CHAPTER 17 - Of an Old Portrait

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I walked through the Virgo embassy's huge gate with its winding iron work. One look past the gate, and it felt like being transported into Autumn Realm entirely. My bookish knowledge had never conjured up the image that laid bare in front of my eyes at the moment. I grazed my fingers over the velvety leaves of a climber that adorned the gate; they were looped around in a way to resemble a rose, with vibrant red flowers peeking from it. I had a temptation to pluck one and put it over my ear, but a stern glance from one of the guards, made me retract my hand.

I crossed the grass-laden grounds in awe. The palace was huge, yet it felt homely in a way a small cottage by the seacoast does. And behind the palace there indeed was a coastline, decked with tall palm trees.

Listening to the gentle lapping of the waves, I stretched my sight to the farthest left corner of the line. The backyard of the palace of Gemini embassy was glinting in the mild sunshine. Only a few days ago, I had been there. And now I was at yet another palace.

The Virgo people did really love their island Virgous, and I was exploring every little detail of its replica. The Palaces of the Houses of Autumn Realm were all unique; this particular one, that stood tall in front of me was made of translucent tan-colored sandstone. Climbing the steps of the foyer, I deeply inhaled the scent of freshly watered grounds swirling in the air mixed with the fragrance oozing from innumerable flower-shrubberies, which seemed to act like a floral fence around the palace.

The interior of the palace came into view and I had to make sure that I wasn't dreaming. I stepped in and instantly felt a warm sensation tiptoeing around me. The dread that had been so imminent in the Gemini Palace was all but absent. I felt relaxed and ventured to the center of the great hall. Every stone and every plant seemed to have been chosen with utmost care. I looked up at the roof and found myself dazzled with baskets hanging from it, they were made of smooth white pebbles and held beautiful geraniums, petunias and hanging trail of white chrysanthemums.

The corners of the roof were lined with perfectly snipped climbers that had the rare twinkling flowers called Orbs of Dusk, majestically throned over it. The orange glow of the flowers, danced around the room even in bright daylight. Oh, what wouldn't I give to be here at the night time!

I heard approaching footsteps from the vast well-lit passage to my right. Una's tall figure came closer, her hair bouncing on her shoulders, dark eyes looking at me with warmth.

"Welcome, I suppose," she grinned at me, like a child grinning at its friend while showing off a new toy.

I nodded with a gentle smile that was plastered on my face since my arrival, still in awe of the surroundings and hugged my satchel lovingly.

"Come on then, before my mother sees us," she said and turned to walk the same path she had come from.

***

Travelling the length of the labyrinthic palace passages, I was now standing in a huge practice room. The private arena, as Una called it, was situated at a far corner from the great hall. The passages had been all decorated with portraits and antiques. I had wanted to observe them all, but Una was in a hurry.

On one side of the room there was an armory, full of swords, maces, daggers, arrows and axes. Gentle cold breeze flew through the huge wall-length windows. There was a massive banyan tree at the farthermost corner of the room; it was magnificent with long straight branches and its silvery white aerial roots penetrating inside the ground.

"So, now that we know that you faint every time you use your Elementation, I am going to try and find the cause of it," she said scrutinizing her weapons, "what sort of magic have you tried till now?"

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