Dragon Day

A princess that's not a lady. A king that's not a gentleman. And a wedding that does not go according to plan.

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11. Aravi and Vrinda

Aravi and Vrinda

 

                “I knew it!” Alex shouted. “You want to kill me!”

                He knew he was wrong. But the wounded look on her face was priceless. If she could play with his mind, so could he. He slowly remembered the events of the night before, and he had to admit she must have been well-trained to be able to sneak up on him.

                “No Alex!” she protested. She didn’t need him to be even more hostile towards her. She’d noticed that he’d been nicer over the past few days, and didn’t want that to be replaced by his icy cold treatment of the past. It was stupid of her, to admit that she had wanted to hit him.

                Before she could explain or try to clear herself of the blame he ran out of the room. Melaina looked once towards the startled Neema.

                “I’ll be back later,” she promised. She headed towards the door and saw Alex was nowhere in sight. But she could hear the heavy sounds of his boots as he ran and she followed. He weaved around the corridors of the manor, enjoying the chase. Sometimes he would slow down until she could see him and then disappear around a turn and speed up again.

                Alex ran through the corridors, but he no longer heard Melaina behind him. He went back to his room and laid on the bed. His head still hurt and she would come by to his room eventually. She still heard his footsteps in front of her, moving continuously and too quickly for her to keep up. Finally the steps stopped. Alex was nowhere in sight, but she recognized where she was.

                It was the corridor from the night before. Slowly the ground disappeared as fog spread across the floor. Everything around her became blurred, lost color and finally turned black.

***

                The stone walls of a castle were being attacked by cannons from afar. A woman in mail headed an army from the castle, shooting arrows from atop her horse, barking harsh orders to the soldiers behind her in a language Melaina didn’t understand. The woman dropped the bow as she got closer, unsheathing a sword and hacking her way through the foot soldiers. Even her horse didn’t shy away from the battle, head-butting soldiers that aimed for her rider and rearing to shatter enemies’ skulls.

                Melaina looked at the woman closely. Her long wavy black hair was let loose, flowing behind her with the wind. Her grey eyes were lined thickly with kohl, and the black markings continued downwards intricately along her cheeks.

                A man was by her side, fighting just as fiercely in coordination with her. They moved as a unit, fighting tirelessly. Finally the battle was won. They planted a strange flag of black and gold at the other end of the battle field, piercing through the corpse of a fallen king.

                The woman fell to the ground as the man let go of the flag. A trickle of blood flowed from the corner of her lips as she tried to speak.

 

                “Aravi,” the man sighed with tears in his eyes.

                He held her as she stopped breathing and her grey eyes stopped blinking, staying open wide and hauntingly. Melaina looked at the man holding her, the man who Aravi had loved, and knew that he was the one that had killed her.

***

                Alex sat in his room waiting. It had been almost an hour since he had lost her in their chase. He wondered if something was wrong. Bolting out of his bed he ran through the corridors, listening for the sound of her voice or footsteps anywhere.

                He searched the entire manor and finally stopped when he reached a deserted hall. It wasn’t like any other part of the manor. The stone pillars had the same structure, similar carvings, but roughly made and weathered by the wind. Cobwebs hung around the roofs, and rats scurried along the floor. He saw a slumped figure leaning on one of the pillars and raced towards her.

                The sight of Melaina was frightening. Her black hair was unkempt, her grey eyes wide open, looking in his direction but looking beyond him. Her skin was cold and pale, a blank expression on her face. He shook her but she didn’t wake up. Her breathing was getting shallower and her skin paler and colder. She didn’t hear his yells or see his worry. Manny was draped around her shoulders. The snake occasionally touched her cheek, flicked out his tongue to try to wake her up but to no avail.

                “Nashar,” she whispered at last, her eyes closing and her breathing growing more even and deeper. “Nashar betrayed her.”

                “Mel, what are you talking about?”

                Her eyes opened again, and he knew that this time she was awake.

                “Alex?” she asked.

                “Yes, Alex,” he answered. “What happened?”

                “Nothing, I guess it was just a dream.”

                “Stop lying,” he said. “I’m going to figure out what happened eventually, so you might as well tell me now.”

                “I don’t know what happened exactly,” she admitted. “I was running after you. I heard your footsteps come in this direction, so I followed. The footsteps stopped but you weren’t here. And then I had a dream. I don’t know when I fell asleep or how… Nothing makes sense about this.”

                “Who’s Nashar?” he asked.

                “It was in my dream, there was this queen Aravi, who was betrayed by a man named Nashar,” she said. “It was the strangest dream, but so real.”

                Alex could tell she wasn’t lying. There was a hint of fear in her face, something that didn’t look right on her.

                “Why don’t we just have lunch?” he asked, extending his hand to help her get up. “Try to forget about all of this.”

                She nodded and took his hand. As she looked around she noticed for the first time how the place was different from the one she had seen before, and at the same how identical. The corridor was the same, but the clean pillars were covered with dust and chipping. Cobwebs hung everywhere. The brook in the garden was just a pile of stones. The parsimmon and rhodanthemum flowers had long ago been died and turned to dust. She was in the ruins of the place she had seen before.

                Whatever mystery there was in Collyria, whatever magic or mischief that the forest held, it was too much for her. She had seen thousands die in a battlefield, she had felt the pain in Aravi’s heart at the betrayal. She feared what else the forest would make her feel if she stayed. Alex held her hand in his with a strong grip, dragging her along like a rag doll towards his room.

                He ordered a maid to bring them lunch and made her sit down at the chair in his room. She was still pale, still unsure and frightened. He didn’t like her that way. She was strong and strange, a wonderful oddity. She couldn’t let one unexplained dream change her into another one of those simpering spineless girls that the world had more than enough of.

                “Mel, speak to me,” he ordered her. “Forget this.”

                “How can I?” she asked. “I saw that woman die with my own eyes. She was poisoned by a man she loved.”

                Mel stopped after the words were out of her mouth. She hadn’t known before that Aravi was poisoned. But she now knew. She thought again of Aravi, and realized how much she knew about her. She was a warrior queen, a daughter who had ascended the throne, a conqueror and a witch. She had been cold-hearted, had shown only justice and no mercy until she had met Nashar.

                Melaina stopped as more and more memories flooded into her mind. Memories that weren’t hers, she realized. Alex sat in front of her, waiting for her to say something. All she could do was try not to keep herself together. She was incapable of anything more.

                Alex looked at her as she stiffened. Shock passed over her face for a second before resuming a blank look. She held her head for a second, taking in all the memories and the emotions that came with them. She held on to Alex’s hand tightly, willing for the memories to stop pouring in. Finally they stopped, after she knew everything there was to know about Aravi and more. She leaned into Alex’s chest and closed her eyes, glad to be rid of the headache.

                She couldn’t tell anyone of what she had seen. She knew that much, and she knew that they shouldn’t set foot in the forest.            Melaina looked up at Alex.

                “Alex, we can’t go into that forest,” she pleaded. “Please. It’s all I ask you.”

                “Fine,” he conceded.

                “Thank you,” she breathed, wrapping her arms around him tightly.

                He resisted the urge to smile, to pull her closer towards him. All he could see was Dain’s face, and he was filled with guilt. He was in love with the girl that his best friend was supposed to marry, and for that very girl he was slowing down the search for Dain. He didn’t want to betray his friend, but he couldn’t say no to her. No matter how hostile he acted towards her, he accepted the fact that he would never again be able to stay away.

                By the time he pushed her back and away from him he saw that she had fallen asleep. He placed her onto his bed and left the room to talk to his soldiers about the change of plans. After he told them he could see the suspicion in their faces. But he could do nothing. He went back to his room where she was still sleeping. He sat by her side until it was time for dinner, leaving her and telling a maid to bring her dinner.

                When he came back she was gone, the food untouched on the table. She was nowhere in the castle, and he searched again, fearing that he would find her as he did before, but it would be late to save her, to bring her back to consciousness. He saw her familiar outline outside of the castle, walking away from the village and towards the forest.

                He raced down the stairs from his room, through the village. The villagers held onto him as he tried to follow her. They spoke in a foreign language, full of sharp clear sounds and trills. The only word that he understood was “Aravi”.

                He pushed them all away, but she had already disappeared into the darkness. Alex’s mind went through all the ways that she could die in the forest. She had taken nothing along, no weapons, no food, nothing. He ran off into the forest, calling her name.

***

                Melaina couldn’t hear his voice. All she heard was Aravi’s voice, echoing inside her head telling her to come to the forest. She knew Aravi wouldn’t harm her, regardless of what she would do to other people who entered her forest. Her voice was deep and reverberating, strong in its authority and drenched in misery no matter what she said.

                “Come, child, come to my new kingdom. This is Vrinda, the land of Aravi.”

                She saw the beauty of the forest as Aravi did. The light of the setting shined through the leaves, turning everything into a panorama of colors, at the forefront green and gold. She heard animals off in the distance, the roar as a tiger attacked his prey. But it didn’t matter to her, it didn’t scare her. All that happened in Vrinda was a system of balance. She was under Aravi’s protection. Nothing would harm her. As the sun set and the forest was enveloped in the silvery light of the sliver of a moon, she saw Aravi in front of her.

                “Aravi,” Melaina whispered out loud, marveling at her beauty. Aravi’s black hair hung loose to her knees, the waves blowing to the side with the wind. Her silver dress draped over her body formlessly yet beautifully. The kohl that began at her eyes continued downwards onto her cheeks as intricate paintings of a forest scene.

                “Melaina,” Aravi greeted her. “It is good to finally see you.”

                “You know me?”

                “You could say we are extended family.”

                Melaina didn’t doubt her. She had suspected it from the beginning, not because of how they looked alike, but because of their character. She could see herself in Aravi’s place.

                “Why did you call me here?”

                “I know that you love Lor like I loved the real Vrinda,” Aravi answered. “I have shown you my life, my death, but not what happened after. This Collyria is built upon the ruins of a part of the real Vrinda. Nashar used me. We only had to win that final battle to establish Vrinda as the most powerful nation in the world. He needed me to fight. He poisoned me beforehand, so I would die just after the battle. I do not hate him for that. He wanted power that was mine. It is human nature. But he made the people suffer. As a result of his tyranny the people started revolutions. Vrinda was forgotten as warlords separated the land and formed independent countries. He died the death he deserved, so I have no wish for revenge. I merely stand here to protect this Vrinda as well as I can, from whoever I don’t trust.”

                “You’re what the Captain is afraid of, aren’t you? You made them lose their minds! ”

                “A warning, I assure you,” she answered. “No lives were lost. But now, I need your assistance.”

                “For what?”

                “There is a war coming, started by a man very much like Nashar. He is a man of Felucca, but seeks to rule the entire world. He will destroy everything that is in his way. Lor, Collyria, this Vrinda that my spirit now calls home, he will reduce them all to ashes. You are the only one that can stop him. You and all those that you love, Alex, Dain, your father, the Captain, you will need everyone to fight by your side.”

                “What are you talking about? Dain is dead!”

                “Dain is very much alive, and even better than before. He is safe where he is for the moment, in a hamlet called Little Marsh at the other side of the island. Your job now is something else. You need to find some things of mine. I have stash of my last and my best weapons hidden in this forest. I hid it here a long time ago, in case my enemies ever drove me into the forest. It’s not easy to reach, but you’ll have Alex to help you.”

                “Alex?”

                “Begin your quest tomorrow, at daybreak. I will be with you. The weapons are in the cave right next to the dragon’s nest…”

                Aravi was gone. As suddenly as she had come she had disappeared into thin air. Melaina looked around the forest once. She was hopelessly lost, until she heard Alex’s voice calling out for her. She ran towards the sound.

                She ran up to him and pressed her hand onto his mouth.

                “Are you insane? Shouting at night in a forest? Do you know there are tigers here?”

                “And you, running off into the forest without food or weapons, without thought, are you not insane?” he whispered harshly.

                “I knew that Aravi wouldn’t let anything hurt me. You don’t know anything about this forest,” she replied.

                “You have really lost your mind,” he said. “You’re going to get yourself killed.”

                “She told me that Dain’s alive, by the way. She said that he was safe.”

                “Dain’s alive?”

                “He’s in Little Marsh, on the other side of the island.”

                “Thank god,” Alex said.

                “Why do you like him so much?” she asked. From what she knew and saw, Alex worshipped Dain, a man that she saw to have absolutely no virtue in.

                “He’s my brother,” Alex answered. “And he saved my life.”

 

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