Letters traveled back and forth through the weeks of diplomatic events and such surrounding Marus’ coronation as Emperor of the North. Sometimes it was very difficult for Bastion to remember that the Princess was only twelve years of age, her letters spoke with the voice of a much older woman, one he dearly wished that he could meet.
Eventually, though, the time came for the diplomats and other visitors to return to their own lands, and farewells were said. Dauris promised to continue writing to her knight, sending the letters through her cousin. She wanted more than anything to send a gift with him, something he could look at to remind him of her.
So she determined to take an afternoon shopping trip. Illian offered to go with her, and she welcomed his presence. Gabriel, though, she could have done without. She really wanted a chance to talk with Illian about the Knight, both the one she wrote to and the one she dreamed of. But she wasn’t going to talk to him with Gabriel around.
For their parts, Keara and Kian decided to do some shopping, too, and had taken Bastion with them, more to get him out of the Palace than anything else. The final days before their departure were making the walls press in on them. The fresh air and the chance to walk among other people without his helmet on cheered him greatly, though he still carried it with him. He would have to put it back on before they reentered the Palace, in any event.
They were looking through the wares at a jewelry stand when Keara looked up and hissed at her brother. “Hide the Captain! It’s Dauris!”
Kian grabbed Bastion’s hand and pulled him around a corner, where he put his back against a brick wall, hoping not to be seen as Keara called out to her cousin. “Cousin! What are you doing out this day?”
Dauris sighed. “Trying to do some shopping, but I’ve got this shadow following me everywhere.”
Bastion heard a boy’s muffled laugh followed by his brother’s voice. “I am here to protect you, Lady Dauris. I cannot do that from the Palace if you aren’t there.” There was a pause. “I am surprised to see you unaccompanied, Lady Keara. It is not safe.”
Kian motioned to Bastion to put his helmet back on, which he quickly did.
Keara’s voice was remarkably calm. “Oh, I brought my brother and one of our honor guards with me. They’re around here somewhere. Kian said that they would be right back.”
Kian started back around the corner and Bastion made himself follow, with his heart pounding in his ears. Through the lowered visor of the helmet he could see Gabriel, and the top of a head with bright blonde hair streaked by white. It took all of his control not to look down into Dauris’ face, even though he knew that was who was standing in front of him.
“Hello, fancy meeting you here.” Kian sounded so calm, in spite of the danger of violence if Gabriel knew just who was standing in the armor beside them.
“Kian, I didn’t know that you were going to be here.” Illian grinned at his cousin. The two of them had become almost as close as Dauris and Keara were becoming. As the girls looked at the jewelry he nodded Kian closer and murmured very softly. “What’s going on? You guys are even more strange than usual. You’re almost as odd as Dauris is some days.”
Kian glanced at Gabriel. “Can we lose the shadow? The girls’ll be safe enough with our guard, but they can’t talk with that hulk looming over them.”
Illian blinked and then nodded. “Guardian Gabriel, I’ll need you to come with me and Kian for a bit. My sister will be safe enough with our cousin and her guard.”
Gabriel hesitated. He knew something was up, but he wasn’t sure what. “My duty… ”
Dauris interrupted him. “… is to me, and I’m telling you to follow my brother for a while. I’m not going to run off and I highly doubt anyone is going to carry me off with my cousin and her guard right here. I’ll stay visible, so go!”
Gabriel bowed to her and then followed Kian and Illian as they walked away. Once they were out of hearing distance, Dauris leaned close to Keara and whispered. “Is it him?”
Keara whispered back. “Yes. We didn’t expect to see you out here. Your guardian cannot know, he threatened his life if he ever came this close to you.”
It was all Dauris could do to control her trembling. She raised her voice a bit, but not too much lest the shaking be too obvious. “I wanted to send a gift with someone. I have a friend who is leaving soon, and I wanted to find a memento.”
Keara grasped her hand on the table. “I’ll help you find something. Did you have any ideas?”
“I just… just wanted something special, something unique.” Then, in an undertone, “I’m going to throttle Gabriel one of these days, just so you know.”
It was an incredibly awkward afternoon, each knowing that the other was so close and being unable to speak directly to each other. But even the awkwardness was rewarding. Dauris found herself humming, more to distract herself from the fluttering in her stomach. Some imp of the perverse brought to mind the most attitudinal song she could think of and as they searched for just the right memento, she started softly singing the words.
Bastion almost stumbled in the market as he recognized the song that Dauris was humming beneath her breath. When she started singing, though, ever so softly, so many things fell into place and he knew, suddenly, just why his brother had threatened him. Princess Dauris was no more a child than he had been on the streets of Castellan a dozen years before. Caught in the body of a child she might be, but Dauris was like him, and he knew the song she sang, knew where it came from, though he had no more clue how she had gotten to this place than he did. But he had to tell her, somehow, that she wasn’t alone. So he did the only thing he could, since Gabriel was so close still. He sang along, very softly.
Dauris stiffened and her eyes widened in shock, her hand gripping Keara’s painfully tight. “Where did you learn that song, Sir Knight?” She kept her voice only the barest of whispers.
“On another world, in another time.” It was a struggle, keeping his voice so low.
“How did you get here?”
“I don’t know. Are there others? Like us?” He had to ask.
She sighed. “Yes, there are. You are in greater danger than you know. The one who sought to destroy me… he hunts the younglings. Can you Hear? Is there a song floating in the air around me?”
“I do not know. I cannot hear one.”
She sighed again. “Either my song is stifled because of the damage done to me, or you came here through the power of another and have not awakened your own. As I am now, I cannot Hear, so I do not know.” Gabriel approached them with Kian and Illian. Dauris forced herself not to look at the Knight standing beside her. “I will explain what I can in my letters.”
— — —
Illian found Dauris, later, carefully packing her gift, a cloak-brooch of a sword and a rose, in a cloth-covered box filled with soft cotton. “What is going on, Sister? You were about to come out of your skin today if someone had spoken too loudly.”
She looked up at him, suddenly frightened. “Did Gabriel notice?”
Illian frowned in surprise. “I don’t think so. I noticed because I know you so well. He might not know you that well yet.”
She breathed a sigh of relief. “At least he’s still safe.”
“Who is? What is your problem with your guardian?”
In an instant Dauris decided to take the chance that had been given to her, the chance to finally explain to Illian what had been going on around him and what she had been doing, and why she hadn’t been able to tell him earlier. “I caught him in the hallway threatening one of the knights with the Castellan delegation. Marus put him up to it, I know. I don’t know why, and Gabriel won’t tell me. I have been… corresponding with the knight in secret. Gabriel threatened to kill him.”
“And that was the honor guard who was with Kian and Keara.”
She nodded. “There’s more. He’s like me, from somewhere else. But that means that Gabriel’s not the only one who threatens his life.”
Illian’s eyes narrowed. “Lukan.”
She nodded again. “If Lukan finds him, then he will die, as I almost did.”
“What about your dreams? Could he be…?”
Why did Illian keep asking about her dreams? She didn’t actually believe in them. But he did, and he wanted her to have the joy of seeing the promise come to fruition. Dauris shrugged. “I haven’t actually dreamed about that Knight in a while. It may have been a lingering phase. Besides, Gabriel doesn’t have a twin brother.” She made herself not hope, not believe, but for a single moment, she wished that the two Knights were the same.
— — —
I find that I do not know, quite, where to begin. There is so much to tell you, so much to explain, and I have so many questions about where you come from… I am overflowing with curiosity, but it is the same curiosity that led me to become what I am now.
Since we both know the song that I was singing, I must presume that you come from a world of a type that is called “Earth Prime”, it is the model upon which all the others are based, sort of. All other worlds are described in terms relating to the history and development of Earth Prime, and most Travelers, those like we are, come from some Earth Prime or another.
I feel safe enough in presuming this in your origin because you are still so confused and you would not be quite so confused if you had Traveled to more than one world under your own power.
Travelers travel to worlds outside of their own, and they do so through a form of teleportation that tends to ignore any barriers against such. This is not to say that there are not ways to keep a Traveler from teleporting, just that such methods are usually only known to other Travelers. Travelers also produce a sound that other Travelers can Hear, a song that surrounds them. Some of us can Hear well enough to identify individual songs, some of us can Hear the faint song of a potential Traveler, and some can Hear well enough to distinguish individual potentials.
If you have not awakened Traveler powers of your own then much of this will not mean anything to you. Were there others with you when you found yourself in this world, or were you alone? If you were alone when you Traveled then chances are that you were the one who awakened powers. If there were others, even if they were not with you when you arrived here, then there is a chance that one of them awakened powers, and pulled you along with them. It has been known to happen.
Travelers are rare, most with the potential do not awaken it, but we tend to attract each other. If two Travelers are on the same world, chances are that they will run into each other at some point, even if they are not actively looking for others of their kind. Still, we do not congregate in large groups. There was a time when that was different, but that safe harbor has been lost and now… safety is not in numbers.
We are hunted by one of our own. A Traveler is hunting and killing the young Travelers, those new to their powers and unaware of their own gifts. Those he does not kill are twisted into smaller versions of himself, and join him in service to one who seeks utter subjugation of all that is or will be. He is the one who corrupted my brother Jules, made him attack us and wound Father. He is the one who tried to kill me, not because I am one of the young ones, but because I am not.
I am exceptionally complicated as far as Travelers go, and I would be powerful, too. But when he caught me, he sealed my powers so that I cannot use them. I am a bird with broken wings. It has made things very difficult.
I am not helpless. I can still fight, in a mundane fashion, and I can learn to use the magic of this world, but I have none of my own to call to my defense. It may be in time that I will regain my powers. It is my hope, and I do not allow myself much hope anymore.
I must close this letter, but please, be careful. If you meet another Traveler at some time, be cautious. Know this, though, there are some who can be trusted. If the Traveler has a streak of white through their hair, or hair of complete white, then they are family of mine, and only one of us may not be trusted. That one… will feel sinister. That is the one who hunts us.
If the one you face wears spectacles with small, dark, round lenses, do not trust him. Play ignorant, look stupid, do anything you can not to attract his attention. Your best defense is to seem like everyone else. And whatever you do, do not accept a gift from such a one.
Your Princess, Dauris