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Chapter 1: The Exile
It was a pleasant scenery to the everyday eye. Magnificent oak trees waved their leaves gracefully to the rhythm of the late afternoon breeze, drawing delightful little sighs from the visitors of the park under the burning summer sun. Children chasing around the playground, their laughter and giggles echoing in the air, mothers sitting chatting on the benches near a little pond, elderly couples walking around hand-in-hand in silence.
Tristanna took in the idyllic scene, resting her chin lazily in her hand. She flashed the waiter a dreamy smile as her second round of cappuccino had been served and added a generous tip to his reward. At moments like this, all her worries seemed far away as she pursued her favourite hobby, watching people.
There were times when she used to go for every single detail, wrinkled noses, shades of mascara, crocked grins, open shoelaces, simply everything. Back in those days she was determined to learn as much about the human kind as possible, which turned out to be a nice challenge at least for a couple of years, but as time passed she became more an more aware of their way of thinking, discovering certain stereotypes, foretelling their actions and motivation, even without the trouble of invading their minds. When she had entered their world, she didn't think about her exile as a true punishment, though its circumstances had been anything but pleasant. She felt very much thrilled by the thought of getting a chance to study these unique creatures in their natural environment, so to speak.
As she grew up, she heard many tales about the struggles of mankind, their curiosity, variety and ever changing world full of passion and all kinds of intense emotions. It sounded ever so intriguing to her, drawing her attention and desires in their direction. Back then she couldn't have imagined ever getting tired of observing, studying and maybe ... maybe even interacting with them.
Well, I guess I haven't ever been much of a seer, she thought sighing as she remembered her mentor's words from long ago.
"Huh! Mortals and their emotions!", Grey used to grumble over her enthusiasm, "Both very dangerous without proper control. And humans are nothing but weak, hardly even able to handle their on short and simple lives ... They aren't worthy of interaction with our kind."
"Hypocrite!" she shot back in fiercely rebellion as she caught his melancholic thoughts drifting back to the memories of the time he had once spent among them.
His own stories had set the spark of the fire that kept burning within her for so long, longing for the day when she could finally take off to her own journey and explore that strange world her people kept mocking about. Grey had felt responsible for her unconventional desire ever since, trying to warn her so many times, eager to get such crazy ideas out of her mind.
He wouldn't be able to suppress a triumphant grin, no matter how though he acts, if he knew how bored I have gotten in the meanwhile, Tristanna thought as a sad little smile curved the corners of her own mouth.
Right next to the café, where she preferably spent her afternoons these days, two little girls with straw blond pigtails dragged their mother along, holding onto both of her hands tightly and whimpering in fake dismay, while their pale blue eyes shone brightly, focusing on the huge painted ice scone at the entrance of the café.
So selfish and so predictable, even at such a tender age, Tristanna sighed again, shaking her head. It hurt her pride quite a bit to admit that the only thing her enthusiasm for human kind earned her was nothing but disappointment, at least on the long run. Their world might have been exciting and ever changing at first sight but its inhabitants turned out to be pure boredom and hardly ever worth a second glance.
At least the scenery is still captivating, she thought her mood lightening somewhat as she took her purse and rose from her seat, heading for the park. Nature was something she didn't plan on, but fell in love with immediately. The rotation of seasons, variety and diversity of the weather and how well the plants and animals responded to it set her imagination again on fire. Letting her heart sink into the beauty of the park, her thoughts found an effective way to escape the disappointing reality around her. It might have been a mere illusion: walking around beneath those huge shading trees as sunshine shimmered through their rich leaves, smiling at people she didn't know, pretending to be one of them and simply enjoying the moment. No matter how bored she had gotten over time, there were still a few moments like this when part of her kept admiring and even a tiny bit envying the mortals' world and their lives, despite or perhaps even because of all their weakness and simplicity.
Suddenly a high pinched shriek caught her attention through the soothing bubbling of water coming from a nearby fountain. As she turned she almost got knocked off her feet by a red bicycle flying by.
- Damn it! If I still had the power I would curse that bastard! - she muttered under her breath after regaining her composure.
As her boiling anger subsided with the passing moment her attention returned to the concerned thoughts of a mother, which had been pretty loud in her panic. Even some of them should be able to hear her, grant it they actually ever took the time to listen, Tristanna thought bemused and curious again.
Her mind drifted a couple of seconds back as she noticed a little boy sitting at the ground near the fountain in soaked clothing. He was clenching at his right knee and Tristanna could clearly recall the image of him climbing up one of the slippery horse shaped statues at the side of the pool. He barely reached two or three feet before he fell but managed to hurt his knee nonetheless.
A casually dressed man was bent over him, trying to get a closer look at his injury, towering over the sobbing boy like a giant even after squatting down.
-Daniel! Daniel! Come right back here, will you?!! - the mother demanded out loud, glaring at the child. She reached his side and grabbed one of his arms, pulling him to his feet in one quick movement. - Do you not ever listen! How many times did I tell you not to talk to strangers?!! - she continued, shooting the hostile look of a protective tigress at the straightening man as she dragged her son away from the fountain.
No wonder Grey became such a hypocrite living among them, Tristanna concluded sarcastically. Her gaze travelled to the unwelcome knight in shining armour, who just stood there for a while, staring after them in disbelief and allowing her to take closer look at him.
Tristanna played her usual game, of which she had meanwhile become a true master, 'show me your outside I'll tell you your inside', she grinned to herself narrowing her eyes on the newest subject of her interest.
He stood fairly tall, easily 6' 4'' or even higher and was rather on the slender side, except for his broad shoulders. Visor type dark sunglasses, light brown hair cut way too short, a stubborn chin, rough masculine features that just didn't seem to bring any kind of harmony around, or what was more commonly considered as beauty among the mortals. Probably in his mid twenties, she guessed unimpressed. There was hardly anything exceptional about him, save it his height which turned out to be a handy feature when Tristanna's gaze followed him even as he started to walk away.
She was just about to look behind the curtain, when she saw him shoulder his backpack, duck and then reappear on the side walk, mounting a rather familiar looking red coloured bicycle. That bastard! Tristanna's eyes narrowed on him dangerously. First almost blowing me over, then playing the good Samaritan, she hissed inwardly but her anger faded soon. The myth of that certain piece of literature which was referred to as the Bible and its effect on peoples lives had fascinated her long before she even held it in her hand. I'm already sounding like one of them! came the sudden realization along with a bit of a shock.
For a split second she felt grateful for most of her powers having been taken from her as she entered her exile, otherwise she was pretty certain the man would never mount anything again in his earthly existence! However, grace to the Emperor's wisdom she was hardly able to do anything else than read peoples' minds, mostly gaining thereby only the reassurance of things she had already known before by simply looking at them. The only active power she was granted had been the one to remain in control of her own fate, choosing her appearance, guarding herself from illness and harm, however she had lost all other privileges of her high birthright and pure noble blood.
Just for the protocol, she mentally noted as she focused her attention again on his nape from afar. And then it happened. Or more precisely it didn't happen! Seconds later she could feel sweat braking out on her forehead while she concentrated desperately but it seemed useless. She couldn't receive a single mental picture, not a thought, or sense at least the hint of an emotion. There was Nothing with a capital N!
Panic overtook her actions as she turned her attention to the next best subject she could find, focusing first on a grumpy garbage man then a burping baby on a white haired lady's shoulder. The reassurance came quickly, and she exhaled suddenly deep, not even being aware of that fact that she was holding her breath up until that moment, however her racing pulse still wouldn't calm down.
Her eyes searched and found the tall figure driving out of the park. There was nothing wrong with her, it was him! For some reason he was different and unreadable, which for sure stirred her interest but at the same time she also felt a soft breeze tickle lightly over her skin.
Only a second earlier she was determined to follow this stranger to find out what exactly had or more precisely why the inevitable hadn't just happened between them but that simple touch of air brought her to a sudden halt. A mere caress of the wind and yet it felt so familiar, so well known to her senses. Tristanna closed her eyes and knew immediately that he was around, somewhere in the air, in the park, in the crowed, getting closer and closer until she could feel his hand resting on her shoulder.
She turned and found herself blushing as she met the most dazzling pair of clear grey eyes, shimmering in the glow of the late afternoon sun. Grey. He was standing right next to her carrying a warm slime on the smug face of a well groomed gentleman who seemed to be in his late 50s.
Such a hypocrite ... almost human, Tristanna thought but was unable to suppress the delight their unexpected reunion caused.
-Milady. - he bowed slightly, releasing her from his hold.
-Long time no see. - she responded finally with a polite smile as she took his offered arm. - Tell me, old friend, what has brought you along?
-Concern for your well being, Mylady. As always. - came his answer along with a soft chuckle, recalling so many dearly cherished memories from her childhood. - I received word and order for your return to be planned.
Tristanna's dreamy expression turned into the excitement of an impatient child, drawing another chuckle from her former mentor.
- The days of your exile will come soon to an end. - he repeated, but Tristanna sensed his uneasiness despite the good news flattering around in her mind. - The Emperor decided that you have had enough time to think about your actions and their consequences. His Highness is expecting the repentance and absolute submission of a wise and responsible young lady, ready and willing to honour The House of Tristan and generously offers you forgiveness for the sins of a wild minded child in return.
- The House of Tristan?!! - she demanded jerking her arm free from his. - How does that bloody traitor brother of mine dare to disgrace our father's heritage! I'd rather spend an eternity in this devastating world than to succumb to his name! - she shout at him, not caring at all about the passers-bys turning their heads into their direction.
- Easy, Mylady! It isn't wise to crave so much attention! - Grey warned grabbing her arm and pulling her down on a yellow little bench, further away from the side walk.
- Easy for you to say! - she snapped back immediately. - You can tell His Highness, my dear brother or mother, whom ever you want just the same: I'll never ever return on such conditions! - she declared feeling oddly bold and alive again even if her hopes for justice had been utterly shattered only brief seconds ago after such a long time of waiting.
- I wasn't sent to make you an offer of any kind or as a messenger for negotiations. - Grey replied in his usual calm manner.
- Oh! - Tristanna said a little taken aback. - So why did you come then? Why taking such a risk?
Even though she couldn't invade his thoughts with her true powers gone, Tristanna was able to tell that she had hit a nerve with that question.
- Your mother. - Grey spoke softly. - She had been concerned and grieved since you rebelled against your brother. I've been watching over you on her behalf every now and then from the day on you entered this exile. Mylady, she loves you! Both of you.
As he looked up shyly the cold and reproachful look in his beloved student's eyes caught him off guard. Tristanna stood slowly, efficiently slipping out of his grip as he reached again for her hand.
- Enough. - she said equally coldly, trying to remain in control of the hatred and disgust that flooded her very core. - I will not hear anymore of her, nor on her behalf! Not from someone who shares her bed willingly! Leave, before I say something I might regret!
- You misjudge her. - Grey said with sorrow darkening his features. - You have read my mind often enough to know that I had never speculated on Mylord's death nor have I been eager to cause him any harm. However, feelings do not simply disappear, not even under fierce control ... I was hopeful you had understood that by now, having spent so much time among humans yourself but ... - his shaken voice trailed off, there was nothing more left to say between them.
However, as Tristanna walked away from him determined not to turn back anymore, she could still clearly hear his thoughts echoing in her head. Not because she wanted to, not because she desired, but because of his will. She had hurt him on his most sensitive spot and yet, he wanted to warn her, wanted her to know what was lying ahead. The Emperor has sent the first hunter of The House of Tristan, the unmerciful Smilodon to track her down and take her back. No negotiations, just a simple assignment to be carried out, even by force if required.
The noble daughter of Tarad wasn't even left as much as to choose her own fate anymore.