This Tuesday, follow the Princess back into the Otherrealm...
Determined to fulfill her new role as Crown Princess, Sarayna must find the Emperor and renew the Prophecy before time runs out. Find out what happens in SARAYNA'S FATE (Empire Saga, #2.5), M. Dalto's third novella in her bestselling series.
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Her mother warned her it would feel as though she was dying.
Having no memory of traveling by Key in the past, Sarayna welcomed any advice her mother could offer before departing on her journey to the Otherrealm. Unfortunately, her mother wasn’t exaggerating when she told her it would feel like the very breath in her lungs would be pulled from her chest as if it would be her very last.
Dying indeed, and her mother would know, as she almost died herself once.
The feeling of limbo was surreal, and Sarayna needed it to end, otherwise she thought she might actually die. She would have welcomed death at one point, but after what felt like an eternity, Sara found herself sprawled on a hardwood floor. Glancing up, she realized she was in the apartment that would serve as her safe house during her time in the Otherrealm.
Unable to move at first, she took the time to assess her current situation. The weight of the satchel on her left hip assured her that her belongings had remained with her through the portal. Her right hip had landed hard on the solid ground, and she knew she would be subject to quite the bruise within the next day or so. The same could be said for her right shoulder, arm, and leg, all casualties of her ungraceful fall.
Rolling onto her back, she adjusted her position to remove her bag from underneath her but remained on the floor as she attempted to catch her breath. The tell-tale headache from Key teleportation was beginning to form, and she closed her eyes to dissipate the building pressure.
When she felt the worst had passed, she opened her eyes to meet a pair looking down upon her with concern. A pair that mirrored her own.
Just like her father’s eyes.
“Rhaid!” Sara exclaimed in utter surprise as she sat up. Next to her knelt a slightly older woman, possibly in her thirties. She had dark blond hair piled on top of her head in a messy bun, a warm smile on her face, and those familiar eyes.
“I guess that answers my question,” the stranger mused before she moved closer to Sara. Instinctively, the young princess backed away, and the older woman stopped, sensing the girl’s concern.
“Everything is okay, Sarayna,” the woman assured her calmly. “Your uncle told me you were coming.”
Sara could only blink at this stranger who seemed to know her name. She tried to respond but could only cough as the residual effects of Key travel got the best of her.
“Here,” the woman offered as she held out her hand. Sara looked between the hand and the woman, and perhaps it was the eyes, or the perk of the woman’s brow, but Sarayna felt comfortable with her.
Holding onto her hand, the two worked on getting Sara into a standing position, and with assistance Sara was soon sitting on the nearby sofa. Sara was left to get her bearings while the woman entered the kitchen, only to return shortly with a glass of water. Offering it to Sara, who took it graciously, she sat in a chair across from Sara and watched as she gulped the gloriously refreshing fluid.
Once the glass was emptied, Sara placed it on the coffee table and let out a sigh of relief. “Thank you very much,” she told her host. “I was wondering if you’ve seen my grandmother. She was supposed to be waiting for me here.”
The woman gently laughed at her inquiry. “Do you mean Saratanya?”
“Yes,” Sarayna said. “Do you know her?”
Her hostess only smiled. “Of course I know her. I’m Saratanya.”
Sara’s jaw dropped. “But…you’re so young!”
The look of shock on Sara’s face must have been obvious for the woman—Saratanya, her own grandmother—laughed at her response.
“Yes, Sarayna, I am Saratanya, former Queen Empress of the Empire. The last time I saw you, you were an infant in your father’s arms, so it seems the Annals has something in store for us yet.”
Sara wasn’t sure how to respond. Her grandmother wasn’t incorrect—through the magic of Prophecy and the power of the Annals, Sarayna had aged through years of her natural timeline in a matter of moments as soon as she arrived within the Empire. Now with the appearance of a woman of twenty, and the mentality of one well beyond her years, she realized her grandmother was right. The Empire had a plan for them, and their Fates were nowhere near done with them yet.
Looking up at her grandmother, another thought occurred to the young princess; this woman was the only family she had in the Otherrealm. Her mother and her uncle were left behind in the Empire, her brother lost within the Borderlands, and her father…
Without a word, she leapt from her seat on the couch and wrapped her arms around Saratanya, holding her in a hug so tight she was certain she would bruise the other woman, but her grandmother only returned the embrace, her grip around Sara just as strong.
Only as her grandmother held her in an attempt to soothe her did Sara realized she had begun to cry.
“It’s going to be okay, nirr naes,” she assured her gently.
“No, it’s not,” Sara said through her sniffles.
“What do you mean?” the former empress asked as she looked down upon her granddaughter.
Sara looked into the eyes that reminded her so much of her father’s, and she felt another wave of distress flow through her.
“I have so much to tell you.”
“It seems as though there’s much your uncle failed to tell me,” Saratanya observed with a frown.
Sara nodded; her heart was heavy after explaining the events that occurred within the Empire prior to her arrival. She watched her grandmother, who remained sitting with her brows furrowed while she stared at a spot on the floor in front of her.
Sara nodded again. “Did you know him?”
“Mm,” was the only response she gave as she looked up to meet her gaze. “It was best they sent you here, but let’s just hope the dreams work as they should.”
“Dreams?” Sara perked a brow.
“Yes, but we don’t need to worry about that now.” Saratanya stood and quietly walked into the bedroom off the main room. She soon returned with a pile of folded blankets and a pillow.
“I don’t have much room, but I wouldn’t have you go anywhere else,” she informed her granddaughter as she handed her the stack. “My couch is quite comfortable, and much better than the ground.”
Smiling, Sara took the pile of blankets. “What you said about dreams…”
“Don’t worry about it right now. You’ve had a long journey and need to rest before it catches up with you.”
As though on command, the exhaustion of her travels fell upon her, and Sara decided perhaps taking a short nap would be beneficial. Assenting, she nodded without further argument and began to arrange the blankets around her.
“Good. I have a couple of errands to run, but you’ll be safe here. No one else has come across this apartment for quite some time.”
Saratanya’s voice slowly faded away as sleep overtook Sara.
“You obviously can’t be considered my granddaughter,” Saratanya explained as they walked down the street of her quiet neighborhood. “There’s no way to explain the closeness in age to anyone here.”
“Yes, Empress,” Sara said in agreement. After her nap, she changed into more normal day clothes characteristic to the Otherrealm. She fidgeted in the denim as they walked, unaccustomed to material clinging so tightly to her legs. She would have preferred skirts or riding leathers, but her grandmother insisted she change and convinced her she would get used to it over time.
“That will be another thing—you cannot be calling me ‘Empress.’ Not even Saratanya. Not here.”
“But that’s your title. You were the Queen Empress—”
“In a different realm at a different time.”
Sara gave her a confused look, clearly not understanding the difference.
Saratanya let out a breath and explained. “I realize in the Empire I would always be referred to as Empress, which is actually quite similar to how the rulers here in the Otherrealm refer to themselves.”
“There are Empresses here as well?”
“Yes, sometimes. Here, in particular however, we are ruled by a President, which is as close to a royal family as you’re going to get. But I digress…the title may carry on so long as an Empress lives, but we’re not in the Empire anymore.”
Beginning to understand, Sarayna slowly nodded. “Yes, Grandmother.”
The sideways glance from her grandmother alerted Sara to her error. “Not even Grandmother. No one would believe it even if we tried. Tanya will suffice.”
“Tanya.” Sarayna nodded. “Yes, Tanya.”
“Good.” Tanya smiled. “You’ll need to at least pretend to be accustomed to this world as though you’ve lived here your entire life. You haven’t been within the Empire long enough to acquire its accent, so that’s a benefit. We will say you’re my niece, from out of town.”
“Which I suppose isn’t too far off,” Sara surmised.
“True, but if anyone asks, you’re from Boston—which again, isn’t too far off—spending the summer in New York to look at schools.”
“Schools?” Sara asked quizzically. She felt educated enough—there was no need for higher education, especially when she wasn’t planning on staying long.
Tanya waved off her inquiry. “It’s simply a cover. Obviously, our main focus is to keep you safe, followed by finding your Emperor.”
Sara’s heart beat harder in her chest. She had practically forgotten about her primary task amidst everything else that had happened.
Her Emperor was here—somewhere—and she had to bring him back.
She’d never get home otherwise.
They had stopped walking and stood before a small shop with a steaming cup painted on the window.
“What is this place?” Sara asked as she peered within.
“Didn’t your parents teach you anything?” Tanya chided. “You can never start a day off without a decent cup of coffee.”
“Now that we have your cover story straight, we need to get down to the true purpose for your visit.”
The two women sat across from each other a corner table near the front window of the coffee shop.
“What do you know, Sarayna?” Tanya asked after taking a sip from her coffee cup.
“Only what my mother and uncle could tell me before I had to leave, and the little bit my father was able to tell me…” She trailed off as she always did when thoughts of her father came to mind. It was still so fresh—she couldn’t believe Treyan was dead.
A hand brushed against hers as Sara looked into her grandmother’s concerned eyes. “We will make this right,” the former empress reassured her.
Sara believed they would, but she was more concerned about the little she had to work with. When her father had come to the Otherrealm in search of her mother years ago, he had already had his dream. He had a face and a name, and even a location to narrow down his search. Events were in motion for Sarayna’s trip so fast that she wasn’t sure if New York was where she even needed to be.
It was a safe haven, however, and that was what she needed the most. Her very existence was in jeopardy the longer she remained in the Empire, and both her mother and uncle agreed that sending her away preemptively would be wise. Sarayna objected, of course—after the recent loss of her father, the last thing she wanted to do was leave her mother, least of all with him. Alexstrayna promised her daughter it was for the best. It was the only choice they had to keep the princess away from the threat growing within the Borderlands.
The thought of her brother made her stomach turn even more than that of her uncle alone with her mother. She brought her hands to her own coffee cup and sipped slowly in an attempt to hide her sudden mood swing. Her twin should have been her equal, her closest friend and confidant, standing beside her during her greatest time of need. Instead he chose to be her enemy, giving in to the manipulation by the same foe who had betrayed their father, their uncle, and perhaps even their grandmother.
“How well did you know the Councillor, Razen?” she asked. She knew her grandmother had a relationship with the man, but to what extent remained a mystery. Be that as it may, Tanya was the only connection Sara had to the Empire, so if there were any questions to ask, they would need to be answered by her.
The question at hand, however, appeared to take her grandmother unawares. Tanya sat back in her chair with her coffee cup in her hands as though she cared more for its comforting warmth than the coffee it held. Her eyes focused not on Sarayna, but on the table before her, as if she was trying to process not only the question, but the answer.
“He was not known as the Councillor when I knew him,” she began, her voice low and steady. “In fact, there was no need for the Council when I ruled the Empire.”
Her eyes lifted to meet Sara’s, the blue holding a somber feel as she continued. “Your grandfather, Axell, and I depended on Razen to help us run the Empire. That was his duty as Lord Steward, and for many years it worked.”
Tanya shook her head slightly as she reminisced. “I don’t know what happened to make him the way he is.”
“Do you believe he is the reason you’re here in the Otherrealm?” Sara asked, genuinely curious. Her grandmother’s continued survival had been a mystery for so long; whatever information she could uncover, for the sake of her father’s memory, she would.
The former Empress bit her lip. “At first, I didn’t want to believe Treyan when he told me. I couldn’t wrap my mind around any reason why Razen would spread such a destructive lie. I spoke to him once in a dream, and only then did Razen confirm my worst suspicions. He had never told Treyan or Reylor I was alive and resigning to the belief I’d never have found a way back on my own remains my greatest regret.”
“Do you miss the Empire?”
Tanya cleared her throat as she looked upon her granddaughter. “I won’t say I haven’t thought about it, but to miss it is an entirely different question.”
“Why did you never go back?” The question was asked innocently, but Sara could tell there was more weight behind it the moment it left her lips. Pain crossed her grandmother’s face, and Sara instantly regretted vocalizing her inquiry. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have—”
“No, it’s alright. Someone should know what’s happened since my return.”
In one fluid motion Saratanya set down her coffee cup and rested her chin on her hands as her thin fingers laced together beneath her jawline. She truly possessed the grace and demeanor of an empress.
“When you ask me if I ‘miss’ it, do you mean do I miss the Empire itself, or the people I had to leave behind?”
“Could it be both?” Sara asked as she leaned in closer, anxious to hear more of her grandmother’s story.
Saratanya smirked slightly but let out a sigh, conceding to Sara’s inquiry. “As you know from your mother and father, it is the Crown Prince’s responsibility to retrieve the Queen Empress from the Otherrealm. Axell did a fine job retrieving me. He wooed me for an entire year before he dropped the bomb, which is more than I can say for your father.”
Sara couldn’t help but smile. Her father had tracked down her mother for more than a year before he found her, and it took him another year to work up the courage to confront her. Even then, he retrieved her in a less than gentlemanly manner, using magic to put her to sleep and bringing her back to the Empire against her initial wishes. Whether or not it was justified because of his brother Reylor’s attempt to retrieve Alexstrayna first was still debatable.
“When we returned to the Empire, I wasn’t prepared, but I was at least given a head’s up much further in advance than your mother. When we returned, Razen was there anxiously waiting for us, and the chemistry between us grew from that moment.”
Tanya laughed when she noticed her granddaughter’s raised eyebrow.
“What is your question, Princess?”
Sara felt her cheeks redden as thoughts of her grandmother’s love life swirled throughout her mind. Unfortunately for her mental well-being, she couldn’t stop thinking about her last encounter with Razen and the suggestive comments he had made.
Then she remembered the locket.
Reaching into her pants pocket, she retrieved the necklace her mother had given her before she left the Empire. Placing it between them on the table, Sara slid it towards her grandmother.
Tanya’s eyes drifted down to the gold circular locket that was now in front of her. Slowly, she reached down and ran a finger along the engraved ‘S’ on the cover. With a resigned sigh, she picked it up and pried the pendant open with her thumbnail.
“So, we’ve come full circle,” Tanya admitted quietly as she observed the photographs held inside.
“Was there more between you?” Sara asked after allowing her grandmother a moment of private reflection.
“It was complicated, Sarayna,” Tanya admitted as she closed the locket and clasped it around her neck. She tucked it underneath her shirt and held a hand to her neck as though confirming the necklace was still there, “and it was a long time ago.”
“Of course,” the young princess conceded. Her eyes were drawn down as she felt guilty for bringing up the past.
Clearing her throat, Tanya finished her coffee and began to clear their table of used napkins and empty sugar packets. “Let’s finish up. I want to show you around the city, so you’re prepared for your new surroundings. You’re never going to find your Emperor just hanging around my apartment all day.”