Those not chosen by the fairy Part 3
Hawk hurried through Palo, trying to avoid eye contact with the townspeople. He had already found a few confused ninjas who had just awoken from the spell, and helped them to the last escape ship waiting in the harbor’s most distant dock. But the thief had to go one last round to look for friends before he left town.
Of course he wasn’t going to depart with the ninjas, he just had to help them now or they would surely be feeling the wrath of Palo’s inhabitants. Most of those that he had found so far, only a handful, had been so confused after the spell that they hardly recognized him.
Primary he was searching for Nikita, even though he didn’t know whether the cat had already left or not. But even though they probably still believed that he had killed Eagle in cold blood, Hawk couldn’t leave the dizzy ninjas to face their fate. After all they had been controlled by Bigeau… no, chances were that they hadn’t been too fond of her ideas at all, but lacked chances to protest. The thief couldn’t just rush off, and it wasn’t simply because he wanted to prove that he was innocent.
“This is all your fault!”
Hawk startled at the angry call, but realized in the next second that it hadn’t been aimed at him. He looked in the direction of the shout and saw a group of men standing by the inn. They seemed to be surrounding somebody…
“Hey, stop that!”
The thief wasn’t too surprised to see Duran, but he didn’t bother much about the suddenly appearing mercenary and the two… ahem, ladies in his company. Hawk was too busy running in their direction. Even as he was still far away he saw the furry face that in fear looked at the fishermen surrounding it.
“Nikita!” Hawk shouted.
Blindly he dashed the mob and threw up his arms to protect his friend.
“Hey bro, help me here, will you?” the big cat weakly whispered.
“You recognize me?” Hawk said with relief.
The cat had fully recovered from the spell, then. Hawk grimly turned to the crowd.
“Alright everyone,” he resolutely said, “everybody who wants to hurt this cat will have to answer to me.”
For a moment it seemed like he had managed to get into another fight, one that would be hard to get out of. But one of the big fishermen happened to throw a glance at the three other foreigners, who simultaneously took a warning step forwards.
“Ah, to the hell with both of them!” the man grunted, catching the others’ eyes and guiding those towards the entrance of town.
The fishermen growled a bit, but they reached a silent agreement and walked off. A big cat from Navarre was one thing, but a warrior from there plus a young but muscular man with a sword, a beautiful woman holding a staff menacingly and a child with a sour look and a twin morningstar, that was something else.
“Thanks bro,” Nikita sighed with relief and rubbed his furry forehead with one hand while holding his big sack with the other, “I gotta tell you, so much happened since you left Navarre…”
“Let’s talk inside,” Hawk suggested and pointed at the inn, “it’s safer.”
Nikita tiredly nodded.
“Oh yeah,” the thief said and turned around with a smile, “thanks for the help.”
“No problem, cutie,” Angela easily said and winked with one eye at him.
That woman was simply amazing. Hawk hadn’t noticed her clothing before because of shock and poor light. And he couldn’t remember when he last had been so close to blush.
Wow. Just… wow.
Duran was one lucky blighter…
“Ah… why don’t you listen to Nikita too?” Hawk finally managed to offer, “after your interference Bigeau might be after you too.”
He hoped that his voice didn’t sound too weird.
“Sure, why not?” Duran said and shrugged his shoulders, “though I’m not worried about her, she can’t beat my sword skill.”
As one person Angela and Carlie rolled their eyes and sighed. It seemed so impossible that those two could agree on anything that the moment could have endangered the whole universe.
The five entered the inn and went into the dining room. The innkeeper said nothing, maybe he didn’t dare to. Nikita heavily sat down on a chair and began to speak.
“After you left Bigeau cast a spell on everyone to keep them under control. Anyone who opposed was just killed! Then they fortified the walls…”
He sighed and shook his head.
“I couldn’t do anything about it, the spell got me too,” he bitterly continued, “the spell didn’t affect Jessica since she was already cursed; Bigeau had her put in jail instead.”
“Look, it’s alright,” Hawk said, trying to cheer him up, “you couldn’t fight the magic and both you and Jessica are alive. That’s the important thing.”
Nikita tried to smile bravely, but then he shuddered and looked away.
“Then…” he said in a low, almost shivering voice, “she took in demons.”
“What?!” Duran, Angela, Carlie and Hawk shouted, causing the innkeeper to jump.
But nobody cared for the man by the counter and he couldn’t possibly have heard what Nikita said.
The cat grimly nodded.
“Real demons,” he said in a low voice, “winged, horned green lumps of muscles and claws.”
He shuddered again and grimaced. Then he looked at Hawk, bitterly.
“I’m sorry bro,” he said, “I couldn’t protect Jessica.”
“Don’t mention it,” Hawk grimly said, “it wasn’t your fault. And don’t even think of going back for her, too dangerous.”
Did he tell Nikita or himself that? He didn’t know.
Clenching his teeth tightly Hawk stood up and nodded to Duran and his troop.
“Later,” he said.
“Good luck,” Carlie said, her sudden graveness completely out of character.
Angela and Duran glanced at her in surprise, but then they grimly nodded at the thief.
“The same to you,” Hawk said.
Then he walked out, followed by Nikita. They began walking towards the dock.
With slight worry the thief noted that the men that had harassed his friend earlier hung by the stairs leading down to the underground pub, and they were glancing coldly at the two now lonely Navarres.
“What are you going to do now?” Nikita carefully asked.
“I don’t know!”
Hawk clenched his fists in frustration as he and his friend stepped over on the harbor area.
“Demons… are you sure?” he demanded in a low voice.
“Yeah, I’m afraid so,” the cat replied, rather nervous because of his friend’s anger.
“I have to do something… I have to help Jessica!”
The thief didn’t notices that his voice got louder as his frustration grew.
“You go with the others on the ship,” he growled at Nikita, the snarl soon becoming almost a shout of anger, “I’ll go back for Lise, she’s after Bigeau too. We’ll have to find Kevin and see if he wants to help, dammit…!”
He realized that his irritation had made him call out things that shouldn’t have reached everyone in town, and that made him even more frustrated.
“Damn it all…” he growled and held back an urge to slap himself.
How could he allow himself to be so careless?! It wasn’t like Lise would want the whole world to know that she was going out into it again!
“Calm down, I don’t think that anyone heard you now that we’re this far from town,” Nikita tried.
“Yeah, you’re probably right…”
Hawk sighed and looked around. No, they had gotten pretty far on the dock, hopefully his idiotic mistake hadn’t been noted by any inappropriate ears.
And there goes another chapter in good ol’ “Things the heroes should never ever say”, or in this case ponder. Why don’t they study harder? Well, it wouldn’t be as fun then, would it?
A couple of the ninjas that Hawk had retrieved stood on the ship, seemingly waiting for the thief’s return. On this distance and with the sun sinking behind them it was impossible to tell whom they were, but they seemed more alert than earlier. It made Hawk nervous, since he didn’t know their thoughts of him.
“Look, just get aboard,” he told Nikita, “I have to go and find…”
“Hurry up, you two!” one of the ninjas suddenly called, “the townsfolk are coming!”
Nikita and Hawk spun around. The mob was back, this time it was bigger and the population of it were more determined.
“You can’t stay here, bro,” Nikita said in a stressed and sad voice, grabbing Hawk’s arm, “we have to leave, now!”
“I can’t go, I can’t leave her too!” Hawk snarled and tried to free himself even as the townspeople came closer, “I already did that to Kevin, I can’t… ugh!”
He fell with a glassy look and would have crashed on the harbor’s wood if the ninja that hit him hadn’t caught the thief’s waist. Nikita looked at the man with nervous pain.
“Karan, please listen to me, he didn’t kill Eagle of own will…” the cat desperately said, glancing at the approaching mob.
“I know!” Karan interrupted and threw the unconscious Hawk over his shoulder even as he started to hurry back towards the big boat, “after all that’s happened we all understand that he’s innocent, now come on and run!”
Nikita rushed after the ninja and they jumped onto the ship. It drifted out of reach just as the mob was about to reach it.
As the distance between ship and Palo became more and more safe Karan carried Hawk into one of the few cabins and placed him onto a bed. Then the ninja turned to Nikita and shook his head.
“Sorry about that, but I saw that he wouldn’t listen.”
“I understand,” Nikita said.
He looked at his friend and sighed.
“Sorry Hawk, we had to bring you away from there…”
The angry crowd waved with their assembled fists at the leaving ship, not gaining anything by it but still trying.
After a while they returned to town, grumbling among themselves.
A shadow under the harbor’s planks thoughtfully looked up at the humans moving past. Light spilled into the dusk beneath the upper world as the wood slightly bent for each heavy step. But the rays seemed unable to touch the hiding creature. Even as the sun itself now touched the ocean it couldn’t reach into the deepest darkness which shrouded the spy.
He didn’t care about the humans leaving even though he seemed to look up at them.
Sharply yellow eyes with pupils like thin, standing lines scanned the dark planks above while the waves of the ocean whispered their way below two bare feet. Instead of nails there were sharp claws on the toes.
As the last fisherman was gone, the creature still watched the planks.
So, she was still left in Rolante. How sad that her friend had to leave… leaving her all alone on her quest.
The creature smirked coldly. Perfect.
The thoughtful look returned.
“We’ll have to find Kevin and see if he wants to help,” the traitorous thief had said.
And later he had mentioned the same name again, just before he got knocked.
No, it couldn’t be him… what would he ever have to do with the thief and the princess?
But if there was the slightest chance, it was worth taking it. After all, rumors had it that the prince had left his kingdom.
The creature pondered his options.
His mission was to take care of princess Lise, and he should really do that as soon as possible. But if it was indeed the son of Beast King and Arceia… maybe the thief could lead the way to the prince. On the other hand, it had sounded as if the princess would like to find this Kevin as well. Maybe she could do the same thing. It would be sufficient.
He bent down and painted a few glowing runes on the water with a clawed pointing finger. They glowed and the liquid boiled around the signs, but the waves couldn’t erase them.
“Yes, Rakadra?” a dry, cold voice said.
The sound came from the runes themselves, impossible for a human ear to sense.
“I heard Bigeau’s loverboy toy talk,” the creature said, “princess Lise is still in the country. He also mentioned the name Kevin, it seemed like that was a friend of both the thief and princess but not present for the moment.”
“Kevin?” the runes said, thoughtfully interested.
“Should I look into it?”
“By all means.”
The cold voice smirked.
“How delightful if he should be the right one,” it said, “we could use him for another stone but… no, you can have him, my dear disciple. After all he’s always been yours by birthright.”
“Thank you, master Jagan,” the creature said with a cruel smirk.
He waved with a hand, and the runes disappeared.
The princess was bound to come to Palo sooner or later if she wanted to leave the country. He’d have a better view somewhere else; miss Lise was far too precious for chances of losing her. Especially if she could bring him to the accursed Beast King’s son…
The only reason he had hid under the dock was that he didn’t like sunlight very much. Sure he could survive it, but that was not the point.
He had planned to stay under the harbor, waiting to see if princess Lise came by. Sleep was not a problem, he was patient and needed no rest. Sooner or later she’d come for a ship going somewhere since her cute little brother still was missing… Rakadra knew that he could easily abduct her without help, the ninjas he had brought out of Rolante and still kept controlled were simply in case of allies.
It would be fun to just leave the Navarre toys where they were hid now, to drown in the tide.
He liked the thought of that.
But first he had to wait and see if he needed them or not.
“It seems like I’m cornered,” Bigeau had told him in the northeaster tower of Rolante’s castle, smirking and rolling her eyes.
They had been watching Bill and Ben fight the three strangers, on a safe distance noticing that the twins were a hopeless case.
“Should I interfere?” he’d offered, with the blood thirst that had earned him an honored name among the darker side of his two people.
“I have a much better idea,” the lady had smirked, “we’ll let them think that they’ve won and give them the castle back. Since the path to the Wind stone is now open, all we need is a… suitable sacrifice.”
“Ah, I see.”
He’d known what she meant. His cruel mind was also a source of respect; he had a natural ability to think in the same way as the one he was talking to. Well liked, and respected.
“Let them think that she’s left,” Bigeau had instructed, smiling coldly, “there’s no need to rush. Let her go somewhere else, and when she’s out of human sight then let her disappear. Send Jagan a message when you’re done and he’ll meet you by the stone. That way nobody will interfere.”
“Yes, my lady.”
“Take a few ninjas too. Just in case. There are some survivors on the lower floors, you’ll find them.”
The princess wouldn’t have been able to pass the harbor without him noticing it, but now he wanted a change of plans. It was childish, but a chance of revenge on the old werewolf emperor lit a cold excitement in Rakadra’s heart and he choose to move.
He smirked as he chanted a prayer to the underworld.
A few seconds later a completely normal cliff raven left the harbor and soared up above the town. Children were laughing and dancing, everyone was smiling in triumph.
Ah, humans… let them have their fun now.
Rakadra smirked, succeeding even though he had a beak and not a regular mouth for the moment.
Soon enough their happiness would turn into horror.
He landed on the roof of the inn. There he would have a perfect view of everyone entering the town.
“… Bigeau fled when Bill and Ben were beaten, Duran and the others had no chance to capture her. But at least Rolante is safe now,” Lise ended her summary.
“Living enemy, ah, not good,” Kevin grunted and grimly shook his head.
Lise glanced at him. It sounded so… cold, clawing at the kinder side of her friend. But then he added:
“Must be careful, dangerous.”
Somehow it made the princess feel better. A merciless Kevin tore up her view of him; no, it just couldn’t be. He wasn’t like that, and she knew it. The added phrase created a feeling of concern instead of practical planning.
They left the mountain area behind and entered Palo.
Now what do we have here?
“We better find Hawk before I’m recognized, because then we’re never getting out of here,” Lise muttered.
Kevin grunted something wordless for an agreeing reply.
Is it possible? But how?
There was a lot of dancing and laughing in Palo; the news had obviously reached the village. The princess briefly wondered if an amazon had come down into town before her, or if her three saviors had brought the news. In either case, everyone knew. Lise bowed down her head as she and Kevin walked through the town, she felt much better now than when she had been alone in the garden but still she wasn’t in the mood to be cheered. It had always made her feel embarrassed. Now she just wanted to find Hawk and plan for their next step.
It doesn’t matter how he managed…
Suddenly Kevin stopped, in the middle of the street.
“What is it?” Lise asked as she looked up and saw that he was frowning, his nostrils almost seeming to vibrate.
He didn’t reply, but his eyes bolted back and forth as if he was searching for something.
“Kevin?” the princess said, frowning, “are you alright?”
He blinked and shook his head.
“Feel strange smell…” he muttered, frowning even deeper, “don’t know, but gah… don’t like it.”
“What is it?” Lise asked, automatically glancing around.
It seemed as if his sudden apprehension was very contagious. Kevin scratched his head in an attempt to calm down and find an answer. But there was none.
“Don’t know,” he finally said with one last look around, “familiar but can’t place it. Gone now…”
But he still seemed concerned to Lise, and he really was. Which made her tense as well.
They started walking again.
Kevin tried to remember the smell he had felt. It had made his mind wobble of disgust, but he didn’t know what it was. It teased his memory, he had felt it before. Just didn’t know where… couldn’t draw a line to anything similar either.
It’s him, it’s really him… I better keep a distance, he’s as good as his father with that sense.
Above the town a cliff raven circled, but even though the body was high above the ground the spirit listened closely to the words of two certain travelers visiting Palo.
He could laugh and roar of triumph, but knew that he had to be still and patient a while longer. He had Bigeau’s order to keep the disappearing of princess Lise a secret. And besides, he wouldn’t want to risk a direct attack at prince Kevin. After all that boy had a bad heritage… oh, that heritage…
It would make Lise’s abduction a bit more complicated, but that was a small price. No, it wasn’t even payment, it was the greatest price for the victorious one!
Boy, you have no idea what joy you have brought me by walking straight into my hands!
“I wonder where he is?” Lise said, looking for Hawk and trying to shake off the feeling of unease.
“Somebody see him, maybe,” Kevin suggested, also battling the tension.
“Me can ask, people know you.”
Lise looked up and smiled a bit, glad that he understood her wish not to be surrounded by cheering admirers. When she did so he looked back with a bit of his sweet shyness and carefully returned the smile.
Watching only each other like that they almost bumped into the back of a young man, just a bit older than they. He looked around by the sound of Lise almost stumbling and said:
“Hey, watch it.”
Not unfriendly, more amused at that an amazon almost fell down before his feet.
Lise regained her balance and smiled a bit embarrassed. At that Kevin took his chance.
“We’re looking for a friend,” he said, “ah, a Navarre traitor. He helped to retake castle, then went down here.”
“All the ninjas have left,” the man said with a shrug of his shoulders, “sorry, he must have ran away from you.”
“If he hadn’t blue hair; then he was carried off,” another man beside the first one said with a chuckle.
“What?!” Kevin and Lise choked simultaneously.
“Oh, that was him?” the second man said with an excusing smile, “sorry if I scared you folks. No, he wasn’t dead, just unconscious. I saw it, some of the guys tried to catch the last ninjas before they fled. That blue hair was talking to a big cat, seemed like he didn’t want to get on the ship.”
“What happened?” Lise asked, completely forgetting her wish to remain anonymous.
The watcher shrugged his shoulders.
“One of the weirdoes on the ship jumped onto the harbor and knocked the blue boy out cold with his bare hand. Then he carried the sleepover to the ship, followed by the cat. Your friend seemed to consider being massacred better than leaving for some reason, I got the idea that he really didn’t want to flee.”
Kevin and Lise exchanged glances.
“He… the ninja taking him aboard…” the princess finally forced out of her throat, “Hawk was considered a traitor, I mean…”
She couldn’t put it into words, the new explosion of worries piercing her young hopes.
The amusement ebbed away from the two men, and they looked at the suddenly slightly crouching woman with compassion.
“Sorry about that,” the second one awkwardly said, “I didn’t understand that he was such a close friend.”
He scratched his head.
“But you know…” he said, “I got the idea that the ninja was saving a friend, not catching a traitor.”
His friend nodded, gravely.
“Well, we can just pray for that…” Lise said, attempting to straightening up.
She tried to force her deep concern away in order to calm the men down, didn’t want them to feel bad about what they had said.
Always caring for others, soothing any kind of wounds. She felt better when she helped, strange as it could seem in this case.
And the half blood friend of hers was there now, to make even her feel better.
“Hawk strong and smart,” he calmly said, “if danger he’ll think of something.”
‘Thank you, Kevin…’
“Yeah, you’re probably right.”
Lise managed to create a small, natural smile.
“After all he’s gotten out of worse situations,” she added and turned to the men, “don’t worry, if he’s in trouble we’ll help him somehow. Thanks.”
“Sorry,” the first man said, imitating his friend.
“No, it’s alright.”
Lise nodded and turned to walk away. She could hear Kevin follow her, but she hardly thought about where she walked.
Suddenly Kevin’s hand landed on her armored shoulder, she only felt the metal swing and no real touch. Still she stopped and looked around in surprise. His yellow eyes watched her with a concern that nailed her onto the spot.
“Leave town and talk,” he gravely said.
It took Lise a moment to nod, and they went past the inn again. Kevin guided her to a small beach close to town and sat down in the sand. Without a word the princess placed herself beside him.
The waves caressed the beach, painting the borders darker in an endless dance. A few stars had appeared on the darkly blue sky.
Lise could remember coming there a few times when she was a child, to bath with her friends and her family… her mother had been alive then. It was a sad and happy memory, and for a moment it eased her troubled mind.
When she looked up Kevin was watching her again, his knees pulled up to his chest and his arms resting upon the top of his legs. She couldn’t read his gaze.
“What are you thinking about?” she asked after a few seconds.
He slowly tilted his head, a small, small frown appearing on his forehead.
“Hawk be fine,” he gravely said, “me sure.”
She tried to smile a bit at that.
But he wasn’t really honest.
What he really thought about was Lise. Sure he was worried about Hawk too, but his instincts said that the thief was out of danger.
However… Lise. She cared again, she worried so much that the concern turned into a thick cloud around her. She had even tried to excuse the men for making her even more anxious.
She cared, and that was good.
But when would she care for herself?
The thoughts almost made him confused. Was it really bad to care for others? No, but she seemed to forget her own being.
Now that she thought about it, it was always “search for Elliot”, “are you alright?”, “worried about this and that…”. The only time she spoke of herself was in terms of “I have to…” and “I must…”.
If only the birds had been able to land… even though Kevin wasn’t too familiar with shipping he knew that it probably was too late for that. They didn’t even know where the escape ship had gone to. Where would refugees from Navarre hide? Not in their castle in these circumstances…
It just couldn’t be good for her.
And what he felt made him slightly surprised; Kevin just knew that he wanted to help her more than he ever had wanted anything else before the wish to avenge Karl. The wishes stood beside each other now.
Lise and Hawk were the only friends he knew now. The thief seemed out of reach, but Kevin was settled on not loosing another ally. Lise was the only friend alive and present now, and the half blood was set on making sure she stayed safe. He had had enough of losses.
He wanted to tell her that, but didn’t know how. The thought was nice, but he knew his tongue after fifteen years of acquaintance. If he tried to speak out his mind’s treasures the muscle would fail him. As always. It couldn’t grip the words that his brain had such a hold on.
“Lise, ah… don’t worry,” he grunted, sighing inside of his mind, “it will be fine.”
It was as good as it could get…
She turned away, staring at the ocean.
“I’m so glad that you came back, Kevin,” she said in a strangely tight voice and looked at him again, “otherwise all three of us would be alone now.”
‘All three of us… what about simply you?’ Kevin thought, concerned.
Her eyes were so tired, she smelled exhausted. He felt his frown grow deeper.
One more try, please…
“Be fine,” he said again, forcing his tongue to move again, “I’m here, and help you.”
She became surprised, which didn’t feel bad at all.
And she smiled, unforced this time.
“Thank you, Kevin,” she said, honestly.
There was that sad happiness again when she said that, stronger and more peculiar than ever. But somehow he liked it now.
As he watched her some part of him wanted to reach out and touch her face, but he wouldn’t do that… he had no idea how she would react. He didn’t dare to. When he was fighting he was never afraid, in battle his instincts lead the way and he always knew what he was doing. But he knew nothing about other humans. He didn’t even know anything about other beastmen, come to think of it.
He didn’t allow his eyes to move away from hers, even though he started to feel a little embarrassed after a moment.
‘Why is she still watching me? Should I say something more?’
He didn’t know what to say, but didn’t want to turn away.
Now he looked shy again, even though he was fighting it. Lise’s smile kept alive.
If he hadn’t come she would have been alone just like in the beginning of her journey, since Hawk was gone. She was utterly relieved that at least one friend was present, even though she would have been glad to have both of them around.
Kevin… he was amazing. Had he really traveled from Maia just to tell her about Elliot? She hadn’t realized that before now, should really thank him better for…
He’s still in danger…
Have to find him.
She looked away, frowning as she tried to assemble all clues she had. Kevin kept watching her, unsure what he felt as her gaze fell away from his.
“Say…” Lise slowly, thoughtfully said after a few seconds, “didn’t you say that the red eyed man smelled a bit like Deathjester?”
He frowned, but nodded reluctantly.
“Think the same,” he admitted, “gah, or could be smell of black magic…”
Before she had time to speak again he held up a hand and continued.
“Possible know each other. But me no bring Lise to Moonlight forest, too dangerous. Not safe for me either.”
He shook his head.
“Deathjester hide behind Beast King, me too weak still.”
There was so much she could say to protest, like that she wasn’t a baby but a warrior and that he should believe in himself. But something held her back, maybe only common sense. He should really know what he was talking about.
Then there was only Bigeau, in Navarre. But that wasn’t exactly safe either. Besides, did she use “black” magic or just regular for evil?
If only we were stronger…
A memory sparkled in the back of her head.
The three moons shed their light, it was more a little dusky than really dark. And since she had been sleeping a few hours during the day she wasn’t exactly sleepy. Kevin had been sleeping too, he had said so. It could be possible to climb the mountains tonight without greater troubles.
Worth a try, isn’t it?
She looked at Kevin again.
“Have you ever heard of classchanging?” she asked.
Now that wouldn’t be pretty…
The cliff raven watched the two highnesses stand up and start walking up the mountain path. Kevin silently listened to Lise, interested but with a good portion of hesitation left in his eyes.
Classchanging? He wouldn’t really want to see that happen. Of course there was no guarantee that they would success, but still it was a threat.
How ironical that princess Lise went to the Mana stone where she was meant to be sacrificed… if only master Jagan had been ready to teleport to the magic rock right away the problem would be solved easily. But in order to teleport that far a magical station needed to be set up in the right spot, and that hadn’t been taken care of yet. Rakadra couldn’t hurry up before the travelers and do it himself; he lacked that knowledge. That kind of task were for lesser servants. A small demon was on his way, but he hadn’t been sent from Navarre until yesterday when Bigeau had informed Jagan via telepathy that the amazons attacked.
A mistake that they hadn’t thought of much, it wasn’t that bad.
Or so it had seemed.
Well, it could be mended, even though it seemed a bit stupid that this opportunity fell out of the underworld’s hands.
If they succeed in the classchange they might be a problem, however… at least the boy.
At the sight of a small group of zombies Kevin bent his neck backwards and howled.
A bigger problem.
Rakadra watched the fight.
Doubtlessly he would be able to defeat either of the two royalties if they were alone, but not if they fought together. The zombies hadn’t the slightest chance and soon fled by stumbling over the edge of the cliff before they were thrown in that direction.
During the night Rakadra’s powers were on their finest, but so were Kevin’s due to his heritage.
The cliff raven smirked to himself.
It’s in our bloodlines, boy. You belong to me.
He could of course get the ninjas and give it a try, but on the other hand…
There was a fine opportunity here. More human sacrifices would always be appreciated.
Oh yes, that was a sweet plan.
Classchange all you want, both of you. There is one place that you soon must visit, where the prince will have no strength…
With a groan Hawk opened his eyes, to find himself staring up into Nikita’s worried face.
“You okay, bro?” the big cat asked.
“I guess…” the thief grunted and managed to slowly sit up, rubbing his forehead with one hand and leaning heavily on the other.
He looked around, with confusion finding himself in a small room. There was a creaking sound, almost like…
“By the goddess!” Hawk tried to shout at Nikita, however his voice wasn’t fully obeying him and it turned out a hoarse, desperate coughing, “don’t tell me you got me away from Palo!?”
“Sorry,” the cat miserably said, “Karan knocked you out and brought you onboard. You would have been killed, there was no…”
“I could have thought of something!”
Hawk’s head dropped.
“Godammit, Lise…” he groaned.
“Normally being alive would make you happy, wouldn’t it?” Nikita tried to cheer his friend up.
“But I promised her I’d help her… I promised, now she’s alone…”
The thief heavily leaned his head in his hands, and his friend couldn’t say anything to make him feel better.
The ship continued its journey, the route and goal still to be planned. First of all the refugees needed a few hours to calm down and realize what had happened.
Kevin threw himself on the ground and rolled aside without hesitating, and following his movements the amazon princess leaped over him. Her spear went straight through the chibi devil which had tried to stab Kevin’s neck while he was occupied with a harpy.
The small demon creature screeched and dissolved into eerie smoke, torn to pieces by the wind.
Almost before Lise had even touched the ground two sets of a harpy’s talon feet had entangled themselves in her hair and pulled. The princess shrieked in pain and anger, trying to reach backwards to free herself from the vicious attacker. She got a grip of the wing, then a horrid slamming stuffed with broken bones and smashing entrails announced that Kevin had finished the project he had begun a few seconds ago. The force of his hit and the harpy’s weight in her hair forced Lise off balance.
“Look out!” she heard him snarl even as she fell.
She hit the ground and threw herself aside, hardly avoiding the second myth mutant’s claws that aimed for her throat. Clumsily she sent out her spear and managed to hit the harpy with the spear’s stick, just where the wing joined with her chest. The pain was enough distraction; Kevin’s hairy fists hit the monster’s back and it was almost completely crushed.
No more beasts were within sight.
“Thanks,” the princess and the werewolf said simultaneously, gasping for air.
They exchanged glances and couldn’t hold back a chuckle, despite their battered looks.
Almost all of Kevin’s fangs showed when he smiled, yet it didn’t look terrifying to Lise. The moonlight and the wind played with his fur and thick blond hair as he sat down on one knee to regain his breath. Since the harpy had grabbed her rather close to the head it was hard for her to reach the mess properly.
By the smell of blood she was rather glad that she couldn’t see exactly what was stuck in her hair.
“Just great…” she sighed while her fingers blindly sought a way to release the talons without tearing off half her head.
The corpse was heavy, as if the thought of a dead body hanging in her hair wasn’t bad enough…
Kevin moved up beside her to see if he could help Lise sort out the entwined hair and claws. He looked at his rather unpleasantly stained hands and tried to dry them on his tunic before reaching out. And that despite that the princess’ long, blond hair now was a knotted, bloody mess because of the corpse.
“Try hold still,” he said, “maybe easier if you lie down.”
Since she couldn’t do much herself Lise obeyed him. She laid on her left side, only feeling short pulls as her friend patiently worked.
The spear was in her hand and her eyes patrolled the area, ready for more attacks. The full moons made it almost as light as during day, so seeing where the ledges ended wasn’t a problem.
Now the two warriors were on a sort of a natural bridge between two cliffs, had just exited a cave. Lise hoped that they’d find the Mana stone soon; her body was beginning to complain about the broken rhythm of sleep.
Before this situation arose she had never been in these parts of the mountains, since the path had been blocked. Lise didn’t know if it had been Duran or Bigeau that opened the way past the wind god statues, in any case it was open now.
Would the stone be alright, or was the energy already released? Could you even tell? But Duran hadn’t said anything about that, and if he had a fairy from the Holyland in his head he should know.
The princess placed her head on her left arm without straining the light cuts she had after earlier fights, blinking to get rid of the invisible dust of sleepiness in her eyes.
With the strength granted from the stone both she and Kevin could become strong enough to face Beast King and his lackey, but there was no guarantee that the classchange would work. She had only read about it in old books before, didn’t even know if it was possible. But it was the last hope.
It just had to work…
‘What a situation, really,’ she suddenly thought and smiled a little to herself, ‘I’m on the top of a mountain together with a werewolf who tries to disentangle a dead harpy from my hair…’
Kevin’s careful pulls more massaged the back of her head than troubled her, his slowly calming breath becoming a part of the wind that danced around her.
Lise could actually not remember when she last had felt so relaxed, despite the late fights. Maybe it was just the exhaust catching up on her.
‘I’ll just close my eyes for a short moment… just a short moment…’
She blinked and frowned, letting go of the spear to rub her eyes. No, she couldn’t allow herself such careless behavior. Especially not since Kevin already was against her going to the Moonlight forest.
“How’s it going?” she asked, finding that her voice was a little hoarse from her tiredness.
“Ah, a bit hard,” Kevin grunted, “but it be done when done.”
Regarding how he looked both normally and in late battles, especially now with blood in his fur and on the tunic, one couldn’t have guessed that he was so patient with a nearly impossible task such as this one. Lise didn’t find his care taking unpleasant, but she wasn’t fond of having a dead body in her hair. Plus, there was no time for this.
She clenched her teeth against the knowledge of what she had to do.
‘Oh, come on, woman! It’s just hair, and you’re no pretty little princess who’s supposed to be swept away by a handsome prince.’
“Wh-what?” Kevin said in surprise as she began to sit up, reluctantly changing the grip of her spear.
“I’ll just cut it off,” Lise said through clenched teeth, “we have to get going.”
The sharp blade of the spear point glistened in the moonlight, and for the first time ever Lise felt threatened by her own weapon.
No, it’s just a thing. It won’t hurt you if you don’t make it do so.
She grabbed the hard wood just below the metal to be able to cut properly and reached backwards to assemble her messy hair as well as possible.
Kevin’s hand encircled her wrist. Lise turned her head in surprise, a bit clumsy because of the harpy’s weight. He watched her, looking disturbed.
“Don’t,” he said.
She opened her mouth to protest that it was the best thing to do, but he interrupted by continuing:
“Me be done soon. Not that urgent, is it?”
“We can’t know that,” Lise pointed out, “besides it’s so ruined…”
He shook his head.
“Don’t,” he said again, almost pleading.
Lise watched him for a moment, hesitating.
“Why is it so important to you?” she finally asked, puzzled.
Maybe that way of rubbing his cheek (and now side of the nose and mouth) with the back of his hand was a sign of some sort of confusion and not only sadness…?
“Shame to cut so long hair,” he finally said, “and…”
His clawed fingers carefully touched his nose.
“… You don’t really want to. Feel it, gah.”
Lise watched him for a few seconds more. Then she shook her head.
“That sense of smell should really be creepy,” she said with a slight sense of puzzlement left in her voice, “but alright then.”
She laid down again and let him do things his way. But she still didn’t understand why he’d bother… and it bewildered her even more that she didn’t find it disturbing that he seemed able to feel the smell of her thoughts. It seemed natural for it to be frustrating, eerie. Maybe she didn’t experience any unease because he used his ability so carefully. With true honesty she had to admit that she really hadn’t wished to do away with her hair. Even though it probably was so disgusting now that it’d take her hours to make it presentable again, which wouldn’t be possible before she got access to loads of soap and hot water…
That Kevin even had the nerves to be that patient…
She closed her eyes, promising herself that it only was for a short moment.
Kevin found himself smiling a bit when he noted that Lise fell into a light slumber. That was all well, she was pressing herself so hard.
Not even he himself really knew why her plans of cutting off her hair had made him so upset. He just couldn’t allow her to do it. Perhaps only because her averseness had stung his nostrils; it was a sacrifice she hadn’t been willing to go through with. But…
No, it wasn’t all.
He frowned as his sharp claws assorted bouquets of stained hair from the big, messy lump around the harpy’s feet. Where there were too complicated knots he cut off a few threads, not more, to be able to continue. It was a slow progress, but the tangled lump wasn’t as bad as he had thought at first.
From the very beginning of his work Kevin had turned the monster’s wounded side at the ground. Nobody could stand such a sight for very long. Especially not someone who disliked and fought against the blood thirst that sometimes wanted to break through and drown his mind completely.
Lise’s hair… it was too much a part of her. Long, blond, glistening in the moonlight now as it had done the first time he had seen her. That time despite that she’d been trying to hide in a shadow, now although there was blood and gory feathers in it. He hadn’t ever seen such hair before.
He hadn’t ever met someone like Lise before, not such a friend.
Friend like Hawk, some distant voice in the back of his head somehow awkwardly said.
No… Hawk isn’t a girl. Kevin hadn’t ever been the friend of a girl before.
He hadn’t exactly been sorting out one’s hair either. Releasing knots from Karl’s fur, but that was different.
Kevin sighed, not until then realizing that his smile had kept alive all the way thus far.
To get rid of the pain he tilted his head and watched Lise’s face. She looked so calm when she slept, free of all the troubles tormenting her when she was awake.
There was that gloomy joy again… it had been there when she had been about to cut her hair, but then it had been filled with more sadness than happiness.
It still confused him, but Kevin had found that he liked it somehow. It encircled the empty space left after Karl, easing the agony with care. Not completely pushing the puppy’s death aside of course, but making it less painful.
Was it a stronger sort of friendship, since it healed like that?
He didn’t know.
Afterwards he wasn’t sure how long time it had taken him, surely more than an hour. But he was surprised that it hadn’t taken longer. Suddenly he was just able to pull the last claw free from Lise’s hair and could with relief push the corpse aside.
Wake her up…
Before he had considered it he had reached out and touched Lise’s bare arm to awake her. And then it was too late, she opened her eyes even as he was frozen in the realization of what he was doing.
He hadn’t ever, never ever touched another human being like that. Beastmen usually didn’t like to get touched other than in battle, and anyway he had never had a reason to get too close to any of his tribesmen, not even the women. Well, there had been that one that had asked him if she could be his queen, but he was certain she had only teased him. In any case he didn’t even know her name…
That wasn’t important, but the fact that his hand was still on Lise’s arm was.
Her skin felt so soft, even through his fur. She didn’t have any natural coat, of course… only a few fine, almost invisible hair on her arms. Some distant part of Kevin’s brain wondered if he was just imagining it, maybe he wasn’t that different when he had his human form.
But he was pretty sure there really was a difference.
Lise yawned and stretched out a little, and not before that he managed to lift his hand away.
“Did I fall asleep?” she mumbled while sitting up on her knees and rubbing her eyes.
“Just a while,” Kevin said.
She instinctively reached backwards and groped for her hair. The natural reaction by the rather unpleasant feeling of liquid was a shudder. But at least the harpy was gone.
“Did it take you very long?” Lise carefully asked as she stood up.
Kevin tilted his head a bit, frowning. It was impossible to deny that he was straining himself quite hard as well, wanting to get strong enough for revenge. But Lise pushed herself even harder, just in another way. She was caught in a desperate hunt for her beloved brother, and blamed herself for everything that went wrong.
It bothered Kevin. It just couldn’t be good.
“No,” he said and got to his feet as well, “no worry.”
But he had to stretch out a little; the pose he had kept for the whole time was demanding payment from his legs.
“Ah, let’s go,” he simply said and began moving onwards to smooth it all.
Lise hurried up beside him, and as he once again realized that his legs were longer than hers and carried him forwards faster he slowed down. If he used his natural pace she almost had to run.
They hadn’t walked that far when a vague, peculiar glow from an opening in the cliff caught their attention. A closer look uncovered something as strange as the light.
“We were that close all the time?” Lise said with raised eyebrows.
“That, Mana stone?” Kevin asked, stepping closer together with the princess.
It had the form of an obelisk turned upside down, maybe twelve feet in height and floating about one foot above the floor. The surface was smoothly cracked and there was an inner, eerie but at the same time heavenly turquoise glow. Small bunches of stars lazily fell from it now and then, disappearing before they touched the ground.
“It looks like the ones I’ve seen pictures of…” Lise said.
“Well hello there, princess!”
The two warriors looked up. A friendly, blue face looked back down.
“Jinn?” Lise said, “I thought you went with Duran?”
“Nope, I only gave him and the ladies the ability to summon me anytime,” the wind spirit explained and floated to the same height as the guests’ faces, “I have to stay here and guard the stone, ya know.”
(Ack! Raijin from FF8 is possessing Jinn!!
“Yes, of course,” the princess nodded.
“This is Jinn, the wind elemental,” Lise told her friend, “Jinn, this is Kevin from the Beast Kingdom.”
“Hello,” the two of them nodded at each other with a smile each.
Jinn thoughtfully turned at the ceiling.
“I hope Duran and the fairy finds Luna, speaking of that…” he muttered to himself, seemingly more or less forgetting his guests, “haven’t spoken to her for ages…”
He shrugged and returned to the present.
“Well, what can I do for you?” he asked.
“You wouldn’t have any information about my brother Elliot?” Lise asked, just in case.
Jinn sadly shook his head.
“Sorry, miss. I can’t help you there.”
“I guess we would have tried the classchange in any case,” the princess said with grim determination.
“Oh, I see.”
“Possible?” Kevin wondered.
The wind spirit eyed the beastman and the princess for a moment. Then he nodded.
“I believe you can make it,” he gravely said, “both of you. Just touch the stone and concentrate with all your might. If your will is strong enough you will be granted the blessing.”
Lise exchanged glances with Kevin.
Carefully he reached out a furry, clawed hand and placed it on the stone’s shimmering surface. His eyes closed and he frowned, Lise saw that because of the way that the fur in his forehead moved.
At first nothing happened. Then suddenly the whole cave began to shake, causing the princess of Rolante to stumble backwards at the wall in surprise.
“Concentrate harder!” Jinn cheered, his voice seemingly magically cutting through the rumble, “harder!”
‘You’ll succeed, Kevin!’ Lise triumphantly thought, but didn’t dare to call out to him as well since that maybe would shatter his concentration.
She had to hold on to a rock in the wall to keep her balance, the tremors just seemed to grow more and more violent until… they stopped, as sudden as they had started. Kevin looked up, and as Lise carefully moved away from the wall again she saw that his eyes were completely calm. As if there was no problem he had to worry about anymore. His frown was also gone.
His peace somehow seemed to spread over the whole cave, bathing Lise in it as well. For a moment she felt utterly safe; nothing could possibly harm her or anything she had ever cared for.
‘Thank you Kevin…’
But she didn’t know why she thanked him for the stone’s blessing. Wouldn’t it be proper to congratulate him…?
‘Why don’t you stay focused?’ her sense of duty muttered somewhere in the back of her head, ‘this is important!’
Jinn’s voice awoke her from the trance, but the feeling of true security stayed. It felt shy somehow though… tentatively reaching out. Lise had to smile.
The blessing was his achievement, and somehow it also was him. But she couldn’t explain the conclusion even to herself.
Almost like his being had filled up the hole in the mountain.
“Now then,” the wind spirit softly continued, “you may become a monk or a bashkar. Monk is representing the Light side of your power, bashkar the Dark. However they’re titles, nothing else, it doesn’t mean good or evil. It is how you use your powers that counts.”
“I’ll be a monk,” Kevin said, “whatever you say about it, Dark only makes me think of Deathjester.”
His voice wasn’t grunting when he spoke, instead it was smooth as a caressing wind. Lise was amazed to hear her friend speak without his hopeless growling and speech problem.
“So be it!” Jinn called out.
The stone’s light focused and silently exploded from within, filling up every shadow with a warm glow which strangely enough wasn’t blinding. And in the middle of it was Kevin, being showered in a peacefully flashing storm of divine colors.
As the rainbow intensified and flourished into the half blood’s body the light strangely assembled and followed the colors, dragging the embracing feeling of Kevin’s soul with it. Everything in the cave seemed to be absorbed by the warrior, becoming a part of him and giving him new strength.
For a moment nothing existed to her, nothing apart from Kevin. She watched him with her eyes probably wide open, she couldn’t tell. He was only looking in the direction where something important had been, but she couldn’t remember what that had been… there was only him, calmly claiming the whole world and it’s blessings, all good it could bring him. And probably without noticing it himself.
It was suddenly over, and Lise almost lost her balance as the power disappeared. For those last seconds it had felt as if she was a part of the power and light being absorbed by the half blood, who still was watching the stone before him.
He looked around.
His fur had gotten a softly reddish tone, but was still mostly grey. The blond hair falling from his head seemed a bit darker and thicker, and his eyes were… they were just…
Just grown, more of an adult.
On second note Lise realized that the blood that had stained him after all the battles was gone, and his tunic lacked the cuts it had carried just a little while ago.
“How do you feel?” she said, hardly hearing her voice herself.
Kevin looked down at his hands, clenching and unclenching them.
“Stronger,” he muttered, “much stronger.”
The grunting was back, but the stuttering had decreased and his voice sounded somewhat deeper.
“The stone gives you the strength and knowledge of a few years of intense, uninterrupted training,” Jinn kindly explained, “as a bonus you get an about two, three years’ growth of mind. I believe you are the youngest to ever succeed in a classchange, Kevin.”
“Thanks…” the half blood absentmindedly said.
He looked up again, straight at Lise. She found herself smiling a bit, happy for his victory.
Kevin smiled back, and for a moment his shyness returned… he was still himself. For some reason Lise was glad for that as well.
“You try,” he said and stepped aside.
The princess’ eyes went between him, Jinn and the stone for a couple of times before she nodded. After putting the spear down on the floor she stepped forward and raised her hands to the glowing rock. Pure power buzzed into her skin and she was certain that her hair bristled. Such power, born of the goddess to seal away the eight demons that once had plagued the world…
As she closed her eyes Lise sent a silent prayer to the goddess that she wouldn’t fail, not in front of Kevin… what?
Not in front of Kevin? She had to succeed in order to be strong enough to find Elliot!
Not a good start.
She forced all the confusion aside and tried to turn her mind into one single needle of power. At first she couldn’t focus at all, but after a deep breath she started to relax and concentrated all her will into the buzzing against her skin.
And it responded. Carefully at first, but then a stream of warm energy began its flow straight into her body and mind.
“Concentrate, you’re doing great!” Jinn called somewhere far away.
“Come on, Lise!” Kevin shouted, smiling.
Lise’s mind spun into itself, almost turning into a material of pure will. Then… it was embedded in the stone’s power, caught in her achievement. She needn’t to focus anymore, for now her concentration was locked. Her part was over, now she could just let the stone do its work on her.
Complete peace filled her, not a thought could reach her mind, no worries, nothing.
“You may become a valkyrie or a rune maiden, princess Lise,” Jinn softly announced, “Light or Dark, but remember that it’s only titles.”
She instinctively knew both sides’ bounties. They had slightly different strengths and ways of battling, none weaker than the other but not the same thing. But she had to chose one and only one.
“I agree with Kevin,” she calmly said, “titles or not, I follow the Light.”
“So be it!”
Power swirled into her, the shimmering pearl that now was her mind opened like a thirsty seed and drank everything it was offered. Knowledge, memories of training day and night to her mind and the strength that the knowledge required to her body.
Kevin had gone through the same wondrous feeling of growth, blossoming… and now he must be feeling what she had experienced during his transformation. Being absorbed by her together with the rest of the world… and she felt everything give her strength. She could feel every bird swirling through the sky, every amazon recovering and training in Rolante, the distant warriors of Forcena, everything… all that could offer her a little more knowledge and strength, just a little piece of everything so that it wouldn’t fill her up too much. And Kevin’s strong arms and his sad, shy mind stayed with her for a moment longer than all the other things.
The surge very carefully slowed down, allowing her mind and body to relax before it drew back completely.
She raised her head and smiled at the stone before turning to Jinn and Kevin.
“Well done, princess,” the wind spirit smiled.
“Thank you,” she smiled back.
Then she looked at Kevin, and her smile turned even softer. He was looking at her, shyly as he sometimes did. That timidity was so… she couldn’t explain it. It was so against everything he seemed to be, especially in his werewolf form.
She felt a strange warmth deep inside, and she wasn’t sure if that had been there before even though Kevin so often had looked at her like that. So careful, almost as if he was nervous but somehow not unhappy about it.
Why did he watch her in that way, come to think of it?
But she didn’t find it unpleasant, not in any way. Some peculiar, nice feeling glistened within her when that warmly yellow gaze tentatively touched her face.
Nice. Lise couldn’t think of another word.
So she smiled at him, and he carefully smiled back. And he did it so that his sharp fangs weren’t showing.
“Feel?” he said in a low voice.
“I don’t know…”
She turned around and picked up her spear. Had it felt this light before she had gone through the change? Lise had no idea, the knowledge she had been granted only made the thin pole even more familiar… or had it always felt like this? She wasn’t sure, could only guess that she had changed actually. After all she had just passed through a few free years of training.
It felt so easy, natural when she made a series of experimental swings with the spear. Had it been like this? No, it was different. She was quicker, more secure.
She stopped and grinned, finding Kevin doing the same.
But when Lise tested a defensive stance her body protested.
Oh yeah… I’m tired.
That hadn’t changed.
With a sigh she stretched her whole body.
“I think we’ll call it a day,” she said, massaging her neck with one hand.
“I agree,” Kevin said.
“You can sleep here,” Jinn offered, “no monsters come closer to the stone than they absolutely have to.”
He paused for a moment and then grunted:
“If they aren’t extraordinary, but then I guess I can wake you up to help.”
“Sure,” Kevin said with another grin.
He shook off his backpack and released his bedroll from it. Lise followed his admirable example.
As she had unrolled her blankets and reached up to take off her winged tiara she realized another fact about the classchange. Kevin had been cleaned from all the blood, and so had she. With a grateful smile Lise assembled her hair and let it flow over her left shoulders like a river in the shivering sunset. The color seemed deeper, softer than she remembered it. But it could also be because of the peculiar light that the Mana stone emitted.
The flow was only held together by the green ribbon she used to keep it away from her face. Now she pulled that away, releasing her once again clean hair.
And Kevin watched her. Strangely enough… she somehow knew even though he was behind her. There was no sound of him unrolling his bedroll, that was it. But instead of turning around Lise threw her hair backwards again and took care of the tiara. She didn’t want to embarrass him by showing that she knew he looked. He was free to do that, and she knew that he wouldn’t try anything.
It was simply an impossible thought that Kevin would attempt to harm her, she couldn’t even consider the theory.
She even felt a bit ashamed at having to reject the mere idea. Wasn’t that a sign of that she carried a grain of doubt?
Now that just doesn’t make sense… what are you nervous about all of a sudden?
But she wasn’t nervous, at least she didn’t feel normally nervous.
‘I really need to sleep,’ she tiredly concluded.
Behind her back Kevin forced himself to turn his head at his bedroll and made a big affair of spreading the blankets for the night. He didn’t know why he wanted to look at Lise, but it was hard to keep from doing it. Too often… she didn’t smell irritated, but he didn’t want to risk her becoming that either.
He managed to keep his eyes down while he heard her getting out of her armor and crept into her bedroll with a sigh of relief.
“Good night,” she said.
Kevin looked up and met her gaze. She smiled a bit sleepily, draping her blanket around her with one hand.
“Good night, Lise,” he mumbled.
It felt as if he wanted to say something more, or something else… but he didn’t know what or why.
Lise closed her eyes and fell asleep almost immediately. Her hair flowed out over the simple pillow and the cave floor, the peace she had been blessed with just before the classchange was almost back. But it could never be the same, that calmness was magical and sleep was natural.
His chest felt strange when he watched her sleeping now, in the smooth light of the Mana stone. She wasn’t bloodied and battered anymore like when he had sorted out her hair, and he could see her face properly.
It felt as if his heart was beating only to send out that sad happiness into his entire body.
Jinn descended to the height of Kevin’s head, smiling softly.
“It’s a sleeping beauty you have there,” the elemental warmly said in a low voice.
Kevin slowly tilted his head without taking his eyes off Lise.
“Beautiful?” he mumbled, trying out the word on another living being for the first time ever.
The wind spirit began to grow transparent.
“Now try to get some sleep,” he kindly said, “you’ve really deserved it.”
He disappeared, but Kevin still felt his guardian presence.
The half blood laid down between his own blankets, but kept his gaze helplessly locked on Lise’s peaceful face until his eyelids became so heavy that they fell shut by themselves.
He fell into a deep, calm slumber.
Was it morning already? He yawned a little and turned his back at the light that touched his eyelids and softly burnt through them. Yep, it’s morning already. Probably even more than morning, the light was sharper than it usually was when the sun rose. That much he could detect even though his eyes were closed.
“Hm,” he heard Lise mumble, and there was a soft smile in her voice.
With another yawn he opened his eyes and found her sitting down on her bedroll, brushing her hair and watching him with the smile still alive on her lips. Looking at him like she had done in the night. Friendly, warm. It made him feel strange again. But much more glad than bitter.
“What?” he said, surprising himself with avoiding the traditional stuttering.
Lise’s smile widened a little for a moment. Then it went back to the original one.
“Oh, nothing,” she said, “good morning.”
He stretched out and yawned for the third time in just a couple of minutes.
Ugh, forgot to turn back from wolf-form before falling asleep again. He wrinkled his nose as the scent of the blankets caught up with him. It wasn’t a bad smell, but no one is used to actually feeling their own personal scent like that. You’re supposed to be so used to it that you don’t feel it yourself. It felt eerie to him. Werewolves seemed to smell more than humans for some reason. Maybe because they were much stronger…
He rubbed his neck for a moment before getting to his feet. Lise put her hairbrush aside and reached for her backpack.
“Would you like some breakfast?” she offered, “I’ve still got enough for both of us.”
At the comment Kevin’s stomach moaned. He hadn’t been eating properly yesterday. Lise had more or less forced some of her supplies at him when she realized that he had traveled, swum and collapsed for a while before climbing the mountain, without eating after resting. Kevin hadn’t been able to decline, starving as he found himself.
Looking back at it he was amazed that he hadn’t collapsed again of hunger. Most possibly he had been too ecstatic about succeeding in reaching Palo and facing a chance to find his friends that he simply had forgotten all hunger.
“Have enough even though I robbed you yesterday…” he grinned and sat down on the ground before her.
She tilted her head a little with a smile.
“What?” he said.
“Nothing special,” Lise warmly said and opened her backpack to take out the smaller sack of food, “I just noticed that you’re stuttering less than before.”
She cared about such small things? He hadn’t really bothered much about it even though it had irritated a bit him sometimes.
There was that warmth in his chest again, and he didn’t really know what to say. But he felt less awkward than he was used to when confronted with unfamiliar aspects of human friendship. And for once something that felt appropriate finally emerged from the mist in his mind.
She smiled again, but the smile wavered and she suddenly straightened up to watch him much more gravely. He didn’t like that, feeling alarmed as if Lise was threatening him. And that did not feel pleasant.
“Look, I know that you think it’s dangerous,” she said in a low voice, “but I need to find Elliot. I’m willing to follow any possible path and I’ll face the risks. Don’t you feel more secure in your own and my strength after yesterday?”
Kevin grudgingly ran his right hand through his thick red hair, avoiding to knock his hat off by everyday wearer’s expertise.
He should have seen that one coming.
Sure he was stronger. Strength he had never had known before was filling up his every muscle, memories of well practiced battle techniques in his mind and body were ready for tests and successful use. It felt slightly easier to think too; after all Jinn had said that the changed ones gained a couple of years of mind growth as well. Easier to think, to feel better prepared for the future.
And Lise had changed too; he had noticed that at least her speed had increased when she had tried out the attacks in the night. Doubtlessly she felt much the same as he did.
But even though they were both stronger… he still wasn’t sure that he could take on Beast King yet. And he definitely didn’t want to risk Lise’s life in an experiment of his own power.
“It is dangerous, gah…” he said, finding that both the grunting and slight stuttering returned when he became frustrated and tried to hide it, “I don’t…”
Her soft fingertips touched his hand and his eyes moved between the touch and her face, brought off guard by the surprise.
“I have to find Elliot,” Lise gravely said, “if Deathjester could know anything at all I must try.”
I have to… I must…
He felt helpless hearing that. Wishing that he could relieve her from all those things she regarded her duties, and only saw one way to do it. Even though he didn’t feel comfortable about what he needed to go through with. He sighed, giving in.
“Alright. But, ah, no like it.”
Lise gravely nodded.
‘Thank you, Kevin…’
She knew that she couldn’t go alone to the Moonlight forest, and he was the only one she could get any reliable help from now. He was the only trustable one who knew that mythical place at all, and the only friend she could rely on with the strength to survive; at least if his averseness was to be interpreted in the way he obviously meant it to be.
Kevin and Lise made their way back to Palo after saying goodbye to Jinn, unaware that they were being watched.
Well, well, well. They managed, after all. Not that it’ll matter.
The cliff raven patiently followed the two warriors, smirking in his mind as the weak monsters on the mountain were waved off like flies.
You’re an impressive warrior, boy. And that only make things more delightful.
Soon enough the two reached Palo and disappeared into the supply shop. Rakadra calmly waited on the roof. It took only a few minutes before his preys headed towards the harbor. He could almost laugh at how they strolled into his trap by own will.
He smirked again.
“Not many ships go to Mintos, not much to sell,” Kevin said as he and Lise got closer to the dock.
“I guess we better try to find a ship to Byzel,” Lise pondered, “I believe that that’s the only place where we possibly can find a route to our destination.”
She looked up and found that Kevin grudgingly was rubbing his neck as they walked over the dock, glancing strangely nervously at the fishing boats and few bigger ships.
“Are you alright?” she asked, frowning.
Kevin pulled a rare grimace.
“Be fine,” he said with a strange determination in his voice.
“Is something wrong…”
She fell silent as her memory sparkled.
“… It’s rumored that those warriors can’t stand the sea very well…”
The captain bringing her and Hawk to Palo had said that about the beastmen, hadn’t he?
“Oh dear. Is it true about beastmen and the ocean?” she asked with a deeper frown.
Kevin grimaced again.
“Got a bit sick when going to Jad,” he admitted, “but survive. Maybe be alright now after classchange…”
“Let’s just hope so,” Lise said with concern.
You make me sick, lady.
The princess was even worse than Rakadra ever had imagined. He just couldn’t stand compassion and she was on the extreme. He snorted, and a cruel smile formed in his mind.
She was going to be sacrificed, and he had no orders to keep her more than alive. In fact he had more or less orders to crush everything in his crusade, which he with pleasure did.
This would be amusing, indeed…
Lise and Kevin sat on the dock while waiting for the captain of the later ship to announce that it was time to leave. The half blood didn’t speak it out, but Lise understood that he didn’t want to take chances of suffering seasickness longer than he had to.
“It’s a bit silly, really…” she thought aloud with her feet dangling above the waves, “there could be a way of flying even in this country.”
Kevin looked up with puzzlement. Lise shrugged.
“It’s said that there’s a creature called the Father of the Winged ones, who watches over Rolante. And that he can be found in the cliffs above the castle. But even if it’s true, he’ll only show himself when there’s no other hope.”
She shrugged again, feeling a bit silly for bringing it up when there was no use of the subject.
“It just crossed my mind.”
“If no other option then at least that hope,” Kevin said with a twitch of his lips.
For some reason Lise smiled, but she had no explanation to why.
‘Ah, why not smile just for the sake of smiling…’ she thought and waved with her feet, allowing herself to be a little childish for once.
She found it surprisingly relaxing to simply wait for the ship to leave, no other duties ahead in the nearest future. Kevin didn’t seem to mind either, leaning against one of the poles carrying the harbor and with one leg lazily hanging over the water. When Lise glanced at him she found that he had closed his eyes. Maybe not sleeping, just resting. She smiled again.
He was really cute when he relaxed like that, looking so calm and peaceful… no, not cute. It didn’t do him justice.
She almost startled at that thought.
‘Not cute?’ a runaway thought pondered, ‘then what?’
The sun glistened in his hair as the salty winds played with it, a few threads caressing his handsome face.
The word startled the princess even more.
‘Well you never thought he was ugly, did you?’ something inside of her smiled.
Of course not, but…
He looked less than a boy now, even though rest normally brought a peaceful childish look to anyone.
As the few threads of hair kept tickling his face he lazily raised his hand and stroke them away, without opening his eyes. Then the hand fell back to his lap.
‘He has to be sleeping,’ some third part of Lise’s consciousness pointed out, ‘otherwise he’d ask if something was wrong since he’d feel the smell of confusion.’
That thought caused her frown to be replaced by a smile.
How could it be like, to have that sense of smell? Didn’t it bother him when he walked through a town filled with people and all their personal troubles? Or maybe he could focus it somehow…
You’re trying to avoid the subject, aren’t you?
“All aboard! We’re leaving!” a voice from the ship called out, which startled Lise for a third time.
“Kevin, wake up,” she said as she worked herself to her feet, finding her voice much more gentle than she had planned.
But it wasn’t really needed; he was already stretching out with a yawn that displayed almost all of his white teeth. They were of human’s square form now; fascinating how he could change so much during the night but somehow stay the same still…
Nobody cared about the seagull landing on the mast, it was far too far away from the man who’d already taken his position in the crows nest for him to notice its eyes. Not a bird’s eyes, not a human’s.
An old cliché, but what did it help? Changing eyes was a long process, and he couldn’t spare that time. He was busy with his preys, watching their every move.
“There have been coming more guests on this trip,” the captain informed the princess and the accursed prince, rather sheepishly, “could you share a cabin? Two beds, of course.”
The two exchanged glances, looking more startled at each other than at what the man before them had said.
“I don’t mind, Kevin,” the princess finally said.
His slightly red skin turned a bit darker, but he finally nodded in agreement.
How cute. Sickening.
Rakadra smirked, despite the beak. He would truly enjoy ripping up their fragile little romance.
The ship left the harbor as the sun still was at its peak.
To avoid suspicion the seagull left the mast after a while, circling around the ship and landing at new places. Never leaving though, and not once taking his concentration away from the person of his interest.
He sneered as Kevin seemed fine at first, but slowly began to show signs of feeling bad.
That was just in his genes… beastmen had never throughout their history been friends with the sea.
A few of the sailors and even the other passengers threw sympathetic but slightly amused glances at the young, muscular man with the peculiar skin and hair there he stood by the railing, holding on to it with an almost extreme clamped teeth-expression. It looked even more awkward with the blond, beautiful amazon kindly standing by his side all the time.
“Maybe you should try to sit down,” Lise said as she saw that he was shivering a bit even though he surely tried to fight it.
“Don’t want to move…” he grunted, his voice much weaker than she ever had known it to be.
It cut into her heart to see him like that, she knew well that her friend was proud of his strength and wouldn’t allow himself to be frail in any way. Especially now, after the Mana stone had granted him at least his double power. Still it was worthless to him now.
To notice his shame wasn’t too hard.
“You can do it,” Lise encouraged in a kind voice, “it’ll feel better.”
He fought not to grimace as he slowly worked his way down on the deck, leaning against the railing and stretched out his legs before him. His friend sat down by his side, wary not to touch him in case that would trigger his seasickness. None of them said anything for a while.
“Sorry, Lise…” Kevin finally more groaned than said, grimacing a bit.
“It’s alright,” she assured him, comforting, “being seasick is just human.”
She realized what she said and couldn’t hold back a chuckle. Kevin was caught by a smile…
Big mistake. Lise hardly saw him move as he got to his feet again and she sadly shook her head at his torments.
Pathetic, but I like it.
Nobody noticed that one of the seagulls that still followed the ship suddenly disappeared into the shadow of a dark corner. Neither that a rat slipped through the wooden grid covering the cargo room.
Unseen the rat shrugged, getting rid of ten tiny dots it had carried in its fur and earlier between its feathers. As they reached the floor the dots zapped into their natural size of full grown desert warriors that immediately darted into and completely disappeared in the nearest shadows.
Rakadra reclaimed his original form and took his own piece of darkness. It nagged on his powers to keep his slaves tiny enough to transport, and in any case it was beneath his pride to carry them around like that.
The accursed prince was very weak as it was. Many would have dared an attack by now, but even though Rakadra was impatient he knew better than to take chances when it came to… that family. No, he wouldn’t risk a loss. His prey could be weaker still.
Kevin wouldn’t be able to eat much in his state, which would steal even more of his strength.
An attack in his sleep seemed tempting, but then he’d be able to transform and that could make things complicated.
Better wait until tomorrow.
Another smirk reformed Rakadra’s lips as his leathery wings shook with the dark triumph.
Up on the deck Lise carefully held on to Kevin’s trembling shoulders as he hung his head, feeling utterly humiliated.
“Look, it’s alright,” she soothed again, “you can’t help it.”
He had to gasp for air for a few seconds before he could reply. The worst vomit was gone but he was still feeling shaky and very uneasy.
“Thanks…” he finally whispered with another grimace.
Lise held on to his shoulders to lend support, wishing that she could have saved him the shame of her seeing him in this state. But with things being the way they were the best thing she could do was to be there for him.
“Better?” she yawned as she sat up, rubbing her eyes with one hand.
“So, do you dare trying breakfast?”
Considering that he hadn’t eaten anything since they had gotten onto the ship she figured he wasn’t exactly in the best health.
But by her words Kevin’s eyebrows knitted and a slight paleness returned to his face.
“Sorry,” Lise hurriedly said as she realized that proposing food hadn’t been a bright idea.
“Think be better if just… get some air,” Kevin mumbled and walked towards the door, fighting a hopeless battle against stumbling slightly.
He stopped before leaving and looked around, trying to assure her that he wasn’t feeling as bad as he seemed.
“You should eat, me be fine.”
And he left. Lise sighed and sadly shook her head.
Her heart ached watching him so weakened. She knew that he couldn’t possibly feel any worse, and it was because of her that he was in that state. Hadn’t he come to Rolante to find her he wouldn’t ever have stepped onto a ship…
‘And I still haven’t thanked him properly for coming all the way here just to tell me about Elliot!’ she reprimanded herself, irritated.
With another sigh she got out of her simple bed (it was more of an alcove in the wall, with a mattress, blankets and a pillow) and started working her way into her everyday clothing.
Bringing the spear along would be unnecessary, so she left it in the corner where she’d put it last night.
In the narrow corridor outside of the room she met one of the sailors. He gave her a slanted, compassioned smile as they tried to get past each other.
“I think the cook could make a herb potion for your fiancée to help off his seasickness, miss,” the man helpfully said, “do you want me to ask him?”
Lise blinked, dumbfounded at first. Then she forced back a blush and managed to smile.
“Oh, he’s not my fiancée, we’re just traveling together,” she said in a voice that wasn’t exactly what she had wished it to be, “but please do ask.”
“Err, sorry,” the sailor said, a bit embarrassed.
“No, no. It’s alright.”
“I’ll tell Sheran to make a potion, but he might want to finish the lunch first…”
They continued in either direction.
Lise glanced around to check that the man wasn’t looking at her before she reached up to touch her ear. The fingers felt no heat, but her skin up there sure did.
She hadn’t considered the fact that people could get the wrong idea about her and Kevin… nobody had said anything when she’d been with Hawk, but maybe they had thought about it anyway…
She continued to the dining room/cabin for breakfast. Kevin probably wanted to be left alone in his current state, at least for a while.
The only thing to do for her was to eat breakfast and hope that the cook would be able to make a working potion for her friend.
A handful of other travelers were already in the dining room, chatting with each other while they ate their bread and drank tea. Doubtlessly they were all merchants of some sort, from Palo. Lise could only hope that nobody would recognize her; it would only lead to unwanted attention and complicated explanations.
Not too enthusiastic she took one of the soft pieces of bread from the basket on the big table and sat down on an empty chair. She felt rather miserable, sorry for Kevin’s ordeals. Uncomfortable for the sailor’s misunderstanding too.
“Is it your friend who’s worshipping the ocean?” one of the few female merchants said with a small smirk.
Lise had more pride than to let anger for a rude comment like that show, but it didn’t exactly help off her tense state of mind.
“He can’t help it,” she said, forcefully calm, “he’s half beastman…”
She almost bit off her tongue. Her irritation had made her forget discretion. A thick silence suddenly filled the room, everybody stared at her in shock.
Her hand nearly crushed the piece of bread.
Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb…
“A beastman? Are you crazy, miss?” the man sitting beside the now not as amused woman stuttered.
“He’s not…” Lise began, anger stinging her voice.
“They are monsters!” another man said with a deep frown, “even worse since they’re fairly intelligent!”
“Is he tame?”
The princess very slowly turned to the last bigmouth, and he almost recoiled on his chair. In the back of her head Lise calculated the memory of Angela’s coldest, most detesting looks at Duran for ultimate effect.
“I did not hear any of that, do I make myself clear?” she said, her voice almost freezing the air.
Her fingers released the crumbled piece of bread on the table, and she stood up while running a glance filled with pure anger over the other travelers. They watched her nervously with distrust. Lise didn’t care the slightest about what they thought of her, but if she hadn’t left her spear in her and Kevin’s cabin she could have done something she would have regretted later.
Through the years she had heard a lot of insults, but never, never had she been this angry about any of it.
“Tame”!? As if Kevin was an animal?!
Just like the captain on the other ship…
Idiots! They didn’t know anything at all!
She stormed towards the door in rage.
And almost ran into an empty eyed ninja’s dagger. With a surprised shout she stumbled backwards and managed to keep her balance only thanks to the wall. Her shout was followed by shocked gasps and halfway strangled squeals from the other passengers.
“What the…?!” Lise hissed and automatically fumbled for her spear.
“You’re not going anywhere, princess,” the ninja lazily said in a lifeless voice.
Lise clenched her fists. No weapon. Alright, don’t panic. There’s only one ninja…
She heard a sound and leaped aside just before another shadow of the room grew two hands ready to catch her.
The merchants were trying to get as far away as possible in fear while Lise cautiously backed with tightly clamped teeth.
“What do you want?” she growled.
No reply. They just advanced towards her, making her back even further…
Too late she realized that it was a trap. Hands grabbed her arms from behind and locked them against her back. Lise made the mistake to struggle and groaned in pain, purple stars flashing before her eyes.
“Let go you demons…!” she growled through teeth clenched in rage and agony.
“No, no, no.”
The voice was like the rasp of claws cutting through an armor. Lise tried to look up and the hands released her just enough to let off the blinding pain.
She wished they hadn’t.
Several screams of horror came from the other passengers.
“They aren’t demons,” the creature smirked, “but I am. Halfway, at least.”
The princess blinked, blood leaving her face.
He looked mostly like a human, but his skin had a yellowish tone and seemed to consist of scales here and there. Dressed in a dull black tunic and pants, lifelessly dark hair, thin and sickly yellow eyes with a pupil like a standing black line…
His fingers ended in one inch claws; so did his bare feet. And on his back were a pair of big leathery wings, which he now spread for no other apparent reason than to make it perfectly clear that they were real.
With another sneer he bowed, mockingly.
“An honor to finally meet you like this, princess Lise,” he scornfully said, “if you’d care to remember my name, it’s Rakadra.”
More gasps from the merchants as her truth was unveiled, but Lise was not in a situation when she cared about it.
“What do you want?!” she growled.
“I have received an order to bring you to my master Jagan so that he can release the power of the Wind Mana stone, your highness.”
“Oh no you don’t!”
In desperation Lise tried to break free from the ninjas holding her, all in vain.
“No need to be so harsh, and I’m afraid I can’t go against the commands I’ve been given,” Rakadra calmly said.
The ninjas were too strong for her, and even if she’d been able to get loose… their master didn’t look like something she could handle alone.
He was in no shape for battling… dear goddess…
There was a sudden crash from above, and a familiar roar. But Lise’s hope died before it was even born; her friend’s voice hadn’t the usual strength and spirit. He was weakened…
Rakadra looked at the roof with a scaly eyebrow raised. A small, cruel smile was on his lips.
“Ah, he’s willing to play. Shall we?”
(No, I have no idea why meanies say all those traditional things when they have the upper hand :P but clues can probably be found in your nearest web comic! author’s note)
It was not like Lise had any choice. None of the merchants were brave enough to try helping her either; the desert warriors and Rakadra were a far too impressive sight. The two ninjas let go of her arms but walked between her through the corridor after the half demon, the other couple of hypnotized men staying to keep an eye on the merchants.
Hadn’t it been for the two daggers on either side of her throat Lise maybe had tried to leap into one of the rooms… but anyway it probably wouldn’t have helped for more than a few seconds.