Raili sat staring at the ceiling until he completely lost track of time. Hours had passed since Kyra had been called away to the chaos of the Healing Ward. Leader Topian, Raili overheard from some nurses in the hallway, had been poisoned and no one was sure if he would even survive the night.
No longer able to remain seated, Raili paced his room. Time crawled on its belly as Raili watched each passing second slither by. Just when he felt he was about to go mad from the isolation, hunger, and sheer boredom, the door opened and Marya entered the room.
“Good evening, Raili,” said Marya sounding exhausted. “My apologies for taking Kyra away so suddenly, then keeping you waiting without even a meal to ease your hunger.”
“Its fine,” Raili lied. Although, he wanted to see Kyra standing there, he was just happy for any human interaction. “Is everything okay now?”
“As well as can be expected I would say,” said Marya. “The soldiers are stabilized and Leader Topian, well, we’ve discovered the cause of his illness and are now treating him accordingly, which is more than I could have said yesterday.”
Marya seemed exhausted, which was understandable if she was overseeing all of the patients who had just come in plus the ones that were still in for other illnesses.
“Nurses were saying he was poisoned,” said Raili. “Is that true?”
Marya looked shocked, then her face hardened. “Regrettably,” she said, kneeling down beside Raili and taking his pulse from his wrists. “Right under my nose. That will never happen again.” Kyra walked in with a meal tray and Marya rose to her feet. “I’ll leave the rest to you, Kyra. Make sure to check his vitals again before retiring. Everything is normal at the moment.”
“Yes, Master,” said Kyra, tipping her head gracefully as Marya left.
“She’s really broken up about this, isn’t she?” said Raili.
Kyra started. She had been staring at the closed door. “Oh, yes,” she said, picking up the tray from the side table and bringing it to Raili. “When Leader Topian first became ill, Marya proclaimed herself his main nurse, to ensure his swift recovery. It’s been a month since then and until now no one even knew the cause. He’d been getting worse every week, no matter what we tried.”
“Because of the poison,” said Raili. Kyra nodded, glancing back at the door.
“We found trace amounts of Kellrose, a rare poison, in Leader Topian’s blood,” said Kyra putting the warm plate of food on Raili’s lap and handing him the funny looking spoon that he always ate with nowadays. “Kellrose is usually ground finely and then boiled down. The left over powder, once re-drained and dried is then mixed with other much stronger herds to make the antidote for Krawth poison. It’s very rarely found in its true form.”
“Except for here, right?” said Raili spooning rice into his month much faster than he intended.
“Not even I know where they keep the pure Kellrose here in the ward,” said Kyra, sitting beside Raili and drawing her knees to her chest. “In Leader’s blood, was pure, unadulterated Kellrose. An almost untraceable poison that makes doctors believe the patient just has an unknown illness. It is only truly traceable after long-term exposure when the blood becomes over saturated, and then, it’s too late to stop its effects.”
“Will Marya be able to save him?” asked Raili starting to feel bad for eating at a time like this, but unable to stop himself.
Kyra shook her head. “Not sure,” she said into her knees. “Fortunately, we specialize in poisons. Treatments have been started to flush his system, but we still don’t know who tried to poison him and we still don’t know how they were able to do it for so long while he was under the watchful eye of Master Marya. It would have to be either a nurse or someone that we trust enough to leave alone with him. Both of which are too horrible to think about.”
Kyra buried her head in her knees and started to cry. Instinctively, Raili put his nearly emptied plate down beside him and slid closer to her, gently putting his arm around her shoulders.
“Hey, come on don’t cry,” he said, stroking her hair. “At least everyone knows what the problem is now and Marya will be watching Leader closer too so no one can poison him again. So don’t worry. Everything will be okay.”
Without warning, Kyra hugged Raili’s neck and buried her face between his shoulder and the side of his face. “Thank you, Raili.”
“Umm, it was nothing really,” said Raili quickly, awkwardly patting her back. “I-I just don’t like seeing girls cry that’s all.”
Kyra sat up, smiling. She was beautiful even with tears in her eyes. “I knew it,” she said, giggling. “You were blushing.”
“Oh wise!” said Raili picking up his plate and eating again. “You can’t even have one serious moment, can you?”
“At least I’m not crying anymore,” said Kyra, wiping old tears from her face. Raili couldn’t argue with that. “I wonder what Sub Leader is going to say about all this. I mean, he’s been going to see Leader almost every day since he’s been here.”
“Really? Every day without fail?” said Raili eating the last of his salmon.
“Of course,” said Kyra. “He is his father after all.”
“True,” said Raili finishing off the last grain of rice and sitting his plate back down beside him. “Does Leader get many visitors?”
“Not really,” said Kyra. “His wife comes but she and Master are good friends so they sit in there together while Master does Leader’s daily check up and she usually leaves shortly after Master finishes.” Kyra watches Raili for a moment as he watches the floor. “Raili? What are you thinking about?”
“Huh? Oh, nothing,” said Raili, giving her an innocent smile.
“Like I really believe that, Liar,” said Kyra, pushing him hard enough in the stomach to make him grunt.
“Hey, I wasn’t thinking anything,” said Raili quickly, putting his hands up. “What happened to not hitting your patients?”
“You’re healed now so you don’t count,” said Kyra grinning and looking at the empty plate on the floor. “Still hungry?” she asked, picking up the plate. “I could bring more and maybe some dessert if you want.”
“Well,” said Raili, scratching his head. “You’ve had a long day so I think I can last until tomorrow.”
“Don’t be silly,” said Kyra, standing up and going to the door. “Knowing as much about medical technology as you do, you should know your body is weakened by the attack and its rapid regeneration. It needs to refuel by eating much more than it normally would. I’m willing to bet that it feels like you haven’t eaten anything at all. Am I right?”
Raili’s eyes grew wide. “How did you know that?” he asked in amazement.
“Eating a lot is a symptom of Krawth poison survival. Add to that the extra work your body has put into healing itself these last four days and you get one very hungry Raili.”
Raili watched as Kyra winked at him and disappeared out of the doorway. When she returned, he ate his second helping of food followed by the sweet pie and cold cream she brought him. Then he drank a whole pitcher of what tasted like apple juice.
“Wow, you really were hungry, weren’t you?” said Kyra as she checked to make sure his heart rate and blood pressure was normal.
“Guess so,” said Raili, smiling sheepishly.
“I’ll bring you an early breakfast so your stomach doesn’t interrupt your meeting with the Sub Leader,” said Kyra cleaning up the dirty dishes and taking them to the table by the doorway. “I’m sure you’ll be hungry by then anyway.”
“Thanks, Kyra,” said Raili, as he watched her dim the lights, tip her head in a final farewell greeting, and close the door behind her as she left.
That night, although Raili’s belly was full and his body was itch-free for the first night in four, he couldn’t sleep. His mind swam with thoughts of meeting the Sub Leader, finding Kobi, and returning home, but then he thought of Kyra and never seeing her again.
When Raili finally started to drift, the door to his room snapped opened, making him start and hit his head on the wall. Raili opened his eyes expecting to see Kyra, who might have forgotten something but instead a man stood in his doorway. His damp hair was dark maroon and his skin was pale tanned. He looked young, maybe late teens, but something about his face, in the dim light, was very intimidating.
“Raili, correct?” said the man; his voice deep. Raili nodded. “Come with me.”
The man disappeared from the doorway. Raili scrambled from his pallet and followed after him down the corridor. The empty hallway was still dark but the man was moving so fast, Raili had to trot to keep up. The man didn’t even look down when Raili caught up to him. It seemed as if he’d forgotten that Raili was even there.
He led Raili to the outside of the Healing Ward, taking a different route than Kyra had taken before. There were no people on the grounds in the dark city. It was amazing how quiet that place could become. Raili followed the man down the stairs, across the small stream, and up another short flight of stairs to the entrance of an alley.
Everything inside of Raili told him to go back as he followed the man through the tunnel to a door.
“After you,” said the man, opening the door and standing aside.
“Umm, I don’t know,” said Raili, cursing himself for sounding childish.
“I’m not going to cook you, you know,” said the man, his voice never changing. “Wasn’t it you who wanted to talk to me?”
Raili closed his eyes, took a deep, calming breath and entered. Three dimly lit light globes on the walls illuminated the cave. Balin took a seat on a beautifully carved, stone chair and gestured for Raili to sit in the chair across from him.
“It’s secure,” said Balin. “We won’t be bothered.”
“Marya told me that you knew me and Kobi,” said Raili, trying not to sound nervous. “But I have no idea who you are.”
The Sub Leader laughed out loud. “You know, you are the first person to ever tell me that,” he said, still laughing. “But, alas, you are correct. I know that your land name is Raili Rocklin and you have a twin brother, Kobi Rocklin. Your land parents are Kimi and Rick Rocklin and they have raised you since as far back as you can remember. You were attacked by a Krawth through a vertex in your upstairs bedroom.”
“Whoa, wait,” said Raili holding up his hand. Balin tilted his head sideways and waited, looking suddenly bored. “Who told you all this?”
“Raili,” said Balin, head still tilled. “Nothing gets passed me. Not while I have eyes in Airion.”
“Then you’ll know if my brother came down here looking for me and what happened to him if he did,” said Raili, sliding to the edge of the chair.
“Ah, yes,” said Balin, leaning back. “That is difficult, Young Lad.”
“Why? What happened?” said Raili, his heart pounding. Suddenly, he didn’t want to know anymore.
“Kobi did, indeed, dive down to rescue you,” said Balin. Raili closed his eyes, bracing for bad news. “But, he too, was attacked by a Krawth.”
“No!” said Raili, putting his face in his hands. He’d known it. He just didn’t want to believe it.
“However,” Balin continued, ignoring Raili’s outburst. Raili lifted his head. “He was also saved from death by a very skilled Zirian Warrior and was taken to the Bellen City where he remains.”
“So he’s safe? We can get him and go home?” asked Raili, sitting up straight. Balin tilted his head sideways again. “What? They’ll let him go right?”
“Not likely,” said Balin. “Zire is our sister country, greatest rival, and fiercest enemy. Once they realized they had something I wanted, there is no doubt they would hold him out of spite.”
“But we have nothing to do with it,” said Raili. “What’ll come from holding him?”
“Nothing. That’s why I think there’s another reason,” said Balin, his eyes locked on Raili’s. “A prophecy, a folk tale really, passed down from ancient times, about twins, such as yourselves, coming to Airion and directing its future by force of will. Perhaps, the Zirians believe I’m trying to use the two of you to gain power. Perhaps, they want to use you.”
“But what can we do?” said Raili. “We’re just kids from Land. How can we change the future of somewhere we didn’t know existed?”
“I hear they’re teaching Kobi the sword, training him for battle,” said Balin, folding his hands. “Their plans have already begun.”
“Maybe I should go,” said Raili thinking. “Then maybe we could work together to find a way out of there and back home.”
“That won’t be necessary,” said Balin. “I’ve already set a plan into motion, which is why I couldn’t meet with you until now. I have requested a Futari Duel, loser gives up their twin to the winner.”
“What is a Futari Duel?” asked Raili.
“A one on one battle to the death between the two strongest warriors of two different nations,” said Balin. “But, for love of life, the loser is to just admit defeat or fall unconscious and, if someone dies, their city gets the prize.”
“Sounds simple enough,” said Raili. “But, what if we lose?”
“Oh we won’t lose, I’ll make sure of that,” said Balin with a grin. “But, in the off chance that things do not proceed as planned, you’ll go over to Zire and work with Kobi to break out from the inside.”
“Okay, so when is it?” said Raili.
“In seven days,” said Balin. “However, it has been agreed, that you and Kobi will stay inside the cities until the duel is over.”
“Why?” said Raili. “You expect me to just sit here whi-“
“Yes,” snapped Balin, silencing Raili instantly. “That is exactly what I expect you to do. What makes you think they won’t plan an attack to kidnap you during the duel, if you’re there?”
Raili was silent.
“What purpose would you serve by becoming a huge target?” asked Balin, leaning forward; his elbows on his knees and his eyes glued to Raili’s face.
“I-I just want to see him again,” Raili whispered. “We’ve never been apart this long. I miss him.”
“And I’m sure he feels the same,” said Balin in a softer tone. “But if you want your brother to come to our side so you two can go home, you must follow my plan precisely. Do you understand?
Raili nodded, still staring at the ground.
“Good,” said the Sub Leader. “If everything goes as planned, you and Kobi will be headed back to the surface in a week’s time.”
Thoughts of Kobi plagued Raili’s mind as he walked down the hallway of the Heal Ward a while later. They were already teaching him to fight? Knowing Kobi’s non-confrontational personality, Raili couldn’t believe Kobi would learn willingly. Were they lying to him? Forcing him to fight for his life? Torturing him? Raili was stuck in Cella while anything could be happening to Kobi.
Alone in the dimly lit, empty hallway, Raili slid down a wall and began to sob.
“Who’s there,” said a voice from behind the nearest door to Raili’s back. Raili jumped up and backed into the opposite wall. “I won’t hurt you, child,” said the man. He sounded very tired but he spoke with a soothing authority that made Raili want to trust him.
Raili peeked into the room. Lying on a thick floor pallet was a man who, if he were well, would only look a few years older than Rick. His long maroon hair lay scattered about on his pillow. His sickly pale skin looked yellow in the dim, globe light. His eyes were half closed but his sunken face still carried strong features that greatly resembled Sub Leader Balin’s.
“Leader Topian?” said Raili, wiping his eyes rapidly. “Umm, I’m really sorry if I woke you. I-I was just…”
“Come here, Lad,” said Topian. Raili obeyed and knelt beside Topian’s pallet. “Ah, so you’re what all the fuss is about,” said Topian opening his eyes wider to look at Raili. “You’re the Zirian my son saved from the Krawth.