Those not chosen by the fairy Part 4
On the deck five more ninjas were facing off Kevin and several angered sailors, and even though the half blood beastman moved slower than usual he was a threat. Another crash from a badly hit ninja making harsh contact with the deck proved that.
“Leave them out of this!” Lise growled as she stumbled up on the deck, painfully aware of what plans the demon could have for everyone on the ship.
“You’re so caring that it’s sickening,” Rakadra snorted.
He turned back to the battle with a smirk.
“Besides, compared to your friend you don’t even mean ashes to me,” he added.
His awful eyes seemed to glow as Kevin sent another ninja stumbling into the reach of a sailor, who slammed the stick of a mop into the enemy’s head. With a snort Rakadra raised his hand and sent a dark lightning bolt into the area between the three standing ninjas and the defenders.
Only to get attention. And it worked.
Several shrieks were heard as the unholy beast was spotted by everyone. But Kevin did not recoil.
With a raging growl he passed the three ninjas, sending them flying out of the way.
“No, stay back!” the reason for his fury shouted, fear clutching her heart as Rakadra calmly straightened out his pointing finger towards the prince.
“Bad dog,” the half demon sneered, “sit!”
Kevin stopped dead and fell to the deck, gasping for air and clutching at the black ribbon that snaked around his neck. As Lise tried to lunge forward the ninjas grabbed her arms again.
She wriggled and tore like crazy, but it was as if her arms were embedded in stone.
For a moment it looked like the beastman would be able to tear the darkness away, and Rakadra’s smirk wavered in irritation for a moment.
“Roll over!” he growled, sounding more in need than amused this time.
Another dark bolt threw Kevin over on his back and he lost grip of the collar. He clawed to get a hold of it again, rocking back and forth as he desperately tried to breathe.
“Stop it, you’re killing him!” Lise screeched.
Rakadra snorted but snapped his fingers. Coughing and gasping Kevin tried to get up, stumbling onto one knee with groans of pain between the rasped breathing. He groaned a powerless protest as his enemy suddenly stood beside him, pulling him to his feet with a violent hold of the red mane. The demon was at least one head taller than his prisoner.
“Killing you?” the demon hissed, and his eyes really flared with hate, “simply kill you, the son of Beast King and Arceia? What a laugh.”
The hate disappeared and he looked at the struggling princess without releasing her weakly scratching friend.
“I have to thank you for bringing prince Kevin to me, your highness,” he sneered, “you cannot imagine my delight.”
“Leave him alone!” Lise shouted, desperately kicking at her non-flinching guards.
“Again, you make me si… ugh!”
Rakadra dropped Kevin and stumbled aside while clutching his jaw. The other half blood glared at him through eyes thin with rage, a dangerous growl growing in his throat. Then he threw up his arms to cover his chest and face when the demon snarled and raised both hands.
“That was not very wise, my pet,” Rakadra hissed.
With a half strangled cry of pain Kevin was sent flying backwards, dark lightning bolts twisting around his crouching form as he crashed on the deck.
The humans were all staring in horror as the young beastman scrambled to his feet, stumbling but refusing to surrender. Even though his hair sparkled with black bolts and he doubtlessly would get bruises all over after the crash he stood up again.
“I’m glad that you aren’t really that weak…” he said, soft as silk.
Kevin growled something inaudible and stumbled again when he tried to walk. But he managed to keep standing.
“I admit this is fun, but right now I need to get to business,” the demon sadly said and raised his hand again.
“Kevin!” Lise shouted in despair, agonizingly unable to help in any way.
His back hit the mast and he fell to the deck again, limbless. Only a weak moan signaled that he wasn’t unconscious. By Rakadra’s snapping fingers his collar whipped out a dark chain that attached itself to the thick wooden pole.
“Much better. Now then…”
With a cruel smirk the demon floated upwards and turned around to come to the frozen captain’s eyelevel, where the terrified man stood by the wheel. The feeling that burned in the shipmaster’s eyes was shared by many.
“I know that you had other plans and all that,” Rakadra softly said, “but me and my wares are awaited in Navarre. So I’d really appreciate if you’d change the course.”
The captain swallowed hard and sent a wild glance over his crew and passengers, all too well realizing that their future wouldn’t be too bright either if he agreed. But…
“Or would you like me to give everyone else a collar as well?” the demon thoughtfully said when the answer wasn’t immediate.
“You disgusting spawn of Hell!”
Rakadra looked down at Lise with a raised eyebrow. She clenched her teeth violently to hold back a tortured scream when the ninjas holding her changed their grip.
“No touch Lise…!”
She blinked through the pain, vaguely seeing Kevin getting up on one knee once more. Where did he find such strength?!
“How plucky one is…” Rakadra said, almost bored.
He floated down on the deck beside Lise, and she yelped of surprised pain as he grabbed her hair.
“Let her go!” Kevin growled in rage, hoarsely.
Rakadra sent another smirk at the bound half blood and then bent his neck to crouch his lips over Lise’s. She wriggled in disgust and shock, but could hardly move at all. The demon didn’t kiss her; he sucked all air out of her lungs while his tongue… his tongue wasn’t…!
She whimpered in anguish, desperately trying to clutch air for her burning chest, to bite the demon to make him let her go. But her jaw was frozen by his dark magic; she couldn’t force her teeth together.
The princess was almost unconscious when he finally released her, blue stars flaring before her eyes. And when she looked up, gasping so wildly that it almost sounded like violent sobs Rakadra’s thin, forked tongue danced between his lips in mockery.
Lise’s stomach was about to turn inside out with everything she ever had eaten.
A growl arose in Kevin’s throat, rising and burning with nothing but hate. He threw his head backwards and a roar of pure, hopeless rage dashed over the ocean.
But despite the peaceful, wondrous view before him there was a frown in the old warrior’s forehead. It had appeared just a few minutes ago, and kept growing deeper. Even though he tried to ignore it… something was wrong. Terribly wrong.
He pursed his mouth. Then a resolute, small growl led the lips away from his sharp teeth.
Beast King’s claws furiously tapped against the stone fence of the rooftop. Normally he did most things with a bit of a fury, but this was more than usual.
He looked down as the small wolf pup eagerly pulled the king’s cloak, whimpering heartbreakingly.
No, I said!
Karl scratched the roof with his claws and watched the beastman with pleading eyes. The frown suddenly grew deeper.
“I know, Karl!”
Beast King turned around and started pacing, irritated. The small wolf tried to keep up with the long, fast steps while barking and whimpering.
“By the Mana tree, I know! But I will not investigate. It would be interfering.”
The king of beastmen stopped and glared at the starlit sky and its three sacred moons. Karl sat down by the beast’s feet, worriedly looking up at him.
The frown got even deeper, though he hadn’t believed it to be possible.
“He has to fight his own battles!” Beast King angrily stated, “he’ll never become strong if he gets help every once in a while.”
He looked down at Karl, frustrated.
“I promised his mother that. If he can’t get out of his own situations, how will he ever be worthy of the throne? I won’t ever be a savior, that won’t do any good.”
The frown… how could it possibly get worse than it already was?
Curse these instincts…! Something was wrong with Kevin, he knew that only through his natural intuition as the boy’s father.
“It can’t be impossible to solve…”
Beast King grimaced.
Karl turned his nose towards the sky and howled, like a true wolf. Of longing and… worry. A plea.
“Now you listen to me; it goes against everything I’ve ever believed in!”
Gruffly the beastman glared at the wolf.
“And why am I trying to reason with you, anyway?” he grunted.
The old king sighed.
“Oh, alright. I’ll take a look, but that doesn’t mean that I’ll help.”
He turned to the south and reluctantly began to mutter the only spell he had ever learned; a blessing of Luna that allowed him to watch over the people he was to rule and protect.
Now let’s see here…
W H A T!?
Lise somehow managed to fall so that she didn’t hurt herself too much. Her left arm burned and she gritted her teeth, but it would only be a bruise.
Cold snakes crawled around in her chest as Rakadra smirked down at her.
“I’ll take care of you later,” he softly announced, “for the moment I crave to teach my pet some respect and your shouting is boring me. Bye for now.”
Lise growled, unable to put her detest and rage into words. The door to the cabin closed behind Rakadra, the two ninjas that had captured her standing before it in their lifeless manner.
As if they had been earthquakes the princess heard Rakadra’s footsteps as he walked back to the deck. Back to…
A roar of pain from above rang in her ears and she struggled against the dark threads that locked her arms behind her back.
She couldn’t get loose, she couldn’t help… there had to be something she could do! Kevin!
Up on the deck passengers and sailors stared in horror as the bound half blood twisted around, clutching at his chain and changing between growls and roars of pure agony as dark lightning bolts whipped at him. They surrounded his body and cut up light soars on his arms, for no other reasons than torture. Not leaving very grave soars, but killing was not the motive and the power was not truly physical.
“I’ll tell you one thing,” Rakadra hissed while Kevin’s nails clawed deep into the planks of the deck, “this is yet another reason for you to despise your father.”
The half blood beastman tore at his chain, stumbling to his feet with his eyes burning with rage. Not a single piece of normal speaking passed his lips; only growls.
Rakadra sneered. Another storm of dark energy threw the beastman painfully back into the mast, but even though he trembled violently he forced himself back to standing on one knee without cutting back his snarling.
Beast King watched in disbelief.
‘Is that Kevin?’
He flinched as his son was thrown down again, the natural instincts telling of his offspring’s danger causing more than a frown now that he watched the ordeal with own eyes. Or with his spirit, to be exact.
The young half beastman groaned, shaking his head as he tried to regain his senses after the last blow.
“Giving up?” Rakadra sneered.
“No!” Kevin snarled, standing on his knees and hands but far from defeated.
Not a whimper, not a sob… growls and roars, refusing to serve the demon the delight of victory.
‘Where does he find that strength?’
Beast King turned from his son to the torturer, his metaphysic lips drawing back in a deep growl of his own.
‘And who are you?’
“… This is yet another reason for you to despise your father.”
The old beastman frowned again, swirling down so that he could take a closer look at the demon. But not too close, those creatures could sense magic like beastmen could smell feelings.
‘What are you?’
He watched the yellowish lips move into a new smirk as Kevin roared again.
And Beast King’s memory twitched.
The mere idea, the theory, the possibility caused a fury of a depth that the king of beastmen hadn’t felt in years.
“You’re sturdier than I thought. How amusing,” Rakadra said with a cruel laugh.
The laughter sealed the truth, for it was similar to the chuckle of the half demon’s mother.
‘They had a child… the two devils had a child?!’
Beast King’s sharp teeth screeched against each other, and had he been left in his body his palms had been badly cut by his claws.
‘We didn’t clean up well enough, Arceia…’ he thought in bitter rage.
Then get to work and make it properly this time, Beast!
It was like hearing her cold snort.
What are you waiting for, you old idiot?
A worthy helper, first of all.
In disgust Beast King watched the terrified humans. Completely worthless!
Kevin’s chest hit the deck, and his arms were trembling like trees in storm as he tried to get up again.
The whisper wasn’t strong enough to be heard by any of the people on the ship, but the growl that followed it was.
And Beast King’s sharp spirit ears caught the single word.
Frowning he swept over to his son, lightly touching Kevin’s mind with his own. The force of memories, fragments of thoughts and burning pain almost sent the father hurling backwards. Vital information was provided, however.
‘The princess of Rolante? How could you two ever meet…’
But what surprised the full blooded beastman the most was the fact that his son found almost all the power to withstand Rakadra in his friend. In the knowledge that if he lost his consciousness or gave up to pleas of mercy then the demon would move on to the princess. And Kevin would rather die than allow that.
Beast King was surprised, and he couldn’t help but find pride for his son’s strength.
And most importantly…
‘Smirk on,’ the beastman thought with one last glance at Rakadra before diving into the depths of the ship, ‘we’ll claw that out of you soon enough.’
He found her tied up and lying on the floor inside of a cabin, guarded by two zombie-alike ninjas. But despite her situation she didn’t act like a terrified princess in distress. She was a princess and in distress, true… but terrified she was not. Her eyes flared with anger, for each roar that was heard from the deck she painfully grimaced and twisted even wilder; trying to free herself from the dark ropes. In her rage born from Kevin’s pain blind to the fact that Rakadra was too much of an opponent for her.
Beast King almost smiled.
‘Courage and will like Arceia, no doubt…’ he thought with uncharacteristic fondness, ‘that’s a fine woman you have found, son.’
But the short moment it took him to think that faded away and he turned back into his usual self. No time for that now.
He floated down and reached out for the princess.
‘Here, take it. All of it.’
Lise’s growl suddenly turned more animalistic, though she hardly heard it herself. For her the world became dimly red, as if a bloodied mist filled it. And she felt power streaming into her, even more than when she had been by the Mana stone. There wasn’t even time for her to become surprised. When the sudden strength filled her it also came with a trance alike confidence and no questions found any room in her mind.
Her wrists turned by themselves, and the magic rope that Rakadra had bound her with broke like a thread of hair. Before she knew it she was up on her feet and the two ninjas crashed into the wall on the other side of the room.
‘Hey, I hardly touched them!’ she swiftly thought.
Kevin roared again.
Lise’s eyes narrowed.
Just you wait, Rakadra!
It was her and the half blood’s cabin; her spear laid on the floor since the ninjas’ crash had shook the wall it had been leaning against. She grabbed her weapon and jumped.
Without notable problems she shot through the roof and landed gracefully on the deck between Kevin and Rakadra. Even the demon stared at her.
Lise couldn’t know that those that could see her face stared not only because of her sudden appearance, but also because of that her eyes shone with a sharply pure light. Without a word, without a smile or grimace she charged at the demon, who almost reacted too slowly in his surprise. But he managed to leap aside, flapping with his wings to get out of reach.
“Now what is this?” he growled, obviously not fond of the sudden attack.
“Can’t you sense that?” a voice coldly said, using Lise’s lips.
It sounded partly like her, but that was only because the words were born from her tongue. The main part of the speaking was a deep, growling voice that she had never heard before.
But strangely enough it didn’t scare Lise that somebody spoke through her.
Rakadra frowned, irritated. While he was slightly distracted the part of the princess that still had control looked around.
“Are you alright, Kevin?” she harshly asked, fully using her own voice.
He was sitting on his knees, leaning on one hand and clutching his carrying arm with his other fingers. Even though he wasn’t less surprised than anyone else there was a relieved glistening in his eyes.
“Yeah…” he gasped, heavily working on his breath, “look out!”
But the warning was not necessary since whoever it was who helped Lise already had been ready to jump aside.
‘No feelings in battle!’ she automatically reprimanded herself as her body was still in the air, moving away from Rakadra’s lightning bolts.
‘Exactly,’ a grunting voice in the back of her head said, ‘keep working on that.’
Grunting? Like that? Wait a…
But she had no time to be confused, because Rakadra had gotten over his surprise.
The rest of the ship’s population stumbled aside as the demon sent storm after storm of black thunder at the princess. He never hit, because even though the situation wasn’t in her expertise Lise found that her and whoever it was who helped her could combine their strategies to avoid their foe.
However Rakadra wasn’t frustrated anymore. He floated around above the ship, out of reach and smirking at that knowledge. Playing.
‘I have to say, he’s skilled,’ the grunting voice thoughtfully admitted.
‘How can we attack him?’ Lise wondered, ‘I can’t risk to throw my spear, I’ll surely miss. And I don’t know any magic either.’
‘He won’t come down if he doesn’t have a reason to,’ the voice said, sounding a bit amused.
The reason for his amusement escaped Lise. Perhaps he found it funny that she actually was talking tactics with somebody who was more or less possessing her.
Come to think of it, that was bizarre.
“You still haven’t told me who you are,” Rakadra said and almost cut off Lise’s left arm with a dark half moon.
The projectile disappeared into the ocean instead.
“I had awaited a little more intelligence from the son of Haldor and Scheree,” the voice said aloud, using Lise’s lips in a small, bored smirk.
But the princess felt anger within as the names were spoken, a raw rage that came from the other mind in her body.
And Rakadra’s reaction was rather shocking. His wings stopped flapping for a second, almost causing him to crash as his face turned nearly completely gray.
“You!?” he screeched, pressing both wrists against each other for an immense dark blast that burnt a hole in the deck.
“Normally I wouldn’t interfere,” the possessing mind continued with less hidden antagonism, “but seeing that you use beastmen’s weaknesses to beat Kevin I have to act.”
“Oh really…” Rakadra hissed.
Suddenly his shock disappeared and he straightened up again with a smirk.
‘Hmm…’ the voice grimly thought.
The demon raised his right hand and with a twitch of his eyebrows he twisted his wrist violently, as if he grabbed something and pulled hard.
Lise spun around as she heard the half strangled choking sound from Kevin. Her soul froze in horror.
He was weakly scratching at the collar, his eyes bulging and lips shaking apart as his face mercilessly caught a bluish tone.
“No!” Lise screeched, alone.
“Now what will you do?” Rakadra’s voice said from above.
Kevin shook his head violently, and it was not because of the oxygen loss.
“Don’t…” he groaned, hardly audible.
‘Keep calm,’ the voice said through clenched teeth.
‘This moment is vital. You mustn’t fail your single chance by worrying too much.’
Lise lowered her spear so that the point hit the deck, clenching her free hand. As her shoulders fell Kevin screeched in a deep breath, his eyes wildly open with anguish. There was a whooshing sound of wings from behind as the demon of the battle slowly lowered. Secure in his upper hand.
With a snarl both the princess and the possessor spun around and leaped forward. Rakadra’s triumphant smirk froze completely and was murdered by the spear point in his shoulder. The roar exploding from his mouth shook the air.
“You forgot a few important details about me,” the voice coldly said as the demon leaped backwards, inelegantly freeing himself from Lise’s spear before she could hit him with her fist.
‘Now, while he’s still suffering the most!’ it silently commanded.
Lise spun around and dashed at Kevin, raising her spear again. The dark chain was tough to cut through, but with her momentum and the sharp edge it broke. As it dissolved into eerie green smoke it twisted like a wounded snake, and its death brought away the half blood beastman’s collar as well.
As the princess met her friend’s gaze he was still forcefully gasping, but behind the pain and puzzlement in his eyes was a glistening, relieved triumph.
‘Good…’ the voice mumbled with a tiny scent of pride.
Lise spun around again as she heard a sound, but it had only been Rakadra stumbling. He stood crouching, pressing his hand against the bleeding shoulder with his eyes flaring of rage.
The blood was deeply red, on the brink of black. Which wasn’t much of a surprise, really.
“We were not destined to fight, old man!” he hissed.
“Oh really?” the voice coldly replied, “more demon honor?”
“I have no business with you. You are of the past, but Kevin is my bounty for being of the future.”
“Scared, are you?” the possessor said with anti-veiled loathing.
Rakadra snorted and flapped with his wings. A bit clumsily he gained height, still holding on to his shoulder.
With a grimace promising revenge he turned and soared away from the boat, soon nothing but a spot in the sky.
‘Who are you?’ Lise thought as she carefully lowered her spear.
‘You’re on your own now.’
Before the princess had time to protest against the sudden leave all the power she had been granted as a loan left her. But with carefulness so that she wouldn’t crack of the weakening. Still it left her cold and shivering. The spear fell from her hand and she had to heavily sit down.
She turned her head and managed a small smile when she met Kevin’s gaze. He was bleeding, pale and haggard. But he was also safe and alive.
“Thanks,” he said in a low voice.
Before Lise could reply a shadow fell on her and both she and her friend looked up.
Seemed like Rakadra’s mind control still worked on his ninjas…
But even before the two warriors had time to react in the tiredness their enemies were attacked by very irritated sailors and passengers. With their controlled minds confused with the begun awakening process the desert warriors had no chance against the seadogs and merchants.
“Wait, don’t kill them!” Lise shouted to halt the berserking.
Her voice was weak, but still she was heard by a few.
“Hold it, mates!” one of the sailors boomed out after a look over his shoulder at the call, “Her Highness said stop!”
Her highness… oh great. Rakadra had given them that truth… thanks a lot, mister demon.
But for the moment it served a purpose as it saved a few lives. Reluctantly the fighters stopped beating their preys and just grabbed their arms to keep the ninjas at the spot, waiting for the princess’ judgment. The desert warriors hardly struggled; their greatest movements were confused head shakings.
“They were being controlled by the demon,” Lise said and slowly got to her feet, “there’s no guarantee that they really wanted to fight us.”
“But Your Highness…” the warmongers protested but then fell silent.
The captain came down on the deck and bowed to the princess.
“An honor to have you onboard, Your Highness,” he gravely said, “and you saved us as well. What do you suggest we do about these devils?”
“Tie them up and stock them somewhere, those that were left in Rolante were too dizzy to do anything at all after the hypnotizing spell left them,” Lise tiredly said, “right now Kevin needs help.”
“Ah…” Kevin began.
“Not another word, you’re in no state for being strong,” the princess fondly lectured.
He gave the shadow of a smile and nodded. One of the sailors helped him to his feet and supported him in the walk back into the depths of the ship while the rest of the crew handled the prisoners. Lise could walk by herself, but it wasn’t too easy. She was exhausted after being drained of the borrowed strength.
The two ninjas that Lise and the possessor had knocked still laid in the cabin, unconscious. After helping Kevin over to the bed the sailor hurried to get someone to take care of the garbage.
The half blood tried to sit up for a moment, but crashed on the mattress with a groan that he obviously had been fighting for a long time. Blood from his thin wounds stained the sheets, but neither him nor Lise were in the mood to care about such details.
With a tired sigh she sat down on his bedside, reaching out for his arm and carefully holding it up to check his soars. Kevin snorted with tired, slight bitterness.
“Me wounded, again?” he noted with a grimace, “familiar.”
Lise smiled a little, exhausted.
‘Funny that…’ the last distant, fairly fit part of her brain noted, ‘remember how you went nuts about closing Hawk’s door? Now you’re alone with Kevin, apart from the sleepyheads in the corner, and you’re even sitting on his bed. And do you mind? No. Not even when you slept in the same room last night; you didn’t even think about it.’
But in her state the conclusion had no power.
“It’s not physically that bad, though…” she mumbled, blinking to get a little energy back, “he obviously hurt without leaving wounds. You’ll be fine with some rest.”
His hand suddenly touched hers and removed it from his arms by encircling it with his fingers. Even though she was tired half to unconsciousness Lise looked up in surprise.
He watched her. Worn out, but with concern.
“You need to rest too,” he gravely said.
“Yes but I’ll have to see to your wounds…”
The free hand of his rose up in a silencing manner, and she fell quiet.
“Please, Lise. No more ‘must’ and ‘have to’ now.”
She blinked, confused.
“Survive,” he cut off, “you worry too much, isn’t good for you.”
Lise watched him with tired disbelief for a moment. Then her other hand traveled up to the resting place of her held fingers before she had noticed what was happening herself.
“You get tortured by a demon and then you simply worry about me worrying too much?” she said with the shadow of a slightly bitter smile, “Kevin, I’m not the hurt one here.”
He frowned, turning so uncomfortably grim again.
Letting go of her hand he sat up, holding back a grimace of pain to keep her from protesting. As soon as he had straightened out his back properly and could quit leaning on his arms the frown melted again.
“You worry too much, all the time,” he said and his voice was still grave, surprisingly with less exhaust than before, “me be fine, you better just rest.”
Lise fell silent, not knowing what to say or think. She’d always cared for everything; she was the leader of the army and had taken the role as Elliot’s stepmother. It was… was… it had become a gigantic chunk of her nature.
There was a knock on the door, and the sailor came back with a crewmate.
“’Scuse us, we’ll just take your rats over there…” the first seadog said, a bit embarrassed.
They hurriedly threw a ninja each over a shoulder and left with a nod.
“What saying?” Kevin patiently said, now leaning against the wall.
It seemed like he refused to lay back before he felt done with talking.
Lise looked at her hands and shook her head.
“It’s nothing, Kevin. I take care of things, I always do.”
She suddenly let out a dry laugh.
“And what do you smell of me now?” she asked, more sour than she had intended.
Really she hadn’t even meant to say that, but it had flown out of her head before she could stop it. Kevin didn’t seem to become irritated, though.
“Only tired,” he calmly said.
‘Why can’t he just let me be concerned about him, am I suddenly doing something wrong?!’ Lise thought, frustrated all of a sudden.
His frown came back, but before he could even open his mouth all her tension exploded. It was simply too much, the fear for Rakadra, the helplessness and drain of strength, her exhaust… all being pressed together into her mind and becoming too much when her friend had the nerve to worry about such rubbish!
“Kevin, I’m not as strong as you but I’m not a helpless child!” she growled and bolted to her feet, her voice rising for every word until she was shouting, “that I’m tired has nothing to do with anything, there’s much more important things! About anything is more important! I have to save Elliot, and right now your wounds need care and if that whoever it was hadn’t chosen to help you’d still be screaming up there or dead and Kevin I have to worry about everything because it’s my duty as…”
She cut off her furious shouting, almost being forced to bite off her tongue to do so. Clenching her teeth hard she turned away, rubbing her forehead.
Now what had that been all about again?
‘Just great, now he thinks that I’m a nervous wreck…’
She almost jumped out of her skin when two big hands landed on her shoulder panzer.
“You should be resting…” she awkwardly mumbled, not looking around.
The fingers on her shoulders were trembling with exhaust and strained pain, how could he be so stubborn?
“Kevin, come on…”
Lise turned around without meeting his eyes and hung his arm around her neck to support him back down on the bed. He leaned against the wall again, but the princess didn’t know if it was of irritated or plain stubborn strength.
“Sorry about that outburst,” she honestly muttered, still not looking up.
She met his gaze in surprise. He was frowning a bit, but he didn’t look angry. Just a bit sad, more than usual.
“It was stupid of me,” Lise said, “I just… there was no reason for me to…”
Her voice trailed off and her shoulders dropped. With a groan she raised her hand to massage her forehead again.
The sudden, unprovoked fury had eaten the last of her energy storage.
Kevin reached out and put his hand on her arm, almost causing Lise to fall over of exhaust.
“Go sleep,” she heard him say as if through a wall, “we talk later.”
With more will than strength she managed to nod and stood up, crashing on her bed and in the weariness not caring about taking off her armor.
Kevin gravely watched the wall separating their beds, shaking his head before he lay back himself.
None of them even awoke when a couple of the sailors in lack of better solutions hammered a few planks onto the deck to cover the hole that Lise had left when jumping to Kevin’s rescue. And the half blood was hardly to be called even momentarily awakened when the ship’s doctor sneaked into the cabin and carefully wrapped bandages around the wounded arms and Kevin’s chest.
“I think you need to eat something, young man,” the man in white robes said.
Kevin tried to rise up on one arm at first, but found that a bad idea. His whole body ached, as if thorns went trough his flesh for every movement. Grimacing he managed to work his way up into a half lying, half sitting position, heavily leaning against the wall. The doctor very carefully offered the half blood a smoking cup of something, ready to support him holding it. But Kevin managed to assemble enough strength to get a grip of the mug.
“That’ll help off that seasickness of yours,” the doctor smiled, “I’ll leave some food here for you and Her Highness.”
He pointed at a tray with two bowls and a few pieces of bread, which was waiting on the small table of the cabin.
“Thanks…” Kevin said, stuttering a bit as he still was feeling rather wobbly.
“No problem at all. Oh, by the way…”
The doctor shrugged his shoulders.
“The captain just announced that we might have to take a longer route or stay put for a couple of days,” he reported, “the volcano on Bucca seem to have had an eruption recently and is still smoking, so we don’t want to get too close to that. Well, I’ll be going.”
He left with a wave of his hand.
Kevin sat like a statue for a while before he picked himself up and blew a little on the potion to make it cool down. The taste wasn’t too pleasant, rather bitter. But after just one sip of something edible his empty stomach started to groan and he emptied the mug without second thoughts.
Well… at least the exhaust had made him forget the nausea for a while, now hopefully the potion would help further. Right then he didn’t have the nerve to care.
Most of all he’d just go back to sleep, but his stomach begged for a difference. After a few moments of weighing the different pains and his fatigue he finally gave up and very slowly got out of the bed. It wasn’t easy to walk, the odds were definitely against him. But he clamped his teeth and made it to the table, with a relieved grunt falling to one of the floor secure chairs.
Seemed to be fish soup…
He took a bread to start with, eating slowly because he was tired and because he didn’t want his stomach to get a shock after all the hunger and turn inside out again.
After the first piece of bread the mist in his head began to dissolve. At least one relief… the pain still remained like a headache throughout the whole body. He grimaced to himself and moved one of the bowls closer so that he could eat a little of the soup. But when he had eaten a few mouthfuls he pushed the bowl away again and turned his eyes towards Lise, despite his remaining hunger.
That just wouldn’t do…
He forced his protesting body from the chair and stumbled across the short floor area again. It took a big deal of self-control to simply sit down on her bedside instead of falling.
“Lise, wake up,” he grunted and carefully shook her shoulder.
Lise grimaced before opening her eyes, looking up at Kevin through a veil of drowsiness.
“Hm?” she mumbled.
“Shouldn’t sleep in armor,” he said and forced himself to smile a bit, “won’t get better.”
She worked her way into sitting, resting on her hands and yawning. Kevin stood up and went back to the table, walking a bit more secure now.
Drawbacks of being half beastman: Speaking problems, seasick easily and unable to walk without slight crouch.
Opportunities: Natural strength, sturdy, the whole power up thing at night and a body that could heal faster than a plain human’s.
His stomach had already begun to assemble the bounty of the little food it had been offered, spreading it into his tired being. He sat down again with the plan to keep helping the process, avoiding to look at Lise in order allow her the privacy of getting out of her armor.
A short while later she sunk down on the other chair and reached for the free soup bowl, simply dressed in her long tunic.
“How are you feeling?” she mumbled, hardly audible.
“A bit better,” he replied, “and you?”
“I’m really sorry for freaking out like that,” she muttered, “I don’t know what I was thinking…”
“Me don’t mind,” Kevin said, smiling a bit.
“I was just so tired and shocked and… now I’m babbling.”
Lise tried to smile but failed. She turned to the soup without another word and they ate in silence.
When the soup was gone both of them leaned back, staring at nothing for a while.
“Know who possessed you?” Kevin suddenly asked.
The princess looked up and shook her head.
“No, he never told me,” she said, “but…”
She fell silent, hesitating.
‘Should I tell him…? The voice I heard in my head sounded like a beastman…’
“Said strange things,” the half blood remarked, scratching his head so almost the whole mane swayed.
“Yes. Seemed like he knew you.”
“And Rakadra too.”
“Did you know that demon?” Lise carefully asked.
Kevin shook his head.
“No. Don’t know why he hated me so much. But…”
“Gah, he said he wouldn’t just kill the son of Beast King and Arceia,” he said, puzzled.
“Arceia, is that your mother?” the princess asked.
Kevin grimly nodded.
“Ran away, Beast King told me,” he said with a small growl, “I understand why.”
‘What kind of human woman would have a child with the king of beastmen?’ Lise thought but didn’t ask.
That seemed rather tasteless to bring up. Come to think of it, what said she was willi…
Lise cut off the thought before she started to feel even sicker.
Should Kevin be the product of… no, it just couldn’t be.
“So, maybe Rakadra had something against your parents,” she tried, fighting to avoid the unpleasant possibility, “perhaps they fought…”
“He half blood too,” Kevin pointed out, frowning even more.
“What did that possessing person say his parents names were?” she said with a frown, “Haldor and Shree something?”
“Scheree,” Kevin corrected.
He rubbed his forehead.
“Have heard somewhere before… ah, long ago,” he said, his warmly yellow eyes narrowing as he tried to remember.
Lise waited for the result, but after a while her friend shrugged in defeat.
“Can’t think of where,” he said.
“You’ll remember eventually, I’m sure.”
The princess yawned again, massaging her neck with one hand.
“I’ll go back to sleep for a while…” she said and stood up.
They crashed on their own beds again, falling asleep shortly thereafter.
Lise awoke first the next morning, but it took her a while to get moving. Her body felt as if it had been pressed through a meat mince and then gotten glued back together.
Being possessed hadn’t been as bad as she had imagined it to be, but the feeling afterwards was similar to a bad hangover.
‘Have I slept since last morning?’ she groaned in her thoughts as she read the time of the day by the light spilling in from the two round windows.
Alright. Come on, get out of the bed, woman!
She needed a few minutes to assemble full control and will to follow the orders of the irritating voice in the back of her head.
That was her most important sense, but it tap-danced on her nerves sometimes. The sense of duty.
Most of her just wanted to keep resting, but duty was stronger than the rest. Or more stubborn.
Grunting she sat up and bent down to fumble for her armor that she simply had dropped on the floor yesterday.
Maybe the first hours of sleeping in that thing at least had a little to do with how she felt now…
Kevin muttered something as he turned over in his own bed, still half asleep. When he opened his eyes Lise was just securing one of the first laces on her armor. She smiled a little at him and kept working on her equipment as she spoke:
“Keep sleeping, I’ll see if I can get some breakfast for us.”
“I can… agh…”
The half blood’s attempt to get out of his bed resulted in a half strangled groan of pain and he fell back.
“Don’t strain yourself, your body must have caught up with the tensions of yesterday so you’ll probably be stiff,” Lise warned to keep him calm, “Kevin, you don’t have to be strong all the time…”
But he grimaced and very slowly sat up despite his friend’s protest.
“Could move fine before…” he grunted.
He grabbed the corner of the wall where it turned into the alcove of his bed and stood, determined. Lise considered protesting more, but gave up. By now she knew Kevin well enough to know that he wouldn’t allow himself weakness if there was the tiniest grain of power left inside of him.
She finished the last lace and walked closer in case he would need support. But Kevin let go of the wall and carefully stretched his bandaged arms. After a moment his grimace eased with a small sigh of relief. Seemed like the stiff pain released him at least partly as he stretched.
Lise watched him in silence for a while before she made up her mind and spoke again.
“Kevin, can I ask you something?”
“Sure,” he said, halting his stretching and just slowly rubbing his left upper arm instead.
The princess paused for a moment, unsure if she really wanted to ask. Kevin tilted his head, waiting.
She decided again and went through with it the second time she tried.
“Rakadra obviously used your seasickness to get the upper hand. Do you think you would have been able to defeat him if you had been alright?”
Kevin stopped rubbing his arm and let his hand travel to his neck instead as he pondered the question.
“Not sure,” he admitted after a while, “he strong, but depend on flying and magic…”
He scratched his neckline with one finger.
“Could have ripped off collar if not seasick,” he added, “not impossible.”
Lise waited as he fell silent, instinctively knowing that he wasn’t really done yet. Finally he shook his head with a frown.
“I don’t know. At night, inside so he couldn’t fly perhaps…”
“I was just thinking…” Lise said, rather awkwardly.
She straightened up.
“Anyway, if he comes back we’ll take care of him again,” she grimly continued.
Kevin raised his gaze to her eyes, gravely watching her for a moment. Then his hand landed on her shoulder, once again much to her surprise. She looked back at the golden crystals of his irises, caught up in the determination that glowed in the thin dark lines between them. At first just because she waited for him to speak, then simply because those sparkling diamonds fascinated her with their sheer beauty. A thousand tiny, shimmering shards encircling the complete blackness of his pupils.
“Me was weak,” he growled, “won’t happen again.”
“I know, Kevin,” Lise softly said, however it came out more like a warm whisper.
She raised her hand and placed it on his shoulder in return, unwilling to loose the sight of his eyes just then. The warmth of her reached through the fabric of his shirt.
“He simply used dirty tricks,” she continued, “and I think you fought truly well considering the circumstances.”
"Maybe," Kevin grimly said, "but should have..."
He fell silent and bitterly shook his head.
"You did what you could," Lise said, "besides, you took his torture without loosing consciousness or starting to plead. How can you call yourself weak after that?"
She held back a wish to put her hand on his cheek.
"You're not weak, Kevin. Most people would have pleaded for mercy after a few moments of that, I'm sure."
Kevin watched her with a strange sparkling in the dark lines of his eyes.
'I wouldn't let him do the same to you, Lise...' he thought, 'never.'
But he didn't know how he could say that aloud.
"Maybe," he just said.
Lise's blue-green eyes rested on his face. They reminded Kevin of the delicate drops of water that had laid in the moonlight, shivering on the blades of grass and leaves in the forest he knew as his birthplace, his world. Looking straight back at him, warm like he'd never known that a gaze could be. And her hand on his shoulder, it sent a caressing heat into his skin.
He felt that happy sadness stronger than ever before.
His fingers moved without him giving any order. They wanted to leave Lise's shoulder and touch her face, but he pressed them back against the shoulder panzer.
There was no reason for him to do anything more. Kevin couldn't explain why, but he felt resistance at the will to touch Lise. Not like it would hurt her, he wouldn't hurt a friend... but some part of him, the shy part, told him that he shouldn't.
As he wasn't sure he obeyed. The timidity was always the strongest when he didn't know what to do.
But when he gave in that much, it got a firmer grip of him and forced him to slowly take his hand away.
If you shouldn't touch her, then why do you hold your hand there, eh?
Lise's eyes left his face and went to his hand for a moment. Then she looked back at him and took away her own hand as well. Kevin found his shoulder cold after the touch left him.
"Shall we go and have some breakfast?" Lise said in a low voice, with a weak, almost hidden scent of reluctance in her voice.
When they came to the dining cabin, Kevin learnt even more about the peculiar habits of the less hairy side of his lineage.
Most of the merchants and a couple of sailors were still having breakfast there, and as soon as Lise entered and seemed to walk towards the table the men and women almost fell over each other; trying to make room for the princess. Earlier they had just thrown her some happy comments about the won battle against Navarre and a few of the younger men had given her bypassing glances for her looks. But now that they knew who she really was they were desperate to make her as comfortable as possible.
Kevin clearly smelled her frustration and the sigh she held back. It amazed him that the humans didn't feel it. He knew that they had much punier sense of smell, but what Lise felt seemed impossible to miss.
"Look, I traveled incognita for a reason," she said in a neutral voice, "calm down for heaven's sake."
She sat down without waiting for any sort of reply, and Kevin joined her. He noted that the tense scent of all the others seemed to increase when he did so, but he didn't understand why and kept quiet.
Not before Lise took a piece of bread and offered Kevin one somebody dared to talk. As if she wasn't human until she showed that she actually ate like everyone else.
One of the merchants cleared his throat, politely, and spoke.
"Excuse me, Your Highness..."
"Say miss or just Lise," the princess replied, forcing a natural smile.
She noted that the people who she had argued with about Kevin the other day hardly dared to look at her. It made her feel a bit better, but at the same time that feeling of triumph came with the realization that she was childish and silly. There was nothing she or Kevin ever had needed to prove to them. Now they accepted his presence simply because they knew who she was, didn't they? It was plain idiocy.
"Miss Lise, uh... how come you have left Rolante so soon after the victory?" the man said, a bit nervous.
"Navarre is out of the land, that is true," the princess calmly said, "but my brother prince Elliot is still lost somewhere. Me and Kevin are looking for him."
Kevin was eating the bread she had given him. But even though he wasn't looking up he felt the glances that swiftly touched him. What were they all so nervous about? He had never been treated like some kind of monster by the beastmen even though he was their crown prince.
"And what will happen when you have found him, miss?" another merchant asked, carefully.
The half blood beastman looked up as he felt Lise stiffen for some reason. She looked calm, but she sure didn't smell like it.
"Rebuild everything that was destroyed, of course," she said in the same voice as before.
Silence. The air was thick with a wish for something more. The hair on the back of Kevin's neck bristled, he felt somehow alarmed.
Lise pursed her mouth, hardly visibly.
"And yes, I'll be in charge."
Her voice was suddenly chilly; it almost startled Kevin. He saw her hands tighten around the bread, but the table blocked that sight for almost everyone else in the room.
And it seemed like the cold edges of her voice were waved off by the merchants and sailors.
"That's comforting to know," yet someone else said, "my condolence for what happened to your father and everyone else, miss."
Lise seemed to force herself into swallowing the strange anger.
Where had that come from?
The hairs on Kevin's neck still stood like a forest, as if there was some danger there in the cabin. He didn't know what it was that the princess found unpleasant, but it was contagious. Even though she was a little calmer now, for the moment.
"Thank you," Lise said in a low voice.
Her loosened tension returned with new strength by the next words that entered the room.
"And..." the second merchant that had spoken said in a voice that sounded innocent but made Kevin's teeth grit by themselves, "will you work alone with leading the kingdom?"
Lise clenched her jaw, and her voice didn't sound natural as she replied.
"I haven't made any plans of accepting challenges at this point, and I have received none either..."
Kevin thought that everyone glanced at him, but he was busy watching Lise from the corner of his eyes, frowning.
"... But if you'd like to, sir, I could of course test you right away," the princess ended.
The merchant chuckled, as unnatural as Lise's voice.
"Who, me?" he said, nervously, "not before and definitely not after your battle with that demon. I was never fit for that job anyway."
"I must have misunderstood you, then," the princess politely said, "I'm sorry."
"Oh no, miss, I was just clumsy in picking words," the man assured.
Lise took a bite of the bread to mark an end of the conversation for the moment. And she kept eating, forcefully, seemingly only to keep everyone else from talking to her. With her uneasiness stinging his nostrils Kevin ate the rest of his own breakfast. As he left the room, walking behind Lise just a couple of minutes later he still hadn’t uttered a single word.
She almost broke into their personal cabin, stopped dead by the table and furiously grabbed the edges of the furniture.
Kevin closed the door and walked closer to her, frowning.
“What wrong, Lise?” he said in a low voice, standing just a couple of feet behind her.
At first she just shook her head, staring at the wood before her.
“So idiotic…” she finally muttered in frustration.
‘This is why I didn’t want anyone to know! Accursed demon…’
She straightened up, rubbing her forehead. When she looked around at him and saw her friend’s puzzled look she shook her head again.
“They just wanted to know if I’ve made plans of marriage already, to know how great chance they have at me. Merchants are the nobility of Palo, see?”
Kevin still looked puzzled, but there was some kind of concern in the back in his eyes.
“Why?” he asked, his eyebrows crouching beneath the earthquake on his forehead.
“Because I’m going to be queen…”
Lise fell silent and watched his blank look for a moment. Then it dawned on her.
“You don’t have that in the Beast Kingdom, do you?” she slowly asked, “Beast King is the first king you’ve ever had, right?”
With a sigh she sat down on a chair.
“In the human countries there must, or at least should always be both a king and queen,” she tried to explain, “at least as long as there are no heirs that can take the throne later on…”
‘I always hated this thought, and this is going to sound so stupid!’ she angrily thought, ‘heck, it is idiotic!’
In almost everything her sense of duty could cloud any hesitation, but Lise was first and foremost a young woman hardly more than a teenager. She had spent her life with the strong and independent amazons; one of them. Everyone else got to live and love as they chose, but not she… this she had a problem swallowing as it pushed her into a corner of reality.
Kevin sat down on the other chair, his frown not easing the slightest even as he spoke.
“Can understand that, but why would merchants think that you would marry them?”
“Because I might end up with one of them,” Lise grunted, watching her hands.
She shook her head once again.
“You see, for a queen there is no time to search for a true love,” she bitterly said, “especially not for me since I’ll have to take care of the rebuilding and go on patrols. Like all other nobilities I’ll have to see suitors and try to choose someone who seems…”
Her hands clenched.
‘This is so stupid!’
“… Well, someone who seems to be the best for all parts. I know it sounds strange, but that’s how it works.”
Kevin crossed his arms, watching Lise with an expression that she couldn’t read. He seemed a bit confused still, but very irritated as well. Very.
“If don’t want to, then why do?” he finally asked.
“I’ll have to think about the kingdom,” Lise muttered, “the people will need to feel secure about the throne, so that we all can concentrate on rebuilding Rolante.”
She looked up and met his gaze, her eyes tired.
“See, now we’re back there again,” she said, “I have my responsibilities, and those are firstly towards my kingdom. The people of Rolante and Palo are under my wings now that father is dead.”
“Don’t like that,” Kevin grimly said.
“You or me?” she asked and tried to force a smile.
“Both. You marry one who just look good as ruler?”
“Yes, you summed it up pretty well.”
Kevin’s hair… bristled? His whole mane seemed to shiver as his eyes narrowed. At that sight Lise had to force herself not to blink. Many times she had seen him angry, but he had never showed frustration like that. Perhaps it was suppressed anger…?
Why would that make him so upset? The thought of just picking some random sweet talker with enough knowledge of battle to handle her… to share her entire life with someone she’d have to learn to know later on made Lise’s whole body feel icy, but she had never encountered anyone who…
‘Kevin, you’re just…’
“No, no, don’t feel like that…” she tried to calm him.
“Me think of my mother,” Kevin said with a deep growl in his voice, “she didn’t like, so she ran away. Don’t even know if she had choice. It wrong!”
The growl overtook his voice almost completely during the last two sentences and his fists hit the table so hard that it was a pure miracle that the wood didn’t fall into pieces. Lise’s hands shot forward and grabbed his massive fists by themselves; she almost laid on the table as she reached out like that. It astounded her; it astounded him.
‘How did I get here? Why? Alright, now I’m here, I’m holding his hands and looking really dumb. So what do I do next?’
‘Lise…?’ Kevin thought.
He couldn’t even think of anything better to think in his surprise. The singeing anger that had arisen and stung his whole body roared up into one single burning flame and then died, only for a short moment truly painful. He blinked, looking at their hands as his mane slowly laid back.
“Kevin, your mother must have been a very strong woman who managed to get out of the Beast Kingdom. And you mustn’t draw a line between whatever happened to her and me.”
He clenched his jaw and looked up.
“It wrong. You don’t like.”
“No I don’t, I hate thinking about it,” she honestly admitted, “but…”
She tilted his head a little with a tiny shadow of a smile.
“In any case I won’t have to chose anyone for a while,” she continued, “first of all we’re going to find Elliot. And Rolante should be in a better shape. Plus, I’m still only seventeen years old, so I can’t get married yet. And lastly, in the end I’ll be the one to choose and nobody else. Besides, not too many even dare to propose because they’ll have to battle me before I can accept them.”
Kevin’s eyebrows twitched by the last line.
“Wh-what?” he said.
The princess had to catch up with her breath before she could speak again. That had been a rather breathless rant towards the end.
“What of it?” she said, much calmer than before.
“Battle you?” Kevin asked with raised eyebrows.
“It’s a tradition of Rolante,” she told him, “the king must be strong enough to win over the queen.”
“Oh, there was this ancient queen who got possessed and… uh…”
She fell silent and actually smiled a bit, ironically. Kevin grunted, almost like a dry laugh.
“Got possessed by an evil spirit,” Lise corrected, “and only her fiancé dared to go against her.”
Carefully she let go of his hands and sat back on her chair.
“But still not right,” he muttered, his lips drawing back to show at least half of his teeth collection.
“No, I know… ha.”
Lise gave a short laugh without much joy, instead more irony.
“They probably thought that I had picked you already, come to think of it.”
At that Kevin blinked and it took him a moment to assemble his mind after that one.
“Since we travel together?” he said, eyebrows twitching again.
Lise snorted at the memory of the sailor that she had been forced to explain herself to.
‘So that’s why they gave me such weird looks,’ Kevin thought, irritated.
Much anger and pain he had faced, but this made him furious simply because of the idiocy. He couldn’t understand why Lise would have to think of everyone else even when she looked for someone to love. It was simply… sick.
And just because he traveled with Lise people would believe that… uh…
His ears suddenly felt hot.
Lise was watching the table; for the moment he was almost glad that he didn’t have to meet her gaze.
She suddenly straightened up, but didn’t raise her eyes.
“They probably won’t bother us in that matter again, I hope,” she said, “and later on people won’t know who neither of us are. So let’s just concentrate on what we’re doing now, alright?”
Where did that “we” suddenly come from? Oh, she didn’t want to talk about it anymore.
No, he could understand that.
“Sure,” Kevin said, forcing himself to sound natural.
Lise looked up and smiled a bit. It seemed like the concern he felt was hidden well enough for her to not notice it.
“You’re crazy!” everyone had said, “Deen is far too close to the castle!”
Yeah, he was crazy. And Nikita was crazy to come with him.
But Hawk felt a gnawing need to be as close to the enemy as he could possibly come without really being in danger. Deen was a small desert village, completely worthless when it came to tactic and they had nothing to offer in money or goods. Seemed like the demons weren’t interested in eating the people either, since everyone still was alive and well.
At least except those who had tried to travel the desert lately. Hypnotized warriors and monsters did their best to take care of travelers.
Deen was alive, but faltering. For ages the village had depended on the oasis in the middle of Navarre’s lands, now… the water was slowly ebbing away. Very, very slowly. But steady.
Hawk sat in the shadow of the palm alike cacti that surrounded the pool of water. He wasn’t much of a calculator, but Deen couldn’t possibly have more than half a year left. If the monsters and ninjas still were patrolling the desert when the last of the water was gone…
He clenched his teeth. He and Nikita had slipped through; the cat was a merchant but not as peaceful as he looked. His and the thief’s skills had been enough to bring them through the charring landscape, all the way to the small town. And here they were. Had been so for a couple of weeks, even.
He had risked to sneak up to the castle one night, and found out that the rumors were true. That had not been dolls on the walls to scare people that there could be demons in Navarre.
That had been demons to scare people that there were demons in Navarre. Nikita had told nothing but the horrid truth. Bigeau worked with the Underworld.
Hawk hadn’t been too close, but he had seen the shadows moving on the walls; moonlight reflecting in dark scales that flowed when muscles that even would make Kevin nervous were stretched by the slightest movement. Heh, not even the half blood would be of help against those.
It didn’t look good.
With a sigh he threw a pebble into the oasis, watching the calm surface partly explode and throw up a few peaceful drops of water by the impact.
There had to be some way of getting Jessica out of there… somehow…
Heck, he didn’t even know if she was still alive… Nikita had seen her be imprisoned, but that was several weeks ago. Bigeau could have fed her to one of her big ugly pets long ago…
Hawk shuddered and clenched his teeth. Oh no. She was alive. She had to be!
He sighed again and surpassed the water another pebble, watching the drops in their way up and down into their home again. In this heat it was amazing that they even made it back and didn’t turn into steam blowing away with the puny wind there was.
‘What am I going to do? What, what, what, what, what, fricking what?!’
He looked up at the clear blue sky. Not the tiniest trace of a cloud anywhere. The next rain should be, oh… two, three hundred years or so away.
Would the Mana Goddess be kind enough to send him some kind of help to save Jessica?
He nearly jumped out of his skin and spun around. Nikita almost fell down the low cliff stair, regained his balance and stumbled over to Hawk.
“Your tongue is hanging,” the thief said and reached up a hand to help his panting friend sit down without falling.
“I’ve looked… gasp… all over for you…!” the cat wheezed.
“Running in this heat?” Hawk said with raised eyebrows, “why on earth would you do that?”
“Saw… Duran and others… in town and… they… went…”
“Hey whoa? What’s Duran doing here?” Hawk asked with a grin.
Nikita’s eyes rolled around as if he was about to drop dead. To keep his friend alive Hawk reached out for the oasis and swung his arm towards the big cat. Getting drowned was obviously just what Nikita needed since he got back to talking.
“They… went out… I had no time and… I saw… Bigeau and… Jessica… no mirage…”
Nikita coughed and spat as his head got torn up above the surface again.
“Where?!” Hawk shouted.
“They walked towards… the Valley of Flames!” Nikita dribbled, trying to catch his breath again, “Duran too…”
“Holy fruit… the Mana stone!”
Hawk threw his wet friend aside and dashed towards the village, sand exploding around his feet as he ran.
“Thanks Nikita!” he shouted over his shoulder.
“Ohhh…” the cat groaned back.
Hawk rushed into the inn to get his water sack and then ran into the desert’s floating heat.
‘Oh yeah, and thanks a lot to you too!’ he thought and blew a kiss at the sky without even slowing down.
After only about a minute he had to slow down to a normal pace; the burning air was impossible to stress in. He cursed the heat that slowed him down.
The only reason for Bigeau to travel in the desert so soon after mid day had to be that she didn’t want to be disturbed…
Hawk’s eyes narrowed and he forced his already heavy legs to move faster.
And the only reason for Duran and his ladies to travel in this heat… well, none of them seemed too bright, to be honest.
‘On the other hand, neither am I right now…’ he thought, taking a quick sip out of the leaking secure sack.
The water was warm, but much cooler than the rest of the world around the thief. Including himself.
As he worked his way through the heat he tried to avoid the monsters that inhabited the desert. The slow bulettes were easy enough to dodge, but the humanoid psychotic ducks and nasty birds that also could be found in the ocean of sand and heat were a bit more complicated to get away from. Not to mention the hypnotized ninjas… they weren’t too common, but they were there.
But despite everything he eventually reached the entrance to the burning caves.
Oh dear goddess…
The area before the entrance carried distinct signs of battle. The sand had been thrown around just recently, mixed with blood. And there were two dead bodies.
Hawk stumbled over to them and turned the immobile ninjas. One removed mask was enough, because he knew that the other veil would hide a mirror of the face he had just uncovered.
Bill and Ben.
No pulse. But with such wounds it was impossible to be alive.
Hawk balled his hands into fists.
There was no time to grieve! But… but…
Clenching his teeth hard he bent down and picked up as much sand as his hands could carry together.
“You were used by evil, my friends,” he grimly told the bodies, “but I swear that I will avenge you, Eagle and everyone else who has died because of Bigeau. Peace over your souls.”
With as much respect as he could summon he spread the sand of all ninjas’ birthplace over his dead friends’ chests. It had to do as a funeral, at least for now.
Before he left them Hawk bowed to honor the memory of his friends, as custom for the desert warriors were.
Then he turned his heels and resolutely walked towards the entrance of the overheated caves.
The air was practically boiling. He had to stop by the entrance and take a few deep breaths to get ready for the next part of the trip before he could continue.
It should really be against any law of physics that such heat could exist… Hawk moved as fast as he dared to through the burning caves, afraid both of loosing his consciousness and of that his boots could catch fire. If any of that happened, he would be in big, big trouble.
Heh, at least there was a track to follow. Not footprints; the heat’s pressure had turned the rocks almost as hard as diamonds long ago. No, the track Hawk followed were the lifeless monsters lying around. He grinned to himself. Really, he owed Duran a lot as well… maybe he should team up with the chosen heroes and help them in order to repay them. It would just be fair. But first he had to avenge his friends and save Jessica.
The thought of that she could be within reach but in grave danger helped him to speed up even though his whole body groaned.
It was hard to keep up the knowledge that he had to be careful about the water supply he had. Two seconds after every clunk he took his throat and mouth were just as burning as before again. But he had to save enough for the trip back to Deen…
“Hey! Hold it right there!”
“Stop!” Angela’s voice panted, just ahead.
“Carlie say bad lady let go of pretty one!”
Hawk skidded down the slanted road and stumbled into a short tunnel, merely a yard or so of length…
“Don’t come any closer!”
Her voice was hoarse and strained, but it was a dangerous growl.
“One more step and the girl goes into the flames!” she screeched.
Duran growled; now Hawk saw his and the girls’ backs. Ahead of them, on a rope bridge, Bigeau stood with an almost unconscious Jessica’s wrist in a tight grip. Flames roared not too far below them; the older woman could easily shove the Flame Khan’s daughter down there.
Hawk’s brain ceased to function properly. He forgot about the cursed necklace, his hand going to his belt by itself. Skilled fingers grabbed a dart he had forgotten he had there, and the projectile dashed through the molten air before he had time to get worried about missing his enemy.
Bigeau let out a surprised shout of pain and dropped Jessica’s arm. The prisoner fell onto the bridge, limbless. Duran, Angela and Carlie looked around in surprise.
Hawk grinned evilly at Bigeau, bringing forth his daggers in a manner that showed that he was prepared to throw them as well.
Bigeau’s eyes narrowed and she clumsily tore the dart out of her upper arm, throwing it into the fire she had meant for Jessica.
“I see you brought company,” she growled and suddenly forced a sneer, “well, until next time!”
And with that she turned and ran ahead faster than should be possible in the heat that lived in the valley.
Hawk hurried over to Jessica and bent down to check her state. She looked up at him with not entirely focused eyes and her lips weakly moved a little. But not a sound managed to escape her.
“Is she alright?” Duran asked from somewhere behind.
“The necklace is gone…”
The thief spoke in relief in the same moment as he noticed this, not really hearing the warrior.
She wasn’t cursed anymore… Hawk could have soared up towards the heavens in his feeling of sheer triumph, indescribably blissful. Jessica was safe!
Very carefully he hung his dear friend’s arm around his neck and helped her stand up. Her weight combined with his exhaust and the intense heat was almost too much, but Hawk was also powered up with the feeling of victory.
“You guys handle Bigeau,” he said to the three heroes, “I have to take Jessica to Deen, alright?”
“Sure thing, just leave it to us,” Duran grinned.
Carlie gave Hawk a big smile, and even Angela’s eyes were softer than usual as the thief walked past them, supporting Jessica and smiling his gratefulness.
He heard them hurry on behind his back, but didn’t bother much about it.
“It’s okay now, Jessica,” he whispered, “you’re safe, I’ll bring you away from here.”
It was barely a mumble, but he heard it and smiled warmly at her dimmed, tired eyes.
“Thanks…” she whispered in a weak voice.
A few days after the events in the Valley of Flames…
Lise watched the majestic spires of Rolante’s great mountains draw closer and closer as she stood by the railing of the ship. The familiar wind swept around her and fondly played with her hair to welcome her back to her homeland. For a moment she smiled at the thought, but the tiny feeling of joy burnt out almost instantly.
To come back… it felt like a failing. They had lost so much time. Together with Kevin she had sought through Maia, Byzen and even Forcena for a ship owner willing to take them to Mintos, at the edge of the Moonlight forest. But all refused. No price was high enough to risk a sail to that place with the threat of the hostile beastmen.
Using the cannon made by that crazy inventor cousin of Merci hadn’t been an option either. Kevin had grimly explained that should they land in the middle of the wilderness and not on a path it would be impossible to get out. The trees grew thick and hard, only the few roads were an option of travel.
So the last resort… was at the starting point. It felt so meaningless… but… if they hadn’t been forced to give up hope the Father of the Winged ones maybe wouldn’t see them.
‘Ha, there’s no guarantee that he will anyway…’ Lise bitterly thought and rubbed her cheek with her fingers.
If finding the fabled guardian also failed then… there was no hope on getting to the forest. The princess clenched her jaw and grimly looked at the highest mountain tops. They carried dresses of fine clouds, like floating silk.
She sighed and looked around, finding Kevin leaning on the railing a few yards away. He had placed his forearms beside each other on the thick fence, entwining his fingers into one big fist as he put all weight in the arms and watched the ocean with absentminded eyes. The salty winds seemed to have fun with his mane, which he didn’t mind where he stood with his ankles easily crossed.
The wounds Rakadra had left were long healed, but the encounter had left something… else.
Kevin seemed more furious than ever when he went into battle, clawing, hitting and tearing up every monster they had encountered on the golden road. Well, the battles had been few; he was still remembered there. But whenever a monster had been stupid enough to show up it had found itself badly wounded or/and on a flight far away before Lise even had had time to get a grip of her spear.
It wasn’t only because his skills, reflexes and sense of smell had been sharpened by the Mana stone. Kevin was… he was angry. The amazon princess didn’t know how else to put it.
Maybe Rakadra had made him feel feeble, and he couldn’t accept that.
‘But you’re not weak…’ Lise thought as she watched her friend, ‘Rakadra was just stronger then.’
No, wait. Maybe that was even worse.
But the demon hadn’t been playing fair, there was no use for Kevin to blame weakness. Not in her view, at least. She sighed again and looked up at the mountains.
If he kept that fury up she would have to try talking to him. He couldn’t go around being so angry with himself.
It was long past midday when they disembarked. After a quick visit at the supply shop to refill their food reserves the two warriors entered the cliff area. Again.
“We’ll have to pass by Rolante,” Lise explained as they walked, “the entrance to the path is hidden close to the castle. But I’d like to just sneak by, they’d start asking questions and get false hopes if they see me now.”
“Me understand,” Kevin gravely nodded.
For a while they walked on in silence. But it wasn’t a cold one, they just wordlessly agreed on resting their tongues for a while.
Kevin knew that Lise felt frustrated about that they had been forced to return to square one. Yes, this once even he felt that time has been wasted. Her brother could be dead by now…
He forced the thought aside. No. It couldn’t be so. Lise wouldn’t be able to take that.
Suddenly a couple of chibidevils materialized on the path before the two, waving with their small but still dangerous forks and looking at the intruders. Measuring, trying to figure out how to best attack…
A red mist fell over Kevin’s eyes, just like when he and his friend had been on the golden road earlier.
Next thing he knew he heard an unearthly screech and saw a ghostly figure soar towards the heavens. His hands ached a little; he had hit something. And a growl was still working its way through his throat.
He blinked and lowered his hands, cutting off the snarl.
“Are you alright?”
By the sudden weight on his shoulder he looked around and into Lise’s concerned eyes. She was frowning, deeply.
“Guess so,” he said, rubbing the back of his neck.
Her hand briefly squeezed his shoulder as she spoke again.
“You haven’t been yourself lately when it comes to battles…”
“Wh-what?” Kevin grunted, confused.
“I don’t know, it’s just… you seem to attack more ruthlessly than before.”
Lise shook her head, a bit awkwardly. It seemed like he hadn’t got a clue what she was talking about.
“Maybe it’s just my imagination,” she helplessly said, “it just seem to me like you’re using more violence than you ever did and I don’t believe that’s from the Mana stone.”
She looked back into his eyes, still frowning.
“I might just be overreacting. But if Rakadra could have done something to you…”
Her voice trailed off as Kevin’s eyes narrowed and his lips parted to show his teeth. They seemed sharper than they should be at day…
That was his reaction when the demon was mentioned in words or in his mind, she had learned to see when he was thinking of their enemy. Which was rather often, painfully enough.
Before Lise knew what she was doing her hands were on the sides of his head and his eyes flared up with surprise, the grimace instantly dying.
There I go again…
She felt her cheeks singe with extra blood, but refused to back off. Retreating was failing, besides… it was just… emotional. Nothing wrong with touching Kevin, they were friends.
‘Then why is my face burning?’
She cleared her throat and forced herself not to look away as she tried to think of something decent to say in a proper voice.
“You won’t let him leave you alone; that just won’t work out,” she tried and fought to keep her voice normal, “I can see he’s still tormenting you…”
“Me worried that he come back,” Kevin said with eyes thin as the edge of a sword.
Both his hands suddenly rested on her shoulder panzer; he blinked himself when that happened. But it only took a moment for him to recover.
“Won’t let him win again,” the beastman half blood continued while Lise still was frozen in surprise.
Before she could speak she had to send out her tongue hardly noticeable to mend her dry lips. Not scared, not at all… just surprised and suddenly a bit nervous for some reason.
“I know, Kevin,” she finally said, not at the volume she had planned.
‘If I’d just slid my hands down and around his neck it would be an embrace… how did we end up like this?’ flew through her mind; merely a conclusion.
At least she tried to tell herself that it was just a conclusion.
Very carefully she removed her hands, and he mirrored her movement. Still… the wind rustled his hair so that it softly caressed Lise’s fingers when she drew back. She turned away and began walking, rubbing her cheek in an attempt to force the blush away.
No matter how she tried to ignore it she distinctively felt strangely cool and hot at the same time all around and mostly in her stomach. And it just felt stronger as Kevin came up by her side again, considering every step he took not to allow himself to walk with the speed his legs were suited for. If he walked with normal pace he’d force her to almost run to keep up, it was long ago that he’d realized that.
Now as he continued the journey his skin softly, fondly stung where the memory of Lise’s hands still remained.
And… the sad happiness was so strong that a thick lump formed in his throat.
He couldn’t exactly explain why, but he wished that they still had been standing there, just like that…
Kevin’s jaw clenched by itself as the thought cut through his tenderly confused mind.
Maybe Lise’s was right… now that he thought about it he couldn’t really remember anything from the last week’s battles. Just a red fuzz and some distant chanting in the back of his head, his own voice growling something over and over again like a mantra.
All he had been able to extract this far was the word “hurt”, nothing more.
The joy he had felt died and the lump in his throat exploded with coldness. He had to tightly shut his eyes and clench his hands into shaking fists.
No, Rakadra couldn’t have left some kind of… darkness, could he?
As if forced his yellow eyes opened again and he glanced down at Lise who calmly walked by his side, watching the road before them.
No. No, no. Not under any sort of spell would he do that… never.
Grimly he wrestled the thoughts out of his head as good as he could, focusing on the road ahead.
Eventually they reached Rolante and hurried past the stair leading up to the castle, ducking behind the cliff at the other side of the open area.
“Alright,” Lise said in a low voice, glancing up at the building’s spires with a scent of forcefully suppressed longing, “the vicinity where the Father of the Winged Ones is said to live was sealed off long ago to stop the monsters from coming from there. They are fiercer ahead, probably because there’s many secluded cliffs where they have been able to grow stronger in peace.”
She looked back at him and tried to smile a bit as she added:
“Nothing we can’t handle, though.”
Kevin nodded, clenching his teeth against the flashing concern that came alive again as Lise spoke of danger.
She turned to the cliff and ran her hand over the stones, finally reaching into a crack and pulling at something. The half blood almost jumped as another part of the stonewall moved aside to unveil that there was more path to use.
After glancing up one last time Lise went into the closed world, and Kevin followed.
The princess pulled some other hidden lever on the other side, and the cliff moved back with surprisingly little sound. Before she moved on the amazon freed the spear from her back.
They hadn’t come very far before a harpy’s screech slashed through the wind, and the source of the sound dived down from a ledge above the travelers. It was almost twice as big as the other beasts of the same kind on the other side of the blocking cliff.
Lise’s spear whirled in her hands and the monster was sent several feet ahead. It managed to keep flying, bleeding and very, very angry. Its cold, enraged eyes were set on the princess; the claws twitched, longing for flesh to tear apart…
And it was dead.
Kevin confusedly watched the corpse that laid on the ground before him, his bloodied hands starting to shake by his own force when clenching them, trying to dry them on the path and only getting them disgustingly muddy.
To say that the harpy was a mess was to make an understatement. He had slammed it almost flat against the ground with his bare hands. Well, it was at least partly slammed completely flat…
He slowly stood up, his fists still shaking as he looked around. Lise silently watched him, her spear in both hands.
“Gah… sorry…” he muttered, awkwardly.
He didn’t know what to say, didn’t know what was happening. So he just shook his head.
“Let’s just continue,” Lise finally said.
Kevin let out a slow breath and waited for her to come up beside him before he began to walk again as well, rubbing his hands against each other to get rid of the sludge of heavy sand and blood.
It happened again… something just crashed inside of him and he lost his mind. Just… fighting. In cold blood.
But he couldn’t remember finding any pleasure in the slaughtering during his trances. Well, he couldn’t remember anything at all, except that growling of his own voice. And… anger. Pure anger.
And he couldn’t do anything about it.
The thoughts spun around in his head, he lost track of how many times he altered them as his legs continued to carry him forward without him really noticing it.
“Hey, look,” Lise suddenly said, ripping him from the dark pool of a troubled mind.
She was pointing out over the cliffs. Kevin looked up.
Somehow they had gotten above the lower mountaintops, and could now see…
The whole world, it seemed.
Could even see that the horizon was rounded, divinely blue… embraced by the lavender sky with its tender white clouds, caressing the planet below. There was a small vision of purple in the lavender; the sun was beginning to sink.
It was… enormous. They were too far up to see anything specifically; a few blurred areas of darker blue-green had to be landmasses. It all looked so small from the incredibly high mountains, and huge at the same time. Vision and knowledge battling to grasp what the eyes saw.
“It beautiful,” Kevin murmured, at the overwhelming sight suddenly wrapped up in blessed tranquil.
“It really is…” Lise agreed in a low voice.
They stood like that for a moment, just watching the fantastic scenery as it grew deeper in color and slowly began to fade to gold as the sun kept sinking towards the welcoming valve.
‘Like his eyes…’ the princess found herself thinking.
She glanced at Kevin. He looked much calmer again, completely different from the distressed young man he had been a while ago. Maybe there wasn’t such a need for worries after all, at least not for now…
A moment later he sighed a little, not bitterly. Just of some sort of relief, it seemed to Lise. Then he looked around, and his eyebrows twitched a little. She followed his gaze and found that Rolante’s spires almost were out of sight, much more far away than she had believed. Had they traveled that long, already?
Well, she had been lost in thought really. Worrying about Kevin’s rage, wondering if they’d find the one they sought for, hoping that Elliot was alright, pondering where Hawk could be and if he was safe, trying to keep her mind at being on guard for monsters and most of all fighting to ignore the stubborn, icily soft feeling in her stomach. It just refused to disappear…
“Will be dark soon,” Kevin suddenly said and turned his head at her, “continue tomorrow?”
He motioned at the steep cliffs and the thinning path ahead to make his point clear. To keep moving in darkness wouldn’t be a good idea.
Lise nodded in agreement.
“Let’s find some kind of lean-to in the cliffs, it’ll probably be cold tonight.”
Funny really… she’d thought that at this height the wind would be harsher and the air much thinner…
‘Could Jinn be helping out?’
She smiled a little bit as the wind made a twirl that playfully cascaded at her face. Whether that was natural or a “yes” from the guardian spirit it left a feeling of safety. The breath of her homeland; it was Rolante’s soul and pride.
The two settled for a natural alley between two big chunks of cliff that would protect them from most of the winds. After they had scouted the surroundings for monsters they set up their bedrolls and sat down, watching the fantastical sunset growing in size and beauty while they ate their usual travel-dinner.
Bread, cheese and dried meat was getting really old by now, but there wasn’t much else to choose from that suited the journeys through non civilized areas.
But right then, neither Lise nor Kevin cared that much. The scenery that nature offered them was too enrapturing.
As the first star was lit on the deepening sky Lise leaned back against the cliff, trying to give the peace she felt time to heal her troubled mind. But the stone felt too cold, so she stood up momentarily to free her blanket and wrap it around her shoulders.
“Cold?” Kevin asked from his seat on his own bedroll, a couple of feet in front of her as she leaned back again.
“Not too badly, thanks anyway…” she mumbled and closed her eyes.
Maybe she fell asleep for a moment, she didn’t really know. But if so, only for a short while. Because when she woke up due to a hissed screech she could clearly see the three harpies outside of the alley, and their glaring at Kevin. So it was still not that late.
“Friends of that first harpy, maybe…” Lise muttered with a sigh and reached for her spear.
The blanket fell off her as she stood up at the same time as Kevin did.
“Wait until now for attack because they think we’re tired and weaker now…” he grunted.
Lise had to smirk at Kevin’s statement. He clenched his fists and his howl was almost deafening since the corridor was a fine example of nature’s own speaker system. Just the echo brought off the edge of the harpies’ determination; seeing a full grown werewolf straightening up was about enough.
With the howl still living strongly between the cliffs Kevin released his fists with a twitch of his fingers. This freed his two inch claws.
That was enough. The monsters fled.
“They’re obviously intelligent,” Lise commented.
Kevin grinned and made his claws disappear again.
“But my ears hurt now,” he grimaced, sheepishly rubbing his head.
“Ow…” Lise said, compassionately looking at his long, obviously sensitive ears, “but at least we’ll hopefully be left alone after that.”
She suddenly frowned and tilted her head.
“You didn’t go berserk this time…”
“No… no, I didn’t?”
They exchanged confused and thoughtful glances.
“Did you feel different from before as you saw them?” Lise asked, pointing after the harpies.
Kevin shock his head. Maybe he was frowning, she couldn’t tell in the falling dusk.
“No,” he finally said, “just didn’t get angry like before. Maybe… maybe because me tired, not ready for battle. If so, no spell?”
“If your theory is true I’d doubt that Rakadra has any sort of trick left in you.”
There was a good deal of relief in both their voices.
Lise sat down on her bedroll again, placing the spear across her lap. It was getting really dark now, but one of the half moons shone down between the stone walls accompanied by the twinkling stars. Which in turn made dark sight possible.
“I could take the first guard,” she offered while absentmindedly reaching up to remove the coronet.
“If want to, fine with me.”
She almost dropped her tiara when a pair of warm, softly furry hands stroke along the lower sides of her jaw from behind. The still warm blanket fell over her arms; he was draping it back around her again.
“Thanks…” she managed to whisper.
“Ah… nothing, gah…” Kevin replied, shyly mumbling.
Somehow Lise’s hand remembered to grab the edges of the cloth not to let it fall off her.
The half blood edged over to his own bedroll and laid down between the blankets. But it took quite some time before he managed to fall asleep.
Because of the cliffs they were pretty much safe from the wind. But parts of it still managed to sweep inside, catching the smell of Lise and spread her fine scent over the whole little room.
The sad happiness was caressing its roaring way through his whole being, and he found it nothing but pleasant whether he understood what it was or not.