The Destined Kingdom - Chapter Nine
Someone was gently shaking her shoulder and trying to get her to wake up. Tasia swatted sleepily at the offender and rolled over under her covers. She pulled the pillow over her head pointedly. The point was spectacularly ignored as a hand lightly swatted her rear. Reflex kicked in, and she rolled over and lashed out with her legs at the same moment. As Rodi landed with a thump on his ass on the floor, she blinked the sleep out of her eyes and realized what had happened. "Damn it!" she snarled at him. "Don't EVER do that again!"
He rolled nimbly to his feet and tried to not smile. "For an insomniac, you don't wake up happy, do you?" He picked up the coffee sitting on the counter and offered it as a sign of peace. "Coffee?"
"I don't drink coffee," she muttered. She rolled off the bed and stalked out of sight. The bathing room door slammed distinctly behind her.
He winced wryly with a grin. He just hadn't been able to resist the temptation. In a way, he was glad she had reacted with temper. She had no idea how close he had been to kissing her awake instead. He liked the sight of her snuggled in his bed far more than his peace of mind needed.
He went back to the main area and nudged a roll of blankets that might have held Raine. "Rise and shine, Defenders!" he called cheerfully. Silence lingered for a moment and then a distinctly nasty curse came from under another blanket. He quirked a brow. "Who is responsible for teaching a High Princess language like that?"
"Are you always this insanely cheerful in the mornings, or are we just lucky?" Tasia groused behind him. He turned and she added, "There's only one way to wake this lot up before the ninth hour of the morning." She stepped up next to him and cleared her throat. Though she did not lift her voice, it distinctly carried. "Half price sale at the shopping center in thirty minutes!"
"WHAT?!" Theo, Beth, Raine, Leslie, Rachel, and Storm shot out of their blankets and crashed into one another before promptly falling back down to the ground. They blinked at one another in shock and then turned and shot Tasia murderous looks that she merely lifted a brow at.
Rodi applauded her lightly. Even those who hadn't crashed awake were stirring. He cleared his throat for everyone's attention and held up his coffee mug. A stampede broke out as everyone made a dash for the pot. Tasia hastily leapt out of their way, and Rodi caught her around the waist with his free arm to keep her steady. They blinked at the horde in the kitchen and then exchanged a wry smile. "That's alarming," he said dryly. "Are they always like that? And, er, what is a shopping center?"
"It's what we call a big building stuffed with stores for shopping at. And yes, they're always like that." She looked down at his arm but left it where it was because they had agreed to hold their friendship, and she never balked at her friends holding her. Certainly, she had more than once been held by Rodi during their walks, just as she had held him. The main difference lay in that she now felt an urge to turn and snuggle in a very not-just-friends way, and no.
Emily stalked past them toward the coffee and muttered, "Quit making out." Being awoken by a call to arms and then a stampede was not her way of starting the day.
"She's not a morning person," Ryan apologized as he followed. "But you do look cute together."
Annoyed with her new friends, Tasia instead walked over to Storm. She hugged her little brother gently. "How does it feel, Gladiolus?"
"Feels pretty darn good," Storm said in return. "And . . . I'm okay now. About my other gifts." He smiled. "I think I can still find miracles happening even if I know all the answers. You make them for me, because you are the only one who can surprise me. That's okay for me." He pulled out his two Masks from his pocket. "Bracelet?" He took the one she conjured and then attached his Masks and fastened it on. "There!" He wiggled his wrist and made the bracelet jangle. "Did you make it sparkly on purpose?"
"I know my brother." She ruffled his hair. "Let's get some food in us and hit the road again. We have four Seeds to thaw, and a king to depose."
"Just another day for Defenders," Theo grumbled. "We have to get used to this, don't we?"
Rhya grinned. "Afraid so."
They set on their way an hour later by heading back into the forest and leaving the cottage behind. Rodi went along with them, of course. Tasia had promised to be his 'protector' and she could not fulfill that duty if he was not at hand. The others strongly suspected that he had just as much intent of 'protecting' her, especially Rhya and Leslie. They had Activated Ruler Cultivators for both parents, and they had watched their mothers and fathers act as mutual Caretakers to each other all of their lives. They had also seen the higher frustration levels during the Rebirth Era while their mothers had been active as Defenders, so they knew Tasia was likely to become very frustrated with keeping a non-armored Ruler out of battle. At least Robert and Evan had had personal protectors of their own in the Commanders!
Tasia already knew her inevitable frustration because she was far from oblivious, and she had a wholly different frustration to deal with as well. She would have happily spent eternity dragging him out of danger by the seat of his pants if they could have had eternity! If they had met in Blossom Field, or if he had not been a Ruler, they would probably already be lovers and making wedding plans. Instead she stared at a future moment when she would have to let go of the man she loved, and perhaps only ever see him on the Fields again—if they could even bear that.
"Can I ask a question?" Rhya said to Tasia, breaking her thoughts. "I was wondering if you could explain how you and Rodi met on the Plane. I guess I never really knew that was possible. I don't really interact with it much because it connects to Protea, not Delphinium, and I might be technically half Protean, but the duties as Ruler over the Ephemeral Plane fall to Dad and Aunt Shanae, and then eventually Leslie."
Tasia smiled. "It's actually not complicated! Anyone can do what we did, though witches are more adept at it than most. It's called astral projection, which means your mind and spirit leave your body and walk among the Immortal Fields. It can be used just for meditation or relaxation, or you can go knock on Rachel and Claret's door at the Hall of Records to ask to see information about your past lives if you have any, or you can even visit with others walking the Fields. You can even reach out to contact someone not on the Fields, if you know how to find them. That takes a bit more skill than for the average person."
"So you and Rodi accidentally ended up meeting the first time and then deliberately sought each other out after?" Leslie asked.
"Correct," Rodi spoke up. Though he doubted 'accident' really applied to the first meeting either. "Astral projection can be done on purpose, but it can also be done unwittingly by some. I've known a few who thought they were daydreaming only to later realize they had been wandering the Fields." He lifted a brow as he saw a look of surprise cross Rhya's face. "Uh-oh. Do we have a victim of that right here?"
"I . . ." Rhya looked between him and Tasia with wide eyes. "I . . . maybe? I don't know. I mean, I've had daydreams all my life because I have Present Sight, right, and so I never really paid much attention to them when they happen except after I was nineteen, I started having these specific ones of being in this beautiful field of flowers and I met someone there, and we would talk for what felt like hours and he's so dear to me, and oh gosh, now I'm wondering if I really dreamed him and if maybe he's real and maybe my soul mate!"
"Breathe." Leslie patted her shoulder.
Tasia fought back a laugh. "This is not an uncommon occurrence, promise, especially among untrained people who have any manner of connection to the Plane as a whole. Describe who you met. Maybe one of us more used to the Fields—because, yeah, that's where you were—will know him."
Rhya's eyes softened without her knowing. "He reminded me of summer. Grassy green hair and eyes like his Nature Flower Element, tanned skin as if the sun loves him. He's not very tall, only an inch or so more than I, and he is on the slim side despite the great magic I've felt inside him."
Rachel stared at her for a long moment and then looked at Leslie, who looked just as surprised. "Well, things are suddenly more complicated in our family trees than ever before."
"Uhm." Tasia coughed. "Rhya, honey . . . that is very not a daydream. Did he carry a broom?" A nod. "Er, yeah. So . . . that was Pallas, the Archon of the Immortal Fields. He's the one who manages the daily maintenance of the Fields, like Claret does for the Hall with Rachel as her Apprentice. I've known Pallas my entire life. He's, ah, Claret's brother actually, so Rachel is his niece."
Rhya began to hastily wave her hands in the air. "Maybe he isn't my soul mate then! I mean, we might just be very good friends. I mean, I do love him, but I don't think I've been attracted to him so . . ."
"Rhya!" Rodi said in exasperation. "Calm down, will you? Tasia and I didn't feel desire either until we met in person. Your body is not there on Fields during projection, so there's nothing to carry that signal. When you get a chance to meet Pallas in person, then you can make that call. And, honestly, the more powerful of friends you are, the faster and harder that desire is going to hit you if it is."
"No kidding," Tasia muttered, and got a sympathetic pat from Beth for it.
Rachel nodded in agreement, though she was fighting a grin. Claret, Shanae, and Evan alike would have a great laugh at realizing this delicate and deliberate ploy by Destiny! "That’s how it goes for Cultivators, you know that. There’s always got to be a strong emotional bond for there to be more. Sometimes it shows as love at first sight, sometimes it slowly grows, and other times you just happen to one day look at someone and go ‘oh, crap, I kind of want to jump you.’ Like Raine did."
"We'll arrange a physical visit later," Leslie promised. She, too, fought giggles. "There are specific access points where anyone can enter the Fields from with permission, but Mom or I or Uncle Evan or Tasi can take you there from anywhere we like." For the sake of the others, she said, "Tasia gets that gift because being High Priestess of Protea is basically saying she's High Priestess of the Ephemeral Plane as well."
Rhya said nothing, though her cheeks stayed bright pink. Silence resumed as they continued down the path until she suddenly noticed something rustling to the side inside some bushes. She grabbed Raine's arm hastily. "Uhm, something's over there."
Rodi immediately held up a hand to stop everyone walking. "I know this world better. Let me look." He took a single step forward and felt a hand grab his jacket. He glanced back, saw Tasia lifting a brow at him, and sighed. "Let us look."
He moved closer to the bush with her nearby, and they knelt down to look. He saw from the corner of his eye that silvery-gold majik moved around Tasia's fingers, and it felt utterly foreign and yet oddly wonderful to know someone wanted to protect him. A deep longing welled inside to return the favor, to be the one who protected her heart. Someone needed to tend her inevitable bruises, internal and external, when she came home from her fights against evil.
He shoved it down and grasped the branches. He pulled them slowly aside, and they discovered a tiny creature sleeping inside. Its breath fanned out and caused the bush to shake. "I've never seen one so small," he breathed almost soundlessly.
Part of being a Mystic included exceptionally sensitive hearing—it could be both a curse and a blessing. In a voice that literally reached his ears alone, she murmured, "They come in all sizes; however, this is not his true shape. This is his Coda form. Alternate form, if you will. He is smaller than average, though."
Her knowledge seemed perfectly logical when one considered that the small creature was none other than a dragon, and dragons and witches had been friends and allies since nearly the day the first members of the Faith had been given their majik as a gift in exchange for accepting Destiny as their goddess.
This particular dragon had a multi-elemental blend, making him a mixed breed, and it felt as if his magic lay strongest in the Ice Flower Element, though a flavor of all the other common elements could be felt as well. He had a beautiful rainbow of scales over his body that shimmered in the sun, and his translucent wings had tucked around his body for warmth.
Tasia slowly reached out a hand as she felt a powerful tug on her majik. She could feel her pendant pulsing softly and felt, somehow, the echo of another dragon's presence. "He's so beautiful," she breathed.
"Shhh!" Rodi put a hand on her arm to pull her back. "Don't wake him up. He's not likely to hurt us, but it's better safe than sorry. The unbalance of Aria has hurt the dragons almost as badly as it has the world herself, and many have ended up in a corrupted state where they indiscriminately attack humans."
The dragon stirred and yawned sleepily. His eyes opened and he looked directly up at Tasia. Identical caramel eyes met and held for long moments and then the dragon blinked and tilted his head. Rodi caught Tasia's arm and swung her up to her feet as he began walking back to the others. She had to run lightly or be dragged, and her ire grew. "Slow down, damn it!" she demanded indignantly.
"That was a fully-grown dragon," he reminded her in annoyance. "Dragons may have been our friends for near fifteen thousand years now, but our possession of majik may not help us if he is one of the corrupted ones."
She rolled her eyes. "No dragon could ever harm me, trust me." She glanced back over her shoulder longingly. It was better than looking at her 'fiancé' and giving in to the urge to kick him. She would not be warmed by his desire to protect her, or amused by his dominating personality. He had no right to either!
He narrowed his eyes on her face as she pulled her arm free. "Don't go back there."
"Make me." Her eyes narrowed equally as majik rumbled over her body. "You can't stop me."
He merely lifted a brow at her. With unexpected speed, he yanked her off her feet and threw her over his shoulder. "Try me." He deliberately began walking down the road away from the scene, right past their now gaping companions.
She could literally find nothing to say at first. She was not a small woman, and she weighed a lot more than could be immediately assumed. He had just swung her around as if she was Rhya's size. And he had thrown her over his shoulder! "You cocky flower-brained bastard!"
"Stop manhandling me!"
He muttered something nearly incomprehensible in Arian that sounded rude despite language barriers, and Tasia tossed out playing nice. She sank her teeth into his shoulder without guilt or compunction. His yelp was more than satisfying. He flipped her off his shoulder and held her a foot off the ground as he gave her a shake. "That's not becoming behavior for a witch or a princess!"
"Watch that my broomstick doesn't smack you upside the head, Your Highness—you're not exactly being princely yourself!" she snapped back. She bit back a yelp as he swung her through the air, but she didn't land over his shoulder again. He dropped her on her feet and placed himself in front of her protectively. "What the icy hells?" She looked around his shoulder.
The dragon now sat in the road in front of them, and was watching them curiously with eyes riveted to her—eyes that now looked chocolate in the shadow where he sat. She knew a sign when she saw it, and pushed Rodi out of her way to walk toward the dragon. When Rodi would have reached out to stop her, Raine grabbed his wrist. "No," she said softly. "It really is okay. Dragons love her."
Tasia knelt before the dragon and smiled as she gently smoothed a hand over his head. "So here you are," she said softly. "I was looking for you, I think. I always felt as if you might be out there."
At seeing the dragon nuzzle into her hand with clear happiness, Raine told Rodi, "I told you so. Dragons love her. Didn't you notice how they follow her like puppies if she's in the Fields? They just flock to her so happily. Dragons are addicted to good energy from good majik, and well, she literally breathes that out with every breath."
Rodi let out a breath of his own, of relief. "That makes me happier in more ways than you know. Not only that she's perfectly safe, but that there may be a chance to save those who have been corrupted. That hurt. Dragons have been accepted on Aria since before the Majik War on Protea that sent them into hiding on the Plane across all other worlds."
"Majik War?" Ryan asked carefully. "That doesn't sound . . . good."
"It wasn't," Theo told him bluntly. "It happened not long before the Royal Era began. Humans turned on the Faith of the Goddess for their majik for some reason after almost five thousand years of peaceful co-existence, and it became ugly. Dragons got dragged into the fight because they had always been close with witches, and it got even worse. The God of the Sky and Guardian of Dragons, Tananeen, lost his soul mate in the war, and he himself disappeared. Both never made it to the Realm of the Gods, and the High Goddesses got mad. They smote the humans pretty harshly, and the war ceased. We still don't know why it happened, but it resulted in the Faith not living as integrated with normal society, and dragons moving to the Plane."
Leslie nodded tightly. "It was only when Tasia's own ancestor, Liena, arrived at the Protea Kingdom about twenty-five years later that the Faith emerged anew as a beloved part of existence itself as a whole and not just to Protea. And then, when the kingdoms fell during the Royal War, the Faith took it hardest because they tried so hard to fight the evil of Nemesis and Famine as well and support the Plane and . . . the imbalance of hate from the evil had humans turning on them again. They went so deep into hiding, they nearly disappeared."
Beth rubbed her hands over her arms as she watched Tasia and the dragon playfully exchange what looked like complicated hand games. "At that time, the Faith numbered tens of thousands. If you said someone was a witch, then they were of the Faith, and vice-versa. But the Royal War . . . thousands of witches were burned or drowned, and many survivors abandoned the Path for their own safety. That's how we got to today, where you have witches like me and Theo and the two Peacers who are in possession of majik but not of the Faith; we come from members of the Faith once, but have never entered the Path ourselves."
"It took until the Rebirth Era for the Faith to come out again," Rachel said softly, "when Jean Kinsley rose as the second High Priestess of Protea and began to find those who remained. Now, as Tasia takes her place, the Faith is many thousand strong again, the Plane is more balanced than ever, and the final High Priestess can take her place without fear for her people anymore. Dragons may soon be able to live on more worlds than just Aria."
"Why aren't you on the Path?" Leslie asked the non-Faith witches curiously.
"I didn't know it existed," Rodi admitted, "until I met Tasia on the Plane."
"I've never felt a calling," Theo said. He grinned. "And there are far more rules for those on the Path than those not. I wouldn't be very good at following them. I like having my way far too much. I abide by the single creed of doing no harm, but that's about it. There has to be a driving need inside you, a burn to walk the Path."
Tasia walked back up with the dragon on her shoulder. "To some extent, all witches are following the Path, but those who are not actually on the Path stumble through the underbrush beside it. They have more freedom in what they do with their majik, but they also don't have the same resources. We on the Path are the ones who lay out the road for those behind us. We have more rules to obey, but we also have more resources to turn to in times of trouble." She smiled. "As High Priestess, my duty is to guide those who know they have majik and want to walk the Path, or to awaken majik inside those who have it—whether they will walk or not. As long as you have majik, you answer to me in the end."
"That is . . . strangely comforting sounding," Rhya decided.
"Isn't it?" Storm grinned. "She's the big sister to all witches." He walked over to offer a hand to the dragon, and laughed when a claw got placed on his palm in greeting. "Hello to you! I'm Storm. Can you talk to us? Not all dragons can speak human language while in their natural form, though I know you guys can at least understand all of them."
I can only speak to the minds of those with Telepathy.
Storm, of course, did not hear that response, but Rachel certainly did. Rodi did as well, and to Tasia's surprise, so did she. "Well, hell," she muttered. "I didn't need that gift. I didn't want that gift. It is not fair to have Telepathy and Empathy."
"Pardon?" Rhya asked.
"The dragon only talks to telepaths," Rachel offered. She tried to hide a smile. "I heard him. Rodi heard him. And, it would seem, so did Tasia."
"You're telepathic?" Emily asked Rodi warily.
"How'd you know, Rach?"
"I mentally complained about something, and he had a retort. Caught both of us off-guard since we hadn't known the other was telepathic. Oops."
Tasia rubbed her forehead. "Telepathy actually runs in my lineage. Both other High Priestesses had it. I assumed I had traded it for my stronger Empathy since I never heard others' thoughts. I mean, okay, I could make really logical guesses as to what people were thinking based on context thanks to my Pattern Mastery, but I never outright heard thoughts until just now."
"You have very powerful shields," Rodi said dryly. "I mean really powerful. They're so thick that not only can your thoughts not get out, but others can't get in."
"You mean you've tried?" Leslie asked politely.
"It's more that I've caught at least one stray thought from the rest of you but literal nothing from her. Even Rachel can't entirely keep me from catching random thoughts since I'm the stronger of us two. She has to actively block me." Rodi offered a hand to Tasia. "Will you let me help you pierce those shields? I don't think you built them consciously or on purpose. You would be far better off if they were deliberate because then you can control them."
She took his hand without hesitation. To the others, it looked like nothing had happened, but she suddenly winced hard and released his hand to dig her fingers into her temple. "Ow. Shit. Zero to migraine. Turn it down, people. You are noisy!" Majik swirled around her fingers as she healed the pain.
Rhya stared. "You can heal yourself?!"
"She can." Raine brushed her hands away. "It's still easier for me to do it, though."
"Healers can't heal themselves," Rachel told Emily and Ryan who both looked confused. "Because of how they heal by taking in the wounds to themselves and then mending the bruising that forms from doing so. To heal yourself, you'd have to move the wound from one place to another and mend it there, which involves doing the same thing twice at the same time. You need a ridiculous flexibility for that—which Tasia definitely has. For scope as to why Rhya is so shocked, not even Sayena can heal herself. That's magic, and magic can only multitask if you're doing two totally different things. Majik has much more flexibility, so we always assumed a strong enough witch would eventually pull off self-healing."
You will be highly sensitive for a while, the dragon told Tasia. I will try to help buffer you until that ebbs. It may not ebb wholly. Everything you do, you do at max capacity, so you will always catch things even through shields as strong as even those on the two Apexes.
"Delightful." The pain had eased, so Tasia lowered her hands and smiled at Raine. She then looked at the dragon. "What's your name?"
When she offered that to the others, Leslie and Rhya suddenly brightened visibly. "Oh!" the latter gasped. "I know that name! You're Reggie and Jaslyn's son, aren't you? They visited the kingdom a few years ago for the first time in millennia, and they mentioned they had hatched a baby about a thousand years after the Realm War! They said you had become an adult and gone off on a journey, which was why they didn't bring you, so I'm glad it brought you here!"
Striker smiled toward her visibly and nodded in agreement. He rubbed his head against Tasia's affectionately, making the others smile. I would stay with you, Tasia, if you will have me. When I woke a few days ago and found my eyes had changed color, I knew I would soon meet the witch that I could bond to. Familiars always gain the eye color of their master.
I am not your master, Tasia corrected him gently. I am your friend and companion and partner.
That's creepy, came Rachel's voice into the conversation. I didn't know your mental voice would be as mystical as your regular one.
Why IS her voice like that, Rodi demanded. I've never known anyone that can do the things with their voice that she can! I mean, sure, I'm not without some power of my own, but not like that.
Tasia shot him a glare. Be careful that I don't use it as I really can, boyo. You won't get away with much of anything except howling at the night sky.
"This isn't fair," Beth complained. "They're glaring at each other which means they're arguing telepathically which means we can't hear!"
"It's rude to intrude," Ryan scolded her.
"So what? It's fun!"
"Let's just keep going," Rodi muttered as he stalked down the road to get ahead of them. Why would it have to happen that her powerful personality and smart tongue should be as attractive to him—if not more—than her looks? The sooner they parted ways, the better. He was getting in too far, watching her imbed herself deeper into his soul with every minute. Too long together and perhaps being lovers would not even be needed for their souls to completely interlock as one.