Chapter 7 ∞ Tested
While we had been the center of attention previously, having almost been crushed by an incoming ball of fire from a raging dragon, we quickly faded into the crowd. My mother firmly tugged on my arm and kept me close to her side. Eyes trailed after us as we went, but they all soon diverted elsewhere more interesting—namely the guy named Leiran and the flying dragons.
Huh. Sounds like a fantasy book title. Then again, I would think I was in a book if I didn’t know better. If I was, what would it be named? Unfortunate Soul: Gets Reincarnated but Can’t Do It Right? There were still many things I hadn’t figured out; like my purpose in this world and what the hell happened for Amber to do the things he did.
While I mused, a man came forward clad in a blue longcoat. He stopped before us, holding out a hand as though to welcome my mother warmly. He had the classic blond hair and blue eyes and was quite short for a man. Despite the baggy silhouette of his clothes that perhaps attempted to broaden his profile, the hollow flare of the fabric gave hints of his thin and willowy figure.
“Hellen!” he greeted.
“Laksa,” my mother greeted back.
“It’s a good thing you’re alright. Did you get caught up in that trouble?”
“We’re fine,” she told him. “Meet my daughter.”
After a brief exchange, Laksa looked down to me and knelt so that he was at my eye level.
“What a beautiful child,” he said. “Your mother did not lie to me when she said you were exquisite.” His vibrant and kind smile made it all seem a compliment—if it was any other person, they would just sound like a creep.
“Thanks, you’re pretty too,” I told him.
His face burned hot. Laksa reached up to comb through his blond locks, laughing like a flustered goose. “She wrote to me but I still can’t figure out how to say it right—how is it? Ehvahyuuhn?”
“In a language of the West, in Vertvalden, your name should mean—”
“Maiden of the river,” I said, finishing for him. Uttering it, knowing it since birth, I had always known what my name meant.
A smile quirked up his lips. “That’s right. Your mother told me you had quite the knack for languages. Your mistresses know at least two or three as entertainers of Oblivion, but you…” he ended his sentence, not with a period, but a chuckle.
I looked up, giving my adoptive mother a questioning glance. What exactly did he mean by ‘but you…’? My mistresses had not spoken a different tongue…or wait, maybe they did? I stopped caring long ago because I suddenly understood everything they were saying after Amber did that thing in the alleyway—surely, it couldn’t be the case right? Did that somehow grant me the ability to understand every language that came my way?
I kept in mind to pay attention to the language they were using to talk to me with next time.
“Come this way,” Laksa said as he stood. He motioned for me and my mother to follow him, leading us around the crowd and towards a back entrance.
“Thank you so much for this, Laksa.” Hellenia sighed softly.
“Anything for you and the mistresses,” he said. “And, of course, dear little Evyionne.”
There was nothing insincere about the way he moved. He exuded a calm yet enthusiastic grace that spoke no ill-intention. Even my mother seemed relaxed, as though she let this tide in the form of this man to guide us. They must trust him so.
“It is no trouble to me, Hellen,” he told her endearingly, opening the door to reveal a corridor doused in warm, golden light.
My mother looked around and lowered the hood of her cape.
This was the first time I had been in any other place other than the House. Contrary to the ostentatious exterior, there was an odd minimalism happening. It was clean with little to no lines as much as possible. We walked down the marbled floors—they were an immaculate, slate blue that I almost felt like I was walking in the sky. I caught something embedded on the floor—a coiling dragon. My eyes lingered on it for a time until I walked over and past it.
What is this place and why was it so beautiful? In fact, everything I had seen so far nearly resembled a utopia.
“Tell me, Evyionne,” Laksa began.
I broke free from my reverie and looked at him.
“What do you think?” he asked, guiding my eyes around the corridor.
“It’s a nice place,” I said in a low voice, noticing how sounds tended to echo so loud. It was a little quiet around these parts, but there was a faint buzz of chaos from a distance, maybe on the other side of the wall. I was guessing that that was where everybody was.
“Surely you have more words than that,” he stated. “With how deep you seemed to be in thought, it seems to me that you’re painting a world of your own in your mind. Let me in on your thoughts.”
I stayed quiet for a moment, not really sure what to say. I have such wonderful ways of describing this place, but now that I have been told to speak, I was quite speechless. I reached up to scratch my head with my free hand as I shifted my grip of my mother’s hand with the other.
“Um…” I shifted around in my robes. “Well…I have a lot of things in my mind, but I don’t think I can say them aloud without sounding a little stupid.”
“Give me two words then—with what you will describe this place with.”
“Sunset,” I said instinctively. “And…uh…clean?”
He nodded. “You are a bright, young lady. We call this the Sunset Corridors.”
“That’s not very creative,” I said.
Laksa laughed. “It is a somewhat obvious, distasteful name. But it lives up to it.” He gestured towards the arching, stained glass windows. The sunlight funneled down and blinked in a rainbow of colors—mostly in the shades of the sky during sunrise and sundown. “This is one of the most beautiful places to go through when trying to relax. Come, this way.”
I looked around curiously. “Sir Laksa,” I said.
“Just Laksa is fine,” he told me.
Hearing his name, why did I suddenly feel hungry?
“Can I ask what this place is? It doesn’t seem that simple. It’s my first time outside and I’m a little clueless. I keep seeing that symbol of a dragon and I’m really curious what that means.” I took a pause, realizing I didn’t say it quite right. “I mean—I saw it before in some of the books I read and I was told it pertained to the seven moon dragons of the ancient myth. It’s supposed to represent the Emperor. I’m just wondering why you would have that here? Are you related to the government?” I fired a bunch of question nonstop. Even I was a little surprised at how seemingly childishly persistent and curious I was being at the moment—at least I had the privilege of not being judged for it. If I was my previous age, they would think I was just an annoying woman.
“Mm. Good question…or questions,” he said. “That man who saved you outside—he’s a paladin. It’s a term for the royal knights. This place is War College. It’s where they’re trained. The one who saved you was a captain of the First Dragoons.”
“War College?” I reiterated. “War Dragoons?” I looked up at my mother. “You didn’t mention any of this before, mama.”
“There’s a time for everything,” Hellenia told me.
“Every year, we put out a test to determine your three fates,” Laksa said.
“My three fates?”
“Of mind, of body, and of soul,” he told me. “Everyone is born with qualities that make them unique. This pretty much hammers down the path they have ahead of them. We have a way of determining that.”
Back on Earth, these unique qualities were left to people to find out about by themselves. Even so, some would go their entire lives not knowing it at all because they were too busy trying to survive life that they could never actually live it. There was no special technology to tell them what they did best. I spent mine quite a while to find out what I was good at. My path had been one of confusion and, like everybody else, frustration.
Identity—this was the one greatest mystery, a gift given and received by the same person. The name was the brand given at birth. The rest was up to the individual to find out about.
“My, you really like to think,” Laksa commented, snapping me out of my train of thought. “What in the world do you think about? What could possibly be going around in that young brain?” he asked.
“I’m sorry,” I said with a sheepish smile. “I was just wondering how certain you were with this method. And even if it has a very high accuracy, people often get chained to the results they get. When you believe something, it tends to realize.”
I knew my tone carried loads of unapologetic skepticism. My mind was still not fully-wired to understand what the hell was going on in this world. Until now, I was grasping on the facts I could get. I was filled with questions I could not get answers to. No matter how much I thought, how much I researched, how much I asked—these questions I had would not be answered by just anybody. It had to be answered by him.
I saw him just last night. Amber eyes in the darkness yet in the form of a loose shadow. What the heck was he doing anyway? And where was he? I needed answers. None of this testing crap about the three fates would satisfy any of that.
Or would it?
“Your questions aren’t the usual ones we get, Evyionne. Especially from those around your age. All the other kids just follow what they’re told cluelessly,” Laksa said with a laugh. “And your questioning tone reminds me of those critics from the mountains. Not that I’m saying you are. And it’s not meant to be an insult.”
“Forgive her, Laksa,” my mother said, patting my head. “Evyionne thinks quite ahead of her age.”
“No worries, Hellenia. Anyone from the House of Oblivion are, in one way or the other, peculiarly beautiful. Must explain the fascination of so many men to your lineup. I can tell your daughter will not be so simple as well,” Laksa stated. “But just to answer your question, little one, we don’t actually give out the results until the child comes of age. The kingdom believes in the power of will and determination. There have been many since time immemorial who did not stick to what they were told they were and changed their fates—defying and straying from the paths laid down before them.”
My mouth began to take the shape of an egg but I managed to clamp my teeth shut before it could take full form. I suppose my skepticism would have to tone down a bit. I needed a bit more self-control from blurting out my thoughts like this so carelessly.
“Besides,” Laksa began on a serious note. “Trouble has risen in the West.”
I looked up. “What trouble?”
“It’s too early to judge—but it seems to be some sort of plague. We’ve closed off our ports at the moment to prevent further breach. Unfortunately, we also cut our connections in the affected countries. The messengers we sent there on beasts—very few of them ever came back.” He took a deep breath and exhaled. “Our correspondence comes from secondary sources—nearby borders, nothing too reliable without confirming it with our own people,” Laksa said. “Just in case we needed to, the College is seeking out those with potential who can protect Erindal from potential threat.”
“Were we allowed to know that?” my mother asked.
“If you tap into your connections in the House, you’ll find out pretty easily. It has affected the trading systems between this continent and the other so there are speculations going around,” he explained. “Not to mention…” he gazed down at me with a smile, “I have hopes for Evyionne.”
Me? What in the world did I have to do with this? Can’t I sit this one out?
I wasn’t willing to embroiled in such nonsense but no matter how much I tried to ignore it, this would eventually concern me. Maybe I would pray to whatever god existed in this world to keep whatever demon it was at bay. I would just hope it never reached this country. If I had to spend my whole life locked up in the House of Oblivion to leave once in a blue moon, I would be content. It wasn’t like I’m a lost princess locked up in a tower always yapping on about going out and wanting to ‘see the light.’ In this case, for me, ‘seeing the light’ would equate to death and I had more than enough experience with the reincarnation process to ever want to go there again.
Then again, a part of me longed to find my birth parents—to know what happened to them after Amber took me away. I could not help but imagine what my life would’ve been should I have stayed. They were in Vertvalden. There was no way I could completely cut my ties with the other continent.
We came to a stop before doors. Daunting doors. Large slabs almost three feet high of well-polished, black glass. I didn’t know if it was glass but it sure had the appearance of one. It didn’t seem to be tinted, though. I would think it was granite or marble but it did not have such qualities.
My eyes zeroed in on my reflection. I caught them—a glowing amaranthine pair staring through the shadows of my hood. To an outsider, I wasn’t any more than six years old—barely past my mother’s waist with small hands clasping around two of her fingers. The barest of the golden light shined up on my face, highlighting the button tip of my small nose. It never really occurred to me until now how young I seemed.
So it must seem weird if they see someone as young as me talking the way I did.
“This is the testing room we use to serve…select people,” Laksa said.
He opened up the doors, breaking open a path before me that subsequently also broke the staring contest I had with myself.
“The test is really simple.” He pointed to the pedestal in the middle of a domed room. “Come here.” He led me to the pedestal. On it was a round table with many different symbols. There were eight slabs in total. I managed to count it by sectioning off each side. I didn’t have time to examine each one as Laksa’s hands came around my head with a dark cloth. He covered my eyes with it and tied it firmly before stepping back. I still could see a bit of light tunneling down the edges.
I could not be more disappointed when another cloth—a veil, perhaps, with the texture and thinness—was lain above my head and flattened across my face.
“Like everyone else, you cannot see. But feel free to go around the table,” he told me. “Go with the feeling, Evyionne. You will be called to it.”
“Before we start this, do you mind telling me how this works?” I quietly inquired, tilting my head to the direction of his voice. Really. I felt ridiculous. Did this thing really work?
I heard a soft laugh beside my ear before the light, warm hands on my shoulders began patting my back. “I assume you’re asking about why it is capable of doing what it does. Each of these runes channel distinct streams of energy of the universe. They come from very special places—very rare, really. But before we get to the rest of the explanation, I want you to focus.”
I felt him move, his body shifting towards the large table before us. The table made groaning noises and something similar to a spinning top…maybe it really was spinning. It brushed on my dress when I tried to come near. The sound was almost hypnotic, add in the faint bells that seemed to ring all around me. I could not really determine where they were coming from.
Eventually, the sound began to fade. In its place, a familiar melody rolled in. It was the kind of music so easy to be absorbed into—something hard to forget. At the same time, it was hard to replicate. It was akin to trying to recall the very exact details of a dream. Some of the notes would be lost into oblivion. I would not know it until I heard it again. I tried so many times to translate it into this world; to sing it with a simple hum but I had always failed. Perhaps it just wasn’t meant to be heard by the living. Or be sung by one.
But why was I hearing it now? I don’t reckon this happened to everybody.
In the darkness of my blindfold, behind my closed eyes, I could see the cosmic colors exploding. The song…the sight from the place—everything was there. However, the ground was muddy. My ankle sank in cold water. The clay inched between my toes. I walked forward and around, lost in the current world. The water gurgled and splashed around my feet as I moved. Something was calling me in this place. It wasn’t the river I saw that I was supposed to drink from or the cliff I had accidently been washed into. It was something else.
Then the coldness brushed in. One with teeth so sharp it bit straight into the bone. I knew this feeling. It was the feeling I had gotten from that limbo before coming to this world. I shivered away from it, but it remained present in every direction.
“Little aberrant,” I heard a whisper. The voice didn’t belong to Laksa. But it was something I knew all too well.
I twisted around and saw fading amber eyes. I tried to catch his shirt but came to feel a cold surface under my hand instead. Because of the startling sensation, the vision stopped and I was plunged back into the darkness, sweating and shivering.
“Evyionne?” Hellenia’s hands pulled the veil from my head and untied the blindfold.
It was then that I came to reality once more. I realized my hand was on the table. I did not see which slab it had landed to before I was pulled away. My mother’s green eyes came to meet mine, fingers brushing back the rebellious curls of my honeyed red hair.
“Good grace, you’re freezing.” She took my hands and brought them against her lips, blowing warm air to my fingers. “Come here.” She took me into her arms and wrapped me in the warmth of her embrace. “This isn’t supposed to happen, is it, Laksa?” she inquired, looking up at the man as she pulled my head to her chest.
I didn’t see Laksa’s face but a tension snapped in the air from his reply of silence.
“No,” Laksa finally replied. “No, it wasn’t.”
“The results?” my mother breathlessly inquired.
“Let’s bring Evyionne to another room to rest first. I will talk to you.”
“Is anything wrong?” I asked, voice muffled by my mother’s clothes.
“No. Of course not, darling,” she told me. “But I do not think you’re well. Let’s go see the doctor, okay?”
“Okay.” I nodded.
“Here. Let me carry her.” Laksa swooped in and took me into his arms. “Come here, little one.” My chin came to rest on his shoulder. In spite of his slimness, he actually bore some strength. I was approaching the age that forced me to walk on my own with no adult lugging me around their waist. While I wanted to do that, I was feeling drained.
I rested my chin on his shoulder. My eyes came to rest on the table I had just been facing and saw a black dragon in the shape of perfect circle, eating its own tail.