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

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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.

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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!

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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!