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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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.

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