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.
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 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!