Chapter 11 – Family Reunion (The Prequel)

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A bright beam of light streamed down upon Waltario’s rough hands. Using a small brush, the man was concentrated on carefully cleaning a small but complex piece of metal needed for one of his inventions. His father had left him many objects he could use to build weapons or vehicles. Some of them were said to have been stolen from the enemies’ during wartime, but Constantine was certain others had had a strange history which his father had preferred to keep for himself.

The general’s heavy desk was cluttered with paper sheets and rulers, screws, nuts, and bolts, just like his cabinets and shelves were crammed with a number of objects ordered by a kind of logic only he was able to understand. Inventions were his passion and the palace saw only a benefit in that. As he was doing his work, a smile kept playing on his face. His studio was livelier than usual. The two children, Soris and Ines, were squeaking and running in large circles around him and his desk. The boy was glowing with joy after he’d found the liqueur bottle with the king’s hidden message. Waltario had assured him that, after this discovery, Lady Voronchi would not dare to come again in the palace. That was the greatest piece of news to Soris. Once the king’s relationship with Lady Voronchi was over, the boy was sure he would get to see his mother laugh again.

Waltario’s brother entered the studio and was taken by surprise when the prince suddenly bumped into him.

“Oh, sorry,” said the boy, then started after Ines who scampered away, shrieking playfully.

Constantine’s younger brother followed them for a couple of seconds, blinking incredulously, then he advanced to the general and said, “I see you’re allowing them to play in your studio.”

Constantine let the piece of metal down on the desk and wiped his fingers on a dirty handkerchief. “Well, they’re my kids now,” he said, watching for a brief moment their loud trotting on the wooden floor. “I guess I was meant to be a father at this age, so I’m not going to run away from my destiny.”

Young Waltario stifled a laugh, then his eyes roved over the two again. Ines had tripped and now the boy was helping her get up.

“You okay, Princess?” the boy asked, offering his hand to lift her up.

“Yes. Thank you, Soris.”

Young Waltario let out a nostalgic sigh. “First love is so beautiful,” he commented. “I wish I could turn back time.”

Constantine picked up some screws and put them in a small box. “They’re kids. They’re not in love.”

As Ines was tidying her new dress offered by the general, Soris touched her silky locks.

“Wow, your hair is so long,” he gasped with admiration.

Young Waltario was all smiles at this scene. He leaned forward propping his arms on the desk and whispered to the general, “I hope we won’t need to forge letters for the prince like we did for his dad. He seems to charm girls from an early age.”

Constantine shot him a look of disapproval. “He’s just a curious kid. Don’t misjudge him.”

“I pity you,” his brother replied, amusing himself.

Past eight o’clock at night, the kids were playing in silence with some cardboard cubes, when suddenly the metal door swung open. Waltario turned around and met two unexpected visitors: Kendel and Inerishia. They both greeted him with tired smiles and pale faces as they hadn’t undergone a full rehabilitation procession. The war was over but they had to hurry up to check their daughter.

“Mommy! Daddy!” Ines yelled, running to them, abandoning the castle of cubes she had been building with the prince. Soris got up and went after her, slowing down when he saw the two tall strangers in long grey robes.

Inerishia dropped to her knees and squeezed her daughter in her arms. “Oh, my dear. I’m so glad you’re fine,” she mumbled with a faint voice. After running a quick visual check on the girl, she glanced up at the general, and said, “Thank you, General. Thank you.” Constantine was so astonished to see them that he could only reply with a polite nod.

Kendel took advantage of this moment and snatched the girl from his wife, lifting Ines in his arms. “My brave little girl, I thought I’d never see you again,” he said leaning his forehead against hers. Inerishia got up and embraced the two. “I’m so glad I could save you both today,” she said, resting her head on Kendel’s shoulder.

Constantine and Soris witnessed their family moment in silence, not daring to interrupt them. It was a sight they both had never seen in their own lives. Soris stared at them, trying to understand how that felt. His parents barely talked, and when they did, they were either cold with each other or trading glares. At least, that was how he’d gotten to see them in the corridors and conference rooms, as the two never shared a meal together. He watched with sad frustration and slight envy how Kendel played with Ines and kissed her forehead. King Martin would roll his eyes whenever he was called dad.

Waltario read that sorrow in the boy’s expression, so he pulled him close and patted him on the shoulder. Soris lifted his head and sketched a smile.

Feeling weakness crawling up his joints, Kendel let the girl down and knelt before her. “So what did my little one do here?”

“I gave Mommy’s letter to Waltario,” she said. Turning back her head and pointing at Soris, she added, “He helped me find him.”

The prince put his hands at his back and stepped forward shyly.

“Is it true?” Kendel asked. “You’ve helped my daughter find General Waltario?”

Soris sucked in his lips and nodded.

“Come here, buddy. I need to thank you properly.”

Soris did so, his eyes gleaming with joy.

“He also saved me from some bad kids,” Ines rushed to say.

Kendel gave the boy a pat on his shoulder then started ruffling his hair, saying, “It seems my girl has already found a knight here to protect her. Thank you, brave knight!”

Soris giggled, enjoying the fatherly warmth that spread on his head. Waltario cleared his throat and stepped forward. “He’s the prince actually. Future king, Prince Soris of the Arid Kingdom,” he stated loud and clear as if he presented the boy in front of a crowd.

Kendel’s smile stretched to an awkward grin. He hurried to tidy the boy’s hair. “My apologies, Your Highness,” he said rapidly. Little did he know that he’d been the first person to ever mess with the prince’s hair like that.

Kendel withdrew his hand, excusing his prior statement. “I thought he was your boy.”

Waltario shook his head and chuckled with a slow blink. “I’m divorced.”

His visitors’ face expressions dropped the smiles. Master Astute hadn’t communicated to them this piece of news. Not many in the White Castle knew what happened in the Aridens’ castle, and if they knew, they didn’t talk about it. Gossiping about the mortals’ affairs didn’t suit the superior people.

“Oh, I’m sorry to hear that,” Kendel said with clear shock.

Constantine remained relaxed. “You don’t have to. I’m happy.”

They burst into laughter, except for Inerishia who simply couldn’t see that as an honest reply. She let them have a men-only talk and turned to thank the little boy for keeping good company to her daughter. When she squatted before him, she noticed the black stone hanging by the prince’s neck. He’d been so busy jumping and playing with Ines that he hadn’t realized his secret talisman sat now shining brightly over his clothes. Inerishia refrained her impulse of touching the talisman, and began with a soft voice, “Thank you, Your Highness, for protecting our girl.”

“Oh, it was nothing. I only did what I had to do,” he said, overcome with emotion, delighted by the fairy aspect of Ines’ mother. The intense color of her azure eyes and ginger hair was something he’d only seen in his naïve drawings with colored pencils.

Inerishia took a close look at the talisman, her intuition telling her that was not a normal necklace. Its shape, its unique frame, and decorations, she recognized them immediately. “You have such a beautiful necklace. Who gave it to you?” she asked.

Soris hurried to hide the stone back under his clothes. “It’s a secret,” he replied, avoiding eye-contact, regretting he couldn’t talk freely with the beautiful fairy.

“Was it a tall man with grey hair?” she insisted.

Soris glanced at her in surprise then lowered his eyes to the ground, keeping quiet. That attitude was enough of an answer to Inerishia. She got up, with a confused expression on her face, trying to piece together some information and memories from a long time ago.

In the meantime, Kendel was explaining to the general that Ines would have to stay longer in his care. “Our mission is going to last about six months, so we’ll have to trouble you with this. She needs to be in somebody’s care. Someone we can trust, and at this moment that is nobody else than you. I’m sorry, Waltario.”

“That’s fine. I don’t mind,” the general said. “It’s just that we need to talk some details. What name should I call her? I understand that you want everything to be a secret, but she’ll need a name if she has to stay here.”

Kendel nodded his head in approval, glad that Constantine was paying attention to such details. He hadn’t thought about that. He’d been so drained of energy during the battle that his power of thinking was now weak compared to his normal days. “Well, let me ask my wife about this. Darling, what should they call our daughter?”

“Selunia.”

Kendel turned around with raised eyebrows. “Whoa, that was quick. But anyway, I really like that name.” He repeated that name a few times to himself then returned to Constantine. “General, you may now call her Selunia.”

“So she’s Selunia Karleyani,” Constantine noted to himself.

The boy paid close attention, remembering that name.

“Well, it’d be better if you didn’t use that last name either,” Inerishia said.

“Oh, all right.”

As they were deciding on the last name, Soris went to the girl with increasing excitement. “So you do have a name but it has to remain a secret.”

Selunia nodded in approval.

“Okay. I get that. I have my secret, too. But your last name truly is Karleyani, right?” he insisted, intrigued by the mystery around his new playmate.

“Yes. That’s true. But that’s also a secret,” she reminded him, awkwardly trying to wink at him.

Soris laughed then said in order to get used to the change, “Selunia, you have a beautiful name.”

Kendel turned around and smiled hearing the prince pronouncing that name, but then as much as he liked it, something made him overly-curious. Why had his wife chosen a name that would match the prince’s name? Selunia was definitely referring to the moon while Soris was obviously related to the sun. He looked at Inerishia and saw that she had a serious expression on her face, too serious for their happy family reunion.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoyed reading this chapter!

P.S.: The final chapter was too long to be posted as only one chapter, so this is not the final chapter.

Chapter 10 – The Fire – Part II (The Prequel)

Waltario put a cloth on Ines, “Here, kid. You must be cold. This mist has a certain chilly air around it,” he said, glancing at the dense mat of clouds. The loud claps of thunder made the girl cower and wrap herself in the olive-colored blanket. It felt so soft and warm, that she could drop back to sleep in a second. Still, riding such a bizarre metal beast was way too exciting to fall asleep. It cut through the air smoothly like the wind, sweeping above the dusty road barely leaving any trace.

Waltario was maintaining a constant, calm speed. He didn’t want to reach home too quickly as he had to make up some lie before bringing the child in the palace. Lying was a difficult thing for him. Although his strategic and fighting skills were much appreciated, his father had always scolded him for being blunt. Being honest in every situation could turn into his disadvantage, but Martin liked that. As a king, he’d wished to have someone who could never lie to him. Constantine, on the other hand, admired Martin’s artfulness in conversations and was determined to grasp some of that. So far, in important international conferences, when some internal things were better to remain a secret, he kept silent most of the time and just nodded to whatever the king was saying, marveling at how deceiving wordings can be.

“Oh, that’s Master Astute,” he heard the girl’s crystalline voice, which disrupted his flow of thoughts. Close into the distance, he saw a man stepping out from the misty forest and positioning himself in the middle of the road as to block their way. He wore a brown cloak like most of the Arid Kingdom travelers and, hadn’t Ines recognized him, Waltario couldn’t have told he was the White Castle’s commandant. Before stopping the vehicle, Constantine whispered to Ines, “Cover your face well and don’t look at him. He mustn’t find out who you are.” Ines listened to him and drew the blanket over her excited eyes. This entire secrecy game was starting to get fun.

Waltario got off and walked toward the quiet commander. After the strange and persistent Rainbow Mist, he was sure Astute had some explanations to give his neighboring state. Or maybe it was really bad news and the White Castle wanted to announce them that the war was getting out of their control. Waltario’s steps became draggy for the last couple of yards before reaching the commander who slightly bowed his head instead of saluting. Constantine did the same while trying to read something on his face.

“General Waltario, our meeting here must remain a secret,” Astute said with his diplomatic smile.

“I know. What—”

Astute’s icy eyes shifted to Ines. “Who’s the girl?” he asked, a clap of thunder joining his voice.

Waltario’s breath was cut off. His lie wasn’t ready yet, but that didn’t mean he would give himself away. He clenched his jaws and curled his fists only to realize his right hand was already shaking. One deep breath and he maintained his gaze expressionless, his mind concentrating on keeping his right hand still. His father had taught him to never allow his hand to involuntarily lift up to the back of his head. That could instantly betray his nervousness. But so far so good. His right hand was tense like an arrow in a bow.

“She’s a… she’s… from there. I mean, but why…?” he stammered, trying to make up a lie right on the spot. It was a useless struggle. Words were impossible to find and his left hand was already resting on the nape of his neck.

Astute watched him for a second then his smile turned into a smirk. “All right. You don’t have to tell me. I understand. A divorce doesn’t end so easily.”

They both started to laugh, Constantine feeling relieved and embarrassed at the same time. He had to consider himself lucky things had turned out this way without him saying anything clearly.

“What brings you here?” he asked to divert the discussion.

Astute let out a sigh. “Today’s ambush was a heavy blow to my soldiers, but thankfully, we managed to come out to light. You did well to block the circulation around here. I came because I heard a man of yours had been attacked.”

“Oh, it was nothing. Your soldiers did an awesome job of keeping everything covered by the mist. The merchant is safe now, and don’t worry, he hasn’t seen any of your people or your fighting techniques.”

“Good. I put out the fire on that carriage you left behind. I apologize on behalf of my community for failing to keep our troubles within our boundaries.”

“It’s fine. Nothing of great consequence happened, so we’re not going to make a fuss about this,” Waltario assured him, knowing that this talk was mostly a custom rather than showing real concern. Most of the White Castle members were too arrogant to care about the simple inhabitants of the Arid Kingdom. But the continental supervisors, the Central Palace, were eager to give punishments to those who failed to maintain the peace between the states, so despite their superiority, the White Castle had to abide by the rules, too. 

“Thank you,” Astute replied, making to leave. “Then keep the road blocked until tomorrow to give my people enough time to clean up the mess the devils did today.”

“Sure.”

Master Astute glanced again at the girl who was having fun cloaking herself in the military blanket. “You picked a dangerous day to take her out,” he said, intrigued to find out more about the general’s personal affairs.

Constantine shrugged and chuckled shortly as he’d learned from Martin to be one of the best answers in delicate situations. It worked.

A bit disappointed, Astute said his farewell, then walked back into the foggy forest, vanishing in the eerie atmosphere. Waltario finally relaxed his shoulders and went to the vehicle, amusing himself to see Ines wrapped in the blanket like a mummy. He slid a finger to lift the covering on her purple eyes. “You’re having fun, aren’t you?” he said, then turned around immediately as he heard a chorus of alarmed voices.

“General! Are you all right?”

His soldiers from the barrier had come to check on him. Astute had definitely planned well his appearance and disappearance. Perfect timing to go away before others could see him.

Constantine approached them. “I’m fine. It was just a mild fire after lightning had struck a tree.”

He saw his soldiers’ smiles stretching under the helmet’s protective glasses. “We were so worried,” one of them said. “We thought something really bad had happened when we saw the merchant’s horse jumping over the barrier and running wildly.”

“Yeah. It had foam at its mouth,” said another.

They all laughed, glad that their general was safe and sound. “Where’s the merchant?”

“I sent him to the watchtower. He was too scared to walk this way along the mist.”

The soldiers nodded, then turned their heads in Ines’ direction. The general stiffened once again.

“I can’t believe someone would let their children go and play in this area,” one said.

“Maybe she got lost,” other commented.

“Maybe she’s a beggar.”

“Or an orphan.”

The soldiers started chattering on that subject each wondering about how their general had found the child. Still, none of them dared to ask the question directly, so Constantine was relieved he could postpone the process of thinking of a proper lie. All well until Price Soris arrived and ran to the vehicle. “Oh, Princess! Are you all right?” he asked, peeking under the makeshift hood which nodded.

The prince had done his best to follow the soldiers after the frightened horse had passed by. Everyone was too focused on getting to the general as soon as possible, so they forgot about him resting in the tent.

Waltario watched the soldiers’ puzzled faces then went to the prince, ignoring the murmur of questions that started behind his back.

“So this was your princess,” he said, laying a hand on the boy’s shoulder. Soris turned around and looked up with gratitude. “Thank you, general.”

“I should thank both of you. If it weren’t for you two, the merchant might have died or at least gotten hurt today.”

Soris grinned and Ines snuck out her head to lift a smile at him. Waltario watched their bright faces for a moment, remembering the talk with the king and Inerishia’s letter, then commented to himself, heaving a sigh, “Now I have two kids in my care.”

The two started giggling then Ines suddenly remarked, “Oh, the bottle!” She lowered a sad gaze on the boy. “I’m sorry. I didn’t find it.”

Soris nodded then hung his head. “It’s all right,” he mumbled, digging in the road’s earth with his foot. “We’ll get it next time.”

“The carriage is still there. We can go search for it now,” the general said, bringing back the hope to both of them.

Soris rejoiced and jumped on the vehicle’s saddle. “Let’s search for it together!”

I hope you enjoyed today’s post. Thank you all for your support!

(Next chapter is going to be the last one.)

Chapter 10 – The Fire – Part I (The Prequel)

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The carriage’s wheels creaked awkwardly as the merchant was having a hard time coaxing the horse to turn around. Waltario watched them struggling to execute a series of back and forth movements, avoiding getting close to the misty wall that covered the tumultuous battle between the White Castle soldiers and the devils. As long as the fog wasn’t expanding onto the road, Constantine was certain the danger was limited.

The back wheels rolled close to his boots, the curtained windows of the wagon catching his attention. Could there really be a princess inside? And a liqueur bottle with a hidden message? Constantine wanted to check the contents of the carriage, but then if he were to find a young lady inside, he would have to give the merchant some explanations, putting everyone in a delicate situation, especially the supposed princess. Waltario sighed then checked the piece of crystal of his odd vehicle to refrain his curiosity. He would find a better opportunity to verify the young prince’s words.

When they were finally ready to return, the merchant wiped his forehead with the back of his hand. “All right, Jackie, we’re fine now,” he said, clutching the bridles tightly. “Don’t you ever think of starting to run again.” Jack shook its head and snorted.

“I hope that’s a yes,” the merchant grumbled, narrowing his eyes.

As they were about to set out, a loud thunder reverberated all over, and out of the misty forest, a flaming tree crashed upon the wagon setting it on fire. The merchant yelled for help, almost collapsing on the ground as the horse snatched itself free from his grasp and started galloping madly. Fire arrows came flying out of the mist, arching in the air, so Constantine grabbed the scared-stiff merchant by the collar and dragged him to the other side of the road. The arrows thrust into the earth, burning quickly. It was unclear whether they’d targeted them or arrived there accidentally.

“The road is too dangerous,” the general said, after some thought. “Run through the clear forest straight ahead. There’s a watchtower nearby and my men are going to notice you immediately.”

“But what if the bandits are there?” the merchant gibbered with wide eyes.

“Trust me. They’re only in the mist otherwise they would’ve been caught by my men. Go now!”

The general’s commanding voice followed by a determined slap on the back set the merchant in motion. He quickly found a path in the peaceful woods and followed it mindlessly, tripping on small pieces of rocks and crushing dry twigs under his desperate steps. Meanwhile, Constantine mounted his flying vehicle and started at full speed to catch the horse from behind. In just a couple of seconds, he could see its long mane flaring behind, undulating fluidly like a black flame. The burning tree had fallen on the road, but the fire on carriage’s roof did not cease. On the contrary, it expanded quickly, destroying the delicate wooden carvings. If a girl really was inside that wagon, her life was in danger and Constantine had to hurry up. Right behind the horse now, he drew his sword out and prepared to aim precisely at the traces that kept the carriage tied to the bewildered horse. The noise was definitely going to scare the horse even more, so he had to act quickly.

Jack neighed and swerved a little, making things more difficult. Constantine rearranged his position and held his breath as he slashed the traces with two powerful sword blows. Jack ran away even faster now that he was free, but Constantine was worried about something else. He got off and hurried to open the wooden wagon’s doors. A little girl with long black hair lay unconscious on the planking of the floor as the fire stretched on the roof, spilling dark smoke in the air. Waltario quickly took Ines in his arms and stepped away from the wagon. After checking her pulse, he looked at Ines’ face and commented to himself, “That boy didn’t tell me you were such a young princess. You’re lucky I’ve listened to him otherwise—”

He stopped talking as he noticed the girl opening her eyes and curiously lifting them at him. The prince hadn’t been lying when he’d said she’d had lilac eyes. Somehow their strange familiarity was making the general feel uneasy. Where had he seen something similar before?

“General Waltario?” the girl asked after thoroughly analyzing his eagle badge.

Constantine shuddered. How did she know his name?

“Yes. I am General Waltario,” he confirmed, after some hesitation.

“It’s for you,” she said, handing over the piece of paper hidden at her chest.

Constantine let the girl rest on his vehicle’s saddle, then took the letter and unfolded it, reading the first line:

General Waltario,

This letter is for you only so don’t share it with anybody else, not even with the king.

Constantine frowned, but then eagerly continued to read, his nervousness growing with each word.

I am Inerishia K. from the White Castle and I’m going to need your help. The little girl who gave you this letter is my daughter and I need you to take care of her until I return. Do not reveal this to anyone.

Nobody, not even the White Castle, has to know she’s in your palace. Please keep her origins a secret. Until I come back, she has no parents and is a simple girl from your kingdom. That’s all you can say about her. For the sake of our old promise, please help me keep her safe.

Thank you.

Inerishia K.

Constantine read the letter once again to make sure he’d understood it correctly, then he crumpled it in his hands and threw it in the fire. As he watched it burn to ashes, he thought about those words. Inerishia, that unique name, brought back many memories from the times Martin was not yet king. That strange ginger-haired woman with incredible powers that had helped them bring the future queen safely to their palace… The letter was definitely hers. Waltario had sworn to help her and Kendel with whatever he could in the future, and here it was. That time had come.

He gazed at the mist. It all made sense. Since the White Castle was definitely under attack, Inerishia had to send the child to a safe place. Worry took root in him. If the White Castle wasn’t able to win this fight, then what would happen to their kingdom? Why had Inerishia asked to keep everything a secret even from her kin? Was this war hidden by the Rainbow Mist a battle even they could not win?

Arrows screeched through the air right above his head. Constantine cautiously turned around and walked to his vehicle. “Little girl, I’m going to protect you,” he said, patting the girl on her shoulder. “We’re going to talk more after I get you to a safe place.” He mounted his vehicle and started for the palace. Remembering the bottle of liqueur, he glimpsed back then shook his head. Safety first. He would return for it later.

Part II coming soon! I hope you enjoyed this post!

Chapter 9 – The Power of the Sea (The Prequel)

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Waves washed the bloody shore of the messy beach where many corpses of demons lay scattered. Lady Gladiole stood among them and gazed at the line where the faraway bright sky touched the abyssal blue of the sea. Kendel’s home island was the only visible piece of land that ruined the perfect beauty of the horizon. Before Kendel’s unfortunate appearance in her daughter’s life, Smarald Island had used to be a beautiful view. The unique vegetation of trees with large leaves and bright green trunks was a wonder to marvel at, but it now turned to be a bad memories carrier.

Tired soldiers passed by obstructing the lady’s sight. Walking in pairs, leaning against their partner, they threaded their way to the improvised recovery center at the base of the cliff. Their armor wasn’t as sturdy as the Aridens’ as it was adapted to fit each one’s magical skills. It offered slight protection but helped them move easily and use their abilities without restriction. However, that cost them many wounds.

Gladiole had only a few injuries around her arms that were slowly fading, returning the skin to its initial flawless state. Although the storm clouds still circled above, the battle on the beach was over, so she took her time to meditate with a dubious faint smile on her face. She heard a rustle coming from the forest behind her, but that didn’t disturb her icy eyes from keeping their stare on the distance.

Shion, the shape-shifter, emerged from behind a curtain of broken trees and burnt branches, one hand squeezing the other to force some healing on a bleeding injury. He tottered to the lady and reported, “The devils managed to pass through the barriers. They almost killed a human.”

“Master Astute will take care of that,” she replied blandly.

Shion lost his voice for a moment at that reply, but then made a brave step forward. “The battle isn’t over in the forest. My lady, shouldn’t we do something about the clouds?”

The woman chuckled ignoring his question. “She’s crying,” Gladiole said with satisfaction.

Shion’s brows furrowed in a confused frown. “I’m sorry? Who’s crying?” he asked, searching around the beach to see someone crying. There was not a single soldier without wounds, but none of them cried. They were struggling to reach the cliff’s rocks, their faces expressing relief as they had finished their missions. Shion couldn’t find any demon that still moved, and besides that, he was certain there was no female among them.

Gladiole curled her thin lips, eyes barely blinking as if she were in a trance. “I can hear her wherever she may be. That man must have died. Finally, Kendel is gone. Now there’s only his daughter left.” She swiveled her neck to her left to glimpse at the mute visitor and asked, “Did you find out where Inerishia hid the child?”

Caught by a shiver of fear, Shion took one step back. He’d never imagined his superior would be interested in someone’s death. Feeling pressured, he managed to find the words to reply, “No. I did not. But shouldn’t we be concerned about the current matters? Our members got hurt.” He dared to lock eyes with her. “Besides, I don’t think Master Astute will agree to us not helping Kendel at all.”

Gladiole turned around to properly face her brazen underling. “You dare judge my commands?” She assessed the red stains on his forehead and temples that made his long wet hair shine even greener. A foolish boy who cared for the life of his love rival, Gladiole thought, noticing the sense of guilt glimmering in his dark irises. “Do you wish dust to be your last shape from now until forever?” she added sarcastically.

Shion lowered his chin, refusing to confront her. He did not want to take part in Gladiole’s plans anymore as he realized they were only going to hurt Inerishia. He started limping toward the recovery tents, hoping that what the lady had said about Kendel was not true. He bit his tongue, regretting he’d helped her stalk the couple.

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Surrounded by the susurrus of the sea waves, Inerishia lay on the dock still trying to heal Kendel who had lost his consciousness. Her vision was blurred both by tears and exhaustion, her senses not reacting to the drops of salty water that fell on her open injuries. The man’s body was getting colder under her faintly glowing hands, yet there was no way she would give up on Kendel’s life. Not so easily. However, despite her endeavors, the poison was still present, continuing to drain the life out of Kendel.

A sudden bigger wave poured over her feet, awakening her from the numb concentration. She took a moment to give her hands a chance to recharge, but then slumped to one side, dizzied by her relentless fight and the hurricane of emotions. She covered her eyes with the back of her hand, dreaming a solution. Maybe if she could last a whole day sustaining a slow healing process, Kendel would be able to say her name again. They would return to the stronghold and drink a rejuvenating tea, take some hours of rest and then think of their tomorrow mission, and maybe along the journey, they would find a peaceful place away from Gladiole and move there. But what about their daughter?

The sea became turbulent at the base of the rock Kendel sat on, so Inerishia made an effort to push herself to a seating position. The waves were now avoiding the rock, but the water seemed to boil. Could Divian come back to enjoy his victory and mock at her misery? She hoped not.

The boiling calmed down and then, all of a sudden, a hand thrust out of the spiral of bubbles, grasping for land. A second later, a fair-haired head popped out gasping for air, and laughing with joy. Inerishia winced and almost hit the shaggy appearance with a shard of stone, stopping only when the spray of water fell and revealed the face of an enthusiastic acquaintance.

“Marol!” she exclaimed, watching the man scrabbling up on the rock, right next to Kendel.

“Words later, dear sister-in-law.” Marol spoke rapidly, Inerishia not getting anything from his garble. But she didn’t need to understand him. She beamed with hope when he saw the man covering Kendel’s injury with both hands and attempting some powerful healing.

“It was poison,” she mumbled, leaning back on her elbow to take some rest. “It was poison, Marol,” she said louder, thinking the savior hadn’t heard her.

Marol didn’t say anything, his glee face from before being now replaced by a concentrated frown. Inerishia couldn’t understand how he’d managed to arrive here in such a tense moment, but she didn’t need to know. What mattered was that Marol was seen as an outcast just like Kendel, so he was the only one who would break any rules to save his sworn brother. They both had come from the same island and, just like Kendel, he had been at first misunderstood to be one of the White Castle’s kind. After the nature of his powers had been discovered, he’d been labeled an intruder, but he’d been luckier than Kendel. His in-laws had taken his side and defended him in front of the stronghold’s leaders.

“Come, already, Ken. You hate tragedies,” Marol grumbled, as he could tell the poison had been removed and he proceeded with the flesh healing.

Inerishia sat still, waiting for a sign from Kendel. Why wasn’t he saying anything? Maybe Marol had arrived too late. Why hadn’t he come earlier?

The water simmered once again, gentle waves bathing the rock’s margin. Marol’s wife was probably going to appear too, Inerishia presumed. The two were a couple that nobody and nothing could break apart, just like she and Kendel were—or maybe used to be.

“Did his eyelids move?” Marol asked, perusing his patient’s face. “Inerishia, could you check his breath for me? Gosh, why did stomach become so rigid?” he commented probing and prodding his friend, looking forward to some reaction.

The woman strained to stretch herself over to Kendel grabbing his face with both hands. “Kendel?” she whispered weakly.

Marol withdrew his hands as the wound was gone now. He watched Inerishia trying to shake some sense into her husband, then he let his gaze down to hide his dismay.

“We were just taking a detour when we met with the others. They said they’d been informed to return because some war started along the beach.” Marol went on explaining. “Since no one announced us, I figured out something was wrong, so I had to come. Lady Gladiole has been really weird lately. I understand why she would hate Kendel, but still, too much is too much. I hope she’ll get punished this time.” He stopped, holding back the resentful thoughts he had against the White Castle’s rules.

“Kendel?” Inerishia asked once again with a clear voice, hoping that the warmth she felt under her palms was not her own.

Kendel opened one eye, then swiftly shut it back. Inerishia watched him without blinking. Maybe she had started to have hallucinations.

“Can I hear you calling me again?” Kendel said, opening both eyes. Before he could hear anything else, his wife wrapped him in a suffocating embrace.

“Kendel! You’re back!” Inerishia cried, resurrecting the joy on Marol’s forlorn face.

As a happy chattering bloomed among the three, another head came out of the water. It was Beline, Marol’s wife, just like Inerishia had surmised.

Noticing that they were happy, Beline took her time to brush away the water dripping on her face and citrine hair, and stopped the glow on her body that had helped her swim rapidly under the sea. When she wanted to greet everyone, Marol dashed to cover her vision. “Wait! Don’t look at him!” he demanded, pouting at Kendel. “He barely has clothes on.”

Beline chuckled and tried to remove his blocking. “Oh, come on, Marol. He’s not naked,” she said.

“You are not allowed to see some other man’s chest,” Marol stated with an exaggerated military voice.

“Why?”

“Why are you even asking? You just shouldn’t!” he protested, mostly intending to joke. He’d always thought his friend was somehow more handsome than him.

Inerishia and Kendel laughed at the two, then held hands, gazing at each other, thankful that they got out of trouble.

“So where is our daughter now?” Kendel asked.

“She should be safe. I really hope so, though my vision in the morning said only one of you two will survive.”

“Is that why you didn’t want to tell me?”

Inerishia nodded, slipping into a meditative state, wondering whether Ines was doing well at the Aridens’ castle. It felt like a whole day had passed.

“Am I not allowed to know where exactly she is?” Kendel insisted, growing impatient.

The woman tilted her head toward the beach to suggest the danger that was still there. She knew Gladiole’s hearing abilities, so she didn’t want to risk revealing where she’d hid the little girl.

“She’s with your parents, haven’t I told you? Maybe we’ll visit her after the mission,” she said, squeezing his hands.

Kendel smiled and nodded as he understood the secret message. They now shared the same worry.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoyed this chapter!

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