Those not chosen by the fairy Part 7
It was too light.
With a low groan Lise tried to lift her hand to cover her eyes, finding that she hardly could move her arm. It felt so incredibly heavy for some reason… her head too.
Hard to think…
A soft mumble of a familiar voice, sounded like the person was just waking up. Movement… Kevin…?
Slowly she managed to fight her eyes open and found his golden crystals watching her, filled with worries. But why… she couldn’t remember…
“Wh-what…” she slurred, finding that her tongue was hard to control as well.
One of his big hands came to her cheek, and as his warm arm moved away from the spot of her that it had been warming Lise shuddered of the realization of how cold she felt. Immediately Kevin’s other arm -placed under her neck- gently pushed against her back to get her closer to him. In compare he felt boiling hot, but it was welcome.
“It’s alright, Lise,” he murmured, “you be fine.”
A hissed breath rasped her throat as the memories came crashing down and her eyes widened in horror. Carefully Kevin’s hand moved down to confine her fingers as they without any strength clumsily fumbled for her neck.
“Shh-sh…” he whispered, shaking his head and tenderly drawing her closer, “Wisp took care of poison. Not dangerous.”
Lise shuddered again and buried her face against his chest, somehow managing to draw her knees upwards to her stomach in order to retain the little warmth she could assemble. As she did, Kevin let go of her hand and reached down to collect the blanket and wrap the loose piece of it around her.
“Thanks…” she whispered, still stuttering a bit.
He didn’t speak, just warmly grunted something. His hand came back to her cheek, the pointing finger carefully caressing her chilly skin. She more saw than really felt it, feeling numb all over. Forcefully, if that was the word in her state, Lise pinched her eyes shut and bit her lower lip against the tears that threatened to explode from within.
She felt so helpless and exhausted as she laid there, and that fused with the tenderness from Kevin made it almost overwhelming. So tired that she just wanted to cry…
No, no, no, no…
“It’s alright, Lise,” Kevin mumbled.
“No…” she more or less groaned, “I p-promised I wou-wouldn’t cry again…”
‘No, I can’t cry… please don’t make me, I can’t…’
“Nothing wrong, I cried before too,” he said in a slightly indistinct whisper, “thought Jagan killed you…”
Lise trembled, biting her lower lip again for more than holding back tears.
“Shh,” he mumbled, still stroking her cheek, “just rest now.”
Inwardly he sighed, feeling the smell of her weak tension as she fought not to weep. He knew that she’d probably feel much better if she would just let it out, yet also knew that she wouldn’t allow herself such a “sign of weakness”. But suppressing all her pain…
Kevin held back a wish to shake his head.
She’d always done that, sooner or later she’d have to let go or break down. He’d just have to make sure he was around whenever either happened. By the way… was there even any difference?
Subconsciously he drew her closer again.
‘I’ll be there, I promise.’
He drew back a little and met her tired gaze.
“Wh-what about you? And the Flame Kh-khan, Wisp and the stone…” Lise hoarsely asked.
Kevin shook his head and gently placed his fingertips over her lips.
“Stop worry,” he grimly and at the same time tenderly ordered, “you hurt, let us worry for you now.”
‘Please stop that, I don’t want to cry…’ Lise thought, her throat a burning knot.
She wasn’t sure whether she imagined Kevin’s light sigh or not.
“Haven’t checked on the Kahn,” he muttered, “Wisp is fine. Karl and birds helped us drive Jagan away.”
“The stone was…” Lise whispered.
“Yeah. We couldn’t do anything, no blame.”
“We killed the demons…”
“They kill us otherwise. No more now, Lise. You rest.”
She was pretty sure that he kissed her forehead, but couldn’t feel it. However his mane swung in over her face and created a thin curtain against the sunlight. And with Kevin’s hand moving up to fully shadow her eyes the dusk was enough for her to be able to sleep again. Very slowly Lise relaxed, afraid that if she did it too quickly then she wouldn’t be able to contain the stupid tears anymore.
Finally the tension left her and her breath deepened as she fell back into the slumber she needed. Kevin shook his head, silently watching the amazon princess.
She was still very pale, of course… even though the shadow of his hand made her skin seem a bit darker. Now there was only peacefulness about her as the sun played with her hair and turned it into golden silk.
When she looked like that, she was breathtakingly beautiful. But at the same time, it was a fake beauty. She had no strength; she was weakened and Lise could not be herself if she couldn’t be the strong woman she really was.
And she was still pushing herself, even though she didn’t have the power.
And apart from that…
Kevin closed his eyes and battled the hateful growl that wanted to break through his bounds and take over him completely.
‘When I get my hands on that damn vampire…!’
When he finally looked up after the inner wrestling match against his own hate, he found Wisp and Karl silently watching him.
“Yeah?” Kevin said, trying to smile a little.
“They’ll both be fine, the danger is over now,” the elemental warmly said, “it’ll take a day or so before the Kahn wakes up properly though.”
The young half blood breathed out deeply of relief. Even if Lise had come awake he had still been a bit worried.
“But I was thinking,” Wisp said, a bit sheepishly, “you’ve only got bread and dried meat for food, right?”
“Yeah,” Kevin grimly agreed, “won’t do.”
‘Shh, relax. Too excited.’
‘Don’t worry, concentrate…’
The night was still apart from the whispering of wind in the trees and the peaceful sound of the pouring water in the river.
‘Yes, I feel it too. Well done.’
The moons shed their silvery light over the ancient plateau where the holy kingdom of Light once had been, weakly illuminating leaves in trees and bushes. And on the ground many curvy, almost round things that in the darkness might as well have been rocks.
Without the slightest warning two shadows, one smaller and one much bigger, exploded from the bushes. Claws slashed through the night and through flesh several times before a warning screech was heard and the still mobile birds fled towards the dark sky in panic.
‘Easy!’ Karl snorted, proudly holding his prey between his teeth.
‘You did well,’ Kevin smiled, assembling the two wild geese he had managed to get before the rest fled.
Apart from the fact that his instincts at first made an attempt to make him eat his quarry right away, raw and with the feathers, the hunt was a success. These geese and their ancestors had been living on the plateau for ages, and with no enemies around they had grown fat and careless; easy preys.
Still Kevin did not like killing, especially not if the killed never had a chance of defending themselves, but he was a beastman and hunting was in his blood.
Plus, the fact that he was hunting for Lise’s sake and also taught Karl how to do it in the process lit some kind of instinctual feeling of pride within him.
There were a few screeches and swooshing sounds from above while the couple on the ground walked back towards the camp. The two birds from the Moonlight forest were also hungry.
Very slowly she managed to sit up, wrapping the blanket around her with still weak but a bit stronger fingers. As she did, Kevin looked around. He was sitting by a campfire in his werewolf form, guarding a couple of headless and drawn birds which were being roasted on a stick above the flames.
“Good hunt?” the princess said and even managed to smile a bit though her voice still was hoarse.
She felt much better now, feeding a strong suspicion that Wisp had been filling her up with healing energy while she slept.
“Yeah, Wisp tell me and Karl about geese,” Kevin said as he stood up and walked over to her, “you and Kahn need better food.”
“That’s sweet of you,” Lise smiled, “look, I feel better. Really.”
The last was added as he sat down and put one arm around her shoulders and the other hand behind her head, gently pushing/laying her back on the bedroll again.
“Won’t be better quicker if starting to move too fast,” he pointed out.
Once again some far back part of the vanadis’ head was amazed that she didn’t fear having a big hairy head equipped with a crazy set of fangs just a few inches from her face.
She reached up and buried her fingers in the silken hair of what probably was Kevin’s cheek. Which proved true as he carefully reverted his transformation, somehow managing to keep the light down.
“I hate being weak,” Lise muttered in a low voice.
“I know. Be sick instead,” the half blood softly replied.
She had to chuckle a bit at the tender matter-of-factly tone in his voice.
“But I hate that too,” she said.
“Don’t think wound cares.”
Fondly Lise stroke the warmly reddish cheek.
‘I should get nervous or something, he’s bending over me and holding me like… but I’m not,’ the far back part thought, warmly.
She smiled back when Kevin did so as well, probably feeling the smell of her tenderness born from his care. He bent his neck a bit a placed a light kiss on her lips before reluctantly letting go and straightening up.
“Can’t let dinner get burned,” he grunted.
Lise nodded understandingly and watched him as he went back to the fire and sat down there again.
The thought of him going hunting felt a little alien… but he did for the sake of her and the Kahn. The princess warmly smiled to herself, not saying anything as she kept looking at the half blood.
There was a happy snorting sound and a warm furryness nudged at her back. Just as Lise was about to roll over and reach out to stroke Karl’s fur the pup strutted around her head and curled up against her stomach and chest with a yawn. The warmth was welcome since Kevin had left.
“You’ve still got feathers here,” Lise friendly chastised the young wolf and carefully, slowly removed the pieces of bird from his paws and face.
Karl just snorted again.
“Was his first hunt,” Kevin said with fondness, “he did well.”
“I’m sure he did,” Lise smiled and scratched Karl’s ears, “do you hear that? You’re almost a grown wolf now, and a strong one too.”
Whether Karl’s delighted whimper and bark was for the compliment or Lise’s scratching was yet to be determined. The main point was that he was feeling great; proud over his success in hunting and having someone stroke and scratch him.
And Kevin felt guilty… watching Lise tenderly caress Karl’s fur the son of Beast King couldn’t help but feel a bit jealous.
Of a wolf. Get a grip…
“How are you, princess?” a familiar, singing voice concernedly said.
Both the humans and the wolf looked up at a transparent, chubby figure.
“Hello, Jinn,” Lise said and smiled, a bit surprised, “I’m getting better, thanks.”
“I told him what had happened and he got worried so I called him here,” Wisp explained, floating beside his companion.
“I have to check on my warriors, you know,” the Wind spirit said.
“Thanks,” the princess said with a smile, “how’s Rolante?”
“Oh, they’re doing fine. The rebuilding is going well. At this pace the biggest damage should be repaired by the start of autumn, luckily. The stone cutters in Palo found a new place with good stone up in the caves now that the wind god statues can be controlled again.”
“That’s great. Will you please tell everyone that I’m alright, Jinn?”
“Right away,” the chubby spirit smiled and nodded to Kevin, “just wanted to take a look on the two of you. Take care now.”
And he vanished after hearing their goodbyes.
Lise smiled for a moment longer, then she turned to Wisp and the lighthearted look decayed.
“I’m sorry about the stone,” the princess said.
The holy elemental shook.
“You couldn’t have done more than you did and at least you’re alive.”
“But what if the god beasts are released and Duran fails?” Lise concernedly asked.
“There’s not much we can do but trust them, and I am certain that troop could take on anything if they just wanted to,” Wisp said in a calming voice, “once they get the sword of Mana nothing will be able to stop them.”
“Lise, stop worry.”
Kevin’s warm arms encircled her waist and shoulders, drawing her up to his chest as he lay down behind her.
“Don’t worry,” he muttered into her hair, “everything will be alright.”
“But Kevin, I…”
“You worry too much, princess,” Wisp agreed, “it’s not good to do that, especially not in your state. Don’t make me ask Dryad to put you to sleep until you’re healed.”
Lise watched the grim elemental with a sigh, closing her fingers around Kevin’s hand by her shoulder. He gently rolled her over on her other side and drew her closer still.
“You’re mean,” she mumbled as she moved her arms around the half blood’s neck, “not letting me do what I do best…”
“Care just for yourself now, Lise,” Kevin stated, “we’ll worry, not you.”
‘Why you… I don’t want to cry…’
“I’ll… I’ll try,” she muttered in a peculiar voice even though she fought to keep it normal.
“Good,” Wisp said and floated away, probably only because he wanted to give the two warriors their privacy.
Karl curled up against Lise’s back after her earlier movement had caused him to stand for a moment.
In the dusk only torn by the dancing fire it was hard to see properly, but it didn’t matter that much either. Kevin didn’t say anything, but his right hand’s fingers slowly massaged the foundation of Lise’s neck through the tunic’s cloth. The relaxing kneading of her muscles managed to make the princess for another precious moment let go of all the whirling thoughts and concerns for Elliot, Rolante, all the time that would be wasted because of her need to rest…
“You’re good at that,” she mumbled with closed eyes, without noticing bowing her head a little to give Kevin better access to her back.
“Beastmen know relaxing muscles after training and battle is as important as strength,” the half blood replied with a small smile that turned into a frown as he moved his hands a few inches lower, “you got knots like fists here.”
“Ow! No kidding…” Lise hissed while Kevin quickly eased the push that had caused her wince.
Though knowing that pressing the nerve tie out of existence and letting the pain be there at the time was the most efficient way, the prince felt abhorrence at the possibility to harm Lise. Anyway… doing it more carefully would take longer, but did they have anything better to do at the time? In fact, this situation didn’t exactly feel unpleasant.
“Hm…” the amazon princess mumbled and shifted a little, hooking up her left hand on Kevin’s shoulder and rubbing the area of his back that she could reach with her three longest fingers.
Kevin grunted as she drove her fingertips down at a stone inside his back.
“You’re not much better than me,” Lise pointed out and gently circled the spot with the little strength she could use for the matter.
“True,” he had to admit.
Her back almost squeaked in protest when his hand left it. But it was just for the short moment he needed to catch her arm and with care place it along her side.
“I take care of you now,” Kevin kindly stated, “you can massage me later.”
Normally Lise probably would have protested with that she could wait instead, but right then just lying there in the warmly lit up dusk and having a set of strong fingers erase all tension and troubled thoughts felt all too alluring.
“Alright…” she mumbled, leaning her forehead against his collarbones.
Kevin softly smiled and put his hand back against her tunic.
For a while the biggest trouble he had was to keep his arm from knocking into Karl’s sleeping form while working on the princess’ uptight nerves.
“I think the geese are ready,” Wisp reluctantly announced after a handful of minutes, unwilling to disturb the tender moment but also knowing it wouldn’t be fun if the food got burned black.
Kevin sighed when letting go of Lise again, but she shook her head to show that it was alright. While her dear friend walked back to the fire to finish preparing the meal she slowly sat up and stretched a little to make her muscles return from the dreamland.
Goddess, that had been needed… after just that short time she felt much better. At least her neck and back, the strength had yet to be recovered.
Carefully taking the fairly straight stick from its placement between two roughly Y-shaped branches stuck in the ground on either side of the fire, Kevin moved the geese to hang between a second pair of Y-twigs to keep the meal from the ground.
There was a low, zipping sound and using the fact that it was nighttime the half blood beastman grew his nails into fierce claws. Just in order to rip off pieces of roasted meat from one of the birds without burning himself. He put the food on one of three big leaves waiting on the ground and went over to the sleeping/unconscious Flame Kahn. Wisp followed him and sent a shower of healing stars over the older man. The leader of the ninjas slowly sat up, his eyes just partly opened.
“Here,” Kevin said and offered the Kahn the leaf.
“Mgh… thanks…” a slurring voice mumbled.
Slightly shaking hands took the improvised plate.
“I’ll take care of him,” Wisp kindly said.
“Is he awake?” Kevin wondered, watching the Kahn move like a zombie while slowly eating.
“Let’s just say he’s starting to be awake. It’s a sort of drug spell he’s been exposed to.”
The half blood grimly nodded and went back to the waiting geese. A few minutes later he sat beside Lise on her bedroll, both of them enjoying something different to eat for a change. Kevin hadn’t exactly had much to spice the birds with, but just eating something else than bread and dried meat again was definitely refreshing.
After they had eaten Kevin supported Lise over to the river to wash their hands and drink a little. She could walk, but was very shaky so the help was needed.
“Don’t have to be strong all the time,” the half blood pointed out as he noticed Lise’s frustrated smell in the dusk, “you told me.”
“Hmm?” the vanadis said, turning to him while trying to shake the water off her hands.
“On the ship, after Rakadra.”
Lise had to go through her memory bank for a moment. The anger over the way Kevin had been treated by the humans, rage against the half demon and sheer frustration towards the possible suitors clouded her mind at the point.
But yeah, she’d said that, hadn’t she…
With a sigh she lowered her hands to her lap.
‘I see now, it’s not that helpful…’
“Well, thanks,” she said in a low voice.
She looked up at him again and tried a smile.
“You don’t seem as controlled by hatred against Rakadra now,” she pointed out.
Kevin slowly shook his head.
“No, he’s dead…”
‘And I’ll make sure he stays that way too, should I have to go to Hell and throw his soul deeper down!’
“… But I will kill Jagan.”
“And what about me?” Lise said, putting her slightly chilly hand on his cheek before slipping her arms around his neck as he spoke.
“Can kill him together.”
They both moved closer, helped by each other’s tender arms.
“I know you’re mad, I understand,” the vanadis mumbled with her cheek against his, “but don’t let the hatred take over.”
“No, never again,” Kevin growled.
Lise’s fingers pleasantly, slowly played with the foundation of his mane on the back of the half blood’s head while he spoke.
“Lost mind in Moonlight forest when hear Deathjester,” he snarled, “we both could have died.”
The princess shook her head and straightened up to lightly kiss him in the darkness. It seemed like clouds had swallowed the moons now, and the campfire was shrouded behind the bushes. But the vanadis could still see her dear friend’s silhouette.
“You prevailed, Kevin,” Lise softly said.
“Failed you with Jagan,” he bitterly pointed out, their lips brushing against each other for the first couple of words until he drew back as if he felt unwanted.
“No, no… I’m right here, aren’t I?” the princess said with a concerned frown.
Kevin let out a deep breath and his hand came to her cheek, one finger gently caressing her face.
“I get afraid,” he said in a low voice, “lost Karl, lost friends…”
“You got us back…” Lise softly mumbled.
“I know, but…”
He shook his head before he could continue.
“… Fear to loose you, gah…”
The dusk made it impossible for Lise to properly see the half blood’s face, but she gently pushed his head forwards to lean his forehead against hers.
“It’s alright, Kevin, I’m afraid to loose you too,” she said in a low voice.
For a moment all that was heard was the whispering sound of Kevin releasing a deep breath.
“When I went berserk before, by Maia and in forest,” he mumbled, slowly and almost stumbling on the words as he sought for the right ones, “was because Rakadra hurt you, I couldn’t help. Then other monsters wanted to attack you, and… I was afraid and angry. So I attack.”
‘He didn’t even touch me in compare to what he did to you for heaven’s sake,’ Lise bitterly thought but kept from saying it.
Not finding any words suitable for comfort she just hugged him closer and buried one hand in his thick mane.
His grip of her tightened, carefully but firmly. Lise kept stroking his hair as he did so, the distant feeling of his heartbeat through his torn shirt and her tunic sending a tickling warmth into her chest.
‘This is dangerous…’ some anxious part in the back of her head piped up.
Oh will you ever shut it, Duty?
Lise forcefully closed her eyes in frustration at the stupid little voice and fully leaned at the prince of the Beast kingdom with a sigh.
‘Don’t you try it!’ Lise snarled back at the panicked memory that Duty tried to summon against Kevin’s embrace.
The vampire’s arms had been colder than ice, there was no possibility she’d be able to draw a line between the two.
Yet when Kevin’s warm hand slowly stroke her hair she couldn’t ignore the goose bumps appearing on her arms and had to see the warning for what it was.
“Come on, let’s go back there,” she muttered, cursing her own personality for not allowing herself a moment’s longer tenderness just because something unplanned could happen, and by submitting to Duty’s warning probably making Kevin feel pushed away in the process.
But he just nodded and his grip loosened. Still, that made Lise feel even more guilty, anxious about worrying him unnecessarily.
Just what the heck did Duty think could happen anyway? Wisp, the Kahn, the birds and Karl were all around, it wasn’t like there was any privacy… and in any case, Lise knew she was still weakened and Kevin wouldn’t ever try anything he didn’t know she’d approve to.
‘Idiotic hyperactive… huh?’
All of a sudden Lise found herself above the ground, securely held between the beastman’s arms. Kevin backed through the bushes to save her face from the twigs with his own body.
For a moment the princess considered protesting that she wasn’t that in need of help, but thought better of it and hung her right arm around the carrier’s neck with a warm little smile.
When tracking down facts, perhaps both of the warriors had a little bit of romantics within.
Carefully Kevin sat down on one knee on his bedroll, placing Lise on her own simple mattress. They exchanged glances and chuckled at the situation they just had gone through.
“That was sweet of you,” Lise smiled at him.
And she chuckled again when he got that shy look back at her remark.
Straightening up she moved her hand to the back of his head and gently pressed her lips against his.
“What?” he mumbled, smiling as he hugged her tighter again.
“You’re just adorable when you give me that look,” the vanadis tenderly replied, moving her head back a little to be able to speak properly.
“Now you’re doing it again.”
They looked at each other and laughed for a second time, just hugging.
And not even Duty could make itself heard when facing the power of Kevin’s shyness.
“Aww, they’re so cute!” Wisp whispered, watching from the spiritual plane where he was invisible for mortals but could communicate freely with those of his elemental friends that had been assembled by the fairy.
“Have to agree on that,” Luna warmly smiled, “I’m so proud of Kevin.”
The others glanced at her and smiled to themselves. Their sister of the Moon was perhaps not really as present as it would appear.
“Still, I think they should consider care,” Shade pointed out in his usual emotionless voice, “I have noticed that humans tend to face difficulties when lost to feelings.”
“Point there, oh dark one,” Gnome agreed, his normally permanent grin faltering in concern for a moment.
Jinn shook his head.
“They are aware of it, you know,” he pointed out and scratched his head, “and trying to struggle.”
“It won’t work,” Shade flatly said, “remember Richard and Valda?”
“Oi, oi, oi, oi…”
Gnome and Undine exchanged rather tired glances, thinking of the rulers of their countries. They too had been pushed onto a quest in their youth, just like their daughter now went with Duran and Carlie. It had been the first battle between the crown prince of Forcena and the Dragon Emperor, but not the last. Valda had not been able to help him during the next journey however, as she needed to take her place as the Queen of Reason in Altena, and mother of Angela.
“Shade is right…” Luna calmly said.
She turned to Wisp.
“… And it’s your job to talk with them.”
“Wh… excuse me?!” the elemental of Light choked.
“They’re in your vacancy. And you’re the only one with a spell that can help,” Luna said with Arceia’s mercilessness.
The rest of the divine group nodded with more or less hidden, teasing smiles.
Wisp sunk towards the ground with a groan, his flames getting a hint of pink.
The sun was peeking up above the horizon in the east, to its relief once again finding that the world still was there.
Kevin looked up to watch the rising colors on the sky. The trees and cliffs were in the way for him to see the sun itself, but the sky naturally spread out above him, Karl, Lise, the birds and the Flame Kahn. Clouds in purple floated on the divine fire up there, spreading out like angel wings against the blue to the west.
As Kevin’s hands stopped moving against her back Lise turned over and followed his soft gaze, smiling at the beauty above. Putting her arms under her head she laid on the muscles that were almost buzzing softly after the relaxing treatment they had received.
Karl was still sleeping, happy after his hunt and full of the duck he had caught. In any case he was colorblind, so seeing the sunrise hadn’t meant much to him anyway.
Eventually all colors began to fade to blue and white, but it was allowed to take the time it needed for it.
Kevin shifted and stretched out with a yawn as the colors almost had faded completely.
“How are your hands after that?” Lise asked in a low voice, still lying with her head on her arms.
“Thanks, it felt great. I really needed a massage. And you’re good at it.”
“Ah…” Kevin mumbled and scratched his neck, another soft chuckle from Lise telling him that he’d managed that expression she loved again.
Well if she liked it he wouldn’t have to feel bad about being so shy anymore…
That thought was lightly said relieving.
She was truly beautiful again as she laid there, smiling up at him. She didn’t exactly have all her strength back but thanks to Wisp it was already a lot better.
The shadows of the trees’ leaves and the sunlight played over her skin, tunic and hair, high lightening every little detail while her chest slowly moved by every breath and moved the tunic’s cloth over her body.
‘Oh, this isn’t going to end well…’ Kevin thought and desperately tried to look away.
He struggled against the almost irresistible urge to lie down beside Lise and kiss her, for right then he didn’t know what would happen if he did so.
Lately, just in the last few days… the thing was that he wasn’t really a boy in his middle teens any longer, because of the Mana power he was more of twenty; grown. So, lately he sometimes could become worried about how strongly he felt for Lise.
Can’t look away, so beautiful when she smiles…
He tried to mentally slap himself and managed to command his body to stand up.
“Be back soon, alright?” he muttered and walked away, through the bushes towards the river and the ruins.
Lise slowly got up into a sitting position, pulled up her knees to her chest and fondly looked after Kevin. Not that she could see him with all the leaves in the way.
But after a moment her smile faded.
‘I’ll have suitors when I come back to Rolante… whether or not he wants to come with me.’
Earlier the thought had troubled her, now it made her feel sick.
She had noticed that the unwritten rule of courtship, even in Rolante as it was custom in other human lands, was that suitors could come even if there already was a fiancé. That was of course due to the fact that nobles sought out the most favorable part so overtime was silently allowed.
‘To Hell with them, I want Kevin and nobody else!’ her mind growled.
It was just that she didn’t even know what he thought of the idea…
Most of all she’d like to get up and find him to ask if he wanted to stay with her in Rolante, but she also knew that whatever privacy he had felt need for she should respect.
‘You want to marry him?’ Duty piped up, ‘how long have you known him?’
‘Several years if you count the time in the Mana stone’s blessing!’ Lise snapped back, ‘and how long would I get to know any suitor?’
‘Exactly, shut up.’
She looked up and smiled at Wisp.
“The same to you, princess.”
The holy elemental lowered a bit and once again cleared his throat, symbolically done of course.
“Say, Lise,” he said in an innocent voice, “want me to cast a spell on you to prevent you from becoming pregnant?”
The vanadis choked down a shout of plain surprise but almost fell over in the process instead.
“Wisp! That’s horrible!” she coughed, trying to catch her breath.
“You’re right but…”
Wisp lowered to the height of her face and kindly, yet with an edge of graveness, met her narrowed eyes.
“… Look, there’s no use tiptoeing around it,” he said, “it’s gonna happen sooner or later. You’re too close to each other, too grown, too much in love. It might not be here since we are all around you, but that won’t last.”
He didn’t give her much to retort with. Lise opened and closed her mouth a couple of times, dumbfounded. Finally she just shook her head.
“It’s still horrible,” she grunted and looked away, “and having you cast such a spell would just be like confirming that…”
“… It’ll happen, yes. I understand.”
“This is really embarrassing for me too, you know,” he pointed out, “but I think it’s necessary.”
‘And so does my buddies and Kevin’s mum…’ the holy elemental grunted in his thoughts, feeling sort of bullied into the situation.
That feeling wasn’t too false either, if you cornered it.
Lise rubbed the back of her neck, without thinking about it mimicking one of Kevin’s ways of giving away embarrassment. When she eventually realized that she let the hand fall with a sigh.
“You might have a point,” she muttered, “but that would sort of… I don’t know, lock the door. I don’t even know if he’d want to be my husband when this is all over.”
‘Did I just speak it out loud? Oh dear.’
“Well, I can’t answer that,” Wisp softly said, glancing towards the bushes, “you’ll have to ask him about it.”
Lise hardly dared to move her gaze aside.
Halfway out of the greenery as if he had frozen in the middle of a step Kevin stood, staring at the ground as he rubbed his neck with one hand. Parts of his mane was glued together into heavy, dropping locks; it seemed like he had been throwing water from the river into his own face.
It was pretty obvious that he had heard a fair chunk of the conversation. Maybe not enough to catch the whole picture but Lise’s last words certainly hadn’t escaped him.
For an excruciatingly stretched moment it seemed like no one was going to move an inch, less look up.
Then the two birds almost simultaneously landed on either side of Kevin and gave him a kind yet resolute push forwards with their wings. He stumbled, nearly trampled on the Flame Kahn’s back but finally ended up sitting before Lise while she nervously shifted to sit on her knees. Her hands hesitantly landed on her lap, which in turn was covered by two layers of cloth with the tunic and blanket.
Of course, a push from the birds wouldn’t help choking any words out of a blank mind.
That was what Karl was there for. Without a warning he woke up, yawned, stretched and happily placed himself on the ground again, this time with his head on Kevin’s lap. The half blood’s hand fell to the fur by itself and he seemed to relax just by touching the puppy. At least his worst tension looked like it left as his shoulders fell a bit and he let out a deep breath.
But he still didn’t dare to look up.
Carefully Lise reached out and buried her fingers in the warmly gray-brown hairs covering the young wolf. The fine, soft fur tickled her hand and the familiar feeling was somehow calming.
Karl watched his human friends without a sound, his tail softly brushing the ground in hopeful expectation.
Inevitably Kevin and Lise’s fingers touched and carefully entwined.
‘Come on, come on, come on, come on!’ Wisp desperately thought as they seemed frozen yet again.
He was out of tricks by now. Couldn’t even call Dryad to suddenly fill the ground with flowers… but in any case such a fairytale thing probably would have taken the wrong turn with these two love birds...
Lise uncomfortably scratched her head with her free hand, struggling with the words.
She would have needed a chance to assemble a lot of courage for this moment, for the love of the goddess…
‘It’s Kevin, for goodness sake! Kevin! What’s this whole panicky thing?’ she tried to tell herself, to little avail.
Kevin fell silent and Lise dared to look up, finding that he was focusing completely on their hands. Feeling somehow better knowing that she lowered her gaze to that area as well.
“You’d want to marry me?” the half blood prince finally managed to force out of his mouth.
“Of course I do.”
As she whispered that Lise barely could hear herself, placing her other hand on the held ones.
“But I can’t leave Rolante so it’s not just that,” she more or less stammered in a more audible voice, “you’d have to be the king of my kingdom…”
Kevin added his last hand to complete the collection.
“Doesn’t matter,” he said and straightened up his neck, causing Lise to follow the movement as she saw it in the corner of her eyes.
He smiled, shyly.
“I could have been king of Beast Kingdom, but I want to be with you.”
It was almost ridiculous how easy the tension melted away, just after letting that out the mountain turned to clouds.
Lise smiled back.
“But me, only fifteen to world,” the half blood pointed out with a frown.
“It’s alright, we’ll probably have much to be taken cared of in Rolante before we can have a wedding. But first we have to find Elliot.”
“Yeah. So you rest now.”
“Yes, yes, I know.”
Lise let go of Kevin’s hands and laid back down, shaking her head with a trace of the smile still left on her lips.
“I’ll rest, fine,” she said, crossing her arms in a mocking of weariness at the whole situation, “in any case we can’t do anything until the Flame Kahn is awake and well too.”
By mentioning the man both of the humans turned their heads in his direction. Two sets of eyebrows went up.
“Wisp, what are you doing?” the vanadis asked.
Not healing stars but what looked like half moons were falling from thin air above the Kahn’s head, disappearing as soon as they touched him. Wisp was floating beside the man, his normally happy eyes narrowed and reddish with intense concentration. As he heard Lise he snapped up and panted for breath (symbolically, of course…). The moons ceased to fall and the Kahn turned over with a grunt.
“Well, I did mention that Dryad is the only one of us who can put people to sleep, didn’t I?” the holy elemental gasped and tiredly thudded onto the ground.
“Yes?” Kevin said.
“Phew… do you know how hard it is to make up a new spell, and that quickly?”
“Why did you do that?” Lise asked, puzzled.
“I had to do something!” Wisp grunted, “the old man was about to wake up at the worst possible time, couldn’t have that now!”
There was a silence.
Then a shared laugh.
“You’re a true hero!” Lise said with a wide grin and gave Wisp a nudge with her hand.
It was like touching a heap of pleasantly warm feathers, not what the princess had expected after seeing him tackle Jagan heads on several times.
“Aww, chucks…” the holy elemental said and turned a bit pink again.
With a groan the Flame Kahn sat up pressing a hand against his head.
“What happened…?” he muttered in a slightly unstable voice.
Wisp got up and flew over to him, giving him a new dose of healing energy instead of sleeping force.
“You were about to get killed by a vampire and a bunch of demons, but we saved you,” the holy elemental informed.
“I was what? Who?”
The elderly ninja blinked at the white flame that watched him with nothing but friendliness.
“I’m Wisp, the elemental of Light,” the one and only tipped.
“I sort of remembered a picture of you and the others…” the Kahn said and rubbed his forehead, “where am I?”
“Old kingdom of Light, no worry,” Kevin said and sat down on the ground a couple of feet away from the man.
“And who are you, then?” the Kahn asked, as politely as possible in his rather confused state.
“I’m Kevin, from the Beast Kingdom. And that’s Lise.”
“From Rolante,” the vanadis carefully said as she sat down beside the half blood.
The Kahn blinked again, then covered his eyes with a hand.
“Oh no, not that Lise, are you?” he groaned.
“Yes. And it’s alright,” she hurriedly said, “I know it was Bigeau… Isabella who controlled everything.”
“I can’t say how sorry I am about what happened, Your Majesty,” the Kahn sadly said, “it’s a tragedy. All I know is that Rolante fell, what happened after that?”
Lise uncomfortably scratched her head, unsure how to tell the Kahn what had occurred. After all, a great chunk of his people had been killed in a war of liberation, and the goddess knew what had happened to those still left in the desert after Jagan had brought the demons into the world.
“I was in exile for a while, but then I returned together with a thief named Hawk…”
“He’s alive?” the Kahn interrupted, a weak smile on his lips.
“Yes, and since he’s not here I must tell you that the thing with your son was a setup by Bigeau.”
The elderly man sadly nodded.
“So I have understood,” he bitterly said and cringed, covering his eyes with his hand again, “and then Jessica…”
“Wisp say Salamando saw her be saved,” Kevin quickly said.
The Kahn’s head swept aside and he stared at the holy elemental, who profusely nodded.
“Yep, your Hawk saved her from right under Bigeau’s nose,” he informed.
“Thank the goddess…”
For a moment the man smiled, then he gravely looked at Lise again.
“So, what happened after you and Hawk came to Rolante?”
The princess shook her head and looked at the ground, unable to face the man when she gave him the painful truth about his people.
“When we got there we learned that there were more survivors than I could have ever hoped for,” she began, “so we joined them in their planning on retaking the castle. With the help of three traveling warriors we gained Jinn’s aid and spread the sleeping flowers over Rolante, using the same tactic as Bigeau. Then we invaded. I’m not sure how many of your warriors were killed, I’m sorry.”
The Kahn’s hand covered his eyes.
“Many fled, however,” Lise quickly added, “there were troops guarding Palo, and I believe the most of them managed to get out after Bigeau’s spell was broken.”
“Don’t feel guilty, it’s not your fault.”
The older man removed his hand and shook his head.
“You did what you had to do and it was the right thing. Not pleasant, but Bigeau had to be stopped. But why are you here now and not in Rolante?” he asked.
“My brother Elliot was kidnapped during the first attack,” the vanadis explained, “and I need to find him. You didn’t happen to see a blind boy in Navarre while you were there?”
However there wasn’t much hope in the question, considering the man’s state up till now. And he shook his head.
“I hardly knew if I was alive while I was imprisoned,” he sadly said, “I’m sorry, Your Majesty.”
“Call me Lise, I’m not even crowned queen yet…”
The Kahn tried a smile but didn’t manage very well.
“So tell me, how on earth did you end up in the kingdom of Light?”
It took quite a while to explain that, as you surely understand…
Another day had passed. She had been tired through most of it but managed to stay awake, mostly thanks to all the events taking place. First that thing with Wisp’s question, and then the proposal and finally the Kahn waking up. It was just fine that her day rhythm was mended, after the last days it had been pretty much wrecked with her sleeping almost all the time.
But now that she was supposed to sleep she found it hard. Typical.
Well, they had told the Kahn everything, and decided to head for the desert to try to find Hawk and Jessica as soon as possible. The transportation problem would be solved as their fellow elemental would give his Moon sister a call and ask her to send another bird for the new traveler.
According to Wisp Salamando believed that the thief and desert princess were in the village of Deen, he didn’t think that in the state the woman had been in they’d dare to travel further. There was no telling if she had recovered; the spirit of Fire had enough troubles trying to reach out of his closest area, so he couldn’t watch very well over the more peaceful creatures of his lands. The demons’ presence was giving him a headache.
To Navarre then. But what they would do in the desert was still not fully planned, still there were nowhere else they could go now. It was the only stronghold of the demons that they knew.
But what could be done… storming the fortress seemed a bit too much of a mouthful…
Lise rolled onto her side to watch Kevin’s face in the darkness, trying to stop the troubling thoughts from taking over. Her eyes had gotten used to the dusk long ago and she had no troubles seeing him clearly. Looking at his peaceful face she warmly smiled, a tender sparkle spreading throughout her body at the sight.
There would still be suitors, but she wouldn’t have to worry about that as much anymore. He really did want her…
Carefully she reached out but stopped before her fingers touched Kevin’s face. No, she didn’t want to wake him up, no matter how alluring the will to caress his cheek was.
A careful glow came out of thin air, the light hardly adding anything to the soft moonlight. Lise threw a glance upwards and gave Wisp a small smile as he watched her for a moment.
‘How about that spell?’ he softly whispered to her mind.
Used to it as he had done so before Lise wasn’t exactly surprised.
She watched Kevin’s features that seemed to glow in the light from the three moons, and she found herself fondly smiling.
At night the ocean of sand turned rather chilly, but it was better than the boiling heat during day. Every breath of the clean, technically morning air made Hawk feel more refreshened.
Jessica was finally getting better and he had been able to get some decent sleep in the past days. Things were looking brighter, if not completely solved. He still had no idea what he should do next. Or if he even was going to do anything at all, or simply stay with Jessica and make sure she was safe. He’d gladly do that but at the same time he felt restless, worried about a certain werewolf and amazon.
On the other hand the chances of him finding the two of them were slim. Not that that fact got his mind off the concern.
If he hadn’t been dragged away from Rolante that fateful day Jessica might have died in the valley of Flames, yet… he felt guilty for Lise’s sake.
The sun wouldn’t rise in another half an hour or so, therefore he could still enjoy how easy it was to breathe fresh air. Funny how twisted the climate of the desert was.
Many had already went inside again to get ready for the next day in the heated land; most people preferred to sleep during the first part of the day to avoid the worst heat. Inside the warmth was less tormenting as shadows could be found and the homes were build by humans accustomed to the heat and had thought of ways to keep it down.
Lazily kicking at a pebble on the ground he let his thoughts wander back to the query of what he should do next. He’d really want to know how the rest of the world was doing; Deen was still isolated because of the vicious ninjas and monsters. But Hawk regarded the fact that there still were humanoid desert warrior out there as a good sign. At least that meant that more people of his clan were still alive and not eaten by demons.
If there only there was something he could do to release them from the spell that kept them hypnotized!
Sighing he straightened up and stretched a bit. No use getting a headache about it…
‘What to do, what to do… aw, shut up!’
He frowned and rubbed his forehead, frustrated wandering out into the village just to get something else on his mind.
Jessica was safe… and a fair group of ninjas too, including Nikita. Good. And Lise was safe at least last he saw her, after all. Kevin was the goddess knows where…
‘And I’m okay…’ Hawk thought, trying to cheer himself up, ‘I don’t know where that brings me, though. What to do…?’
He turned around and narrowed his eyes against the dark sky. Could have sworn the voice came from there…
There was a swooshing sound and somebody landed just before him from out of nowhere. The light from the few torches of the village and the moons was just enough to reveal a familiar armored person.
“Drake tails, Lise?!” Hawk choked, helplessly blinking stupidly.
In the next moment he found himself pulled into a hug and out of breath. Oi, hadn’t thought that she was that strong… and her armor wasn’t too comfortable to be squashed against.
“I’m so glad to see you again!” she said with a short, warm laugh and let go of him, still holding his shoulders however.
“Can’t say anything else myself,” Hawk replied, widely grinning as he caught up with his breathing, “what on earth are you doing here? Where did you come from?”
Before Lise had time to reply two more shadows thumped down from the night sky, one of them straightening up to tower behind the amazon like a hunching storm cloud.
For a moment the thief was about to drop dead, until his eyes remembered that they had well enough light to use for seeing. And his brain also found the correct image.
“Kevin?” he choked in surprise but then grinned.
“Hello again, Hawk,” the slightly growling voice said.
It sounded stronger and less shy than Hawk recalled. However the thief was too happy to see his two friends again to care about that.
“By Salamando, I had never thought I’d see you guys again!”
Three gigantic birds landed in the packed sand of the village, squeaking tiredly.
… Eh? One, two, three, four… five, six? Who…?
“Glad to see you, Hawk,” the Flame Kahn said with a tired smile.
For a moment the thief just stared, then he began blurting out a panicked explanation of what had really happened as Eagle died. He didn’t get very far before the older man kindly stopped him.
“I know, Hawk, don’t worry. Bigeau found great pleasure in explaining just exactly what she had done and would do in the close future. However I heard from Wisp himself that Salamando had seen you earn my eternal gratitude.”
The young man’s face went from panic, to relief and over to triumphant joy.
“Jessica is alright!” he assured, “she had a fever but it just left her, let’s go!”
“Of course,” the Kahn said with a just as wide smile, starting to follow the exalted thief.
For a moment Kevin came in between.
“Birds tired, and be hot soon,” he pointed out.
“Take them to the inn,” Hawk said over his shoulder and pointed at a house in the northwestern corner of the village, “they have a stable that keeps the temperature for the donkeys of the merchants, your birds should be able to fit in there. We’ll be in the item shop, in the basement, alright?”
Kevin and Lise both nodded and watched the two men of Navarre hurry off between two of the buildings to see the desert princess.
“What a coincidence, wasn’t it?” the vanadis said with a smile.
Kevin’s hand grasped her arm lightly, more a touch than anything to be called a hold.
“Must get birds and Karl to safety before it gets hot,” he pointed out.
She nodded and they headed towards the inn after Lise had picked the wolf pup out of Kevin’s backpack.
Some time later they found their way into the lower area of the regular shop and found Hawk, the Kahn and a purple, humanoid cat with a big yellow sack by his side assembled in the room there. In a bed in a corner of the room a beautiful young woman with bluish hair laid, however she seemed more asleep than awake.
“Kevin, Lise, this is Nikita,” Hawk said with a smile and motioned at the cat, “and Jessica… she’s sleeping again.”
“Any troubles at the inn?” the Kahn friendly asked while the cat creature greeted the two.
“The innkeeper was a little startled when we explained what animals we had,” Lise said with a chuckle, “but he was so happy to have costumers that he didn’t care that much. Karl stayed with the birds, he was tired.”
She looked at Hawk and smiled.
“So, what have you been up to since we parted in Rolante?” she asked, softly to assure him that she didn’t blame him for the split roads in question.
It was almost lunchtime before the stories had been exchanged and all details had been filled out.
“And Navarre is your only hope now, is it?” Hawk said, leaning his cheek in a hand.
“Yes,” Kevin grunted, his eyes narrowing at a wall.
“It’s all we have left,” Lise said and grimly shook her head.
“Well, you’ve handled demons before…”
Hawk rubbed his neck, frowning.
“I want to come with you, guys,” he honestly said and his eyes trailed over to the still sleeping Jessica, “but…”
There was a couple of seconds of silence. But when Lise started to say that it was alright, the Kahn exploded.
“Hawk! What are you saying?!” the old man roughly demanded.
Almost everyone jumped and the thief straightened up in panic, on the brink of saluting. Nikita watched his friend for a moment and then turned away to hide his laugh.
“These are your friends and now you’ve got a chance to claim revenge for all that Bigeau and her companions have done to you and your clan!” the Kahn growled, “I won’t have you tiptoe around Jessica like a lovesick rooster while others fight our enemies, and I’m certain both she and Eagle agree!”
Hawk found himself and really saluted, parodying the warriors of Forcena.
“But those are demons,” he pointed out and dropped the jester-mask, “there were just three in the kingdom of Light and I don’t know how many are in the castle.”
The Kahn pursed his mouth and nodded.
He turned to Lise and Kevin.
“You’re the only ones with proper experience of those beasts. Any suggestions?” the leader of the ninjas asked.
The two exchanged glances.
“Classchange?” Hawk, Nikita and the Kahn repeated with raised eyebrows.
“Mana stone here, not?” Kevin said, tilting his head a bit.
“Sure, but its power was released,” the thief slowly said, “would it still work?”
At that the princess and half blood helplessly shrugged.
“Don’t know,” Lise said but smiled a bit, “so… Wisp, I call upon you.”
Immediately the white flame with the happy eyes floated out of thin air, a bit transparent but still.
Nikita and Hawk nearly fell backwards.
“Yes?” the elemental of Light kindly asked.
“We were just discussing if Hawk here could go through a classchange,” Lise explained, “but the Fire stone’s power was released as you know. Is that a problem?”
Wisp shook a bit.
“Nope,” he said, “Duran and his crew went through their first change in Altena, and that stone was the first to have its power released. Go ahead, though I can’t tell you whether your friend or anyone else can manage in beforehand.”
“Thank you, Wisp,” Lise said.
And he disappeared again.
“So, what do you say, Hawk?” the princess said with a small grin.
“I’m with ya all the way!” he grinned back, “however we better wait until nighttime before we go there and you’ll need better shoes. The valley of Flames is one hot place, if you don’t wear something thicker than that you’ll find yourself with fried toes, Kev.”
He pointed at the half blood’s feet; bare except for two long strands of tough cloth he had wrapped around them to protect them a little.
“If you say so,” Kevin said and shrugged.
“I think the shop here has boots to borrow for the matter, might be tricky to find something in your size though,” Hawk commented and walked over to the stair with a grin, “shall we?”
In the end the old lady of the shop simply cut up two big pieces of the tough bulette hide used in the boots and made a few holes around the edges so that Kevin could tie the thick yet bendable material against the soles and sides of his feet. His size was quite a few numbers too big even for the largest of the boots.
Lise was much simpler to find a pair for, and Hawk’s boots were designed for the heat. The reason for the existence of these boots for hire was of course the desert; the sand could sometimes reach such heat that it burned through normal shoes.
After a moment of steeling themselves against the heat outside Kevin and Lise went to the inn to rest for the evening. One couldn’t claim that it was much cooler inside, but somehow the heat wasn’t as crushing down on everything.
With Nikita back in the area Deen had been able to receive some extremely welcome new supplies from Sultan, and the inn could offer a decent meal of cactus fruits and salted fish. Not anything the guests had eaten many times before but there wasn’t anything wrong with the taste. By the time they had finished eating and went to their room the warmth had drawn back a little bit more. “Thought I never be able to sleep, maybe now,” Kevin said with a grimace, absentmindedly combing one hand through his hair while leaning against the wooden frame of the right bed’s end.
Since it was a small village it had a small inn and it only had one guestroom, with three beds standing in a line against one of the long walls of the room. Lise sat on the middle one only in her tunic, idly brushing her hair.
Finally she put the brush down and sighed a bit.
“I hope there won’t be too many demons in Navarre…” she muttered, somewhat lazily.
The mattress below her swung a bit as Kevin sat down behind her and the warmth of his hands closed over her shoulders.
“Tired?” he gently asked.
She nodded, clenching her teeth.
“It’s probably just the journey taking its toll now, maybe I was so excited about seeing Hawk again that I pushed it back earlier...”
Kevin’s fingers clenched their grip for a moment.
The brush fell to the floor and blinking she turned to her side to meet the half blood’s eyes. He was frowning a bit, his right arm moving in under her head while the left hand came to Lise’s cheek.
“Be careful when tired, alright?” he gravely said, “Wisp say you’re healed but still beware.”
Lise managed not to swallow at the thought of the elemental.
Despite wild protests from Duty her right arm moved up and around Kevin’s back, carefully drawing her closer.
“Yeah, you’re right,” she softly mumbled.
‘Stop that! Right now!’ the infernal sense screeched.
‘I’m fed up with you!’ Lise snarled back.
‘Just because Wisp made so that you can’t become pregnant doesn’t mean that you can act like a…’
‘You’re not finishing that line!’
‘This is serious, princess! You’re not married, you shouldn’t even lie here… ack!’
The vanadis softly smiled and closed her eyes, lightly turning her head towards Kevin’s hand as the back of his fingers stroke her cheek.
“Rest now,” he said in a low voice.
She chuckled a little and opened her eyes to watch him. The frown was gone, now there was only the softness of his eyes left to see. Smiling a bit Kevin spread out his fingers over her cheek, his fingertips brushing into the border of her golden blond hair.
Lise found herself wishing that he’d dare to move his tender hand down her cheek, over her shoulder and…
She closed her eyes again and forced back a blush with all her willpower. She really hated to feel her cheeks burn; it was yards below her dignity.
‘How dare you be so, so…?!’
But Duty hadn’t the courage to fulfill the slap of words.
‘How dare you be so pompous?’ the princess coldly shot back, ‘I love Kevin. Accept it.’
‘True and well, but you still has your responsibilities as a future queen!’
‘Oh, shut up…’
It was too hot in the room; she had to let go of the half blood and draw back a little.
Looking back at him again Lise smiled and moved her freed hand to his cheek in turn.
‘I wouldn’t push him to do something,’ she thought.
‘Good,’ Duty nodded.
After all, she had been the cause of their first kiss and the proposal, and Lise didn’t want to be a dominating part of the relationship.
‘However…’ she thought with an inner smirk at the sense, ‘I probably wouldn’t stop him either.’
Duty groaned. And shuddered when Kevin drew a little closer and gently kissed Lise’s lips.
“Want you to be careful, alright?” he kindly mumbled, “no more hurt.”
“Alright, I’ll do my best. And you too.”
He smiled and nodded, moving back again.
Properly laying down on the mattress and closing her eyes to sleep Lise smiled a bit drowsily.
“I love you, Kevin.”
His hand tenderly stroke her cheek and moving his head upwards a bit Kevin touched her forehead with his lips before drawing back to spare them both from body heat mixed with what the desert provided.
Pulling up the sheets over them would be crazy, so he just laid back and watched Lise. She wasn’t quite asleep yet, he could both hear that from her breathing and feel it by her smell. Sleeping things got something lightly damp in their scents. It was hard to explain…
He shrugged the line of thoughts aside and just watched while his lips moved into a smile.
Lise had moved in her hand under the thin pillow to get her neck into a more comfortable position, almost burying her face against the cloth filled with feathers she looked somewhat innocent. Her tunic was a bit tight against her body since she was lying on the clothing.
Kevin quickly closed his eyes as the thought ran through his head, hardly able to contain a blush. But he couldn’t stop the flinch of mind to follow itself up with that though it hardly was the first time he was sleeping by Lise’s side, they hadn’t spent a night together in an actual bed before.
Pushing back a grunt or perhaps a groan –he couldn’t really tell– the young half blood turned over on his back and placed his arm over his eyes.
‘Cool that down, it’s not going to end well…’
After a moment he let the arm fall away again, helplessly turning his head towards Lise again.
The sad happiness, love, was tickling his whole being from inside, trying to make him do something. But he couldn’t fully grasp his own will just yet, as he still weakly hesitated.
Kevin tried to look away for longer than a few moments, but his eyes wanted to take in the amazon princess beside him.
‘What would she want?’ he more or less forced himself to think, ‘I don’t even know what I want…’
That was what the rational part of his mind wanted to think.
The rest of him knew fully well how much he wanted to draw Lise as close as he dared and never stop kissing her.
“I love you, Lise,” he whispered.
She smiled a bit, more hearing his words as in a dream than anything else; on the verge of falling fully asleep.
Asleep, in peaceful slumber.
‘Goddess, let her stay safe from now on… no, I’ll make sure of that. We might meet even worse enemies ahead, but I’m not going to let anything like Rakadra and Jagan ever touch her again.’
He frowned a bit, but the swift grim thoughts floated away before Lise’s calm face.
Beautiful… sweet, strong, compassionate, brave Lise.
No use denying it… even his rational beastman side had to give up on this one. Carefully Kevin reached out and swiftly ran his fingertips through Lise’s golden fringe, wary not to wake her up.
‘I want you more than anything, but I want nothing you don’t.’
He withdrew his hand and closed his eyes to try to sleep as well.
Hawk hurried through Deen, towards the inn. The air was cooling quickly as the sun sunk more and more below the horizon. He had hardly been able to rest at all, but still felt filled with energy and determination.
Classchanges were mythical things, but now proved possible. He was excited out of his mind. But it wasn’t just the fact that he faced a chance to become strong enough to avenge all his friends from Navarre; no, he could hardly wait to fight side by side with Lise and Kevin again.
As soon as he entered the innkeeper pointed towards the small dining room with a grin.
“Good luck,” the older man said.
Nikita had of course been unable to contain the news, pretty certain that it wouldn’t do any harm. The village had been left alone so far since there were no warriors there to control, no goods to steal… and it would probably stay that way.
“Thanks,” Hawk grinned and turned to meet Lise’s greeting smile.
She was sitting down by the table in the middle of the room, just beginning on a piece of bread with some smoked fish on.
“Feels good being the hero around here, doesn’t it?” she mildly joked and waved at him to sit down.
“We’re all rooting for you,” the innkeeper said with a wide smile, bending over his desk to see the ones he talked to.
“Thanks, we’ll do our best both tonight and tomorrow,” Lise smiled back.
“Give those bastards some extra kicks from us in the village too.”
“Sure thing!” Hawk chuckled.
He looked around a little.
“Where’s Kev?” he asked.
“He went to check on Karl and the birds to make sure they’re alright,” the princess replied with a small, fond smile, “here, have some breakfast. Or if it’s dinner, I’m not really sure.”
She pointed at the plate on the table, which carried three more fish sandwiches. Hawk hadn’t been able to eat much earlier, but took a bread anyway. He knew that his hyper energy wouldn’t last long if not fed with something.
He had just finished his first bite when Kevin came in. His pace of walking was a little out of rhythm, but it was hardly noticeable. Glancing down Hawk saw that the half blood already had strapped the bulette hide against the soles of his feet. He was obviously a bit unfamiliar with it.
“How are they?” Lise asked as the god hand sat down.
“Just fine, Karl a bit bored though,” Kevin replied with a slight smile and took a piece of bread.
“I let him out since it’s cooler now, he be fine.”
“There are some desert dogs in the village,” Hawk said, “but they’re not the most violent ones so he won’t get into any fights.”
Kevin gave a small, slanted smile and nodded.
“Felt their smell earlier,” he said.
At this both Lise and Hawk chuckled a bit.
“Man, I’ve missed you two,” the thief grinned.
The princess and the half blood exchanged glances and smiled. The desert warrior watched their eyes and wasn’t sure if he wanted to sigh or be glad. The two warriors hadn’t said anything about growing fond of each other when they told their tale. But the thief had had his suspicions, and now he was sure.
“Likewise, Hawk,” Lise warmly said.
Looking at her he experienced a momentary flash of “could have beens”, and it was bittersweet. He wanted to be happy for his friends and he was, but deep down he felt the loss of the blond princess. Maybe she had been looking at him that way right now, hadn’t he been taken from Palo that day…
But, he had Jessica. She could have been dead if he hadn’t left Palo, on the other hand.
And if Lise and Kevin were happy, he would be so as well.
They finished the simple meal and went out into the lightly chilly air.
“Go further away before I transform,” Kevin grunted, “don’t want to scare people.”
His companions nodded, understanding.
“The only things that could be a problem are the bulettes and the last hypnotized ninjas,” Hawk reported while they left the village and walked into the desert, “but I wouldn’t worry too much.”
“Better not get careless anyway, you never know,” Lise said and unhooked her spear from her back.
A few minutes later a powerful howl soared towards the stars and a small area of the sand ocean got lit up by a magical glow. Snakes, lizards, insects, bulettes and various other inhabitants of the desert fled for their lives, instinctively knowing an opponent beyond any other.
The howl was however, the goddess be praised, not strong enough to reach the demons in Navarre.
Hawk had spent most of the walk smirking, but as they approached a rounded opening in a cliff he turned more serious. The air around the hole was shivering in the moonlight, and there was a warning glow from deep inside.
“This is it,” Hawk announced and held up a hand, “I think you better revert and stay a human when we’re down there Kevin, or else you’re going to get toasted with all that fur of yours.”
“Alright,” the werewolf grunted with a nod.
“We have to be careful down there,” the thief continued while the magical glow engulfed the son of Beast King once more, “the monsters living in the valley are used to the heat but we’re not, and we’ll be slow because of that.”
“Got it,” Lise nodded.
They walked closer to the entrance and were naturally taken aback by the heat that greeted them.
“By Luna…” Kevin growled and even backed a step.
“It’ll get better when you get used to it…” Hawk said with a grimace, “not much, however.”
“Not if we can do anything about it,” Lise thoughtfully said.
Straightening up a bit she calmly continued:
“Wisp, I call upon you.”
“It gets easier every time you call!” the spirit merrily said as he appeared from thin air, “what’s up?”
“We’re about to enter the Valley of flames,” Lise explained, “would it be possible for Salamando or Undine to protect us from the heat?”
So far the princess had had nothing to do with the Water elemental, but she had always known the scripts of the goddess and her servants.
“Lemme give Salam a call…”
For a moment the holy elemental fluttered in and out of vision, like the beating of a bee’s wings.
“Here we go!”
A rain of ember stars showered over the three travelers, adding a softly red glow to their skin. The only thing the ones exposed to the spell felt was a light tickling.
“Thanks, Wisp,” Kevin said, stepping closer to the cave again.
Now the intense heat brushed off his skin, feeling like nothing worse than a warm breeze.
“Thank my buddy when you meet him instead,” Wisp said, smiling.
He chuckled a little.
“By the way… Duran and his ladies are on their way to the island of Oblivion,” he reported with a grin, “we might be able to open the gate to the Holyland in the morning if all goes well.”
“Wish them luck from us then, will you?” Hawk grinned, backed up by smiles and nods from his companions.
“I will. Good luck yourselves.”
And the elemental faded away.
“Oh well, scrap my warnings,” Hawk said with a smirk and cat-alike stretch, “this’ll be fun.”
And indeed it was. In fact, the greatest problem experienced on the way down was Hawk’s inner struggle not to whistle superciliously as he and his friends without the slightest trouble strode into the boiling world of the valley. The yellowish lizard creatures naturally inhabiting the frying cracks between rocks and fairly hardened lava tried to stop the intruders a few times, but most of the time either Lise or Kevin simply would whisk them aside like flies. And that often before Hawk even had had time to get his daggers out.
“What a picnic,” he finally commented as he lead the way over the bridge upon which he had saved Jessica weeks ago, “but I don’t want to think about how it would be if you guys hadn’t been here to help.”
“Don’t get too cocky yet,” Lise said with a small smile, “these monsters are weak but the demons in Navarre are nothing like this.”
“I know, princess.”
Hawk winked at her with one eye without really considering it, just using his usual flirting manner. She chuckled a bit but didn’t seem to bother much more. Getting a backslash thought the thief quickly threw a glance at Kevin who walked behind Lise, to a bit of relief finding that the half blood watched the flames below them, in his own thoughts.
It wasn’t that Hawk was worried about invoking Kevin’s fury –which he of course did fear because of pure wish to survive– he just happened to respect his friends’ feelings for each other.
Walking and clanking over his shoulder he almost walked into a living flame carrying a thin staff.
“Watch your step lad!”
The three travelers stopped and looked up at the elemental of Fire. Somewhere among Salamando’s dancing body heat there was a smile, a bit below his sharp eyes.
“Welcome, all of you,” he said, his voice rather hoarse and rash in compare to Wisp, Jinn and Luna’s, but it didn’t make him seem less friendly.
“The spell Wisp called for is working fine, thanks for the help,” Lise politely remarked.
“No problem,” Salamando nodded.
Then he wrapped a flame around Hawk’s arm and dragged the rather surprised thief onwards.
“Now come on you, I want those demons out of my desert!”
“I’m coming, I’m coming!” the blue-haired warrior called, almost starting to laugh at the peculiar situation.
Lise and Kevin followed the two with their eyes for a moment, exchanged glances and chuckled. Then they followed the guardian and the desert man.
The Mana stone was placed on a small plateau above the raging flames of the valley’s heart, and only a thin natural stone bridge made it possible to reach the floating obelisk.
It looked lightly said insecure.
Hawk was already on his way up to the center of attention, if it was by own will or Salamando’s was hard to tell. But at least he made it there.
The stars of the stone soared towards the cave’s faraway roof, just like the Light stone’s sparkles had begun to do after Jagan had completed his spell.
“You two better stay down there,” the spirit warned with a grin, “as you know the ground might get a bit of a shake in a moment and I doubt my magic is that strong.”
Letting go of the thief he waved with his flaming staff at the floating fire below.
“We’ll be here, Hawk,” Kevin called after an agreeing nod at Salamando, “good luck.”
“You’ll make it for sure,” Lise reassuringly added with an encouraging smile.
Looking around at his friends Hawk grimly nodded and turned to the Mana stone. Salamando turned to him again.
“Take a deep breath, touch the stone and concentrate,” the elemental instructed.
The thief closed his eyes and slowly reached out for the pearly surface. With all her concentration locked on Hawk Lise almost jumped when Kevin’s arms suddenly encircled her waist. He didn’t draw her closer though, just staying right behind her. She turned her head, only able to see his face out of the corner of her eye. The smile on her lips was almost nervous.
Her armor almost made the embrace nonexistent; at least she hardly could feel Kevin’s arms at all. It was more an extra weight than a sign of affection.
‘Stupid wall between…’
Lise forced herself not to swallow as the thought nearly ran away in a direction she wouldn’t allow. If it would, she knew she’d definitely blush and she did not want to do so.
‘I think I’m going crazy…’
Quickly turning away she bit her lower lip.
To want and at the same time hesitate, it was a controversial feeling that was too explosive and unstable to hold in the long run.
‘I wonder how Kevin feels right now. I’m probably wrong to feel like this, I shouldn’t… can’t help it…’
“Lise?” his voice suddenly murmured, just behind her ear so that his breath brushed past the side of her face.
Feeling something in her smell, of course.
She tried to smile as she spoke, but a sudden shake of the surroundings silenced her.
“Concentrate harder!” Salamando cheered.
“Come on, Hawk!” Kevin called, momentarily moving further backwards not to yell straight into the vanadis’ ear.
Lise meant to shout something too, but another more violent quake sent her stumbling backwards into Kevin’s chest. He grunted a bit, more of surprise than anything else though.
“Are you alright?” the princess more or less called over her shoulder anyway, apologizing.
As he lowered his head, rather steadily despite the increasing trembling, she thought that she saw a peculiar glistening in the back of his eyes.
“No worry,” he muttered, close to her ear again.
Without really considering it first and despite Duty’s wild protests Lise bent her neck backwards so that her cheek brushed against Kevin’s. His grip of her waist became tighter without the slightest hesitation and he moved his own head even lower in turn.
‘I’m really going to go crazy if we go on like this…’ Lise thought with a singeing lump deep inside of her, ‘I can’t handle feeling this longing any longer. I shouldn’t feel like this yet, it’s too early… we’re not married, I shouldn’t!’
‘You are so right, princess!’ Duty snarled, trying to infect Lise’s thoughts even more to make her move away from Kevin, ‘he’s got nothing to grab here!’
Now that one was laughable…
The thoughts were brushed aside as the tremors suddenly stopped and the soft closeness against her cheek moved away as Kevin looked up at Hawk again.
With a small, bitter sting of loss Lise also raised her gaze once more. And then she faintly smiled again, as a heavenly aura of calm enveloped the entire cavern.
Hawk’s eyes were open now, filled with that indescribable, complete peace. The flames in the background and below him seemed to freeze at the mere presence of such serenity.
“You can become a ranger or a ninja,” Salamando softly announced, “ranger is the Light path, ninja the Dark. But they are simply two sides of the same coin and has nothing to do with good or evil.”
“I was supposed to have become a ninja through normal training,” Hawk calmly said, “that is my fate and choice.”
“So be it!”
A divine rainbow of over worldly colors showered over him, the light spreading over the whole cave as in slow motion.
‘That was a small disappointment in our second change,’ Lise thought somewhat lazily, knowing what approached, ‘I wish I could have felt Kevin’s presence again, like it was in the first…’
Of course the result had been the same; more power than they could have dreamed of in such a short time. Still, she couldn’t help wondering how it would have been to feel herself be a part of the world and Kevin now that she knew how much she loved him. In just a moment both she and her fiancé would be enveloped in Hawk’s being; helping him grow in strength so that he’d get the power to avenge his people.
Kevin spun her around and his lips brushed against hers as he pressed Lise’s smaller body against his, never minding the armor of hardened leather.
The light swept over them.
‘What was that for…?’
‘I know the feeling… I suppose I became a little worried. Jealous maybe, though that’s not very proper.’
None of them were entirely sure if they really had heard each other’s thoughts, but considering the situation it wasn’t exactly impossible.
And all the while Hawk felt power harnessing itself into his mind and body, only vaguely feeling his two friends as they gave their small part of the deal.
He had no thoughts of revenge and felt no more traces of bitterness as he was caught up in the peace and whirl of growing experience, no triumph, only peace. But when it ended and he returned to the normal world…
He had a hard time enough not somersaulting down to Kevin and Lise’s plateau; to restrain the triumphant cheer became unbearable. His arms and legs itched with movements he now had mastered, moves of the older warriors that had spent years trying to learn them. Which he should have done normally as well, if he hadn’t been magically trained.
“Well done!” Salamando grinned, “this should give those bastards a headache combined with you two!”
He almost smirked triumphantly at Kevin and Lise, who hurriedly had let go of each other just as the magical light faded.
“Congratulations,” Lise smiled as the ninja almost seemed to float down the stone bridge.
Hawk widely grinned.
“Thanks,” he said, “let’s head back and rest, I’m itching to teach those demons and their masters a few lessons in behavior!”
“So do I,” Kevin said with an edge of suppressed anger at memories, but then grinned back.
“I can’t do much more to help you in that battle, so good luck,” Salamando said while floating down to the three warriors, “I’ll be watching over you, so call me whenever you think I can do something.”
“We will,” Hawk said, “thanks for the help.”
“Don’t sweat it.”
The spirit winked with one eye and floated up to the Mana stone again, slowly fading out of sight.
“Don’t sweat it he says…” the ninja muttered under his breath as he and his companions made their way out of the central cavern.
“I heard that!” Salamando snorted, not really angry however.
“Well thanks to you we aren’t!” Hawk called back, earning light chuckles from his friends.
As they had made their way over the rope bridge – well, chain bridge to be fully truthful – and reached the route going upwards they were greeted by another dose of fire lizards, obviously set on making one last try to chase the intruders away.
“Persistent, aren’t they?” Lise said with a roll of her eyes, changing grip of her spear, “be my guest, Hawk.”
She added the last part by the memory of how excited she herself had felt about her new powers after the Wind stone’s blessing in Rolante.
There were five obviously rather stupid but determined little beasts, moving surprising quick considering their round, frog-alike bodies. But not nearly quick enough to launch a decent attack. Hawk did brandish his daggers, but it was rather obvious that he wasn’t in for a kill. Using the hilts of his weapons and kicking at the monsters; he was only testing his new skills. From formerly moving somewhat like a cat, he now reminded of a snake.
Kevin and Lise joined the “battle” - or rather the pushing aside - after a few moments, just helping Hawk to clear things up. Soon enough the monsters disappeared into their small caves behind cracked rocks by the walls.
“Feeling good?” Kevin asked with a small grin, a bit uncharacteristically but Hawk’s aura of triumph was contagious.
The ninja grinned as well as he turned around, rehiding his daggers.
“If I denied that then I’d be the worst liar north look out!”
As Lise instinctively ducked by Hawk’s sudden shout she saw a glistening of metal out of the corner of her eye. Just behind Kevin.
A shadow had come to life, and it had daggers.
The son of Beast King fell with a growl of surprised pain, but he rolled aside before the knife in the attacking ninja’s other hand could be buried in his back.
Hawk flew at his hypnotized clansman with weapons back in his hands, his eyes flaring with rage. Lise didn’t even care about the enemy, dashing to Kevin’s side. On the back of his shirt was a fresh new cut and around it was a growing red area.
“No worry Lise,” he grunted, without bigger troubles rising up on his arms and then getting to his feet, “not big.”
“Let me see…”
Carefully she lifted the two corners of the cloth; the shirt’s back was almost completely split. And this had been Kevin’s fairly clean and whole shirt.
Blood ran from a long cut on the left side of his back; the new wound tearing through four old scars, lighter bolts on his reddish skin. A little something left after the very first battle he had fought alongside the exiled princess and the thief.
‘How nostalgic…’ Lise grimly thought.
Sure it was nostalgic, but not in a good way.
“It’s not very deep,” she said aloud with relief, “you managed to duck just in time.”
“That’s good,” Kevin murmured, “Wisp, I call upon you.”
“Healing this time, eh?” the elemental said as he appeared just beside the reddish mane, “one moment. You’ll have to find someone else to repair that shirt of yours though.”
“I’m not that good at sewing but I’ll see what I can do when we get back,” Lise promised while healing stars showered over the half blood.
“Hawk’s in great shape, isn’t he?” Wisp said with a small smirk, motioning at the rest of the cave with a small flame.
Lise turned around. She raised her eyebrows.
“Can you see them?” Kevin said after a moment.
There seemed to be a blur of shadows twisting about, almost like a dark fire. Daggers slashed though the hot air, almost too quickly for the eye to catch.
“Salamando told me that ninja fights are impressive, but that’s overdoing things…” Wisp said after another few moments.
A handful of seconds later they did however manage to get a glimpse of a fist before it hit its target.
One masked ninja crashed on the ground and Hawk smirked for one second before he bent his back and placed his hands on his knees, gasping for air.
“That was… inter… esting… but a bit… drawn out…”
“You’re too quick for me,” Kevin acknowledged with a smile, lending Hawk a hand to straighten up.
“That was too quick for me too,” the ninja said, shaking his head.
While Wisp left again Lise bent down and ripped the mask off the desert warrior’s face. Another sunburned face was revealed, free of scars. He didn’t look like he was more than twenty-five or so.
“Loan,” Hawk nodded, a bit bitterly.
“Well, he might have regained his senses after that hit, it’s not impossible,” Lise kindly said, hefting her spear onto her back and encircling the unconscious warrior with her arms to lift him from the ground.
Not much to her surprise the man was very light; the ninjas did after all base their battles on tricks and speed, not strength. But she just got up into standing straight, about to change her grip to something more proper when Kevin without a word grabbed the loose limbed one and threw him over his shoulder.
“I could have done it, though,” Lise mildly protested.
Kevin shook his head.
“You two watch my back,” he said with a faint smile, “so I duck in time.”
This caused another light chuckling and more nods.
“Sure thing, Kev,” Hawk grinned.
“Well, that’s that,” Hawk said as he finished the knot on the ropes binding Loan’s wrists together, “he’s not getting out of this.”
The Flame Kahn bent down to inspect the knots and nodded approvingly.
“This will indeed keep him bound…”
He straightened up and turned to the elderly woman owning the shop above the room the freed desert warriors hired.
“Don’t you worry,” the Kahn continued with a determined frown, “we’ll guard him. I swear that he will not harm anyone in this house or village.”
After a moment the woman nodded.
“I trust you that much, Kahn,” she gravely said.
The gray-bearded man turned to Lise and Kevin.
“And thank you too for helping Hawk get to the stone. How’s your back?”
“No worry,” Kevin mildly said, “Wisp heal me.”
“It was no problem at all,” Lise reassured.
“A picnic thanks to you,” Hawk said with a wide smile, “you two go and rest up some, we’ll hold the ground here. We’ll check out Navarre tomorrow night.”
“Alright, good night.”
The couple walked up the stair and exited the shop. The air was still chilly as it hardly was midnight; the trip had gone quick and almost completely painless.
Lise stopped as they approached the inn, looking up at the star filled sky.
“If the rest of the way only was just as simple…” she murmured, suddenly feeling tired again.
“Will be alright,” Kevin promised in a low voice, placing a hand on her shoulder.
She managed to smile rather unforced and nodded.
“I hope so, Kevin.”
“It will. Come on now.”
A couple of fresh candles laid on the innkeeper’s desk beside a lit one in a small holder, along with a note.
I hope things went well. Sadly, I have work to do so I’ll have to hear the story tomorrow. Here are candles for your room, if you want some food I left bread and fruit on the table.
“I’ll get the food,” Kevin kindly said and went over to the kitchen area.
“Alright,” Lise absentmindedly replied, holding one of the candle’s thread into the small flame of the halfway burnt down one.
When her own candle caught a flame she blew out the one on the table for safety purposes, waiting for Kevin to come back so that he wouldn’t have to find his way in the dusk. Together they went through the short corridor to their room.
Lise fastened the burning candle in one of the holders on the wall, lit the second one and went to put it in the other metal grip. Kevin placed the plate with bread and cactus fruits on the bed they had used when sleeping during the last day. As she had finished her simple chore Lise worked her way out of her armor before she sat down on the other side of the food and took a green fruit.
“Any idea where Karl is?” she asked, as she was free of her equipment and got something refreshing into her mouth feeling energized again.
Kevin swallowed his own bite of the sweet, big berry before he replied with a smile:
“Felt his smell everywhere out there, he’s been around. Went back to the birds I think, tired after exploring.”
Lise chuckled a bit, softly. The thought of Karl, that being of curiosity, innocence and cuteness running around Deen investigating everything made her smile. Kevin’s own smile widened a bit as he saw hers, warmly.
‘I’m glad she’s feeling better again. I get worried when she seems tired, she might need more rest…’
He swallowed the sweet lump in his mouth and looked down at the fruit in his hand, somehow forcing his gaze to stay there.
‘… Goddess, she’s beautiful when she smiles…’
They finished the rest of the simple meal in silence, and Kevin went to put the plate back on the table.
When he returned he found Lise digging around in her backpack, her back turned to him now. Her packing had been on the other side of the bed so she had simply moved over. She looked around with a slightly embarrassed look.
“I’m not good at sewing but I know a little,” she said once more, excusing the result before she even had started, “I’ll do what I can.”
“Will be fine, I’m sure,” Kevin mildly said, reaching up to hold the right shoulder of the torn, open shirt in place so he could pull the corresponding arm through it.
It was instinctual as he was reminded of that she’d promised to try mending his broken cloth; not before Lise quickly looked down at her backpack again did he realize what he was doing. He momentarily closed his eyes and slowly let out a deep breath. Then he fulfilled taking off his shirt and walked over to the bed, carefully placing the piece of cloth beside Lise. She moved her head a little but didn’t look around, almost as if she struggled with herself.
“Here…” she mumbled, lifting a small, secure yarn of thin thread out of the backpack’s depths.
A needle was safely plunged into the tiny ball, now she pulled it free. Reaching out for a moment she grabbed the shirt and dragged it to her lap, still not turning around.
Kevin silently watched her as she crossed her legs and pulled out a longer string from the yarn, biting it off from the larger mass at a good length. It took her a couple of tries to get the end of the thread through the eye of the needle, but she managed.
Watching her move in the candlelight was even more irresistible than usual.
‘Stop that!’ Kevin snarled in his thoughts, mentally slapping himself, ‘cool it down you idiot! I’ll make her nervous if I keep staring like this!’
Silently letting out another deep breath he sat down on the side of the bed, just behind her back. The sheets below him were still warm since Lise had been sitting there just a couple of minutes ago.
‘Calm down. So I’m not wearing a shirt, it’s not like that’s that vital.’
He bent aside and pulled up his legs, lying down on his back without touching Lise in the process, nor as it was completed. And there he forced himself to close his eyes, focusing on his breathing to relax.
‘He must be feeling embarrassed…’ Lise thought, clenching her teeth against another blush, ‘just like me. Well, at least I’m not lonely… don’t look around! I’d just embarrass both of us more.’
She fixed her eyes on the shirt she held, the cloth folded in her hand so that she’d get a proper grip of the major tear. There were more cuts on the piece of clothing; Kevin only had two to change between and they had both gone through some hardships. They could both use some repair, just like the pants he had worn when fighting the demons…
Lise swallowed forcefully and tried to refocus.
Slowly and inexperienced the needle penetrated the cloth, warily the thread pulled the two sides of the tear against each other. This was men’s work in her world, but even the female warriors had to know at least a little about taking care of their own equipment. However the princess never had had much time for that, with all her responsibilities. The chosen ones and the ones she had gotten with the title.
‘Was I ever happy?’
The thought popped out of nowhere and her hand paused, the needle twisting between her fingers.
‘All that hard work, taking care of Elliot, leading the army, all the training, the practice in other matters… but I had my family, my friends…’
Her head dropped a little.
‘Why would I wonder about that now… is it Kevin making me question how I lived? He lived free in the Moonlight forest, not at all like I did… will he even like living in Rolante with me, after all?’
‘No, don’t think like that!’ Lise snarled to herself, but most importantly to a persistent sense of hers, ‘he’d tell me if something was wrong, he always wants me to be openhearted if I feel something isn’t right.’
‘Alright, alright!’ Duty growled, ‘just no anger or gloom now, he’ll feel the smell of it and start asking. You don’t want to worry him, do you? Focus on the work!’
‘Of course I don’t want to worry him…’ Lise thought and pushed the needle into the cloth again.
A few moments passed before she realized that Duty had feared that Kevin would touch her.
‘It’s dangerous and you know it!’
Lise suppressed another blush by swallowing again. Something within her felt ice cold and burning at the same time; a tiny sparkle. It felt almost like the rush of grim excitement in battle, but softer.
Gently her mind brought up memories of Kevin’s hand warming her shoulder through the tunic, but her brain carefully left it like that. Almost as if it was scheming against her sense of Duty.
‘No, no, no and no!’ the defendant screeched.
‘Will you shut up just for once?’ Lise snarled within, ‘you’re nothing but all my worries about everything, my non-compulsory worries that only stress me!’
Her hands clenched around the shirt in frustration.
‘I was always stressed, I could never calm down, there was always something I had to do!’ she bitterly thought, ‘but no one was pressing me except myself. Kevin is the only one I know who can make me feel relaxed and truly alright, you’re not pushing me away from him now, not ever!’
‘All you do is making me want him even more,’ Lise thought with an inner, wry smirk, ‘because I really hate you. Shut up!’
She released a quick breath and released the shirt a bit again, trying to get back to sewing. It took her a couple of minutes to regain full focus, somewhere along the way concluding that Kevin must have fallen asleep as he hadn’t reacted on that whirl of frustrated feelings. She felt much calmer than before as things settled within her.
Lise slowly kept working, but after ten minutes she felt she hadn’t really gotten anywhere as she was concentrating so hard on making the sewing look decent that it slowed her down. With a faint sigh she lowered the shirt, fastening the needle in the cloth. Before she had time to realize what she was doing she looked around at Kevin. And got stuck like that.
Because of the natural warmth during day he hadn’t bothered putting on his hat ever since they had arrived in the desert, so his mane spread out over the pillow beneath him free of even that small bound. He had placed one hand under his head, looking so peaceful as he laid there in light slumber. It was surely just a quick nap; it wasn’t that long ago that he had slept well.
As if forced Lise’s eyes continued down his neck to his chest. She cringed a bit.
The candlelight flickered, adding an outer glow to Kevin’s skin. High lightening the four scars on his chest; bigger mirrors of the ones on his back.
The goddess knew how many scars he’d have if Rakadra’s magic had left any…
All that pain she knew he’d gone through made her throat go dry.
‘You shouldn’t have had to take it, Kevin… it’s not fair. You never deserved any of it.’
Lise looked down at the shirt for a moment, then reached out and put it on the small bed table beside the headrest. Without any real thoughts in her mind she pulled up her feet from the floor and sat down on her knees alongside Kevin.
Slowly, tentatively she raised a hand.
‘Stop that!’ Duty shouted in despair.
Lise pushed it aside and only worry of the new experience made her movements a little bit nervous. Because, at the same time that she wanted to touch him she didn’t want to disrupt his slumber. He needed his rest as much as anyone.
‘You’re just a bit nervy,’ something else than Duty mildly commented.
‘I don’t know what I’m doing… should I really do this…?’
‘Does it feel wrong?’
‘… Not really.’
‘But I don’t want to wake him up, he’s sleeping.’
‘Shh… don’t worry.’
As light as a breath Lise’s fingertips caressed the four tears on Kevin’s reddish skin, biting her lower lip against the emotion stirring inside her at the touch.
‘Wish I could make that undone…’
The surprisingly little hair on his chest tenderly tickled her fingers as she removed her hand, almost as if they were trying to keep her there.
She put the hand down on the mattress, closing her eyes.
‘I… I shouldn’t feel like this,’ she repeated to herself again, ‘it’s too early…’
‘Everything’s fine,’ the soft, encouraging voice whispered.
‘But I really… I don’t know. I can’t go on like this, being so hesitant.’
‘Then just open your eyes and look up.’
She obeyed, slowly, almost afraid of what she’d see.
Kevin watched her.
Apart from that his eyes were opened, he hadn’t moved at all.
Those golden diamonds almost seemed to glow in the candlelight.
“I didn’t mean to wake you up,” Lise said in a low mumbling, surprised that her voice stayed fairly well in place all the way.
They watched each other for a moment.
‘What am I doing?’ Lise thought as she moved, knowing the answer already but still.
‘You’re lying down,’ the friendly voice replied, almost warmly amused.
Kevin moved over on his side as Lise stretched out beside him. His right arm was mostly locked under him in that position, and he prodded himself up on it to be able to see the princess properly. She looked back at him, seeming almost nervous.
He couldn’t really place her smell either but… there was something calling out to him.
The sad happiness flared up within him, with tenderness craving him to do something. Yet again…
‘Did she really touch me or did I just dream that…?’
Lise managed not to bite her lower lip again, her eyes locked on Kevin’s. Duty was tied up and gagged by the rest of her before it had time to even try piping up.
‘What’ll happen… I need to know,’ she thought, feeling somewhat helpless about the situation.
But there was no reply this time.
Kevin seemed to watch her for an eternity, softly and yet… there seemed to be a struggle within him, in the back of his gaze there was pained hesitation.
She tried to speak but didn’t know what to say, and this time the voice failed her.
In the corner of her eye she thought she saw his left hand hesitantly rise and fall back; not sure what he dared to do in this moment.
He closed his eyes with a frown, and she looked away as her gaze was freed.
‘I went too far…’
Kevin’s voice was a little hoarse. Almost warily she turned back at him, just to be captured by his tender animal eyes again.
“Hmm?” she managed to whisper, her hands nervously clenching.
A new frown disrupted his forehead again as he hesitated for a moment.
“I’d… like to kiss you,” he finally whispered, “gah, but don’t know what would happen if I did.”
Almost shivering Lise reached up and touched his cheek with her fingertips, then put her whole palm down as he slowly leaned into her touch.
“I don’t know either,” she mumbled, slightly stuttering, “but I think… I… wouldn’t want you to stop.”
His big, warm hand came to her cheek and she closed her eyes, trying not to shudder. Whatever made it so; the touch felt different than she had been used to. Now his smooth fingers sent sparks through her skin, down her spine and ignited that cold, red hot flaring in her stomach. It was growing, fondly filling her chest as well.
She heard and felt him move, opening her eyes to find Kevin’s face just inches from hers.
The rest of his name went lost in his lips. Just a tentative touch at first, almost like the very first one. But as Lise’s emotions exploded free from their bounds, released by that light caress, she responded to his movements and at the same time buried her hands in his hair. Kevin let out something that almost sounded like a low growl, but Lise’s head was too quickly clouding up to wonder if that was the product of his own forcefully suppressed wishes being set free.
Slowly he straightened up, carrying her with him as if she didn’t weigh anything at all. Still supporting her with one palm against the back of Lise’s head he kept stroking her lips with his own, but his other hand left her back and went away. She heard him shuffle with something behind her but didn’t care that much. Not until Kevin broke the kiss and carefully laid her back, then Lise realized that he had been placing the two thin pillows upon each other to make one thicker; more comfortable for her to rest her head on.
The simple thoughtfulness almost brought tears to her eyes, watching Kevin a bit calmer again as she worked on regaining her breath after the intense kissing. He was breathing rather heavily as well.
Slowly he bent his neck, gently resting his forehead against hers. Lise found herself smiling warmly, a bit to her surprise. The anxiety she had felt earlier and seen in the half blood’s eyes was melting away rapidly.
“Know, haven’t done this before,” Kevin whispered.
“I know, me neither,” the princess gently mumbled back.
He tilted his head a bit, gravely watching her.
“I’m afraid to do something wrong,” he admitted in a low voice.
“You won’t, I’m sure of that.”
Each breath he took filled him with her suddenly almost intoxicating smell, the battle between his tender want that only grew with every movement any of them did and the worry that still lingered within him thundered in the back of his head.
“You’re always careful,” Lise reassured him, hands slowly caressing their way over his bare back comforting his concerns further like her words, “then you can do nothing wrong.”
Before he had time to air yet another doubt she continued:
“And I can’t get pregnant. Wisp shocked me when he said he wanted to cast a spell preventing it but he made me see the possibility that this could happen.”
She was amazed herself that she had grown so relaxed after the tension was torn apart.
Kevin slowly nodded.
“But you still tell,” he mumbled, tenderly smiling a bit.
“Of course. Don’t worry…”
She moved a hand to his shoulder and lightly pushed, guiding him to her mouth again. This time she parted her lips a bit more than usual, showing that he could deepen their kisses further if he wanted to.
It will be fine, as long as you’re with me.