Return of the Matka-Zem (The Sorain Chronicles) (2 page)

BOOK: Return of the Matka-Zem (The Sorain Chronicles)
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"
You may leave," he said to his advisors. They opened their mouths to protest, but he silenced them with a stern glare. With low bows, they reluctantly left the throne room.

"
Father," Valencia whispered in fright.

Aeson saw his daughter
's big, green eyes glance at the young Mlinzi, pleading for him to save her, as he had done many times before. Thane only stared back, a slight frown on his stony face. Seeing the fear in Valencia's eyes, Aeson kneeled beside his daughter and pulled her into a tight hug.

Valencia threw her arms around his neck and cried in his ear,
"I'm afraid, Father."

"
I want you to have something." The regent gently pushed his daughter away, reached into his coat pocket, and withdrew a new, sky blue handkerchief wrapped around a small gold disk. The day before a female Mlinzi, who he had never seen before, had given him the items with instructions to give them to his daughter. When he questioned the warrior, she only said it was the way home for the princess if something should go awry.

"
Whatever may happen, this will show you the way home." Aeson slid his fingers through his daughter's red, curly hair before pulling her forward to kiss her forehead. "Come home, daughter!" the regent softly begged against her skin before he reluctantly stood to face the elder Mlinzi. With a firm hand on one of her shoulders, Aeson pulled Valencia against his legs. Aeson's trembling fingers hesitated above the glass orb before he quickly snatched it from Naji's palm. Regent Aeson gently touched the object to his child's forehead and Valencia gasped in surprise.

As the ball began to glow, Valencia moaned in agony and her tiny body jerked as she fought the inevitable. Black swirls filled the radiant sphere until it became a solid black mass. Abruptly, the ball
's light winkled out and the young princess collapsed against Aeson's legs. Concerned for his only daughter, the regent dropped the marble and tenderly lifted the child into his arms

With the agility of a youth, the old Mlinzi squatted to retrieve the device. As she twirled the object in her crooked fingers, a sly smile touched her lips. The marble was now black as a moonless night, filled with the girl
's memories. The old Mlinzi returned the glass ball to the hidden pocket inside her robes. Before Aeson could direct the Mlinzi, the old woman snatched the gold disk in the girl's hands and extended her arms for the child, indicating her readiness to receive his daughter.

"
When she wakes, she will remember nothing," Naji said as she steadily met his gaze.

Aeson could not hold her gaze. He placed his daughter into the Mlinzi
's waiting arms. As he tenderly brushed a strand of red hair out of the girl's eyes, he said fervently, "You better take care of my daughter, Naji."

"
I swear, as long as there is breath in my body, no harm will come to the girl," Naji replied before she turned to leave.

Aeson averted his gaze, so he did not have to see his daughter leave the throne room. Although he was in control of Sora until the princess was old enough to assume responsibility, he knew he would be lost without her.

***

"
Was there any other way, Thane?" the regent whispered to the young Mlinzi who stood silently off to the side.

"
What better place to hide than on an obscure rock on the opposite side of the known universe?" said Thane as he strode to the regents side. Together, they watched the heavy doors slowly close behind the two females. When the monarch did not respond, he glanced at his lord and saw a single tear slide down his smooth cheek. "Naji will do everything in her power to keep the princess from harm."

"
I know." The regent patted Thane's shoulder with a weary sigh, and left the throne room.

Thane watched the regent leave before returning his gaze to the closed door. Just that morning Naji had informed him of the princess
's fate, and he still could not believe it. He had wanted a new assignment away from the child, but having the girl exiled to gain a new position did not feel right. He suppressed the desire to race after them and with a bark of laughter, shook his head at his misgivings. "I'm not the only one who can protect that little scoundrel."

"
Let's hope Naji doesn't damper the little brat's spirit," Thane said, speaking his thoughts aloud. Although the girl was a spoiled child, and too headstrong for her own good, he liked the little spitfire. What he could not phantom was why Naji wanted to end her remaining years of life in exile with the girl. Naji was the Xeral Mlinzi, the highest member of the Mlinzi counsel, revered by all, and could have assigned any number of experienced Mlinzi to protect the Matka-Zem. Although she was well educated in diplomacy and warfare, the elder Mlinzi had no patience for the young. Moreover, the girl was a handful, even to the most patient. Thane had known Naji all his life and he feared for the little princess. The Xeral Mlinzi was calculating, ruthless and cold hearted. Only the strong could endure her scrutiny. There had to be an extremely important reason for the Xeral Mlinzi to make such a decision. Being of low rank, Thane was not important enough to question the ways of the counsel, however, so with a heavy sigh he turned his back to the doors. Regardless of his misgivings, the situation was out of his control. Signing into his new post was the only thing he could do.

Chapter 1

EARTH

"
What you seek lies under the grey man," the aged woman whispered with her last breath. As her body relaxed in death, her right hand opened to reveal an old, brass key. The young woman, who stood at her deathbed, glanced at the key with disgust. At that very moment, she hated the old crone more than ever. Needing to calm her fury, she abruptly turned her back on the dead woman. Not caring about the mysterious key, she strode towards the balcony to step into the night. The crisp, evening breeze brought goosebumps to her bare arms, yet she ignored the urge to rub them. Her slender fingers curled around the cold, black metal and she deeply inhaled the cool, fall air. Peering into the dark, barely able to see the shadowy outlines of the trees, she lowered her head, as if in silent prayer. A soft chuckle escaped from her slightly parted lips as she shook her head in frustration.

"
Nothing has changed." She hoped the old hag would have revealed the truth of her existence. Yet, even as death drew near, the caretaker only spoke in riddles. "What you seek lies under the grey man," she said, repeating the elder woman's last words. Blindly staring into the dark, she struggled to calm the storm that brewed inside her. Yet, no matter how hard she tried, the rage couldn't be contained. "What the hell does that mean?" she screamed to the nothingness around her. She leaned against the cold, steal rail, her body trembling in fury. "That's it? After ten years of hell? And for what—another damn riddle?"

As long as she could remember, she had lived with the old woman, a caretaker, and not a very nice one at that. Many times, she had felt the sting of her braided belt or a swift kick from the woman
's pointy shoes. Her back bore the faint scars of her punishments when she used to resist until she finally succumbed to the woman's will. She did not even know the caretaker's name and, for lack of a better word, called her "The Keeper."

She raised her eyes to stare at the dark sky to study the twinkling stars. She knew she lived in the Northern Hemisphere, possibly Canada, by the patterns of the sparkling lights high above her. However, that was all. She had no memory of her past. Her first recollection was waking from a deep sleep nearly ten years ago. The caretaker never answered, and had frequently punished her, when she voiced the many questions that filled her mind. The old woman would not even divulge her name. After reading a mystery novel, she christened herself with the name Jane; Jane Doe to be precise. She loathed the name but wanted no other, except for her own.

"And that is exactly what I am," Jane spoke aloud as her fury abated. She was a phantom, an unknown, even to herself. She did not resemble any of the staff on the compound, who were all grumpy, old men, except for the cook. In comparison to their dark features, she had thick, wavy, fire-red hair that fell to her hips. Her large, almond-shaped eyes were lime green with flecks of gold in their depths, while theirs were round and brown in color. Their features were sharp and weathered, yet her skin was pearl white and, in spite of working outside, she never burned, much less tanned. She had a cute button nose in a heart-shaped face. She towered over the tallest worker. Yet even with her thin, long frame, she was as agile as a feline. They never celebrated anything, much less birthdays, and the Keeper refused to reveal Jane's age, so she assumed she was either in her late teens or early twenties.

"
I'm free," Jane whispered into the night. "She's gone, and I can leave." She fought the urge to rush to her bedroom, pack a bag and leave, yet the Keeper's last words held her in place. With a heavy sigh, she reluctantly turned to stroll back into the dead woman's suite.

She stared down at the old woman
's body in revulsion before she bent to retrieve the key that had fallen from the Keeper's uncoiled hand.

"
What you seek lies under the grey man." Jane twirled the rusty key between her fingers. "I hate riddles," she hissed at the dead woman. With an un-ladylike snort of disgust, she shoved the key into her back pocket and left the room.

As Jane headed downstairs, she studied the mansion, to fill her thoughts of its beauty one last time. She planned to leave at first light, regardless of the cryptic grey man. She hated this place, yet the mansion and the gigantic estate were quite beautiful. Made with three different shapes of brown stones and green clay tiles on the roof, the three-story manor was hard to see from a distance, as it blended into the natural surroundings. The lower floor contained many rooms, including a beautiful sunroom, a small music parlor, a spa/pool combination, and an industrial-sized kitchen. Jane
's favorite room was the huge library, which occupied most of the second floor. In addition, five royal-looking bedroom suites made up the third level of the mansion. The grounds contained a huge greenhouse, where they grew their own food. In the back of the mansion sat a large hedge maze. At the center of the maze stood six stone statues of unknown people in a circle. A quarter-mile south was a sizable barn contained everything from hens to cows. Reaching the second flood, Jane peered out the window with a sigh. The pond at the edge of the property sparkled in the moonlight, and she strained her eyes to look past the dark water. Only wilderness, dense and foreboding lay beyond the grounds.

Not wanting to travel such terrain at night, Jane sighed again and scurried down the stairs. Plopping into one of the sunroom
's lounge chairs, she closed her eyes. With her anger still boiling, she was not ready to tell the staff of the Keeper's passing. Although there were no plants in the octagon room, she still liked the glass enclosure, as it always seemed to calm her nerves. Due to her "Gift," the Keeper forbid plants inside the house. Jane opened her eyes to stare at the black sky and thought about the first time she realized she was different. Just a few months into her imprisonment, she first noticed her "Gift" with a single blade of grass. She remembered running to the lake after the Keeper had scolded her about something she could not now recall.

***

"It's not fair!" Jane flopped onto the ground in misery and cried in sorrow. When her tears finally stopped, she felt something brush against her damp cheek. Thinking it could be a bug, she quickly glanced around the tiny clearing, yet she saw nothing crawling in the short grass. With a soft sniff of sadness, she lowered her head back to its resting place. Again, she felt the soft touch upon her skin. Jane turned her head, ever so slowly, to see what had caressed her. To her surprise, she spied a tiny blade of grass as it bent to brush her face. Stunned by the deliberate movement of the blade, yet not afraid, she timidly raised her hand and gently touched the thin, flat leaf.

"
Well, hello little thing," she said to the leaf. It quivered, excited by her attention. To her surprise, it wrapped around her little finger. She gasped in shock when she felt a rush of energy build deep inside her core. Beads of sweat formed on her brow as her skin flushed with heat. Her body tingled with raw power, power so strong she felt it could rip her apart. She felt fear and exhilaration at the same time. The urge to push the energy into the plant that hugged her was tremendous. With a moan of ecstasy, the strange current rushed through her little finger into the tiny leaf. As the energy surged into its veins, Jane watched the little blade quiver. Before her bewildered eyes, the blade unraveled from her digit and started to grow. The excess energy absorbed into the earth, and, to her astonishment, the surrounding foliage turned greener, healthier. To her right, she heard the snap of a twig, and glanced toward the sound to find the Keeper standing over her.

"
Look what I did!" Jane smiled at her caretaker about what she had done, but her smile quickly vanished when she realized the Keeper was not pleased.

"
You will never do that again!" The old woman spoke softly, yet her eyes were wild with fury. The sneer on her leathery face made Jane recoil in fear. With a snarl, the caretaker raised her wooden cane and beat her to the point that she was nearly senseless. Without another word, the Keeper dragged her back into the house and locked her inside her bedroom suite.

"
I did nothing wrong," Jane said to herself when the door slammed behind the Keeper. In her isolation, she realized the beautiful house and compound were nothing more than a gilded cage and she its prisoner. Two months later, Jane was release from her "cell."

"
You may leave this room, but only on these conditions," the Keeper said in a flat tone. "First, you will never draw upon the energy inside you ever again. Second, you must never wander the house alone. Only I can escort you to another room. Third, by eight p.m. I will lock you in the library or in your suite until morning. Do you agree to these terms?"

"
You won't let me out if I don't agree." Jane's reply was curt. She had never liked the Keeper, but the beating by the lake sparked a hatred for the old woman that was unnaturally intense. "You don't give me any choice, Keeper."

Jane longed to experiment, to understand the power inside her, yet the Keeper never gave her the chance. From that day onward, she was always under the watchful eyes of the old woman. Many times over the next ten years, she felt the sting of the Keeper
's belt, if she tried to draw even the slightest bit of power.

Only in the darkness of the nocturnal hours, locked inside one of the rooms for the evening, did she dare draw upon the energy inside her. It was intoxicating to feel the power build deep within her core. Yet, without something to receive the current, the raw energy fizzled into nothingness, leaving her with an empty, hollow feeling inside. After a while, she stopped trying and learned how to quickly extinguish the energy as soon as it sparked.

***

With a heavy sigh, Jane cleared her mind of past memories. Reluctantly, she rose from the comfortable chair to inform the chef of the Keeper
's death. When she entered the kitchen, she forced a small smile upon her lips. She liked the plump, middle-aged woman, who always hummed when she cooked. Her name was Inga and she had arrived six months ago, when the old cook had disappeared. Jane did not know where nor why he had left, but she had to confess, she liked the new cook's food much better. Moreover, there was another female in her life, and she instantly took a liking to her.

As part of her schooling, the Keeper ordered Jane to study with the cook. At first, the old caretaker stayed in the kitchen and silently watched from across the room. However, as time passed, the Keeper deemed the chef harmless and allowed Jane to be alone with her, at least for a short time. With that slight freedom, they grew to become friends. They experimented with different recipes and laughed like schoolchildren when they failed. Yet, the best part of their visits were the stories the chef told about her life outside the compound. Jane craved to hear anything, anything at all, of the world outside her prison. The cook would subtlety describe places and events she had never read about in the many books stored in the library.

Although, they were friends, Jane felt uneasy about disclosing too much information to the older woman. Over the long years, the Keeper taught her never to trust a living soul. She'd emphasized that Jane should only rely on her own instincts and trust no one's words, saying they might be only half-truths. When she first told the chef about herself, or lack of self, the cook's overly bubbly enthusiasm about her plight unnerved her. The tightness in her stomach and a little voice in her head warned her not to trust the middle-aged cook, regardless of how much she liked her. Trusting her instincts, Jane always watched what she said to Inga and never spoke of her "Gift."

"
Is she gone?" Inga glanced at her from across the room, and then sadly shook her head. "May the Gods have mercy on her evil soul."

"
People like her don't deserve mercy," Jane angrily mumbled under her breath, but the cook still heard her.

"
My dear, everyone deserves mercy." Inga wiped her hands on a ratty dishcloth and crossed the room to where Jane stood. The cook placed her plump hands on Jane's arms and gave her a gentle shake. "All we know is that the Keeper gave her life to care for you." Jane opened her mouth to argue, but Inga hurriedly added, "Regardless of how she performed her job, she still gave her life to this place, whatever the reason."

"
I guess you're right." She hated the old Keeper, yet felt a stab of guilt for speaking ill of the dead. She wasn't a spiteful person and, now that the woman was dead, she realized she should try to move forwards without hate in her heart.

"
Did she say anything?" asked the cook. Before the cook released her, Jane saw the plump chef's cheek twitch with a nervous tick.

"
Yes, she did." Jane made a sour face and repeated a slightly altered version of her caretaker's last words. "What you seek lies under the stone man." She gave a sharp laugh. "The old witch knew I hated riddles."

"
Well, I always liked puzzles," Inga laughed sweetly. "I would love to help you solve this one."

The cook
's laughter sounded overly forced to Jane's ears. As she spied the older woman from under her lashes, she could not recall ever seeing Inga play any games. The hairs on the back of her neck stood straight up and a deep hollowness filled her stomach. Surprised by the strong reaction towards her friend, Jane could not respond for a few minutes. To easy the disturbing feelings, she strolled over to the stove and peered inside a large simmering pot to watch a boiling stew. She took a deep breath and forced a smile upon her full lips. "Good. You can help me find this stone man."

BOOK: Return of the Matka-Zem (The Sorain Chronicles)
2.16Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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