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!

 

Chapter #4 – Hidden Danger (The Prequel)

Coming down into Waltario’s studio, as soon as the door was closed, Soris snatched himself from Clark’s grasp, blasting, “Why did you ruin my plan? Why did you let her go? She came out of my father’s office! She was definitely a thief! Only the royal family is allowed in Dad’s office!”

Clark sat with his head bowed like a humble servant. He refused to argue with the prince. Waltario, a sturdy man in his late thirties dressed in a grey costume, stood calmly before a massive table, studying a gun. Relaxing his squinted eyes, he jotted down some notes on a piece of paper, then put the gun down. Pleased with the results of his study, he came to the supervisor and laid a hand on the little boy’s shoulder. “Clark, you may leave now.” The supervisor was more than happy to do so, as he’d had enough of taking care of a seven-year-old.

Alone with General Waltario, Soris turned and ranted, “Why isn’t anybody listening to me? I’m doing my best every day to be a good boy. Why don’t they respect me?”

“Come, Soris,” the general said, ushering him to an old, fawn couch. “First, tell me everything that happened.”

The boy felt the general was a man of trust so he spoke his mind, giving all the details. “How could they ignore my command? I told them she was a thief! They ought to listen to me, not to Clark, or Witch Voronchi.” He rubbed one of his eyes. “They’re doing this because I’m just a kid. But they should wait and see. When I’ll be king…”

Waltario laid a finger on the boy’s lips to stop him from saying more. He shook his head with grim closed eyes, quelling the boy in an instant. “Don’t say that,” Waltario advised him. “Don’t fall into that trap as most princes and kings do. You won’t be able to do more then, when you’re a king. Believe me.”

Soris watched him bewildered. Waltario added, “You’re not going to be a dictator, and even so, you’d still be constrained by people. As long as you’re living with people, you’ll always have liberties and constraints. You’ll never be able to fully control others.” The boy frowned, a sense of despair clutching his heart. “But they said that I’m a model to others, and if I’m good, they’ll follow my lead.”

“Yes, but you still can’t be in control of everything. Instead of waiting for more power, you should see what you can do in this moment. You don’t need more power, you need more tact.”

The frown on the prince’s forehead lifted. He listened carefully to the general’s words. “Then what should I do? What did I do wrong?”

The general scratched his temple searching for the right wording. “You’re declaring war when you don’t have an army and a plan. What do you think your chances of success are?”

The boy remained silent.

Waltario lifted a fist, feeling as if he were before his soldiers. “When you don’t have enough power, you should not be open about your intentions. Don’t let them know you want to attack. Create an ambush!” The general noticed the kid’s confused blinks, so he cleared his throat. “I’m sorry that I can’t give you better explanations, but war is my thing and that’s how I can express my thoughts.”

“So you’re saying…”

“You should never attack openly. Make a plan, one that no one can predict or suspect. Take advantage of your weakness. Nobody expects any harm or plan from a kid like you. Play on your strong points.”

“Like what?”

Waltario hesitated, then said, “Well, you’re a cute and good kid. Make the most of that.”
Soris brightened up. He felt he’d received the most important piece of wisdom in his life, though he wasn’t yet sure how to use it. He smiled and nodded at the kind man. “I feel better now. Thank you, General.”

Waltario brushed a hand over the boy’s short hair. “I’m glad to hear that, Your Highness.”
*

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Slowing down, Inerishia alighted in silence in the large yard, somewhere close to the imposing palace. Servants were entering through a side door, so she hastened that way, with Ines held close to her chest. She swept inside arriving into a long hallway illuminated by dangling lamps hanging from the ceiling. When no one was around, Inerishia deactivated the stone of invisibility and let the child on the floor.

“Ines, please listen carefully to me and don’t cry.” She knelt down before the scared kid, grabbing her by the shoulders with both hands. “Remember what I told you? I must go and save your father, so you will stay here for a while.” Ines barely nodded, frozen by the seriousness of her mother’s eyes.

“I’m going to return as soon as I can. If anybody asks why you’re here, tell them you have to deliver an important message to General Waltario. Do not tell them anything about me, your father or yourself. Don’t tell them your name, and if they ask about your parents say that you don’t have. Got it?”

Ines nodded automatically, so her mother insisted, “Never mention the White Castle or the name of anybody from there, okay? You don’t have a name and you don’t have parents. You will only speak to General Waltario. Here, take this letter, and remember, give it only to the man who wears a golden eagle crest on his chest. That’s how you’ll recognize General Waltario. Got it?”

Ines nodded and recited, “A man with a golden eagle crest. I will speak only to General Waltario.” Inerishia smiled half-relieved. “Good girl. You’re brave just like your father. Now, take this piece of crystal. If somebody wants to hurt you in any way, use it to turn yourself invisible and run away. Use it only if it’s very dangerous, okay?” She brushed the girl’s hair one last time then turned invisible and stormed out of the building, flying quickly to the sea, hoping she wouldn’t arrive too late.

*

In a corridor of the palace, standing by the golden frame of a large, arched window, King Martin stared carelessly at something outside. He looked young, as if in his late twenties, but in fact, he was almost the same age as Waltario. His muscular figure of a tall warrior stood dressed in a royal costume of red and black with golden weavings around each button. He watched every movement of Lady Voronchi who waited for the coach to be turned around for departure.

Squeezing a ball in his hand, little Soris stretched his neck around a corner of the hall and peered at his father. He had no doubt that the king was thinking about the bad woman. As he watched the man gazing in reverie over the window, he sunk his thumbs in the dusty brown leather of the ball. It wasn’t the first time he’d seen his father standing in the hall, shamelessly exchanging smiles with some women down in the courtyard.

When Martin stretched out a hand to wave goodbye to Lady Voronchi, Soris marched out. Remembering Waltario’s advice, he slowed down his determined gait. He had to be his usual self, pretend he was not angry, so he pushed up his frown and relaxed his tiny jaw. Two steps away from his target, he stopped and raised a dignified chin. “Dad,” he called out like a soldier. Martin, however, was oblivious of his presence. The king’s senses were fully concentrated on the gentle murmur on the lady’s lips, who was trying to tell him, in silence, some words only lovers could understand.

Soris’ right eyebrow twitched in a spike of anger, but then returned to its neutral aspect.
“Dad?” he asked louder now, and then once again, rising on his feet, but no reply came from the father who chuckled as he winked at the lady, blowing an imaginary kiss toward her. The prince shut his eyes and tightened his grip on the ball. When he opened his eyes, he took one step back and threw the ball at his father, hitting him on his freshly-shaved cheek. The ball eventually fell on the floor, but so did the king’s furious stare. When he noticed his son, he lashed out, “What’s wrong with you boy? Are you out of your mind?”

The boy stooped to retrieve the ball, taking this opportunity to hide a mischievous smile. Returning to his father, he displayed an innocent expression and uttered in a sweet tone, “Dad, can we play?” Intimidated by the king’s dark glare that came from above, he feigned a smile. “Please?”

Martin’s heart wavered a bit after meeting the boy’s clear rounded eyes, small hands stretching the ball toward him, but then, a second later, the frown returned. He snatched the ball and seethed, “You want to play, uh?”

Sensing a dangerous aura, the boy stepped back and gulped.

“I’ll show you how I play,” Martin sneered darkly, preparing to throw the ball. Whooping, Soris flipped in place and started for the back of the corridor, a large grin stretching on his face, pleased with the way he’d managed to draw his father’s attention.

Martin hurled the ball with all his might, infuriated by the boy’s daring move. The missile would have hit the prince badly, hadn’t Waltario showed up in time to catch the ball just as it was lobbing down onto the kid’s head. As Soris left the scene screaming joyously, the general pressed the ball between his hands and approached the father.

“Martin, we need to talk.”

“Out of my way!” the king snapped, passing by him. The general grabbed his arm and exchanged glares with him. “No! We must talk right now.”

A few minutes later, they were both in a room with large windows on a side and many badges and paintings on the other. It was the king’s office, traditionally decorated with his predecessors’ portraits and proofs of his greatest accomplishments. Waltario closed the door and marched toward the king who’d propped by his desk, muttering swearwords between his teeth.

The general halted before the king. “Listen, Martin. It’s time you stopped with this bold showoff. You are a king and you have a son. Why don’t you take care of him?”

“You take care of him! He’s not my son!”

“Oh, there you go again. You know that’s not true.”

“Even he hates me, can’t you see?” He turned to face the general, pointing at his red cheek. “He hit me with that ball today. How dare he–”

Waltario heaved an understanding sigh. “That’s because you ignore him all the time. Why don’t you act like a real father?”

“He’s not mine! He’s just a stupid kid, stupid like his mother!”

Waltario rose an eyebrow as he identified the same words in what Soris had recounted to him about the meeting with Lady Voronchi.

“He is your son, and if he were stupid as you say, he wouldn’t have caught on your relationship with Lady Voronchi.”

“His mother taught him that! And don’t say he’s my son. He’s not.”

“Why are you so certain? Why?”

“He doesn’t look like me even the slightest bit!”

“Because he doesn’t have green eyes like you? I hope you’re not that idiotic, Martin. I’ve observed the boy closely and he takes after you in many ways. He’s obstinate and ambitious like you. Can’t you understand why he threw the ball at you? He wants to be noticed by his father.”

“I didn’t want to be a father!” Martin threw his hands in the air. „It’s this kingdom who wanted an heir and I gave them one. But that should be enough! This kingdom shall not steal my right to live the way I want. This kingdom shall not take control of my personal life.”

The conversation turned into a long debate, and before he could realize, the king had distracted the general with other palace matters. When he got out of his office, Waltario started for his studio, his mind preoccupied with other issues. Climbing down a long staircase, a soldier came in a hurry to him.

“What is it, brother?” the general asked.

“Did you know that the king approved the development of Crimson City?” the young man said, halting before him.

The general’s eyebrows drew into a frown. “What? Who said that?”

The young man looked around, then whispered, “I’ve just found out that from one of the king’s counselors.”

“Weren’t they supposed to focus on the villages affected by the last war?”

“They were, but after the last conference everybody changed their minds.” He cleared his voice intentionally. “When the king is set on something, he’ll convince everyone to accept his ideas. You know our king has a talent with words.” He paused as he noticed the fury growing on the general’s face. After some hesitation, he added, “You probably know that Crimson City is Lady Voronchi’s place of residence.”

The general clutched his fists, thinking about how he’d been fooled by Martin in their last conversation. He’d managed to stray from the talk about his family by bringing up an interesting subject like the Old Castle. He turned in place, barely refraining himself from running and barging into the king’s office. “I swear I’m going to roll him in the mud.”

His younger brother caught him by the arm. “Constantine, I think we should talk more in your studio.”

Waltario thanked his brother for stopping him from acting recklessly. “Yes. Let’s make a plan.”

Next chapter coming soon!

Chapter 3 – Rising Tide

Part I

photography of body of water under white and blue cloudy sky
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A gust of chilly wind blew veils of sand on the narrow beach, announcing a storm. Kendel, Vlin, and Inerishia looked up. White clouds descended like a mist, billowing and swirling as their color changed to stains of ash and coal.

“This is really bad,” Vlin gasped, wrapping a bracelet around his wrist. “Maybe our tribe is indeed meant to disappear, Kendel.”

Kendel cast dark eagle eyes upon his friend. “We will not disappear. We’ll become something better.”

Ines’ giggles echoed in the wind as she jumped in the boat and played with the paddles. Rushing to her with a pale face, Inerishia shouted, “Ines, get off the boat right now and come here.” The kid saw the seriousness of their expressions, so she got back on the wet sand of the shore. Arms outstretched, her mother was about to grab her hand, when a big wave swooshed up out of the calm sea and lunged at the child.

Kendel darted toward the wave, thrusting his hand toward it. “Water, listen to me!” he commanded, making the sea retreat greatly and suck back the wave, revealing the underlying cause of it. A tall man with muscular arms carrying a shiny spear advanced on the pure sand uncovered from under the sea. Water dripped down his boots and summary armor made of silver scales, while his wet hair stuck to his tattooed temples, and a smirk stretched on his fawn mouth. “What a surprise! Kendel himself,” he hissed, arriving on the shore washed by a gentle wave, the sea returning to its normal course. Inerishia took Ines by the hand and hurried back to the carriage.

“What are your intentions?” Kendel asked, recognizing the race of the tan-skinned man.

“I am Divian, the son of the great demon Saulten, the one you chased away from the Coral Islands.” He pointed the leaf blade of the spear at Kendel. “I’m here because my clan felt a call coming from here.”

Kendel frowned. “No one called for you.”

Divian smothered a laugh, then pierced him with a topaz stare. “Not you.”

Ushering Ines to the cart, Inerishia heard a ripple of rustlings and branch snaps coming from the trees which bordered the beach. Those were definitely not Shion. She released the horse and lifted Ines on its back, preparing to get up on it as well. However, a multitude of demons with spears and swords snuck out from the forest, blocking the escape route, and when she turned to look at the sea, she saw many more enemies coming out from the water.

Marching proudly, Divian extended his arms. “Kendel, you were once the one who chased us out, now it’s our time to chase you. I’ll bring your head to Saulten.” He thrust the spear into the darkened sand and roared, “Devils! Rise!”

The demons swarmed the beach, targeting Kendel. Inerishia swung an arm and blew them away with a powerful stroke of wind, Vlin standing shield between her and the demons emerging from the forest. Kendel pushed aside an incoming attackers’ troop by telepathically controlling the sea water to wipe them away with furious waves.

Divian was, however, left untouched by the water. The waves were avoiding him. Eyes closed, he spun the spear with one arm. “Do you think you’re the only one who can control the water?” he asked, then hit the land once again. A sand-eating crack appeared and spread, swiftly reaching under Kendel’s feet. Seawater gushed out of there and swirled around his shins, blocking him. Kendel soon realized that these wave spirals would not listen to any other than Divian, so he called his own wave to attack the demon and distract him, hoping the demon couldn’t control more than one water attack at the same time.

Inerishia dodged a rain of poisonous daggers that were thrown at her child, then blasted a group of demons who’d surrounded Vlin. Shion slithered down from a nearby tree and took back his human form of a man with long, grass hair. “Inerishia, take the kid and go back to the White Castle. This matter here is more complicated than it seems,” he said with a stern face, taking a moment to get lost in her azure eyes. “Also, my apologies for following you,” he mumbled.

Inerishia gave an understanding nod, then listened to the child who tugged her by the sleeve. “Mommy, look up!”

Plunging from the expanding steel clouds, winged demons with spears and daggers roared and surrounded Vlin, and Kendel, who was caught in a fierce fight with Divian. Inerishia raised a hand and forced a quick spell. The clouds spiraled, winding into dozens of foamy swirls. Bolts of lightning darted from the sky and struck the sand, burning many devils and sending the others tumbling for cover. She made sure to aim at Divian, too.

The demon-leader had sunken Kendel into a pool of waterlogged sand, up to the waist, when suddenly his spear absorbed a blinding thunderbolt, protecting him from being turned to ashes. Divian stepped back to regain his balance, then scanned the beach, quickly identifying the woman with bright ginger hair. “How dare you…” he growled, thrusting his shiny weapon up in the air. The lightning show ceased instantly, fitful incandescence lingering between the thick clouds.

Inerishia grabbed her chest as a heavy pain spidered inside of her. Gasping for air, she propped herself by the horse. Before she knew it, Shion was right behind her, helping her remain standing. “I told you to leave,” he scolded her, then glanced up at the frightened child who cried for her mother. “She’s fine,” he assured her. “Your mother needs to stop fighting until she recovers.”

When her breathing normalized, Inerishia searched for Kendel. He was out of the deep slump, fighting Divian with a spear he’d snagged from a burnt demon. The beach was mostly clear, but Devils were still emerging from the sea, the winged ones, who’d survived the lightning attack, darting at Vlin.

Weakened inside, Inerishia turned around. “Shion, please help them. I promise to come back as soon as I leave Ines in a safe place.” Shion stared at her coldly, then shape-shifted into a great dragon with red scales, spewing hot air on all the demons that blocked the entrance into the woods.

Inerishia didn’t wait for a reply. She mounted the horse, the child’s weeping calming down when a warm, gentle arm embraced her. They drove off, retracing the path back to the stronghold. However, the mother had no intention of entrusting her daughter to Gladiole’s care. The war with the Devils was solid evidence that, this time, her vision had been accurate, so she was determined to get in touch with General Waltario.

A tree slumped before the horse, blocking their way. The panicked horse neighed, rearing up, almost throwing down Inerishia. She pulled the reins and regained her balance when a demon dropped from a tree right on the horse’s back and stabbed her in the shoulder. Muffling a groan of pain, the lady summoned the air to push him, then unmounted the horse that had become listless and unresponsive to her commands. Presently, it jumped over the obstacle and galloped away, raising clouds of dust on the path to the White Castle. At least it would alarm the stronghold members to come after them.

Inerishia let the crying kid slid down from her good arm so she could attempt a healing spell at her injury. The bleeding stopped quickly, but the flesh opposed to her foggy energy that radiated from her palm. “Argh, it was a poisoned dagger,” she cursed, shutting her eyes.

“Mommy, are you okay?” Ines said between sobs.

“Yes. Don’t worry. I’m going to be fine. It will only take longer and more energy to heal,” the woman explained with a weak voice. The white energy grew brighter on the injury. She had to hurry up to pull out the poison before it would render her unconscious.

Leaves rustled and soon, four demons plummeted from the green arcade of the trees, raising their weapons and surrounding the two. Ines shrieked and buried her face into her mother’s long robe. Keeping the healing constant, Inerishia spun to analyze her opponents. It was too late. They’d already thrown their daggers at her heart. She ducked, covering the kid with her arms, then stood and blasted them with a circling current, clearing the way for a couple of moments which allowed them to run.

As long as she was going to follow the path, the demons could easily anticipate where she was headed at and block her way. With the injury superficially healed, she entered the woods.

Flying demons darted upon her from the sky where the tree crowns were thinner, the lady blowing them away before reaching close. It was impossible for her to carry the kid at her chest and also fight, so she’d let Ines run on her own, glancing at her once in a while to make sure she was keeping the pace. Ines ran as fast as she could, one hand clutching the corner of her mother’s sage robe, the other wiping tears.

Inerishia didn’t run aimlessly. She knew that somewhere in the woods was a cave where she could take a break. As soon as she noticed a clearing in the forest, she swerved that way, grabbed her child’s hand and took out the piece of crystal she’d stolen from the stronghold, making them both invisible. The flying demons halted in the sky, baffled at that sudden disappearance, while the ones on the ground gathered from all sides, gawking at one another.

“Don’t be fooled by her trick!” a winged demon said. “Search for her. She can’t stay invisible forever. If we catch her, we can conquer the White Castle as well, and then this land will be all ours!” Enthralled by this promise, the demons set on searching, sniffing with their sharp noses as they searched for the smell of a human. However, Inerishia had long ago flown from there, riding on a blaze of wind and reaching to the cave.
Finally getting some moment to catch her breath, she put the crystal back in a pocket, then knelt to check her child for any bad injuries.

“Mommy, what’s going on?” Ines cried watching her mother’s face covered by a couple of wet strands of hair, heaving with exertion.

She didn’t answer as she had to make a quick decision. Every use of her powers was consuming from her energy which she later needed for the fight with Divian, and at the same time, she had to leave her little girl in a safe place, the Arid Kingdom’s castle. Flying was energy-consuming, but it was the fastest way.

“I’m going to let you in Waltario’s care, Ines.” She embraced the girl and activated the stone of invisibility again, then flew on a powerful gust of wind to the great palace of the Arid Kingdom, a building which was not too far from the White Castle. Its people were simple humans, who had no idea about the existence of demons or people with magical powers, except for General Waltario and King Martin.

High above the treetops of the forest, the two observed the shiny golden roofs of the grand palace and a miniature of the courtyard: people in colorful robes and dresses meandering and talking, soldiers patrolling carelessly, servants carrying baskets of water or laundry, and gardeners pruning the numerous bushes of roses. None of them had any idea of what was going on the faraway shore of the sea.

“This might be the safest place, indeed,” Inerishia murmured to herself, then started instructing her child about do’s and don’ts for the time she would be staying there.