A gust of chilly wind blew veils of sand on the narrow beach, announcing a storm. Kendel, Vlin, and Inerishia looked up. White clouds descended like a mist, billowing and swirling as their color changed to stains of ash and coal.
“This is really bad,” Vlin gasped, wrapping a bracelet around his wrist. “Maybe our tribe is indeed meant to disappear, Kendel.”
Kendel cast dark eagle eyes upon his friend. “We will not disappear. We’ll become something better.”
Ines’ giggles echoed in the wind as she jumped in the boat and played with the paddles. Rushing to her with a pale face, Inerishia shouted, “Ines, get off the boat right now and come here.” The kid saw the seriousness of their expressions, so she got back on the wet sand of the shore. Arms outstretched, her mother was about to grab her hand, when a big wave swooshed up out of the calm sea and lunged at the child.
Kendel darted toward the wave, thrusting his hand toward it. “Water, listen to me!” he commanded, making the sea retreat greatly and suck back the wave, revealing the underlying cause of it. A tall man with muscular arms carrying a shiny spear advanced on the pure sand uncovered from under the sea. Water dripped down his boots and summary armor made of silver scales, while his wet hair stuck to his tattooed temples, and a smirk stretched on his fawn mouth. “What a surprise! Kendel himself,” he hissed, arriving on the shore washed by a gentle wave, the sea returning to its normal course. Inerishia took Ines by the hand and hurried back to the carriage.
“What are your intentions?” Kendel asked, recognizing the race of the tan-skinned man.
“I am Divian, the son of the great demon Saulten, the one you chased away from the Coral Islands.” He pointed the leaf blade of the spear at Kendel. “I’m here because my clan felt a call coming from here.”
Kendel frowned. “No one called for you.”
Divian smothered a laugh, then pierced him with a topaz stare. “Not you.”
Ushering Ines to the cart, Inerishia heard a ripple of rustlings and branch snaps coming from the trees which bordered the beach. Those were definitely not Shion. She released the horse and lifted Ines on its back, preparing to get up on it as well. However, a multitude of demons with spears and swords snuck out from the forest, blocking the escape route, and when she turned to look at the sea, she saw many more enemies coming out from the water.
Marching proudly, Divian extended his arms. “Kendel, you were once the one who chased us out, now it’s our time to chase you. I’ll bring your head to Saulten.” He thrust the spear into the darkened sand and roared, “Devils! Rise!”
The demons swarmed the beach, targeting Kendel. Inerishia swung an arm and blew them away with a powerful stroke of wind, Vlin standing shield between her and the demons emerging from the forest. Kendel pushed aside an incoming attackers’ troop by telepathically controlling the sea water to wipe them away with furious waves.
Divian was, however, left untouched by the water. The waves were avoiding him. Eyes closed, he spun the spear with one arm. “Do you think you’re the only one who can control the water?” he asked, then hit the land once again. A sand-eating crack appeared and spread, swiftly reaching under Kendel’s feet. Seawater gushed out of there and swirled around his shins, blocking him. Kendel soon realized that these wave spirals would not listen to any other than Divian, so he called his own wave to attack the demon and distract him, hoping the demon couldn’t control more than one water attack at the same time.
Inerishia dodged a rain of poisonous daggers that were thrown at her child, then blasted a group of demons who’d surrounded Vlin. Shion slithered down from a nearby tree and took back his human form of a man with long, grass hair. “Inerishia, take the kid and go back to the White Castle. This matter here is more complicated than it seems,” he said with a stern face, taking a moment to get lost in her azure eyes. “Also, my apologies for following you,” he mumbled.
Inerishia gave an understanding nod, then listened to the child who tugged her by the sleeve. “Mommy, look up!”
Plunging from the expanding steel clouds, winged demons with spears and daggers roared and surrounded Vlin, and Kendel, who was caught in a fierce fight with Divian. Inerishia raised a hand and forced a quick spell. The clouds spiraled, winding into dozens of foamy swirls. Bolts of lightning darted from the sky and struck the sand, burning many devils and sending the others tumbling for cover. She made sure to aim at Divian, too.
The demon-leader had sunken Kendel into a pool of waterlogged sand, up to the waist, when suddenly his spear absorbed a blinding thunderbolt, protecting him from being turned to ashes. Divian stepped back to regain his balance, then scanned the beach, quickly identifying the woman with bright ginger hair. “How dare you…” he growled, thrusting his shiny weapon up in the air. The lightning show ceased instantly, fitful incandescence lingering between the thick clouds.
Inerishia grabbed her chest as a heavy pain spidered inside of her. Gasping for air, she propped herself by the horse. Before she knew it, Shion was right behind her, helping her remain standing. “I told you to leave,” he scolded her, then glanced up at the frightened child who cried for her mother. “She’s fine,” he assured her. “Your mother needs to stop fighting until she recovers.”
When her breathing normalized, Inerishia searched for Kendel. He was out of the deep slump, fighting Divian with a spear he’d snagged from a burnt demon. The beach was mostly clear, but Devils were still emerging from the sea, the winged ones, who’d survived the lightning attack, darting at Vlin.
Weakened inside, Inerishia turned around. “Shion, please help them. I promise to come back as soon as I leave Ines in a safe place.” Shion stared at her coldly, then shape-shifted into a great dragon with red scales, spewing hot air on all the demons that blocked the entrance into the woods.
Inerishia didn’t wait for a reply. She mounted the horse, the child’s weeping calming down when a warm, gentle arm embraced her. They drove off, retracing the path back to the stronghold. However, the mother had no intention of entrusting her daughter to Gladiole’s care. The war with the Devils was solid evidence that, this time, her vision had been accurate, so she was determined to get in touch with General Waltario.
A tree slumped before the horse, blocking their way. The panicked horse neighed, rearing up, almost throwing down Inerishia. She pulled the reins and regained her balance when a demon dropped from a tree right on the horse’s back and stabbed her in the shoulder. Muffling a groan of pain, the lady summoned the air to push him, then unmounted the horse that had become listless and unresponsive to her commands. Presently, it jumped over the obstacle and galloped away, raising clouds of dust on the path to the White Castle. At least it would alarm the stronghold members to come after them.
Inerishia let the crying kid slid down from her good arm so she could attempt a healing spell at her injury. The bleeding stopped quickly, but the flesh opposed to her foggy energy that radiated from her palm. “Argh, it was a poisoned dagger,” she cursed, shutting her eyes.
“Mommy, are you okay?” Ines said between sobs.
“Yes. Don’t worry. I’m going to be fine. It will only take longer and more energy to heal,” the woman explained with a weak voice. The white energy grew brighter on the injury. She had to hurry up to pull out the poison before it would render her unconscious.
Leaves rustled and soon, four demons plummeted from the green arcade of the trees, raising their weapons and surrounding the two. Ines shrieked and buried her face into her mother’s long robe. Keeping the healing constant, Inerishia spun to analyze her opponents. It was too late. They’d already thrown their daggers at her heart. She ducked, covering the kid with her arms, then stood and blasted them with a circling current, clearing the way for a couple of moments which allowed them to run.
As long as she was going to follow the path, the demons could easily anticipate where she was headed at and block her way. With the injury superficially healed, she entered the woods.
Flying demons darted upon her from the sky where the tree crowns were thinner, the lady blowing them away before reaching close. It was impossible for her to carry the kid at her chest and also fight, so she’d let Ines run on her own, glancing at her once in a while to make sure she was keeping the pace. Ines ran as fast as she could, one hand clutching the corner of her mother’s sage robe, the other wiping tears.
Inerishia didn’t run aimlessly. She knew that somewhere in the woods was a cave where she could take a break. As soon as she noticed a clearing in the forest, she swerved that way, grabbed her child’s hand and took out the piece of crystal she’d stolen from the stronghold, making them both invisible. The flying demons halted in the sky, baffled at that sudden disappearance, while the ones on the ground gathered from all sides, gawking at one another.
“Don’t be fooled by her trick!” a winged demon said. “Search for her. She can’t stay invisible forever. If we catch her, we can conquer the White Castle as well, and then this land will be all ours!” Enthralled by this promise, the demons set on searching, sniffing with their sharp noses as they searched for the smell of a human. However, Inerishia had long ago flown from there, riding on a blaze of wind and reaching to the cave.
Finally getting some moment to catch her breath, she put the crystal back in a pocket, then knelt to check her child for any bad injuries.
“Mommy, what’s going on?” Ines cried watching her mother’s face covered by a couple of wet strands of hair, heaving with exertion.
She didn’t answer as she had to make a quick decision. Every use of her powers was consuming from her energy which she later needed for the fight with Divian, and at the same time, she had to leave her little girl in a safe place, the Arid Kingdom’s castle. Flying was energy-consuming, but it was the fastest way.
“I’m going to let you in Waltario’s care, Ines.” She embraced the girl and activated the stone of invisibility again, then flew on a powerful gust of wind to the great palace of the Arid Kingdom, a building which was not too far from the White Castle. Its people were simple humans, who had no idea about the existence of demons or people with magical powers, except for General Waltario and King Martin.
High above the treetops of the forest, the two observed the shiny golden roofs of the grand palace and a miniature of the courtyard: people in colorful robes and dresses meandering and talking, soldiers patrolling carelessly, servants carrying baskets of water or laundry, and gardeners pruning the numerous bushes of roses. None of them had any idea of what was going on the faraway shore of the sea.
“This might be the safest place, indeed,” Inerishia murmured to herself, then started instructing her child about do’s and don’ts for the time she would be staying there.