Those not chosen by the fairy Part 2
“Birds can fly much faster,” Kevin pointed out, frowning again.
Lise wished that he wouldn’t do that, he wasn’t himself when he frowned. But she couldn’t exactly ask him not to frown.
“Yes, but the winds around the mountains can be very treacherous,” she said, “it’s too dangerous for birds that aren’t used to it.”
‘And it would give you an excuse to join us,’ the princess thought, ‘Kevin, I know you just want to help, but…’
It wasn’t hard to see that the half blood was uncomfortable with the situation. He refused to meet her gaze, sitting on the other side of the table with his arms resolutely crossed.
“We’ll be alright,” Hawk said, trying to sound encouraging, “you don’t have to worry about us, Kev, we’re warriors too.”
Kevin shook his head without looking up.
“No feel good about leaving friends,” he grunted.
“It’s not easy for us either,” the thief admitted, “but we do this because you’re our friend and we don’t want you to be hurt in our trials.”
Very slowly Kevin finally straightened up.
“Not right,” he snarled though.
Lise shook her head, now when he looked up unable to meet his gaze herself.
“No, you’re right about that. But it’s better that you don’t get pulled into it if we can avoid it.”
They had been trying to have dinner for quite some time, but the food had grown cold long ago. Meanwhile the sun was sinking outside.
The day had passed, and they had spent it differently. Hawk had stayed on his room, checking through his simple equipment several times out of growing tension, Kevin had been on the golden road ever since the talk with Lise (I’d rate him a 14-17 leveler after those hours of beating all the puny monsters around that area… but on the other hand there’s no levels in this fic ;) author’s note).
And the princess of Rolante had been in the harbor, fruitlessly looking for anything departing in at least the right direction. But people had heard about the invasion of the Wind Kingdom by now, rating that area as pretty insecure. The captains of few ships had been planning on going to Palo, but they had changed their mind after hearing the news.
Just as Lise had been about to give up a captain of a smaller ship had come over to her and carefully asked if he had met her before somewhere. By his accent Lise easily detected his origins.
So she had found a captain who had grown up in Palo, and without telling him her real title Lise had reached an agreement with him.
He told her that he had been one of the ones who had recently fled Jad, and hadn’t got anything special planned before Lise showed up. Being from the fishing town and also slightly worried, he’d agreed on taking her and Hawk there.
At least they had a ship. It was so ironic that it was in Maia, because if it had been in Byzel instead the sail would have taken at least two days less. But the trading town was closed for foreigners for the moment due to the turmoil in the area, and anyhow there might not have been a ship willing to take them to Palo there.
They would leave in the morning.
And Kevin was still frustrated. Ever since he had returned from his battling against the inhabitants of the golden road he had been grunting more than usual and hardly spoken at all.
The whole meal, no the entire situation was pure torture for all of them. None of them knew how to repair the cut in their friendship.
“You’re not gonna believe this!”
The three warriors almost jumped to the roof by the sudden shout and sound of a slamming door from the other room.
“What?” the voice of the innkeeper said.
“Somebody blew up the bridge over the ravine on the way to Forcena!” a man’s voice puffed, the same voice that had busted in with a shout.
“And that’s not half of it!” the news-bringer said and suddenly laughed a bit, “I heard some freaks needs to go to Forcena so badly that they’re willing to use that canon Bon Voyage made!”
“What?” the innkeeper said again, laughing as well, “have I missed the show?”
“No, hardly. He needs gunpowder, so the old madman sent those morons to find the dwarves in order to get some of that. Ha!”
“Too bad, I would have loved seeing somebody actually volunteering to that idiocy…” the innkeeper smirked.
Lise didn’t care much for the discussion out there; she was staring at her hardly even halfway emptied plate, trying to think of something that could break the ice.
It was a relief to go to bed later on, but it took several hours before she managed to fall asleep. And she had a feeling that her friends didn’t sleep too well either.
It was all wrong.
He growled at the thought, again.
‘Wrong! What if they get killed?!’
The tension was painful, which made him even more frustrated.
Looked like the monsters of the trading path would face another hard day after Kevin had checked on his feathered friends.
And a couple of hours later that prophecy of the author (big surprise!!) showed to come true. While the three birds kept a fascinated eye each on their humanoid friend’s battling, the monsters of the land gave proof of their lack of studying.
Kevin was too busy and far away to see the same three warriors he had noticed the day earlier leave the very same cave he had seen them enter.
However he heard the explosion twenty minutes later and became puzzled enough to head back to town. It wasn’t too hard to get the news; everybody was talking about the same thing.
“Would you believe it? He actually found someone who wanted to use the canon!”
“Yeah, now the question is how well those poor fools manage to collect their limbs when they finally land. And the goddess knows where that’ll be…”
Kevin just shrugged at the whole excitement, drawing a line between the talk at the inn yesterday and today’s big thing. It didn’t matter to him, he had other things on his mind.
As the son of the Beast King went back to terrorizing the monsters still dumb enough not to catch the message, Lise and Hawk were on the ship that would bring them to Palo. But both of them were feeling rather miserable, keeping from talking with each other and the sailors who were busy enough in any case.
On the other hand… he looked closer at the young man sitting on the other side of the floor secured table, facing the blond amazon. Wait a minute…?
“Hey, aren’t you from Navarre?” the ol’ seadog asked before considering it.
The young man looked up and down again with a sigh that sounded like a “here we go again…”.
“Yes, he is,” the amazon said with a failed attempt of a smile, “but don’t get the wrong idea. He’s not on the crowd’s side.”
The captain nodded and didn’t push the matter further. Instead he unrolled the map he had brought, and placed it on the table. The young couple put their plates aside and paid full attention to the elder man as he spoke.
“I’ve been thinking,” he began and pointed at the peninsula known as the place where Jad was located, “the beastmen are probably still here, and I guess you know about their transporting abilities, right?”
“Birds,” the Navarre turncoat said with a peculiar, slightly bitter smile, “yeah, we know.”
“Well, it’s rumored that those warriors can’t stand the sea very well, but I wouldn’t risk my neck for a rumor. I think we should try to sneak by Jad while it’s night, since they tend to transform and pay less attention to the rest of the world while being more of animals.”
He couldn’t know that his last remark cut into the souls of his passengers, but they said nothing.
“So, if it is to work we’ll lose a full day, I’m afraid,” he continued and pointed at the coastline to the southwest of the town, “if we leave from around this point after sunset we’ll have passed the town a couple of hours before sunrise. However we won’t reach this area before early in the morning tomorrow, so then we’ll have to take down the sails and wait for the sun to move far enough for our next part of the trip.”
“I understand, captain,” the amazon nodded, “I agree that it would be unwise to take any risks.”
“I’m glad that you understand,” the captain nodded with a smile, “I wish you good night.”
After the man had left, Hawk and Lise sat in silence again for a moment.
“It’ll be around the place where we rested while we fled, right?” Lise finally muttered.
“It’s the right thing,” he lazily said.
“I try to tell myself that…”
Another silence followed. Suddenly Hawk’s fist hit the table, almost causing the remaining soup to spill out.
“Animals!?” he growled.
He took in a deep breath and leaned back on his chair.
“Sorry, but it just…”
“I feel the same,” Lise muttered, frowning, “I don’t like beastmen but that included Kevin.”
“Funny,” Hawk said in a low voice, “only a week ago I could have agreed on that those hairy bullies are nothing but animals with a little more intelligence, but…”
His voice trailed off, and Lise said nothing.
Because both of them knew that the anger really only held one shared thought.
We shouldn’t have left him behind.
No ninjas guarding the harbor, the fishing ships laid peacefully in the docks in the sun’s lowering rays. The houses looked whole at least in the distance.
“Maybe they overlooked it since it’s so small?” the captain said as he stood by the stern of the ship, gazing towards his home town together with Lise and Hawk.
In his voice was a grain of doubt, however. An invading nation seldom leaves anything alone, even a sailor knew that.
“We can only hope,” Lise said, frowning.
The captain glanced at her. The wind tried to throw her hair around, but the green ribbon she had tied around the last few inches of it kept the fine, blond threads in place. He knew that he had seen her before.
“By the way, Lise,” the Navarre fellow said, “maybe you should find something else to wear than that armor of yours.”
“Yeah, you’re right…” she replied, absentmindedly.
Oh wait… no… it couldn’t be…?!
“Um, excuse me, but…” the captain said, rather sheepishly.
“Hmm?” the amazon said and turned to him.
Oh yes, that blond hair and the armor in a darker color than it normally should be, and with wider shoulder plates… he should have realized it sooner.
“You’re the Lise, aren’t you?” he said in a low voice.
She watched him for a moment, then she slowly nodded. He didn’t see her friend, but could almost hear the young man clench his teeth in unpleasant surprise. The desert warrior obviously didn’t think that it was wise not to deny it.
“Don’t worry, Your Highness,” the captain gravely whispered, “I won’t tell anyone. But isn’t it a little too dangerous here?”
“I have to try,” Lise told him in a low voice, “I haven’t got the power to free the castle, but Hawk has an idea that might help us all further.”
“No details, it’s better that way,” the older man grimly said, “your secret will stay inside of my head.”
He looked up at the approaching dock.
“Come on, we better find you a disguise just in case. Something is foul with old Palo.”
The disguise found was a brown robe with a hood that could hide the princess’ face well enough to make it safe.
“And you should take this,” the captain told Hawk and offered him a white cloak, “it’s the best I’ve got. Some traveling healer forgot it here. If your old friends are here they’ll surely give you trouble, but in any case the townspeople might.”
“Thanks a lot. But how can you forget your working clothes?” the thief thought aloud and tried the cloak on.
It was a little too short really, but not so that anybody would notice. And the design of it filled the purpose; it fell over his back and swept down from his shoulders to hide the rest of his clothing well enough. A couple of buttons by the waist and chest made it even more secure.
“You wouldn’t believe what people forget when they’re traveling,” the captain chuckled, “so be careful not to forget each other.”
Lise forced a smile, Hawk quickly nodded and then bent his head to secure the buttons of the cloak-robe.
“Thank you so much for your help,” the princess said to hide the tension she and her friend experienced.
The captain smiled.
“Ah, miss,” he said, “in the name of all rights I should really give you back the money you paid me too. You’re going to be the queen of my home country one day, after all.”
“I hope you’re right about that…”
“I’m sure about it,” the older man said, and by that Lise managed to smile.
“Keep the money, you need a living,” she said, determined, “and now, let’s go.”
“Right,” both Hawk and the captain said, almost simultaneously.
She smiled at that too, feeling a lot lighter at her heavy heart.
The three of them returned to the deck, while the ship was docking.
“Should we wait for you?” the captain asked, glancing at the silent town.
Seemed a little too silent…
Lise shook her head, and Hawk agreed to that.
“No, too dangerous,” the princess said and pulled up the hood, “we’ll figure something out, don’t worry.”
“If you’re sure…” the captain said, a bit disbelieving.
“Yes, we are. Thank you for everything.”
Hawk and Lise waved at the crew on the ship and then began walking towards the small town.
“One day I’ll invest in anonymous clothes for travels,” Hawk grumbled.
He was surprised but truly glad to hear Lise chuckle at that comment. She surprised herself too, and smiled at him when they exchanged glances. He smiled back.
Then he saw the ninja and almost jumped a mile. He hadn’t seen the sunburned man, how could he have been so careless?!
Despite the robe she wore he noticed that Lise became tense as a bowstring as well. Oh, now he managed to note details again…!
But as the enemy warrior turned to the two travelers they saw that the man’s eyes were as empty as a dry pond, staring straight at nothing.
“This city belong to the country of Navarre,” the ninja announced in a lifeless, lazy voice, “do not resist us and you will not be harmed.”
The words sent a lightning bolt of rage through Lise, and she reached for her hidden spear with a growl. They dared to invade her country, attack her people, kill her friends and even give her orders?! Her pride as the leader of the amazon army revolted, as well as the agony she had fought back until now. She wouldn’t let…
Hawk’s hand landed on her shoulder, she felt it through the cloth by the swing of her shoulder panzer. As she angrily looked around he gravely shook his head.
“Not here, not now,” he whispered.
He released her and slowly walked closer to the ninja, followed by Lise’s pained gaze. The other man didn’t react as the thief waved with his hand before the face darkened by many years’ and generations’ sun.
“Hypnotized…” Hawk hissed, “damn that Isabella!”
Lise came over to him, and they went into Palo with grim expressions.
There were more ninjas in town, all of them acting like sleepwalkers. The common people inhabiting the place were silent and more or less ran all the time, hurrying to do whatever they had to take care of. Just so that they wouldn’t have to be among the eerie invaders more than absolutely necessary.
“They don’t seem to oppose any real threat as it is,” Lise muttered.
“But I bet that if they got an order it would get complicated,” Hawk whispered back.
He looked around. The sun was beginning to sink more resolutely.
“Let’s split up and have a quick glance around,” he suggested, “these sleepwalkers won’t attack us, they seem to be left only to keep an eye on things here. If that’s the proper description.”
“Okay, let’s meet here in half an hour,” Lise said.
They went in a direction each, Hawk to the eastern side of the small town and Lise to the western.
After twenty minutes of finding nothing interesting at all the princess felt as much done. There seemed to have been few casualties in the attack, since the ninjas had been obviously too strong the peaceful fishermen had realized that they as well could give up. It was bitter, but Lise was glad that few had been hurt. They had made it through smoother than the castle higher up on the mountain.
Light spilled out of an open gate located down some stairs in the very center of town. It seemed to lead into some kind of underground building or something.
Lise shrugged and went inside.
Inside she faced a choice. There was a closed door to the right on the wall ahead, to the left was a stair going up.
She took the stair and found herself in a small bar. Apart from a maid by the counter and an empty-eyed ninja lazily drinking a glass of something nobody was there. Still it was very warm. Lise pondered if she should leave at once, but as she was about to turn she noticed that the barmaid was waving carefully at her with a thoughtful frown.
It puzzled Lise, but she decided to investigate it. After all she had a little while left before she was supposed to meet up with Hawk. But if she was forced to push the hood backwards in order to stand the heat.
The frown disappeared from the barmaid’s forehead, and suddenly she smiled in a way that seemed oddly familiar. Wondering, Lise followed the direction to the other side of the room, away from the ninja. Just in case, probably.
As she stood by the side of the bar desk the princess gave the barmaid a questioning look.
“It’s me, miss!” the woman by the counter whispered.
The voice was familiar…?
“Eliza!” Lise hissed, hardly able to hide her joy at seeing her friend from Rolante alive and well.
“Nice disguise, huh?” the captain whispered and swiftly touched her hair.
It had used to be blond, but now it had a fine blue tone. Almost like Hawk’s…
The princess fought not to laugh loudly of relief; it could attract attention after all.
“Listen,” Eliza whispered, “go to the flower garden on the plateau south of the castle, we…”
“Hey!” the ninja suddenly slurred, “give me more whiskey!”
“Coming right up, sir!” Eliza obediently said over her shoulder.
As she turned back Lise gravely nodded and hurried out of the bar, almost ramming into three new guests on her way out. But she didn’t even look at them, neither did she apologize.
Little did she know that those three would help her greatly in a close future…
Lise rushed out into the day that had begun to turn into evening and met Hawk by the harbor.
“The hood…” he began, but she grabbed his hand and made him run with her towards the path leading into the mountains.
“Never mind that, we have to move before it gets too dark to travel among the cliffs!” she hissed to him.
“What is it?” he asked, rushing up beside her.
“I met an old friend, she told me to go to the flower garden on the mountain,” Lise hurriedly explained, “we have to hurry…”
“Wait, let’s drop these traps we’re wearing.”
They stopped for a moment, just to strip out of the robes. The princess didn’t find that a too bad idea, especially since she already had been close to stumbling on the cloth a couple of times while still in town.
“I met an old friend myself,” Hawk grimly said as they began to hurry upwards again, “but he didn’t recognize me… among a few others, but considering it their state was just as well. They’re all cursed somehow, I guess…”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Lise honestly said.
“We have to stop Isabella.”
Now that the amazons weren’t around to keep the monsters at an acceptable level there were a lot more needle birds and chibidevils roaming the mountain paths than there should be. But Lise was used to fighting those, and with Hawk’s help they mostly waved the attackers aside, hurrying to reach their goal before it got dark.
Lise felt a blossom of excited happiness growing fast inside of her and allowed it to be there. Eliza’s appearance had encouraged her greatly and given her strong suspicions that there were more survivors. And suddenly it didn’t feel so awful to be back in the kingdom of the Wind even though her home wasn’t completely freed. Once again she patrolled the paths she knew so well, the wind sang in her ears and danced around her. It had been moaning before she left, crying in fear as if its spirit Jinn knew the ninjas would come but couldn’t do anything to stop them. The wind had cried with Lise as she had fled, and the anger was still there. But now the anger was different; filled with a will to right the wrongs. All of it bringing her new strength and hopes.
She led Hawk over the rope bridge separating the flourishing plateaus with the grim mountains. The wind was softer on the other side of the small cave where a goddess statue of silver had been placed to honor the creator of the beauty ahead.
Waterfalls coming from springs inside of the mountain gave life to the thousands of flowers growing on the shielded areas; the wind seemed to calm down and caress the greenery when it came here. In the sinking sun’s golden light the fantastic scenery was even more stunning.
“It’s beautiful,” Hawk said with a surprised smile.
“You’re romantic,” Lise smiled back, “but I fully agree.”
“Of course I’m romantic, I’m notorious for it!” the thief grinned and followed her as she walked into the sweet nature.
Notorious? Lise had to smile. She learnt something more about her friend every time they talked… it was a shame that they had been so depressed on the ship…
That thought dragged her mind back to Kevin, and her joy faltered a bit.
No, he shouldn’t be here, it was alright…
But it didn’t feel alright.
She walked on, trying to fight back her arisen bitterness. Not now!
Apart from what she already was fighting Lise got a feeling that she was forgetting something important, but couldn’t figure out what it was. She tried to shake it off by talking.
“Eliza hadn’t time to tell me anything specific,” she said over her shoulder as she and Hawk climbed another natural stair to the next plateau, “a ninja came in between. So I guess we’ll just sneak around a little and see what happens.”
“Okay,” he nodded.
He hadn’t anything against being right there for the moment. The beauty around him helped him to forget all his troubles for a while, and he could only enjoy that.
And of course, as the hopeless romantic he claimed and was known to be he naturally appreciated the sweet setting. However it once more made him irritated that he couldn’t concentrate on Jessica.
The sun was lowering even more and it was getting dusky. But at least there were no monsters around, and both him and Lise had their bedrolls. So they were prepared, if needed…
He suddenly felt a little sleepy and blinked.
“You know…” Lise mumbled and her steps ceased to continue on, “I feel so tired all of a sudden…”
“You too?” Hawk yawned.
The grass felt soft against his cheek even though he struggled against the sleepiness. Something was wrong…
“By the goddess…” Lise mumbled, her voice slurring of exhaust, “the sleeping flowers…”
The last thing Hawk saw was that his friend collapsed in front of him, her eyes peacefully closed. A warmly red flower waved by her cheek, fondly caressing it with a little help from the wind.
‘She’s so beautiful…’ the thief thought before he fell asleep.
Lise awoke in a bed, and at first she couldn’t remember anything. Then it slowly dawned on her; the mountain, the flower garden, the sleeping flowers…
And where was she now? Seemed to be a pretty dusky room…
She managed to sit up and yawned while rubbing her eyes with her hand.
“Oh, you’re awake!”
Lise blinked away the remaining sleepiness and saw a blessed familiar face smile at her.
“Alma!” she exclaimed, “you’re alive too!”
“Yes I am, dear, I’m alive,” the old maid said in a voice thick with happiness and walked closer to hug and get hugged by her returned princess.
“Are there more survivors?” Lise eagerly asked.
“Yes, there’s more than we could hope after the attack.”
Alma carefully let go, and the two women smiled warmly at each other.
“The spirits have gone through the roof since we found you last evening, dear,” the older one said with a honest smile, “we’re so glad to have you back safely.”
“I can’t say how happy I am to see you again…”
Lise suddenly remembered and realized something. Her smile froze.
“Alma,” she slowly said, “there was a man from Navarre with me…?”
The old woman’s face became like cut in stone.
“Yes, but you don’t have to worry about him, dear,” she said and turned Lise’s soul to ice for a moment before she continued; “we’ve tied him up and put him under proper guarding.”
The princess almost laughed of relief.
“No, no, no!” she said and allowed herself a relieved smile, “you misunderstand, he’s on our side!”
“Oh, oh dear!” Alma gasped and put her hand by her lips, “I hope he hasn’t woken up yet, then…”
Lise hurriedly got out of bed, finding herself dressed in the tunic she wore beneath her armor. But as the rest of her equipment was waiting for her, properly hanging on a scaffold meant for the matter she didn’t have to assemble all pieces of her equipment. Therefore she quickly got into more proper clothing and could hurry through the wide tunnels together with Alma. She returned every smile she got from the many amazons in the hideout, but at the moment Lise felt a little bit stressed about her foreign friend. She could just hope that he hadn’t awoken to find himself in custody…
“But please ask Lise, I swear I’m telling you the truth!” came from a distance, the echo throwing the words around.
He had awakened. The princess strained herself to run faster.
“There, dear,” Alma puffed, unable to keep up with her princess.
Lise reached a smaller cave entrance where two amazons stood on guard.
“Miss Lise!” the warriors said almost simultaneously and saluted their leader.
“Thank the goddess…” Hawk’s voice sighed from the inside of the cave.
“Yeah, he’s telling the… huff, truth,” Lise gasped, her legs moaning after the sudden and intense run, “let him out, he’s on… puff… our side.”
A moment later Hawk came out of the cave, with a little support from one of the amazons. He was rubbing his right wrist, which was slightly red just as its brother. His way of walking showed that his ankles were a little singeing as well.
“Sorry about that, Hawk,” Lise said, embarrassed.
He gave her a wry smile.
“Ah well, I can’t help but understand…” he said with a sigh.
“Are you hungry?” Alma kindly asked the thief and princess.
“Can’t exactly protest to that,” Lise said with a tired smile.
“Well, we haven’t got the most fantastic stuff but we do our best.”
But as they walked through the tunnels to get to the bigger caves a scouting troop returned. The commander of it felt it important to report to her leader.
“Miss Lise, welcome back in Rolante!” the blond (what a surprise) warrior said and saluted as she met the small group with the princess within.
“And I’m very glad to see you too, Rose,” Lise replied with a warm smile, “how’s the look of things?”
Rose shook her head with a puzzled look.
“There haven’t been any travelers at all coming here ever since the attack,” she said, “but now… first you yesterday, and now when we were out on a spy patrol we found three more people in the flower garden.”
Instead of going to eat, Lise, Hawk and Alma went to see the new visitors. The recent discoveries had been placed in a bed each, inside of one of the bigger caves.
“I make out that he’s from Forcena,” Hawk said while scratching his head and pointed at the only man of the three, “but I have no idea about the other two…”
“And what would they want here?” Lise wondered, puzzled.
“Guess we’ll just have to wait until they wake up,” Alma calmly reasoned and shrugged her shoulders.
The princess watched the sleeping three, frowning.
“I think I’ve seen those two before…” she said and pointed at the guy from Forcena and the young woman with softly purple hair, “not too long ago…”
And the snoring sounded familiar too. But she shrugged that off. Nah… not possible.
“Now that you mention it…” Hawk suddenly said and pointed at the older one of the two females, “I might have seen them too. I think I remember somebody with the same kind of hair as her in the inn at Jad.”
As he said that, Lise’s memory sparkled.
“That’s it!” she said, pointing at the young man, “and that guy came into the cafe one of the first days I was trapped in town.”
She frowned again.
“But what are they doing here?” she thought aloud.
“And why did they bring a kid along to such a dangerous place?” Alma concernedly said, watching the smallest person but loudest snorer.
She looked around at her princess and the thief.
“But let’s not waste any time,” the old woman said, “they won’t wake up in an hour or so, and you’re hungry. Let’s go.”
The captain had returned during the night, and had spent all morning working on getting rid of the blue dye in her hair. Now she was also back in her armor and had her spear again. It suited her much, much better.
“Well, we’re a little short of people, but I’m sure that we’ll figure something out,” Eliza explained, “we’ve sent out scouting troops but haven’t dared to go too close to the castle. These caves are our one and only resort. We don’t know if the ninjas in the castle are as zombie-alike as the one in town, so we have been more careful than we wish we had too. Because of our need of care we’ve been unable to get the slightest grip of their guard posts.”
“I see…” Lise said, pursing her mouth.
“Leave it to me.”
Hawk rose from his chair with a determined look in his eyes.
“I’ll give it a shot.”
“It’s too dangerous, Hawk,” Lise protested.
He looked down at her and smiled.
“Hey, what do you think I learnt in Navarre? To get caught?”
“I came here to help, didn’t I?” he said, not unfriendly.
Lise met his gaze and knew that she couldn’t stop him. It was exactly what he wanted to do, so she couldn’t do anything about it.
“Alright then,” she gravely said, “but don’t get killed.”
“Fear not, milady,” he grinned and winked with one eye.
Lise stood up and nodded at Eliza.
“Get somebody to show him the way.”
“Immediately, Lise,” the captain gravely said.
The princess watched her friends leave but stayed in the cave alone for a while.
Even if Hawk managed to spy on the guards it wasn’t going to help them much. Rolante had after all always been known as “The castle that never fell”, so even if Navarre had managed once it was no guarantee that it was possible to do again.
They really were short on people… of what she had seen at least half the army seemed to have been slaughtered by the ninjas. Not only was it a horrifying tragedy, it didn’t speak of victory and revenge either.
Lise sighed and sat down again, suddenly feeling drained of all energy.
She was amazed and eternally happy that there were so many survivors, but so many lives had been lost… her father among them. And Elliot? She could only pray that Isabella was in reach and could be caught.
Eliza came back and stopped in the entrance hole of the cave.
“Hey Lise,” she carefully said, “are you sure we can trust the ninja?”
“Thief,” the princess corrected a bit tiredly, “and yes.”
“Not that I don’t trust your word for it,” the captain hurriedly assured, “it’s just that not everyone is prepared to like a man from Navarre to walk around in our hideout.”
“He’s a friend, don’t worry about it,” Lise said and sighed, “without him and Kevin I could still have been in Jad or killed by a bored beastman.”
The princess sighed again.
“He’s a friend who helped both Hawk and me,” she bitterly said, “he wanted to come with us here, but we left him in Maia since it’s not his problem…”
Eliza watched her leader for a moment before she spoke again.
“I can’t help but feel that we shouldn’t have parted, none of us wanted it so… well, it can’t be helped!”
She almost jumped from her chair, startling Eliza.
“We have to think of some way of retaking the castle,” the warrior princess stated, fully determined and focused, “let’s call a meeting and discuss while we wait for Hawk to return.”
“Certainly,” Eliza said and smiled, happy to have her spirited friend back again, “it’ll take a while to assemble everyone, though.”
“We’ll meet in here,” Lise said, “I’ll go take a quick look to see if those new guests have awoken yet while you work on the assembly.”
“As good as done.”
The two women parted, and the princess went down to the cave were the mysterious group of three had been placed. They were still sleeping soundly.
She wondered what they could want, none of them was from Rolante or Palo. Well, since they were still asleep she couldn’t get any answers yet.
The man had a very thick hair, she noted now that she watched a little closer. Deeply brown, it spread out over his pillow almost like Kevin’s mane…
Lise clenched her teeth. Funny how her mind kept returning to the half blood… she still felt guilty, that was the problem. And she had a bad feeling that it wouldn’t get any better.
Nothing to do here since the guests still slept.
She turned to leave, but just as she took the first step she heard a yawn.
The young man had awoken, and sat up in the bed. Between rubbing his eyes with one hand he confusedly looked around.
“Where am I?” he sleepily mumbled.
“Good to see you awake,” Lise said and walked a little closer again while trying to smile in a calming way, “you’re in the caves of Rolante. Say, what were you and your friends doing here?”
He blinked at her, still working on getting back his sense of sight.
“Oh,” he finally said, “I’m Duran, and…”
First he gestured at the child, then the young woman. They still slept.
“… Carlie and Angela. You’re an amazon, right?”
“Yes, my name’s Lise,” she told him, and since he showed no signs of being an enemy of any sort she dared to continue, “we’re planning on retaking the castle from here.”
His reaction startled her. Duran darted out of his bed, the simple shirt and pants he wore somehow seeming to turn into a wargod’s clothing by his sheer enthusiasm.
“Let us help you!” he more called out than said.
“Just a few more minutes…” the woman named Angela grumbled, halfway awake.
Lise stared at Duran for a second. A complete stranger wanting to help her in the war of her people…? Not again!
The memory of Kevin burnt her mind.
‘Only wishing all well but it’s impossible, I didn’t want it to end like it did but please understand!’
She shook her head.
“No,” she said and tried to hide her bitterness, “it’s not your battle. Please leave when your friends have awoken.”
Before Duran had time to protest she turned around and hurried out, running to come in time for the meeting. Or running from the guilt she felt.
She came to the room where the meeting was to be held only to be greeted by familiar faces smiling at her. It warmed her troubled mind and she could smile a little again.
“It’s wonderful to see you back again, miss,” Martin, one of her father’s most trusted advisors, smiled.
Lise was about to return the warm greeting when he began to cough. So instead of saying hi she found herself hitting his back carefully.
“Hey, take it easy!” she kindly demanded, vary of his age.
“Oh, I’m alright,” he assured her.
The princess examined his face for a moment before she nodded. He might be a bit old and no warrior, but he was as determined to find a solution as the rest of them.
“So, any ideas?” she asked the room at large, “we obviously haven’t got enough people for a direct assault.”
There was a silence for a moment.
“Well,” Martin finally said, seemingly just to fill the concerned lack of speaking, “I’m no tactician…”
Lise almost smiled at the remark. No, Martin had been the trading advisor, it was needless to say that he wasn’t a man of tactics other than the ones of the art of supply and demand…
He suddenly lit up a little.
“Wait,” he thoughtfully said, “we could ask the sage, Don Perigon.”
Did I miss something?
“Don who?” Lise blankly said.
“He’s a tactical expert,” Martin explained.
“So where can we find him?” the princess eagerly asked.
Martin’s aura of excited hope dropped, and he frowned.
“That’s the tricky part,” he concernedly said, “he’s a corobokkle, and they don’t like humans.”
“Then I’ll just have to go and find a way…” the princess began.
“Miss Lise!” one of the amazons interrupted, pleading, “your return has brought us new hopes, please don’t leave us so soon!”
The leader of the army looked around and only saw faces and eyes silently begging her to stay. But… who’d go instead? Hawk wouldn’t go anywhere now that he finally was this close to his goal, she knew that… and she wouldn’t dare to send out any of the friends she had left to…
“Hey, we’ll go!”
The voice startled her, and she looked up to see Duran. He had gotten into a half plate armor and wore a visor which hardly could keep his wild hair under control. A sword hung by his belt, and behind him was his two companions. Angela looked a bit sour, her arms crossed as she glared at Duran’s back with seemingly unprovoked derision. Meanwhile Carlie smiled happily at anyone willing to look at her, thus causing the looker to helplessly smile back.
“We came here because we need to find Jinn,” the young man from Forcena said in a voice that would hear no protests, “so it is our battle too.”
Lise watched him for a moment, her mind twisting.
‘He really wants to, even though he isn’t from here and we hardly know each other…’ she thought.
It cut like a red hot dagger in her soul.
It had not been the right thing to do.
Finally she could admit it to herself. In a way it helped a little.
“Well, if you insist…” she finally managed to say and rubbed her cheeks with her fingers to hide the storm of regret inside of her, “thank you so much…”
She had to turn away to hide it.
“No problem, Your Highness,” Duran said on the other side of the room.
Lise couldn’t reply, she was afraid that she’d break down as the tension she had pressed down began to loosen by her sudden lack of denial.
‘I should have allowed him to insist… he wanted to help, and I should have accepted it! All three of us wanted it to be! How could I be so stupid…’
But she had only wanted the best to occur… and she had looked in the wrong direction. He had lost his dearest friend just recently and still felt the pain from that, and what had she and Hawk done? Left him all alone again!
‘I’m so sorry, Kevin…’
“So how and where do we find this Don Perigon?” she heard Duran ask.
“He lives in the Corobokkle forest, which is to the east of the Rabite forest near Jad,” Martin explained, “but you’ll need to disguise yourselves as corobokkles in order to make him talk to you. And I’ve heard that there’s a magical item somewhere that will make that possible… if I only could remember the name…”
“The chibikko hammer,” Alma said, “I think some collector in Byzen at least used to have it some time ago.”
“Well, it’s as good as nothing,” Duran grinned, “don’t worry about a thing, we’ll take care of it! Come on you two!”
“Don’t you give me orders, peasant!” a young woman’s voice snarled, Lise guessed that it was Angela.
Three pairs of feet hurried out, accompanied with a cute little tingling sound which’s source the princess hadn’t the nerve to bother about. Soon the sounds disappeared in the depths of the tunnels.
“Wow, I’ve never seen such hot shots before…” an amazon muttered after a few seconds.
“Where you looking at the girl, Martin?” Alma demanded.
“Uh, who?” the old man said, Lise could almost feel his blush grow.
She forced herself to turn around and act natural. Hopefully they wouldn’t think too much about her actions in their joy of getting help.
“So, all we can do now is to wait for them to return,” she declared, “let’s find some use of ourselves in the meantime. It’ll surely take them a week or so to return…”
“Ah,” Martin interrupted with a peculiar smile, “if they’re mad enough to be that helpful they’re probably mad enough to let good ol’ Merci help them get going.”
“What?” Lise blankly said.
Universal rule of the day: Timing is everything.
There was a distant sound similar to a rock tumbling down a cliff.
“They did it,” Eliza stated with a grin.
“What is going on?” Lise asked.
“You know Merci, right?” Martin said with a slightly tired smile.
Good warrior, but a little bit eccentric and wild about her foreign cousin’s inventions… whatever his name was again.
“Yeah?” the princess said.
“Well her cousin is working on a canon to use for travel,” Martin said and shook his head, “Merci has kept one of the prototypes for a while, and she started to set it up the other day saying that it could come to use some time. Guess it’s just luck that those people were here and dumb enough to try it that far.”
“But what if they die?!” Lise pointed out.
“Merci tried it herself down to the beach,” Alma said and rolled her eyes at the thought, “she managed fine and the sound is so similar to a small earth roll that nobody will notice. I wouldn’t worry about it.”
The world has gone mad… not exactly hot news. Lise hadn’t the nerve to argue at the moment in any case.
“I just hope they’ll be alright,” she said, “now lets see what we can do while we wait.”
When left alone Lise heavily sat down on a chair and leaned her cheeks in her hands, staring at nothing.
She had no idea how long time that passed, she just couldn’t bring herself to move. The recent days’ sudden excitement and the raging guilt she had battled all the time was getting a bad grip of the young princess, and she suddenly felt exhausted beyond her borders.
But after an eternity of twisting thoughts of which she could remember none, Hawk came back. He entered the cave and looked like he was about to say something, but one look at his friend’s tired expression stopped him. Instead he sat down on the other side of the table, watching the wood and allowed her the choice of speaking or not.
A few moments passed by before the princess could let the burning realization out.
“We made the greatest mistake of our lives leaving him behind, didn’t we?” she whispered, hardly even hearing herself.
Hawk didn’t answer at first. And when he did she more read the reply on his lips than heard him.
She sighed and straightened up.
“It’s too late now anyway.”
“I’m afraid so,” Hawk sadly nodded.
Lise tried to get a grip of herself.
“Those three strangers insisted on helping us,” she muttered, staring at her hands on the table, “they went to get advice from some corobokkle near Jad, can just hope that they live through the flight back to Byzel, find some ancient artifact, survive the beastmen and find the right place. This is madness…”
“I heard about the canon…” Hawk lazily said.
He straightened up too. Suddenly his hand was upon Lise’s and she looked up with slight surprise.
“It’s going to be alright,” the thief grimly said.
Did he know that those words were exactly what she had wished somebody would say? Lise tried to smile to return the favor, turning her right hand to grasp his. He seemed a little surprised as well when she did so, but carefully smiled.
Hawk’s hand was about her size, his fingers long and fine. Not like Kevin’s big, strong hand. But the two young men hadn’t much else in common than that they were her friends and warriors on the run from their own people.
Kevin again… she couldn’t escape it, though she felt better knowing that Hawk understood.
She realized that the setting maybe was growing a little more personal than planned. It wasn’t her intention, and she was sure that it wasn’t Hawk’s either, he had Jessica… but they were holding hands, sitting all alone.
“So, did you discover anything out there?” Lise said to smooth the whole thing.
Hawk shrugged his shoulders, but the movement didn’t reach his hand. He didn’t seem to mind their touch.
“Not much,” he said, “I dared to go much closer than your troops had, and I think they were wise to stay away. Well, I didn’t see that much despite that. They have a few guards out on the watch on the walls, so I couldn’t exactly climb in, at least not in broad daylight.”
“I don’t think you should try to get in yet either,” Lise pointed out, frowning.
He smiled, in that wry way of his.
“Certainly not, milady, I hold on to my life.”
She had to smile back at him at that.
Water cascaded around Kevin as he spun around in it. The cold and exhaust was tearing at his body; the sun was sinking, with cold winds announcing the nearing end of another day.
The half blood went ashore and waved at the three birds that sat on a stone each, working on eating their dinner. Fish again. Not that they were complaining.
Kevin sat down in the still warm sand, ignoring that the tiny stones would get stuck on his wet pants. From the depths of his light backpack he brought an apple and chewed on it without any spirit at all. His bedroll laid on the other side of the trees growing above the sand, safe from the cold winds of the ocean. On the same spot as last night, and the night before that, and the night before…
How many days now, since he had parted from his friends? He had tried not to count, but knew that it was one week and two days.
And he still felt the same worry and frustration.
By now the monsters stayed away from him, well aware of his ability to easily beat them up.
They had never been a match for him, and even though his training in the water did show result in slightly increased speed Kevin knew that he should move along to some place where there were opponents that could challenge him.
He needed something that could clear his mind.
To truly worry about someone was a new experience, and he didn’t like it at all. The thought of Hawk and Lise cornered by a dozen ninjas kept him awake at night and had several times caused him to go on moonlit hunts for monsters. He was getting better at transforming and could do it quicker now, at least there was something good in his troubles.
Absentmindedly Kevin reached backwards and scratched his back through the vest. The wounds had healed so much that he had removed the bandage and put it in his backpack a couple of days ago. But they still itched a little in the recovery process.
His arm dropped and he looked up at the birds.
He could have sent two of them back to the Beast Kingdom long ago; he only needed one and they’d be better off in their natural environment. But he hadn’t. Maybe only because he hoped that Lise and Hawk would need a bird each again…
The half eaten apple dashed into the air and disappeared into the ocean, the splash violent above the smooth whispering of the waves.
Kevin stood up, shook a little to get rid of the sand and headed towards the inland. He needed to do something in order to get his mind off his two friends. He thought a lot about Karl too, but he didn’t need to worry about the pup since the wolf couldn’t feel any pain now. Nothing to worry about there, only wish to avenge.
But he didn’t want to feel that kind of security for the thief and the princess.
The bushes along the golden road twitched as the normally violent creatures fled at the mere sound of Kevin’s feet. They had learnt to fear that sound.
As the first star twinkled on the sky, the son of the great Beast King reached Byzen. He had been there a couple of times to buy some more food after another patrol down the road, now that it was open to travelers again. However, those visits had been paid during daytime.
Kevin had no real goal, just trying not to think. So as he remembered that nighttime in this joint meant an open black market he headed to the great building in the eastern part of town. Not that he was interested in shopping but it could at least give him something to do.
The market wasn’t exactly crowded, but there were quite a few people moving around in the duskiness. The smoke from the torches itched Kevin’s sharp nose, but not more than he could stand.
Without greater interest he moved between the more or less suspicious looking merchants and their overfilled tables of goods. Some had mysterious oil they loudly claimed had a healing effect, others had claws and fangs from different monsters, peculiar jewelry and strange clothes.
It was when he was close to one of the building’s darker corners that Kevin’s ears caught a piece of a chat between a skinny merchant and a muscular man whose clothes put him on the list of “Presumed pirates”. Scabby, one eye and a slightly rusty sword by his belt. The usual stuff.
“Sorry, I’m out of slaves. Got rid of the last one just a short while ago,” the merchant said and smirked, “some blond kid who kept saying he was a prince. Feh.”
Kevin’s eyebrows twitched.
Blond little prince?
“Who buy that boy?”
Both the merchant and the pirate looked up and around with slight irritation at the question. Then their reaction shifted. The merchant got a nervous glistening in his eyes, which Kevin normally would have smelled too if it hadn’t been for the torches and the pirate’s stench. The bigger man looked a little interested, with his eyes measuring the young man who was about just as tall and muscular as himself.
“Why would you like to know?” the merchant snorted, pushing the nervous surprise aside.
“Might know him,” Kevin coldly said, “how old was he?”
“Look sir, I don’t have time…”
One mistake that many did was to believe that Kevin lacked intelligence. The truth was that the only problem was his speech problem, and that was simply caused, as Hawk had considered, by the fact that his parents’ genes clashed.
The mistake was to thereby underestimate the young man.
Kevin held up his right hand. With a low, hissing sound the nails of his fingers turned into one inch claws.
It was enough that it was nighttime; and the show was enough too.
The merchant and the pirate both recoiled, staring at Kevin’s hand.
“No time?” the half beastman growled, his white teeth glistening and turning eerily dark as if with blood in the dancing torchlight.
“I… I just sell them!” the merchant stuttered, “I don’t k-keep track…”
“Better try,” Kevin snarled, “start with boy, then.”
The slave trader nervously licked his thin lips.
“He was b-blond and his clothes s-seemed green and blue beneath the dirt,” he finally managed to croak.
Kevin growled; the merchant tried to turn flat against the wall.
“And who buy?” the half blood demanded.
“He had red eyes!” the put under true pressure man squeaked, “that’s all I remember, I swear! I only sell them!”
“Better stop that,” Kevin growled and lowered his hand, “not healthy.”
And with that he turned and walked away.
Blond boy with green clothes, saying he was a prince… could it be Elliot?
They couldn’t be too far, the market had just opened!
Kevin sniffed the air, just by instinct but knowing it was pointless. He couldn’t make out any particular smell, nothing relating to Lise. People from the same home tended to smell a little alike, but with the torches and all the people moving around it was impossible to feel anything specific. It wouldn’t even help if he transformed to increase his sense of smell. Besides, transforming in the middle of a crowd he had no plans to fight wasn’t a good idea. People always got nervous the first time they saw a beastman’s body change.
Hmm, red eyes?
As far as Kevin knew, that was pretty rare.
He walked over to the guard by the exit closest to the slave trader.
“See a man with red eyes and a blond boy leave?” the half blood asked.
The man eyed the questioner without much interest. He was used to the brutes coming into the black market; after all he was hired to deal with them if they caused more trouble than necessary.
“Yeah, a pale freak with a funky gray hair-style and a black cloak walked out about twenty minutes ago, dragging a kid who looked like a sleepwalker along,” the guard finally answered, bored.
Kevin hurried out in the deepening night. Twenty minutes…!
The wind from the ocean had thrown all smells around, and besides that many people had passed through the door. For the moment Kevin seemed to be the only one out and about. He hurried up to the small town square, straining his nose…
“I’m telling you, it was a ghost!” a young man’s voice called from the small alley leading down to the regular trading area.
“Mataro, get a life!” another man groaned, and several voices laughed.
“But I saw them disappear through the shadow!” the first one grumbled, “a pale man in a black robe and a child!”
There were five people in the alley, four of them chuckling tiredly at the fifth who was resolutely touching one of the solid stone walls. At Kevin’s sudden appearance two of the smiling ones fell over of the mere shock. The other three stared at the muscular creature; in the duskiness it was impossible to see exactly what the stranger with the mane was.
“You saw them disappear?” the creature demanded in a grunting voice.
The one touching the wall, Mataro, pushed his fear aside.
“Do you believe me?” he happily asked, “I’m an expert of paranormal activity, but nobody ever listened to me before. Yup…”
He hit the wall a couple of times.
“I saw it!” he proudly said, “they went straight into the shadow here and disappeared, just like that!”
“Pale man, had he red eyes?” the stranger asked.
“I wasn’t that close, sorry.”
The creature breathed deeply couple of times.
“Thank you,” he finally grunted, absentmindedly.
“You’re welcome!” Mataro said with delight, happy that somebody finally believed him.
His friends eventually got to their feet, all of them warily watching the stranger thoughtfully rub his chin.
“One more thing,” the creature said after a moment, “in which direction is Rolante?”
“It’s a three to four days sail to Palo from here, straightly to the west,” Mataro gladly informed, “but I’m afraid you won’t find a ship going there right now, not with the recent war and all that.”
“Ah, no worry about that. Thank you.”
In the creature’s voice was a friendly smile. Then he turned and rushed towards the town gate.
The birds looked up as Kevin ran into their sight, his bedroll hastily rolled and clutched in a tight grip. He strapped it onto his backpack and hung the bag in place. He didn’t even need to whistle, his feathered friends left their stones and one of them swept down so that he could grab his legs. As if they had only waited for his decision tonight.
“To the west, gah!” Kevin eagerly told them, “to Rolante!”
The warm screeches of the birds echoed between the cliffs as they soared upwards, riding the sky on their friend’s command. In Kevin’s nose the memory still lived from the alley; weak but he had caught it. The smell of a child, with an edge that Lise’s smell also had. And another scent, dry and sharp with evil. Kevin knew that he had felt that smell before, or something similar. But he couldn’t place it.
But for now that one detail really didn’t matter.
The son of the Beast King was on his way.
Lise was in the main cave, idly working on sharpening her spear. The days that had passed had been tense for her; everybody was overjoyed with having her back safely and wouldn’t let her out on patrol. Scared of the mere thought of loosing their dear princess again.
She was glad that they cared, but after all she was the leader of the army and not made of porcelain. But any offer to lead the spying troops was discussed aside.
Hawk had won everybody’s trust by now; despite his promise to be careful he had climbed into the castle last night and brought back a report that there were less guards than they had presumed earlier. He had also brought refreshing tales of that the fire that the refugees’ memories had seemed to swallow the whole castle really hadn’t caused too much damage, not on the parts that he had seen.
He hadn’t got caught and nobody had sneaked in his tracks to the hideout; the fact that it still was safe proved that. He was taking a well earned nap now, tired after the night’s late adventure.
It was all well.
But Lise felt utterly useless. She couldn’t even plan the attack, if there even were to be any. Not before, if, Duran and his friends returned with Don Perigon’s advice.
There was nothing she could do, or was allowed to. Only wait. And when she had nothing to do her thoughts started to wander, and they were drawn towards either Elliot or Kevin all the time, shifting between the two. The princess was worried about both of them, even though she tried to tell herself that they would be alright.
Sick of the nervous boredom she threw the whetstone aside and hooked up the spear on her back. Then she headed for the exit.
“Miss?” the guard by the entrance of the tunnels hesitantly said.
“I’m just going up to the flower plateaus,” the princess said and tried to hide her irritation.
She was outside and through the bushes hiding the entrance before the amazon had time to think of a clever reason to keep her leader inside of the safe caves.
They just wanted her to be out of danger; she was their only leader now, their hope. Even though she could understand their worry it was getting on her nerves.
Lise sighed as she walked up to the plateau of the sleeping flowers. Since she had been exposed to them once, she was now resistant to their sweet poison.
The flowers and the grass swayed peacefully in the silk wind, the bushes and small trees hanging on to the cliffs whispered softly by the same force. From here it was a fantastic scenery of nature, the distant horizon softly buckling upwards hardly noticeable. Everything below was so far away that it was turned warmly blue. And above it all the sun resided, still approaching its highest placement. It wasn’t exactly morning, but not midday either.
“Hello there, miss,” a voice behind her said.
She looked around and tried to smile.
“Beautiful, isn’t it?” the old man said, walking up beside the princess.
They watched the blue world together in silence for a while. Then Martin suddenly spoke again.
“There is something I wanted to talk to you about, miss,” he said.
“Call me Lise,” the princess said and turned to him, “we go back far enough for that, don’t we?”
He smiled a little.
“Very well, Lise. What I wanted to say is that when we have retaken the castle, I don’t say if but when, mind that, then we’ll have a little practical problem.”
“What then?” Lise said, a little worried by his pick of words.
Martin sighed a bit.
“Well, technically you are our queen from that very moment,” he said, “in reality you already are, but it won’t be official to us nor to the world before you have a country to rule.”
Lise fell silent. She hadn’t really thought about that, busy with other things. But…
“But I can’t stay around, I have to find Elliot!” she pointed out, brought off balance by the slap of realization.
‘Goddess, it’s true… father is dead… I am supposed to be a queen?’
She had always known that it would happen some day, but now she was suddenly shocked. Queen sounded so distant and heavy compared to princess…
Martin slowly nodded.
“I knew you’d say that,” he said with a small, bitter smile, “and you are right. It is your duty as the queen of our nation, the leader of the army, to find your brother. Though I’d rather see you sending someone else, I know you wouldn’t and it’s really the right thing.”
“Martin, I…” Lise began, but Eliza’s shout cut in.
“They’re coming back! Duran is back!”
Lise and Martin spun around to see the captain of the amazon army come running up to the platform.
“What?” the princess said, smiling widely with new hopes.
“They’re coming this way!” Eliza called out, too exited to keep a normal loudness of her voice.
“Praise the goddess!” Martin smiled.
Lise turned and looked towards the lower plateaus, seeing a distant group of three coming up the natural stairs.
Duran’s visor and armor sparkled in the sun, Angela’s hair was flying behind her in the wind like a softly purple dream, the bells of Carlie’s hat tingling songs of hopes.
“You’re back!” Lise called as the helpers reached the same plateau, “did you speak with Don Perigon?”
Duran stopped and tried to catch his breath after the run in the high mountains. His two female companions weren’t in any better state. After a couple of seconds the mercenary looked up, grinning.
“Yeah, just watch!” he proudly said, “Jinn, it’s your turn!”
A tubby, blue creature with loose orange pants and a round little hat in the same color resting between two long, pointy ears faded into existence beside Duran’s head.
Lise had seen pictures of Jinn, but they had all been old and often carved in stone. She had carried a mental image of a much bigger and more impressive creature. Still, there was something about him that felt familiar as the country itself. And he was… she had to admit it… cute. “Here, right?” he said, “just leave it to me!”
His voice was strangely echoing and singing, and at the same time whispering like the leaves as they were tickled by the summer breeze.
The elemental raised his short arms, and immediately the smooth wind grew in strength, howling and cheering as it danced around the group on the plateau. The grass, trees, bushes and flowers waved wildly. Lise grabbed Martin’s arm to help him keep his balance.
“Wheee!” Carlie cheered and giggled as her hat almost blew off, the two long ends of it twisting before her face.
“You always have to overdo everything, right!?” Angela shouted over the wind’s war cry.
“Says who and it’s not my fault!” Duran shot back.
He obviously tried to be clever, but it took him a couple of seconds to even think of an answer.
Softly red petals began to swirl to the air, spreading their pollen in the wind. Towards the castle. Lise laughed loudly and triumphantly as she realized what the plan was. The ninjas would fall by their own trick!
“Fantastic!” she shouted to be heard, “thank you all!”
“No problem, princess,” Jinn said and winked with one eye at her.
He didn’t speak very loud at all, but his voice softly pierced the wind anyway. Lise smiled at him and turned to Eliza.
“Get the troops ready!” the leader of the army ordered with a wide smile, “we’re attacking!”
“At once, miss!”
“Assembly by the upper rope bridge in half an hour, step on it!”
With her own war cry cutting through the wind Eliza rushed towards the hideout.
“We have to move quickly, are you coming?” Lise asked Duran and his friends.
“Sure thing, you can count on us!” the swordsman announced and drew his sword, proudly holding it towards the heavens, “you have my word as a warrior of Forcena!”
“Carlie will knock the bad guys!” the child shouted, jumping up and down with a double flail in her hand.
Is that… um, real?!
“Like I have a choice,” Angela grumbled, but as she grabbed her cane in both hands a small grin of excitement touched her lips.
“I’ll be with ya all the way!” Jinn grinned and began to turn transparent.
In a couple of seconds he had disappeared, and the wind slowly started to calm down.
“Then let’s go!” Lise grinned and brought forth her spear.
“Good luck!” Martin shouted after the four young warriors as they rushed down the stairs, towards the cave that lead to the mountain area.
He smiled to himself. When princess Lise beamed like that, they couldn’t lose.
She should really smile more often, the brave girl. Her true beauty really showed then.
Kevin was glad that he had chosen to take a rest during the night before continuing towards Rolante, otherwise he and his three friends could have crashed in the water when they came closer to the mountains. A smaller island in the sea had provided a resting place for the four travelers.
If they had been as tired as they could have been they wouldn’t have stood a chance against the playful wind. It seemed to dance in from the ocean, collect power between the incredibly high mountaintops and then bounce back over the water. The bird carrying Kevin had almost dropped him of the sheer surprise the first time, and there had been a battle to keep flying.
And there would be trouble ahead. How were they supposed to reach the land? Even though the route now was kept at a safe distance from the mountains the winds sometimes reached out and caused trouble. Landing below the mountains would take a miracle or a peninsula. And there was none of the later, they had already scanned the coastline in a five miles radius and turned back again towards the small town just below the cliffs. Except for there the mountains seemed to go straight upwards all the way.
… Wasn’t that a small beach?
Kevin strained his eyes. Yes, there was a tiny line of light brown just to the west of the town that had to be Palo (he hoped). Since he and his company came from the west, that beach was much closer than the town. And the cliffs were cracked above it; he thought that he could see a path leading into the mountain area.
Well, he just had to take a chance if he wanted to get there. The birds wouldn’t ever be able to land in the mountains or in town because of the winds.
Kevin looked up.
“You two, go back to Beast Kingdom, gah,” he said.
All the three birds looked at him in surprise. He nodded at the two that weren’t occupied with his weight.
“You, go home,” he grunted.
They chirped, hesitating for a moment. Then they swept upwards and increased their speed, not waiting for the friend who was slower because of his burden. That one bent his head and looked at the young half blood, chirping questioning.
“Try get lower and closer to land,” Kevin told him, “ah, as close as dare.”
If the bird had had eyebrows, it would have raised one. He straightened up with a chirp sounding suspiciously like a human’s “Aye, these crazy youngsters…”. Kevin could only hope that his friend would manage to get not too far from the land; it was long ago that the half blood had swum last and his arms were aching badly after the long flight yesterday and today.
Even if he did his best, it was still about three hundred yards to the beach when the flight got insecure by another wind and the bird chirped a warning.
“Let go, go home,” Kevin said, clenching his teeth at the cold that he knew awaited, “and thank you.”
His feathered friend chirped one last time as a goodbye and then released his grip of the young man’s wrists.
The water was just as cold as Kevin had feared and at first he was almost paralyzed by it, his already aching arms screaming in pain. But he clenched his teeth and forced himself to swim, focusing on the small beach for what it was worth; his only salvation.
When he finally managed to crawl up on the warm sand, exhausted by the circumstances and shaking because of the water he laid down and fell asleep immediately. Or rather, he collapsed.
“Okay everyone!” Lise called out, holding her spear aloft, “we’re going in, and we have to move carefully but fast. They might not all be asleep, and we don’t know how well the poison spread into the castle, so the time asleep might be shorter than what is normal. Now, for our dead comrades, for my father the king, for Elliot, for us and for Rolante!”
As Lise’s voice call changed into a war cry the troop before her joined in, waving with their spears. The sun almost made the hard, dyed leather of the amazons’ armors shine, sparkled in the spear points and Duran’s sword.
“Now, let’s do it!” Lise shouted and waved at everyone to follow as she ran towards the caves leading to the foundation of the castle.
Her warriors were right behind her, ready for the assault.
But where was Hawk? Lise realized that she hadn’t seen him at all since he said that he was going to take a nap.
She brushed the thought away, he was surely around somewhere. Now was not the time, they had to firstly get into the castle.
“Get ready to climb in!” she grimly called backwards at her troops that still were coming through the small exit of the cave in couples.
There was no room for a decent rush out of there, Lise stopped on the carved stair up to the barricaded entrance while her friends still were assembling behind her again. It would be impossible to break that thick net of crossed bars without sledgehammers or worse, but there were no guards visible and the amazons had brought grappling hooks in order to take another way.
Alright, now too…
The heavy grid suddenly shook and began to rise. Lise took her spear in both hands and heard the amazons get into defensive position, ready for an attack. Somebody became visible in the open gate.
“Are you coming or not?” the person grinned.
“Hawk!” Lise laughed.
“It’s a slumber party in here, but I saw a few moving shadows when I broke in,” the thief reported, “all yours, come on ladies!”
He turned and hurried back inside, Lise and her amazons followed.
The throne room seemed to be mostly untouched, a couple of ninjas laid unconscious on the floor. But that was no guarantee that everyone had fallen asleep, that was proven by Hawk’s sightings. Some of the ninjas in the castle could have been poisoned once already, during their attack. Plus, the power of the pollen depended on how well Jinn had been able to spread it. Poor spreading had been the only source of survivors in the first attack, which had been lucky back then.
“Spread out in small groups and search through the castle!” Lise ordered and turned to Hawk who had lead the way into the throne room, “where did you see those awake ones?”
“Down that way,” the sunburned man grimly said and pointed at the eastern door with one of his daggers, “I’ll show you. They weren’t many, that much I saw.”
Lise turned around at the still incoming amazons. As she got the newcomers attention she pointed at five of them.
“You, follow me and Hawk,” she ordered.
“Yes miss!” the chosen ones grimly said and saluted.
With the thief playing the leader again the group left the throne room and hurried into the southeastern corridor where Lise’s own room was located, among a couple of more, smaller rooms.
“Three of you, check the rooms, don’t split up!” the princess called over her shoulder without slowing down.
“Yes miss!” the three last warriors called and disappeared through one of the doors.
“You’re a lady of authority when leading a war, ain’t you?” Hawk friendly teased over his shoulder.
Lise gave him a determined smile.
“No one shall pass!”
Three ninjas with empty eyes blocked the corridor’s end. They were armed and at least moved more alert than the ones in Palo.
“Step aside, Ran!” Hawk growled at the one who had spoken.
“Traitor,” he replied.
“Don’t you call me a traitor you blood thirsty desert wolf!”
“And your insults are still worse than your flirting,” Ran said, emotionless and staring at nothing, “I’m amazed that Jessica even bothered about you. Not that you’ll ever see her again, Hawk…”
Ran spoke no more. With an uncharacteristic roar Hawk leaped forward with his daggers raised.
The ninja probably didn’t feel anything since he was obviously hypnotized, and he had no chance to parry the thief’s fury. Before his friends had time to take care of the attacker they had three amazons on their hands. It was a quick battle, but one of Lise’s warriors received a hard knock in her forehead, followed by several quick cuts on her arms.
Otherwise the loss was only on the ninjas’ side.
“Are you alright?” Lise asked the harmed one while Hawk grimly dried his daggers on Ran’s shirt.
“I’ll be fine,” the amazon grunted, sitting down by the wall and holding on to her bleeding arm, “don’t worry about me, go ahead. Hurry!”
Lise wished that she had had a bandage, anything at all, for the amazon. But she had nothing. The others would find and help the wounded friend soon enough in any case. There was only one thing to do.
“Take care, then,” the princess grimly said and straightened up, “let’s go!”
“Good luck, and be careful!” the one they left behind called after the three remaining warriors.
Hawk was still in the lead, his daggers ready in his hands.
His reaction at Ran’s words had startled Lise, she hadn’t thought that the thief could go berserk like that. Jessica’s fate obviously weighed heavy on his shoulders.
They rushed up a stair… Hawk stopped dead in his tracks, almost causing Lise and the other amazon to run into him.
“What?” Lise hissed.
“Monsters!” the thief snarled, “she’s got bloody trained monsters!”
Lise looked ahead and saw a dark sword on its rise from the floor, all by itself.
“What is Isabella?!” she snarled.
“I was starting to wonder that myself,” Hawk replied, “you try to knock the spook while I distract it, alright?”
“Allow me,” the amazon grimly said and stepped forward.
Hawk nodded at her and ran at the sword. It moved rather clumsily, but the sharpness was obvious. When the thief easily jumped aside the living weapon buried itself in the wall. While still rocking back and forth to get loose the remaining amazon hit its hilt so hard with her spear that sparkles flew around. A crack appeared on the blade and it fell into pieces, leaving a hole in the tapestry and stone behind that.
“Not very good raw materials in these living weapons, eh?” the amazon smirked.
“I rate it ten battle points for you,” Hawk grinned, “what’s your name, by the way?”
The female warrior looked a little surprised.
“Valeya, why?” she said.
Not until then Lise realized that she hadn’t thought about her warrior’s face. The heat of battle… but she still felt a bit embarrassed of her own thoughtlessness. Ah yes, Valeya… she had a younger sister who had also survived Navarre’s attack, to both the siblings and their living friends’ great joy.
“I just don’t like not knowing what my allies names are,” the thief said with his wry smile, “shall we?”
And so they hurried on.
“He really is an awful flirt,” Valeya whispered to Lise with a low laugh.
The princess had to smile back. Luckily Hawk didn’t overhear them, busy with rushing forwards.
As they soon realized that the living swords and armed shadows lurking here and there were rather slow, the group of three began to outrun them instead of wasting time battling. They were after all on the hunt for whoever Ran and his friends had tried to protect.
“How big is this castle?” Hawk wondered fifteen minutes after the first sword assault.
“Big,” Lise sighed, “but there’s not very many places to hide ahead…”
Two more ninjas blocked another stair going up.
“Look, you’re not going to leave without really bad holes in your clothes if you don’t step aside,” Valeya stated with a smirk.
“You shall not disturb lady Bigeau,” the right one chanted in a lifeless voice.
“Who?” Lise, Hawk and Valeya blankly asked.
“Lady Bigeau, leader of Navarre,” the left ninja lazily said.
“Isabella?” Hawk growled, irritated.
“That was merely a decoy,” the right one said, “not that it matters. You shall not pass.”
The three invaders exchanged glances and charged. One minute later they were upstairs. Fresh air came from an open door down the short corridor.
“I have a bad feeling about this,” Hawk suddenly said as they got closer to the exit, “let me go ahead a bit…”
“Tch, and when are we getting to be heroes?” Valeya snorted with a smile, “you opened the door for us, so let me and the princess do the dirty work for a change.”
“I think she’s right,” Lise said after pondering it for a moment, “you shouldn’t have all the fun.”
He looked at her with surprise, especially as she got a moment’s inspiration from Jinn and winked with one eye at him. But then he smiled and nodded.
“Okay, you’re the boss,” he said, “just be careful.”
They both smiled at him and sneaked out of the door, carefully. Their feet and armors didn’t make the slightest sound.
‘Heh,’ Hawk thought as they disappeared from his sight, ‘I could as well just have followed. They did it only to tease me!’
He snorted, but smiled to himself.
Then suddenly he heard a voice from behind.
“Hey! Aren’t you from Navarre?!”
Hawk spun around, cursing himself for being so absentminded that he had missed the footsteps. He cursed himself even more as he saw the three warriors who had gone to see Don Perigon. Hawk hadn’t had a chance to meet them while either of them were awake, so they couldn’t know which side he was on. And they were glaring dangerously at him, weapons drawn. A sword was known for being very painful, that staff didn’t look too soft and even though that little thing only was a child, it was a child with a real twin morningstar. And Hawk was, once again, painfully aware of his obvious Navarre-look.
“Wait, listen!” he shouted, “I used to be with them, but now they’re after me!”
He realized that he was repeating exactly the same words that had made Lise lower her weapon when they first met in Jad. As it didn’t work as well this time he hastily added more facts:
“A woman named Isabella is responsible for everything, I’m here to stop her!”
To his relief the three lowered their weapons, but very slowly. And especially the swordsman -what was his name again, Duran? Yeah, that’s it- still glared suspiciously at the thief. Hawk couldn’t hold back a sigh.
“Thanks,” he said, “I’m telling you, the real Navarre thief’s guild wouldn’t ever kill anyone.”
“No?” Duran suspiciously said.
‘Guess Lise never had any time to tell them about the traitor…’ Hawk tiredly thought.
“Isabella, or ‘Bigeau’ as she calls herself now,” he corrected himself by remembering the ninja’s words, “she cast a spell on everyone and was responsible for my friend Eagle’s death.”
They lowered their weapons a bit more, straightening up and listening to him. Hawk took the chance to give them some more vital information he would like them to have, just in case.
“She also put a curse on Eagle’s sister Jessica,” he told the three, “if Bigeau dies, Jessica dies as well. So… if you should meet Bigeau, please don’t kill her. Try to capture her instead. I know it might sound selfish but…”
His voice trailed of, he didn’t know what else he could tell them. Just hope that the small group would believe him and care enough.
“Okay, got it,” Duran finally said to his relief, “we’ll be careful.”
“I appreciate it!” Hawk said with a wide, grateful smile, “I’ll go ahead now, so see you.”
He turned and hurried off, not feeling secure enough among those warmongers to stay longer than necessary. But the main reason that he ran off like that was that a little alarm bell in the back off his head was starting to yell about Lise and Valeya being gone for far too long.
The outside was a balcony with a stair; he had no choice but to follow it. As he looked up he saw that there seemed to be just as much castle left as he had gone through already. With a groan he followed the next floor of the balcony and entered the next phase of the building through another opening in the wall.
Wohoo, more stairs… and sounds of battle coming from above them…!
Hawk almost flew up the steps and buried his daggers in the crack between helmet and armor of a shadowy knight without asking. It fell to pieces.
“Thanks!” Lise grinned as she without greater problems fended off another sword, “sorry we didn’t come back, we got a little carried along. These here were planning an ambush!”
Valeya nailed another knight, thus ending the fight.
“I told you I was worried,” Hawk said with a wry smile, “no hard feelings. Your heroes of the sacred corobokkle almost killed me from behind, though.”
“Oh, sorry,” Lise said and concernedly frowned, “I never introduced you… I’m glad you’re alright.”
‘Really, you are?’ Hawk thought in pleasant surprise.
“No problem,” he said aloud with another smile while they began their quest of running through the remains of the castle again, “I got out of it in one piece, see?”
Lise smiled a little.
They kept hurrying through the halls, easily taking out or preferably outrunning the monsters trying to stop them.
“The northwestern tower is ahead!” Valeya concluded as they got closer to another exit -Hawk had lost track long ago-, “there’s nowhere else left where survivors can have fled!”
“Come on!” Lise shouted.
As he came outside again, the first thing Hawk saw was the three shadows calmly walking over the bridge connecting the main castle with the tower ahead. Two men and a woman. And the thief would recognize them anywhere.
“Isabella, Bigeau!” he shouted in rage, “whatever you call yourself, hold it right there!”
Much to his surprise, she did. And so did Bill and Ben.
There had been much joking about the two brothers back in Navarre, and they had lead the jokes themselves most of the time. They were twins, not even their parents could tell which was the one or the other.
And they were also vicious fighters, Hawk had never been able to win a training fight even when facing just one of them. He wasn’t sure about the odds now.
The brothers’ eyes were as empty as all the other ninjas’ had been. Still, they could be dangerous.
“Well, well,” Bigeau smirked, “if it isn’t the loverboy himself. Jessica’s heart will be broken when she hears about you going out with not just one but two other ladies. Shame on you.”
If Bill and Ben hadn’t been shielding her then Hawk had charged at the woman, in his rage forgetting about the curse for a moment. Jessica’s tear-filled eyes, burning with distrust, Eagle’s bloodied chest, last breath, coughing… all because of that Bigeau!
Lise stepped forward, her eyes gleaming with rage and her spear in both hands.
“In the name of my kingdom I shall avenge all the deaths you have caused, hag!” she growled.
Bigeau raised an eyebrow.
“My, are you the escaped princess Lise, then?” she asked, with a little more interest.
There was no reply except for a low growl from Lise’s lips.
“Splendid!” the woman in blue and pink robes sneered, “the Dark Prince will enjoy another gift… Bill, Ben, kill the other two and wrap up the princess for me.”
“Yes lady Bigeau,” the brothers lazily said.
“Hey, wait!” Hawk shouted as Bigeau turned around and went over to the tower.
She just smirked, opened the small portal and entered. The door closed behind her.
Bill and Ben raised their daggers.
“Snap out of it!” Hawk called out to them, “wake up, you’re being controlled!”
But he knew it was fruitless. Still he had to try.
“You’ll die here, traitor,” the left one said -was that Ben?-, “we have our orders.”
Suddenly he was behind Hawk and his friends instead of ahead. Valeya spun around with a hiss, rising her spear for defense.
“How did he do that?” Lise hissed.
“They’re much worse than the others,” Hawk warned in a slightly hoarse voice, “we have to be careful…”
He made the mistake to glance over the low railing of the bridge. The cliffs were pretty far down…
Bill (?) slowly moved his feet, getting into battle position. Hawk didn’t have to look backwards to know that Ben did the same. The thief licked his dry lips.
“Not to sound like a baby,” he harshly whispered, “but suddenly I wish more than ever that Kevin was here…”
“Funny,” Lise whispered back with a tense glance at Ben, “I was thinking the same…”
The brothers charged.
There wasn’t enough room on the bridge to fight them back. Lise’s soul exploded with shock and horror as she heard Valeya scream, a scream that seemed to last forever until it was suddenly cut.
“No!!” both the princess and thief screamed in terror and rage.
Then Hawk hissed in pain, clutching at his right side as one of the ninjas seemed to just bolt past, riding the wind passing by the bridge.
“Lise, look out!” he groaned in despair.
But the hilt of a dagger forcefully hit her stomach, she couldn’t breathe, the world was spinning, she heard Hawk snarl a curse and then his voice turned into a scream so much alike Valeya’s… a fist hit the back of Lise’s head, and she almost fell into unconsciousness. But not to the fullest. She was still vaguely aware of that gloved hands grabbed her arms and lifted her from the ground.
‘Forgive me… father, Hawk, Valeya, Elliot…’ her weak mind exhaustedly slurred, ‘I… I failed you…’
A young man’s voice cut through her pain. For a moment her burning soul desperately wanted to believe that it was Hawk, alive… or Kevin…
But it wasn’t, and she knew it.
The one holding her arms dropped her, and she limblessly fell to the stone floor again.
“More intruders,” one ninja said.
“Warn lady Bigeau,” the other said.
Steps left, others closed in. Lise fought her eyes open when somebody carefully shook her shoulder. Duran, Carlie and Angela.
The princess managed to point at the tower.
“The commander is in there…” she weakly whispered, slurring, “hurry, don’t mind me…”
“Don’t move,” Duran grimly said, “we’ll take care of her.”
You take care of it… you again.
“I’m not causing you anything but trouble, ain’t I…?” Lise bitterly slurred, “I’m sorry…”
The swordsman shook his head with a kind smile as he straightened up, and for once even Angela seemed to agree with him. They left the dizzy princess and hurried into the tower.
Lise tried to get up after a few second, hearing distant sound of a violent battle from the small part of the castle. But she could hardly move.
Hawk, Valeya… not only her father and so many others… now those two as well…
Tears almost filled Lise’s eyes, even though she tried to fight it. The loss was too great, she couldn’t take it anymore…
There was a sound. Like a dagger forcefully hitting the crack between two bricks of a stone wall. And a groan.
Lise tried to look around, blinking the tears away from their half existence.
“Ha… Hawk!?” she whispered with a broken voice.
With a loud groan he more or less crashed over the low railing, falling into a heap beside her before working himself out and sitting up. His shirt was cut and dark with blood, but it didn’t seem as bad as Lise had thought it to be.
“You okay?” he asked, reaching out to help her get up.
“Yeah, Duran and the others came… ouff…” Lise muttered as she tried to get onto her knees, “I was sure that you was dead…”
“I fell, but I got a grip of the cliff,” he told her with a sigh of relief, “and it seems like Valeya landed through a spruce on a ledge, I believe she’ll be alright too.”
He looked at the tower.
“Sounds like there’ll be three other heroes today,” he said with one of those wry smiles again.
“Wish we could help…” Lise muttered and groaned as she and Hawk tried to stand up, “but not in this shape, right?”
“Probably not. Come on, lets go inside while we wait, this place doesn’t feel too safe.”
Together they managed to stumble back into the main castle, waiting for the winners of the battle or the amazon army to find the way to them. Whatever came first…
Lise stood beside the throne, looking out over her victorious troops. Martin and Alma were there, and of course Duran, Angela and Carlie. The civilians, men and children, that had survived the ninjas’ assault were of course there too now, coming from the hideout as soon as the report of victory had reached them.
Some of the amazons carried bandages in different places, but after a short rest the little girl in Duran’s troop had gone through the hastily cleaned hospital wing and spread her healing power over the wounded warriors. She wasn’t strong enough to fully heal them all, instead split her blessed gift of magic among the casualties. After that she had fallen asleep of exhaust, but awoken for the victory meeting in the throne room. Lise had slept a couple of hours herself, falling half asleep, half unconscious after Duran and his friends had found her and Hawk to announce their victory.
Was there nothing that those three couldn’t do…? Lise was forever grateful for everything they had done and had offered Duran and friends to stay in the castle and rest for as long as they needed, but the swordsman had declined.
“We have to get back to Forcena as soon as possible,” he had explained, “there’s no time to rest. Thanks a lot for the offer, but we have to go down to Palo and catch a ship back to Byzen.”
“But…” she had begun, desperately wanting to help her heroes in some way in return.
“No need for that, Highness,” Duran had smiled, “we might not have found Jinn if you hadn’t needed help.”
“Why were you looking for him?” Lise had asked after a moment of hesitating.
“Because this moron here is possessed by a fairy,” Angela tiredly had mocked.
She was tired after the battling, even now her shoulders were hanging a bit even though she tried to stand up straight.
Lise thought back on what Duran had told her after the short argument with Angela that had followed her moron remark.
The Mana sword… that Altena, the magic kingdom, had been waging war against Forcena to get their Mana stone. They wanted to release the power of the magical stones in order to get into the fabled Holyland and acquire the sacred sword.
Total madness… Lise knew the tales about the stones. They were the containers of the great god-beasts. If the power was released, the beasts would escape their prisons, wouldn’t they? Didn’t the queen of Altena see that?
Besides, wasn’t it told that the spell to release the stone’s magic would kill the caster?
It was too much, she had to leave it to Duran. Lise knew that she had to focus on her own personal problems.
Her eyes ran over the troops again. Valeya was there, looking more like a mummy than an amazon. It had been nearly impossible to get her off the ledge she had landed on, and she had still been unconscious and in bad shape. But after some extra treating from Carlie she was awake. Almost every bone in her was broken, but at least she was alive.
In the end, since half of the ninjas and their trained monsters had been asleep or at least dozy due to the sleeping flowers, the loss had been entirely on Navarre’s side. No more amazon lives had been spilled, and Lise was indescribably relieved about that. No more lost friends…
Bigeau had fled.
“She just disappeared!” Angela had explained and slammed her cane into the wall of frustration as she and the other two heroes of the day had found Lise and Hawk inside, on the other side of the bridge.
“Yup!” Carlie had nodded, “bad lady just floated off an’ was gone! Carlie saw it!”
And she wasn’t in the castle anymore, the amazons had turned everything upside down in the search for Bigeau. Nothing.
Well, it wasn’t any real surprise that she had magically left; they already knew that she was a magic user.
And because of that, Hawk was missing.
Lise held back a sigh.
“I’ll go to Palo,” he’d said even while Carlie healed his wounds back by the bridge, “if she gave up the castle she might have released some of the ninjas there, I have to see if my friends are alright!”
She hadn’t been able to stop him, not knowing what to say. Lise knew that he was worried, but she’d just gotten through the shock of believing he had died and he rushed off again at once. He did what he had to, again. It hurt, but she couldn’t blame him. Anyway, they’d meet up in Palo later on… still she somehow felt uncomfortable.
The sun was getting ready to sink outside. It had been a quick battle, merely taken a few hours thanks to the trick that had caused the fall of Rolante. That attack had been very quick as well.
But it wouldn’t happen again.
And now she had to properly tell her gratitude to the ones that had fought.
“Thank you everyone,” she finally said with a warm smile, “thanks to all of you, Rolante is free once again…”
Her voice trailed off as her eyes fell on the empty throne, and the smile died. She didn’t really want to say it, but it fell out of her mouth before she could stop herself.
“But it won’t bring back father…” she bitterly muttered.
‘Or Elliot,’ she thought, ‘how am I going to tell them that I have to leave?’
She dreaded the hastily nearing moment when she’d have to speak out that truth, remembering all the pleading eyes that had begged her to stay in the hideout.
“Carlie don’t like that Bigeau,” the child with the blond locks and peculiar hat piped up, “what if she attacks again?”
“No, it’s nothing to worry about,” Eliza said, “we’ll reestablished our defenses now, and the sleeping flowers don’t work on us anymore since we’ve all been exposed to them once.”
“Besides, we have our princess back…” someone in the crowd said, her voice filled with unsure hope.
Everybody looked at Lise again, uncertain, questioning. She clenched her teeth and looked away, unable to use her suddenly dry tongue. Even though she had tried to mentally practice on telling them that she had to leave, now that they looked at her like that again she couldn’t.
But she had to…
A painful, silent eternity seemed to pass. Then Eliza suddenly spoke again.
“Lise, you don’t have to,” she gravely said.
The princess looked up in grateful surprise.
“If you have to search for Elliot on your own, we understand,” the captain said and smiled with pride and determination, “Lise, leader of the amazon army, would never sit by while Elliot is still in the enemies’ hands!”
She turned to the rest of the amazons and called out:
“Am I right?”
“Right!” the armored women and the civilians called back.
Lise felt as if she could grow wings and fly away of pure relief that they understood what she had to do.
“Thank you everyone,” she smiled, “I promise you that I will find and retrieve Elliot!”
The amazons’ swirling war cry danced around her, tickled her mind and filled her with power.
He felt a little cold, too. And there was a sound of waves…
It took a few seconds for his brain to catch up with the facts and memories.
‘I… made it?’
Carefully he removed his arm and managed to sit up. His body was aching a bit, but not more than he could handle.
The sun seemed to be about to start its journey downwards. Had he slept through the whole day?
Kevin grunted and tried to stand up. His backpack felt heavier than usual…
With a realizing sigh he took off the pack, opened it and turned it inside out.
The small sack with coins, the bag of food, his single change of clothes -exactly like the ones he wore now- and Lise’s bandage tumbled out. All soaking wet. His bedroll and the backpack itself wasn’t in much of a better state either.
Well, there wasn’t much he could do about it now, he had to find out if he was in the right place and go look for Lise and Hawk.
Quickly he forced as much water as possible out of everything except the food sack. One look inside of that proved his suspicion; the bread had turned into porridge and surrounded the last of the dried meat that had been left. Not exactly invoking appetite. Kevin turned the sack inside out as well and tried to wash out the worst sludge in the ocean. When that didn’t work very well he buried the sack so that no smaller animal ever passing by would get stuck in it. Then he repacked his backpack and shook a little to once again get rid of sand on his clothes. After that he hung his package on his back and finally walked up the small passage between the cliffs into the mountain area. At least the sun had mostly dried his clothes, skin and hair, so he wasn’t soaking.
He reached the small town and found that the whole population, at least a lot of people, had assembled outside of the inn, whispering excitedly at each other. Kevin walked closer, puzzled.
“What happen here?” he asked an old man at by the outer ring of the crowd.
“All the ninjas suddenly seemed to wake up and acted as if they didn’t knew where they were,” the man answered with a grin, “then they fled on one of the ships that they came with. Some think that the amazons finally managed to retake Rolante!”
“This… really Palo?” Kevin said, his exhaust melting away in a few seconds.
The old man gave him a puzzled look.
“Yes, why?” he said.
“Ah, just came here,” the half blood said.
He glanced upwards. Cliffs as far as he could see, but he had seen another path leading up when walking towards the town.
“Rolante, up there?” he asked.
“Yeah, there’s roads in the mountains but I wouldn’t go there yet… hey, wait! Don’t go there!”
Kevin didn’t care about the man’s call, rushing back into the mountain area.
His tiredness was completely gone, washed away by the triumph he experienced. He had gotten to the right place; his friends had to be there somewhere, especially if they had liberated Lise’s home!
By a twist of fate he missed Hawk completely. The thief was in Palo, sneaking around with the hope of finding a friend who was still left in town even though it seemed like all the ninjas had fled. If all the people hadn’t been standing around there the half blood maybe could have caught a scent of his friend, but in the circumstances it didn’t happen.
Instead Kevin hurried up the mountain, hoping to find his friends on top of it.
The princess shook her head and managed a small, encouraging smile.
“No,” she said in a low voice, “it’s hard enough to leave as it is. I’m worried that should I stay it would be even more painful to go.”
Alma reached up and carefully hugged her princess, careful with her armor. Lise hugged her back and then turned to walk out. When she stood beneath the stair leading up to the castle she turned around and waved at all the people standing on top of the wall and in the windows. They waved back, calling out their best wishes.
Duran, Carlie and Angela were also leaving. For a few yards the four walked together, but by the entrance of the cave Lise stopped and turned at the three heroes.
“Good luck and thank you for everything,” she honestly said, “I’ll go ahead on my own now.”
“Carlie ish sure Lise will find her brother!” the little one said with a wide, contagious smile.
“Yeah, good luck,” Duran nodded.
Angela said nothing, but smiled a bit. And by the little Lise knew about that young woman, she was aware that such a smile meant a lot.
The princess nodded, turned around and began running towards the cave. Just before she entered the darkness she stopped and looked back, waving at her brief friends and heroes that still stood in the same spot. They smiled in return.
Then she entered the cave.
For some reason she wanted to run, as far away from the castle as possible before she began to miss it again. So she rushed through the cave and over the rope bridge, with her spear waving off the needle birds that tried to get a piece of her.
Soon she reached the fork in the road; one path to Palo, one to the flower garden. Lise slowed down as she passed the long, partly natural, partly cut out stair in the cliff.
Why was she really rushing off like this? Where could she go?
Her feet suddenly felt heavy as iron, and she stopped walking.
Where was there even the slightest glistening of hope, now that Bigeau had fled? In Navarre?
Ha, what a joke, she’d need at least twice her army for that…
Well, Hawk would be down in Palo, and they’d surely think of something.
Lise sighed and glanced at the road to her left, the one that lead to the garden and the abandoned hideout. And she felt that right then she wanted to be alone for a moment, away from all the happy people in Rolante and Palo who’d surely forgotten all their troubles by the amazons’ victory. Nothing wrong with that, but heavy with her own concerns Lise didn’t desire to be surrounded by joyful faces.
She took the path to the flowers.
A few minutes later she sat down in the grass behind one of the waterfalls, listening to the wind and the happily pouring water. It was like a curtain of glistening crystals…
The light of the sun was slowly changing as it began to descend towards the planet’s embrace.
‘I should move on before it gets dark…’ Lise lazily thought.
But when she looked at the sky again she realized that all of the tree moons was close to full, and the fact that there were very few clouds would add to that it wouldn’t be a very dark night. Maybe she could stay a little longer… just a little while.
As she walked towards the cave leading out she suddenly heard the screech of an attacking harpy. Was Duran coming here…? Why? She couldn’t think of any other trav…
That loud growl…
It was as distant as the screech, she could hardly hear it. But it came from the other side of the cave, and it was familiar. Kevin?
Within the next heartbeat she was by the rope bridge, just in time to see the red skinned half blood make sure that at least one half bird-woman wouldn’t sing anymore seductive songs to catch travelers in the mountains.
“Kevin!” Lise called out again with a honest laugh of joy straight from her heart.
He threw the lifeless harpy on the ground and hurried to meet the princess. On his lips was wide smile of pure happiness of seeing his friend again, and even his usually sad eyes shone.
“Hello Lise,” he warmly said as both of them still were approaching.
Before she had considered it Lise had leaped forward and thrown her arms around his neck, laughing of the relief of seeing him safe. He stumbled backwards by surprise and her momentum. The princess’ feet touched the ground and she released him, pretty embarrassed that her happiness had taken such a twist of behavior.
“Sorry about that,” she hurriedly said but couldn’t help smiling still, “I’m just so glad to see you again.”
He looked even more like a boy due to his remaining surprise for a moment, but then he pushed it aside and smiled back.
“Ah, glad to see Lise too,” he warmly said, “where is Hawk?”
“He’s down in Palo to see if any of his friends have come to their senses after Bigeau… Isabella fled.”
“I was in Palo, missed him.”
Kevin snorted and shrugged his shoulders.
“Bad luck,” he said with another smile, “you won?”
“Yes,” Lise nodded, “there were more survivors than we had thought and we got help from three traveling warriors…”
Her voice trailed off and she looked away, by her memory being attacked by a feeling of utter shame.
“I’m sorry Kevin,” she muttered, “both me and Hawk are.”
“Why?” he said, confused.
“We shouldn’t have left you like that, we both realized it when it was too late.”
She looked back at him. He gravely shook his head.
“Me not angry,” he said, “thought was right too.”
Lise carefully smiled a bit again, relieved.
“But why are you here now?” she asked, tilting her head a bit.
Kevin crossed his arms with a slight frown.
“Found clue for Elliot…”
She nearly knocked him to the ground, almost violently grabbing his shoulders in her surprise and exploding hope. Once more she took him off guard, but he was a little more prepared for it this time.
“What did you find?” Lise eagerly asked.
“Went to Byzen, and…”
He told her about the slave trader and the “ghost sighting”.
“Felt a smell there, evil,” he grunted, “I think it was black magic; smell almost like Deathjester. But not him, he have black eyes, gah. Smell little like Lise too there, me sure boy was Elliot.”
“Oh dear…” Lise muttered and had to lean against the cliff since her head was swirling with new hopes and worries.
Elliot alive, at least then… but in the hands of somebody wielding black magic?
“When was that?” she asked, rubbing her forehead in an attempt to calm down.
“Two nights ago,” Kevin said, “me came here with birds, had to swim last bit. Winds troubling, like you said, gah.”
“Swim? Aren’t you cold?” Lise said before she remembered that his clothes had felt dry by the touch.
“Ah, worry again, Lise,” Kevin said with a friendly shook of his head, “no, sun dry me when slept.”
Lise thoughtfully looked at the sky. It was growing a softly green tone in the sinking sun.
“Black magic…?” she muttered, thinking aloud, “isn’t that what Bigeau used?”
“Bigeau, Isabella?” Kevin said, a bit confused.
“It seems like Bigeau is her real name,” Lise explained and tried to get a grip of herself, “we better go down to Palo and find Hawk so that we can plan together…”
She fell silent and looked at her friend, hesitating as she realized that she simply was assuming that he was coming without even asking him.
“If you…?” she timidly said in a low voice.
“No leave friends again, it wrong,” he said.
His words made Lise feel as if she could rise from the mountain and soar into the sky.
“Then let’s go, Kevin,” she warmly smiled.
The monsters inhabiting the Path to the Heavens had an even harder time ahead than the monsters of the golden road had had…