Chapter VIII

Koa Arvis

Ariel was panting when she reached the top of the stairwell. She glanced back down the way she had come, seeing the tops of all the trees in Varejo and even further out into Koren. She could see all the glowing green specks of leaf light, and all the bright white lights of the roads. The view was breathtaking. If only the clouds didn’t cover the stars then it would be, like the Harlins would say, pulchra in the ancient tongue.

There was a large courtyard filled with tiny gardens and ancient statues that she would have to navigate before entering the temple. The ground she walked on was a mixture of soft dirt and lush moss. Her feet, no matter how gently she proceeded, sunk into the soil as if she were walking on a giant pillow. She passed by statues of deceased Koas and old heroes and between two gardens filled with ripe tomatoes.

In a sense, the temple was its own isolated village above Vareja. It had it’s own source of water collected from a natural aqueduct system in the upper branches, smaller trees growing everywhere that provided food along with the gardens, and wildlife was abundant despite the extreme height.

Ariel donned her hood and pulled her long brown hair and in front of her face and crossed the last bit of ground to the entrance, where two large doors with worn handles from generations of service awaited her grasp. This was it, no turning back now.

Before she could make the final commitment and rally her willpower, the handles turned and someone burst out from the inside, nearly knocking her over.

“Apologies, I didn’t see you there,” a tall, lean man said, catching her hand before she faltered off the stone steps.
“I’m fine, thanks,” she responded, taking her hand back. His hands were calloused and slender like the rest of his body.
She knew right away this stranger who nearly ran over her wasn’t from Koren. He wore foreign styled clothing and a hobbled along with a shiny black cane that was made from an exotic metal she had never seen.
“Good evening, Miss,” he said tipping his large brimmed hat in her direction.
Ariel watched as the stranger crossed the courtyard. He had to be some sort of dignitary or diplomat. Maybe if the Koa didn’t throw her out immediately she would ask about this man.

She regained her focus and slipped in through the doors, hoping the sudden encounter didn’t draw any attention to her.

Inside the temple, Ariel felt a soothing ambiance come over her. Everything from the smell to the lighting seemed intentionally designed to induce a sense of serenity and calmness. Glow vines wrapped around thick pillars and sprawled across the high ceiling emitted the familiar subtle green light, and running streams of water bubbled along hallways. The ancient building was awe inspiring and uplifting, but as she feared, a bustling crowd filled the main chamber.

She stood a moment, deciphering the make-up of people. Students, wearing matching white clothes, were packing their things and beginning to head out the door in troves, assistants were busy filing away documents and sending out last-minute correspondence, ambassadors from several Koren villages crowded the central commons having some heated discussion about water rights along the large Rica River, and emissaries from the far away nation of Suw were being treated to a ceremonial cup of tea.

Ariel decided to improv and just go with the flow. She picked up some papers sitting on a desk to her right and walked briskly toward the back of the chamber where individual rooms housed the tenants of the temple including the Koa.

She scanned her paper as if she were reviewing them closely and walked between the loud Koren diplomats and the Suw men sipping their tea. The Koa’s room was marked with the Vareja seal, two birds above a tree, and thus was easily discernible from the rest--she made a beeline for it and knocked.

“Come in,” a gruff voice said.
“Hello, Koa Arvin?” she asked meekly.
“Yes, yes, Come in.”

The Koa sat in a meditative posture out on a balcony connected to his room. His back was toward the entrance and to Ariel.

“Koa Arvin, sir, I’m so terribly sorry for disturbing you at this time, but I came to warn you.”
“Beware the Ides of March?”
“I’m sorry?”
“That’s a prudent warning.”
“I don’t understand sir.”
“Maybe not yet.”

He stood up, stretched, and turned to face her directly. Koa Arvin was old, some might say rickety even. When he moved a limb, undoubtedly a pop or snap followed. He’d been Koa since before she was born, and there were few people in Vareja that were still alive from a time that he wasn’t Koa. His hair was gone, his skin was wrinkled, and his spine was bent several different ways, but there was still a glimmer in his eyes like a sprinkle of youth untouched by the decades of time.

“Well, I was out in the Forbidden Sector when...”
“The Forbidden Sector?”
“Yea, I uh...occasionally take a walk out there.”
“I see. I guess the name didn’t persuade you otherwise.”
“Sorry, sir.”
“Stop saying both those words, please.”
“Okay...well, while I was out there, I was chased by a Reaper. That’s what I’ve come to warn you about, sir. I mean, Koa. There are Reapers out there preparing for an attack,” Ariel said feeling a sense of relief.
“I know it sounds crazy.”
“Hmmm. Sounds serious to me. This happened today?”
“Yes, just a few hours ago.”
“Aren’t you due for your Summons this year?”
“Yes, but I don’t understand what that has to do with...”
“Ariel, let me worry about the Reapers.”
“But, sir they are so close to our village they could...”
“I’ve been aware of their presence for over a month now,” he said in his haggard voice, “rest assured plans have been put into effect and more are to come, in fact, you will play an important role.”
“Yes. I think now is a great opportunity to send you on your Summons.”
“I don’t understand. How can I protect Vareja if I’m not here.”
“See, before you arrived, I’d been meditating on what to do about another piece of intelligence that came to me earlier this day. The Reapers are preparing another attack, but not here in Koren or even this planet.”
“You mean...”
“Yes,” Koa Arvis said pointing out beyond the balcony into the cloudy night sky, “there.”
Ariel followed his crooked finger up into the sky as clouds began to reveal the object: a large, bright blue sphere with swirls of white clouds and spots of green--Earth.

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