Chapter 5 – The Hero (The Prequel)

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Ines took a seat on the soft carpet of the long hallway and held back her tears to prove herself as brave as her mother believed her to be. The bloody lines of the multiple scratches on her legs had dried, but she felt cold, and minutes later, she learned she was hungry as well. Holding her shins close to her chest, she pulled down the ragged hem of her dress to better cover her legs, then folded her arms around them, and let her head rest atop of the knees. The racing beats of her heart slowed down to normal rhythm as she thought back to her parents and the fierce attack. Her mother’s powers had surprised her and her father’s composure in a fight where he was outmatched assured her that they would be victorious. They would definitely come back and continue the trip to the sea.

The door of the hallway opened and two servants, a man, and a woman slid in.

“Oh, who’s this little girl?” the man asked squatting before her. Ines lifted her head, staring at him apprehensively.

“She must be some beggar,” the woman said, taken aback by the child’s purple gaze.

They saw the ragged and stained clothes, but they also noticed the high quality of the material, and the seams and decoration were something they’d never seen before.

“Her feet have fresh scars,” the man noticed. “We can’t just chase her out.”

The woman fumbled with her apron for a while, then stooped and whispered, “All right. I’ll mend those scars and give her some bread. But you have to help me. If the supervisor sees us with a beggar here, she’ll get really angry.”

“What if she’s not a beggar, though? She has golden earrings. Little kid, how did you get here? Where are your parents?”

Ines drew her chin to her chest, casting scared stares at the two. “I don’t have parents,” she mumbled. “I have a message for General Waltario.”

The two frowned incredulously, then widened their eyes with surprise. The man turned to the maid. “She’s here for the general. Let’s take good care of her.” He took the child in his arms and hastened to the kitchen.

*

Soris sprinted to Waltario’s studio, proud of his feat, but also afraid that his father will come after him. With a wide grin on his face, he closed the metal door behind his back, jumped over the few steps and landed on the grey ground of the room.

Pacing up and down, he was anxiously waiting for Waltario. What would the general say about his mischievous strategy? It had been definitely a success. Acting all sweet and nice, he’d managed to ruin the king’s farewell to the mistress. However, as minutes went by and the studio’s chilliness crept on his arms, worry took over. Maybe he’d get punished for hitting the king.

Scary steps trotted towards the studio and the general’s furious voice echoed unintelligibly in the corridor. The boy jumped in place. Waltario must have gotten upset. Soris started trembling. He didn’t have the courage to receive the great general’s scolding. Waltario, usually a calm man, was known to be terrifying when he got angry. The prince opened a cabinet and huddled inside, doing his best to make it look perfectly closed.

The door opened and the Waltario brothers trotted in. “He’s started making decisions based on that woman’s desires,” Waltario said, propping himself by his large, cluttered desk. “This must end right now. Lady Voronchi has gone too far with this. She’s slowly gaining power over the country. It’s like she’s the queen now.”
Little Soris frowned as he heard all these.

Young Waltario patted his older brother on the shoulder. “Still, what can we do? He’s totally bewitched by her.”

Waltario closed his eyes and plunged into deep thought. He said in a low voice, “We must find out who is the messenger, the one who sends and retrieves their letters. The king was the only one who knew that Lady Voronchi will come to visit the palace today. That means they are exchanging secret letters.”

Young Waltario scratched his head. “But I train the messenger pigeons and none of them has been missing.”

“He might not necessarily use a pigeon to communicate with her. Whatever it is, we must find out.”

“And what are you going to do after we find the messenger?”

Waltario opened his eyes, sketching a smile. “You’ll see. Now, let’s get going. Marshall said there’s something we must check out in the woods.”

Behind the cracked open doors of the cabinet, Soris remained quiet, promising himself to be the one who finds the messenger first. After all, he hated Lady Voronchi the most, and he knew all his father’s secret places. Making sure the general had left for good, he darted from the cabinet and went to gather clues. He already had a lead in his mind.

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In the royal kitchen, Ines sat at a table, nibbling some biscuits with the help of a glass of milk. She would have eaten a lot more heartily hadn’t the servants been staring at her, exchanging secret comments.

The door opened and the servant who’d first found her rushed in. “I was too late. The general has already left. We’ll have to wait until he comes back.”

“What are we supposed to do then? Keeping her here will only slow us down,” a maid said, seeing a bad omen in the little girl’s eyes.

The servant sighed. “Well, it’s pleasant weather outside. I’ll take her to the courtyard. Maybe she’ll like to play with the other children.”

Some of the maids rolled their eyes over the floor with a grimace, unpleased with this solution. Their kids were playing outside and they didn’t want them to get in touch with the strange girl.

The door opened again and a stout man in a long white apron strode in, followed by a short maid who beamed with excitement. Arms akimbo, the man stopped before the little girl, peered at her from above, then said with a commanding voice, “Well, I am General Waltario. What ya have to tell me?”

The maids muffled their chuckles in their hands, while the small maid gave them a nudge to keep the act. The little girl sipped some milk, watching the man’s round belly covered by stained cotton. Everyone waited in silence, aside from the main who servant thought this was a silly game.

“You’re not General Waltario,” Ines said, laying her glass on the table. The group gave a cry of disappointment.

“She knows the general. It’s no use to pretend,” the servant said, hurrying to take the girl outside. Had she stayed longer, the group’s minds would have set on searching for other sneaky tactics to find out the child’s message to the general.

Out in the courtyard, there weren’t any other children. The maids had made sure to call them back in the palace. The servant patted Ines on the shoulder. “Well, just wait here in the garden. The other kids should be here, too. I’ll come back to you after the general returns, okay?”

Ines nodded, although she didn’t want to be left all alone. As soon as the man departed, she went back immediately to thinking about her mother and father. Last time she’d seen them, they were both injured and fighting dreadful creatures. What if they couldn’t come back for her? Taking a seat on a long bench, she dabbled her feet in the air, mostly to keep herself awake. Now and then, she yawned, and soon it became hard to look at the bright sky. The hedge behind her invited her to rest her back against it.

Just when her eyes were about to close, a group of children came running by. Some were of her age, some were older or younger with a year or so, but they were all dressed in beautiful clothes of bright-colored silk. They were the nobility’s children, and at her sight, four of them approached her with curiosity.

“Hey, who’re you?” a boy asked. “You’re new here.”

She lifted a wary gaze at them, shrinking inside herself. “Who’re you?” she asked to get away from answering.

“I’m Thomas, the son of Boyar Taylor. But, wow, look at those eyes! Are they purple?” he asked, drawing the others’ attention. Pressured by their suffocating curiosity, Ines got off the bench and took a few steps back. Why were they so surprised?

“Oh, she really has purple eyes!” the tallest of them exclaimed, getting the rest of the kids to gather around. As they almost surrounded her, marveling at the color of her eyes, Ines started shaking inside. What if they tried to harm her? She kept a hand close to the pocket where she’d hidden the magical crystal of invisibility.

The chorus of gasps and remarks of admiration got to the ears of Annette, a little girl who, as the daughter of a highly-appreciated boyar, was used to receive everyone’s admiration all the time. When she saw that she was no more the center of attention, she rushed to Ines. “Stand back, everyone!” she demanded, planting herself in front of Ines, frowning with envy at the newcomer.

“Oh, gosh!” she exclaimed, taking a few steps back, and frightening the others. “Guys, don’t be fooled by her looks. She’s a dragon. That’s why she has those eyes, and, oh, look at her feet! She has scars on them! She pretends to be a human to fool us all until she recovers. Stay away from us, you freak!”

Ines stepped back, aghast. The fear became real, her eyes brimming with tears.

“Go away, monster!” another kid screamed, thinking Annette’s idea was fun. As the rest joined the anti-dragon team quickly, Annette pushed Ines into a bush. Before the rest could surround her, Ines got up and started running, tears glistening down her rosy cheeks. She clutched the piece of crystal, thinking of turning invisible, but just then she bumped into someone. Sobbing and wiping tears, she looked up. It was Prince Soris. He’d come to see what the commotion was all about.

“Uh, sorry,” he said, bowing respectfully. Noticing her tears, he smiled. He’d finally found the occasion to prove himself a worthy knight just like the heroes in the stories Teacher Coldpeak had given him to read. He had a damsel to save. “Who’s bothering you?” he asked, buffing his flat chest. Ines rubbed her eyes, sniffing loudly.

He took out a handkerchief out of his pocket and handed it heroically. “Don’t worry, princess. I’m here to save you.” Ines covered her face with the handkerchief, then sheltered behind his back. When the kids gathered around, Soris stood before them.

“Why are you attacking her?” he asked with a dignified voice.

“She’s weird. She has purple eyes,” Annette stated, lifting her chin.

“So what if she has purple eyes?” the prince said, not having noticed that by himself. “She’s a girl just like you. If a person has something that you don’t, it doesn’t mean they’re weird.” He said, gladly citing from his favorite collection of hero stories. “Everyone, return to your place. If you think she’s weird then I don’t, so go away and play with your common friends.”

The group mumbled and grumbled, but listened to his words and went back to their playground. No one dared to confront the prince. Soris turned to Ines, “See, I told you I’ll save you.”

Ines hinted a shy smile. “Thank you.”

“You’re welcome, err… what’s your name?”

“I don’t have a name,” she uttered, fearing he might become unfriendly just like the rest.
Soris blinked in confusion for a couple of seconds. “Well, then I’ll call you ‘Princess’.” He grinned. “I’m the prince of the Arid Kingdom, Prince Soris Ardensis. Call me Soris. Follow me, Princess. You’re my guest today.” He grabbed her hand and scampered toward the castle.

On their way, as they passed close to the building’s white walls, Soris noticed his mother’s withered appearance on one of the balconies. The companions had advised her to go out and take a breath of fresh air. Soris started jumping and waving until she cast her eyes on him. The queen feigned a smile, waving back at him. The boy pretended to be joyful, although the sorrow in those eyes was hard to ignore. When she returned to a meditative state, Soris let his arms at his sides and hung his head with a sigh. Ines saw everything and pitied the boy.

Dragging his feet, Soris brought her to the garden. Ines watched his sad face that had some resemblance to that of the lady on the balcony. “Was that your mom?” she asked. He nodded, ripping a leaf from the hedge and pretending to play with it.

“Why is she sad?”

The boy let the leaf fall and heaved up on a bench. “Dad is bad. He wants to replace Mom with a crone.”

“How come?”

“She bewitched him. That’s what everybody says. But I want to change that.”
Ines took a seat next to him. “How?”

He looked her straight into the eyes. “Promise not to tell?”

“Promise.”

“Okay. I’ll tell you a secret, but you have to tell me one, too.”

Ines nodded. Staring at her purple irises, Soris told her that he must find the messenger.

“I spied Dad a lot and I saw that he often puts something in a bottle before calling a servant to fill back the empty bottles. I think one of the servants is the messenger.”

“I can help you.”

“Really? How?”

“I have a stone that can make us invisible.” She pulled out the piece of crystal from her pocket.

Soris watched her in mute silence for a couple of seconds, then chuckled. “Hey, those things you read in stories are not real. Nobody can turn invisible.”

“Why? You’ve never heard of the crystal of invisibility?”

Like a wise man, the prince lifted his eyes to the sky. “I heard of Tooth Fairy, ogres and monsters, but those are just stories. When you’ll grow up like I, you’ll understand.”
Ines pouted. “Oh, so you don’t believe me. Fine, I’ll show you.”

As she closed her eyes, readying herself to say the spell, the boy let out a wise sigh.

“Leave it. I believe you. You’re just too little.”

Hearing Clark’s voice, the boy winced. “Oh, no. Let’s hide. If Clark finds me, my mission is over.” He grabbed Ines by the hand and ran to hide behind a hedge. Clark passed by the bench, talking to a friend who looked almost like a twin brother. “The prince hit the king! Oh, mother of the stars, he’s such a trouble-maker. Just as I left him into Waltario’s care, he made another blunder. I swear this is the last day I let him play with the ball.”
The prince tightened his fists. “How dare he…”

Little Ines whispered behind him, “Did you really hit the king?”
The boy turned. “Well, he was bad, too. He never talks to me, and he’s bad to Mommy.”

When Clark left the garden, they went back to the bench.

“So what’s your secret?” the boy asked. “You promised to tell me.”

Ines remembered her mother’s warnings and sighed. She wished she could tell more to the brown-haired boy who’d saved her and was so nice to her. “I have a message for General Waltario,” she said, glad that she found something that was allowed to speak about.

He lifted a brow. “What message?”

“I don’t know. I just have a letter to give him. Mommy said that I should not give it to anybody else.” She bit her lip, regretting that she’d mentioned her mother.
Soris nodded with curiosity. “Oh, I see. Well, I can lead you to the general. He’s my friend.”

“Really?” Ines beamed with gratitude, her clear stare making the prince uncomfortable.

“Yes. I’m the prince after all,” he replied, lifting his chin with fake pride. “As soon as he comes back in the palace, I’ll take you personally to him.”

“Thank you,” she said and chuckled.

The sound of some clinging bottles of glass drew their attention. A man carrying a bottle crate was passing by the garden. Soris jumped on his feet. “That’s the messenger! Quick! Let’s follow him!”

Ines left the bench and went after the prince who was excited to find the proof of the messenger.

Next chapter coming soon! Thank you for your kind support!

Chapter #4 – Hidden Danger (The Prequel)

Coming down into Waltario’s studio, as soon as the door was closed, Soris snatched himself from Clark’s grasp, blasting, “Why did you ruin my plan? Why did you let her go? She came out of my father’s office! She was definitely a thief! Only the royal family is allowed in Dad’s office!”

Clark sat with his head bowed like a humble servant. He refused to argue with the prince. Waltario, a sturdy man in his late thirties dressed in a grey costume, stood calmly before a massive table, studying a gun. Relaxing his squinted eyes, he jotted down some notes on a piece of paper, then put the gun down. Pleased with the results of his study, he came to the supervisor and laid a hand on the little boy’s shoulder. “Clark, you may leave now.” The supervisor was more than happy to do so, as he’d had enough of taking care of a seven-year-old.

Alone with General Waltario, Soris turned and ranted, “Why isn’t anybody listening to me? I’m doing my best every day to be a good boy. Why don’t they respect me?”

“Come, Soris,” the general said, ushering him to an old, fawn couch. “First, tell me everything that happened.”

The boy felt the general was a man of trust so he spoke his mind, giving all the details. “How could they ignore my command? I told them she was a thief! They ought to listen to me, not to Clark, or Witch Voronchi.” He rubbed one of his eyes. “They’re doing this because I’m just a kid. But they should wait and see. When I’ll be king…”

Waltario laid a finger on the boy’s lips to stop him from saying more. He shook his head with grim closed eyes, quelling the boy in an instant. “Don’t say that,” Waltario advised him. “Don’t fall into that trap as most princes and kings do. You won’t be able to do more then, when you’re a king. Believe me.”

Soris watched him bewildered. Waltario added, “You’re not going to be a dictator, and even so, you’d still be constrained by people. As long as you’re living with people, you’ll always have liberties and constraints. You’ll never be able to fully control others.” The boy frowned, a sense of despair clutching his heart. “But they said that I’m a model to others, and if I’m good, they’ll follow my lead.”

“Yes, but you still can’t be in control of everything. Instead of waiting for more power, you should see what you can do in this moment. You don’t need more power, you need more tact.”

The frown on the prince’s forehead lifted. He listened carefully to the general’s words. “Then what should I do? What did I do wrong?”

The general scratched his temple searching for the right wording. “You’re declaring war when you don’t have an army and a plan. What do you think your chances of success are?”

The boy remained silent.

Waltario lifted a fist, feeling as if he were before his soldiers. “When you don’t have enough power, you should not be open about your intentions. Don’t let them know you want to attack. Create an ambush!” The general noticed the kid’s confused blinks, so he cleared his throat. “I’m sorry that I can’t give you better explanations, but war is my thing and that’s how I can express my thoughts.”

“So you’re saying…”

“You should never attack openly. Make a plan, one that no one can predict or suspect. Take advantage of your weakness. Nobody expects any harm or plan from a kid like you. Play on your strong points.”

“Like what?”

Waltario hesitated, then said, “Well, you’re a cute and good kid. Make the most of that.”
Soris brightened up. He felt he’d received the most important piece of wisdom in his life, though he wasn’t yet sure how to use it. He smiled and nodded at the kind man. “I feel better now. Thank you, General.”

Waltario brushed a hand over the boy’s short hair. “I’m glad to hear that, Your Highness.”
*

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Slowing down, Inerishia alighted in silence in the large yard, somewhere close to the imposing palace. Servants were entering through a side door, so she hastened that way, with Ines held close to her chest. She swept inside arriving into a long hallway illuminated by dangling lamps hanging from the ceiling. When no one was around, Inerishia deactivated the stone of invisibility and let the child on the floor.

“Ines, please listen carefully to me and don’t cry.” She knelt down before the scared kid, grabbing her by the shoulders with both hands. “Remember what I told you? I must go and save your father, so you will stay here for a while.” Ines barely nodded, frozen by the seriousness of her mother’s eyes.

“I’m going to return as soon as I can. If anybody asks why you’re here, tell them you have to deliver an important message to General Waltario. Do not tell them anything about me, your father or yourself. Don’t tell them your name, and if they ask about your parents say that you don’t have. Got it?”

Ines nodded automatically, so her mother insisted, “Never mention the White Castle or the name of anybody from there, okay? You don’t have a name and you don’t have parents. You will only speak to General Waltario. Here, take this letter, and remember, give it only to the man who wears a golden eagle crest on his chest. That’s how you’ll recognize General Waltario. Got it?”

Ines nodded and recited, “A man with a golden eagle crest. I will speak only to General Waltario.” Inerishia smiled half-relieved. “Good girl. You’re brave just like your father. Now, take this piece of crystal. If somebody wants to hurt you in any way, use it to turn yourself invisible and run away. Use it only if it’s very dangerous, okay?” She brushed the girl’s hair one last time then turned invisible and stormed out of the building, flying quickly to the sea, hoping she wouldn’t arrive too late.

*

In a corridor of the palace, standing by the golden frame of a large, arched window, King Martin stared carelessly at something outside. He looked young, as if in his late twenties, but in fact, he was almost the same age as Waltario. His muscular figure of a tall warrior stood dressed in a royal costume of red and black with golden weavings around each button. He watched every movement of Lady Voronchi who waited for the coach to be turned around for departure.

Squeezing a ball in his hand, little Soris stretched his neck around a corner of the hall and peered at his father. He had no doubt that the king was thinking about the bad woman. As he watched the man gazing in reverie over the window, he sunk his thumbs in the dusty brown leather of the ball. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen his father standing in the hall, shamelessly exchanging smiles with some women down in the courtyard.

When Martin stretched out a hand to wave goodbye to Lady Voronchi, Soris marched out. Remembering Waltario’s advice, he slowed down his determined gait. He had to be his usual self, pretend he was not angry, so he pushed up his frown and relaxed his tiny jaw. Two steps away from his target, he stopped and raised a dignified chin. “Dad,” he called out like a soldier. Martin, however, was oblivious of his presence. The king’s senses were fully concentrated on the gentle murmur on the lady’s lips, who was trying to tell him, in silence, some words only lovers could understand.

Soris’ right eyebrow twitched in a spike of anger, but then returned to its neutral aspect.
“Dad?” he asked louder now, and then once again, rising on his feet, but no reply came from the father who chuckled as he winked at the lady, blowing an imaginary kiss toward her. The prince shut his eyes and tightened his grip on the ball. When he opened his eyes, he took one step back and threw the ball at his father, hitting him on his freshly-shaved cheek. The ball eventually fell on the floor, but so did the king’s furious stare. When he noticed his son, he lashed out, “What’s wrong with you boy? Are you out of your mind?”

The boy stooped to retrieve the ball, taking this opportunity to hide a mischievous smile. Returning to his father, he displayed an innocent expression and uttered in a sweet tone, “Dad, can we play?” Intimidated by the king’s dark glare that came from above, he feigned a smile. “Please?”

Martin’s heart wavered a bit after meeting the boy’s clear rounded eyes, small hands stretching the ball toward him, but then, a second later, the frown returned. He snatched the ball and seethed, “You want to play, uh?”

Sensing a dangerous aura, the boy stepped back and gulped.

“I’ll show you how I play,” Martin sneered darkly, preparing to throw the ball. Whooping, Soris flipped in place and started for the back of the corridor, a large grin stretching on his face, pleased with the way he’d managed to draw his father’s attention.

Martin hurled the ball with all his might, infuriated by the boy’s daring move. The missile would have hit the prince badly, hadn’t Waltario showed up in time to catch the ball just as it was lobbing down onto the kid’s head. As Soris left the scene screaming joyously, the general pressed the ball between his hands and approached the father.

“Martin, we need to talk.”

“Out of my way!” the king snapped, passing by him. The general grabbed his arm and exchanged glares with him. “No! We must talk right now.”

A few minutes later, they were both in a room with large windows on a side and many badges and paintings on the other. It was the king’s office, traditionally decorated with his predecessors’ portraits and proofs of his greatest accomplishments. Waltario closed the door and marched toward the king who’d propped by his desk, muttering swearwords between his teeth.

The general halted before the king. “Listen, Martin. It’s time you stopped with this bold showoff. You are a king and you have a son. Why don’t you take care of him?”

“You take care of him! He’s not my son!”

“Oh, there you go again. You know that’s not true.”

“Even he hates me, can’t you see?” He turned to face the general, pointing at his red cheek. “He hit me with that ball today. How dare he–”

Waltario heaved an understanding sigh. “That’s because you ignore him all the time. Why don’t you act like a real father?”

“He’s not mine! He’s just a stupid kid, stupid like his mother!”

Waltario rose an eyebrow as he identified the same words in what Soris had recounted to him about the meeting with Lady Voronchi.

“He is your son, and if he were stupid as you say, he wouldn’t have caught on your relationship with Lady Voronchi.”

“His mother taught him that! And don’t say he’s my son. He’s not.”

“Why are you so certain? Why?”

“He doesn’t look like me even the slightest bit!”

“Because he doesn’t have green eyes like you? I hope you’re not that idiotic, Martin. I’ve observed the boy closely and he takes after you in many ways. He’s obstinate and ambitious like you. Can’t you understand why he threw the ball at you? He wants to be noticed by his father.”

“I didn’t want to be a father!” Martin threw his hands in the air. „It’s this kingdom who wanted an heir and I gave them one. But that should be enough! This kingdom shall not steal my right to live the way I want. This kingdom shall not take control of my personal life.”

The conversation turned into a long debate, and before he could realize, the king had distracted the general with other palace matters. When he got out of his office, Waltario started for his studio, his mind preoccupied with other issues. Climbing down a long staircase, a soldier came in a hurry to him.

“What is it, brother?” the general asked.

“Did you know that the king approved the development of Crimson City?” the young man said, halting before him.

The general’s eyebrows drew into a frown. “What? Who said that?”

The young man looked around, then whispered, “I’ve just found out that from one of the king’s counselors.”

“Weren’t they supposed to focus on the villages affected by the last war?”

“They were, but after the last conference everybody changed their minds.” He cleared his voice intentionally. “When the king is set on something, he’ll convince everyone to accept his ideas. You know our king has a talent with words.” He paused as he noticed the fury growing on the general’s face. After some hesitation, he added, “You probably know that Crimson City is Lady Voronchi’s place of residence.”

The general clutched his fists, thinking about how he’d been fooled by Martin in their last conversation. He’d managed to stray from the talk about his family by bringing up an interesting subject like the Old Castle. He turned in place, barely refraining himself from running and barging into the king’s office. “I swear I’m going to roll him in the mud.”

His younger brother caught him by the arm. “Constantine, I think we should talk more in your studio.”

Waltario thanked his brother for stopping him from acting recklessly. “Yes. Let’s make a plan.”

Next chapter coming soon!

Chapter 3 – Rising Tide – Part II

Part II

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In the courtyard, the little boy searched for something to play with, as his supervisor was no fun. All this tall man wanted was for him to stay still, preferably do nothing. But little Soris was bursting with energy and curiosity. He wanted to explore, to make friends, play until he couldn’t breathe, let his child mind free to do anything that caught his attention.

The placid face with sucked-in cheeks of the supervisor was the most daunting image he could see now, scolding him for getting out of his sight even for a moment. The over-protectiveness of this man, at first, made him want to be disobedient and enjoy hearing curses and whinings following from his back. But, in less than a week, Soris understood that he was actually causing pain to someone, so he chose to become obedient.

As days went by, however, the little boy couldn’t stand the stillness anymore and noticed that the supervisor wasn’t becoming any friendlier. Soris looked around himself. The yard was big, the towering castle had countless rooms waiting for him to discover them, yet there weren’t any children today, only busy adults roaming around with thoughtful faces.

He sighed and turned to the supervisor, squinting against the strong rays of the morning sun, “Clark, may I play with the ball?”

The head from above lowered hooded, grey eyes on him. Clark hated being disturbed from his endless meditation.

Silence hovered for a couple of seconds, so the boy added in a sweet tone, showing his small white teeth, “Please?”

Clark let his shoulders drop and dragged his feet toward a bench with a wooden box upon it. He took out the smallest ball he could find there and slouched back to the prince who dashed to take it. As he snatched it with increasing joy spreading on his face, Clark hurried to lecture him, “Be careful not to hit someone; don’t bang it on the floor, don’t hit the walls with it, don’t throw it too up in the air as you can’t predict where it’ll fall…”

He went on and on about what not to do, but the boy didn’t care about anything he had to say. After all, according to Clark, the safest way to play was to just keep the ball in his hands. Soris, however, was bursting with energy. So he banged it against the floor and kicked it towards some soldiers who were passing by. The men in grey armor of fabric and plates of steel were happy to send it back to him. The prince got caught in the game quickly, so he continued to pass the ball to them, delighted to see the men’s smiles under the plain helmets which covered their eyes with smoky glass.

Clark stepped in between and scowled at the two tall playmates. “I think it’s time to get back to work!” he said, then turned to the prince, “Your Majesty, let the soldiers guard this place. You shouldn’t play with people that are of lower class.”

Soris pierced him with a brown stare. “Then who?” he snapped stretching his neck up to the supervisor who gave him the ball. “The noble children are going to arrive here after their lessons. Have a little patience, Your Highness.”

The boy took the ball and kicked it angrily toward the castle. It lobed far away from him, and got lost behind a hedge of the garden. Clark rolled his eyes, annoyed that he now had to run after the boy who scampered off retrieve it.

Soris reached the garden, then searched around until he got lost. Being away from the lecturing Clark felt way too good to regret this. He meandered until he got to an opening in the hedge. It led to a shadowed side of the castle. To his surprise, the ball was there, very close to the wheel of a wooden carriage. It had beautiful, embroidered curtains and the wood carvings glistened with fresh varnish. On its round back, it sported a symbol with a grand peacock made of gold. At that sight, the kid frowned. For long moments, even after Clark showed up by his side gasping for air, he sat still, enraged to see this cart sitting in the yard of his home.

Clark laid a hand on his shoulder. “There you are, Your Majesty. Can you imagine how dangerous it was to run away like this? What if someone kidnapped you? What if something heavy crushed you? What if you tripped?”

Soris didn’t hear any of his blabberings. He was fully focused on the carriage. Forgetting about the ball, he shifted and kicked the cart’s door, demanding, “Show yourself! Get out!”

Clark gasped in terror. “Your Majesty!”

The boy grabbed the handle and yanked the door open only to notice nobody was inside. He slammed it back, then peered up to the castle as if he declared war to someone invisible.

“Clark, I’m done playing for today,” he stated with a stern posture.

“Wise decision, Your Majesty,” Clark said, wiping his forehead. “But where are you headed to?” he asked behind the boy’s back.

“I’m going to talk to my mother.” He marched toward the castle, Clark following him with a pleased smile, thinking they’d left the yard, a place full of hazard, for a safe building. As long as the boy wasn’t playing or trying something other than walking and talking, everything was going to be just fine.

However, when they came before the queen’s door, echoing sobs infused shivers into their limbs. The prince grabbed the handle and cracked the door open. His mother sat on the bed’s margin, wiping tear after tear, trying hard to recollect herself as Queen Suzanne, the boy’s grandmother, was comforting her along with two of his aunts.

One of the aunts saw him and immediately went to usher him out of the room, then said after closing the door gently behind her back, “Kid, let your mother have some time for herself.”

“Why is she crying? Let me see her! I must tell her that…”

The young aunt lowered herself to meet his eyes properly. “Boy, she already knows that. You don’t have to confirm it any longer.” Soris went mute, trying to find more answers in her bitter gaze. She got up and looked at the feeble supervisor. “Clark, take him to Waltario. He’s in his studio now.”

Clark quickly bowed his head and grabbed the boy’s hand, glad to leave the kid in someone else’s care. He dragged Soris through some corridors, hoping the child wouldn’t oppose too much. He didn’t, until they reached the corridor where his father’s office was, and its door opened soundlessly.

A proud woman of thirty emerged, dressed in a sunset-red gown set with ermine. Soris narrowed his eyes, watching her advancing like a queen on a crowning day. The boy couldn’t temper his anger any longer. He pulled himself out of Clark’s grasp and ran back toward the staircase where he knew some guards would be stalling.

“Guards!” he shouted, making everyone’s heart jump in place, especially Clark’s, who turned pale. “Guards! Come quickly! There’s a thief here! Come and catch her!” he railed, pointing desperately at the woman who’d stopped in place, hazel eyes rounding wide under the fine dark make-up.

Noticing the guards’ movement, the boy started running back on the flower-patterned carpet, toward the lady who watched him with a stiff neck. “Catch her!” he insisted, satisfied to see he’d managed to take down that defiant smile from her face.

As the guards marched after him, a few steps behind, another door of the corridor opened and two maids showed up, eager to pry into the royal family’s matters. Clark was about to pull his hair out, thinking this was the death sentence for him. He grabbed the boy and covered his small mouth, begging him to stop.

The guards halted, confused about what was happening here. Clark looked at them almost crying. “Go back, guards. He was only playing around. Go! Please!”

The two men with bulky arms looked back at the maids who were red-faced from the spuming giggling at this sight, then right forward at the woman who shot flaming glances at them. They bowed their heads and excused themselves, then hurried back to their positions on the stairs.

As Clark was fighting to keep the erratic prince in check, the woman commanded to the maids, “Back to your work, ladies! Stop being so disrespectful to the prince!”

The two dropped their smiles and snuck back into the room they’d come out from. Soris tried to throw kicks and punches at the lady, his words muffled completely by the supervisor’s sweaty hand. The woman sauntered to him, offering him a vicious smirk.

Clark kept him trapped like a snake clutching on its prey, and gibbered incessantly prayers, begging the boy to calm down. But it was impossible for the prince to stop fighting. He felt like he let go of the most wicked criminal in the kingdom.

The lady stopped before him to enjoy her victory, then stooped to whisper in his ear, “You’re stupid just like your mother.” The boy grabbed on her golden necklace and pulled at it aggressively. Managing to snatch back the necklace, she rose to her feet, scolding Clark, “His mother’s failed miserably to educate him. Make sure next time we won’t get to see this savage instead of a prince.”

“My deepest apologies, Lady Voronchi!” Clark muttered humbly. “Do please forgive him. He’s only a kid and he just wanted to play.”

She turned and left, outraged by this event.

When she wasn’t in the corridor anymore, Clark let go of the prince, grabbed him by the shoulders with trembling hands and faced him. “Your Majesty, don’t you ever play like this! You’ve done enough trouble for today. Now, let’s get you to Waltario. He’ll know what’s best to do.”

Soris threw a deep scowl at the supervisor, fire burning in his brick irises. He didn’t oppose anymore, just accepted the supervisor’s guiding hand, knowing there was no use in trying to talk to such a coward.

To be continued…

Chapter 3 – Rising Tide

Part I

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Photo by Pok Rie on Pexels.com

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.

The Prequel – Chapter #2 – The Secret Trip

 

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GreatLady Gladiole leaned against an arch of fluffy red flowers, glancing at the small carriage which sat stationed on a wide stone path, a couple of meters to her left. She gave a nervous sigh and crossed arms on her chest, pushing back her long shiny hair. Taking her eyes away from the wooden vehicle, she watched the garden with a sour look imprinted on her mature face while a little girl with long dark hair played around, searching through the grass.

A tall man in sage clothes emerged from behind the carriage, ambling toward the little girl.

“Ines, are you ready?” he asked, stroking gently her long hair. She nodded, lifting a smile at him, barely grasping sight of his face covered by the sunlight.

“Let me take you to your mother.” He lifted her up from the meadow, enjoying her giggles as he touched her little nose. “Look how cute you are. I’m so proud to be your father.”

Gladiole’s lips grew thinner as she listened to their chatter.

“Everyone who sees you can tell that Inerishia and I are your parents. You have her eyes, while your hair is just like mine. You’re perfect!” he said cuddling her in his arms.

“A perfect monster!” Gladiole snapped, barely maintaining her position by the flowers.

The seemingly young father glanced at her, not letting that remark wipe off his smile. Ines clutched his right thumb, pretending to shake his hand, oblivious of what the grandmother had said about her.

“Mother-in-law, I see you’re still mad at me,” the man with short hair said, amused by the woman’s stiff frown. “Our daughter is something special, maybe that’s what you’re trying to say. She’ll be ten times stronger than us and will make a great change in this world. She’ll know no boundaries.” As the little girl squeezed his thumb, he shut his eyes, feigning a groan of pain, “Ow! Look how strong she is!”

Ines released the finger, her eyes rounding up with worry. Her father opened a squinted eye, then started laughing. “Look! My little girl cares for me,” he said, leaning his forehead over hers. “Such a gentle girl will do no harm to anyone.”

Gladiole watched them with disgust, her fingernails piercing the silvery sleeves of her long coat, then she burst with anger, “Kendel, you’ve brought only disaster to my daughter. I shouldn’t have ever let you marry her.”

“I shouldn’t have ever called you ‘mother’,” Inerishia said, passing confidently by her. “You’re the monster here,” she added, shooting a sharp glare behind her shoulder.

Gladiole stepped forward, avoiding making an eye-contact. “Don’t talk to me. You’re still bewitched by this charlatan. One day you’ll wake up from his spell and face great disappointment.”

“I woke up a long time ago, and the only one who disappointed me was you!” Inerishia retorted hopping in the carriage, right next to Kendel.

Gladiole watched the carriage growing smaller, then fading away behind the magical barrier which protected the stronghold from curious people. Back in the arch of flowers, two leaves curled up and shape-shifted into a pair of green eyes. “Shall I go now?” a male voice asked.

The woman nodded, her long golden hair barely showing some movement. “Yes. Find out where they’re leaving the child,” she replied, then mumbled to herself, “I’m sure this trip is only a masquerade.”

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In the middle of a tall forest of the Arid Kingdom, the cart’s wheels spun slowly on a dusty path. They traveled in silence for a while, Kendel carrying a subtle smile while Inerishia had her lips slightly pressed together, her mind plunged into deep thought. Kendel stole glances at his wife out of the corner of his eyes, then broke the silence, “So you had a vision again.”

Inerishia winced but managed to maintain her composure. She couldn’t get caught.
“What calamity comes this time?” he asked, watching the horse’s calm pace.

The woman turned, bewildered by his guess. “Why do you say ‘calamity’?”

“Well, isn’t it true that you have these sudden visions whenever something bad is about to happen?”

She fumbled as she stared at his calm and careless ivory face. “So far, yes, that seems to be the case. I’m still trying to control this new power of mine, although it seems impossible. The future is always subject to change, and interpreting those visions is such a nuisance. They’re vague. I can never let them guide me.”

“Except for today,” Kendel stated, leaving Inerishia speechless. He turned his head to look into her rounded azure eyes. “I saw you preparing for this day.”

Inerishia swallowed in silence then lifted her chin. “Why are you surprised? It’s only normal to prepare in advance for a trip like this. We’re taking our daughter outside the stronghold. I’m a mother. It’s only normal to be worried.”

Kendel kept the reins swinging. “You took a piece from the barrier’s crystals. What would make you do that unless you really felt threatened by something? I know pretty well all the restrictions of the White Castle. Taking out invisibility crystals is one of them. ”

Inerishia quickly glanced back through the narrow window of the cart only to notice that Ines sat lounging on the bench of soft cotton, her closed eyelids twitching gently from time to time, under the spell of a dream.

Kendel smiled without disturbing his posture of a calm driver. “She’s sleeping, right?”

“Yes. How did you know that?” Inerishia returned to him, surprised by all his guesses.

“I hid at least ten red stones in the garden for her to search. You can imagine that after running ten times around the stronghold, she must be tired.”

“Why did you do that?”

“You and I must stay focused on the road. I had to make sure she won’t be agitated during the trip. A kid of her age has the energy of two adults. That was the only way to make her want to sleep on her own.”

Inerishia turned once again, this time to glance behind the carriage. Kendel cleared his throat. “If you’re wondering whether we’re being tailed, allow me to tell you that we are. Grandma Gladiole sent Shion, the shape-shifter, to spy on us. Thankfully, he can’t turn himself into air, otherwise, we’d lose our right to privacy completely. Grandma, I mean, you mother is definitely hard to trick. She sensed we were going to hide our little one from her before we go on our lengthy mission.”

Inerishia frowned. “I know she figured out we had a plan with this trip, but I won’t let her stop us. I can’t leave Ines in her care, not after seeing how she took our girl to that ramshackle temple. I think she wanted to force our daughter’s powers to surface out, risking killing her.”

Kendel tilted his head as he pronounced each word, “Your grandma suspects exactly what you suspect or maybe you know for sure but won’t tell me exactly.”

“Kendel, please don’t start this discussion again. I’m already anxious about this day.”

“Sure, my dear. All I want is for you to share your burdens with me because you’re keeping too many worries only to yourself.” Kendel paused, his smile vanishing. “I feel like I deceived you back then when we first met. I had no idea that I was only a magician, a wizard who learned to trick the laws of nature, that I was different from you, who had your inner powers awakened.”

Inerishia gave him a nudge. “Hey, you didn’t deceive me. Even if I knew that, I wouldn’t have given up on you.”

Kendel clutched the reins with a heavy heart.
“Still, I am proof that you people of the White Castle are not a superior race, as your leaders imply. I am proof that any human being has an inner power that can be awakened. It’s just that it’s easier for someone who’s had both parents with awakened inner powers.”

He glanced back, trying to identify Shion in the peaceful forest, hoping that the shape-shifter hadn’t slid under the carriage in the form of some reptile. Unable to notice anything unusual, he continued, “Gosh, I still remember that day when everybody discovered that I was different. When I saw a hundred of calm faces suddenly turning to kill me, all my insides contracted. I think there was no more air in any part of my living being.”

Inerishia laid a hand over his. “I know how you felt, Kendel. It’s unbelievable how my own mother could be so harsh.”

“I can’t wait to get to my home village. Here. Take this part of the reins.” Inerishia grabbed the reins and watched the horse swinging its long, black tail as if it felt the change of driver. Kendel released the reins, then slid one arm around Inerishia’s back and pulled her close to him, pretending his intention was actually to grab back on the reins. “Sorry, I’m not sure I can let you do this alone.”

Inerishia chuckled, letting her head rest on him. “You’re unpredictable as usual.”
Kendel glanced back, then returned with a smirk. “His jealousy betrayed him. He’s now pretending to be a snake.”

“Are you saying Shion is jealous of us?”
A shrug. “I’m not saying anything. It’s just his disguise didn’t last well for a couple of moments after I took you close and that was enough for me to identify him. Let’s move.” He swung the reins and urged the horse to speed up its pace.

Passing by a long beach, they stopped and got off. One mile away into the sea, the long Smarald Island was waiting for them. The door of the cart blew open as little Ines jumped out. “Yay! The sea!” she exclaimed, to her parents’ surprise who thought she would be sleeping.

Close to a boat, a lanky man in a large, sleeveless shirt, waved at them. Kendel ambled toward him and hugged him. “Brother Vlin, I missed you!”

“I missed you too, buddy! Your mother is busy like a bee making food and baking sweets for her granddaughter, and your father is crafting a new bed for her. They’re so happy you’re letting her stay with them,” he shouted, his sharp eyes taking note of Shion, who’d taken the shape of a branch.

Kendel asked in a whisper, “Is everything prepared?”
“Yes. There’s a boat waiting for you on the other side of the island.” He patted Kendel’s back, then went to greet Inerishia who gazed into the sunny horizon, wearing a concerned expression. “Vlin, is there anything wrong with this place?” she asked.
Vlin was taken aback, but forced a smile and kissed the back of her hand, whispering,

“You mean the guy who’s now a branch?”

Inerishia shook her head. “No. There’s a strange aura in this place. It wasn’t like this before.” Vlin turned an askance face toward his brother. Kendel got close to them.

“What’s the matter?”

Inerishia pulled out a piece of crystal from a pocket, and before opening her fist to show its color, she sighed bitterly. When her palm showed the crystal, they all noticed it was black.

Vlin gasped. “The devils!”

Exchanging concentrated glances with Vlin, Kendel closed his wife’s palm to cover the stone. “We should go back.”

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoyed reading “The Secret Trip”.

Free reads – The Prequel – Chapter 1

Free chapters from the prequel of the epic fantasy story of the Arid Kingdom. New chapters added weekly. Enjoy!

Chapter I – The Vision

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Inerishia had a vision.
As she sat by a wide-open window with diaphanous curtains, she could see something else in the sky. There were no more peaceful foamy clouds and no more deep blueness to gaze at. There were darkness and commotion, red flashes revealing a boiling movement of silhouettes and shadows.

People with spears, many of them, ran to the left of the unclear scene, their mouths wide open and their summary clothing revealing muscular arms. Another flash of light made their skin red. Inerishia had no doubt now. They were demons who were letting out a cry of war, but she could hear nothing. The vision flowed before her eyes in mute silence until, suddenly, it dimmed and faded away.

Inerishia raked through the empty space with trembling hands. “What are you trying to show me?” she pleaded. The whole room turned dark, then, as she spun to find something to see, she noticed a spot of light. She hastened that way, then slowed down. It was the calendar, a thin board of marble with numbers and words made of crystal dust, carrying sparks on a certain date. It was today, but the clock at its side was three hours later from now. The young seer’s ginger brows drew together in a frown. “Are you saying this will happen today?” she questioned the invisible.

The bright spot faded away leaving her in the darkness, then as she turned around, the room’s details and colors came back. Eager to find out more before the vision will stop, she asked, “What should I fear?”

A cloud descended out of nowhere right before her. On that foggy layer, her husband and her daughter appeared, both surrounded by blazes of fire, and then she saw herself coming between them. When that representation of her took one step toward her husband, her little girl was covered by fire entirely, and when she stepped toward her daughter, her husband was swallowed by the flames.

“No!” she shouted. “I want to save them both! Show me how I can save them both!” she cried, barely blinking as she was afraid to lose the vision. The obscurity returned and it remained so for a concerning length of time. “There has to be a way,” she murmured, pacing back and forth. Vague and general questions had never been of help when she had had visions. The despair surged, so she asked, “Please show me the safest place for my daughter!”

A spot of light appeared right next to the door. She hastened that way and saw the foggy representation of a castle with towers and golden roofs. “The Arid Kingdom’s palace… Thank you,” she whispered, an agonizing pain spreading all over her head.

Overcome by a blaze of shivers, she shut her eyes and sank to her knees. It had been the longest vision she had ever had, and all those things it had told her terrified her. However, as soon as the pain became bearable, she got up and went to the desk, took the first pen that came in handy and scribbled a letter asking General Waltario of the Arid Kingdom to take care of her daughter. Her writing was trembling but every sentence was coherent.

She wrote in a trance until she reached by the end of the letter. Slowing down, she lifted her head only to meet her disheveled reflection in the mirror. She dropped the pen and sighed deeply. “What am I doing? This is so reckless.”

Looking down at the letter, she read what she’d written, then shook her head. “I must be going crazy.” Yet, after reading it once again, thinking about that strong vision, she folded it and hid it in a pocket as her last resort, in case today’s plan was going to encounter unexpected changes. In less than an hour, she and her family would be going on an important mission disguised as a trip to the in-laws, her husband’s parents.

Drawing a chair near her, she laid her head on the table to take some rest. The ability to foresee the future had started soon after she had given birth to Ines, and although it had been years since then, she still had trouble understanding those visions. Not everything they showed happened, and sometimes, what happened, in the end, showed her that she had not interpreted them correctly.

It was until recently when she learned that asking questions during those hypnotizing and unstoppable trances made them clearer, but even so, she refused to talk about them with someone else. Because she’d given false alarms before, most people in the stronghold believed she was paranoid.

Feeling better, Inerishia straightened her back and set on tidying herself up. As she brushed her long apricot-tinted locks of hair, she thought of multiple safety measures to take before the trip, other than sending her daughter to General Waltario. Asking for help from a person she’d barely talked to once, a few years ago, was absurd.

*

Teacher Coldpeak moved around the classroom with one hand at his back to sustain a straight posture, his chin lifted up in the air full of chalk and old paper aroma. His shelves bordering the walls were full of documents and books of all kinds which he knew by heart.

The vast knowledge he possessed about the world, its history, and its wonders made him a proud man. His hair reached to his shoulders in grey and white strokes, touching the golden shoulder plates of his royal red coat, the kind of coat that he used to wear whenever he offered lessons to someone. That someone was now the king’s seven-year-old son, Prince Soris.

The boy sat at a desk, staring, sometimes peering, at some map and a notebook, its white pages filled with shaky markings and pen writing which bore essential information about the map. The teacher strolled from one side to another, his short heels clicking soundly on the dry and dusty wood of the floor.

“Well, let’s see what you learned from today’s lesson,” he said, taking his time to clearly pronounce each word as he took a long and well-polished stick to point at the large map on the wall.

The boy lifted his brown bangs and looked up with confidence.

“So what’s this large spot of land?”
“Centeralum.”
“Indeed, that’s the name of our continent. What about this one here, that’s even larger?”
“Avaidan.”
“Right. Our unfriendly neighboring continent which calls us to war almost every ten years. All right, now let’s see the countries. What country is this?” he asked pointing at the top of the continent.

The boy’s eyes lightened up. “That’s the Northern Kingdom. Mom’s kingdom.”
“Yes and no. It is the Northern Kingdom, but we can’t call it your mother’s kingdom. It’s the kingdom where your mother was born in. Careful how you use your words, my prince. King Northshade might get angry at you. Anyway, next. What’s this tiny, round spot here?”

The boy relaxed in his seat. “It’s the Central Palace.”

The teacher gave a long blink then waited. The boy looked at him then at the map, then back at the notes on his notebook. Coldpeak banged the stick against the map. “No. Don’t look there. You were right. This is the Central Palace, but I’d like you to say more about it. What do you know about this state?”

Soris took his time to yawn. “They control the continent. Every king and queen must listen to them.”

“Yes. They’re the strongest and thankfully they use their power only to keep our continent in a state of peace and harmony. Our history was a lot bloodier before they took over our continent and compelled all Ceteralum countries to sign a peace treaty and also a submission treaty.”

“They are scary people,” the prince added. “Dad said they’re very harsh to the kings.”
Coldpeak cleared his throat intentionally. “Well, that’s how they keep the greed for power at bay.”

A couple of loud knocks disturbed their conversation. The teacher opened the door and received a folded piece of paper.

“It’s from his Majesty,” the soldier said fugitively before vanishing from the teacher’s sight.

Coldpeak arched his eyebrows rather offended as he read the king’s short message: make your lessons longer today, at least one hour. “Is he not satisfied with the way I teach his son? He never cared about his son’s knowledge. What’s wrong with him?” he muttered to himself, then looked at the boy who was making a paper boat. The teacher shook his head. He himself was against longer lessons as he had his own plans for the rest of the day, so how was he going to keep the boy’s attention for another sixty minutes?

“All right, Prince Soris. Allow me to tell you a bit about the White Castle, the stronghold which is independent of any control.”

Taking a long breath, the boy pushed the toy-boat away. “I know about the White Castle. They’re a small country in our big country. They don’t listen to my father, and they don’t listen to the Central Palace either. Their border is around the Spiral Forest. Now, may I go out? I’m hungry.” He looked at the golden clock on the wall to signal the teacher that it was about time.

Coldpeak glanced at the clock and blurted out, “Well, we’re two minutes past the usual hour. That should count as a longer lesson.” He looked straight to the boy. “Enough for today. See you tomorrow, my prince. You’re free to leave,” he said rushing out the door way before the prince.

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The Arid Kingdom’s map just like the prince saw it.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoyed this.

Have any recommendations for the website? Your suggestions are welcome!

Special sneak-peek to celebrate the winter holidays

Hi all! This is a special post to celebrate the winter holidays and the last week of 2018.

Here you’ll find a compilation of snippets from the first chapters of the waiting-to-be-fully-edited book, “Lucky Destiny” – book #3 in the Neo-Medieval YA fantasy series The Arid Kingdom.

For those who are not familiar with the story, I put some notes here and there between the paragraphs.

Knights armed with laser guns, oldfashioned witches, and a mysterious girl challenge their skills in this uncanny story of the Arid Kingdom.

❄Enjoy!❄

Part I – The Inspectors arrive at the castle…

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“We’ll also want to know more about this adoptive daughter of yours, mister Waltario,” said Fleurice. “We’ve heard she’s a trusty warrior…”

“She’s my daughter,” said the general laying his hand on the girl’s shoulder. “And she’ll indeed make a difference here.”

As the inspectors’ abrasive stares were cast upon Selunia, the general’s hand turned out to have a positive effect. It had a fatherly warmth that made her feel secure.

“But we’ll talk about this later,” Ivan said. “What’s most important to know is whether you were able to protect the objects of historical value, after such a long time.”

The heads of the semicircle stepped aside letting the three guests climb up the stairs toward the main entrance of the palace.

(Notes: Fleurice and Ivan – inspectors; Waltario – General of the Army; Selunia – Waltario’s adoptive daughter.

Upcoming: Vittria, Leido, Fulgerus – the villains; Dual – Prince Soris’ guard)

*

“Vittria, come on already! We’re late!” Leido was beckoning and urging acidly the girl who was struggling to activate her staff. “We had to catch those when they’re still outside, to make them notice better the passing of the time.” He paused to throw a disapproving glance at her outfit and seethed, “Look at those garish clothes…”

“Let her concentrate!” Fulgerus cut in. “You’re not helping her by adding pressure. Those guys will notice the change of time from the inside. Stop being so antsy.”

From the old ruins of what used to be a surveillance tower in the past, Vittria stood dressed in a long white dress, with her shoulders covered by a black mantle. She kept her eyes closed to concentrate on her unspoken incantations while her hands were holding tightly her glowing staff wrapped in a long string of sapphire and onyx gems. It was another kind of spell, one that had been improvised.

All of a sudden, the string detached from the scepter, rose two meters in the air and remained there spinning in circles. Fulgerus noticed Vittria’s hands were shaking badly, dark vines slithering on them. He went closer to her, struck by worry. They needed the spell but she had to stay alive, too.

Like a volcano’s magma, the big crystal of the staff displayed quick variations of red color. It seemed to be as tense as its owner. At a certain point, it stopped flashing and froze in a constant glow. Vittria mumbled some unintelligible words then flung the scepter in the moss that had clothed the old stones of the tower.

The staff flashed shortly and blinding like a falling star, making Fulgerus cover his face under an arm. A few seconds later, he saw the girl controlling the scepter from a distance. It didn’t leave the place it had been fixed in, just started rolling following the rhythm of the string in the air, drawing large circles with the crystal at its top. The witch didn’t open her eyes yet, although the veins on her hands had thickened considerably.

After ten complete rotations, the staff stopped in place. Vittria caught it in her hands before it could fall. The floating string broke free from the seemingly endless rounds and started for the palace. It flew smoothly, grazing over the top of the trees, the gems glittering slowly as if they had become the blinking eyes of a mysterious spirit that had taken over the string.

When it reached the sturdy walls that surrounded the grand courtyard, it descended close to the earth, its fluid motions making it seem a snake. It started flying all around the circumference of the stone hedge, with increasing speed. It made no noise so the guards didn’t stand a chance to notice it. However, the effects of the rotations were soon going to fall upon them.

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*

The girl and the two boys went ahead, while the king and the general led the inspectors to the old castle.

After Dual closed the double door behind their backs, he and Selunia gave a long breath of relief. Soris glanced at them in amusement. “Their presence stressed you, eh?”

“To hell with those snooty inspectors!” Dual barely refrained from spitting to one side. “They looked at us as if we were some monkeys. I’ve never seen such arrogant people before, in my entire life.”

Soris rubbed at his chin. “I confess they were a surprise for me, too. They have the faces of some torturers. I can’t imagine what they’ll do if they find something’s not right.”

At this remark, the two guards enveloped him in sympathetic gazes.

“How can you be so calm?” Dual asked. “You don’t have to act in front of us. Let’s get you ready for the speech; I know this is pressuring you.”

The Prince hinted a sly smile on his face and flung his hands in the pockets of his black trousers. “I’m ready!” he said triumphantly.

“How come?” the two asked in surprise.

“I was expecting this so I’ve prepared for it in time before they got here.” He raised his eyebrows proudly. “I know exactly what to tell them.”

The faces of the two guards shifted from surprise to delight. They were happy to know the odds were in their favor.

Soris retrieved his hands from his pockets and let them rest on his hips. “In the meantime, we should stay on alert.” He scanned the hall with a quick look. “You never know when a sleep spell will be thrown at us.”

Dual cowered. “Oh, come on, are you serious?” he groaned, fear trickling in his voice. “I mean, do you really think these things like spells exist?”

Soris nodded, without any sign of distress. “Yes, Dual, they do exist. And above that, we should stay focused because if anything happens, there will be only the three of us left unaffected.”

Dual caught his head between his hands and pressed his lips together to refrain from cursing in a very rude manner. When he retrieved his fingers from his hair, he asked, “How can you be so calm? If there will be only the three of us, those people, with the witchcraft they use, they’re sure to take our lives in a blink. They’ll summon a bunch of devils and those will drag us with pitchforks right in Hell!” He shivered from head to toe as he said these so he grabbed the stone of his necklace hoping it will give him strength and courage.

“Dual, calm down. They don’t have that sort of spells.” Soris tried to reassure him. “If we’ve escaped twice from them, it means it’s not impossible. Besides, we have Selunia with us.”

The guard brushed his face anxiously. “Well, yeah, you two are going to escape because you’re some freaks!” Soris let a questioning frown slide on his forehead. “Freaks? Are you saying that I’m also a freak?”

Dual replied with a grimace as if the prince had asked whether birds have feathers.

“Anyway,” Selunia interfered, fed up of his whines. “There’s no time to waste now. We’d better discuss what to do when we’ll be attacked. I’ve talked with Dad about it, but we should make up a plan, too.”

Dual rolled his eyes and let his arms loose, swaying them around his body like a restless child. He was cursing the day he had accepted to move here. For a moment, he wished he could offer his talisman to someone else, just to make sure he’ll stay out of trouble. However, he changed his mind in a blink, as his imagination took him to a horror scenario where the spell wasn’t putting to sleep but transforming people into zombies whose only escape was death by burning to ashes. He definitely wanted to avoid such gruesome ending to his youth.

Soris thought a little then said, “There are three things of great importance: first, the inspectors, second, the prisoners, and third, the old castle. I say Dual should remain here and keep an eye on the main hall while I’m going to look after the prisoners, and Selunia will stick around to the old palace.”

Dual winced. “Are you crazy? In less than half an hour you’re going to hold your speech. What’s the point of breaking up now?”

Soris straightened his back and rested his hands on his hips. “I have a hunch that something’s going to happen very soon. I’m not sure, but don’t you feel something strange in the air?”

Selunia took out her talisman hid under her clothes. Its color was shifting to indigo. “You’re right!” she gasped. “A spell is just settling over our palace!”

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The three of them exchanged worried glances, gulped, then summoned their courage and went to take a look over through the windows that were offering a view to the main hall.

Time had frozen or at least that was the impression the place gave. The big clock on the entrance wall was working normally. The people were the ones who had turned into statues. This time, they hadn’t been put to sleep, but stoned. They all sat still, fixed in the position and with the expressions they had had right before the spell took over the place. Some had been caught with open mouths just as they were talking, some were sitting on a leg or had they arms raised in the air as they were expressing themselves. The chance they were only pretending to stay like this was away from being possible.

Soris frowned. He noticed the difference between the spells. He quickly pressed on the emergency button at his wrist, hoping that it wasn’t already too late. “Let’s get to our positions!” he commanded and made to leave followed by Selunia. They stopped when they saw Dual wasn’t budging.

“Dual, come already! Every second matters!” said the Prince.

The guard sat still.

Soris approached him and took a close look. The young man was standing motionless just like the rest, with eyes closed and hands resting on the window’s border. Selunia rose an eyebrow. His talisman isn’t working or what?

The Prince, rather jaded, gave him a nudge in the ribs.

“Ouch!” the guard winced immediately.

“Come on, stop playing around,” Soris said and showed him the double door. “Go down in the hall and see if everything stays in its place.”

~End of Part I~

Click/tap here to read Part II

Part 2

(Notes: the Bardanians – Bardan’s soldiers; Bardan – the leader of the evil group)

Outside, the Bardanians had already broken into two groups, according to the plan they had well put up with Bardan. Leido’s team had to break through the main gate, and the other one, lead by Fulgerus, had to go through the entrance at the back.

With the nonchalance which had easily become a habit, two soldiers went to steal the keys from the guardians so everyone could get in. As soon as they laid their hands on the iron bars to climb up, they were sent backward by an electric shock. After shaking unconsciously for a while, they fell with a thud on the ground.

“What the hell?” Fulgerus exclaimed infuriated. “When did they set this up?”

“Eh, no worries. Such a simple trick won’t hold us back,” a soldier seethed, beckoning to one of his comrades to follow him.

They went to jump over the wall, avoiding the gates. They ended just like the other two. The electroshock system was placed all around the protection wall. Fulgerus gnashed his teeth.

A daredevil took a few steps backward and run to jump over it without touching it at all, but, although he was about to succeed as his squatted posture allowed him to roll over at a palm above the wall, he was sent back on the floor by a shockwave. He fell on the floor, groaning in deep pain.

“T’ what?!” Fulgerus barely got his chance to curse when he noticed a dark cloud of smoke rising from the base of the fence. The soldiers who inhaled this became unconscious.

As most of them were falling like the apples from a tree, Fulgerus retreated and dragged other two after him. Upon seeing what happened to the rest, the two soldiers thanked their leader with much gratitude.

“Don’t thank me, idiots!” Fulgerus shouted as anger was boiling inside of him. “Don’t you have the instinct to protect yourself?”

He took his hands from their shoulders and watched the anesthetic smoke rising and dissipating. Darn! That Waltario certainly is a crafty man. Leido was right about him. Curse him! I won’t leave until at least I’ve got the prisoners back. I can’t return to Father like this.

“We must find a way to reach inside,” he mumbled, eyes stuck to the castle.

“Something to blow this thing off,” said a thoughtful soldier.

Fulgerus retorted a face like a provoked dog’s. “Blow off, stupid! And what will you do about the people on the other side? Kill them? That would only make us subject to an investigation. Don’t you remember Father demanded we infiltrate without making any fuss? But why am I asking you? You’re a bunch of imbeciles!”

The soldiers bent their heads, leaving him to his own devices. Fulgerus thought out loud, “That electric wall can’t reach the skies. I’m sure it ends somewhere.”

He took some stones and started throwing them over the fence. The first three attempts were a failure. On the fourth try, he threw the rock at a meter above. That one went through and reached the other side. The sensors in the wall didn’t react anymore at that height.

Fulgerus gave a long sigh. He had to find a way to jump above three meters. “A poll would have been handy.”

“We’ll look after some rocks or something…”

“Don’t look any further!” Fulgerus cut his sentence. “Aren’t you two enough rock-headed?”

The two restored to piety figures.

“I’m talking seriously,” he continued and got closer to them. “You will help me jump. Hold hands!”

They placed themselves at a certain distance from the wall, under the young man’s guidance. Fulgerus took off his mantle, rolled it into a ball and threw it over as if to verify for the last time that was the right height he had to reach. He then looked at his subordinates, made a mental calculus drew them more steps away from the obstacle and went to take his own place before running to make the final leap.

The fear was on both sides. Fulgerus didn’t want to feel on his own the feeling of falling as struck by a lightning, nor did his soldiers wish that—Bardan would have given them a punishment three times more painful than his.

Fulgerus, in order to gain some courage, thought about his honor, his training as a warrior, his father’s words. It was a great moment in his life.

He gave a loud cry and went running. Three steps away from the two, he jumped on their arms and propelled himself with all his might. Reaching the high in the air, he squatted and rolled to pass over the fence.

The two soldiers, now lying on the ground as the lad’s powerful jump had made them fall, holding hands, were watching the show enthralled and also frightened out of their wits.

The tip of his long hair with green shades had touched the area of the sensors making them activate the electric wall. The soldiers gasped like the spectators of a circus risky number that was about to go wrong. But Fulgerus managed to land on his feet, bending his knees a little. It had been perfect acrobatics. The bardanians barely refrained from giving a loud round of applause.

The winner turned to them. “That’s it! I made it! Now go and inform Leido about the way to beat this thing. I shouldn’t be left alone on this mission. And hurry up! The spell won’t last forever!”

*

“I’m going to catch him!” Selunia said determinedly.

“No.” Soris stopped her and got up from his chair. “You must break the spell. That will make them run away and help us with the inspection. If this lasts even one hour, we’ll have a hard time getting away from the inspectors. I’ll go after him. He’s just one person. I can manage.”

They got out of the room, and after locking it back, parted their own ways. Selunia headed to a palace terrace. She had to find a method to break the spell as quickly as possible. After all, she’s seen on the screens she was sure the source wasn’t inside the building but somewhere outside.

Keeping a steady pace, she got on the terrace and peered all over the garden. The place had subsided again to a sinister silence like the one of a cemetery. The sky was covered with rosy clouds that gave hints of the upcoming Twilight. Every minute counted but the quietude was leaving the impression that the world had stopped in place. Selunia put on her magical gloves and tried to take control of the restlessness that tried to expand inside her heart. The will to fight gave her the much-sought courage she needed.

It didn’t take long to observe the string of magical stones that was twirling in the sky. After its long flight around the courtyard, the string had halted at a tower’s height and continued to spin in circles. “That must be the source of the spell!” she thought. “Good thing it isn’t that darn stick. I can’t risk starting a fight like the first one with that witch. It might kill me for real if I try that again.”

The bracelet gave the signals of a call. It was Dual. “There’s a strange snake in the air!” he groaned. “I saw it as I was closing the door. Oh, gosh, it was so frightening! Selunia, come here already and rescue us!” He paused to sob. “Oh, I hope it didn’t notice me!”

“Alright, Dual. I’ll be there in a minute.” Selunia closed the discussion quickly to focus on what to do next. The string, as if it felt she had caught it up, hid behind the crown of a tall tree. The girl let out a puff. “I must go down.” She started for the exit.

When she reached the anteroom, she saw Dual sitting in a squat, stuck by a wall, almost biting his nails. Dual popped up on his feet and went to greet the highly awaited savior.

“Dual, I’m going to step out,” she said, trying not to let his fear transfer to her. “You stay here and guard this place and call me if something’s wrong.” The lad nodded and clasped his hands with hope.

Selunia went out through the large wooden door, letting Dual close it behind her. The string had returned to its former place, ten feet above the inspector’s black car. The girl activated the gloves and aimed at it. The spinning circle seemed to wait for her move provokingly. Selunia squinted at it. “Let’s hope it won’t start lurching.”

The first bullet was sent and the string shifted its place in a blink. Selunia mumbled some curses then tried to take it by surprise pretending to ignore it for a while and then shoot at it vigorously. The circle slid gently in the air, dodging easily each attack.

With eyes on it, she arrived a few steps away from the garden. The string went opposite to her. Selunia didn’t want to lose its trace, so she started following it. A few steps and, before she knew it, a long whip had caught on her right ankle, tugging her and making her fall, face to the ground. “Ah!” she cried out of surprise.

She rolled over on her back just to notice a tall and stout man with arms long to the ground. His face and boy was well covered by ragged clothes. She started shooting at him, so he dodged and set her free.

Selunia just got back on her feet when a heavy net made from steel chains landed on her, covering her from head to toe. As she tried to get it off from her, her fingers slipped through the chain loops and so, the energy of her gloves spread through the metallic web. Fearing she might be surrounded, she started twirling in place. Now the net was behaving like a shield against the laser bullets that were hitting in loudly. The four attackers had good guns but they weren’t trying to shoot with precision. They thought her improvised shield would naturally let some bullets slip through the gaps of the web.

Selunia was able to create a protection the shape of a bell, but that would waste a lot of her energy. Her mind filled up with worries. After all, they’d found a way to get past the elaborate protection invented by Waltario. Four enemies were going to become ten enemies in no time.

~End of Part II~

Continue reading here: Jump to Part III

Part 3

Soris advanced carefully along the corridor’s walls, certain that he would bump into Fulgerus in no time. The views presented earlier by the surveillance cameras had shown him where the intruder was heading to. Any moment and he was about to encounter Bardan’s son, whom he didn’t know yet. For now, Fulgerus was just another enemy, whose movements gave away a higher level of skills compared to the soldiers he’d fought before.

Soris had his hand on the gun, prepared to shoot in case someone would show up out of a corner. On the corridors, he sometimes had to make his way between stoned guardians or servants. They were all statues. Our palace is unusually decorated today, he thought.

The bracelet buzzed. He was receiving a call. “What is it, Dual?” he asked in a whisper, eyes still vigilant.

“Selunia’s been caught!” Dual answered in a panic.

“What?!” The prince stopped in place.

“I mean she’s surrounded. She’s no escape!”

Soris’ eyebrows drew a sharp crease on his forehead. “And you’re doing nothing?”

“What can I do?” he sobbed. “They’re many. I don’t have her powers. I can’t fight those giants.”

“Shoot them! You don’t have to fight them directly. What on earth? Have you lost your mind completely? Can’t you think anymore? Go! Go right now! It’s an order. And report back!” The conversation was hung up abruptly.

Soris cursed between his teeth, tightening his grip on the gun’s handle. What if it was indeed as serious as Dual presented? What if Selunia was truly held captive? Losing her in such a moment was equal to losing the fight.

*

Soris had one last corridor to pass, one that was swerving to the left. After the corner, a passage of about twenty steps followed, and at its end, a heavy door of old oak was waiting for him. It led to the underground, the place where the prisoners were held captive.

At a stone’s throw, before the prince would reach the corner, his black bracelet rang. Dual let him know about Selunia’s victory. Soris smiled relieved then lifted an eyebrow. An idea had struck him. He closed the conversation and continued to talk loud, “Good. I’ll be right there!”

He started running towards the dungeons, ignoring the fact that his steps were echoing clearly on the stone pavement. After the corner, he continued his run for a little then stopped. The last footstep dissipated in the corridor’s cold air. The prince returned stealthily along the wall, his gun pointed at the corner. In this cat-chasing-mouse game, I feel like I’m not the chaser anymore…

As he passed by a door which was of no importance, he pressed its handle and pushed it wide open, a loud creak following. The prince waited, his brown eyes squinting at the silent corner. After a whole minute, he showed up: the masked man who’d jumped over the fence, Fulgerus himself.

Soris pulled the trigger.

Fulgerus lifted his arms, his vambraces shielding him from the storm of laser-bullets. A few of them got through and left some painful cuts. But, instead of taking shelter behind the corner, Bardan’s son lunged to the prince. He kicked the boy’s gun away then grabbed him by an arm and pulled him close. A real fist fight began between the two experienced warriors.

*

“So that string must be hit for the spell to be broken?” Soris asked then looked at his watch. “It’s been almost half an hour! We must hurry. Selunia, you go outside and distract it. Dual and I are going to shoot from the inside.” He prepared his new laser-gun. “If it’s hit from multiple directions, I’m sure it won’t escape.”

Selunia went out immediately. Soris started searching for Dual in the anteroom. He found him lying on the ground passed out, his back leaned against a wall.

“Dual, come on, stop pretending,” he said, kicking the guard’s foot. “You made me feel so worried when you didn’t take my call. Get up!” The prince gave him another gentle kick. “That animal was killed. Now it’s time to get rid of the spell. If we just lie there doing nothing, we might have to fight a hundred of those wolves.”

These words worked like magic. Dual sprang on his feet. “Sure! Let’s shoot that snake!” Meeting the prince’s long stare, he mumbled an excuse, “Gosh, there was something strange in the air; it made me fall asleep.”

Soris shook his head then went to open a window, beckoning to Dual to do the same, on the opposite side of the anteroom. With a clear view to the skies, both of them prepared their guns and peered to target Vittria’s string of beads.

Selunia found it first, so she shot at it several times, failing to hit it. The boys then started their own attack. It didn’t take long for their plan to show its efficiency.

Taken by surprise, the string received several laser-bullets, lost its balance, then a little shinning sphere weakened it completely. The energy stored by Selunia inside that globe had covered it completely, weakening its influence over the place.

After this, the three Aridens watched with much interest to see if their action would break the spell. The string started spinning at a great speed, its details melting into a simple circle. A strange wind started blowing, opposed to the direction the string was spinning. The rustle of the leaves murmured a pleasant sound, proving that the spell was broken.

Selunia looked around, feeling the magical breeze brushing through some wisps of hair left untied. “We defeated it!” she rejoiced.

When the snake of crystal had fallen on the pavement, Dual shouted out loud, “You did it, girl! Hooray!”

She turned around to face her comrades, first noticing the prince’s smile and then Dual’s powerful applause. Soris was a little distracted by the new light on his bracelet. It had been blinking for a whole minute already. It showed that someone was trying to destroy the protection added at the gate of the old castle. Breaking the spell wasn’t enough. We have to get them out before they can encounter the inspectors.