by Nicki Tate
New Adult, Contemporary Portal Fantasy
| Chapter 4: Be She Fair and Without Sin
After hearing Garik and Nagalia talk about the encampment, I had expected it to be just a few bedraggled tents with worn down and defeated people. I could not have been more wrong. The encampment sprawled for what seemed like miles in every direction. There were large structured tents that seemed to make up a marketplace of sorts, and beyond the main thoroughfare there were smaller, impeccably kept tents that appeared to be living quarters. The people were even more astonishing, where I had expected to see the dirty and downtrodden there were was a vibrant and robust culture. Everyone wore brightly colored attire that had been cobbled together from old, but well maintained swatches of fabric. Many of the children had beads in their hair that clacked together when they turned their heads and the adults wore the same beads on long cords hanging from their necks. Nagalia and I stuck out like sore thumbs as we rode through the market. The further we rode, the quieter the crowd became until we were tromping through rows of silently staring people. Some waved and smiled at Nagalia but the moment they caught sight of me, their demeanor changed completely. Â It would seem that my reputation preceded me.
After what felt like a million years of being gawked at, we finally reached the largest tent at the back of the encampment. Although I'm not sure tent was the right word for the monstrosity that sprawled before us. It was made of a light gold canvas, and was the size of a small castle, complete with turrets on either side. How you could have multiple floors in a structure made of canvas I didn't know, though I suspected it had something to do with what Garik had said about gravity in this world. Outside of the "tent" was a large bronze bell on a white marble plinth. Nagalia rode us straight to the bell and began to ring it. The sound that came from what had looked like a normal bell was deafening. It reverberated deep in my core and made my head feel like it was going to vibrate off my shoulders. After the fifth booming toll, Nagalia released the clacker and hopped off the horse. Then she headed for the massive tent without so much as a backward glance at me.
"Alright I guess I'll just play follow the leader then." I grumbled as I attempted to slide off the horse as well. My foot snagged in the stirrup as I dismounted and the ground abruptly reversed it's position with the sky to leave me dangling headfirst off the side of the horse.
"No don't mind me, I got it, you go on inside." I grumbled under my breath as I struggled to reach up and release my foot from the stirrup. Too late I realized that doing so would put me on the ground, and so it was with a loud "OOOF!" and my back flat in the mud that I first laid eyes upon the Honeran.
A wizened face peered down at me with concern that didn't quite mask the twinkle of humor in his pale gray eyes.
"Ah you must be Riley. Was this your first time on a horse?" he rasped.
"What gave it away?" I grunted as I rolled onto my side and pushed myself up.
He let out a wheezing chuckle and held out a hand to me. I shot him a skeptical look that clearly said, you look like you're about to keel over, I don't think you can help me up.
"Come now child, I'm stronger than I look." he said.
With a shrug I took his hand and he tugged me to my feet, he was right, he was way stronger than he looked. He stood at about six foot two and wore long pale gold robes that matched the tent edged with deep purple. Hanging from his neck were several strands of beads, some of which were so long, they snaked down to wrap around his arms and clacked when he moved.
"There now, we can be properly introduced. I am Gabriel, The Honeran of the Ankartha. And you are Riley Thompkins, known in this world as Rilea Winsecco, The Other Worldshaper, she who is destined to save our people." he said.
"Uh, yeah about that..." I began.
"Now, now there will be plenty of time to discuss your destiny later. Come inside and let's get you properly attired for this world shall we?" he said ushering me into his massive tent.
I could feel my jaw hanging open but I couldn't seem to close it. The inside of the tent was impossibly larger than the outside. Billowy vaulted ceilings stretched up high above us, with rich jewel colored fabrics hanging down. Hanging amidst the fabrics were large ornate lanterns that appeared to be filled with fireflies. There were beautiful women wearing long robes in similar colors to the fabrics draped above bustling around, tending to different aspects of the tent palace. Nagalia was conspicuously nowhere in sight. I supposed having done her duty, she could now wash her hands of me. It shouldn't have hurt, she had just lost her brother after all and probably needed time to grieve. But she was the only person in this strange new world that I knew, so the snub stung just the same. A young, curvy, dark haired girl wrapped in a deep purple robe appeared before us with a bow.
"Ah Grenid, please escort Rilea to her quarters and see that she is properly attired. Then tell Frigilla to begin the preparations for our journey." said Gabriel.
"Yes Honeran, I believe Frigilla already has the preparations under way." She said, her eyes fixed firmly on the floor.
"Of course she does, no doubt whipping the troops into order the moment the first bell tolled." he chuckled. Grenid's only response was a small curtsy. Â
"Off you go then, you will have to fill in Rilea here on our protocol as this will be her first journey with us." said Gabriel. Then with a nod and a light squeeze on my shoulder he walked off briskly, his pale gold robes billowing behind him.
"If you will follow me Miss Rilea." Said the dark haired girl softly, her eyes still on the floor.
"Please call me Riley, contrary to what the Honeran wants to believe, Rilea is not my name." I said with perhaps more of an edge to my voice than was necessary. Grenid flinched a bit but otherwise showed no sign she noticed my grouchiness. Feeling like a heel I added,
"Sorry, it's been kind of a long day."
Grenid nodded knowingly, "Here all days are long."
Well that was a cheerful thought.
I allowed Grenid to lead me through several doors until we reached a large room similar to the first in it's decor. In the center of the room, covered in furs and jewel toned sheets was the largest bed I had ever seen. The long hard day of running for my life suddenly caught up with me and I nearly fell face first onto the satiny cushions. Grenid caught me by the elbow before I could face plant.
"I'm sorry Miss Riley but there is no time for that yet, we are preparing to flee the vassals of the Worldshaper and will be leaving in ten minutes time." said Grenid with a sympathetic smile. It was the first time she had looked anywhere other than the ground and I realized with a start that her eyes were the same pale gold color of the Honeran's robes. She quickly looked away and busied herself with the large wardrobe that sat on the far end of the room.
"Outside of our barrier the world is much colder, we will need to fit you with traveling furs. You may choose your robe color when we are settled in the new location and have reconstructed our barriers." she said as she pulled fur coat after fur coat out of the wardrobe.
Grenid laid the furs out on the bed and beckoned me over.
"You may choose the one you will be most comfortable in, it could be several days ride to our next spot so you will want to choose comfort over style." she said with an apologetic smile.
I walked over to the bed and shrugged out of my muddy and blood splattered flannel. Grenid took it from me silently and disappeared momentarily into another room.
"Your clothes will be laundered and returned to you." she said seeming to sense my discomfort.
I just nodded and began trying on the furs. I settled on a coat that was cut just above my waist like a leather jacket, the outside was made of a dark brown fur with gold tips and the inside was warm dark blue velvet.
"An excellent choice miss." Said Grenid having returned with another bundle of clothing.
"Try these on." she said thrusting a pair of thick leather pants and a high collared bodice similar to Nagalia's under my nose.
"Uh, is the bodice really necessary?" I asked.
"Oh yes, it is Dimeritan hide and can withstand even the sharpest Gravir arrow. Plus it is warm and you need to keep your core warm out there, trust me. If you are modest you may wear it under another shirt." she said.
"Well that sounds warmer anyway." I said. Grenid nodded and disappeared again.
Having donned the leather pants and bodice I went in search of a mirror to get a glimpse of what I looked like as Xena, but found none. Grenid came back and cut my search short. She handed me several long sleeve fleeces in varying colors along with a few pairs of thick wool socks just as the booming bell tolled again.
"Oh dear, we are running behind. Hurry now, finish getting changed, I must change as well." she said hurriedly slinking out of her purple robe and standing bare as day while she selected leather pants and a bodice of her own. I have never been shy about nudity amongst other females, we all have the same parts, so who cares right? But I was momentarily taken by surprise at the brazen way Grenid had stripped since it seemed to conflict with the meek character she had shown me so far. Shaking off this thought, I removed my doc martens and swapped out the socks. By the time I had put my boots back on, Grenid was completely dressed and throwing the extra clothes haphazardly into the wardrobe. She slammed it shut and grabbed my hand.
"Come on! It's almost time and we do not want to be stuck in here when the final bell tolls, trust me it is the worst way to travel." she said as she yanked me from the room.
We ran outside the large tent just as the bell tolled again. When the final bell stopped ringing, the tent began to fold in on itself in six inch squares until it had compacted down into a simple six inch square of fabric.
"Whoa." I whispered thinking that no one heard me.
"Like I said, worst way to travel." said Grenid with a shudder. Momentarily left speechless, all I could do was nod in reply.
Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â Â My butt felt like it had fallen off. I had been traveling on horseback with the bollywood brigade for days, and I was ready to kill for one of those hemorrhoid donut things. There was a pale gold chaise litter being pulled behind me with Gabriel perched comfortably upon it and I didn't care how old he was, if we went much further I would have no problem fighting him for it. Gabriel and I weren't the best of buddies these days, putting it gently. The first night we made camp he had called me into his opulent tent and explained my "destiny" to me with the attitude of someone bestowing a great honor. I basically told him to kiss my ass, along with a few other expletives that would have made even Nagalia blush. He did not take that well...
"It has been foretold! You are the only one who can bring her rule of terror to an end!" he yelled, finally losing his calm demeanor.
"Ya, foretold by you! Why am I supposed to believe the word of some crazy old man? You forget I didn't grow up around here. I didn't grow up drinking whatever kool-aid you are feeding these people, so excuse me if I don't immediately take your word as gospel without a little proof!" I yelled back.
"I am the Honeran! Over three hundred years old, I have seen this world begin and end three times over! That is the only proof you should need." he said reining in his temper and forcing his calm visage once more. I could still see the molten fury in his eyes though, so I wasn't buying the act. He may be three hundred years old, but the eyes give everyone away.
"You haven't even told me the actual prophecy yet, all you've told me is that I am destined to be the savior of your people. Aren't prophecies usually a little more formal than that? What are the actual words of this prophecy anyway? It probably doesn't even mean me!" I said.
"When the Final Sun has set and the New Dawn arrives, she with the face of a god will take back what has been stolen from her. When the Golden Star crests the peak of the highest hill, the one without sin will take power once again. She who took the power that was not hers to control will be destroyed once and for all." he intoned.
"Wow. That's a terrible prophecy." I said.
"No, don't you see? You are the one that will take power, you will rule over this land!" he said with excitement.
"No I mean that was a terrible prophecy, it didn't even really rhyme. Aren't prophecies supposed to sound poetic and mysterious? That was pretty lame, but it was also hugely open to interpretation so I guess you got that part right." I said. He just blinked at me agape, as though he couldn't quite believe I dared to besmirch his beloved prophecy.
"Alright so what does it mean? A prophecy that bad has to at least mean something pretty big, what does the Final Sun and New Dawn refer to?" I said throwing him a bone, he had pretty much built his whole life on this prophecy after all.
"The Final Sun refers to the end of this world. Every hundred years this world is extinguished and reborn. The Final Sun setting is it's destruction and the New Dawn is the birth of the new world." he said.
"Um, ok so if the world ends how have you lived through three of these, shouldn't everything die along with the world?" I asked.
"No, like a phoenix we rise from the ashes of our destruction to greet the New Dawn." he said.
"Riiight, ok then. So when is this world supposed to end next?" I said.
"Three weeks from today." he replied.
"WHAT? Are you freaking kidding me?? You brought me to a world that is supposed to end in three weeks? No, nope, I'm out!" I said.
"Rilea! Calm yourself, you will not die when the world ends. You will be reborn along with the rest of us and take your place as the rightful ruler of this world!" he said, grabbing my shoulders with a slight shake. I shoved his hands off of me and backed up a few paces.
"First off, my name is Riley. Second of all, how can I believe that? You say the world is going to end and just expect me to believe that I will be ok when it does? Sorry but that is not the way I was raised to believe things work!" I said.
"I should be all the proof you need that it is how things work, at least in this world." he replied, once more tucking himself back into his blanket of calm.
"But again, all I have is your word saying that you have lived 300 years. You have no way of proving your age to me." I said wearily, we had been arguing in circles for what felt like hours now.
"Can you take nothing on faith? Are you so incapable of trust?" he asked seeming to know the impact those words would have.
Every one of my exes had the same complaint when they inevitably ended our relationship. I wasn't trusting enough. More like I picked apart excuses until I exposed them for the lies they really were. Of course they only accused me of not being capable of trust when I had unraveled their explanations and found out they had been cheating on me. So really it wasn't that I wasn't capable of trust, it was just that I could smell bullshit from a mile away. That didn't seem like such a problem to me. The fact that I kept choosing men who would cheat on me said something else entirely, but since I had basically slept through my intro to psych class I didn't actually know what. I would guess low self esteem though, it seems like all female problems stem from low self esteem. At any rate, the quickest way to hurt me while simultaneously arousing my suspicion was to call me incapable of trust. Typically if it seemed like I didn't trust you, it's because you had something to hide. Gabriel had no way of knowing how strong my bullshit detector was though, and I didn't feel the need to show off my super power just then. Instead, I hid my suspicion, deciding to wait and see how this would play out. There was something Gabriel didn't want me to know, and the easiest way to find out what that was, would be to let him think I was gobbling up the shit he was slinging.
"You're right." I sighed. "I find it hard to take things on blind faith. You have to understand this is a lot to process, your prophecy says I will defeat this oppressive ruler but it doesn't say how I'm supposed to do that. I've never even been in a fist fight, how am I supposed to defeat someone called the Worldshaper?" I said, lacing my words with just enough defeat for him to go in for the kill.
"You have the same abilities as she, abilities that no one else in this world possesses. What I wouldn't give to have the powers you innately control. You are called Worldshapers for a reason Rilea. Allow me to teach you to use your powers and I promise you will defeat her by the setting of the Final Sun." he said.
"Look no offense but this isn't my world, I have no connection to it or your people. Why should I fight for you? I didn't join the military in my own world because I don't believe in fighting battles I know nothing about. Yet you are asking me to overthrow a ruler in this world that I know nothing of. I don't even know what is so bad about this Worldshaper, why do they need to be defeated so badly? What have they done?" I said.
"I think it would be better if I showed you." said Gabriel, a grim look on his face. He ducked out of the small room we had been conversing in and beckoned for me to follow. After walking through room after room of his palatial tent he finally stopped in front of a door that looked different from all the rest. Instead of matching the pale gold of the tent like the other doors, this one was a deep garnet color with a familiar symbol in gold on the front.
"That symbol, it was on the coin of the Sandman that attacked us." I said.
"Yes, it is the symbol of the Worldshaper." he replied. "This room contains information and articles that our agents have managed to acquire. Everything there is to know about the Worldshaper is beyond this door."
"Well alright let's go then." I said moving to open the flap. Gabriel caught my arm before I could enter.
"I will go no further, once you enter the room, you are on your own." he said.
"What do you mean? It's just a room right?" I said a chill falling down my spine.
"The information within cannot be contained in conventional ways, atrocities will play out like scenes from one of your worlds movies. Once you enter it will show you the deeds of the Worldshaper, it is not for the weak of stomach. I advise you take a moment to prepare yourself." he said.
I looked at the simple tent door, took a bracing breath and stepped through.