The Elementi Series (Book One)

Chapter Two

By: Katie Runyon

Outside, the sun shone bright, but inside it was dark and musty. He lit a few candles to fight off the shadows. It had been too long since Ryker had last visited his parents. He wiped his hands on his pants and stood before them.

"I know I said I wouldn't be gone long, but things took an unexpected turn," he told them. Silence was their reply. "I've missed you guys."

Ryker knelt down and placed a hand on either sarcophagus. Their peaceful, stone faces stared up at the ceiling of their tomb. Light from the candles flickered across the stone surfaces.

"I met someone today," he informed them. "Saved her from some men Edan sent after her. I don't know why yet, but don't worry, she'll be safe here." Ryker smiled. "I remember how you always wished you could save everyone and I'm trying to do that since you never got the chance."

Ryker stood and placed a bouquet of his mother's favorite flowers atop her stone hands. "The garden looks beautiful, mom." He cleared his throat. "I can't stay long. I have to get ready for dinner. I think I'll show Kari your favorite garden tonight. I think she'd like it."

Ryker worked his way around the room, blowing out the candles as he went. When he got to the doorway, he turned around. "I love you guys and I promise not to be gone for so long next time." With a last look into the darkness, he stepped out into the sunlight and closed the doors.

A light knock came at the door as Kari stood in front of the mirror. "Come in," she called.

The door opened to reveal Ryker, ready to escort her down to dinner. Kari turned around in her white gown. The castle's seamstress had hurriedly shortened the skirt for Kari's shorter stature. Otherwise, the dress fit perfectly.

"You look beautiful. It's a good thing you're close to the same size as Tiana." Closing the door, he ambled over to Kari, standing behind her while she peered into the mirror. "Nervous?"

"Very," she said looking at his reflection, her heart pounding. She was about to meet the royal family. She felt insignificant in this big castle, full of important people. Not only that, but so much had happened. She worried about her father, which she hoped had not arrived home yet, and for her own safety. She didn't understand how she could go from living a simple life secluded in the woods to being hunted down by a dangerous man. Plus, she was use to having Sylvain to keep her company, but he was no where to be found. It wasn't unusual for him to disappear for a day without telling her, but still, she worried.

"Don't worry, they don't bite. They're just like you and me." Smiling, he strode out onto the balcony.

Kari watched in the mirror as he stood with his hands clasped behind his back. "But they're your family. I don't know them. This is all new to me," she said with a frown as she turned away from the mirror to look at him. She was starting to regret accepting his invitation to dinner. She didn't mind sitting alone in her room all night, but she just couldn't seem to say no to his request.

He unclasped his hands and took a few steps until he stood in front of her. "My aunt may look like a thug, but she's really not all that threatening once she puts on a bit of rouge." He put his hands on her shoulders and smiled. Kari couldn't help but smile. Pulling away, he nodded towards the door. "We should head down, wouldn't want to be late."

They walked to the door and Ryker opened it, motioning Kari through. Kari heard the door close behind her and they made their way down the hall. They walked the rest of the way in silence. In an attempt to calm her nerves, Kari thought of what Sylvain might say to her if he saw her now. But even the sarcastic comments she knew he'd make didn't seem to help as they usually did.

When they arrived at the dining room, the large wooden double doors stood open and they strolled through. The table stationed in the middle of the room was made from a dark cherry wood, decorated with gold leafing. Kari gazed at the silverware on the table, amazed at how it shimmered in the light from the grand chandelier hanging above it.

Kari breathed deeply, in an attempt to ease the butterflies in her stomach. Ryker led her around the room, introducing themselves to the newest group of dignitaries to venture to Sumara.

Looking up, her sight took in a pair of gray eyes, warmed by an easy smile.

"Cousin, it's great to see you again," said the prince. He greeted Ryker with an embrace. "So this is the girl that's caused whispers throughout the castle." He smiled over at Kari as their eyes met. She froze, a bit terrified being under the gaze of a prince.

"Damon, this is my friend Kari Elade. Kari, this is my cousin Damon Ethyron." He motioned to each one in turn.

"The pleasure's all mine." Damon gently took Kari's hand. Bending down, he lightly kissed it, his eyes peering up at her through his blonde hair.

She could feel her cheeks redden as he stared at her. Dizziness threatened to overwhelm her. Just then, another person entered the room, the princess.

"Ryker!" Gleefully she threw her arms around him. "It's so good to see you, it's been too long." Turning to Kari she gave her a big smile. "You must be Kari."

"Yes, my lady." She curtsied, not knowing what was proper.

"That's not necessary and you can call me Tiana. My, that dress looks better on you than it did on me." She had a handsome smile and bright blue eyes. Blonde hair, just like her brother's, stopped midway down her back.

Everyone turned around just as the king and queen entered, arm in arm. Like their children they both had blonde hair. They wore some of the finest clothes Kari had ever seen, made of red velvet with gold cord enhancing its magnificence. Damon and Tiana strode over to their parents greeting them with a kiss.

Ryker took Kari's hand and guided her over to the king and queen. Ryker greeted them cheerfully, gently hugging the queen and clasping forearms with the king.

"This is Kari Elade." Guiding her forward to meet them, he gave her a reassuring smile.

The queen smiled graciously. "Hello, Kari. You are welcome here as long as you like. We are always happy to have visitors."

Kari curtsied. "Thank you—Your Majesty." She felt very self conscious and wanted nothing less than to get through dinner without making a fool of herself.

"My wife is right, you are welcome here as long as you like. I have a feeling we will get along quite well. Maybe I should have you call me Uncle Owen as Ryker and his friends do." The king gave a jolly laugh.

"Your Majesty?" Kari stammered.

"I'm sorry, I didn't mean to make you feel awkward by my jest. I guess sometimes my jokes are a bit unusual. 'Sire' will do just fine." He motioned towards the table. "Well, let's all sit down and begin dinner, I'm starving." His mouth opened into a big smile and his eyes glimmered like a child's.

The food was grand and plentiful, served on white plates with gold leafing. They talked and laughed all through dinner and Kari felt more at ease as time went by. She passed on all of the meats. Being able to communicate with all creatures made her feel ill at ease when she thought of eating the poor thing. With dinner finally over, the royal family bid everyone goodnight.

Finally, alone in the dining room, Ryker spoke, "Come on, I want to show you something." Ryker took her hand and guided her through the castle.

He led her outside to a private garden. The sky twinkled as the stars began to appear in the dark sky. The moon, high and full, gave them just enough light to see by. The flowers had closed up for the night, but still gave off a sweet fragrance. Its beauty was staggering. Kari could not imagine how incredible it would be in the daytime, when all the flowers were open to the sun.

He led her over to a bench and they sat. Kari could feel the warmth of his body as a mere inch separated them.

"This is beautiful." She turned to look at his face, a silhouette in the darkness.

"My mother used to love coming here when I was a little boy. She would sit here for hours admiring it." She could hear a tinge of hurt in his voice and ached to comfort him.

"Use to? Why doesn't she anymore?" She regretted it as soon as it came out, but knew that it was too late to take back.

"When I was twelve, my father fell ill. They didn't know what it was, so no one knew how to deal him. My mother tended to him like any loving wife would. But she didn't want to risk me falling ill, so she sent me to stay here with my uncle. Not long after, my mother fell ill also. A week later, they were both dead. So, my aunt and uncle raised me like their own and this castle became my home."

"I'm so sorry." She put her hand over her mouth, ashamed of the terrible memories she had caused to surface. "I should have never asked. It was so stupid of me."

"It's okay. I haven't talked about them in a long time. Actually, I'm a little surprised at how easily it all came pouring out." He turned his head and looked into her eyes. "So, now that I told you something about me, it's only fair you tell me something about yourself."

Even though he shared his pain with her, she knew she was not ready to tell that story to anyone. "Well, there isn't much to tell. I live a simple life out in the Ashford Woods. My father is usually off somewhere trading. Alone most of the time, I was left to school myself. I loved reading, so most of my days were spent teaching myself various thing from the books I could obtain." She avoided his eyes, trying to shy away from the subject.

A noise echoed through the still night air. Seeing something move out of the corner of her eye, she jumped to her feet.

"It's only me, Kari," Sylvain said, perched on a tree not far away.

She let out her breath, not realizing she had been holding it in. "You scared me half to death, Sylvain. Where have you been? I was beginning to worry."

"I've been searching for food. I get hungry too you know."

"What did he say?" Ryker asked. Even if she could understand him, she knew Sylvain's words were only squawks to him.

"He said he was sorry and out gathering food." She gave Sylvain a sideways glance.

"Has the warning to your father left yet?" Sylvain went on.

Kari looked over at Ryker. "He asked if the note I wrote earlier for my father has left yet."

"Yes, it has. Right after you finished I sent three men with it to make sure your father is okay if he has arrived home."

Kari relayed the answer to Sylvain, feeling a bit relieved.

"Only three?" Sylvain scoffed. "Guess you aren't important enough to warrant more."

"Sylvain!" Kari scolded.

Ryker looked at her questioningly, but she wasn't about to pass on his remark.

"Thank you. That's very generous of you," Kari said instead. "I'm worried about him."

"He'll be alright." After a minute of silence, Ryker changed the subject. "I should introduce you to Medwin. He's a friend of the family and knows a lot about magic."

"I met him earlier," she told him. Kari didn't know how comfortable she was with this wizard. He may have healed her, but she did not know what to make of the strange feeling she sensed when around him.

"Well, we should be getting to bed. I have so much I would love to show you tomorrow." He seemed to beam at the thought.

"Yes, it is getting late." She turned to Sylvain. "You should come up to my room and stay with me tonight."

"I'll be fine out here. I'll be just a call away if you need me." Spreading his wings, he fluttered away into the night.

They retraced their steps to the stairs and made their way up to Kari's room. Outside her door, they stopped.

"Well, goodnight, Kari," he said averting his eyes.

"Goodnight, Ryker." Kari opened the door and closed it behind her. She put her back against the wall as she heard his soft footfalls disappear down the hallway. For the first time since she met Ryker, she finally felt the effects of her tiring flight through the woods.

Later, as she lay in bed, her last thoughts turned to Ryker. She had very little experience being around men and she couldn't seem to shake off the feelings he stirred inside her. She knew it was silly, for there was no way they could ever be together.

IMPORTANT NOTE: I have removed all but my first chapters from FictionPress. They can now only be read on my site. To do that, just register on my forum (it will only take a minute). Sorry for the inconvenience. Here's the link(without the spaces): www .katierunyon phpBB3/ucp. php?mode=register