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

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

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

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

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

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

“I know. What—”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Sure.”

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

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

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

“General! Are you all right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Maybe she got lost,” other commented.

“Maybe she’s a beggar.”

“Or an orphan.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Chapter 8 – Magical Battle in the Mist (The Prequel)

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Waltario’s two-seat vehicle swept through the open gates of the palace out onto the road. It flew one foot above the earth without making any noise. Sitting astride on it, the prince, clothed in a brown hooded robe, marveled at the speed and the sleekness of the vehicle. It was like a long horse’s back made of steel plates with a comfortable saddle for two passengers. It had no wheels as it was designed to fly, and it was powered by a big piece of crystal which sat hidden in the front case, glowing bright yellow. Some plates on one side of the vehicle were missing offering view to a cluttering of wires and tubular iron objects, as Constantine still had some fixes to add. Nevertheless, the prince gaped joyously in every direction, fascinated by this metal thing that could fly and take them fast and smoothly to their destination. Its creator was proud of it, too.

“You see these wheel tracks, my prince?” Waltario asked looking ahead on the path banked by tall trees.

The prince nodded, swiveling his head to look around the vehicle.

“They are going to lead us to the carriage,” the general explained. “Now, hold tight. I’m going to try to go even faster.”

He squeezed the antler-like handles of the vehicle and, with a jolt, it accelerated, the foliage around seeming to mingle into a long green wall. Soris was pushed back against the general’s chest armor as his clutch onto some knobs on the casing hadn’t proven to be reliable. Regaining his balance, he pulled up the hood and gasped with fascination. Rainbow Mist was so close and big, looming like a canopy of clouds above the treetops of the forest on their right.

In just a couple of minutes, they reached a fork in the road and the wooden barrier the Ariden soldiers had set. Waltario halted, but then a frown darkened his face. The tracks were visibly going behind the barrier and a dust cloud could be grasped in the distance. When he turned his head in the guards’ direction, they all winced and gave an awkward bow.

“Did the merchant pass by here?” he asked, without leaving his place.

The soldiers mumbled some answer as they elbowed one another to step forward. No answer was required. The general took the boy with both arms and put him on the ground.

“Your Highness, I’m going to leave you here for now. It’s too dangerous to take you on a road that’s so close to the mist.”

The boy protested, but the general didn’t stall to listen to his complaints. The vehicle flew above the barrier and sped after the merchant’s carriage. Soris watched him shrinking into the distance. When two soldiers came to him, he let his shoulders drop and obediently followed them to a temporary tent they’d erected in the safe forest on the left side of the road.

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The merchant was driving his carriage without care when suddenly he noticed a fallen tree across the road. He commanded the horse to slow down. “Bandits?” he wondered, scanning the surroundings. Could the thieves be so bold and use the mist to their advantage? Many soldiers were patrolling the area. It couldn’t be.

The merchant stopped the horse and leaped down from his seat, listening carefully around. The wind was weak, barely moving the leaves, but some loud tree crashes echoed now and then. The merchant dared to walk closer to the misty forest, peering through the branches fading in clouds of ever-floating white particles. Even an eagle wouldn’t be able to see through that, so how could a bunch of thieves manage to hide and watch the road by hiding in the fog? A clasp of thunder made him jump back calling his ancestors’ names. Some natural phenomena. Why was he so scared? The horse shook its brown head, oblivious of its eerie surroundings.

The man pounded a fist against his chest to summon his courage, then marched to the fallen tree. At close range, the obstacle was a slim young tree that he could easily remove. The merchant put his hands on his hips and laughed at himself. “These superstitions…” He pushed the trunk to a side, then returned to the carriage. The horse started walking again as his master instructed him to. The merchant kept an eye on the mist, acknowledging the risk he was taking by traveling so close to it. Thieves could lurk in the forest without being noticed and trees could fall right on his carriage or horse. He put his hat on and pulled his collar up, the chill air sending shivers down his spine.

The misty forest belonged to the White Castle, marking the boundary between their small territory and the Arid Kingdom’s land. Some rumors said that many queer things had happened to those who ventured deep into that forest and that the White Castle inhabitants didn’t welcome strangers.

The merchant had taken his eyes away from the forest, when all of a sudden a loud snap made his heart stop beating. Another tree had fallen right behind his carriage, then another two fell in the forest, their canopies dropping on the road in front of them, covering half of it. Sensing danger, the horse panicked and started galloping wildly past the obstacles and sped up with each new crack or snap that echoed from the forest. The merchant tried to regain control of it, but the horse didn’t respond anymore to the reins’ movement. It ran mindlessly, stimulated by fear. The man searched for a whistle in his chest pocket, one of his best tricks to calm down the horse. When he finally managed to blow the whistle loudly, the horse slowed down its pace. The merchant wiped his forehead and let out a sigh of relief, but then, as he looked around, fear crippled him once again. The mist was everywhere. It had stretched onto this part of the road, blocking their vision. Maybe the horse hadn’t reacted to the whistle but to the fog.

“You damn horse,” he cursed, barely seeing the animal’s back. “You walked us right into the fog.” He searched for a lamp in his bag and lit it up, then left his seat and took the horse by the bridle.

“All right, Jack. Let’s walk together now. It shouldn’t take too long to reach the plains. We’ve traveled a lot already,” he spoke to the horse, hoping it would understand his words. Now that they were walking side by side, hearing the animal’s breath and its clopping hooves, he didn’t feel alone anymore. As they advanced through the illusory cloud of cotton wool, the lamp didn’t prove to be of much help. At best, they could see one meter in front of them. “Jack, when we reach home, I’ll feed you well and let you rest. No more riding for you tomorrow,” the merchant mumbled to keep the fear at bay. The horse shook its head gently, so the merchant went on, “Oh, so one day is not fine? He, he, you want to sleep and play more. All right. Two days of vacation for you.”

Continuous furious snaps of branches made his mouth run dry. “It’s fine, Jackie,” he uttered, his voice breaking. The noise seemed to intensify and he was sure he was not mistaken when he heard some men’s grunting and heavy breathing as if they were fighting. One more tree fall swooshed close to the road and Jack reared on its hind legs, snatching itself free from the merchant’s grasp and doubling back. The merchant went numb from fear when he saw himself left alone in the mist.

“Jack, come here, boy,” he begged, trying hard to regain his composure. He broke into cold sweat when rushed footsteps approached him. How foolish of him to travel on a day like this. He shut his eyes as a strong arm wrapped around his shoulder pulling him close and bringing a knife to his neck.

The merchant dropped the lamp and raised his shaky hands in defense. “Spare my life,” he said, gulping to bring more power in his trembling voice. “Take everything from me, but spare my life. Please, spare my life!” he pleaded, standing on his toes as the attacker was much taller than him.

“Stand back or I’ll kill him!” he heard his attacker’s gruff voice. So there was somebody else out there in the mist. But how could they see each other through that fog? He wasn’t able to glimpse a shadow in that chalky cloud. He whispered a prayer, calling his grandmother’s name. The thief must have been some lunatic fighting with another lunatic, and he had fallen victim to their mad game in the Rainbow Mist. He shouldn’t have taken the general’s safety measures so lightly. But now it was too late to regret. The other person didn’t speak a word to defend him and he felt the blade touching his throat.

*

Soris sat on a soldier’s bag, playing with his fingers. Waltario had said he could do many things if he had a strategy, but he didn’t mention there were limits to everything. Being a cute, smart child didn’t mean he could take part in rescue missions. As he glanced up from time to time through the large door gap of the tent, he could tell the soldiers were very uncomfortable to have him around. Being a prince had both advantages and disadvantages, Teacher Coldpeak had always insisted on making him understand that.

He took out his pendant and stared at the dark piece of crystal. “I guess you’re not a good lucky charm,” he mumbled, nervous and frustrated that the liqueur bottle had disappeared along with his princess. Lady Voronchi’s sardonic laughter replayed in his ears making him shut his eyes with indignation. He didn’t want to admit defeat.

A warm hand pressed on his shoulder, so he opened his eyes and looked up. “Master!” he gasped, excitement returning to his face.

“Why do you still call me that, little Soris?” the man said, barely hinting a smile.

“You’re the one who taught me many things and gave me this lucky charm. I’ve missed you, Master.” The boy got up and clutched the hand of the tall visitor. He was a man with a fair complexion that failed to reveal his real age. Watching his profile, one could’ve said he was in his late twenties, and when he turned a little he could’ve been any age between thirty and fifty. His eyes, however, reflected the wisdom of a centenarian.

“I sensed you summoning the talisman’s power. Was I wrong?” he asked, squatting to read the child’s expression.

Soris glanced at the man’s short, graying hair then started recounting all the events that lead him in his current situation.

“It was urgent, so I had to call the crystal’s power,” he added as a conclusion, noticing a slight frown of disapproval on his mentor’s face.

“It was urgent, but it didn’t threaten your life, nor the kingdom’s future. Haven’t I taught you that?”

The boy hung his head, yet in his heart, he was happy to have his mentor scolding him. He’d always felt this man was the only one who treated him like an adult, never seeing him as a kid. “Yes. But you don’t need to worry. The pendant didn’t do anything,” he replied.

The man heaved a sigh then told him, “Never do that again. I won’t be here for the next few years, so I want to be sure you’re not going to do anything foolish in my absence.”

“I’ll be good. I promise. But why do you have to go?”

The man stood up and looked toward the mist in the distance. “Things are getting complicated. My stay in this area seems to bring trouble, so I must go and solve what comes from outside  of the continent.”

The boy blinked repeatedly trying to figure out what exactly he was referring to. “But you’re going to return, right?”

“Maybe. If you want me to return, you better behave yourself,” the mentor replied with a stern face.

Soris clasped his hands at his back and nodded politely. “I will.”

“Good,” he said, pulling the hood of his long coat over his head. He then snuck out of the tent as enigmatically as he’d come in, leaving the prince staring at the door. His friendship with this man was a secret he’d been keeping from anyone, mostly because he was convinced that this mentor was a special person.

*

Constantine rode his flying vehicle until it reached the area where the mist spread across the road, breaking its normal limits. He halted and pondered what to do next. He knew the mist could be also the White Castle’s doing to hide whatever was going on into their woods, so going through it could mean he was entering their fight. Still, the carriage tracks were not stopping there. After some heavy rustling in the forest, he heard the horse’s frightened neigh and then the merchant’s desperate cry, “Spare my life, please! Somebody help me!”

At first, the general rushed to turn on the vehicle’s powerful lamp, but then he thought it would be better if no one knew of his presence. He took a knife and two guns from the vehicle’s side pockets and equipped himself with one of his lamp-inventions, then crouched low through the mist and looked ahead. Just as he’d surmised, the fog was slowly settling over the road, so the ground was mostly clear. He advanced carefully, noticing the carriage’s wheels, then the horse backing steps, and then three pairs of men’s boots. He recognized the merchant’s black shoes standing close to some shiny boots covered with silvery scales. Close to them, were some green boots with golden details which the general guessed they belonged to a White Castle soldier. He shook his head annoyed by the merchant’s reckless obstinacy to take this road home. Interfering in this fight could mean breaking their laws and agreements with the White Stronghold, so he waited to see what the green soldier would choose to do despite the merchant’s pitiful cries.

“Let him go. If you do, I’ll spare your life,” a determined voice said.

“Heh, why would I believe you?” the demon snickered, slowly taking steps backward, dragging the merchant after him.

“He seems serious. You should believe him,” the merchant recommended although it was obvious no one would listen to him.

Waltario prepared a gun, readying himself to attack when suddenly he noticed some movement. A pair of leather boots passed by him almost flying then caught the demon off guard and killed him. The enemy fell to the ground, and the merchant was released, yet he did not know which way to go.

Everything had happened so fast, that it took a few moments for the general to get back to his senses and shout at the poor victim, “Crouch! Get on your knees!”

The merchant mumbled some scared shrieks and words then dropped to his knees, unaware that his savior and the other White Castle soldier had taken the demons’ body and fled. Shaking on the ground, it took a while until he looked in the general’s direction.

“Walk this way,” Constantine beckoned to him.

“Oh, General! Thank you!” the merchant exclaimed, tears blurring his vision. “I’m terribly sorry I didn’t listen to you.”

“We’ll talk about that later. Now let’s get you out of here. Come and help me move your horse and carriage backward.”

Although pale from the terrifying experience, the merchant found some strength to get to the general, then making use of Waltario’s powerful lamp, as well as squatting from time to time to determine whether they were going in the right direction, they managed to get the carriage out of the mist.

“I’ll turn Jack around and I should be able to go back,” the merchant explained in a low voice revealing a mixture of shame, regret, and guilt.

As he did so, the general went to his vehicle and took a moment to let out a sigh of relief. The most difficult part of the trip should be over now.

Thank you for reading this chapter! I hope you enjoyed it!

Chapter 7 – Unsteady Destiny (The Prequel)

 

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Soris came out of the building and went galloping after the carriage which was just wheeling out through the gates. “Wait! Stop!” he screamed in vain, continuing to run even after the gates had been closed. A guardian stepped before him. “Your Highness, what’s the matter?”

The boy fumbled as he couldn’t find the right words to say. “Soldier, please stop that cart!”

“I’m sorry?”

Soris pointed at the road. “That cart… we must stop it.”

The soldier looked backward, through the metal gates, and watched the dust clouds that had remained behind the carriage.

“My apologies, Your Highness. It’s already gone now,” he answered, not taking the boy seriously.

Soris clutched his hair with both hands. “Oh, what am I going to do?”

He paced up and down, overwhelmed by regrets while the guard’s gaze swung after his nervous movements, curious to guess what was troubling the prince, but also amused by the adult-like act. Moments later, the boy snapped his fingers and glanced up at the soldier with hope, “Has General Waltario returned?”

“Yes. About ten minutes ago. I think he’s in his studio.”

The prince started for the main entrance of the palace, through the alley at his left. The general would definitely understand him and help him get Princess back and the coveted liqueur bottle, too. As he ran, he clutched the medallion secretly kept at his chest. “Come on, pretty stone. You were supposed to be my lucky charm. Give me the right ideas.”

As he hastened close to the hedge bounding the alley, Clark pounced behind him out of nowhere. “Prince Soris, don’t you dare to run away. Your awful behavior is beyond redemption. Stop right now if you still wish to be forgiven.”

The boy shrieked but didn’t dare to look back. “Oh, Clark! Not now, please!” he begged, feeling his legs tensing painfully with each speeding step. Clark’s shadow was stretching long, almost swallowing him. He could hear the supervisor’s panting and loud footsteps approaching him. A few more seconds and he would be caught. He gripped the medallion again, praying for a miracle, and when he took a glimpse at it, it did seem to give a swift bright flash under his fingers. Clinging on that hope, his gallop gained more speed and he managed to pass around the corner of the garden without getting caught.

“Prince Soris, you better stop!” Clark gasped, growing tired from the run.

Soris wasn’t going to listen to him. Not now when he was just a hundred meters away from the entry staircase. General Waltario stood up there, on the landing which led to the main entrance into the palace. Feeling that Clark was soon going to catch him, the child shouted at the top of his lungs, “General! Help me!”

Waltario, along with his brother and a few sergeants, lowered bewildered eyes into his direction. The boy’s hair was a mess, and his face red, a sight which melted the general’s heart in an instant. He marched down to him and grabbed him by the shoulders. “What is it, kid?” he asked, forgetting about speech formalities.

Clark pulled the prince back. “Leave him, general. He’s possessed by the Devil today. He’s caused nothing but trouble. Don’t listen to his nonsense.”

“No! General, please.” Soris clutched Waltario’s sleeve. “It’s important!”

The general read the despair in the boy’s coral eyes. He looked at Clark. “It’s fine. I got this. If he’s up to some prank, I’ll punish him myself.”

Clark huffed and puffed, but then he conceded and withdrew to his chamber.

General Waltario lifted the boy with one arm and swiftly brushed his wild hair. “Well, tell me. What’s the problem?”

The boy swallowed to bring his voice back. “The messenger… he’s gone,” he uttered.

Waltario stared at him in surprise, then started for the garden. After a few steps, he twisted his neck back to his crew to let them know, with a slight nod of his head, that he wanted to talk with the boy in private. His men acknowledged his wish and returned to their own discussion, taming their own curiosity.

Strolling aimlessly in the garden, through the boy’s answers to his patient questions, Constantine found out almost everything that had happened.

“And the princess is now in the carriage because of me! Help me get her back, please!” the prince cried.

The general pondered for a while taking the boy’s recount with a grain of salt. “Okay,” he consented. “I’ll go after that carriage, but you’re going to come with me. If that princess that you’re talking about is not there, then you’re going to take responsibility for this.” The boy nodded repeatedly, his wet bangs following the motion of his head. The general put him down. “We’re going to ride my experimental flying vehicle, so you better brace yourself.” Soris lifted his gaze with excitement.

*

Close the faraway beach, after fighting a number of demons, Inerishia propped herself against a tree trunk to catch her breath. Strands of hair soaked in sweat had stuck to her clammy skin, onto her neck and temples. She’d been able to heal her wounds here and there, but her ragged clothing still carried proof of her bleedings. Just as she pulled back a loosen sleeve over her shoulder, an arrow came her way. She dropped to her knees, the arrow piercing the bole. The war was not over yet, although the White Castle was on the advantage.

Inerishia took some sand then threw it in her attacker’s direction, just as he was approaching her. The particles spread and swelled into a cloud, blocking his vision, so Inerishia had enough time to call a blaze of wind and thrust him into a tree. She gave a sigh of relief and forced herself to stand up and search for her husband.

Kendel was nowhere to be seen, in fact, she hadn’t seen him at all during the fight, but nor did she see Divian. The dark clouds were still close to the treetops and she could only presume that the devils’ leader hadn’t been killed. As she put one step in front of the other, advancing to the shore where the sea played with calm waves, she noticed bodies of defeated demons lying scattered across the battered sand. White Castle members had been injured too, but they had been pulled close to the base of a nearby cliff where they were waiting to receive some healing treatment from their luckier comrades. But those were only a few, and they were always turning back to fight as soon as they determined the wounds had been healed past the critical state.

Under the protective shadow of the towering cliff, Inerishia checked every patient but still couldn’t find her husband.

“Have you seen Kendel?” she asked every healer she ran into. Some of them simply ignored her or shook their heads and slunk off immediately. After watching her for a while, one of the injured fighters lifted his head and said, “Maybe you should check the dock.”

Inerishia took that as a clear answer. She hurried in that direction and climbed on the short dock of rocks. As soon as she heard some heavy breathing, she cried out her husband’s name. “Kendel, are you there?” A few more steps and she saw him stretched uncomfortably onto a wide stone. She skidded down, kneeling at his side and grabbed his face with both hands. “Are you all right?” she asked, assessing his injuries.

The loose clothing had suffered greatly during the battle. Kendel was bare-chested now, covered in grazes and red markings. Pale-faced, he uttered with pinched lips, “That coward… he ran away.”

Inerishia took note of a bleeding wound on Kendel’s stomach so she hurried to heal it. A feeble glow came from her trembling hands then streamed onto the open injury pulling back the blood around and rushing to heal his insides.

“Where is our daughter?” Kendel forced himself to ask, heaving with exertion.

Concentrated on the difficult healing, Inerishia was late to reply. “She’s safe. I took her to the safest place.”

Kendel watched her with delirious wet eyes. “I want to see her again.”

“You will, don’t worry. Keep your energy because this wound seems hard to heal. Maybe it’s because my powers are weak now.”

Kendel shook his head then looked at the grey sky. “No,” he whispered. “It’s because it’s a poisoned wound.”

Fear lodged in his wife’s heart. “Of course!” she realized with terror. “Almost all their weapons had poison.” She pushed her palms against his wound and forced her energy to gush out. “Don’t worry. I’m going to heal you. I just need some time and… and…”

Her sight went dark for a moment, signaling that her diminishing powers had reached critical limits. When she opened her eyes, she was resting over Kendel, who had politely accepted her accidental embrace. She got up, embarrassment setting her blood back in motion.

“That wasn’t intentional,” she hurried to explain herself, tucking her hair behind the ears.

“Well, if this was our last embrace,” Kendel joked with sad eyes.

“Don’t say that. You’re not going to die!” Inerishia assured him, probing the wound. It had barely closed in a bit and the tissues were still showing resistance before her power, telling her the poison was still running through Kendel’s veins. She pressed on the wound, attempting to restart the healing process. Kendel grabbed her hand.

“Stop. It won’t work. You need to live,” he said.

“You need to live, too!” she replied with indignation.

“I’m sorry, but I think…”

She pushed his hand away. “I don’t want to hear that. I’m not letting you go. Don’t you dare to say goodbye!”

She stood and screamed for help, but no one even cared to glimpse at her, so she scrambled upon the rocks and tottered toward one of her friends.

“Please, help me with some healing,” she pleaded.

The other woman quickly analyzed her then said, “You look fine. It must be Kendel that needs help and I cannot help you with that. In fact, no one can. Your mother, Lady Gladiole is here and she forbade us to help him.”

Inerishia insisted and tried to coerce someone to help her, but it was in vain. She grew desperate at the thought that Kendel would die simply because no one dared to disobey Gladiole’s orders. Drained of magical powers and with scarce physical power left, Inerishia went to confront her mother who had just returned to the beach.

“Help me heal him,” she demanded, piercing Gladiole with a sharp gaze. “Why don’t you let the healers touch him?”

Gladiole watched her daughter and laughed wryly. “He’s not one of us. If he hadn’t been able to protect himself, then that’s his fate. Let him die.”

Inerishia pushed her mother back with angry arms. “How can you be so heartless? If he’s not like us, then he’s a human and we’ve sworn to protect the humans.”

Gladiole parried some arrows thrown at them, then said to her daughter, “Get your act together, Inerishia. The battle isn’t over yet. There’s no time to talk about your meaningless love.” Gladiole summoned the wind to lift her from the ground then flew away to fight with a crowd of devils.

Inerishia turned around and searched some compassion in her friends’ eyes. They were all avoiding her, keeping their gazes in the ground. Exhausted and emotionally drained, Inerishia couldn’t hold back her tears anymore. She ran back to Kendel, hoping her powers would be able to make a miracle or that at least she would still find him alive. She did not want to believe that her vision was coming true.

*

Hurrying his horse toward a road close to the forest where Rainbow Mist was hovering above, the merchant observed some soldiers in grey costumes waving him to stop.

“Damn it,” he cursed to himself. “When did these guys become so zealous?”

The merchant slowed down the horse, and got off the carriage, pretending to be clueless. “What’s the matter?” he asked the soldier who approached him.

“This road isn’t safe. Turn back and take a detour.”

“Oh, but I came this way just today and everything was fine,” the merchant insisted.

The soldier swung a bored hand toward the chalky fog. “It was fine until Rainbow Mist appeared. The general himself ordered that we don’t let anyone pass.”

The merchant drew a devastated hand to his chest. “Oh, but what am I going to do? The king himself has demanded me to go and repair some chairs and then return with them tomorrow. If I take a detour, I’m going to get back here only next week!”

The soldier shrugged and withdrew to his place. Stifling some swear words, the merchant went back to his carriage and lifted a bag he had kept under his seat. Among other things, the liqueur bottle lay there too, unlike how Ines believed that it had been stored in the back of the wagon.

He took out a scroll that bore the king’s seal and went to talk with the group of soldiers.

“Dear, hardworking men,” he said looking at each one of them, “I have the king’s permit to pass every road.”

The men noticed the seal and squirmed in their places.

“I see, but the general…” one of them managed to say.

“Has anything bad ever happened when the Rainbow Mist appeared?” the merchant asked with sly eyes. “I understand the general’s caution, but it’s just a rare, big fog that doesn’t affect these roads at all.”

They all scratched their heads, afraid to say anything. His reasoning made sense, especially when no one had reported that anything bad had happened during the Rainbow Mist phenomena. The dense fog was kept at bay by the tall trees of the forest on the right side of the road, so there wasn’t any problem with the visibility either. Still, they daren’t disobey Waltario’s orders.

Seeing their humble hesitation, the merchant felt he had the upper hand, so he continued, “As far as I know, if someone opposes the king’s wish, they shall be punished.”

The soldiers bowed their heads and kept silent. The merchant strode back to his carriage and got on. The horse started its march and passed by the soldiers who turned a blind eye to its passing. Guilt-stricken, they hurried to erect a barrier of wood to block the road and hoped that nothing hazardous would emerge from the mist.

Next chapter coming soon! I hope you enjoy this story!