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

bora-bora-685303_960_720

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

landscape-4083603_960_720

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Why?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[crowdsignal poll=10283788]

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

green-1072828_960_720

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.

hills-889131_960_720

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 6 – Tricky Mission (The Prequel)

saxon-switzerland-539418_960_720

In a distant watchtower of the Arid Kingdom, a group of soldiers was keeping an eye on the thick fog which swirled over the forbidden forest of the White Castle.

Standing by a window-gap in the round wall of stone bricks, Officer Dean rubbed his chin covered by a mat of brown hair and thought aloud, “It could be a natural phenomenon or something else. It’s the first time I see this with my own eyes and it’s so strange that it doesn’t expand away from the white stronghold’s area.”

A soldier staring with a pair of binoculars shouted, “I saw it again! I’m certain that was a human shadow with wings in that big cloud.”

Dean lifted a bushy eyebrow. “That could be just an illusion.”

The oak door of the room opened and General Waltario walked in, followed by his younger brother and two other officers.

Dean turned around in a blink and offered his respectful salutations, then hastened to say, “Sir, we’ve already set some boundaries around the danger zone. Thankfully, there weren’t many merchants coming today.”

“You did well,” Waltario assured him as he meandered closer to Dean’s window. “Give me some binoculars.”

The soldier from the other window handed over his. “I saw human allures in the cloud,” he said with startled young eyes.

With a flick of the wrist, Dean beckoned the soldier to retreat then turned to the general. “Sir, I presume this is what is called the Rainbow Mist.”

Constantine Waltario remained silent as he watched the fog through the magnified view. Now and then, flashes of light blasted between the moving cinder clouds. The Rainbow Mist was a public lie his father had created to cover up the strange happenings around the White Castle’s area to keep the people calm. It worked well to describe it like natural phenomena that came from the sea, but he knew it was not safe. Thankfully, it was always up to the White Castle to deal with the real causes of it.

The general let the binoculars down on the window ledge. “Yes. That’s the Rainbow Mist. Tell the soldiers not to stare at it to avoid getting caught in a fleeting illusion. Also, make sure no one passes by the streets around the fog. The roads will be open again after the fog disappears, understood?”

“Yes, sir!” Dean jumped in place to perform his bow, glad that his assumptions had been right.

Waltario left the room at calm pace followed by his crew, but then, as they climbed down the spiraled staircase, he said to his brother, “Go ahead and gather the special team. I’m going to talk to the king about this.”

His brother nodded then started running together with the other two special soldiers.

*

Hidden behind a bush of the royal garden, Soris watched the servant with the bottles advancing toward one of the side entrances of the building.

“I should be able to get the bottle before it goes into the cellar,” the prince said to himself and to the dark-haired girl who stuck close to him.

“How?” she asked.

“Wait here,” he whispered with excitement spread on his face.

The prince sprang from his hiding spot and ran to the servant, then, as he got close enough to the bored man, his feet movement turned into a playful gait. “Hi, mister!” he greeted, jumping at the man’s elbow.

“Oh, good evening, Your Highness,” the servant replied, surprised by this unusual meeting. The way the child clung after him signaled him that the prince was up to some mischief, so he sped up on the white stone alley. Ten more meters and he would be inside the palace.

Jumping automatically by his side, the prince watched the liqueur bottle with red seal on the neck, wrapped in twine, sitting quietly in its place in the box with rattling bottles. It was so close to his eyes, so defenseless. The boy stretched a hand and grabbed the bottle’s neck. He was just pulling it out when the servant suddenly lifted the crate.

“Your Highness, may I know what you’re trying to do? Alcohol is not for kids, and besides, these are all empty bottles,” he explained, keeping the crate up to his chest.

The prince tried to jump and rise on his feet, but it was of no use. His plan had failed. The servant marched inside the building. The boy stopped and watched with dismay how the bottle was getting away from him. If only he’d been quicker. Just when his spirits were going down, Ines showed by his side, “What are you doing? He’s getting away.”

The prince suddenly regained his composure. “Indeed. Let’s go in.”

Ghosting after the servant’s shadow, they halted before a corner and swiveled their heads around. The servant put the crate into a storage room, then locked the door and left to mend his other tasks. Soris retreated from the spying posture and let his chin rest in his palm. “Why didn’t he take the bottles to the cellar?” he wondered. “That’s where the wine barrels are.”

“If only we could open that door,” Ines thought aloud sparking a revelation in the prince’s mind.

“I know where I can get some keys!” he exclaimed, snapping his fingers. “Princess, you wait here and keep an eye on that door. I’m going to come back with the keys.”

Ines nodded, happy to play a part in an important mission. The boy guided her to a hiding spot beside a forgotten cupboard in the corridor, then he started for the superintendent’s room where he was sure to find a copy of most of the keys. His hopping steps led him there in just a few minutes, and with the help of a chair, he managed to reach up to the key ring hung on a wall, under the marking of letter A which stood for the first floor’s rooms.

General Waltario had been right to say no one would expect anything from him. Running through corridors, he’d passed by both nobles and household staff, but nobody ever stopped him to ask where he was going or what he was doing. They all minded their own businesses, not giving a care about a child who was probably just playing by himself. One last corridor and he would arrive at the storage room, open the door, take the bottle, bring it to Waltario, and then…

Something like a claw grabbed him by the collar. “Prince Soris, where do you think you’re going?”

The boy tried to squirm free, begging his captor, “Mister Clark, please, let me go. Someone’s waiting for me.”

Clark’s statue-face barely showed a glimpse of a frown. “Who could be waiting for you?”

Tottering on his toes, the prince mumbled hesitantly, “Well, Princess, the girl with purple eyes…”

Clark gave a hoot of derision, then dragged the boy back to his room. “I might be a pushover, but never a fool, my prince,” he commented snidely. “I’m sure your princess with purple eyes can wait until you pay for your misbehaving. The king has allowed me to punish you. You are not to leave your room until dinner.”

The boy watched with increasing sadness how he was being taken farther and farther from the storage room. The messenger would definitely take the bottle way before dinner. As he reluctantly followed the inexorable supervisor, he struggled to hold back some tears of frustration.

*

Dozing off by the old cupboard, Ines’ attention was drawn by the noise of a horse and the grinding wheels of a cart, echoing from the courtyard. Soon, hurried footsteps approached the silent corridor, so she shrunk by the wall. The whispers of two men reached to her ears.

“Everything is there just like you asked.”

“Good. Help me load my carriage. I need to leave quickly. The roads are going to be blocked because of the Rainbow Mist and I do not want to take a detour. Why would I waste so many days passing through the villages because of some damn fog?”

Ines recognized the first man to be the servant, then she dared to stretch her neck and glimpse at the newcomer. A man in dark clothes wearing a well-defined black mustache waited for the servant to unlock the door. His shiny thick hair followed the shape of his head like a helmet, just like his vest tightened around his slender waist. He was a merchant that came to the palace to bring all kinds of things for the courtiers and take back most of the broken things that could be repaired: from clocks and jewelry to chairs and clothes. Also, the liqueur bottles he brought were one of the best in the entire kingdom.

Ines took the piece of crystal out of her pocket and concentrated on making the spell, then she stepped forward, her heart skipping a beat whenever the two men looked her way but failed to see her. Unconsciously squeezing the piece of crystal in her wet hand, she waited by the merchant’s side, and followed him in the storage room, as the servant opened the door. Under the diffuse veil of light spread by a bulb, they passed by many boxes and shelf units stacked with dusty objects. The grey floor was crowded with parts of broken furniture, so their steps had to be careful.

The merchant rested hands on his hips and sighed. “I won’t take everything today. I’ll take only this, these, and these,” he said, pointing at some boxes overflowing with shiny clothes.

“Oh, we need these chairs repaired quickly. Please take these ones, too,” the servant said, lifting up a pack of wooden pieces.

As they started transferring objects, Ines searched for the liqueur bottle. She found the crate placed primly on a shelf which was out of her reach. When the two men were out of the room, she stopped the spell so she could focus on finding something to stand on. She pushed some box in front of the shelf unit, then hurried to hide behind a desk with two missing legs. The servant returned and, contrary to the merchant’s wish, rushed to pick up some other boxes with things his friends valued.

When he left, Ines darted from her place and jumped upon the box, stretching her hands to reach the crate. With a little effort, she managed to grab the bottle’s neck, but it was hard to shift it from its socket. Steps approached the room, so she had no more time to withdraw. She summoned the power of the crystal and turned invisible just as the merchant entered. He noticed her dark hair fading to nothing.

“What on earth?” he exclaimed and blinked rapidly. He closed in towards her, scanning the shelf. He saw the crate and took it in his hands. “I must be seeing things,” he muttered to himself and moved out, to the girl’s dismay.

Ines followed him in the corridor but stopped for a moment as her knees suddenly became weak. When no one was around, she deactivated the stone and took a moment to rest, remembering her mother’s teachings. Every crystal fed on the owner’s energy. She must have overused it already.

*

Trapped in his room and sitting at his desk, Soris watched the two supervisors talking leisurely and once in a while shooting a suspicious glance at him. Eyes back to the blank sheet of paper, he sighed. The Poem of Redemption had hundreds of verses and he could barely concentrate on copying it. Princess was down in the palace, keeping an eye on the storage room where the messenger could come in any moment for the secret bottle, while he was imprisoned in his room, thinking of an escape route. Dabbling his feet in the air, he transcribed the first verses, then dropped the pen on the table.

Clark eyed him immediately. “Anything wrong, Your Highness?”

“Yes. It’s stuffy in here. I need some air.” He hopped down from the chair and hastened to the balcony. Searching just around the corner of the building, he noticed the merchant’s chariot standing still as it was being loaded with wooden boxes. A thought answered his previous questions. Maybe that’s why the servant didn’t take the crate to the cellar. He was going to pass it to the merchant. Why didn’t he think of that? Soris grew restive with each second, thinking he would lose the messenger’s track.

“What are you watching so intensively?” Clark asked, as he and his friend approached the boy.

Both supervisors behind his back, the boy turned to them and heaved an upset sigh, then dragged his feet back in the room. The desk with the heavy book was waiting for him quietly, but then, so did the door at the back of the room. No one was expecting him to run now. So what if he gave it a try? As soon as that idea sparked in his mind, Soris ran to the door and snatched the key from the lock.

“Oh, no!” Clark gasped. “He’s getting away!”

On the other side now, ignoring the supervisors’ yells, the prince hurried to lock them in, then ran as fast as he could toward the left wing of the palace.

Loping down a servants’ staircase, he stopped on a landing to catch his breath, then looked over the big open window at his left. The carriage hadn’t left yet, but he could hear the merchant’s farewell talk with the servant. Just then, from the hedge bordering the alley, Ines stepped into the picture, looking left and right. Soris waved. “Princess! Over here!”

The girl looked up and smiled, then she beckoned to him to keep quiet. He turned silent as she pointed at the carriage, trying to tell him that the object of their mission was right there. To the boy’s great surprise, she snuck inside the coach’s open back doors. Although that seemed crazy, he jumped with enthusiasm. Once she had her hands on the liqueur bottle she would come out and his mission would be accomplished.

“All right. I’m going now. Take care,” the merchant said as he came out from the palace and went to close the coach’s doors. Soris gasped. Leaning over the window, he shouted at the top of his lungs, “Hey, Mister! Hey, over here!”

The messenger looked up and recognized the prince. “Oh, Your Highness,” he said, bending his head respectfully. “How may I be of your service?”

Soris glanced at the carriage, hoping to see Princess coming out. “Can I have some wine?” he asked pushing a grin to his cheeks.

The messenger puffed with laughter. “Oh, my apologies, Your Majesty. I have no wine for your age.”

Soris, smile on his face, was kicking the wall under the window with the tip of his right shoe, as there was no sign of the girl coming out from there. “Come on,” he mumbled between his teeth, then returned to the merchant. “Sir, but you must have something for kids too. I’m sick and tired of drinking only water.”

“Okay. Next time, I’m going to bring you some grape juice.”

“Yay,” said the prince, clutching the window’s margin with despair.

The merchant ignored the child’s other talk-baits, excusing himself. Inside the caravan, Ines, a bit lightheaded, was still searching through things when the messenger came to close the doors. She quickly turned invisible and hastened to get out, but her energy levels dropped low, so she arrived before the doors when they were already closed. She tried to push them open, but it was futile. They were locked.

The cart jolted, then started advancing. Panic-stricken, the girl turned around in the dark place. “Oh, mommy. What am I going to do? Why am I so tired?” she mumbled to herself before collapsing on the cold floor, drifting into deep sleep. The power of the crystal had drained her energy.

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