Selunia was in her room in full swing. Helped by Elis, she was packing her luggage. The Arid Kingdom was a country where she had spent a part of her early childhood. The Ardensis family ruled over the Arid Kingdom and she was going to live in their palace, just like before.

In her heart, there was a mixture of sadness and happiness. Sadness because she would be away from Elis and Ryan. Happiness, because she was leaving for a better place. Her parents kept telling her she must go there, so Selunia strongly believed that there she would be accepted better than at the White Castle, that her abilities would be much more useful there, and that she would be given an honorable title.

She was upset because for years, she had been trying to awaken her inner power, without success, without getting even the slightest result. At the White Castle, without this ability, she couldn’t obtain even the stature of a novice soldier.

She got to the age of nineteen only able to master the crystal-gloves, while everyone else had long since been busy with developing and controlling their inner power. Because of this, the vast majority of the White Castle’s inhabitants were distant toward her, her only good friends consisting of Elis and Ryan, whose high rank protected her from teasing and mean comments. Now they were her source of sadness. She was about to say goodbye to them, not knowing when she would be able to see them again.

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Elis, noticing Selunia standing stock-still in front of an open drawer in a melancholy state, went to her and asked, “Um, Selunia? Do you really want to go there just because your parents told you so? Do you remember what you told me some years ago?”

“Mmm, what? What was I saying?” Selunia asked, distracted by the question.

Elis chuckled for a moment. Pretending to be Selunia-child, she said theatrically, “I want to be Prince Soris’ right hand! Prince Soris was my best friend while I stayed in that palace. I want to thank him somehow when I grow up. I’ll learn to fight for him!”

“Aaa, yees…” Selunia confirmed, lowering her eyes back to the drawer and setting to noisily searching through things.

Remembering her short, innocent childhood with Prince Soris, her face lightened with a smile. Seeing that, Elis came to her and whispered in her ear, “But it’s not just gratitude, right? You like him and now you can—”

“Hey!” Selunia exclaimed to stop her. “It’s been a while since then; it’s been more than a decade.”

Trying to count the exact number of years, Selunia abandoned her search. She looked seriously into her friend’s eyes, and asked, “Do you think he still remembers me after such a long time?”

“You do remember him!” sang Elis in reply.

Selunia sighed deeply, watching her happily dancing around the room. She knew very well what Elis was implying.

Elis continued, amused, “Finally you’ll meet the one who makes your heart beat fast like a bee’s wings, hihihi! I’ve been waiting for so long to hear your story of…”

“Elis!”

“Oh, come on, Selunia, don’t be so shy! You know pretty well what I feel for Ryan. Why don’t you admit that your heart is still—”

“Elis! If it were truly so, I’d have told you. Don’t tease me about what I said when I was little. Even then, it was about just a simple friendship… Now, putting this joke aside, do you realize that you and I might never see each other again?”

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Suddenly the room went silent. Elis stopped her hopping. Selunia had said something she didn’t have the courage to talk about.

Elis took on the face of someone who had accepted her destiny, and calmly said, “At some point, we’d still have to go our separate ways. Maybe not this year, but I’m sure that later Ryan will receive the Initiation Mission, and I’ll go with him, and who knows when we’ll come back to the Castle?”

Elis, hands at her back, leaned against the edge of a table and hid her face from Selunia. She said in a low voice, as if she didn’t want to be heard, “If only we all had the same ranking…”

But Selunia heard her. Elis’ words drew a sharp cut in her soul. She bent back to her drawer and shut her eyes tightly to block the tears, then said with sorrow, “You know very well that I tried as much as I could to awaken my inner power. For a while I even gave up on using the crystal-gloves just for that, but aside from injuries, I didn’t get anything.”

She suddenly raised her face up to the ceiling to refrain from crying. “I feel so sorry… I don’t understand why nothing worked for me, when I was just like you.”

“Selunia! Please don’t be sad! After all, it’s our fault as well that we didn’t succeed to help you. Everybody here was so hostile to you.”

Chapter 1, The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

Elis came back to her, took her by the hand, and encouraged her. “I’m sure you’ll make it there! I’m sure your parents know best why you should go there. I think we should see the good part of things. Who knows, maybe there you’ll be able to awaken your inner force, and later you’ll come with me on missions!”

A glimmer of hope rose on Selunia’s face. It was a great idea. For a few seconds they stared at each other; then they burst into laughter.

“Ahaha, what’s with this serious mood?” shouted Elis, trying to regain her usual joyous attitude.

“That’s right!” exclaimed Selunia, laughing. “Come on, let’s have some fun!”

They joined hands and spun round in circles a few times, like two little girls. It was an attempt to forget about the sorrow, about the sad part of the situation, an excessive joy that superficially covered the emptiness inside.

Suddenly Elis stopped in place, as if she had remembered something important. “Oh, Selunia! Why didn’t I think about this? You’re going to meet Prince Soris. Do you intend to go to him dressed like this?”

“Then how?” asked Selunia, confused.

“The first impression matters. Come with me to choose a beautiful dress!”

In the meantime, although it wasn’t even eleven o’clock, General Waltario of the Arid Kingdom arrived at the White Castle courtyard, led by Prince Ryan.

“You came much earlier than expected,” he told the general.

“Yes,” sighed the general. “I must move tactfully, and make sudden changes of plans to make sure I’m not detected. Theoretically, the long war is over, but practically, we’re still on alert.”

Keeping up a short, cordial discussion with the prince, the general advanced on the white stone pavement of the stronghold’s yard, to the small castle where Selunia’s room was to be found.

Read on Chapter 1, The Arid Kingdom series - Book #1

The general had a serious and determined look on his face, and was tall, with short hair, gray here and there. He wore large, simple metallic armor with a golden badge—a symbol of his high rank. This equipment made him look a lot heftier than he was, and even more imposing. He carried a big packet in one hand.

Getting almost to the entrance, he stopped briefly to admire the building and all the things around it, enjoying the castle’s specific quietude and cleanliness. The general was well-known for his skills in the army’s affairs and, although he had the fierce look of a real commander, he was a kind-hearted man.

“Your palace is so grand!” he exclaimed. “It’s good you’re independent of the Arid Kingdom and Central Palace’s control. In our palace, it’s a terrible mess right now.”

“We have our own problems too,” Ryan pointed out respectfully.

He didn’t know the general very well, but his imposing character made Ryan carefully choose his words before speaking out. The general was the only person from the Arid Kingdom whom he’d ever talked to. Besides, the general was the only one who could get in touch with the White Castle. Selunia’s parents were on good terms with him; they had shown him, at some time, a place in the barrier-forest where he could lay letters for the Castle and, in the end, get access inside. Each time, it was Ryan who opened the magical barrier and led the general to the castle.

Shortly afterward, General Waltario arrived at Selunia’s room. She greeted him respectfully, but also in a familiar tone.

Ryan looked confused about the formal turquoise dress Selunia wore. It was long, tight-waisted and sleeveless, with white lace and flounces. It gave her a fairy-like aura. He went to Elis and asked in a whisper, “Is this the same dress from that party two months ago?”

“Yes,” Elis whispered back. “She’ll get to meet Prince Soris, after all.”

Ryan pondered for a few moments. Should I tell her that those from the kingdom are barely recovering from a long war? I don’t think it’s a good occasion for her to go in fancy dress. And I’ve heard the prince is quite a boor… Oh, but if I tell her that, Elis will get upset for sure.

After a somewhat short talk, during which the general reflected on the passing of time, Selunia received the big packet from him.

As she curiously measured the box covered in ash-colored cloth, Waltario told her, “You should put on the costume from the packet. I’ll explain what it’s all about later. Now, I’m a bit in a hurry. I’ll wait for you in the yard. In about a quarter of an hour, we’d better be leaving.”

And so, instead of the wonderful party dress, Selunia sat now in front of the mirror, dressed in a grotesque soldier costume from the Arid Kingdom. It masked all Selunia’s feminine features. From any angle you looked, the final impression was that of a short, stout soldier. Even her face was unrecognizable thanks to the helmet, which covered her eyes with special smoky glass.

“I can’t believe this…” Selunia mumbled, disappointed.

“Try to tighten the belt a little again,” Elis hopelessly advised her.

“It can’t be tightened any more. I confess I had a feeling that I wouldn’t be able to go there in the party dress, but… not like this, either.”

“Maybe you’ll get to change into something else before meeting Soris.”

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