous ring of stones around the camp. The entire time you are doing this, concentrate hard on the fact that you want to protect what is inside the circle, that no one intending to harm us can enter or send an object through the circle."
"Are you sure this will work?" Keri dubiously asked her sister.
"Of course I'm sure," Tori answered. However, she sent up a silent plea '/Please keep us safe; please don't let him get at us a second time/.' While it might have just been her imagination, Tori could have sworn she heard a voice respond, '/All will be well, Daughter. You are protected/.'
That night, everyone slept fitfully, worried about being caught unawares a second time. Thankfully, when morning came, there were no unwanted visitors to their camp.
By morning, Tori was completely recovered and able to ride without assistance and to help her sister lay the protective circle. The twins figured that it wouldn't hurt to have double the protection, so Tori built her circle slightly inside her sister's as a strong back-up in case Keri's failed. For another week, this was how the party traveled the University Road towards their destination, encountering no further trouble. Occasionally, one of the twins would feel as if they were being watched, but no one could see an observer in the trees so the feeling was ignored.
However, the entire group heaved a sigh of relief when they topped a rise one morning to see the capital sprawled below. As far as the eye could see there were people scurrying about their business in between buildings. Just barely within sight was a clock tower that could be seen from any point in the city; it also served as the delimiting line that separated the University from the rest of the city. Without looking at each other, Tori and Keri grasped hands tightly for a second before steering their horses towards the city.