by Nicki Tate
New Adult Contemporary Portal Fantasy
| Nagalia was officially insane. It had been two days since I had told her about Garik, two days since she had gotten that look in her eye and told me to be ready when she came for me.
Ready for what? Of course I had asked but did she bother telling me? Nooooo that would make too much sense! Heaven forbid I actually have all the facts before diving head first into impending doom. My bitter and sarcastic thoughts had been taking over my mind more frequently the last few days. The weird thing was, I couldn't blame my bad attitude on homesickness. The other day I had snapped at Grenid, and of course felt immediately awful for it since Grenid is probably the nicest person I have ever met.
"It's alright miss, I'm sure you must just be missing your home dreadfully. This strange new world can't be easy to adapt to. That would put anyone in a bad mood." she had said pityingly.
It was then I realized that I didn't miss it, not one bit. I hadn't had so much as a thought about home since conjuring my bedroom door two days ago. I didn't have any real friends back home as I had always been something of an outcast, and I had no family to speak of since both of my parents had been dead for years. Still it was something of a shock to realize that there was nothing I missed from the only world I had ever really known. I didn't even miss the food, which was something I had always missed whenever I had occasion to travel to a different country. Here all of my favorite foods were readily available, and everyone spoke perfect English as well as Ankarthan so there wasn't even a language barrier.
Further introspection led to me deciding that my poor attitude had much more to do with sitting around waiting for Nagalia than homesickness. In the meantime I had to go about my day and pretend everything was fine. I trained with Gabriel during the days, and acted as though I hadn't stumbled across his creepy hidden rooms. Then each night I would toss and turn with dreams of hushed conversations I could never quite make out, and flashes of scenes that made no sense to me. This no doubt, also contributed to my shitty temperament.
The day after Nagalia and I had escaped Gabriel's notice through the impenetrably dark room, Grenid had come for me.
"The Honeran is very displeased with you Miss Riley." she said softly, a note of censure in her voice. "You failed to meet him for your training yesterday and to make matters worse you evaded your guard for the entire afternoon!"
"I'm not used to having so many restrictions on my time and freedom Grenid. I just...needed some time to myself." I said in my most convincing voice.
"I understand Miss but your guard is there to protect you, a duty they cannot perform if they do not know where you are. I feel I must warn you as well that the Honeran is not one to be trifled with, you would do well not to leave him waiting again." she said.
"Are you afraid of him Grenid?" I asked.
A micro expression flashed across her face. It was so quick that had I not been exceptionally attuned to facial tics I would have missed it completely.
"Who Miss?" she said, doing her best to avoid eye contact.
"The Honeran. Does he frighten you?" I said in a kind voice. Grenid was getting the look of a cornered rabbit and I knew that one harsh word would either send her running or shut her down completely.
"Oh...well the Honeran is a great man. He has ruled and protected our people for centuries. One does not fear such a venerable man. One is honored to serve in his presence." she said carefully. I didn't miss the deflection though.
"I didn't ask if one should fear him Grenid, I asked if you did." I said with a bit more force.
"What a silly question to ask, look here it is time for your training and as I have just said we must not keep the Honeran waiting. I will personally walk you to the training room today, to ensure you don't wander off again. Come along." said Grenid in a rush to change the subject. She turned and walked out the door without as much as a glance back to see if I would follow.
She may have put off verbally answering the question but her face had told all. Grenid was terrified of Gabriel, and I intended to find out why.
I was straining to hear the whispered conversation just beyond a bright green door when a hand clamped over my mouth and I woke with a start. Nagalia's face hung over mine in the dark of my chamber. A small patch of moonlight coming through the skylight in the ceiling illuminated her face partially and gave it an eerie, haunted look. She put a finger over her lips indicating I should remain silent before removing her hand from my mouth. I sat up in bed and followed her to the chair by my wardrobe. It seemed she had selected my outfit for me while I slept. I quickly and silently donned the traveling clothes and when ready sent a questioning look to Nagalia. She checked me over, I supposed she lacked faith in my ability to dress myself. I often got the impression that she considered me to be no more capable than a toddler, even when I believed her to be my roommate Francine. That thought did give me pause, if she thought me so incompetent then why bring me along on a rescue mission? I didn't want to risk being left behind however, and so I said nothing of it. Instead I slung the pack she handed to me over my shoulders and paused only to grab my clothes from home and stuff them in as well. I had a feeling we would not be back here again, and I was not about to lose my Star Wars t shirt. Nagalia made for the door on silent footsteps and was just turning it when I grabbed her arm. The guards stayed just outside my bedroom door, there was no way we could get past without them seeing us. Nagalia rolled her eyes at me and pushed the door open. On the floor, sound asleep were my four guards (Gabriel had added another guard to my watch after my little afternoon escapade). I silently stepped past their sleeping forms, following in Nagalia's footsteps as she led us to the entrance of the tent. The moon was bright and easily illuminated our way as we stepped out of the tent. I wasn't sure of the time but gathered it was either very late or very early. As we made our way through the camp there wasn't a sound of life around us. All of the cook fires had long been extinguished and not a soul was out of their home. When we finally reached the magical barrier, Nagalia held out a hand to prevent me from crossing.
Still without saying a word she pulled a small vial from her bag and emptied what looked like pink glitter into her palm. She grabbed my hand and indicated that I should be ready to run, I nodded my understanding and bent my knees slightly in preparation. Nagalia did the same and then blew the pink glitter from her palm onto the magical barrier. The moment the glitter hit it, an electric pink crackling began at its contact point. The pink electricity spread more and more, until there was a small doorway in the barrier. As soon as the opening was large enough Nagalia sprang through it and yanked me with her. No sooner had I rocketed through the opening and landed on the other side than the pink electricity fizzled out and the barrier slammed closed. I let out a sharp breath in relief and looked at Nagalia.
"It is safe to speak now, though we should still whisper and try to refrain from it if possible until we are further away." she said, finally breaking the silence.
"Why couldn't we speak before? And why couldn't we have just walked through the barrier, like we've done dozens of times before?" I whispered back.
"The Honeran has ears all over the camp at night, he can hear even the slightest whisper. As for the barrier, he alarms it so that he knows any time someone crosses through. The pink dust temporarily fries the alarm, allowing one person to pass through. Since there were two of us, we needed to move quickly. Any more questions or can we be on our way?" she said.
"Sorry, let's go." I muttered, feeling chastised.
"It's alright, I have grown used to your need to constantly question everything." she sighed. Â
We walked on for a time through the snow, before I couldn't help asking another question.
"Where are we going? Not that I'm complaining but I don't think I could make it to wherever Garik is on foot. Not in this snow at least." I said.
"We are going to meet an old friend of mine. He will likely have information about Garik's whereabouts. As for our travel arrangements, I have already taken care of it." she replied cryptically.
After about five minutes more of us trudging through white slush, we came upon a cave. I could just make out the glow of a fire within as Nagalia led us stealthily forward.
"You needn't be so cautious Gali, I already know you're there." came a clear baritone from within the cave.
"It-so, I blame your loud elephant feet." she hissed at me.
"Oh come now you mustn't blame Riley, you missed the border trigger I planted about five feet back." came the baritone with a jovial tut.
"It-so." said Nagalia again.
We walked through the squat stone cave entrance for a few paces before the ceiling sloped upward and we came out into the main chamber. In the center of the floor was a decent sized fire, enough to warm the small room but not overwhelm it. I looked to the ceiling above and saw a small chimney had been cut out, which explained why I wasn't choking on the fire's smoke. As we walked into the chamber, a man leaped out and grabbed Nagalia. I was about to run at him when Nagalia let out the girliest giggle I had ever heard and the man kissed her soundly on the lips. I think my brain temporarily short circuited because my jaw fell open and I just stared at the couple before me until they finally broke apart for a breath and caught me watching.
Nagalia cleared her throat and wiped her mouth with the back of her hand, a blush stealing across her cheeks. The man just send me a languid, self-satisfied smile. He was quite a bit taller than Nagalia, and while he was very lean and lanky, he looked as though he would be very light on his feet. He had shortish dirty blonde hair and was very clean cut, reminding me of the pretty rich boys that had attended my university. He was undoubtedly very handsome, but the clean shaven trust fund type had never appealed to me. Evidently it did appeal to Nagalia though.
After an awkward pause, it was he who broke the silence.
"Drake, pleasure to finally meet you Riley." he said in a quick enthusiastic tone. He thrust his hand out to me. I shook it and sent a questioning glance to Nagalia.
"Hi nice to meet you." I said, when in doubt my mother had always taught me to err on the side of politeness.
Nagalia finally decided to intervene as Drake pumped my arm up and down, while he practically bounced on the balls of his feet.
"Drake is the friend I told you about." said Nagalia.
"Friend eh? You wound me Gali! But you seem to be very serious tonight so we had better get down to business." he said sobering a bit, I noted that the glint of good humor never left his eyes though and decided I liked him for it.
The three of us gathered around the fire and sat.
"No doubt you heard about Garik's death." Began Nagalia.
"Oh come now, do give me a bit more credit than that. You and I both know that Garik is perfectly alive. You're inquisition tactics are getting rusty!" he said.
"Fine, then let's be frank. Do you know where he is?" she said quickly.
"Ah the real question, you could have just asked me outright. I wouldn't keep knowledge of your brother's whereabouts from you. I do not however know exactly where he is." he began.
"That is shit, you work directly with the Sandmen! You must know something!" she spat.
"Easy Gali, I said I didn't know exactly where he was. Not that I knew nothing." he said holding his hands up as if in surrender.
"Va-Galin, spit it out already!" said Nagalia.
"There is no need for name calling, I will tell you all I know." he replied.
"Sorry but what does Va-Galin mean?" I interrupted. Nagalia had occasion to say the same thing in my presence and now that I knew it was a derogatory statement I was curious to know just what she was calling me.
"Loosely translated it means idiot, but the direct translation is one who would eat their own shit if presented it as a delicacy." he replied.
"Ah, how nice." I said sending a scowl at Nagalia.
"Anyway, what about Garik?" said Nagalia.
"Ah of course. Well I'm afraid that all I know is the general area he was taken to, and you aren't going to like it." he said. "He has been taken to the Glacial Palace."
"Fuck." said Nagalia and I was temporarily shocked to hear her cursing in English.
"Indeed." said Drake.
"Ok new girl in the room, what's the Glacial Palace?" I said waving my hand in the air.
"It's the home of the Worldshaper and her minions." said Nagalia darkly.
"Ouch, I resent being relegated to a mere 'minion'" said Drake.
I looked at him sharply.
"I'm sorry, what now? You work for the Worldshaper?!" I yelped, jumping up.
"Well it's a bit more complicated than that." he said with a pained shrug. Then turning to Nagalia, he said, "Did you tell her nothing of us?"
Nagalia who had turned pink once again said,
"Of course not."
"Well if she is already in this deep its better she know the way things stand don't you think? How can we expect her to act rationally without all of the facts?" said Drake.
That settled it, Drake was my new favorite person.
"Fine, go ahead but make it brief. It will be light soon. The Honeran will not be far behind us once the sun rises and Riley is missed." said Nagalia leaning back on her elbows as though settling in for a campfire tale.
"Very well, I will give you the bare facts as they stand presently." said Drake.
"You know of the Honeran's loyal group of followers and you know of the Worldshaper's group of Sandmen and other loyal subjects. What you do not know is that there is a third much lesser known group that neither completely believes the Honeran's gospel nor adheres to the Queen's rule. This is a group of agents that have infiltrated both parties in order to gain a better understanding of the whole. Garik and Nagalia were placed in the Honeran's camp, while I, along with a few others were to get close to the Queen. Each time the camp is moved we establish a new meeting place where we can leave messages and reports for one another. This cave is just such a spot. Three days ago, Nagalia left me a message here instructing me to bring three horses and enough supplies for three people on a decent journey. I left her a reply stating that I would be here on this night, and here you are." He concluded.
"So, you're spies?" it was all I could manage to say after his brief soliloquy.
"In essence yes, we are spies." he replied.
"So what is the name of your organization?" I asked.
"Ah, well it doesn't have a name. It's much harder for rumors and tales to spread about a group when there is no name attached to it don't you think? We are able to operate with little to no suspicion due to the fact that very few people know of our existence." he said.
"So how many of you are there then?" I asked.
"Not many, a dozen or so."
"Good grief." I replied.Â "So what have you learned then? What about the Honeran do you know? And what of the Worldshaper?" I asked.
"What we know could fill three volumes, and what we do not know could fill thirty. We certainly don't have the time to get into the details at present. I can tell you that the Honeran is not what he seems to be and that the Worldshaper is formidable indeed although perhaps not such a monster as we once believed. We are of the opinion that there is another factor here that no one knows about, or at least that we do not know about. There is a puzzle piece missing and we are doing our damnedest to find it." He concluded.
Nagalia sat up at attention, sensing the end of his story.
"Great now that everyone is caught up, can we get moving?" she said.
"I think that would be best." agreed Drake.
He got up and kicked a mound of dirt over the fire, which went out with an indignant hiss. Then after we had gathered our things once more, he led us to the back of the cave where another smaller opening sat. We had to crawl on hands and knees to get through the small tunnel and while I'm not claustrophobic, I found I had trouble with the small space. I couldn't help but think that an ill-timed earthquake would cause this tunnel to become my rocky grave.
At last we emerged into the cold night and I breathed a sigh of relief to replace the oppressive tunnel with the freedom of the open wood. Lashed to a tree just outside the cave and covered in thick blankets were three horses as promised. Although my ass protested to being on horseback for an extended amount of time again, it was far better than the alternative so I mounted without complaint. I could tell that the morning sun was beginning its ascent as far off to the east the sky had turned from dark blue to a deep purple. We rode south for some time, and then turned more westward as the sun began to peak the mountains on our left. No one spoke for a time. I was mulling over all I had learned in the cave and silence seemed to be Nagalia's default setting. Drake however clearly enjoyed talking as he finally broke the silence, unable to abide it any longer.
"So Riley, tell me about yourself. It's not every day I get to meet the Queen's twin sister after all. What-
"Drake!" said Nagalia sharply.
"What? What did I say?" he said, looking like a little boy being reprimanded.
"What do you mean twin?" I said.
"That. That is what you said. Va-Galin!" replied Nagalia.
"Wait you mean she doesn't know?!" exclaimed Drake.
"Evidently not, but I don't have a sister, and she definitely isn't the dictator of this world!" I chuckled.
Nagalia eyed me as though she expected me to burst into tears or something.
"Tell her Nagalia, or I will." said Drake in a warning voice.
Nagalia sighed and sent a glare to Drake before turning to me.
"The Honeran did not tell you the whole of the story when he told you of your destiny. I suspect he did not want you to have a reason to feel an affinity for the Worldshaper before he could fully turn you against her. For my part, I did not wish to tell you this because you seem unable to handle large shocks well and I didn't want you to lose composure. Your emotions can be...messy." she said.
"Fuck you." I said.
Nagalia blinked, I had successfully shocked her, good, because I was pissed.
"You don't get to decide what I can and can't handle. You may have lived with me for the last three years but that doesn't mean you know me, and it certainly doesn't give you the authority to choose what information I do and don't get about my own life. You threw me into a completely new world with almost no explanation whatsoever and I have just rolled with everything that has been thrown at me. You wouldn't even have known Garik was alive if I hadn't hunted you down and told you. I'm getting really sick and tired of you treating me like I'm some incompetent nincompoop, who shouldn't have access to a stove let alone complex human emotion. And for the record I knew perfectly well Gabriel was hiding something from me and using manipulations to make me believe what he wanted. I had deduced that from the moment he told me about his so called prophecy but couldn't provide any proof other than his word that we would survive when the world ended in three weeks' time. Although I guess it's two weeks now..." I had started out strong, all of the frustrations and hurt I had bottled up over the past week finally venting, but now I was just rambling. I shut my mouth so I couldn't say anymore and scowled at my saddle.
"What do you mean?" said Drake after a beat.
"Nothing never mind, it's not like you guys care about me as a person anyway. I'm just the chosen one or whatever. Heaven forbid I have feelings." I pouted.
"No what did you mean about the world ending?" said Drake impatiently.
I looked up at that point. Both Nagalia and Drake had gone white and were looking at me in horror.
"What? You don't know?" I asked. Their blank stares answered for them. I would have gloated that there was finally something they didn't know that I did, but they looked so uneasy that I just told them the whole. When I was done recounting my conversation with the Honeran, Nagalia and Drake were silent.
"I take it this isn't common knowledge." I said.
"Of course not, the Honeran may believe we are reborn but it would cause panic among those who didn't believe. Two weeks? That's hardly any time at all!" said Drake.
"Gabriel thinks you will defeat the Worldshaper and rise to power before the world ends in two weeks?" said Nagalia.
"Yes, have you never heard the actual prophecy?" I asked.
"No, we were never given the details of the prophecy. We were just told it mentioned you would deliver the world from turmoil. That you would be our savior." shrugged Nagalia.
"I have to admit, I'm amazed that so many people would follow such a flimsy prophet." I said. Nagalia just shrugged again.
"Fear can have a strange effect on people Riley." said Drake softly.
I recounted the prophecy to the two of them and they were quiet for a moment before Nagalia finally said,
"It's kind of shitty isn't it? Like it sounds like something he just made up on the spot."
"I said the same thing! Gabriel didn't appreciate me disparaging his precious prophecy though." I said.
"You said it to his face?" cried Nagalia, and then to my utter surprise she burst into laughter. After a few moments of uncontrollable laughter she wiped the tears from her eyes and said,
"I can't believe you told him his prophecy sucked, straight to his face!" she gasped. Drake and I grinned as well and for a while we rode on in companionable silence.
"So about this whole, I have an evil twin thing..." I said.
"Right, I guess you should know everything now." replied Nagalia.
"Back about three hundred years ago, the royal family announced the birth of twin baby girls. The first princesses of the royal family and destined rulers after their parent's time had passed. Gabriel was the adviser to the Queen at this time and shortly after they were born he declared that he had foretold a disastrous rift between the two young princesses. He announced that one would become mad with power and that the other would be the only person who could stop her. He convinced your parents to send you away to hide in the human realm until the time that you were old enough to come back and defeat her. He originally suggested just killing your sister before she could become evil but your parents wouldn't hear of it. So instead, while they stayed behind to raise your sister, your parents sent you to earth and enlisted the help of Gabriel's most trusted servants to raise you." Nagalia paused for a moment and then said, "Those trusted servants were my parents."
She seemed to be holding her breath, waiting for my reaction but I didn't know how to react. My mind seemed to shut down temporarily, unable to process the news. The people I had grown up loving my entire life, the people I believed to be my parents were actually Nagalia's parents! I suddenly felt like the biggest fraud, nothing about my life had been real. I had stolen Nagalia and Garik's childhood without even knowing it.
"No wonder you hate me." I finally said.
This was evidently not the reaction Nagalia had been expecting, she raised her eyebrows and opened and closed her mouth a few times looking like a fish out of water before she said,
"I-I don't hate you." I just raised my eyebrows at her.
"Ok maybe I did hate you a bit at first." she amended.
"I'm sorry, I had no idea. It must have been so strange for you to see their pictures everywhere in our apartment." I said.
"It was like looking through a window into the life I should have had." she said softly.
"Who raised you, if not your parents?" I asked.
"The Ankarthans did. Gabriel gave Garik and I to their village and they collectively raised us. Then when we were of age, we were sent to earth for schooling so we could become your protectors without raising suspicion" she replied with a shrug.
"Wait a minute, you said this all happened about three hundred years ago. How does that work? I'm not three hundred years old! And did you say that you and Garik both protected me? Why did I never see him?" I said.
"Time moves differently here, for every hundred years here only thirteen years pass in your world. And yes Garik had the night shift which is why you never saw him. He usually kept to the shadows in the perimeter of our apartment." she said. "He says you have questionable taste in men." she added.
"Geez I feel like I've lived my entire life in a fishbowl without knowing it." I said.
"You are not wrong." Nagalia nodded. That did not make me feel better.